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Walking the Line Between

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Steam curled up from the rim of the ceramic mug before her as the soft patter of tea gathering at its bottom filled the air. Three cups sat on the battered old table, its checkered enamel face chipped a bit around the edges. Aphra dug her nail beneath the paint and scraped a bit off.

These people were so stiff and boring and fucking sad. It was like being at a funeral for days on end. Every conversation was hushed, or formal, or stiff, or just plain stagnant. Sometimes Aphra made a harmless joke, and all she got was blank stares. It was miserable.

The Ghost was only slightly more hospitable than it had been the last time she’d been on it. At least she’d gotten a chance to speak to Sabine Wren again. The girl wasn’t so bad, really. Aphra actually managed to carry an intellectual conversation with her about the gallery on Pam’lo, which Aphra had robbed about six years ago.

Her two companions sat and stared at their cups. It was the first time since Leia Skywalker had returned from Bespin that they had been able to sit down and really talk about what had happened.

Aphra did not know why she was still here.

She did not feel any sort of fondness toward Hera Syndulla or Rex the Clone. She was hated, or at the very least ignored, by almost everyone here. And yet Aphra stayed.

Why? It made no sense to her. She had spent every morning and every night sitting in the cockpit of her ship, and inevitably deciding to stick it out one more night— one more day— just another hour, and then she’d be gone.

Aphra sucked in a breath, and she slumped in her seat.

“What now?” she asked to no one in particular.

Hera and Rex raised their eyes and met her face. Rex looked considerably worse for wear, perhaps the worst of them all. He already looked old, but the last few days seemed to have aged him half a decade. His eyes drooped, and his mouth twitched behind his beard. He slumped forward, and he said nothing.

On the other hand, Hera’s eyes were sharp. Her long green fingers curled around her cup, and she straightened up.

“We will do what we’ve always done,” she said. “Knowing Vader’s identity doesn’t change that.”

Aphra couldn’t help but scoff into her tea. “Maybe for you,” she muttered.

Hera watched her coolly. Rex decidedly remained silent.

Aphra took a great gulp of the scalding liquid to remedy the harsh stares. She damned them for not having the alcohol to spare to enhance the flavor of the bland herbal brew.

“I’m just saying,” she gasped, setting her cup down, “he’s a complete monster. And I don’t use that term lightly. If he wants something— whether it’s just information or a whole damn person— he won’t rest till he gets it.”

“That’s exactly why we’re working to better our chances against him,” Hera said.

Aphra exhaled a heavy breath as she slumped forward. These damn rebels had no brains! Aphra had seen the galaxy and all of its tricks. She had seen the way that it tore itself inside out just to see the way its guts glimmered against the starlight. She had seen the way that planets weathered away, how stars blinked out, how civilizations crumbled in a breath and a blink. She had seen the past, held it in her naked hands, and thrown it away for a couple of silver chips and a tall glass of Corellian ale. She had built herself from nothing and simultaneously achieved nothing, and here she was now, sitting at a table among war heroes.

And she hated herself for all of it.

Once she had told a man that a ruler needed to be both good and strong to be successful. She had long believed that this was the reason why she had long abided loyally by the Empire, because it was both good and strong.

She had been a liar. She had always been a liar.

The Empire was neither good nor strong. Luke Organa had opened her eyes to what a good man, a good leader could be. The rebellion had shown her how weak the Empire truly was. And now Aphra was lost.

“We have no chance against him,” Aphra said, looking into Hera’s eyes and finding herself pleading with a glance for this woman to understand. “He’s not going to stop looking for Leia. Hell, he hired me and a bounty hunter to go looking for information about her. At the time I just thought he was pissed because she destroyed the Death Star, but I know better now. When I was employed by him, he ordered me to interrogate a mortician.” She lowered her eyes, realizing rapidly that she felt ashamed of what she had done to Tahn. She thumbed the hot ceramic mug before her, and chewed her bottom lip as she suffered beneath the scrutiny of the heroes around her. “Tortured. I tortured him.”

“Of course you did,” Hera said coolly.

Rex set a hand on Hera’s arm. He lowered his head, and he took a deep breath as he nodded.

“Why a mortician?” he asked. He did not regard her with disdain, but rather interest. She leaned back and peered at him, a small smirk quirking at the edges of her lips.

Aphra circled the rim of her cup with her finger. Shame was a foreign feeling, and yet she felt like she had known it intimately for as long as she could remember. Like her whole life she had been suffering from a dull throb of shame, but never known the extent of it until it washed over her like a flood.

“I never understood fully,” she said, “until the last few days. But I guess… well, the mortician was a Nubian. He prepared Queen Amidala’s body.”

Understanding melted across Rex’s face while Hera’s brow simply pinched uncertainly.

“Queen Amidala?” She blinked rapidly. “You mean… the old Republic Senator, Padmé Amidala?”

“That’s the one,” Aphra said, reaching down into her boot and retrieving a flask` from her sock. Hera watched her with a quirked brow as she unscrewed the cap and poured a healthy shot and a half of hard liquor into her tea. The liquid sloshed as it mixed unevenly, promising an ugly taste to be sure. “I didn’t get it then. Why he was so obsessed with that dead queen, and her quaint little farm girl daughter. I didn’t know why any of it mattered.”

“The Senator,” Rex choked out. He sounded strange, like he’d just been under water for five minutes and could not quite catch his breath. “That’s how he knew. He got you to confirm that the Senator’s body was made to look pregnant at her funeral to protect the twins. From him.”

“Bingo!” Aphra lifted her mug in a mock salute, and tipped it back. The tea and liquor mixture tasted foul, and it washed down her throat with a fiery vengeance, like it wished to tear the first layer of skin off her tongue and esophagus.

“I know that this is very shocking to the two of you,” said Hera, who laid her hand gingerly on Rex’s arm and watched Aphra coolly. “However, right now it doesn’t matter. Vader knows he has two children, and it seems unlikely that he will be content with just one of them, if Leia’s account was anything to go by.”

“Probably not, no,” Aphra sighed. She was annoyed that she was still here. She imagined running off to the far ends of the Outer Rim, leaving the Rebellion and the Empire behind and carrying out her business quietly. But then Luke’s salient blue eyes floated in her brain, hope and pride glistening inside them as she consistently stayed loyal to him, and so she sat still and stayed put. Luke did not deserve this.

It was an entire galaxy full of slime and wickedness, and Luke was the one bright center of hope that had seemed, for a moment, incorruptible.

But then, Vader ruined everything.

“So our mission now must be to rescue Luke,” Hera said. She glanced between the two of them, her eyebrows furrowing. “I have been focused on the greater Rebellion for the better part of four years. Before that, though, I did find myself wrapped up in various situation involving the Jedi and Sith. If I can help Luke in any way, then I will.”

“Thank you, General Syndulla.”

The three of them turned abruptly at the sound of Leia’s voice. She’d appeared in the doorway, Han Solo hunched at her back, his thumbs tucked into his pockets. Leia looked paler than usual, and incredibly tired. There were dark circles beneath her eyes that rivaled both Hera’s and Rex’s. Her long brown hair was tossed into a thick, strategic band around her head, which ended with a small twist at the base of her neck.

“Sorry, Hera,” the Lasat, Zeb said sheepishly as he and Sabine Wren followed Han and Leia into the room. “They didn’t listen to us, that you were in a meeting.”

“It’s fine,” Hera said, rising to her feet. Her gloved fingers stretched out against the table briefly before she turned to face them. “Hello, Leia. We were just trying to figure out our strategy as we move forward with this.”

“Yeah,” Leia said, cocking her head. Aphra noticed with mounting interest that the leather cord around her throat had gained another bauble. It was a gauzy crystal, probably the length of her pinky. Aphra immediately recognized it.

Kyber. One of the most valuable minerals in the galaxy. Worlds bled for it. Jedi died for it. Civilizations crumbled for it.

And here Leia Skywalker was, wearing it like it was a pretty rock.

“Nice necklace,” Aphra remarked. She sat and smirked under Leia’s sharp, cold gaze. This girl had eyes that could lobotomize you like an icicle, and drain you of all of your innermost thoughts. Aphra tipped back her mug and let the alcohol warm her chilly soul.

“I have some ideas about how to get Luke back,” Leia said, strolling into the room and decidedly ignoring Aphra. “We’ll decide on one, and begin planning. As we do that, I need to… go somewhere.” She turned her face away abruptly, her lips twisting. “I’m not sure where.”

“Okay…” Sabine said, leaning against a far wall and waving her hand. “That’s not cryptic at all?”

“I need a new lightsaber,” Leia said, folding her arms across her chest. “Except I don’t know where to find a new kyber crystal, so I’m a little stuck.”

“Why not use the one around your neck?” Aphra asked.

Once more Leia glared at her.

Aphra didn’t hate Leia Skywalker, but she would be a stone cold liar if she said that she didn’t put up with her solely because of Luke. Solo was more or less the same, but Aphra had to throw Sana into the mix as well. No matter how many years passed, Aphra was still unbelievably fond of Sana Starros and her small explosion of hair, her fiery gaze, and the way her cheeks dimpled when she laughed.

She was still sorta a bitch though.

Aphra missed her.

“If I am going to be a Jedi,” Leia said, her fingers gliding toward the crystal that hung at her throat, “then I cannot live in the shadow of my father. I cannot fulfill his broken legacy, because the only legacy he has given me is this damn lightsaber and the burden of being the last Jedi!” Leia unhooked the lightsaber from her belt and flung it onto the floor. It clattered noisily against the durasteel floor, and rolled in place for a moment. The silence rung out as it stopped, leaving the room feeling cold and vacuous. Leia’s expression was twisted, her eyes glistening, and her shoulders hunched up to her ears.

Han laid a hand on her shoulder. For a moment, Leia seemed to stiffen even more, her whole body coiling against his touch.

And then she relaxed.

“I…” Leia took a deep breath, and she closed her eyes. “I know it’s selfish of me. I have a working lightsaber, so what else do I need to be a Jedi, right? But that lightsaber was used to murder so many innocent people. I know that now. It’s the weapon of a genocidal maniac, and if that is the legacy of Anakin Skywalker, then I don’t want it!”

Hera was the first one forward, her movements slow and her hands outstretched.

“I understand,” she said softly. “You don’t have to feel guilty about wanting your own lightsaber, Leia. You are not your father, and you deserve your own weapon. Both Kanan and Ezra made their own lightsabers.”

“It was a tradition,” Rex said suddenly. He was looking down at his hands somberly, his shoulders weighed down and his brow furrowed. Then, slowly, he stood up and turned to face Leia. “Jedi younglings got their kyber crystals, and then they built their own lightsabers. They never got hand-me-downs. Even that one—” Rex pointed at the discarded metal hilt of the heartless sword on the floor. “—was probably the second or third one the General went through. General Kenobi lost his first lightsaber too. There is no shame in it— wanting your own. You deserve it, Leia.”

Leia looked down at her feet, as though perhaps all this support had baffled her, and now she needed to think for a moment as all her rage seemed to dissipate. Aphra watched this all curiously, though her eyes did flash to the lightsaber on the floor with some consideration.

Nope. Had to keep on track. They had to save Luke. No time to get on his twin sister’s bad side, right?

“There was a Jedi temple on Lothal,” Sabine offered, pushing off the wall and approaching the group slowly. “That’s where Ezra went for his crystals.”

Hera nodded in agreement. “There’s also Jedha,” she said, cupping her chin thoughtfully.

“Jedha was destroyed,” Aphra pointed out, half muttering into her mug.

“No thanks to the Empire,” Zeb barked at her.

“Cool it, Zeb,” Sabine said, flinging her arm out so Zeb would not move closer to the table. “Aphra’s not an Imperial, so don’t blame her for something that is out of her hands.”

Zeb scowled, but her said nothing. His ears twitched as he turned his face away.

“As I was saying,” Hera said, glancing pointedly at Aphra, “only Jedha City was destroyed. The temple was built over a Kyber mine but there is no reason not to assume that there are more places on the moon that have kyber.”

“We’ll check Lothal first,” Leia said firmly. She shared a glance with Han, and then smiled at Hera. “Thank you. For understanding.”

“Okay, that’s cool and all,” Aphra said, standing up and clasping her hands together, “but what are we actually gonna do about Luke? Because you will not, and I guarantee this, be able to sneak onto an Imperial Star Destroyer, or whatever. It’s just not logical.”

“We snuck onto the Death Star to save him once, lady,” Han snapped at Aphra. He jerked his finger in her direction while Leia simply glared. “Don’t think we can’t do it again.”

“We won’t, though,” Leia admitted. Everyone watched as she reached out toward the lightsaber on the floor, and it flew into her hand. No one batted an eye, except Han, who wrinkled his nose at the sight. “Our plan has to be smarter than that. We need to lure Vader into a trap, like what he did with me.”

“We were thinking Tatooine,” Han admitted. “It’s secluded, and he won’t have a whole entourage of stormtroopers and Imperial officers. Plus, there is no way his suit will be at 100% in that kind of climate.”

“He hates Tatooine,” Aphra remarked. She remembered his apprentice saying that once. The Torgruta woman, whose name Aphra could not recall. Aphra wondered what had happened to her, but tried not to dwell on it.

“All the more reason to take him back to his roots,” Leia said simply. Her eyes swiveled toward Rex, and she smiled at him apologetically. “We’re going to need you to do some acting, though, Captain.”

Rex looked at her, and his back straightened as his shoulders moved back. He saluted her.

“Whatever you need,” he said, his voice soft and fond, “Lieutenant Commander Skywalker.”

Leia stared at him. Then she looked around the room, her brow furrowing. “This… could be very dangerous,” she said, her voice softening. Her eyes swooped around the room and landed on Aphra. “If you don’t want to do this… if you are frightened of Vader, and don’t think you can face him… then leave.”

Aphra’s mind screamed at her to take the out. She felt it in her heart, in her lungs, in her unsteady pulse that she could not quite bear to die at the hands of Darth Vader. The idea of facing him again made her knees wobble. She swallowed hard as she shrunk a little under Leia’s gaze.

What was she doing here?

Why was she still here?

It made no sense. Risking her life for some snot nosed prince? It was like she was possessed.

And yet, she could not move.

She did not move.

So Leia turned her face away, and with a small, shaky breath, she began.

And so Aphra became complicit in a plan to assassinate Darth Vader.


Coruscant was as the Coruscant of his memory was. Loud and overcrowded and glittering madly with artificial light. He both hated and adored the city planet, where everything was durasteel and wire, and he felt nothing beyond the stretch of electric grids and humming generators. He thought that the architecture was appealing and modern, and part of him enjoyed the hustle and bustle to an extent. When he had been a child, he had adored moving through the city and seeing different buildings and museums. Now, however, all he wanted was to see the snow capped mountains of Aldera. To taste the crisp, clean air of his home planet, to tip his head back and catch snow in his lashes.

The Imperial palace was as grim as he remembered. He always felt like he was walking through a graveyard when he passed through these halls, and a shiver ran through him as he looked around. The stone parapets and marble floors were cast in shadow. There was something ancient about this place, something that reminded him of the few times he’d been on excavation expeditions while in school. Even the smell seemed to inspire a sense of history, like he was passing through a curtain of dust and moving into the guts of a cavern.

He trailed silently after Vader, his eyes lingering on his hands. He’d been given a fresh set of clothes before they’d landed, and they didn’t fit quite right. He was thankful they were at least not any Imperial uniform he knew of, and had a cowled neck. He had also been given a simple gold circlet, but he’d set it aside quickly. He was no longer a prince of anything, and he still had bandages wrapped around his head and ear.

Before they had left the shuttle, Vader had taken Luke’s shoulder and said, “All we must do is survive this.”

We?” Luke shrugged Vader off him and glared up at his shiny black mask. “In case you haven’t noticed, Father, I am the only person on this shuttle Sheev Palpatine has any reason to kill. If I survive this, I’d like to retire to a deserted planet, live the rest of my life in solitude, and die in my sleep.”

Vader said nothing, which irritated Luke. He knew that Darth Vader was too cold-hearted to laugh, but really? Not even a chuckle?

Now he wished he had something to laugh at. He felt terrible.

Vader swept into the throne room, leaving Luke to struggle meagerly to keep up. The throne room was the worst part of the palace. Whenever he entered, he felt as though someone had turned out all the lights in his head and submerged him beneath an icy lake. He could not think or function properly. It was all a fog, and his body moved purely on instinct.

The Emperor sat, as he always did, in a dark shroud. Waiting.

Luke bowed his head as he slowed to a stop behind Vader. He did not want to look the Emperor in the eye.

When Vader dropped to his knees, that was when Luke became afraid.

He stood for a moment, uncertain and half-defiant, wondering if he was willing to die rather than bend the knee before a tyrant.

The truth was, Luke had always put little stock in his value. His death mattered little to him in comparison to his life, which he’d dedicated to a singular cause. Dying did not frighten him so much as the prospect of failing his people, his family, and his beliefs.

So what would bowing before a dictator do? Was it a betrayal to himself and everything he believed in if he fell to his knees before this man? The man who Luke knew was responsible for everything awful in his life. He could blame Vader for everything if he wanted, but Palpatine had created Vader.

Luke thought back to the things his father had told him about his mother, Padmé, and his then nameless father. How they had loved each other very much, and that there had been so much good in his biological father once, but not to be fooled by his idealism. Vader was a monster.

Do not forget.

And if Vader was a monster, what did that make the man who had defiled all the good in him? Who had twisted the righteous, heroic man he once one?

A demon.

Evil incarnate.

Luke straightened up. He lifted his head and stared into the Emperor’s face.

Balk, he would not. Bow, he would not. Break, he would not.

Bend to the will of a tyrant?

Never.

The Emperor watched him curiously, his eyes narrowing into yellow slits, and he leaned forward slowly. Waiting, as a predator did before snapping up their prey.

And then Luke was knocked to his knees by an unseen force. He had to fling his hands out to catch his fall, so his face did not smack into the cool marble floor. For a moment he stared at the ground, and he found himself stewing in an empty, cold rage.

Even this small act of defiance had been stolen from him.

He didn’t need to look at Vader to know it had been him. He felt it in the Force, as he was sure the Emperor had.

“Well done, my apprentice,” said the Emperor. His voice was as cold and slithering as always. When Luke had been a little boy, he had imagined that the Emperor’s voice was alive somehow. That is twisted and writhed as it crawled out of the man’s wormy lips, and it branched off into a million different directions, coiling around the throats of everyone who heard it and slithering into their gaping mouths as well, until it was time for them to spew the same horrible things. Words as snakes, choking the life out of an entire galaxy.

Luke shivered. He had to put on a brave face now, his politician’s face. He had to be smart, and he had to know when to act, but everything in him was screaming to run or die trying, and that made being clever so hard.

This had never been something Luke was naturally good at. His mother and father had always said he was not made to be a politician. Why hadn’t he listened to them? Why had he become a Senator? Why had he joined the Rebellion?

He wished, not for the first time, that he had died on Alderaan with them.

“Prince Organa’s execution will be a delight for the public,” the Emperor said. Beside Luke, Vader stiffened. “Shall you do the honor, Lord Vader?”

Vader lifted his head. Then he lifted his whole body, and took Luke with him with a sharp yank of his arm. Luke stumbled to his feet.

“I have made a discovery, my master,” Vader said. “Organa, it seems, has a talent for the Force.”

Luke glanced up at Vader, chewing on the inside of his cheek. He did not want to look at the Emperor’s whose wizened little body had shifted in interest, leaning forward as though to probe Luke’s appearance for the truth.

“Does he?” The Emperor began to chuckle. His fingers clasped together in a steeple, and his laughter grew more raucous. “Luke Organa! The hero of the Rebel Alliance… and Force sensitive. What to do, what to do…”

“I have already broken him, my master,” Vader said, his grip on Luke’s upper arm tightening. “He will join us.”

Luke licked his teeth and closed his eyes, so the Emperor wouldn’t see them roll into the back of his head.

“Oh?” said the Emperor. “Now, that doesn’t sound right. Prince Luke Organa, the symbol of hope for Rebels across the galaxy… simply agreeing to join us? Tell me, Vader, how did you accomplish this?”

“Torture.” Vader’s voice was plain, and it was sharp. “Coercion. The truth, my master, that the Dark Side provides. It is a powerful thing.”

Luke opened his eyes, and found that the Emperor was staring at him. There was something in his eyes, a sort of gleeful hunger that made Luke’s skin itch.

A silence blanketed them, the sort of stifling blankness that consumed souls and drowned out wills. Luke found that he could hear his heart pounding in his ears, and his head pounding behind his eyes, and he would do anything to become a human bomb and blow this whole wicked world away.

Then, the Emperor leaned back. A grin split across his sickly, wizened face, and he folded his hands in his lap.

His grin fell, and his eyes dug right into Luke, spearing through him like a metal beam.

“Prove it,” the Emperor spat.

Luke bit his tongue, his eyes fluttering shut so not to betray his shock. Prove this? Prove what? Prove how?

Vader turned to face Luke. A shout tore from his throat as he was thrown to the ground, his shoulder colliding with the marble floor. He dragged himself back, turning his head so he could hear Vader’s footfalls in his good ear. His eyes widened as the dark, empty room was cast in a blood red glow.

The steady approach of Darth Vader with a lit lightsaber would never not be terrifying. Luke found himself backing up, dragging himself across the floor and struggling to get to his feet. When he did, fumbling desperately as he pushed forward, he was shoved back onto his hands and knees. He fell onto his side, feeling the hot glow of Vader’s lightsaber as the man’s shadow enveloped him.

In the reflection of Vader’s helmet, he could see his own face. Sallow, bruised, and terrified.

Vader lifted his lightsaber, and Luke flung his arms out, squeezing his eyes shut and letting the Force come over him like a flood. It consumed him, his body and his soul, filling up his lungs in a desperate scream and bursting around him in a pulse of pure power and fear.

Luke did not hear Vader hit the ground, but he felt it.

His heart was hammering inside his chest, attacking his ribs and willing itself to break free and fly like a bird. It had felt like something in him had burst, like an expanding balloon that could not take the capacity of air flooding through it.

There was something in his bones that tingled. There was something in his eyes that glittered.

It had not felt bad, this bomb that he had begged for.

But it made him feel sick and ashamed anyway.

He sat up shakily, his eyes darting around the darkened room. Vader was on the floor, also rising shakily, and there were guards at the entrance. Luke inhaled deeply, and he held his head for a moment, trying to wrap his head around what had happened.

Had that been the Dark Side of the Force? He’d always thought he’d be able to tell if it came to this, but the truth was… he couldn’t.

Slowly, Luke rose to his feet. His knees wobbled, and he turned to face the Emperor with a level gaze.

The Emperor was grinning. He clapped once. Twice. Very slowly, he applauded Luke.

Luke merely glared at him. His shoulders slumped, and his jaw tightened.

“Most impressive,” the Emperor said coolly. “Fear truly does wonders, doesn’t it? It unlocks our most primal instincts. Tell me, Prince, how willing are you to commit?”

Luke stared at him. His jaw twitched. His fingers closed into fists at his side.

“Show me the nearest camera, my lord,” Luke said, his voice even and low, “and I will give you my allegiance before the whole galaxy.”

The Emperor’s eyes seemed to glitter at this suggestion. Luke stood and waited as the Emperor ordered a nearby guard to fetch a camera crew. Vader stood a little ways away, neither moving nor saying a thing. Luke understood the danger of this plan. He knew that it was a fool’s errand. But if he could show Leia that he was alive, even if it meant alienating himself from the Alliance, then he would do it.

Luke glanced at the Emperor as the camera men set up shop around him. He felt dizzy. His good ear was ringing, and he had a pounding headache.

The man behind the camera counted down, and a small light signaled that they were live. Luke stared at the camera for a moment, a surge of nausea nearly overcoming him. He closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.

“Hello,” he said. His voice was hoarse and a little breathless. He was counting on that. “I am Prince Luke Organa, and this is my unconditional surrender. I renounce my ties to the Rebel Alliance, and pledge myself to the service of the Empire.”

He stared at the camera for a moment, his expression crumbling. He realized that if he didn’t hurry, he might burst into tears.

“I ask the Rebels to hear me now,” he said, trying to keep his voice clear and intelligible, “and see that they are running a fool’s errand. There is no hope. Long live the Empire.”

Then Luke turned away, and looked straight at the Emperor. He asked a question with his eyes, and the Emperor smiled.

“Long live the Empire,” he echoed.

Luke did not wait to be dismissed. He stared at the Emperor, and then he turned away.

Vader followed him out. They did not speak until they reached the lift.

“You did well,” he said.

Luke did not look at him as he pressed the button for the ground floor.

“Do not speak to me,” he said coldly.

Vader looked down at him. Nonetheless, he obliged.

Luke moved instinctively. His legs felt gelatinous and wobbly, but he walked with his head held high regardless. There were no reporters outside— all news networks were monitored closely by the Empire, so whoever that camera crew had been, they’d probably been on stand-by. Luke walked up to their shuttle, boarded the ramp, and stood for a moment at the top. Vader brushed past him.

The moment the door clicked closed, Luke fell to his knees. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he held his head in his hands. His vision swam, gray walls blending into gray floors, and lights dancing across the room, poking at his eyes like needles as a ringing sound perforated his eardrums. Even his deaf ear rang out, like a thousand screeching cicadas, and nausea swooped over him.

Through the tears, he realized he was both sobbing and hyperventilating, and his name was falling like pebbles in the distance, softly pattering on the floor. Everything was white in his eyes and everything was screeching in his ears, and his whole body trembled as bile and vomit surged up his throat and out of his mouth. He shuddered on his hands and knees, heaving and retching, blind and white hot with terror and fatigue and uncertainty.

There was a light pressure on his shoulder, and in his daze Luke could barely manage to jerk away.

“Don’t!” he gasped, spittle sliding down his chin as he stared blindly ahead of him. “Don’t.”

He retched again, though this time all that came up was yellow bile. He slumped against a wall, cooling his forehead against the durasteel plate. The white blanket across his eyes dispersed into stars, and those stars fell away slowly, revealing nothing. No one was there.

Luke inhaled deeply, choking a bit on his own breath, and he rested his metal hand against his forehead. He exhaled. He inhaled again. Then he closed his eyes and let the cicadas swell like an orchestral hymn, and consume his waking being.


Leia cinched the rucksack and handed it to Chewie. Inside it was enough rations to last them a month, though Leia hoped they wouldn’t need them all. They’d also dragged extra fuel cells on boards so they wouldn’t need to make unnecessary pitstops if they had to run from Lothal to Jedha and back to whatever Base they ended up on.

Aphra, Rex, and Lando had left early that morning. They were going to Tatooine to scout out Jabba’s palace, though Leia didn’t expect them to come back. Aphra’s job was to play Imperial agent, while Rex played stormtrooper. It wouldn’t be hard, as Aphra had worked for the Empire before.

Hera, Sabine, and Zeb were going to Jedha. They’d left it unspoken why they did not want to return to Lothal, and gave Han the coordinates to the Jedi temple there.

Leia stood for a moment, taking in the scene of rebels scrambling around the hangar. Her eyes lit up as she recognized a small group.

“Evaan!” she called, pushing off the Falcon’s ramp and waving to the tall blonde pilot. She turned to blink at Leia curiously, and a wide smile appeared on her face. Evaan Verlaine had been busy the last few years with her work and mission to preserve Alderaani culture, so it had been a while since they had seen each other. She and Luke had been close, and Luke had been the one who had ordered her to wrangle up as many remaining Alderaanian citizens as possible.

“Leia,” Evaan said warmly, pulling Leia into a one armed hug. Beside her was the ever lovely Shara Bey, and her husband Kes Dameron.

“Kes,” Leia greeted as she moved to hug Shara. It had not been so long since she and Shara had departed on Hoth. Shara squeezed her tight.

“Hello, Leia,” Kes said, clapping his hands together. “Glad to see you still in one piece.”

“Barely,” Leia said dryly. She broke back from the two female pilots, and peered at them quizzically. “Why are you all here?”

“I was just about to leave with Antilles on a mission,” Shara said.

“And I was saying goodbye to my wife,” Kes admitted, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. “I’ve been alone with Poe for the last few weeks, and I missed her face.”

“Oh, is that what you missed?” Shara arched an eyebrow, and Kes grinned at her devilishly.

“Don’t be silly,” he said, “I missed your voice too.”

Shara rolled her eyes, though a fond smile had crept its way up to her lips. Leia found this all unbelievably adorable, to the point where she was smiling as well.

“I think he actually missed field work,” Shara said matter-of-factly. “Force knows it’s hard to be cooped up all day with a one year old.”

“Poe is great!” Kes shook his head. “It’s my father I can’t put up with.”

“Oh, Kes,” Shara sighed. “We should be thankful he’s watching Poe at all.”

“Why should I be thankful that the old man is watching his grandson?” Kes asked sharply. “It’s not a chore, it’s called being a decent human being.”

“Alright,” Leia interjected, holding up her hands. “I should probably go.”

“Are you on a mission too?” Evaan asked, looking eager. “To save Prince Luke, by chance?”

Leia stared at Evaan. She had to take a deep breath to calm her nerves. No, Evaan was not trying to rile her up. She was merely worried about her prince. It made sense. Leia had to understand that she was not the only one worried about Luke.

“Sort of,” she said, her fingers falling upon the crystal at her throat. She rubbed it thoughtfully. “We’re putting a plan in motion to rescue Luke, but I have to do something first. I can’t defeat Darth Vader as I am now, so I’m hoping it… it works.”

Evaan nodded firmly, and she reached out and grasped Leia’s arm. Leia stared at her hand blankly.

“Save him,” Evaan whispered, squeezing Leia’s bicep and searching her face desperately. “He is the last symbol of hope my people have. If he dies…”

Leia reached out slowly. Her fingers carefully fell against Evaan’s shoulder. And then, cautiously, they moved to cup her cheek.

“Evaan,” she said, “I will not rest until Luke is safe. Do you understand me?”

Evaan nodded slowly. She seemed to relax a little, and Leia withdrew her hand, hoping that she hadn’t overstepped any boundaries. Or worse, that Evaan would think Leia was coming on to her. Not that Evaan wasn’t gorgeous, but Leia had enough to worry about without a romance developing.

She didn’t want to think about how Han was only about twenty feet away either.

Leia turned her attention to all three of them, and she smiled faintly.

“Luke is going to be fine,” she said firmly. “Okay? I’ve got this. I’m gonna get him back.”

There was a sudden uproar as someone projected the Imperial news network through a droid, a wide holo projection of the news anchor hovering above them. Leia took a step back in alarm as she read the headline.

“What?” she said faintly as the news anchor switched over to the ghostly visage of her twin brother.

Gasps fluttered throughout the room as everyone took in the sight of Luke Organa, who was a sight to be sure. Leia had only seen him a week earlier, and somehow he looked even worse than he had when Vader had cut his hand off. His face was white as a sheet in the holo, and there was a thick bandage around his forehead, and a padded one stuck to his ear with medical tape. There was a split in his lower lip, ugly and raw, and sunken bruises beneath his eyes and along he ridges of his nose that suggested his nose had recently been broken. There was another mottled bruise on his cheek, though the discoloration of the holo made it look blackish. He stood slumped, his eyes glistening as he spoke.

Hello,” he said, and Leia’s heart broke. “I am Prince Luke Organa, and this is my unconditional surrender."

Everyone began to whisper and gasp and yell at once.

“Quiet!” Leia snarled, lifting her voice above all others and taking a step toward her brother. His voice was thin and broken, and his eyes were glassed over.

Oh, Luke, Leia thought numbly, what has he done to you?

Han was suddenly beside her, breathless as though he’d just run a marathon, and he looked at her with wide, beseeching eyes as she stared at Luke.

I renounce my ties to the Rebel Alliance,” Luke said, sounding a bit surer as he spoke, expressionless and grim, “and pledge myself to the service of the Empire.”

“This is not happening,” Han murmured, “this isn’t happening.”

Beside her, Han froze. The camera had zoomed out, and now they could see all of Luke. He seemed to stand unsteadily, and his flesh fingers caught on his sleeve self-consciously, tugging it down over a metal prosthetic hand.

Han inhaled sharply at the sight.

I ask the Rebels to hear me now,” Luke said, staring at the camera and looking like a man who had lost everything, including his will to live, “and see that they are running a fool’s errand. There is no hope. Long live the Empire.

The holo blinked out.

A silence followed. Leia stood in the middle of it, feeling as though everything in her had begun to flake away, and her whole body was turning to dust in the matter of seconds. She wanted nothing more than to disintegrate, and blow about the world in a thousand directions. To become sand in the wind.

Everyone looked at her. Everyone. There was not an eye in the hangar that did not land on Leia Skywalker.

She stood, and she absorbed their fear, their horror, their rage, and their disgust. She let it fuel her.

And so she started forward. Han yanked her back.

She twisted to face him, her eyes cold and her jaw set.

What?” she hissed.

Han squeezed her hand. He stared down at her with a furrowed brow.

“His hand,” he said softly.

Leia could only swallow hard. She averted her gaze, and drew her hand back from his.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I should have told you that happened.”

“He cut off his hand, Leia,” Han gasped, taking a step forward and throwing out his arms. “That’s kinda important information! You said he wouldn’t hurt Luke!”

Leia whirled on Han, her teeth bared and her shoulders hunched. “I said he wouldn’t kill Luke!” she snapped back. “I never said he wouldn’t hurt him. I knew Vader would torture him, because he’s done it before, and that’s why we have to get him back! Before it gets even worse!”

“Worse than that?”

It was Evaan who spoke. Her voice was small and whispery. Her face had gone white as a sheet, and she was clenching her helmet with white knuckles.

Leia looked at her steadily, and she nodded. Then she looked around, and she exhaled deeply. She strode over to the nearest crate, and leapt onto it.

“Listen to me right here, and right now,” she said, half yelling so her voice would carry across the hangar. “Luke Organa would never betray us! What you just saw was a result of him being captured and tortured by Darth Vader. We cannot judge him for an act that undoubtedly just saved his life.”

“Is that not just cowardice?” someone interjected. Leia looked among the crowd, but could not quite get a grasp on who it had been.

“No,” Leia said firmly. “There is nothing wrong with lying to stay alive. We all know Luke Organa’s loyalties. Damn it, the Empire destroyed his entire planet! He said those things because he knew we would never doubt his commitment to the Alliance. Knowing Luke, he’s probably going to try and get as much intel as he can before trying to escape, or make a grand display of his true allegiance to us. So don’t you dare doubt him in his time of need!”

No one said a thing. Leia did not expect them to. She jumped down from her box and moved forward, feeling empty as the crowd parted for her. Han slipped beside her, shrinking a little as he lowered his head and spoke.

“I’m glad you said that,” he murmured. “I was about to throw hands.”

Leia found a small smirk rising to her lips. “I wouldn’t have held you back,” she whispered.

He smirked right back. “Good,” he said.

“Leia!”

She stopped at the foot of the Falcon, and she turned to glare at Kes Dameron as he jogged up to her. Evaan was close behind.

“Let us come with you,” Evaan gasped.

Leia stared at her blankly.

“Please,” Kes added, leaning forward and offering a dashing smile. “We won’t cause trouble, but we want to help.”

“I need to know that Luke Organa is alright,” Evaan said, chewing on her lower lip.

“And I just want to kill the bastard who did that.” Kes jerked his thumb back at the empty space where Luke’s beaten face had been. “Prince Luke has sorta been like a beacon of hope for everyone, you know? He never showed that he was defeated, never once gave into despair. He was upset after Alderaan, sure, but he never once acted like his pain was any greater or less than anyone else’s.”

“Luke and I mourned Alderaan together,” Evaan said. She sounded on the verge on bursting into tears, the panic in her voice was so alive and shuddering. “He sought me out after the evacuation, after he had a talk with Fulcrum, and he let me cry into his shoulder for hours. And then he told me that even at the end of the world there is always a path forward. Go up, go down, or go through it. It doesn’t matter. Just keep going.” Evaan’s eyes were glistening now with tears. “Please. Please let me go with you. What the Empire has done to Luke Organa is unforgivable.”

That was true enough.

“Fine,” Leia said, folding her arms across her chest. “You can come with us. But we don’t know how long this mission is going to last, and it could really just consume your whole life. Also, there is a very good chance you’re about to go toe to toe with Darth Vader.”

Kes and Evaan shared a glance.

“We’re in,” Kes said, leaning forward. “Whatever it takes, Leia. I told Shara, and she’d be here too if she didn’t already have a mission with Antilles.”

“You can’t die on me, Kes,” Leia warned. “I’m not taking care of a baby.”

“Please,” Kes laughed. “The Empire hasn’t killed me yet, and they’ll be hard pressed to try.”

Leia watched him with narrowed eyes. “The fact that you joined us just late enough that you couldn’t be sent with Lando is a crime,” she decided. She turned and strode up the ramp of the Falcon. “Evaan, you’re with us on the Falcon. Kes, you go with the Ghost. We will meet back up on Jedha.”

As Leia boarded the Falcon, Han pulled her aside. Leia glanced up at him, and quirked a brow.

“Yes?” she asked. She always had to make a note of how tall he was when he did this. He had to stoop his neck to look down at her.

“Tell me that he’s going to be okay,” Han said. He sounded genuinely frightened. “Go on. Tell me. Tell me that he’s not gonna die in a cell, alone and afraid. Go on, Leia.”

“He’s not.” She yanked her elbow from his grasp and scowled up at him. “And I don’t appreciate that tone, thank you. Did I, or did I not say that we were gonna save him? Can you quit pestering me about it, and start trusting me.”

She started down the corridor, and she listened to Han’s stomps as he slumped after her.

“Oh, I trust you, alright,” he grumbled. “I trust you to run into some bantha shit situation without thinking. Why bother planning anything? All our plans go to shit anyhow, y’know. Might as well just call Vader and tell him to come pick you up, then figure it out from there.”

“Is that not literally what we’re going to do?” Leia asked as they entered the cockpit.

Han paused, glared down at her, and collapsed into a chair.

“I hate you,” he decided.

“I know,” Leia said, her smile small and fond.

Evaan stuck her head into the cockpit. Chewie glanced back at her, and he yowled.

“Hello,” Evaan greeted Chewie politely. She turned her attention to Leia. “Can this ship really go anywhere? It’s pretty beaten up.”

Han scowled. “Listen, lady—” he began.

“Don’t worry, Evaan,” Leia cut in, strapping herself into a seat. “This ship has seen worse days.”

Evaan glanced at her incredulously, but sat down nonetheless. It was Luke’s chair.

Leia looked down at her hands, and she did not comment.

“Everyone strapped in?” Han called.

“Mistress Leia!” Threepio cried, waddling into the room. “We have seen the most awful thing. Master Luke—!”

“Oh,” Leia sighed, “just punch it.”

Han turned and grinned at her. His eyes were warm and bright.

“To Lothal,” he said, cocking his head and lifting the ship off the ground.

Chapter Text

Luke woke up, not for the first or even second time that week, in a medbay. His eyes peeled back, and he tried to remember his dream, but his head was pounding too hard to think straight. He felt a little giddy as he looked around, realizing that someone had filled his veins with a painkiller. The headache was still there, though, and it drilled into the front of his skull.

He groaned as his eyes adjusted to the light. He wished he could go back to sleep. Dreamless sleeps were so rare.

Dr. Terrion appeared beside him, picking up his flesh arm and feeling his pulse. Luke cracked an eye open to look at her. She was not elderly, but she was not young either. She had a stern look about her, like she could be a school teacher rather than a medical doctor.

"Well," she said, dropping his arm. "Your pulse has finally steadied out. How are you feeling, Luke?"

"Uh…" His throat was scratchy. His eyes were heavy. The medicine made him both drowsy and confused, yet did nothing to stop the headache. "Bad."

Terrion nodded, and ticked something off on her datapad. "I was afraid this would happen," she told him, as if it were clear as day. "You were only just fit to leave hospital, and what does Lord Vader do? Throw you into the lion's den, and bring me back the scraps of you. And he wonders why you fainted!"

"I fainted?" Luke uttered faintly.

"Oh, yes." Terrion glanced at him. She nodded her head, bobbing it as though in time with a little tune. "You had a panic attack. Do you not remember that?"

"Uh…"

Terrion sniffed, and ticked off another box. "Well," she said, "you have a concussion, so I cannot fault you for that. Do you not remember vomiting, either?"

"I threw up?" Luke asked, sinking into the cotton cloud of his cot. He felt like he was floating.

"Afraid so." Terrion set the datapad aside, and she brushed her hand against his cheek. "You're still warm, so I recommend you stay the night again. Vader has been waiting for you to wake up, and demanded to see you once you were able. However, I believe you are hardly in any position to speak to anyone. You have been under far too much stress, and your body can only take so much."

Luke found himself mumbling incoherently in response.

Terrion sighed. "There, there," she said, patting his shoulder awkwardly. "We are heading away from Imperial Center. If that makes you feel better."

"I…" Luke struggled to understand her. "I guess…?"

"Good."

He was left to ponder. His brain was a bit mushy, and the drugs he'd been given only made it all worse. He was tired, lethargic, immovable, and completely alone. The isolation is what killed him. Luke knew he could work fine on his own, but the truth was that he got lonesome very easily. He needed someone to talk to, even if it was a droid or an alien that he did not understand.

His brain flickered in and out of consciousness. One minute he was in the medbay, the next he was sitting in a dusty room, white sunlight filtering in through the blades of the curtains. The next he was in the medbay.

It went on like this.

At one point, he felt the clawing, icy presence of Darth Vader approaching, and he willed himself to sleep.

The floor was hard and cool. Luke drew stars in the dust, leaning forward and smiling idly as he took in the musty age of the room. It was a bit like going into the attic and airing out old tapestries. When he'd been little, he'd gone up to the palace's attic all the time. It had been a treasure hunting game that he had played on his own, feeling lonesome and pulling along an imaginary friend.

"It is not a crime, you know," said an old voice, dripping with wisdom, "to feel lonely."

Luke looked up. His eyes flickered from the hem of the man's robe to the top of his white hair.

"Obi-Wan Kenobi," Luke breathed, rising slowly to his feet.

Obi-Wan smiled wanly. "The one and only," he said, stretching his arms out almost playfully. Luke found himself laughing, running his fingers through his hair and shaking his head in disbelief. "You seem shocked."

"I was just in an Imperial Star Destroyer," Luke said, his voice small and thick, "sick and hospitalized because I have a concussion, and apparently I had a panic attack, and it's all Vader's fault. But now I'm here, with you?" Luke laughed, and he hung his head back to smile sadly at the ceiling. "What kind of dream is this?"

"No dream at all," Obi-Wan said. "You are having a vision. The Force is speaking to you through me. Shall we sit?"

Luke nodded, obediently following Obi-Wan to a chair, and sitting down carefully. He looked up at the old man in wonder. The last time he had seen him, he had been struck down by Darth Vader, and Luke had pulled Leia away as she screamed.

"The last time I really had a vision from the Force," Luke said, "it led me to Ahsoka Tano."

Obi-Wan looked at him thoughtfully, and he twisted a whisker on his chin. "The Force works in mysterious ways," he admitted. "I am here to calm you. To assure you that the Dark Side is not as strong as you think."

"Did I...?" Luke bit his lip, and he shook his head. "I didn't mean to. I wasn't going to. I didn't even know I was tapping into the Dark Side!"

"Luke," Obi-Wan said, holding up his hands. "Calm yourself. You were frightened, I understand. However, Vader is baiting you. He wants you to embrace the Dark Side. I fear that if you fall to it, then Leia will follow the suit."

"Leia would never," Luke muttered. He lifted his legs up and buried his face in them. "I'm the weak one. I shouldn't even have the Force. I never wanted to be a Jedi. It's not fair."

"Luke," Obi-Wan said delicately, "you are so full of light. You are so uncompromising, so good, even now with that brush against the Dark Side. That one mistake does not define you. You know who you are, don't you?"

Luke raised his head, his brow furrowed. He wanted to say that he did. He wanted to say that he was Prince Luke Organa, son of Bail and Breha, and nothing in the whole galaxy could change that.

But he felt like he was being crushed by walls of his own blood's making. Like he had been chained by a name, by a past he did not know and could not comprehend, and he was terrified. How could he stop this? How could he keep himself from turning into Vader?

Obi-Wan watched him, likely feeling the conflict within him, and he sighed.

"Let me tell you something I wish I had told Anakin long ago," Obi-Wan said, standing up and resituating himself beside Luke. His arms moved around Luke's shoulders cautiously, and Luke stiffened as his head fell against Obi-Wan's shoulder. "You are loved, Luke. Deeply, and truly. Nothing will change that. So do not give in to that loneliness inside you. Do not let that fear of failure define you. You are a good person, Luke. No one can take that away from you."

Luke closed his eyes, and he let himself be hugged by this stranger.

My only hope, Luke thought dimly.

He began to cry, and Obi-Wan only held him tighter. Tears— big, fat, ugly ones— swelled on his cheeks. He tried to keep in the sobs, but it was so hard. He was so tired. He felt so defeated! He'd never felt like this before, not even after Alderaan. At least after Alderaan he'd felt full of purpose. Like his death might mean something, or everything, but now he felt like nothing.

He had become nothing.

"Despair does not become you, young one," Obi-Wan murmured. He stroked Luke's hair gingerly, as Bail Organa had done many years ago, and Luke hastily swiped at his face.

"I'm sorry," he croaked, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to blubber all over you, General Kenobi. I just… I'm so sick inside. I feel like everything I've done is meaningless."

Obi-Wan watched him, pity and something like solidarity glittering in his eyes. He continued to stroke Luke's hair.

"I have failed you," Obi-Wan murmured, "as I failed your sister, and as I failed your father."

Luke sniffled as he scoffed. "Vader is a monster, General Kenobi," Luke said quietly. "It was a choice. Vader made a choice. He had two paths, and he chose the darker one. I just have to be sure not to go the same way."

Obi-Wan smiled at him, and it was a sad little thing. He closed his eyes, and Luke felt the world go dim.

"Beware," Obi-Wan whispered, "sometimes the dark doesn't look like the dark. Sometimes it is something you want, or need. Sometimes, it is your own voice that commands you."

Luke felt that this was hard to grasp, but he looked into Obi-Wan's eyes all the same. He smiled, and took the old man's face in his hands.

"Then I will not listen," Luke said firmly. Then, he tilted his head, and gave a little laugh. "I'm half deaf, after all!"

For a moment, Obi-Wan was stunned. A small smile crept onto his face, and then he began to laugh. It was a sharp guffaw, his hand falling to his lips to stifle it. But he couldn't. He shook his head in disbelief.

"Go now, Luke," Obi-Wan said gently. "Go now, and do not fear."

Luke stared at him. He could only nod faintly.

When he opened his eyes, there was Vader.

Luke did not see him at first, but he certainly felt him. For a moment he let himself drown in the feeling of it, an ice bath for the ages, and then he sighed. He turned his head to glance at the man who sat at his bedside.

The silence stretched between them. Luke heard Vader's unsteady breath, and he sighed. The bandage on his ear had been removed, and yet he still could not hear out of it. A shame.

"My son," Vader said, not without a hint of hesitance in his voice.

Luke watched him. He cracked a bitter smile, and turned his face up toward the ceiling.

"Let's not pretend, Lord Vader," Luke said, "that I am anything more than a means to and end for you."

Vader sat quietly. His respirator hissed. The unevenness of his breathing became like a jittery tune. Luke closed his eyes and wondered what kind of person might sing to it.

Then Vader stood, and he laid his palm on Luke's cot. The thin mattress sunk beneath his touch.

"We will arrive at Mustafar soon," Vader said. He lowered his head, bowing it low enough that if Luke reached out, he could graze his fingers over the smooth top of his helmet. "Then you will understand."

Without another word, he swept from the room. Luke watched his cape flutter behind him amusedly. So dramatic. Luke suddenly understood where his flair for theatrics came from. Who would have imagined it was in his blood! Well, Bail and Breha were certainly not the types to put on a show. They were much too humble.

Luke sunk into his cot, and he rubbed his head absently. There was still a thin bandage around his forehead, but that seemed to be the last of the lot. He was thankful for that.

Then he turned on his side, and found himself staring at a bauble that had been left in the place were Vader's heavy hand had sunk into the hospital linen.

Luke sat up slowly, the drugs leaving his body heavy like lead, and he plucked up the hearing aid in his metal hand. It fell into his flesh palm, and sat there as Luke contemplated its existence.

A swell of confusion and gratitude hit him at once. He touched his deaf ear, wondering just how deaf it was, since his other ear seemed to do well enough to compensate it.

With a small, uncertain smile, Luke curved the hearing aid around his ear.


Evaan was probably the worst person to be stuck in a freighter for a few hours with Han Solo, which was saying a lot, because Leia was also there. She was stiff and uncertain, very clearly uncomfortable as Han and Leia did their usual back and forth banter. Chewie chimed in every once and a while, but Evaan simply remained silent. Leia did not understand it.

She had thought that having another woman on board would give her an edge on Han, but Evaan was simply dead silent. Leia had been about a split second decision away from choosing Kes to come on the Falcon, and she almost wished he had. At least Kes would have joined in on the banter and argued with Han (or Leia).

Leia had forgotten how much of Evaan's deal was about being respectful and proper and polite. How boring!

"Evaan," Leia said sharply, twisting in her seat to fix her gaze on the slim blonde pilot. "What do you think?"

Evaan gaped at her. Leia and Han had been arguing about how far away from the temple to park the Falcon. Han thought they could just swoop right up to it, while Leia had to remind him that Lothal was still facing Imperial scrutiny, despite the Rebels having won the upper hand a few years earlier. They needed to be careful. Especially with something as priceless as an intact Jedi temple.

In front of her, Han huffed dramatically, shooting her an irritable look, as though he could not possibly understand why she'd look to someone else to defend her stance.

Evaan sat straight for a moment, her brow furrowing under Leia's sharp gaze.

"I understand where Solo is coming from," she admitted, sounding none too happy about it. Han shot Leia a smug little smirk, and Leia rolled her eyes. "I see the advantages of having the ship so close by, in case we need a hasty extraction."

"Great!" Han clasped his hands together. "That settles it, then."

Evaan's amber eyes flickered coolly to Han's face, and she set her shoulders as she raised her chin high. "However," she said sharply, "I believe Leia has the right idea in being cautious, Solo. We cannot afford to lose anyone on this mission, let alone expose the Jedi temple to any Imperial stragglers on planet."

"Ha!" Leia smacked Han's shoulder triumphantly, leaning forward to grin in his face smugly. "How about that, hot shot? Three against one."

"Chewie hasn't voted!" Han objected.

Chewie yowled without even looking at them. Han glared at the Wookiee, his jaw clenching as he slumped forward.

"Chewie said he abstains," Leia translated for Evaan. Evaan blinked, and she nodded slowly. "Which means we win. Guess that means Evaan and Chewie are on Falcon duty."

"Ugh." Han hung his head back dramatically. "Damn it. That means we gotta hike! On Lothal."

"Lothal is mostly flat lands," Leia pointed out, "and it's pretty temperate, isn't it?"

"Ugh!" Han rounded on Evaan, and he jerked a finger in her face. "You better take care of my ship, blondie."

Evaan stared at him unflinchingly. "Get your finger out of my face, Solo," she said in a monotone voice.

Leia quirked an eyebrow, and she smirked as Han wilted a bit. Maybe Evaan wasn't the worst person to have around Han after all.

They came out of hyperspace to a grim looking little planet. From orbit, about half of it was a dazzling green in small, swelling patches, while the rest was a horrible, sickly brown color. Han sucked in a breath, and he drummed his hands against the dashboard, shaking his head.

"Haven't been on this side of the tracks in a while," he said, his face twisting somberly. "Man, the Empire did 'em good, huh?"

"What is it supposed to look like?" Evaan asked, sounding curious and unsure. She seemed to not want to speak unless necessary, but had grasped that Leia wanted her in the conversation.

"Green," Han said plainly, shooting her a glance. "Like, grass forever green. I heard the Empire burned it all away awhile ago, but I never really thought about it."

Chewie gave a small, sad moan. Han nodded in agreement.

"You're right, buddy," Han said. "They never stop being evil."

They landed near a small cluster of cliffs. Leia fastened a blaster holster around her waist, smoothing out the wrinkles in her black shirt. It was another one of Han's old things, and she kept it unbuttoned at her collarbone.

Her eyes swiveled to meet Han's as she caught him eyeing that bit of flesh between the fabric and her throat.

"Yes?" she asked, arching an eyebrow at him.

He pressed his lips thinly together, and his eyebrows shot up toward his hairline. "Nothing," he said, holding up his hands. "Just weird seeing you with a blaster, I guess."

"I always carry a blaster."

"That's a lie."

"Uh, no?" Leia frowned. "It isn't?"

"You have not carried a blaster in at least two years, Leia," Han said, "come on."

"What?" Leia scoffed. "You're ridiculous."

She tightened her belt strap and notched it, turning away from him sharply. There wasn't time to dwell on Han, and his odd behavior. They had to reach the temple before nightfall if they wanted shelter, and Sabine had said something about wolves. It would be smarter if they left quickly.

"I like this look," Han remarked as he punched the lever on the side of the ramp. It began to descend before them.

Leia was wearing tight, high waisted red pants with her black shirt tucked in. The shirt was rather baggy, so it bunched around the belt. Over that she wore a long cream vest that had once been Luke's. She'd kept her hair simple, one single milkmaid braid around her head like a crown.

Han simply wore what he always wore. He felt no need to blend in, because smugglers blended in pretty much everywhere.

So she rolled her eyes, and gestured down the ramp.

"Ladies first," she said.

"Normally I would resent that," Han said, waggling his finger at her, "but I know better than to argue on the concept of gender to you."

"Bravo," Leia said with a grin, following him down the ramp. "He can be trained."

"Aw, shuddap, princess."

They trudged forward, both of them wearing packs on their backs with sufficient supplies. Getting stranded was really not an option.

Lothal was, thankfully, mostly flat. They moved at a quick pace across a plain, shoulder to shoulder, filling the silence with soft banter. None of it was the heated arguments of her memory, where she and Han would scream at each other until hoarse, or until Luke intervened. He seemed to have softened some, in their time apart. She was grateful for it, but a little confused. Why was he reining himself in?

"I wonder what this temple is like," Han said.

"Oh?" Leia nudged his arm playfully as dead grass crunched under their feet. "Getting a little curious about my hokey religion, huh?"

"Well, it's not like I'm looking to join up, or nothin'!" Han huffed defensively. "It's just… y'know. This is your whole life, Leia. What am I supposed to say?"

"What do you mean?"

Han inhaled sharply, casting his eyes forward. Briefly, they flickered up toward the sky, and he shook his head.

"Never mind."

"What?"

"I said don't worry about it."

"Han," Leia said, stopping in the middle of the open field as he trudged on forward, hunched and awkward. "Han!"

She had to jog to catch up with him. Curse his long stupid legs, she thought, stomping up behind him and giving him a shove. He stumbled forward, and then whirled around the glare at her.

"Hey!" he objected, finding his balance and stepping toward her with deliberate force. "What gives?"

"Talk to me!" Leia cried.

He stared at her blankly. Her cry echoed across the empty landscape. They were a long ways away from the Falcon by now. The sun was dipping toward the horizon.

When he did not speak, Leia shoved him again. She planted both her hands on his chest, and she pushed.

"Say something!" she yelled as he stumbled back. He blinked at her, and she hit his chest again. "Tell me what it is that you've been wanting to say since I came back without Luke. Tell me I fucked up!"

"Leia," Han uttered, his eyes wide and searching as they stayed glued on her face.

"I know, okay?" Leia exhaled shakily, and she shook her head. "I hate it. I hate that I'm here, and that Luke isn't. I'm sorry that it happened. I'm sorry that I messed up so bad!"

Han took her by the shoulders and yanked her forward. She struggled for a few moments, thrashing against him wildly, before her head fell onto his chest and she found there was no fight left in her.

"This is what Luke wanted," Han murmured. "Right? He wanted you to get away. So stop blaming yourself."

"It was my mistake, though," she whispered. Her cheek rested against his chest, and she found herself inexplicably warmed by his touch as he rested his chin on her head. She could not help thinking that they seemed to be perfectly made to fit one another's embrace. Just the right heights.

"We all make mistakes."

"Not like this, Han."

"Well, sure," Han said with a snort. "Not all of us have got Darth kriffin' Vader as a father, now do we?"

"Ugh…" Leia groaned. She did not want to think about it.

"Look," Han said, pushing her back gingerly. His hands moved from her shoulders, to the place just behind her ears. The callused heels of his palms tickled her cheek. "There is a lot I don't know— oh, go ahead, laugh it up— but really. I can't really give you any answers. You wanna be forgiven for being born, essentially, and I can't exactly give you that kinda, uh…" Han winced. "What, absolution? I don't have that kinda power. I'm just me, Leia. Y'know. A scoundrel."

Leia found herself staring at his face, taking in the lines of it. He was older than her by… well, more than she'd like to admit. Some of his youth had already begun to fade around the edges of his mouth and the creases of his eyes. And yet, there was something inexplicably charming about him.

"Maybe you're a scoundrel," Leia said with a smirk, "but I guess maybe so am I."

"Oh?" Han's lips cracked into a grin, his teeth glinting. "What a pair we make, then."

Leia laughed, and she pulled his hands from her head. Very slowly they started forward again.

It took a minute for her to let go of his hand.

"Hey…" Han said, giving the few minutes of silence a go before breaking it. "I feel like I gotta tell you… you know, for the sake of our, uh… friendship."

"Oh, this oughta be good."

Han grimaced. He tucked his thumbs into his pockets, and glanced rather exasperatedly aside. "Well," he said, clearing his throat. "See, the thing is… I, uh… kissed Luke."

Leia's whole body went rigid, straightening upright as though shocked by an electric current.

"Oh!" she gasped. It was an involuntary sound. Like she had just seen a glass fall to the floor, and had no power to stop it. She quickly composed herself, seeing Han's stricken face, and she nodded. "I see. Okay."

"No," Han groaned, scratching his forehead with his thumbnail and grimacing. "No, you don't see. That's just the tick, ain't it? See, you think you get it, but you… don't."

"I… I'm sorry, I don't follow." Leia watched him as he stopped walking. "Did you, or did you not kiss my brother?"

"I did, yeah…"

"Right." Leia nodded. She kept nodding, starting forward with a sureness to her step. "This makes sense. Everything makes sense. You were so upset— duh! You're in love with him."

"I am not in love with Luke, Leia!" Han gasped, striding up behind her and throwing his hands into the air. "That is what I'm trying to tell you!"

"You're not making any sense," Leia sighed.

"Damn it…" Han reached out and snatched her by the shoulders, whirling her around and looking straight into her eyes. She took a small step back in alarm, her heartrate accelerating and her neck and cheeks flushing as he watched her intensely. His brow was furrowed, and his body was taut. His face hovered just an inch or so above hers.

"Let…" Leia's mouth was dry. Her stomach was in knots. Twisty, fluttery knots, like butterflies stuck in webs. "Let go of me…"

Han released her without hesitation, and she took a sharp step back. She could hear her own breath as it rattled in the orange tinted dusk. Her eyes were wide as she searched Han's face, finding only shame and confusion and disappointment smoldering there, inside his dark eyes. They drooped and fell to the ground.

With a jittery exhale, Leia turned around. She stared straight ahead, and she started walking.

After a few moments, Han trudged slowly after her.

-linebreak

Mustafar was about as awful as he remembered.

Luke had thanked Terrion profusely after she'd discharged him, and the woman had merely stared at him. Maybe she wasn't used to her patients thanking her.

"Just stay out of trouble," she'd said. "Three times in one week? A literal record. Don't come back."

Now he was slumped as he fell into the shadow of Darth Vader, once more greeting the hell planet like it was an old friend.

The last time I was here, he couldn't help but think, my father was still alive.

He tried to imagine the feeling of his father's arms around him, soothing his weary soul after hours of grueling torture with that witch, the Inquisitor. He rubbed the first scar on his arm that he could get his fingers on, and he swallowed hard.

This place was what nightmares had nightmares of.

"Are you going to try to train me?" Luke asked, peering at Vader's back with both curiosity and barely restrained contempt. "You do realize I'd rather rot in hell than be trained to be a Sith, right? That what happened with the Emperor was just for show?"

"I am aware, my son." Vader did not sound too happy, either. "That is why I have made my decision not to train you. Not entirely. Not until your sister joins us, at least."

The suggestion that Leia would join Vader sparked a fresh peal of rage through him, igniting his bones and causing Luke to hiss through his teeth.

"She won't."

Vader did not look at him. "Do not be so sure, my son."

"Stop calling me that."

Vader paused, and he turned to face Luke. What really astonished him about the whole situation was that Luke was not shackled. He could run if he wanted, or at least try to run. But of course it was hopeless.

"I have been deceived for enough years now that I have earned the right to call you my son," Vader said, taking a step forward and towering over Luke, sending him shrinking beneath his shadow. "That is what you are. My son. My child, who was stolen from me."

"Your child," Luke spat, "who you forsook the moment you betrayed the Republic. Do you honestly think my mother, Padmé Amidala, defender of democracy, would have let you anywhere near her children? Think again!"

Vader stuck a finger in Luke's face, but Luke stood straighter and watched him without flinching.

"Do not think you know," Vader hissed. "Do not presume to understand who your mother was!"

"Again," Luke said, his voice small, but level, "she was my mother. I know. I've studied her. I've dreamed of her. She would hate you now, and you know it. Be ashamed, Anakin Skywalker. You have forfeited your right to my love or even my pity. You destroyed my planet!"

Vader's respirator echoed in the vacuous hall as he lowered his finger and took a step back.

"I regret that," he admitted.

"You better regret it," Luke said, staring at Vader dully. "You better start regretting everything else, too. Because I cannot bear this. I cannot keep pretending that I can look past what you have done, when all you've done to me my whole life is destroy everything I've ever loved!"

Vader did not respond. Luke exhaled shakily, and he closed his eyes.

"You have not pretended that these things don't bother you," Vader said.

Luke stared at him. "What?" he asked.

"You have made your distaste plain," Vader said. "The fact that I am your father does not change your opinion of me, because of the horrible things I have done."

"Well…" Luke's brow furrowed. "Yes. I guess what I meant was that I won't pretend like you can be redeemed. Because I'm not sure."

"Not sure of what?"

"That you can be redeemed."

"Luke," Vader said, his vocoder causing his name to sound like a staccato burst. "There is no going back from the Dark Side. You understand that, don't you?"

Luke stared up at Vader's helmet, and he choked back all of the hope that had been slowly accumulating inside him. For the past week, he had been feeling all sorts of conflicted, hating and hoping, hating and hoping, divided by Vader's inability to be consistent.

Now he felt like he had to do this out of spite.

He lifted his chin, and he smiled up at Vader brightly.

"We'll see," he said.

Vader sighed, his respirator wheezing in a way that made it clear what it was.

"Impossible child," he hissed.

"As always," Luke reminded him.

Vader regarded him with an iron stare, one that Luke could not quite work out. It seemed half his life had merely been suffering under the uncertainty of Vader's scrutiny. What did a gaze mean, when that gaze was hidden behind glass and plasteel? Luke was trapped in a game of guess and bluff, guess and bluff, until maybe something stuck.

At least there were no more Inquisitors. He didn't have a brutal torture session in the guise of a lesson to look forward to.

Luke was brought to a row of cells, each one looking identical to the last, and he resigned himself to the fact that this hall would be his home for a very long time. He had not considered the idea that Vader might merely lock him away and ignore him for eternity, at least not seriously.

He supposed going insane from isolation would be preferable to falling to the Dark Side, though he wasn't sure there was too much of a difference.

Vader stopped before a door, and Luke solemnly halted beside him. It looked like every other door, his soon to be cell. Steely and cold.

Not for the first time, Luke imagined his room on Alderaan. Tears prickled behind his eyes, and he had to take a deep breath.

The door slid open, and Vader stood still. Luke took that as an invitation to step inside the cell, as it would soon be a home to him in one way or another.

What greeted him was a thousand leagues away from the empty, frigid prison he had dreamed himself.

On the floor was a plush red carpet. It was rich and velvety, an expensive looking rug from the way that the gold weavings curled intricately around its fringes. There were shelves, rows of them, one stretching from wall to wall with books. Luke studied them from afar, his eyes glazing over as he drank in the dozens of tomes, ancient ones by the look of it, each its own unique size and color, leather bound or encased in wood or stitched together shoddily in several patchy, untreated animal skins.

The shelf immediately to his left caught his attention. It was lined with what appeared to be useless baubles. Half a dozen seashells in a tiny mound, each one more exotic than the last. A paper dragon lying innocently on one wing. Crystals from worlds that Luke could not name, strung carefully on wire across the shelf, fat bulbs of yellow eyed gems, tiny red slivers like droplets of blood, rich, oceanic geoids cracked into pieces and netted in wire, dazzling, porous white stars that twinkled in the grayish lighting of the cell.

Luke reached out and picked up a tooth that fit inside his palm. His fingers grazed over the smooth surface, and he realized all at once that this room was not meant for him.

The cold shadow that lingered at his back seemed to draw closer. Vader had stepped inside the room.

In a brief moment of confusion and alarm, Luke turned to look up at Vader with newfound wonder. Apprehension coiled around him as this man drew something from within his suit.

A shard of glass. It glinted faintly, reflecting the gray light in its blue tinted face. It was a small, inconsequential thing. Yet Luke's eyes followed it with unparalleled interest as Vader set it down silently beside the dragon.

He held out his hand, and Luke pressed the tooth into his palm, feeling almost as if he were in a trance or a dream. Like he could not quite control his own body.

The door of the cell slid shut, and the small mountain of blankets on the makeshift prison cot shifted.

"Not today," a familiar voice grumbled, "demon."

Luke found himself staring in awe and growing delight as he followed the mountain of blankets to its end, two blue pronged ends of montrals poking out of the edge of what appeared to be a handwoven quilt from Shili.

All of his giddiness came pouring out at once.

"Ahsoka!" Luke gasped, lifting his hands to his head in disbelief.

Ahsoka Tano bolted upright as fast as lightning at the sound of his voice. Her body sprung, rigid in shock and hunched in absolute terror. She was wearing a plain white tank top, and around her head was a headband made of the same teeth as the one on the shelf.

Her eyes fell upon him, and his smile drifted away as he gazed upon her horror.

"Luke?" she whispered, her brow furrowing in dismay.

All he wanted was to run to her, to throw his arms around her and bury his face in her shoulders. He wanted to sink to his knees and cry in her arms, and let all the rest fade away. Let the grown ups deal with the stress for a change! Luke was so tired, and it was such a strain to be a self-sustaining pillar, keeping upright by miracles and pure will.

But it was not fair to Ahsoka to assume that what he wanted and what she wanted were the same.

Obviously she was not happy to see him. Why should she be? He had been captured, which he knew was one of her great fears. She'd always promised him time and again that she would protect him, when the time came. She had even promised him once that if she could help it, he and Leia would never have to deal with Vader.

Well, look how that turned out.

Ahsoka exhaled shakily. She pushed back her blankets, and she sat for a moment, her eyes softening as she took in his battered appearance. For the first time since Luke had watched Leia fall backwards into the void of freedom, Luke felt a warm splash of pure light in the Force as her emotions lapped at his ankles.

She was overwhelmed with a plethora of emotions. Confusion, fear, apprehension, delight, horror, amazement, and finally, and most chillingly, rage.

Ahsoka's eyes slid like ice across pavement toward Vader.

"What," she spat, pushing herself to her feet and coiling her body as if to contain the thrumming fury within her, "have you done?"

Vader was like a cement wall, unfeeling and cold. He was a void in the center of the room.

"A thank you will suffice," Vader said.

Ahsoka sucked in a breath through her teeth, her shoulders trembling. Her chin moved jerkily, tipping toward Luke as she made a wide, sweeping gesture.

"I told you!" she cried, her voice shaking. "I said that I'd cooperate. All I asked from you is to leave them alone, and you couldn't even do that!"

"Perhaps," Vader rumbled, "if you had informed me that I had two children rather than one, this would have ended much differently."

Ahsoka froze. She stared at Vader, her rage melting away into pure horror. Then her face turned abruptly toward Luke. She looked, to her credit, absolutely crushed. Devastation gleamed in her eyes as she slumped, her whole body sinking in resignation.

"Luke…" she uttered, her eyes squeezing shut. "I'm so sorry."

He took a step toward her carefully. When she didn't move away immediately, he took another. Then he moved steadily to her side, and he touched her arm.

"Ahsoka," Luke said gently, laying his hand against her cheek. "Who do you think you're talking to?"

"I should have told you," she said breathlessly, shaking her head. "I wanted to, but… oh, Luke, I didn't know, not for sure that he was your father, and what if I was wrong? How could I put you through that? Especially after Alderaan."

"Ahsoka," Luke sighed. He was aware of the burning gaze of Darth Vader at his back, on his hand, at Ahsoka's cheek, just a fire in a void the would not cease.

"I didn't know what to think, when Leia showed up! I shouldn't have let her appearance deter me from believing what I knew to be true— you looked and acted so much like Anakin sometimes— and that was my fault too, for indulging that behavior. Especially when you were little. Oh, Luke, remember when you used to come to lessons covered head to toe in engine grease, and you had to be dragged off by a maid or a nurse to clean you up because you just didn't see the problem with it? Remember when you stole that ship?"

"What time?" Luke laughed uneasily. Vader's presence was stronger now. He was listening intently, Luke knew, and so Luke could not bear to look at him.

Ahsoka laughed as well, though it was a bitter thing. "I wanted so badly for it not to be true," she whispered. "I asked the Force every day, but I was never given an answer. Just those little signs. The anger, the self-righteous fury of a young boy with a lot of big ideas and no outlet for his emotions. All that skill, and curiosity— I thought it was fate that brought me to you, but it was Bail Organa. He knew what he was doing when he brought us together, didn't he? I was a fool to never question it. I'm so sorry, Luke, you deserved so much better—!"

"Ahsoka…"

"Please," Ahsoka gasped, tears glittering in her eyes, "please, let me say this! I cannot— I will not let him steal you away from me without you understanding this. Anakin Skywalker was a good man, and I never once saw anything of him in you that I thought was bad or— or something to be ashamed of. It was just… something that was there. Something that I recognized, but I didn't know how to name. Luke, do not let him fool you. Do not accept anything he tells you, because it is not true. Anakin Skywalker was your father, but that doesn't mean the Vader has to be anything to you but a monster."

Luke took her by the shoulders and shook her gently.

"Ahsoka!" he gasped. She blinked down at him, her brow furrowing. He shook his head, her words rattling around in his skull. Then he drew her in for a tight hug, letting his forgiveness pour over her. She slumped in his arms. "I already knew."

"What…?" Ahsoka whispered.

Luke sighed. He had not expected their reunion to go like this. As he rubbed small, soothing circles into her back, he shot a dull glance at Vader. He observed the exchange without a word, impassive but for the rattling of his respirator.

"Sit down," Luke advised her.

"No," Ahsoka said, "no, I think I'm gonna stand. What do you mean, you knew?"

Luke drew back from her. He wanted a tighter hug. He wanted her to squeeze him, and smooth back his hair, and to tell him it would all be okay.

"You don't have to apologize for never telling me, because I never told you," Luke said, feeling more and more like himself as he spoke. He smiled at Ahsoka wearily, and shrugged. "Sorry. Papa told me no one could know, or Vader would come, and I'd be taken away. So I never told anyone. Not you, not Leia, no one. I thought I might die with that secret, honestly."

"You knew Anakin was your father?" Ahsoka said, her voice small and her eyes wide.

Luke shook his head. "I knew Vader was my father," Luke said, his eyes rolling toward Vader's motionless form. "I never wanted to know who he'd been before. Though I regret that a lot now, as I'm sure you can imagine."

"You… what?" Ahsoka gaped at him. Her hands drew toward her head, and her eyes widened. "Are you kidding? You just… you just kept that secret? The whole time?"

"Yep," Luke said, chewing on the inside of his cheek and shrugging. "Pretty much. It was a lot easier, I guess, since I knew I had parents who loved me no matter what regardless. I did feel guilty when Vader cut off your arm, though."

"Yes," Ahsoka said, her voice chilly. Her gaze flickered to his metal arm, and he rubbed it self-consciously. "I understand the feeling. Will anyone care to inform me what happened there? Or do I not want to know?"

"I got between Vader and Leia," Luke sighed, shaking his head. "It's my fault, not Vader's."

A ripple of surprise slid through the Force. Ahsoka and Luke peered at each other confusedly before they both glanced at Vader.

"Is that true?" Ahsoka asked. It sounded like she'd already made up her mind that Luke was lying.

"It is not untrue," Vader offered.

"Never mind, I don't care what you think," Ahsoka said with a grimace. She turned her attention back to Luke. "What about your face? Was this all Vader too?"

Luke laughed and batted her hand away as she gestured to his general face area. "Stop," he gasped. "No, it wasn't. Some Imperials attacked me while I was on Vader's Star Destroyer, and it got ugly. Vader saved me."

"Oh, did he?" Ahsoka rolled her eyes and huffed. "How gracious of him. Don't take that too close to heart, Luke. He likes to save you, and then make a mighty big show of how awful he is afterwards."

"Learned that lesson quick," Luke laughed. "Though, really… I'm surprised he keeps you here at all. Why not make you into an Inquisitor?"

Ahsoka cracked half a grin, and she peered over Luke's head. "Yeah, Anakin," she taunted, her teeth glinting in the dim light, "why not make me into an Inquisitor?"

Luke turned and watched Vader straighten, and then slump.

"In due time, Apprentice," Vader hissed.

Ahsoka smiled, and she elbowed Luke gently. "That's Vader speak for never," she clarified. "He's never gonna do it, because he won't torture me."

"Wow," Luke remarked, his eyebrows shooting up. "Wish I could say the same."

Ahsoka stared at him for a moment before shooting an accusatory glare at Vader.

"Do not look at me that way," Vader said stiffly. "I have not touched him since Bespin, and I have no intention of torturing him. He will join me willingly."

"Oh, Anakin," Ahsoka said, her voice so bitingly condescending that Vader actually took a step back. "Do you really think your charming personality is gonna win over your biggest political opponent?"

"You sound like Kenobi," Vader spat, Obi-Wan's name hissing from his helmet with the revulsion of a curse word.

"Good!" Ahsoka flung her arms into the air. "If nothing else I can always remember one Master didn't disappoint me."

"Kenobi failed you!" Vader snarled. "The Order failed you! I was the only one who listened— the only one who believed in you!"

Ahsoka stood, withstanding Vader's outburst with an unimpressed stare.

"Obi-Wan made a mistake. He made a lot of mistakes, actually. Maybe your problem with him isn't how he failed, but that he failed at all. Did you think he was perfect, Anakin? Because he wasn't, and he never tried to be."

"He was the perfect Jedi," Vader said coolly, "and I destroyed him."

"Very astute," Ahsoka sneered, "but wrong. Master Obi-Wan was not the perfect man, nor was he the perfect Jedi, and you did not destroy him. Just like you did not destroy Anakin. Now leave."

"Do not think you can command me, Apprentice," Vader hissed, stepping forward. "I come and go as I please."

"Yeah, well, next time you come, can you bring Ezra?" Ahsoka asked, dropping onto her bed and yawning. "He'll want to talk to Luke."

It was a solid thirty seconds before her words even registered to him.

It was a solid minute before he found he could even move, let alone react properly.

He looked between Vader and Ahsoka confusedly. His confusion stretched into shock, which melted into disbelief.

"What?" he uttered finally.

Vader turned his helmet to regard Luke. Luke gaped at him, and he looked at Ahsoka with wide eyes.

"Don't tell me… you're not serious, are you? It's a different Ezra, right?"

Ahsoka watched up with pity unfolding in her eyes, and she smiled at him gently.

"Yes, Luke," she said, very carefully as though he were something delicate. "Ezra Bridger. He was brought here after Vader faked his death."

"You did what?" Luke gasped, turning on Vader with a sudden and vehement disgust.

Vader, to his credit, seemed confused. Probably a first for the man. He tilted his head, and looked between Ahsoka and Luke uncertainly.

"You and the Loth rat know each other?" he asked, sounding as though he was speaking more to himself than to Ahsoka and Luke.

"Ezra is my friend!" Luke cried, lurching forward. Ahsoka caught him by the arm and reeled him back. "I thought he was dead! I thought you executed him— but you didn't? What the hell?"

"It's okay, Luke," Ahsoka gasped. "Ezra is fine. Vader only faked his death to keep Palpatine from getting at him."

"What?"

"That is true enough," Vader said. "Though I could have killed him. I probably should have, given how you have been acting."

"You never kept me around for my compliance, Master," Ahsoka said coolly.

"Clearly."

"Sorry, excuse me, I'm still trying to wrap my head around the whole faked Ezra's death thing," Luke said, throwing his hands up into the air indignantly. "Can someone explain? Like really explain? Vader, why?"

"The boy was caught and identified as Ezra Bridger," Vader said simply. "I had two options— kill him, or convince him to become an Inquisitor, which I understood was unlikely given what I observed the last time we had met. Knowing that he and Ahsoka were close, I decided to, as they say, take the third option."

"Fake his death to save him," Ahsoka clarified.

"No, I got that part." Luke exhaled, and he closed his eyes. "I guess I just… I didn't expect this."

"I did not know you knew each other," Vader said, his caution indicating he was uncertain.

"There is a lot you don't know about me," Luke told Vader coldly. He took a step forward, shaking off Ahsoka's grasp, and he stared at Vader without a single emotion flickering past his eyes. "I want to see Ezra."

"That can wait."

"Now."

Vader stood and stared. Luke stared back. The silence stretched between them, cold and uncomfortable, a massive void that consumed all emotion and all thought.

Without another word, Vader turned on his heel and left.

Once the door slid closed, Luke exhaled shakily. He dropped down to his knees on the plush red blanket, and Ahsoka rushed to his side, taking his shoulders and pulling him close.

"Hey," she said gently, "Luke… Ezra is okay. I mean, he doesn't have as many knick knacks as I do, but he's not suffering. We see each other whenever Vader returns."

"I don't understand what's happening here," Luke sighed into her shoulder. "You're his prisoner, but you're not. What's going on, Ahsoka?"

His phrasing made her stiffen, and she grimaced a bit as she rubbed his back. "Well…" She winced. "I know it sounds hypocritical, because I told you not to listen to him before, but honestly? I feel like I owe him some form of comfort. Even if that comfort is keeping me as a pet for the rest of my life."

"Ahsoka!"

"No, listen," Ahsoka gasped, sitting cross-legged beside him and taking his hands. "Luke, you don't owe anything to Vader. You never knew Anakin Skywalker, and in all likelihood you never will. But my whole life has been the build up to my apprenticeship with Anakin, and then the ricochet of events that proceeded after it. Everything I am is because of that moment when we became Master and Apprentice. I loved him so much, and I left him. I left him, Luke. Understand that."

"You are not responsible for what he became," Luke told her, shaking his head slowly as he peered into her eyes. He wanted her to know how earnestly this came from him, how much it meant to him that she be free and happy.

She only laughed bitterly. "Maybe," she admitted, "but I'm not blameless either. Luke, I know that I could have made a difference in him if I had been there when you were born. Obi-Wan told me some of what happened, and from what I've gathered… it was because Anakin was alone. Palpatine had been manipulating him for half his life, and then me and Obi-Wan were gone, and who did he have left? The Jedi Order? Who constantly gave him a hard time for things beyond his control. Padmé, who I'm sure was struggling not to have a nervous breakdown considering everything she had worked her whole life to preserve and protect was being dismantled before her eyes, the love of her life was going crazy, and she was having secret babies from a secret marriage that she could tell literally no one about. I could have been there for both of them, but instead I was off fighting Maul of all people, and even then I failed. I didn't kill him, and Rex and I barely escaped Mandalore with our lives."

Luke sat quietly and tried to imagine all of this from her point of view. Perhaps he'd feel similarly if he had come back to Ahsoka to find her enrapt in the Dark Side. Like it had been his fault for not trying harder to protect her on Cymoon 1.

"Ahsoka," Luke said softly, staring down at his hands, "do you think there's still good in him?"

Ahsoka's mouth fell open. She leaned back, alarmed as if she had not quite expected this question. As though she was not surrounded by tokens of Vader's affection, or that her mere existence in this place did not prove it enough. She sat and stared at Luke, and when it came time for her to answer, no answer came.

She closed her eyes and closed her mouth.

Maybe she was right to not answer.

Maybe, Luke thought, there's no answer to give.


"Is this it?" Han asked, sounding a little breathless as they stood before a craggy impasse. Rocks shot into the sky, small mountain ranges like massive gray eggs. Leia looked down at her datapad, and then back up at the rocks.

"It's…" She blinked rapidly, and fixed her gaze back on the datapad. "It's supposed to be."

"Lemme see that."

Han tore the datapad from her hands, and Leia took a step back, holding her empty hands out toward the sky. As Han scanned the datapad, Leia peered around her. There was something strange about this place. She couldn't place it. There was no sense of rightness, per se, no strong tug at her heart that suggested she had reached her destination, but something warmed her nonetheless. It was less like a sense of fulfillment than a warm drink filling her chest.

Breaking away from Han, Leia moved forward. The land below her feet was cracked and dry. She knelt down, her eyes flickering about her uncertainly. She understood the need to feel rather than see, but it was hard. She had always been bad at meditation.

She reached out, prodding the air and the sky and the dirt with the Force. It always felt a bit like letting out a large sigh when she did this. Like she could breath out, and with her breath came a bit of her soul that escaped like gas and had no container to hold it back, so it seeped into its surroundings and grasped at every molecule it could.

There were stones, and more stones, and then there was the dirt, and more dirt, but below that there was a massive structure that dug itself so deep that it seemed to be alive within the earth's crust. It thrummed like a heartbeat beneath her.

She held out her hand, and pressed her palm to the earth.

The dirt hummed against her finger tips.

Leia's eyes snapped open.

"This is it," she said firmly.

Beside her, Han sighed exasperatedly. "Well, if the magic says so," he grumbled, his eyes rolling back. "Who am I to judge?"

Leia did not have the energy to glare at him. Instead she burrowed her fingers into the dirt, and she took a deep breath. How was she supposed to get the temple to the surface? Was there a passage hidden in the rocks for her to go down? Or did she raise it?

Something told her she was supposed to raise it.

She tried to imagine juggling rocks with the Force on Dagobah. It had seemed so simple then, prying the boulders from the ground with the Force and watching as each one rotated around the other like small planets. She had felt content then, with Yoda balanced on her.

Taking on five large boulders seemed like child's play compared to this.

Her muscles strained as she dug her nails into the ground, feeling the earth quake beneath her fingers as she willed the temple to lift, to twist and shudder and rise. If nothing else, she could trust the Force, and the Force was hers to pull and mold and manipulate. That was how it worked. It was art, wielding the Force. She just had to become a Master at it.

The whole world was rumbling. Her body bent, and her fingers stretched out against the ground, and she felt the Force coiling around her, whispering and writhing and falling away from her touch as the Temple moved— and then it fell back into place.

Leia screamed, her back arching as her fingers withdrew themselves from the earth, and she smacked her palms against the ground in frustration. It wasn't enough! Her whole body shook, her eyes were stinging from sweat and tears, and her muscles were all aflame, throbbing in ways that made her wonder if the very threads of her existence had begun to unravel as she'd tried to pull the Temple from the earth.

"Damn it!" she gasped, dragging her trembling fingers across the ground and shaking her head. "I had it! I had it!"

She found herself being dragged upright, and she blinked rapidly as her shuddering arms were gripped by the fists of Han Solo, who was gaping at her in terror. His face was white as a sheet, and his eyes were glimmering with pure, unadulterated fear.

"Leia," he breathed, pulling her closer and steadying her as she swayed. She sat for a moment, dazed and dizzy, while he held her still. There were stars at the edges of her vision. She didn't even flinch as Han smoothed her hair back from her face, using his sleeve to wipe the sweat from her forehead and cheeks. He pushed stray wisps of hair behind her ears. "Enough. Enough, you hear me? You idiot. Don't try that again."

"Han…" Leia sighed, lowering her forehead to his chest. "I have to. I need to get into that Temple… I just…"

"Shut up."

"Han…"

"I said shut up, okay?"

Leia had to force herself to breathe. She had to gulp in a big breath, and then exhale. And then she let herself be held, because she was too exhausted to really react any other way. Han held her, and she let him, and she could not wonder or theorize what this could mean, because all it meant to her right now was safety and failure and it hurt.

The sun was going down. The orange glow of the evening had turned stale, a bluish-gray haze falling over her, and Han, and the immovable dirt. She let herself be held, and she peered into the fading sky and wondered if it was even possible to lift the Temple from the ground. Perhaps it was a fool's errand, and she had wasted her time and energy by coming here.

When Han scooped her up into his arms, she began to kick the air wildly. He clung to her, kneeling down and hushing her softly.

"Leia," he gasped, calming her with a callused touch and a gentle gaze, "Leia, stop. We gotta go. Let me get you back to the Falcon."

"No."

That was not the answer he wanted. He swallowed hard enough that she watched his Adam's apple bob in the dark, and he sighed.

"Look…" He set her down gently on the ground. "I don't wanna drag you kicking and screaming all the way back, alright? I happen to enjoy your nagging. But we can't stay here. We gotta leave, and you know it, so don't fight me! Just come. Don't make it any harder on yourself."

"Han," Leia whispered, dragging her palms blindly across the dirt, "I can feel the Temple. I can't just leave it down there."

"You have to."

"No, I don't."

"Trying that again is gonna kill you, Leia," Han said, taking her face in his hands and gazing into her eyes. In the inky Lothal night, all she could really see of him was the whites of his eyes. She suddenly regretted not bringing Artoo along. Why had she listened to Han and been convinced that he'd just attract unwanted attention? They were in the middle of nowhere!

"But it has answers," Leia said, "answers I need. I have to. I've got to. Han, you don't know. You can't feel it underneath us. It wants me to bring it up!"

"First of all, it's a building, it wants nothin', got it?" Han wagged a finger in her face. She half-heartedly pushed it away. "Secondly, if it really wanted ya, you idiot, it would've come up for you. It didn't. You see now?"

"No."

"Damn it, Leia…"

Leia reached out and grasped the front of his shirt. She balled it up in her fists and searched his face almost blindly.

"Please," she gasped, "Han, please. Let me try one more time. In the morning. Come on. Just let us wait the night, and I'll try again."

She could tell how much it pained him by the way he moved away from her touch. He pried her fingers from his shirt, but held them in his hands for awhile afterward. His fingers closed over hers, and were massive and cold. His calluses scraped her calluses. They watched each other in the dark.

"Just…" Han exhaled in grim defeat. "Fine. Fine, alright? We'll stay the night. But at dawn, we head back. Got it?"

Leia nodded eagerly. It was all she could do not to weep openly in front of him, feeling that somehow she'd failed exponentially because she could not lift a building from its subterranean rest with her mind, but she didn't. She slowly relaxed, her body ceasing its quaking, and she curled up against Han's side and breathed.

Hard to think of three years earlier, when this sort of thing would have been unthinkable. She would have rather frozen to death, paralyzed by a seizure, than huddle up beside Han Solo. Now that she thought about it, her nineteen year old self was sort of a brat.

It could have been a millennium before Han spoke. He did nothing but sit and let her rest her head against him, his arm wrapped loosely around her shoulder. At one point, as she'd been dozing off, he'd tilted his head back and peered at the sky.

"Funny, that," he remarked.

She mumbled incoherently into his side. Tiredly, she lifted her eyes to the stars.

"What?" she murmured, blinking blearily at the twinkling lights.

"Nothin'."

Leia rolled her eyes, and she shoved his shoulder. "Han," she said, wobbling as she moved slightly away from him. He reeled her back in without looking at her.

"You'll think it's silly."

"I mean…" Leia cracked a smirk. "Probably? But that's never stopped you before."

Han huffed a small sigh, and he shook his head. When he stayed silent, she decided to close her eyes and bury her nose in his shirt. As the minutes ticked by, and the faint sound of distant crickets lulled her into a secure and feathery abyss, she heard Han's voice whisper in the dark.

"The stars. I never get tired of it. Looking up and seeing different constellations, but knowing they're all the same. It makes me feel like a kid all over."

Leia did not move, nor did she speak, or even open her eyes.

She curled her fingers against his waist, and drifted off into a sweet, soft sleep.

When she dreamed, it was a blur. Images flashed in her brain, staccato bursts of things. Ships whirring, grass blowing, fire roaring, fingers clenching, screams resonating, and laughter bubbling up from within her. It was a clip show that did not cease, rearing itself up and flashing like strobe lights, never hesitating as it force fed her brilliant, dazzling, gory, debilitating, sacred scenes. She could not stop looking, because she was part of them.

Then they stopped, and she was consumed by a low, rumbling voice. It fell over her like a wave, drowning her in its resonant tone, like distant thunder that rolled out across the stars.

"Hope…"

Leia's eyes snapped open. She found herself curled up on the very cold, very hard ground, her head resting against something soft. Her back was oddly warm, and she blinked rapidly. She realized she could feel a soft breath tickle the back of her neck, and she tilted her head curiously.

Her eyes widened as she came nose to nose with the slumbering Han Solo. He had one arm draped around her, and the other tucked beneath her head. When she moved, his nose wrinkled, and he shifted and grumbled.

Heat rose to her neck and cheeks inexplicably. She calmed herself with a deep breath, and willed her heartbeat to cease its rapid drumming.

A small, breathy snort from above her head made her blink upwards.

Leia jerked back, cover her mouth to stifle a scream as the long muzzle of an enormous wolf dipped low toward her.

Its cold, wet nose, dragged along her cheek. Leia dug her nails into her cheeks, swallowing a scream of terror and blinked rapidly as it opened its massive jaws, saliva glistening against its teeth which were smooth and as long as her fingers.

"Hope…" it breathed at her.

Leia dropped her hands from her mouth, and she gazed at the wolf in wonder.

It was huge— probably about the size of a bantha. Its fur was shaggy and white, and its eyes were gold and glimmering with intelligence. Leia gazed at it, and she felt the Force hum around it.

"Oh," she said breathlessly, reaching up hesitantly to lay her hand upon its snout, "hello, there…"

Suddenly there was a visceral cry from a foot or so away, and she blinked down at Han in alarm as he stumbled to his feet.

"Leia, no!" he yelled, cutting between her and the wolf and throwing himself over her like a shield. Leia stumbled back, her face in Han's chest as he curled his body around hers and squeezed her tight.

"Han," she gasped, "it's okay!"

"What?" Han broke away from her briefly, searching her face with pure incredulity. "Leia, you were about to get your arm bitten off!"

"No!" She shook her head and stepped back, pointing from below Han's guarding arm. "Look!"

Han turned around slowly. Leia peered at his face as it transformed into a confused, awed expression. The Loth-wolf had laid down before them, tucking its long legs beneath it.

"What," Han exhaled, "the hell?"

Leia pressed her hand to his shoulder, and she smiled. "It's friendly," she said. "I promise."

"What is this thing?" Han sputtered, jerking back while still half-hovering over Leia.

"I don't really know," Leia admitted, unable to keep the pure delight from her voice, "but I feel like I know it. Like I've always known it. Right?"

She spoke to the wolf, who turned its head toward her. It blinked, and dipped its head in a small nod.

"See, it agrees," Leia said.

"It's an animal, Leia," Han sighed, "it can't agree with anything!"

"Shut up." Leia batted his arms away and stepped forward, ignoring his exasperated yell. She held out both her hands, and placed them on the wolf's head without hesitation. Its fur was coarse and thin, and it watched her as she stroked her knuckles between its eyes and up between its ears. "You're beautiful. Wow, look at you! Like the Force alive, but sentient too. Oh, I love you!"

"It's not a dog," Han pointed out to her irritably. "It's a wild animal. Are you kidding me right now?"

"Han's just jealous," Leia cooed, watching as the wolf closed its eyes contentedly and leaned into her touch. "He can't feel the Force, so he doesn't know how special you are."

"Hey!"

Leia rubbed the wolf's head silently, slowly, feeling the Force breathe contentedly around her. Steady rhythms, like a child falling asleep, and it warmed her heart and soothed her soul.

The wolf opened its eyes, and it watched her.

She understood.

"Two people," she said, drawing her hand to her forehead and laughing in disbelief. "Oh. It takes two Jedi to open the Temple."

"Did the Loth-wolf tell you that?" Han scoffed.

Leia glared at him. "Not in words," she told him cryptically. That made him scowl.

The wolf lifted itself to its feet, and it gave Leia a significant look before it brushed past her. She grazed her fingers over its back and side, smiling at it in slight disbelief.

It stood before the Temple, pawing the long, desperate marks that her fingers had clawed into the ground the night before. The sky was simmering, blue growing brighter as an eggshell white peak developed on the horizon. Dawn was breaking.

The wolf turned to look at her. She watched its head jerk, and she realized it was beckoning her.

"Ah," she said. She stepped up beside it, laying her hand on its side. She closed her eyes and felt for the massive structure beneath their feet, finding it quicker and more easily now that the Force seemed to flood her. Beside her, the wolf exhaled. Then the Force began to sing, a drumming symphony that dragged the depths of her soul up as the ground began to quake and the earth's crust split open. She opened her eyes and watched breathlessly as her trembling fingers stretched out, prying the Temple from the earth. It moved in a spiral, curving around and around in an ancient dance.

Then it stopped.

Leia gaped at it, a brilliant, dazed smile creeping on her lips.

"Thank you," she whispered, wrapping her arms around the wolf's neck and burying her face in its fur. It didn't smell like anything, which made her wonder if she was still dreaming.

When she turned to face Han, he was watching her with a look on his face that she could not quite read. And Leia could always read Han.

Without thinking, she strode up to him, stood up on her toes, and kissed his cheek. She watched his expression bloom in wonder and warmth, and she stepped back, giving him a devilish grin.

"Play nice," she told him, pointing at his face and offering him a wink.

Then Leia turned and faced the Temple. The entrance yawned open before her, and as she stepped toward it, she felt the Force flutter.

The dark of the Temple swallowed her whole.

Chapter Text

She had been in a Jedi temple before— Vrogas Vas still burned itself clearly enough in her recent memory— but those ruins had not been quite like this.

The moment she stepped inside, she felt the shift in energy. It seemed to her like she had fallen into a waking dream. The Force moved strongly here, as if the world was more Force than molecular make up. If the Force willed it, she could sink through the ground and fall forever.

The first thing she noticed was her necklace. The crystal shifted against the hollow of her throat. When she looked down, plucking it up in her fingers and turning it curiously, it began to emanate a faint bluish glow. Leia gazed at it for a moment before quickly undoing the knot at the back of her neck and holding the crystal dangling before her. The glow only grew more intense as she moved forward into the darkened corridor, which felt both like a tomb and a chapel.

As the crystal swung slowly from her fist, she noted the architecture. It felt more contained than the temple on Vrogas Vas. The ruins of that temple had seemed extraordinarily detailed, with visages of old Jedi and old battles left in broken heaps and spires. This temple was completely intact, and yet there was not a statue or a mural in sight. The floor was dusty, but the tile did appear to be in the style of faded mosaics. Shapes fit together symmetrically.

There was something wrong. She felt it as she moved deeper, and she scraped the wall with her fingertips. The kyber crystal swayed.

"I sense…" Leia told the dust and the dirt, her brow furrowing as her nails scraped an old wound on the wall's surface. A lightsaber's black scar. She exhaled shakily, and looked around her worriedly. "You don't want me here, do you?"

The temple was silent. Dust swirled underfoot, and the crystal illuminated great swaths of it as it flitted through the air.

Leia bit her lower lip, and she closed her eyes. She needed the temple to know she was a friend— that she was a Jedi.

"I'm sorry," Leia announced to the temple. "I'm not like the people who came here before, I promise!"

Her voice echoed in the dark. She began to move forward again, her boots clapping against the floor. She came to a cylindrical room that branched off into separate passages, and she blinked as real light seemed to filter onto the tile from some opening above. She peered at the tile curiously, and then at the passages. She had to make a choice on which way to go. She moved in a slow circle, nodding to each entrance. Her eyes fell upon the way she came and she jerked back with a gasp, her fingers flying to her blaster.

There was a man standing there. She tore the blaster from her holster and pointed it at him.

"Did you follow me?" she demanded. Her eyes flickered from his shoes, which were sturdy brown boots, to his loose brown tunic and black tabard. On his face was a white mask that was delicately detailed. She could not see his eyes beneath the shadows of the slits within it.

He brushed past her, moving with a sure and even pace, and ignored her blaster. He stepped into the corridor to her right, and then paused. When she didn't follow, he turned to look at her almost expectantly.

"What?" Leia asked, huffing. "Why should I follow you? You're wearing a mask!"

The man tilted his head. He lifted his hands to his face, and removed the mask as gingerly as possible. Beneath it, she was confused to see a man that she did not recognize. He was bearded, his skin tan and warm, and his brown hair swept back in a low ponytail. The most interesting thing about him was the dark scar that swept over his eyes, leaving his irises and pupils a milky white.

Leia slowly lowered her blaster, feeling a little guilty for pulling it on a blind man.

"Leia Skywalker," the man said. His voice was deep, but not intimidating. He sounded younger than she expected. "Why are you here?"

She exhaled shakily, and she straightened her back so she might seem more confident. She cursed herself when she remembered this man was literally blind, and the straightness of her back would have no effect.

"I need a new lightsaber," she admitted to the man. She peered at him curiously, and took a step forward. "Are you a… a Jedi?"

The man did not answer her. He watched a place beyond her head, his face tilted to the side. Then he pointed at the crystal in her hands.

"Will that not suffice?" he asked.

"It's not mine," Leia said stiffly, holding the crystal close to her chest and feeling the warmth of it. "I didn't choose it."

"But you feel a connection to it."

Leia struggled to respond. She opened her mouth, and then she closed it. She inhaled deeply, and then she shook her head.

"It was my father's," she whispered, shame washing over her. "Of course I feel connected to it. That doesn't change the fact that it's not mine, though."

"No," said the man, a wry smirk twisting on his lips. "Guess not."

"Who are you?" Leia asked him, taking a step forward and searching his face. It occurred to her all at once as she stared into his blind eyes that she knew exactly who this was, but she had never gotten the chance to meet him. "Kanan?" she tried, taking another step closer to him. The man cocked his head. "Kanan Jarrus?"

The blind man lifted his head, and he let his shoulders rise and fall casually.

"More or less," he said, his smile bleak and oddly unsettling.

Leia's brow furrowed, and she holstered the blaster as he turned away from her. All at once she remembered the cave on Dagobah, and how she had seen Count Dooku, spoken to him, and understood that there was some truth to the illusion despite it not truly being Dooku.

With some hesitance, Leia followed Kanan Jarrus into a corridor. Her crystal grew brighter as they were plunged into darkness.

"I heard that Kanan Jarrus was dead," she said, listening to her own scraping footsteps and noting his lack thereof.

"Death is not the end," Kanan said.

That was probably a fair assessment. She had seen Ben's ghost herself.

"Are you trapped here?" Leia asked curiously.

"You ask a lot of questions."

Leia couldn't help but roll her eyes and huff. "Yeah," she said, "I'm kinda new at this. I have no idea what I'm doing."

Kanan's smile was small and knowing. "That," he said, "I can understand."

Leia looked down at the crystal, and she wondered if it would make sense to pry. If she should bother asking him things on behalf of the Ghost crew. After all, this was likely a vision from the Force.

The path seemed to bend. They were taking too many twists and turns, and Leia tried to memorize them in case she needed a quick escape. Everything was dark except the blue haze cast by the crystal that had once sung a song for Anakin Skywalker.

She did not hear a song, though she felt the Force humming.

Kanan stopped. He lowered his head, and took a step back.

"Here," he said. "This is not the beginning, and this is not the end. Keep going, Leia Skywalker. Wherever you are, hope will follow."

Leia stared at him. Her eyes flickered from his face to the open passageway. She swallowed hard.

"Thank you," she murmured, "Kanan Jarrus."

He gave her a small nod. As she stepped forward, she felt his gaze on her back, and she wondered if he could see after all.

"Will you tell them," Kanan said suddenly, "that I love them?"

Leia paused. She turned to look at the man, her eyes wide. Did visions wish such things? She did not know.

"Yes," she whispered.

Kanan lowered his head, and Leia watched as he disappeared into the temple wall like he had been a part of it all along. To her astonishment, his voice lingered in the air, breathing out like a sigh of wind.

"Tell Ezra," Kanan exhaled, "to find me."

Leia stood frozen, her eyes glued to the place where Kanan had disappeared. She lifted the crystal up to the wall and drew her hand over the spot, finding it smooth and cold without a hint of a blemish. She found herself leaning her forehead against the wall, befuddled and full of self-doubt.

"But…" Leia closed her eyes. "Ezra's dead too. Isn't he?"

The temple did not answer.

Leia pushed off the wall and turned toward the darkened entrance. She lifted her crystal so it swung gently near her cheek, and she moved forward.

The darkness fell upon her like a curtain. And when the curtain lifted, she found herself standing in a familiar place.

Warm air tickled her cheek. A curtain of dust was visible from the slats in the shaded windows. The walls were a familiar, discolored, cracked adobe cream, and the floor was half covered in a weathered rug. The table had been moved out of the way, and two worn old cushions sat before her.

Leia sunk instinctively into her own, a burgundy one that had long since adopted her scent and shape.

"Ben," Leia whispered, her eyes burning with unshed tears.

Ben Kenobi cracked open an eye. He sat on his cushion, a royal blue one, cross-legged and serene. He looked strange. Young. The wrinkles that she knew, the weathering of his cheeks from the sand and the sun, the age spots and the frown lines, they had all dissipated. His beard was full around his jaw and chin, and it was the oddest shade of ginger. His hair was no longer the thin, papery white that she had come to recognize, but auburn. There were moles in all the right spots, but it felt as though she were looking into the face of another man entirely

Yet when he smiled, she knew it was him.

"Hello, Leia," he said. Even his voice was different. The inflection was the same, the way he held himself was the same, even his eyes were the same, and yet it was all so different.

"What's going on?" Leia leaned forward, unable to keep her curiosity from getting the better of her. "Why do you look like this?"

"Just because I am dead does not mean I must look as I did when I died," Ben chuckled. He shrugged his shoulders. "I decided you should see me as I was when I lost your father. It might make it more palatable."

"Ah, yes," Leia said with a tight grimace, "very smart. Perhaps I will judge you less harshly because you look handsome?"

"Oh, my dear," Ben said, his eyes twinkling, "I think we both know better than that."

She slumped. She wanted to hug him, to really test if he was here, but she was too frustrated with him to try.

"Were you ever going to tell me?" she demanded. She couldn't help how her voice sounded— the edge to it, the natural bite of her tone when she was bitter and angry. Ben had betrayed her, plain and simple, and that was not an easy thing to forgive.

Ben's eyes softened. He glanced away from her face, and he bowed his head. "I wanted to," he said softly. "There were many times where I nearly did."

"You should have," Leia hissed. Her knuckles tightened against her knees, going white against the red trousers. "I know I… I was not the easiest child, Ben, but I would have understood, as I understand now. My father is a monster. That is simple enough, isn't it? Yet you led me to believe for my whole life that he wasn't, that he was some sort of hero to be admired, and that only made things so much worse!"

"Your father was a hero, Leia," Ben told her curtly. "What he became does not change that."

"Oh, you're delusional," Leia snapped. She felt a twinge of guilt as Ben physically recoiled, but she did not show it as she glared at him. "Just because he was a good man once does not mean that you can— what? Separate him into two different people? Like, you really think that Anakin and Vader are not one and the same?"

"They're not," Ben said firmly.

"Ben," Leia said, her voice lowering in a way that made it clear that she was concerned for him. She closed her hands around the kyber crystal, and she shook her head. "No. Okay? Just no. That is not how it works."

"I do not expect you to understand," Ben sighed. "You did not know him."

"I don't need to, because I know that falling to the Dark Side is a choice!" Leia exhaled sharply through her nose, and she gritted her teeth. "Come on! Think about Count Dooku."

"I do," Ben admitted. "Often."

"You said that there may have been things that you could never understand about him," Leia said. "That there was more to him than meets the eye, and there could have been a real reason for his fall to the Dark Side. Right?"

"I did," Ben said hesitantly.

"And then," Leia gasped, leaning forward, "you said that that didn't matter! That his intentions didn't matter! Because he had done terrible things, and no matter his motives, he still was a reprehensible person! Remember that?"

"I do."

"So?"

"So," Ben said calmly, "I suppose I am a delusional old man, who cannot give up the fond memories he has of a boy he raised. I'm sorry for that, Leia. I did fail you there. I love Anakin too much to admit that he could be the same as Vader."

Leia licked her lips and tried not to roll her eyes. Oh, this was such a pain. She loved Ben more than she loved anyone, but she had never been more frustrated with him than right now.

"You were gonna let me kill him," Leia said. "Did it ever occur to you that maybe having me commit fratricide without really knowing it might be a little wrong?"

Ben quirked an eyebrow. "Well, I certainly wasn't proud of it," he said. "However, as I've said, Anakin Skywalker died on Mustafar. The thing you have faced is nothing but an empty shell. More machine than man, I'm afraid."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Leia sighed exasperatedly.

Ben smiled at her patiently. "He is mechanical," he explained gently. "Not just in the literal sense. There is not much about him anymore that is human. He is a well-oiled killing machine, and he does not feel anything anymore."

Leia found she couldn't argue with that. "Okay…" She sighed, and she shook her head. "I'm sorry, Ben. I'm just so mad at you! Why didn't you tell me?"

"I should have," Ben said quietly. "I… I am the one who needs to apologize, Leia. I should have known better than to keep such a secret from you."

"Yeah!" Leia scowled at him. "You really should have! Now Vader's got Luke, and he's been tortured by him, and I don't know what to do! Oh, actually, can we talk about that?"

"What?" Ben asked. "Luke's torture? I assure you, he is fine. He is a bit clouded in the Force, but I can still sense him."

"Uh, no," Leia said, "though… good to know, I guess? I meant that Luke's my brother! What the hell, Ben?"

"Ah." Ben smiled vacantly. "Yes. That."

Leia stared at him. She blinked rapidly. "Is that all you're going to say?"

"I don't have much input, I'm afraid."

"Are you kidding me?"

Ben shrugged. It was possibly the most infuriating thing she'd ever witnessed, which was saying a lot.

"Damn it, Ben!" Leia cried, jumping to her feet. Ben looked up at her, unimpressed. "My brother. I have a twin brother, and part of me has always felt it, that there was something missing, but you never told me!"

"I knew you'd want to find him," Ben said softly. "You were such a curious child, Leia. Imagine if you had even an inkling that you had a twin out there somewhere. You would have stolen a ship before I could blink."

"No, I wouldn't have!"

Ben's eyes fixed upon her dully. He did not look amused by this denial.

"I wouldn't," Leia murmured, her brow furrowing. "I wouldn't have left you, Ben. I'd never leave you."

At that, Ben's eyes softened. He closed his eyes, and squeezed them tightly shut. The room was cast in a yellow light, so soft and dreamy that Leia was not quite sure that she was really awake. She opened her palm and looked at the crystal. It was still glowing faintly blue.

"I have always wondered," Ben said fondly, his eyes flickering open, "what I did to deserve you. I have been so blessed, little one, and yet so cursed."

"Thanks to Anakin Skywalker," Leia muttered. She chewed on the inside of her cheek. "I should go see Yoda. Tell him that I'm sorry."

"That would be the smart thing to do."

Leia hummed to herself. She looked around at her surroundings, and she glanced at Ben. "This temple isn't gonna give me a kyber crystal, is it?" she asked dully.

Ben smiled at her sadly. He shook his head.

"Unfortunately," he said, "this temple has its fair share of trust issues. You did not come here with your master, as you are supposed to, and forced it open anyway. It is not happy with that."

"So what do I do?" Leia asked eagerly. "I came here specifically to build a new lightsaber."

"You will," Ben told her gently. "Just have patience. Your trials are only just beginning."

"What does that mean?" Leia asked. "What do I do? Ben, I'm so confused!"

"You are far surer than you think, little one," Ben assured her. He reached out, and Leia leaned into his touch as he laid his palm against her cheek. "Be brave. You are stronger than your father, and you will overcome this."

Leia reached up and grasped his hand, but when she did, her fingers fell against her cheek. Ben was gone, fading like a ray of sun that had burned itself into her eyes. The set of his hovel on Tatooine dissipated, falling away fast. She was kneeling on the cold, hard floor of the temple. Her crystal sat on the floor, glinting a mad, brilliant blue.

She plucked it up and looked around. She found that she was in a room full of robes. She blinked rapidly, trying to decide if she should just run away, or look closer. It appeared as if this had once been a room where Jedi had gotten changed, perhaps into a more traditional dress. She reached out and touched a black tunic that hung from a rack full of tunics.

Very quickly, Leia made her decision.


He'd slept in Ahsoka's bed that night. It was too small for both of them, though just barely. Luke was tinier than Ahsoka, and he felt bad for taking her bed, but she refused to let him sleep anywhere else. She slept on the plush rug with one of the many blankets she'd accumulated.

It had been a day. In that time, Ahsoka had told him just about everything from when they had last seen each other on Cymoon 1 to now. Luke, in turn, gave her an overview of what had happened in his life as well. He had to be less detailed, because much more had transpired. It seemed that imprisonment really did leave little room for adventure.

She had been off planet once, Luke learned, to see Tatooine. That had been hard for her. Vader had been snooping around Leia's past with a woman named Aphra.

"Aphra!" Luke gasped, clapping his hands against the rug. "Like, Dr. Aphra?"

"Tiny, scrappy, a little untrustworthy?" Ahsoka offered.

Luke grinned broadly. "Yep, that's her," he said. "She works for me now!"

Ahsoka quirked a brow. Her blue eyes flickered dully up and down at him. "And how is that working out for you?" she asked.

"Fine," Luke said defensively. "I mean, I don't actually know how her last mission went, because I'm stuck here, but I feel like it was probably okay. She's smart."

"I felt bad for her," Ahsoka admitted, "but I wouldn't have trusted her as far as I could throw her. You've got some guts."

"No," Luke said sheepishly, "I'm just a bit, uh… gullible, maybe. I don't know." He stared up at the ceiling with a small smile. "I felt bad for her too, I guess."

Ahsoka watched him curiously. Then she'd clapped him on the head and ruffled his hair affectionately. "You are too sweet," she decided. "Vader's gonna be hard pressed to find a bad bone in your body."

Luke laughed at that. "Let's hope?" He found himself shrinking at the thought. "I really don't want to be a Sith Lord. I didn't even want to be a Jedi."

"You wouldn't be a bad one," Ahsoka pointed out. She smoothed back his hair and parted it carefully to the side. Luke relaxed under her touch, feeling for the first time in a very, very long time, the simplicity of a maternal hand. "Probably a bit like Obi-Wan, if I'm being honest. Really quick to wit and negotiation, but still a force to be reckoned with on the battle field. Trust me, I know. He was half my master."

"I wish I could know them," Luke sighed, "like you knew them. It'd make things so much easier, and I wouldn't feel so conflicted."

"It's okay to feel conflicted, Luke," Ahsoka told him gently. "Anakin… no, Vader. He's done terrible things to you. He's ruined your life more times than I can count. And now he's only being half-decent to you because he knows you're his son."

"Yeah, that just about sums it up."

Ahsoka looked down at her hands. Her shoulders slumped, and her lekku fell forward as she leaned toward him. "I can't give you the answer, Luke," she said, her gaze flickering up to meet his. "Only you can decide if he is worthy of your forgiveness and love."

"I don't know if I could ever love him." Luke grimaced, and he pulled his knees up to his chin. "Or even forgive him. But it matters to me that everyone is given a fighting chance. He was a slave once, wasn't he?"

Ahsoka gave him a meaningful glance. "He still is," she said softly.

Luke sat, too stunned to reply, and stewed in the silence until the door slid open.

He scrambled to his feet as Vader's breathing filled the room. But the first person to step inside the cell was not Vader.

Delight washed over him. Disbelief mixed delight, sifting up all of the old feelings he'd buried deep within himself and causing him to buckle beneath the weight.

"Ezra," he gasped, too shocked to move and too beside himself to back away.

Ezra Bridger was not the boy he remembered. He was not a boy at all. While Luke knew he looked a bit scrawny, a little child-like at times with his huge eyes and delicate demeanor, Ezra had grown rather masculine. His shoulders were much broader, and his stature was as impressive as could be expected, considering Luke was a bit short. His hair fell to around his ears in smooth black waves, and he wore a beard that transformed his face, leaving his youth in the dust.

The one thing that had stayed the same was the deep cerulean color of his eyes, and the dark scars that lined his left cheekbone. Ezra blinked rapidly at Luke before nearly backing up into Vader.

"Luke?" he uttered faintly, gaping at Luke in wonder. He took a step forward, confusion twisting his features. "What…? What the hell are you doing here?"

"Sit," Vader commanded, stepping into the room and jerking his finger at the place beside Luke.

Ezra glared at Vader, but obeyed anyway. He moved quietly toward Luke, plopping down beside him and crossing his legs. Luke lowered himself into a kneeling position, his eyes glued to Ezra's face. He had changed so much, and Luke could not quite believe that the man beside him was really that boy that he had met nearly a decade earlier on Lothal.

Vader paced back and forth for a minute. Ahsoka, Luke, and Ezra all sat on the plush red carpet and stared up at him expectantly.

"What is happening?" Ezra whispered, tilting his head to search Ahsoka and Luke's faces for answers. They merely glanced at him, shrugged, and looked back at Vader.

When Vader stopped, he sucked all the warmth from the room. He turned and faced the three of them, and Luke knelt before him, feeling every bit of a fool for letting himself fall into this situation. His metal hand clenched against his knee, and he stared at it glumly. The sense of foreboding had gripped the room so steadily that Luke would not be remotely surprised if Vader unhooked his lightsaber, ignited it, and swiped all three of their heads off in one swing.

"I have decided," Vader said, "that keeping you three locked away is a waste of energy and resources."

"So you're letting us go?" Luke asked, unable to keep himself from an optimistic option.

Vader fixed his gaze on Luke, allowing the silence to fill the room and fester before it froze him over and left him struggling for breath.

"No," Vader said finally, his voice sharp and frigid. "You will not escape my grasp now that I finally have you, my son."

Beside Luke, Ezra made an absurd choking noise, as though his own saliva had gotten stuck in his throat. Luke glanced at him, noting how his blue eyes seemed to bulge from his head, flickering madly between Luke and Vader as his thick black eyebrows knitted together uncertainly.

"Huh?" Ezra gasped.

Luke sighed, and he slumped a bit. This was going to be a consistent annoyance, he realized.

"Vader is my biological father," Luke explained to Ezra with a small, half-hearted smile. "Sorry, it's hard to explain."

Ezra blinked rapidly, and he held up his hands in utter resignation. "I want no part in that drama," he announced.

"He's the smartest one here," Ahsoka piped up.

"Enough." Vader swept forward, and his footsteps resonated against the floor. Once he stepped on the rug, they were muffled, and yet they all still felt the weight of them. Each of them shrunk back instinctively. "You three are my prisoners. You three have all been touched by Darkness, and thus you three shall be my new Inquisitors."

"Eh?" Ezra's eyebrows shot up to his hair. He folded his arms across his chest, and decidedly lounged back against Ahsoka's bed. "Not happening, buddy."

Before Vader could target Ezra for his insolence, Ahsoka straightened her back and spoke up. "I agree with Ezra," she said, staring defiantly up into Vader's mask. "You're talking to the wrong people, Anakin. We won't be swayed easily to your cause, let alone the Dark Side."

"I imagine political allegiances are more difficult to let go than the pathetic grip of your precious Light," Vader hissed. He did not move, which possibly made him even more intimidating. "This is why I have decided that I do not care. Keep the fire of your doomed Rebellion kindling in your heart, children. Let it grow, let your anger and self-righteous fury consume you. Murder the Emperor in his sleep, if that is your wish. All I care for is how it happens."

"That sounds kinda like treason," Ezra said with a devilish grin. Luke stared at him, unable to look away as he noted traces of the boy he'd once known in this man's face. "Not that I'd ever go to the Dark Side, but I gotta say, I'm loving the twist. Bravo for trying to appeal to our interests."

"You speak as though you have a choice in the matter, Bridger," Vader said, his voice neither a bark nor a whisper. It was something sharp and biting, and it coiled around them like barbed wire. "I have no intention of hurting my son, but I never made any such oath with you."

Ezra did not answer, though his face grew dark, as though a shroud of fear had fallen over him. Luke found himself moving instinctively, his visceral reaction to leap to his feet and meet Vader with a head on stare.

"You won't touch him," Luke said calmly, his whole body numb and his soul floating somewhere beyond his back, into a sweet and endless void. "Or Ahsoka, for that matter. It's me that you want, and it's me you will get."

"Luke," Ezra hissed, his shoulders tensing up. Luke did not glance at his face, but he could tell that his old friend was wincing.

"Anakin," Ahsoka gasped, rising to her feet. "You don't need the three of us. One is more than enough to pass along whatever Sith teaching you're dying to shove onto an apprentice. If that's all you want, then let Ezra and Luke go."

"That's not happening," Luke told her curtly.

"My son is correct on this matter," Vader said, lowering his head and very clearly glaring at both Ahsoka and Luke. "Now sit. I have not finished speaking."

Luke found himself falling obediently to his knees. Ahsoka stayed standing.

"Ahsoka," Luke whispered, "sit down."

Ahsoka ignored him as she met Vader's glare with icy eyes. She folded her arms across her chest, and she raised one brow. Her white marking arched up.

"Tell me why I'm not enough," she demanded.

"Your insolence grows tiring."

"Good," Ahsoka said. She lifted her chin high. "Tell me, Anakin. Why couldn't you just be happy with my surrender?"

"It was not a surrender," Vader spat, "it was a sacrifice. You and I both know better than that."

"Then what is all this?" Ahsoka gasped, throwing her arms out toward the room full of knick knacks and baubles and books. "I am a prisoner, and you treat me like I'm a pet that you can come visit and play with every once and awhile. Like a wild animal in a gilded cage, with a jeweled collar and a pelt made out of its brother's skin! I've only been docile because my presence here was solely to keep you from Luke. Do you really think I'll go along with your shit now? Really, Anakin?"

"Stop," Vader hissed, reaching out and grasping Ahsoka by the throat, "calling me that."

Luke cried out, unable to move fast enough to stop Vader from throwing Ahsoka to the floor. He scrambled to help her, his hands gingerly grasping her shoulders as he helped her upright. She was blinking rapidly, her fingers flying to her throat. Luke noted the glove over her metal hand.

"Ahsoka!" Ezra was at Ahsoka's other side in a heartbeat, holding her hand and staring into her eyes. She would not meet either of their gazes. Ezra's expression grew unreasonably dark, and his gaze flashed to Vader furiously. "Don't you ever touch her again!"

"Yes," Vader said, his voice much more level now. "That's it. That is that rage that will tip you toward the Dark Side, Bridger."

Ezra's face melted in shock, and he sat in horror for a few moments before Ahsoka touched the top of his head gingerly.

"That's enough," she murmured. She looked up at Vader, and Luke watched her serene expression in slight awe. "You always pick on Ezra, but it's me you're angry with. I won't Fall easily, and that frustrates you."

"You will all Fall," Vader said, his matter-of-fact tone sending a shiver down Luke's spine. "In time. Each of you has dipped into the Dark Side of the Force before. It is only a matter of time before you fall in headfirst."

"That's not true," Ahsoka said, her expression twisting in confusion. Luke ducked his head as her gaze flickered to his face in horror. "That's not true, is it?"

Luke could not look at her. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Ezra was positioned similarly, his head bowed and his eyes squeezed shut.

"It was a mistake," he said, his voice wavering. "I thought… I thought Vader was going to kill me."

"The Dark Side is still the Dark Side, my son," Vader said, sounding all too pleased with this admission. "Such an action would have been condemned by the Jedi."

Obi-Wan Kenobi had not condemned him. Didn't that matter?

"All I did was throw him across the room!" Luke panicked, finding himself looking up at Vader and quickly turning to face Ahsoka. "I didn't know that was the Dark Side! It was all around me anyway, practically oozing from Vader and the Emperor. I'd just reached into the Force! I was so frightened, I just… I didn't care what part, I guess."

Ahsoka sighed, and she shook her head. She still had her hand on Ezra's hair, and with another shake of her head, she lifted her prosthetic hand and dropped it onto his head as well.

"I am not here to judge you for something as inconsequential as a shove in the Force," she told him patiently. "I am not the Jedi Council. I don't actually care that much, and honestly, I wasn't there. I can't even really know if you actually used the Dark Side. I don't feel any change in you, so in my humble opinion, Vader is lying, and you are fine. Got it, Luke?"

Luke could only exhale shakily. He closed his eyes and nodded.

"As for Ezra," she said, "I can't say. I was not with him when Maul was hounding him."

"Yes," Vader said, "Maul. Shall we speak of that, Bridger?"

Luke cracked his eyes open, and saw that Ezra had shrunk under the weight of Vader's words.

"Maul is dead," Ezra said.

"And if he were not?" Vader watched Ezra, and Luke felt the danger here. It was blaring like a siren, skittering around him like loose snow. "You know yourself. You have this stain about you, a scar in your Force signature. A sunspot. A child does not stare into the depths of a Sith holocron, harness its knowledge, and come out pure and happy on the other side."

"Shut up," Ezra spat. "I'm not afraid of you!"

"The first time you said that, I found it amusing," Vader said, taking a small step forward and causing all of them to lean back. "Now? I think you are boring. What a waste of potential. You could be something formidable, but all I see is an arrogant, broken child who drowns himself in his misery."

"Stop!" Ahsoka shook her head furiously. "Enough! I'm sick of this. Ezra, don't listen to him. He's a liar, and if anyone in this Force forsaken castle is drowning in his own misery, it's him!"

But Ezra did not respond. He was staring at his hands, his eyes wide in horror.

Luke's whole body began to tremble as Vader swept down, kneeling before Ahsoka and snatching her chin between his fingers.

"Ah yes," he hissed, his respirator releasing its breathy rattles in a steady rhythm. "The apprentice. You are not so easy. Temptation never seemed to be a problem for you. But there is the Dark. I see it now, in your eyes."

Ahsoka jerked her chin away from his grasp, and smacked his hands from her viciously.

"I don't believe you," she said, her confidence unshakable and her eyes resolute.

Vader knelt there for a moment before pushing himself to his feet. His cape pooled around him.

"You don't believe," he said, "because you do not remember. You were blessedly spared of the more horrifying details of your Fall."

"What are you even talking about?" Ahsoka sighed.

Vader lowered his helmet, and the room itself became a void. Luke could not keep himself here no better than he could keep himself from shivering.

"Mortis," Vader told her.

Ahsoka blinked rapidly. "I— wait a minute, really? Mortis?" She flung her arms out indignantly. "Hello! That was over twenty five years ago, Anakin. What does that have to do with anything?"

"You tried to kill me then," Vader told her.

"No, I didn't," Ahsoka replied.

"You did." Vader nodded, turning away. "You were lured in by the Son. His Darkness— pure Darkness— corrupted you. I did not recognize that thing that you became, but it was not my apprentice. I remember feeling so shocked. So… betrayed. Perhaps Kenobi felt similarly when I met him on Mustafar not so long after, like I had given up a part of my soul to feel something and found that I felt nothing. Nothing but rage. You must have felt similarly."

"That didn't happen," Ahsoka said firmly.

"You tried to kill me and Kenobi." Vader did not turn to look at them. Luke and Ezra met each other's eye from over Ahsoka's shoulders. Ezra looked distraught, his normally rich, olive-hued face waxy and pale. "You wanted it. You were so willing to destroy us, and that destroyed you. I suppose not remembering it all was a parting gift from the Daughter, but I think it only weakens you."

Vader turned around sharply, and he strode forward. Ahsoka stiffened beside them as he reached out, and both Ezra and Luke yelled at once, throwing out their hands at the same time and simultaneously freezing Vader's fingertips half and inch from Ahsoka's forehead with the Force.

If this shocked, or even impressed Vader, he made no comment.

Ahsoka's eyes were wide as they flickered wildly across Vader's mask. Her lips were parted, and she had fallen back onto her hands in shock.

"I could show you," Vader told her, his voice almost soft.

"Show me what?" Ahsoka gasped. Luke gritted his teeth as he tightened his hold on the Force. Vader was trying very hard to press his fingers to her forehead. Ezra and Luke's intervention was barely holding him back.

"The truth."

Her breath shuddered, and her shoulders slumped. She tore her gaze away from Vader, and all at once both Ezra and Luke found themselves unable to hold Vader any longer. They both fell back, gasping and wincing, the Force whining and shivering as it was broken away from them.

To their surprise, Vader's hand lingered where it had been.

Then, without warning, he turned with a swish of his cape, and he left the cell.

His last words seemed to ring in the air and resonate in the Force.


Han and the wolf were still there when she exited the temple. Her boots scraped against the dirt, her long hair curling down her back and fluttering faintly in the early morning breeze. The moment she'd stepped outside, Han had looked up, and his face had said it all.

Leia Skywalker, Jedi Knight, was going to be a long and annoying process.

"What's with the threads?" Han asked her sharply, gesturing from her head to her toes.

Leia stopped before him, tipping her feet to the side and slumping a bit. She had changed into loose black trousers that cinched around the ankles and bunched up at her knees from the tightness of her boots. They had clearly been made for a child, but they fit her fine regardless. She could not find a black undertunic that fit her well enough, so she'd stuffed several white and brown ones into her bag, and thrown on a black tabard over her airy black shirt.

"I found traditional Jedi clothes in there," she said with a shrug, looping her thumbs through the straps of her backpack. "Also, I stole some parts for my lightsaber. Hopefully the temple won't mind, since it didn't give me much else to work with."

"So…" Han's eyebrow shot up curiously. "What? No crystal?"

"No crystal," Leia confirmed tiredly, stepping past him and giving the Loth-wolf one last affectionate rub. "I saw Ben, though."

"Dead Ben?" Han, as usual, sounded skeptical. "Well, that is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Did he help, at least?"

Leia sighed deeply, and turned to face him. "Not really," she said, feeling small and foolish. "It felt like I was arguing with a wall, even though we both actually agree on what to do with Anakin Skywalker."

"You mean killing him?" Han seemed genuinely confused. "What does that mean? Is the old man like… not happy about something, or…?"

Leia smiled at him appreciatively. He was trying to understand, which was more than she had ever really expected from him.

"He loved my father," Leia said, absently bringing her fingers to the crystal at her throat and closing her eyes. "I suppose it'd be like… like if we go and rescue Luke, and Luke does not want to go with us. Like, if what he said about the Alliance was true. How would we feel about that?"

"I wouldn't believe it," Han said candidly. His brow was knitted together, and his jaw clenched and unclenched. "Nah. I'd never believe that. I think I'd rather die than admit that."

"Me too," Leia agreed somberly, "which is why I guess I get where Ben is coming from. It seems like my father really was a good person, once upon a time, and trying to reconcile that good person with what Vader has done is hard for Ben. I guess I just don't want to hear about how good Anakin Skywalker once was, because I can't have that rolling in my head when I murder him in the name of everything good and right with the world."

Leia swallowed hard, and she stared at the horizon. It was a brilliant blue, stretching far and relinquishing nothing. Nobody asked her if she was okay with killing. She'd done it before, and she felt guilty about it, but everyone knew already that she was willing to do what was right no matter what.

"Leia," Han said delicately, stepping forward, "that monster is not your father. Okay? He's been making you suffer since the day I met you, and I really don't think some DNA test is gonna change how kriffin' awful he is. Like, just kill him. You'll be doing the whole galaxy a favor."

"I know," she said glumly.

"Then what's the problem?"

She didn't know how to explain it. The fact was, she knew she would kill Vader, but she did not know if she would be happy afterwards. If she could even continue being a Jedi afterwards. That was the frightening thing. Sacrificing all she had worked for, the very future of the Jedi Order, to spare the world from Darth Vader?

Yes, she would do it.

It made her feel a little sick, but all the same, she would slay the beast.

"Let's just call the ship," Leia sighed, laying a hand on his arm and shaking her head. "The Empire already knows this temple exists. I could tell the moment I stepped in it. They forced their way in, which is probably why it didn't let me have a kyber crystal."

"Are all of the crystals gone?" Han asked confusedly.

"No," Leia said, "but I don't think the temple thinks I deserve one. Which is fair, I guess."

"Fair?" Han scoffed, lifting his wrist to his mouth and pressing down on his comm. "That's just rude. Oh, ah, hey. Han to the Falcon. This is Han. Come pick us up, this was a bust."

Chewie howled in response. Han gave a dissatisfied grimace, and he glanced at Leia. "They're coming," he said.

"What'd Chewie say?" Leia asked.

Han pursed his lips, and stared straight ahead. "Nothing," he said.

Curiously, Leia watched his face, and it dawned on her all at once. "Evaan's flying," she gasped, jerking her finger in Han's face. "That's what your mad about!"

"I am not mad," Han huffed. "I just don't understand why she's gotta get her hands all over my ship!"

Leia could only laugh at him. He was so predictable, but somehow that was endearing. She shook her head, and turned her attention to the Loth-wolf. She couldn't find it in her to be surprised when she stared into the empty space where it had once been. It had disappeared, perhaps into the Force itself, and she could not think on it for long.

The Falcon swooped in to pick them up, and Leia stepped up onto the ramp. Threepio and Artoo were waiting for her, and she smiled down at Artoo as he began to beep at her incessantly.

"You like it?" she asked, giving the little droid a twirl. Her tabards waved around her hips. Artoo whistled, and she laughed at him.

"Artoo says you look familiar, Mistress Leia," Threepio said. "Like an old friend."

"I am an old friend," Leia pointed out, smiling at Threepio warmly. "What about you, Threepio? What do you think?"

Threepio tilted his golden head, and Han stepped up beside her and shot her a smirk. Leia ignored him, knowing fully well that Han did not have much faith in Threepio.

"Well," Threepio gasped, "you look, if you don't mind me saying, rather like someone much older."

Artoo beeped beside Threepio, and Threepio nodded.

"Yes," the golden droid said dazedly, "I do feel like I have seen this somewhere before, but I simply cannot place where."

"It's okay, Threepio," Leia told him gently. "Thank you for telling me what you think. Your opinion is very important to me."

She knew that this pleased him because he leaned back, almost alarmed, and placed his fingers together. "Oh!" he gasped as Han ushered Leia past him. "You are most kind, Mistress Leia. Most kind!"

Han gripped her shoulder and lowered his head so he could whisper to her. "Why do you inflate his ego?" he asked.

Leia snorted, and she shrugged his hand off her. "What do you mean?" She smiled up at Han coyly. "I'm just being nice. He's a good droid."

"He's got a loose wire, or somethin'," Han grumbled. "Whoever made him was outta his mind."

"Oh, shut up." Leia strolled into the cockpit, and she leaned over Chewie's chair to wrap her arms around him. "Hello, Chewie. I'm sorry we took so long."

Chewie patted her arms and yowled in response.

Beside him, Evaan sat at the controls, her amber eyes flickering from Leia's head to her toes. She sat upright, her back pin straight, and she clenched her hands in her lap.

"Did you get what you needed?" Evaan asked, her voice tight.

Leia sighed, and she shook her head. "Sorry," she said, dropping her bag beside her seat and lowering herself into it. "The temple wasn't very happy with me. I guess you need a master and an apprentice to open it, and forcing it open makes it temperamental."

"You'd think Syndulla would've told us that," Han muttered, running his fingers through his hair and shaking the dust from the strands.

Leia rolled her eyes. "Hera only knows as much as Ezra and Kanan told her, Han," she pointed out. "For all we know, they could have told her nothing about the Temple."

"Whatever." Han stepped up beside Evaan, and waved her away from the controls furiously. "Away with you. Outta my seat."

"Han!" Leia smacked her palm against her forehead, while Evaan merely stared up at Han with a cool gaze. She did stand, rising to meet Han's eyes, and then sliding away from him without a word. "Han, you're so rude!"

"It's my seat."

"Well, you could be nicer about it!"

"Why? It's literally my seat."

"Ugh!" Leia buried her face in her hands. Nothing ever changed! It was like she was sitting in this seat for the first time, spitting insults back and forth with Han, feeling her anger bubble up inside her while her heart ached.

On their way to Jedha, Leia focused on Evaan. She wanted the woman to be comfortable here, even though it was absurdly difficult to be comfortable around Han.

"How is rounding up Alderaanians going?" she asked.

Evaan wrung her hands in her lap, her amber eyes cast forward. Leia watched her jaw twitch.

"It's going as well as can be expected," she admitted quietly. She bowed her head, and a wisp of her golden hair fell against her cheek. Leia resisted the urge to smooth it back behind her ear. "Prince Luke… he was doing most of the operating and vetting from wherever he was stationed, and would send me and a select few out on whatever lead he had. I'm not sure what we'll do now."

Leia exhaled shakily. It made her nervous, the way Evaan spoke about Luke. Like he was already a lost cause.

She set a gentle hand on Evaan's shoulder. "We'll get him back," she told the woman softly.

Evaan's amber eyes flickered to Leia's face, and there was a hardness to her that Leia knew she'd never understand, because she had never lost so much so quickly.

Out of the corner of her eye, Leia noted Han was staring at them. It filled her with unprompted irritation and spite, her stomach swelling up with useless, jittery feelings like moths beating against lattice as they trapped themselves inside a fire.

Impulsively, Leia reached out and smoothed the delicate yellow curl back behind Evaan's ear. She could sense Han, his eyes glued to her as she smiled at Evaan. To Evaan's credit, she did nothing more than stare at Leia, mild confusion glimmering in her eyes.

Before Leia made a grand mistake and kissed the beautiful blonde woman before Han's eyes, she stood up and slipped into the corridor. Her boots clipped against the floor, and she stood for a moment, peering at the Hold. Her hands were clammy, and she wiped her palms on her trousers.

She heard Han's approach before she even felt him. He was marching, his boots clapping hard against the grate as he came up behind her and snatched her by the arm, dragging her as far away from the cockpit as possible.

"What?" Leia demanded, tearing her arm away from him and glaring up at his face. "What is wrong with you? Don't just grab me like an animal!"

"I'm sorry, I wasn't aware that you were so repulsed by my touch, sunshine," Han hissed. "Now, can we talk about what that was?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Leia said heatedly.

"You? Flirting with Verlaine?" Han's brows shot up, and he flung his arms out. "Come on! Leia, you barely even know her."

"So?" Leia blinked up at Han coolly. "I can flirt with whoever I like. I don't judge you for your romantic decisions!"

"Is this about Luke?" Han breathed, swooping his hands through his hair and blinking rapidly. "You didn't let me explain before, so I need you to believe me when I say that it's not what you think."

"I think you saying that makes it all the worse," Leia said coldly.

Han inhaled sharply, and he held up his hands. "Listen," he said quietly. "I made a mistake with Luke. I kissed him, because I'm stupid and Luke was scared, and I thought it would make things better but it didn't. He yelled at me a lot for it, and I regret it, but now I need you to understand why it happened. I don't want to be with Luke, Leia!"

"Yeah?" Leia quirked an eyebrow. "That sounds like a conversation you need to have with him, not me."

Han stared down at her in disbelief, and he closed his eyes. "Damn it, Leia," he exhaled, "you are such an idiot."

He reached out and took her face in his hands. Her heart thundered in her chest, and she opened her mouth to object, but she couldn't. Instead she just turned her face away, regret blooming in her heart as Han hesitated, his nose brushing against her cheek. His thumb stroked her temple, grazing her skin and causing goosebumps to rise on her arms.

When he exhaled, his breath slithered down her neck. She shivered.

"I'm sorry," he said, his voice thick as he released her head and took a step back. She glanced at him, watching his eyes avert and his body slump. "I thought— never mind, I guess."

Leia inhaled deeply. Her fingernails dug into her palms, and he turned away from her slowly.

"Han," she said, her voice carefully devoid of emotion, "are you in love with me?"

Han paused, his shoulders stiffening. He looked over his shoulder, and he shot her a small, bitter smile.

"I thought that was obvious," he said, looking straight into her eyes. There was something ungodly sad about his gaze, the resignation of a man who felt that he had lost.

Leia tore her eyes away, and she found her voice stuck inside her throat.

She did not stop him from walking away.

Instead she pressed her back to the wall, and slid down it with a frown. She folded her legs beneath her, and she began to meditate.

Chapter Text

Leia was the first one down the ramp once they landed on Jedha.

She saw it from space, and she could not help but feel the strangest sense of longing as her eyes adjusted to the stretch of red and orange that graced the planet's surface. It was an old moon, one that had once held water. She could tell from the canyons on its surface. So she felt eager, and almost desperate to touch her boots down to the sand and feel at once like she belongs.

A blast of cold air caused her to reconsider all of that.

For a few moments, Leia stood alone on Jedha's surface, inhaling the brisk afternoon air and blinking rapidly as the cold knifed through her thin trousers and black silk shirt, slicing right into her bones. Her lungs filled up with it, ice clinging to the sides of them, and her chest began to ache immediately.

It was beyond disappointing.

A heavy, Corellian cut coat came flying at her from behind. She whirled around and caught it, feeling it sink in her arms as she stared at it dully.

"Head's up," Han called down at her from the top of the ramp. He strode down it with his usual swagger, his boots clicking against the metal. He did not meet her eye as he placed a hand on his hip and squinted out into the blinding glitter of Jedha's sunlight. He had a similar jacket, though his was brown instead of black, and it lacked the fur trim.

"I didn't know it'd be so cold," Leia said, unable to keep her teeth from chattering as she yanked on the jacket. Han rolled his eyes beside her.

"It's Jedha, darling," he said dryly. "Not Tatooine. Sometimes the desert is hot as hell, and sometimes the desert is cold as death. Doesn't make it any more hospitable."

She hugged her arms to her chest and glared at the ground. Then she scooped up her backpack, which held all the materials she thought she needed to make a lightsaber, and set out.

Jedha was a wasteland. She realized that quickly, her steps turning into more steps which turned into a hike. Walking on Jedha made the miles that Han and Leia had trekked on the grassy plains of Lothal seem like a leisurely stroll, and that was wholly because of the atmosphere. Leia thought she could see her breath, and she had to take a moment to catch it.

It was beautiful in its own way, though. She hated to admit it, but the sand wasn't a harsh and unforgiving orange that burnt at the faintest touch. Leia knelt down and scooped a bit of it up in her hand watching it sift through her fingers and stain her palm red.

"Incoming," Han yelled. He'd kept his distance, trudging behind her at a leisurely pace. Chewie was at his side, and Evaan stood between them. She stood straight, her hands in the pockets of her bright yellow jacket.

They all looked up as the Ghost's engines roared above them. Dust skittered around it as it landed, and Leia held her arm over her eyes and blinked rapidly.

Leia met Hera halfway, striding up to her as she led her crew out into the bright Jedha sunlight. Kes Dameron met her eye, and he shot her a grin.

"Stylish," he remarked, gesturing to her up and down. "Whatever this is, I like it."

"It's called 'cold, bitter Jedi', Kes," she said with a sigh. She turned her attention to Hera, and she shook her head solemnly. "Lothal's temple wouldn't give me a crystal."

"Tough break," Zeb said.

Leia chewed on the inside of her cheek. How did she explain to them what she saw in the temple? She couldn't really be sure that it had been real, could she? And yet, she trusted the Force. She knew what she had to do.

"I saw the wolf you were talking about," she said, nodding to Sabine. "It helped me open the temple."

"Oh," Sabine said. She looked a little surprised, but not enough that implying a wolf helped her raise a building from the ground should have. "I guess that makes sense. Ezra and Kanan said that the wolves were connected to Lothal, and to the Force in a way that me and Zeb couldn't really understand."

"Yeah, uh…" Leia winced. She kicked the sand idly, and focused her attention on Hera, who watched her expectantly. "Speaking of Kanan… I saw him."

She sucked in a breath as all three of them recoiled visibly, their expressions ranging from hurt to angry to downright confused.

"Excuse me?" Sabine snapped. "Kanan's gone. What are you saying?"

"Yeah, that just isn't possible," Zeb agreed, his brow furrowing. "Whatever you saw, it couldn't have been Kanan."

"Enough," Hera said sharply, her bright green eyes closing tiredly. She took a deep breath, and she shook her head. Her lekku swung gently from side to side. "I'm sorry, Leia. Zeb's right. Whatever the Force showed you in that temple? It wasn't Kanan."

"That's what I thought at first," Leia admitted, bowing her head apologetically. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to dredge up all of these old feelings, but the man I saw… I don't know. I asked him if he was Kanan Jarrus, and he gave him this stupid, annoying smirk, and he said to me, "More or less," which is ridiculous."

She watched a bit of awe trickle through each of their faces. Zeb grimaced.

"Sounds like Kanan," he admitted.

"What does that even mean?" Sabine demanded.

"It means that we should drop this," Hera said.

Leia nodded quickly, pressing her lips together and shooting a nervous glance at the ground. "Right," she said. "You're right. I'm sorry. Can I just say one more thing? He told me to tell you all something, and I feel like I need to relay the message."

They all stood silently, watching her with grim gazes. Hera nodded solemnly.

"Go ahead, Leia," she said. Her voice was soft.

Leia took a deep breath, and she straightened up. "Kanan told me to tell you all that he loves you," she said, watching each of them crumple a little at these words. Hera did not bat an eye, though her shoulders slumped. "Uh… also… he said to tell Ezra to come to him. Do any of you know what that could mean?"

"Ezra's dead," Sabine said flatly.

"That's what I said."

"And he didn't say anything else?" Zeb asked. He scoffed, rolling his eyes and throwing his arms into the air. "Of course! Even in the afterlife Kanan is a pain in the ass."

Hera stared at Leia for a long time. Her eyes narrowed, and she shook her head.

"Whatever Kanan said to you," she said, "is your business. I can't dwell on ghosts and visions, not when there's a war to fight. If Kanan wants to talk to me, he can come back to life. Otherwise, he better stay dead, because I don't have time to sit around and wonder what whispers from the other side might mean."

Leia couldn't help but wince on the behalf of Kanan Jarrus, who was in all probability pretty dead, or at the very least trapped within the Force.

"I'm sorry," Leia said quietly. "I don't think he meant for it to be confusing. That's just the way that the Force works. After that I had a shouting match with my dead master, who looked about twenty years younger and was pretty close to bursting into tears a few times, so my chat with Kanan was far preferable."

"You mean Obi-Wan Kenobi?" Hera quirked an eyebrow at her. "Is it normal for Jedi to talk to you from the grave?"

"I have no idea," Leia said sheepishly. She looked down at her feet, and her eyes widened. "Wow. I never thought about it. I've been talking to dead Jedi for probably about a decade, and I honestly just went with it?" She offered a tight smile. "Whoops."

"Well…" Sabine shifted from foot to foot. "Tell us if you get anymore messages from Kanan and Ezra, I guess?"

"I will," Leia said.

Hera shook her head. "Alright," she said, clapping her hands together. "Enough of that. Let's talk about kyber crystals."

"I take it you couldn't find another temple on Jedha?" Leia asked weakly.

"There was only the one," Sabine said, looking none too happy. "I really don't want to look at that again."

"Jedha City, or the crater that used to be Jedha City, won't help you," Hera told Leia bluntly. "We think there's probably a cache of kyber somewhere on the moon, but without the proper mining equipment… it could be months. Years, even."

"Yeah." Leia nodded, not really listening. She turned away and stalked off into the desert.

They all called after her, and she promptly ignored them. She moved out away from the ships, taking a deep breath of the crisp Jedha air. She pulled the knot behind her neck, and let the kyber crystal fall into her hands. Then she fell to her knees and closed her eyes.

Jedha was barren. It was dusty, and small, and sick. It was sick to death of being torn open and robbed. It ached, and it cried out, and nobody listened. It was struck with a horrifying blow, part of itself torn away and cast into the abyss, and still, no one listened.

The moon of Jedha felt similar to how Luke Organa had felt after Vader had chopped off his hand and forced him to stand and watch as his only sister fell into a pit.

Hopeless, agonized, and exhausted. This planet was hurt beyond repair.

Please, Leia thought, opening her heart and her mind to it, letting her whole being become awash in the shuddering pain of the planet around her. I won't hurt you. I want to help you.

The crystal in her hand got warmer. Her numb fingers relished in the heat that emanated from it, and Leia opened her eyes and looked down at it. It was glowing faintly blue, and turning in her hand.

Leia exhaled shakily.

Somewhere in the distance, she heard a breathy, desperate sob.

Jolting upright, Leia whirled around, her eyes darting across the red horizon, flying over the parked ships, the small huddle of Rebels, and falling upon a distant figure.

"Leia?" Hera asked softly. She was the first one to approach. Her gloved hands were up and splayed, cautiously admitting their defenselessness. Han was not far behind her, his arms folded and his brow furrowed. He said nothing, but she knew he was worried by the crease of his forehead and the tight frown.

"I heard…" Leia gasped, blinking rapidly as she held her head. "That wasn't one of you, was it?"

"What?" Hera asked. "What did you hear?"

The sob pealed across the desert once more, a deep and shuddery breath that cracked like thunder. Leia found herself looking down at her palm. The crystal there swung like the needle of a compass, shifting slowly before halting abruptly.

Leia followed the point of Anakin Skywalker's kyber crystal, and found herself staring once more at the figure that had been a blot on the horizon. Only now it was closer.

A primal fear erupted in her. It had moved so fast, at once as far as the horizon line, and then suddenly not even twenty feet away. A sharp cry fell from her lips as she backed away, feeling like she needed to run far from here, jump into a ship, and never come back.

"Whoa, whoa!" Han steadied her, gripping her arm and helping her stay upright. "Leia, what's going on?"

"Do you not see her?" Leia asked shakily, her fingers trembling as she pointed to the figure. The sobs were growing louder, and each time they blew across the desert, they hit Leia like a wave. "Please tell me you see her."

Han stared at her for a long moment, his expression softening as he followed her finger. The rest of them followed suit, their eyes moving toward the figure who stood before them, a delicate shadow in the wind.

"I don't see anything, Leia," Han whispered.

Leia exhaled, and she found herself holding her head in confusion. What was happening? Why was she seeing things now, when she wasn't in any sort of temple, or even the caves of Dagobah? She'd never had a vision in the waking daylight before!

"Tell us what you see," Hera offered gently. "Maybe we can help."

She did not want to tell them how scared she was. It was probably written on her face. Instead she watched the woman sob from a somewhat safe distance, and she nodded.

"It's a woman," she said, hearing her own voice quiver uselessly. "I can't tell how old she is from here, but she looks young. Maybe around my age, or closer to Han's. Not sure. At first she was really far away, and I couldn't see any details, but now she's so close I could walk up and touch her."

"What is she doing?" Hera asked calmly. Han was giving Hera a disbelieving look, as though he couldn't believe she was entertaining this crazy fantasy.

But Hera knew how to deal with Force sensitives, Leia reminded herself. She'd half-raised one to adulthood.

"She's crying," Leia confessed, slumping as though the sobs had sliced through her and ripped out her spine. "I don't know why. She seems so sad, and she's sobbing, but I know I can't help it. No." Leia shook her head furiously. "I feel like I'm the cause of it."

"You're not," Han said sharply. "This isn't real, okay? You ain't responsible for some magic lady's breakdown."

Leia did not listen, though. She was staring at the woman again, watching her shoulders tremble.

"She…" Leia tilted her head in awe. She broke away from Han, taking a tentative step forward. "She has dark hair. Curly, and… it's floating all around her. I think there are flowers sewed into it. And she's wearing a dress that looks like a waterfall. She's beautiful."

Han caught her shoulder as she took another step forward and reeled her back.

"Don't trust it," he advised. "Whatever it is, don't go near it."

"But I know her," Leia said, feeling herself slide dreamily away from him and toward the sobbing woman. "I think I've always known her."

"Uh oh," she heard someone mutter. Probably Zeb.

"What's happening?" Kes Dameron asked confusedly. "Why is she acting like this?"

"The Force," Sabine said dryly.

"Shouldn't we let this play out?" said Evaan, precious Evaan, who was always the voice of reason. "We came here because Jedha is sacred to the Force, even now after the Death Star erased all of its life, and beauty, and history." The bitterness in Evaan's tone did not go unnoticed, even to Leia, who was swaying in awe of the vision before her. She was not simply talking about Jedha in this instance. "Let her go. This place is part of her, and whatever she sees, it's all we have right now."

"What if it hurts her?" Han snapped. Chewie let out a sharp yowl of agreement.

"Well," Evaan said simply, "we won't let it, will we? We'll keep close. Like you said, Solo. It isn't real. How could something that isn't real hurt her?"

Leia moved forward, cupping the crystal in her hand, and trailing closer to the woman.

The moment Leia looked down at the crystal, and looked up again, the woman was gone.

"Oh." Leia slumped standing in the place where the woman once stood with furrowed brows. "What? Where'd she go?"

Then the crystal in her palms spun slowly. It pointed to her left.

Leia heard another sharp sob, and she turned to face it.

"There you are," she said with a small smile. She started toward the woman, feeling more and more that she knew her from somewhere. The small group of Rebels who had arrived with her followed closely at her heels.

The sobs carried her, like she was walking on a cloud. She wanted nothing, needed nothing, except to hold this woman in her arms and ask her what was wrong. No.

Leia wanted to hold this woman and ask her something that had settled inside her soul a very long time ago.

Was Leia wrong? That was all she wanted to ask.

Is it me? She wondered, not for the first time nor the last. Am I the cause of all this suffering?

The red sand crunched softly beneath her boots. Each time the woman disappeared, she reappeared just the same, a safe distance away, still sobbing softly. The wind or the Force carried her, leaving her to float like a ghost, her air curling like a halo and her dress bleeding into the air.

At some point, as Leia stumbled forward, she realized who she was chasing.

Perhaps she'd known all along.

There had been a moment, though, when Leia had looked down at the crystal in her hands, its blue glow burning her eyes, and then looked up at the woman, and saw that she had turned and smiled.

The sobs continued, though they did not escape her mouth.

A soft, breathless voice carried over them, blooming across the sky and blanketing the dust.

Something wonderful has happened!

The crystal in her palms stuttered. Like a heartbeat, and Leia felt so afraid.

Wonderful? Yes. Horrible? Yes.

Please, the crystal cried, leaving her bones aching and her head on fire, I don't know what to do, I don't know if I can do this, but I can't tell her that. I'm happy, but I'm not, I'm terrified, but I'm not, and I need help. I need someone to tell me that it's okay to not know what to do!

Leia nearly dropped the crystal right then and there.

It burned her palm as it shivered, and pondered inquisitively, Obi-Wan?

Then, all at once, a door slammed closed, and these thoughts were banished like a light flickering off.

Struggling to a stop, Leia heaved a deep breath. They were well away from the safety of their ships now, and the cold air of Jedha had settled into her bones. This was a place, Leia thought, that became you. Nobody left a desert planet without a bit of sand in their soul.

Leia realized that they'd stumbled upon a colossus of a statue, its sandstone face half buried in the dust. There was a long, rounded line that stretched for a mile, and as Leia peered at the fallen monument, she realized what it was supposed to be.

Remnants of the Jedi were everywhere, it seemed.

Glancing at the crystal in her hand, she saw that it pointed forward. There were no sobs to accompany it, and when she looked up, she saw the beautiful apparition floating atop the statue not even three feet away.

Her dark eyes bore into Leia's.

The breath inside Leia's lungs seemed all at once stolen, like the Force itself had sucked it all away.

"Mama?" Leia breathed.

This one word, a word Leia had scarcely said her whole entire life, seemed to hush the wind, the sand, and the sky.

The ghost of Padmé Amidala stood atop the toppled statue of a Jedi Knight, one that appeared not so different than Obi-Wan Kenobi had in the depths of the temple on Lothal. She looked not quite human, her skin glassy like porcelain, her eyes glowing like beacons, and her hair and dress floating eerily around her as though she were suspended in water. This was an ethereal being, not quite of this world, not quite of the other, and it had latched itself onto Leia with the fervor and desperation of a dying man.

Her mother extended a pale hand toward her, her fingers stretching against the cold air.

And then she fell, her whole body swooping back, a great mass of blue fabric swooshing and long brown curls fluttering, and she disappeared.

"Mama!" Leia screamed, streaking forward in a rash attempt to catch the ghost, her boots kicking up red sand and leaving the others in the dust behind her.

She heard Han yell her name while the others cried out wordlessly.

"Wait!" Leia's empty hand clapped against the sandstone, darting around her wildly for a sign of the apparition. She scrambled up onto the statue, finding footholds in the massive dips in the old Jedi's cloak which might have been folds a long time ago. She stood upright on the statue's side, breathless and confused, her stance rigid as she stood, her legs stretched apart, her arms splayed at her side. Anakin Skywalker's crystal bit into her palm as both her hands closed into a fist.

Before her, between the back of the statue and a sprawling red mountain, there was a hole. It appeared as if it had been a cave entrance once, but because of the years of disuse, abuse, and sandstorms, it was now merely a hole in the ground that went on endlessly into darkness.

For a moment, Leia just stared at it. The darkness below her spoke, not at all in a voice she recognized, but in a fluttering hymn that felt familiar, like she had heard it once a thousand years ago.

She dropped her backpack into the hole, and took a deep breath.

"Leia!" Han cried, suddenly right behind her. His voice nearly broke her from her trance. His fingers closed around her fur-trimmed hood.

Her arms slipped from the sleeves, and she stepped forward, slipping out of her jacket and dropping herself into the abyss.


None of them wanted to talk about it.

No, that wasn't right. Luke was dying to talk about it. He wanted to yell, to cry, to tell them he'd never fall to the Dark Side, and he knew they wouldn't either. They were all good people!

Right?

But the thing was, none of them said anything. None of them could face up to the terrible truth of it all. That maybe, just maybe, Vader was right.

It was the first time in his whole life that Luke considered the fact that he might not have a choice in the matter. That maybe, just maybe, falling to the Dark Side and joining Vader was his fate.

And all it had taken was one awful chat to strip Luke of all of his certainty.

He was scared. All he knew now was that he would rather die than join Vader. That was nothing new, either. He'd always felt that in his heart, but now it felt less like an oath than a promise.

Instead of talking about what had happened with Vader, the three of them caught up with one another.

"They miss you," Luke told Ezra without any prompting. He watched Ezra's expression crumple, and he did not respond. "I was with them, after we watched you get executed. Who was that, by the way?"

Ezra merely shrugged, his eyes on his hands. "Some rando," he said dully. "How should I know? He was next to me when Vader put the bag over my head. We were wearing the same prison uniform. The camera was on me, and then it wasn't. I heard a blaster shot, and I thought I was dead, and then I wasn't. Now I'm here." With a small, bitter laugh, Ezra leaned back into a pillow, and he drew his arms behind his head. "Every single day I try to think of what I might say to them. To Hera, and Sabine, and Zeb, and Chopper. Every day I think I could do it. Face them again. But honestly?" Ezra grimaced. "I don't think I can."

Luke stared at him blankly. He did not want to judge him, because he understood on some level how awful it was to be the family disappointment. As much as he'd loved his family, and grown up in a tender and loving environment, Bail and Breha were rulers and politicians at their core. When Luke had done something wrong, he had felt the crushing despair of a hardened criminal on death row as the Queen and Viceroy of Alderaan watched him without pity, chewing him out like a piece of meat.

Oh, how he missed them.

"You will," Luke said firmly.

Ezra gave him a look. It was an incredulous little thing, a grimace and a glance and a grouchy little huff.

"Oh, yeah?" Ezra folded his arms across his chest. "Tell me, Your Highness, why is that?"

Luke looked into Ezra's eyes, and he smiled serenely. "Because they are still alive," he said, his voice soft and cold. Like bitter snow. "Because they love you, and they want you in their lives. This is not about you, Ezra. This is not about your feelings. If you love them so much, let them know that. Before it's too late."

Ezra sat and stewed in the silence, guilt and uncertainty falling over him like a shroud.

Luke may have a crippling fondness for Ezra Bridger, but that did not mean he'd ever put up with this boy's bullshit. Past or present.

"If we manage to get out of here," Ahsoka piped up, "and you run way, Ezra? I will find you, and drag you to kingdom come. And that is coming from the certified queen of running away. Got it?"

"Yes, ma'am," Ezra said glumly.

"While we're on this topic," Luke said, leaning forward, "I'd like to talk about a plan. Because, you know, I don't intend on letting Vader win."

"We've been here for a while, Luke," Ezra said, blinking at him in wonder. "You got a magical plan to get us out of here? Because we've tried that, probably."

"There is no escape from Mustafar," Ahsoka said gravely.

"Then we convince Vader to take us off Mustafar," Luke said simply.

Both Ahsoka and Ezra stared at him vacantly, as though perhaps he had begun to float and speak in tongues.

"I'll bite," Ahsoka said. "How do you suppose we'll do that?"

"Uh, easy." Luke shrugged. "Convince Vader that we won't escape. That we've accepted our fate as his Inquisitors."

"Not gonna happen," Ezra drawled, his shoulders slumping. "Vader hates our guts, and does not trust us. Gaining his trust sounds like a suicide run."

"I know it does," Luke said delicately, itching to place his hand on Ezra's shoulder. He kept his hands in his lap, but smiled at him nonetheless. "Vader is scary, and I wouldn't ask you guys to try this without understanding the risks. Vader is going to try and break us. He promised me as much, though he did say he'd get me to join him without torture, so I'm not really sure what he's up to." Luke rubbed his head and frowned. "Whatever he's got up his sleeve, it's almost definitely going to mess with us. But I believe in all of us, and I believe we can survive this."

They glanced at one another, clearly reluctant to agree to a plan as reckless as this. Luke sighed, and he stood up.

"I'm going to do this," he said firmly, "with or without your help. I care about both of you, so I won't ask again, but just know that whatever happens, I won't fall to the Dark Side. There is nothing I want that it can give." Luke smiled faintly, and he shrugged. "There is nothing I want. Period."

Luke didn't tell them that his failsafe for this was death. That would only worry them.

In the end, as they tried to fall asleep, Luke heard the blankets shift beside him. They'd all come around to sleeping on the floor, huddled on Ahsoka's rug with a plethora of blankets. There was comfort in the closeness of it all. The proximity reminded him of camping out with Leia and Han under some star system or another.

"Luke," Ezra whispered. His foot nudged against Luke's knee, and it took a lot for Luke not to laugh. He was grateful that the lights were on a cycle, and the cell was pitch black, so Ezra could not see how red Luke's face was. "Hey. Buddy. You awake?"

"Unfortunately." Luke turned onto his side, folding a quilt over his nose and staring into the dark. He could make out the whites of Ezra's eyes. They glistened a bit.

"So…" Ezra breathed. He flipped onto his back, and Luke closed his eyes, trying not to feel too disappointed that they were no longer making eye contact in the dark. "I've been thinking…"

"A first for you, I'm sure," Luke said smoothly.

"Hey," Ezra snorted, batting at Luke's head in the dark. He playfully swiped his knuckles over Luke's forehead, and Luke sunk into his blankets, trying not to make an awful noise. "I'm being serious, though. Like, I don't want you to throw yourself into this alone. You've been through enough."

Luke did not respond. He blinked into the darkness, trying to find the lump of blankets that was Ahsoka. He knew she was asleep by dipping into the Force and feeling the steady rhythm of her breaths.

"You still there?" Ezra whispered after a minute or so of silence.

"Yeah."

Ezra exhaled. He swallowed, and Luke heard the gulp in the silence, like maybe Ezra was more nervous than he let on.

"I'm gonna do this with you," Ezra said finally.

Luke sat up. The blankets rolled off him, and he turned to look down at Ezra.

"Yeah?" he asked, feeling nothing if not cold.

"Yeah."

Luke closed his eyes. He was both thankful and disappointed.

"Okay," he said. "We do it together."

"Together," Ezra echoed. He didn't sound so sure.

Luke tried not to overthink it.


The bottom of the hole was even colder than the top. Leia had slid down a rather slippery slope, dragging her hands over smooth rock and using the Force to slow her descent. She dropped down at one point into open air, and then landed in a crouch at the bottom.

Her crystal gave off a peculiar light. She watched her breath mist about her lips and carry upwards into oblivion.

"Oh," Leia said faintly, looking around her in awe. This was not the cave she was expecting.

The ceiling went on for a long while, and she could not quite see the top. The walls were made of sturdy brick, and every few feet there was a symbol she did not recognize. Below it was an unlit torch. Leia scooped up her bag and dug through it until she found a lighter.

The flame did little to warm her, though it did soothe her throbbing fingers. Its light was more substantial than the glow of her crystal, which she still held above her head like a talisman.

When she took a step, the cobblestone beneath her feet seemed to whisper. Her boots clicked against it, and the darkness waited as she started forward blindly. She chewed on her lower lip.

It was not a temple. She knew it by the feeling of it. There was no comfort in the dark, but there was no malice either. She knew she wasn't dipping herself into the Dark Side, because there was nothing here to suggest manipulation or coercion. But there was simultaneously no warmth. No distrust, or air of uncertainty like that of the temple on Lothal.

All there was now was Leia and the tunnels.

Catacombs, she realized quickly.

It was likely that these winding passages were older than the Jedi themselves. Leia pressed on, eyeing her crystal, and stretching herself out with the Force. Very quickly she reeled herself back in, realizing that she could not possibly reach out to see where the catacombs might end.

They did not end.

This was a planet of secrets. This was a planet dedicated to the Force. Not to good, not to evil, not to Light, to Dark, not to the Jedi, and not to the Sith.

It was merely a center. A nexus. A crux, if you will.

And Leia felt it all so suddenly that it made her head begin to pound.

"Mama?" Leia called to the darkness. Something shifted ahead of her, a distant tapping noise echoing off the walls, and she thought maybe she could catch sight of the beautiful, mournful woman.

She felt that even if it was a vision from the Force, she'd give anything to talk with her.

The shadow stepped forward, light falling across its features from the flames of her torch. It was a man she did not know, and for a moment Leia was breathless. There were other people on Jedha, she knew, but they were small Tarkintowns. It didn't seem possible that someone might live down here.

It was a man that seemed shorter than average, or at the very least he did not tower over Leia. He wore thick, warm looking robes, black wool by the looks of it, and the source of the tapping was revealed to her in the form of a walking stick. Leia held the torch in front of him cautiously, and waved it before his milky eyes.

"I can feel the flame, you know," he told her with a knowing smile.

Leia quickly withdrew the fire, feeling a bit guilty. "I'm just trying to decide if you are real," she said.

"Is the Force not real enough for you," the man asked, tilting his head, "Leia Skywalker?"

He spoke with a faint accent, and he said her name so slowly that she wondered who he could be. The fact that he knew her name was proof enough that he had come from the Force.

"You are the second blind man that the Force has shown to me in about twenty four standard hours," Leia said curtly, "so forgive me for being a little cautious. At least the other one made some sense."

"Your life is impacted by many people," said the blind man wisely. "Some, you may find, are with you for life. Some, you may find, are with you for death. And some, like me, impact you without ever having met you."

Leia studied his face. She lifted Anakin's crystal, and he smiled at it without glancing.

"Child," he said softly, "I know why you are here. Do you?"

"I have to get a crystal," she said.

"You have a crystal right there," he said.

"No, I need my own crystal," she sighed. "This was my father's. I told Kanan that too. Come on."

"Ah," said the blind man, nodding sagely. "Kanan Jarrus, Jedi Knight."

"You knew him?"

"I know him," the blind man corrected. "As he knows me. As we all know each other, who are one with the Force, and the Force with us."

"You're dead, then?" Leia asked.

"There is no death. Only the Force."

"Tell that to Alderaan," Leia spat.

The man tilted his head. "Jedha told that to Scarif," he said, "who told that to Alderaan— who told that to you, star-killer."

"Don't call me that," Leia snapped.

"Is that not what you are?" The blind man tapped his staff against the cobblestones. "The girl who slays the beast, becomes the beast, or so it is told. Come with me, little sister. We are many, and we are few, and it is time you knew."

Leia wanted to spit at him that she did not like riddles, but the truth was, she was curious. He turned away slowly, and she followed him with a quiet sort of obedience. He was reverent in a way that she could never be.

"These tunnels were made many moons ago," the blind man said, "by the Guardians of the Whills. Have you heard of them?"

Leia shook her head mutely. Then she remembered that this man could not see, and she quickly said, "No. Who are they?"

"A religious sect. You came here because all who know of Jedha know of its ties to the Force, but they assume Jedi. Guardians are not Jedi. They respect and honor the Jedi, but in all truth, their job has always been the harder of the two."

"What do you mean?" Leia asked.

The blind man tilted his head. "We who gather the knowledge hold the truth," he said. "Power is not always about who wears the crown, and who deals the cards. It is he who whispers in the king's ear, he who knows that it is he who loads the dice who predicts the outcome."

"That's not fair," Leia objected.

The blind man laughed, and he patted her shoulder affectionately. "Do you suppose life is fair, child?" He shook his head. "I wish it were. You stand on the ground of death, and you say obvious things. Do you even know why you are here?"

"I told you," Leia said, unable to keep her indignation from seeping into her tone, "I'm here to get a new crystal."

"Why?" asked the blind man.

Leia jerked back. She didn't understand the question.

"My father is Darth Vader," she told the man coldly. "This crystal? He chose it. I don't want any part of his legacy."

"You assume that you get to choose the legacy that you carry on," the man said softly. "That is a false notion. You are what others make of you, but in foundation only. One day you wake and realize that you have been walking on your own legs. Your own path. You have been doing this for years."

Then the man knocked her crystal from her fingers. She cried out, scrambling to snatch it up from the cobbles.

"For a girl who wants no part in a broken man's legacy," he said, "you seem to care much for it."

"Shut up," Leia spat, clutching the crystal to her chest and glaring at him.

"The strongest hearts are made of kyber," said the blind man sagely.

"Then give me one," Leia said, feeling hopeless and worn. "I refuse to use this lightsaber, so I won't leave without a kyber crystal."

"You realize that you might be waiting a while," chuckled the blind man.

"I won't fail," she said. She stared into the man's milky eyes, and she looked down at the torch in her hands. "Here. Let me prove it to you."

She tossed the torch down, and stamped out the flame. Now that she was cloaked in darkness, the only light came from the faint glow of her crystal. The man's face looked pallid in this light, and he smiled serenely at her.

"I am not afraid," Leia declared.

The man nodded. He lifted his staff, and he pointed it down a corridor. Leia realized they'd come to a fork.

"Go," he said. "This is the path that will suit you best. But beware, little sister. This is not a place of the Jedi. There is Light, but there is also Dark. You alone must differentiate between the two. That is how you will find your crystal."

She felt something slip around her shoulders. She looked down and saw that he had unwound the strip of red fabric around his robes, and saddled it onto her shoulders. For a moment she wondered if he had seen her shivering, but then she remembered he was blind. So she bundled soft, smooth fabric around her, and she smiled.

Leia inhaled deeply, and she nodded. She started forward, and then paused. She turned to face him, and she set a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"Thank you," she said softly. "Whoever you are, you are kind."

"I am one with the Force," the man told her with a knowing smile, "and the Force is with me."

Leia took one last look at his milky eyes, and she squeezed his shoulder before turning away. The corridor awaited her, swallowing her in the darkness like a maw of a mighty beast. She trusted the Force to guide her, floating the crystal in her palm as she made her way deeper into the catacombs. The red fabric had helped warm her a tiny bit, but she still felt like her fingers and toes were about to fall off.

If she expected visions from the Force as she walked, she got none. The darkness yawned, and she heard the deafening silence. If she got lost down here, she would go insane.

After a long, long time of just simply walking, she heard a distant song. Leia stopped and listened hard. It seemed familiar. Had she ever heard it before?

For whatever reason, it reminded her of Luke.

Very carefully, Leia tied her crystal back around her throat. Moving forward, the song became louder. It was a viol, she realized. Small, mournful strokes filled these empty halls, and rattled the stone. They rattled her heart.

Suddenly every torch in the corridor roared into life.

Leia halted at once, her heart freezing inside her throat.

At the end of the hallway, there was a little boy.

The song grew louder. He stood and smiled at her, his eyes glinting in the flickering flames, and he played his song with the fervor and talent of a seasoned musician.

It took everything in her not to turn on her heel and run away. Far, far away. Back to the surface, where the sun shined bright. Back to Han— dumb, hopeless, warm, safe Han. Leia thought she might give up everything all at once if it meant just seeing his face again.

Because she realized, looking at this child who waited patiently for her, his bow sliding discordantly on the string of his viol as he stopped playing and let the instrument clatter to the stones, that this was her life and this was her death.

Here in the catacombs of the Force, she could stay forever, or she could go and never return.

Facts were laid out before her. She had a choice.

The blind man's advice stung her now as she and the boy watched one another.

Both Light, Both Dark, and no way to differentiate between the two.

It was her choice.

Falling is a choice! Her own voice cried inside her head.

How did she know she was making the right one?

Ben, she thought wildly. Ben, what do I do?

Ben did not reply.

So Leia stood and watched as the boy from the end of the hall lifted his hand. He gestured for her to come forward. It was an innocent movement, but it made her step back.

He looked upset. His little hand wilted.

Leia realized she knew him.

And then she moved forward. The red fabric around her shoulders began to slip, and Leia shrugged it off and tied it tightly around her waist. She approached the child hesitantly, and watched as he smiled up at her.

"Come," he said softly. His voice was angelic, and it made her heart hurt.

"Okay," she said hoarsely.

She didn't take his hand, though she longed to, and instead they walked side-by-side along a passage. The torches illuminated his yellow hair, and he swung his arms idly as he hummed.

The passageway broke off into a wide cylindrical chamber. The stones glittered in the firelight.

Leia stood at the entrance while little Luke ran ahead, twirling and laughing as he spun in the middle of a circle. It was so nice to hear his laugh.

"Luke," Leia called. "What's going on?"

Luke spun to face her, and he grinned. He gestured for her to come forward with both hands.

"Come," he gasped, backing up slowly. "Come!"

She hesitantly stepped into the chamber, noting the pattern of the cobblestone floor. Luke bounced idly on his feet, and Leia watched him curiously. He was wearing the same dark, heavy robes that the blind man had been draped in.

The moment her foot touched the stone inside the chamber, Luke's smile fell. He watched her curiously, his tiny face glowing among the rows of torches.

"Why are you here?" he asked her.

Leia took another step forward. "You know why," she said.

Luke frowned. It was the frown of a petulant child. "No," he said, "I don't think I do. You say you want a kyber crystal, but you have one."

She was growing sick of explaining her rationale to visions.

"I am my own person," Leia told him, "and I want my own crystal."

In response, little Luke tutted. "How demanding," he said. His eyes glittered. "Do you think you can just demand of the Force, and give nothing in return?"

"What do you want?" she asked him cautiously.

The child laughed. He tilted his head, and held out his small hands.

"What are you willing to give?" he asked her.

"What are you willing to lose?" a small voice piped up from behind her.

Leia whirled around, startled to find another child standing at the entrance of the chamber. She wore dark robes too, identical to those of Luke and the blind man. Her small face was half cast in shadow. Her dark eyes glittered in the torchlight. She was altogether familiar and a stranger.

The child was Leia. A carbon copy of how Leia looked at age eleven, her dark hair in two long braids, pinned in small buns behind her ears. Loose strands of brown hair fell into her devilish eyes, which were too big and too round and too full of fire to be any good at all.

"What are you willing to do?" a third, far deeper voice demanded.

Leia turned once more, fear prickling her insides as she found herself staring into the smooth, handsome face of a man she did not know, but had seen once, or maybe twice. A face of a man who haunted her dreams.

Anakin Skywalker was tall. Much taller than she imagined, though she supposed it made sense, given Vader's height. He was a beautiful young man, the kind of handsome that turned heads out of curiosity, but was still oddly boyish in a way. And he was so painfully young. Leia stared into his face, and she saw his youth, and she wanted to scream.

Her father had been a boy younger than she was now. His tired blue eyes were so weary, and they screamed of uncertainties that were forcefully buried beneath a glint and a smirk.

She hated him. His smile was an echo of her own, and she hated him.

"What is this?" she breathed.

"Is this not what you wanted?" Luke asked.

"What you were expecting?" Little Leia asked.

"What you think you deserve?" Anakin asked.

He smiled, and little Luke smiled, and little Leia smiled.

"Oh…" Leia turned slowly, her brow furrowing in confusion. "I don't like this at all."

Each of them laughed at once, though they harmonized with one another, and their laughter became a song. The torches flickered, and the fire roared briefly. Leia watched this in horror.

"Come," said little Luke.

"Come," said little Leia.

"Come," said Anakin.

They began to rotate around her slowly. Leia found herself standing still, watching each of them fall before her eyes and smile brightly.

"Choices are hard," said little Luke.

"Choices are easy," said little Leia.

"Choices," said Anakin gravely, "are forever."

Leia stood and listened. She nodded slowly.

"I understand," she said.

"Ha!" cried little Luke.

"Ha!" cried little Leia.

"Do you really think you get it?" asked Anakin, passing by her line of sight once before disappearing into the pattern.

"This isn't a game," warned little Leia.

"This is your life," said little Luke.

"Don't waste it," said Anakin.

Leia nodded again, though she couldn't help but feel properly baffled by this ring of familiarity. This was her family. This was who she could have been, if her father had not fallen.

Hard to accept. Hard to imagine.

"Who are you?" she asked the three visions, turning very slowly as they continued to walk around the circular chamber. "And don't you dare say that you're me. You're not."

"Ooh!" Luke clasped his hands together delightedly. "Clever girl. Think you know everything, little sister?"

Leia scowled at him. "You're not my brother," she said to him coolly.

"No," Luke replied. "I am the Son."

For some reason, that made her blood turn icy in her veins.

Luke stepped away, and little Leia breezed past her, her smile radiant.

"The Daughter," she said, moving away as passively as she came.

"The Father," Anakin said, stalking past her and watching her with a gaze that could pierce steel.

Leia did not know what that meant.

"Don't you see?" Luke gasped. "We're everything."

"We're nothing," said little Leia.

"We're something," said Anakin.

"The Light," Luke said.

"The Dark," Anakin said.

"The Balance," little Leia said.

"The Ashla," Anakin said.

"The Bogan," little Leia said.

"The Bendu," Luke said.

"The Jedi," little Leia said.

"The Sith," Luke said.

"The Force that binds them all," Anakin said.

Luke began to hum. His eyes flashed an ungodly red for a moment, the glow of them flashing in the dim light. Then they went milky white. Then they returned to their salient, starry blue. Anakin's eyes burned yellow as he passed her, then milky white, and then returned to the same salient blue as Luke's. Leia's eyes burned like a star, turned glassy, and drained from her head, leaving her eye sockets horrifyingly empty. They returned in a blink, brown and large as ever.

They all slowed to an abrupt stop.

"Choose," said little Leia, holding up her tiny, open palm. She turned it over and closed it into a fist.

"Choose," said Luke, mirroring his twin's movements. He looked unhappy very suddenly.

"Choose," said Anakin, a black glove open palm up and then turning and closing into a fist.

All three of them looked ready to burst into tears.

There seemed to be no right choice.

It felt hopeless. Leia turned slowly, agonizingly sweeping her eyes over each of their faces and weighing each of their words. The blind man's warning passed through her mind, and she could hardly stand to look at the three visions, finding herself wanting to drop to her knees and scream.

She didn't. She inhaled deeply, and then she exhaled.

Trusting the Force was never about blind faith.

It was about instinct.

What was Leia's gut telling her?

You know who you are, something inside her breathed. It sounded every bit like Luke as it did her own voice.

She passed by each of them once, staring into each of their eyes. Blue like the clear sky of Tatooine. Blue like the lakes of Naboo. Brown like wet sand, or so Biggs used to say.

Leia came to a stop before the image of her younger self. The little girl turned her tiny face up toward Leia, and stared at her defiantly.

"You," Leia breathed, kneeling cautiously before the little girl. Their identical brown eyes met, and they searched each other for a long time. Perhaps they watched each other for a thousand years.

Then, little Leia smiled, and she turned her fist around and opened her palm.

Inside it was a crystal. And that crystal was singing.

It hummed the soft, mournful tune that Luke had been playing on his viol. One that Leia felt she knew deep in her soul.

"Make it count, child," her younger self breathed.

Leia closed her hand over the crystal, and watched as her younger self transformed.

For a moment, Leia knelt her fingers gripping the icy hand of the woman before her. Then she leapt to her feet, tears in her eyes.

"Mama!" she cried, staring up into the face of Padmé Amidala and watching her smile sweetly. She laid her other hand over Leia's and she bowed her head.

"Go," Padmé said, lowering her head and pressing her forehead to Leia's. "Go and do wonderful things."

The crystal warmed her chapped, throbbing fingers.

Once they closed around it, she was left alone in the dark.

Chapter Text

It had been nearly a week, and things were not improving.

The day after Ezra had agreed to Luke's plan, they had told Ahsoka. She had watched them both with tired acceptance, but did not offer to join them. They did not expect her to.

Now their days were filled with dread.

The first time Vader had pulled one of them from the cell, it had been Ezra. They had not been expecting it, and one moment Ezra was there, the next he was gone. Ahsoka had allowed Luke to pace the floor worriedly.

"This is my fault," Luke had realized aloud.

Ahsoka's gaze had been sad, but patient.

"No," she'd said. "It isn't. This was his choice, Luke. You both know the risks of going in. Do you still think it's worth it?"

Luke had known what he'd been asking. It was why he didn't press for Ahsoka to join them in the endeavor. They had to be stronger than ever, stronger than both the Jedi and the Sith in order to come out of this unscathed. It was not going to be about dodging the Dark Side, but rather withstanding it.

Ezra had come back looking pale, but unscathed. He'd stumbled into the cell, dropped onto the blankets, and breathed out a huge sigh of relief.

"That," he'd declared, "really sucked. I thought he was going to straight up murder me the whole time."

"What did he do?" Luke had gasped, scooting as close as he dared. Ahsoka had moved closer as well, her hands already extended as though to lend comfort if needed.

"I'm really not sure," Ezra had admitted, sitting upright and wiping the sweat from his forehead. "It was meditation, I guess, but not like anything I've ever done before with Kanan. Or Maul, even. I don't know how to explain it, but it wasn't a good feeling."

"No," Ahsoka had murmured, "I'd imagine not."

Now they were left to wait and wonder. In the time between visits, Ezra had trimmed his beard and cut his hair, and Luke watched curiously as he went from looking rather wild and unkempt to almost well-groomed. Almost.

It was still Ezra, after all.

"You want a hair cut?" Ezra asked him, waving the scissors around playfully.

Luke blinked rapidly, apprehension coiling in his chest as he stood and strolled up to him. "Sure," he said, not really thinking it through and almost immediately regretting it.

If Ezra was surprised, he didn't show it. He merely shrugged, and began to trim the split ends from Luke's hair.

Ahsoka observed them silently. She'd gotten to doing this a lot these past few days, and Luke didn't bother to ask why. He knew she knew, and it was better if they left it unsaid.

"Can we talk about what happened?" Luke asked Ezra. The soft snipping of the scissors ceased. It was all Luke could do not to turn around and stare into his eyes helplessly. "I know you said it was awful, but he hasn't come back since then, so you must have done something right."

"I didn't do anything," Ezra hissed, laying a hand on the crown of Luke's head and cutting away the last of his split ends. "That's the problem, Luke. I let him guide me into a dark place, and it scared me. I don't want to do it again."

Luke inhaled sharply. He closed his eyes as Ezra dusted away the small loose strands of hair from Luke's shoulders. He turned and looked up at him.

"You can still back down," Luke told him gently.

Ezra's brow furrowed. He gave a little snort, and turned away.

"And leave you to fend for yourself?" He shot Luke a dull grin. "Not happening."

"He's going to do this regardless of whether you're with Luke or not," Ahsoka said. She sounded resigned, like she had been thinking on it a lot. "He wants us to be Inquisitors. Luke's plan is simply to let him think we're becoming them, but that is dangerous."

"We know that, Ahsoka," Ezra said lightly.

"No," Ahsoka told him coldly, "you don't. You think you know the Dark Side, what it can do to people, but you haven't seen anything yet."

They stared at her mutely, neither of them able to tear their gaze from her bitter smile and her tired eyes.

It was easy to forget just how young Ahsoka was. And yet, just how old. She was hardly middle-aged, yet she had lived a thousand lifetimes, and maybe more wars than she'd care to admit.

"You said he'd never make you into an Inquisitor," Luke reminded her quietly. "That he'd never torture you."

Ahsoka's lips twisted, and she shook her head. "There are more ways to turn a person to the Dark than torture, Luke," she said grimly.

"We won't give in," Luke said. He stood and strode up to her, taking her hands in his and searching her face desperately. "Ahsoka, I can play him. I've done this before, and I can do it again. He's my father. He wants my love more than I think he's ever wanted anything, so why don't I just give him a taste of what that could be like?"

"Because he could ruin you," Ahsoka gasped, squeezing his hands and looking down at him desperately. "I'm not telling you this to scare you, I'm telling you because I don't know if I could handle losing you too."

"You won't," Luke said.

"You don't know that!" Ahsoka shook her head. "I don't doubt that you're strong, Luke, I can feel that, but I thought Anakin was strong once too. I just… it's not that simple, you know. Fighting off the Dark. It's like trying not to breathe, sometimes. On Malachor, I thought that I might drown in it."

"But you didn't," Luke said delicately.

"No, I didn't," Ahsoka said, sounding bitter. "Because you showed up. If you hadn't? I'd be dead, or good as dead, and no doubt that temple would have stolen my mind first."

It was then that Luke realized the problem here.

Fear wasn't something that was always rational. It was something that took root inside you, and it did not let go. It was not always poison, and it did not always lead to a dark path, because sometimes it came from light itself.

There was nothing that Luke could do about Ahsoka's caution. She had seen enough to know better than him.

"Please," Luke whispered, smiling at Ahsoka gently. "Please, just trust me. Okay?"

Ahsoka watched him with wide eyes, her expression softening as she peered at him closely. She squeezed his hands, and she nodded slowly.

Then Vader walked in.

Almost instinctively, Ahsoka broke away from Luke and shoved him behind her. Her body coiled around him defensively, and she glared up at Vader as he paused to take in this scene. Across the room, Ezra looked pale and frightened.

For a moment Vader did nothing but watch. He observed each of them, as though perhaps they were odd specimen he'd never seen up close before. Then he turned his attention to Luke. It was like a cold, metal coil winding around his throat. There was only a split-second where Luke felt he could shrink back, wishing to disappear into the blankets.

But then he remembered his purpose here.

In the end, whether or not there was good in Vader did not matter. Luke could wait and search forever for that last flicker of light, but waiting would not help the Rebellion.

So Luke had to act.

He stood up, meeting Vader's gaze and peering at him curiously. The Rebellion came first. And if Luke happened to find something within Vader worth saving, who was he to ignore it?

In his head, he heard the honeysuckle tone of Padmé Amidala's voice.

There's good in him, Luke, she'd said in his drowning dream not so long ago, his chin between her fingers. I know it.

And he had looked upon his mother, river flowers blooming in her hair, and he'd said, So do I.

So why was he faltering now?

When he stepped forward he was immediately yanked back. He looked down and saw that Ahsoka had snatched him by the sleeve. Her eyes were wide and beseeching.

The thing was, Luke didn't blame her for sitting here in the cell and allowing herself to be held captive. It was so much easier to sit and spit some harsh words than it was to play pretend and barter your soul.

Luke had never been one to play it safe and wait, however.

It was a fact. Luke Organa was an impulsive, and yet pragmatic individual. He would act in a way that baffled his enemies. Because he was slow to the blaster and easy to the diplomacy.

A trick of the tongue and a little sleight of hand had never been below him. He was a politician, after all.

"Ahsoka," Luke said gently.

She was not looking at him. Her attention was on Vader.

"Anakin," she breathed, her nails digging into his wrist. "Please don't do this."

Vader regarded her coldly. He took a step toward Luke, and then another. Luke held his breath as he was dragged from Ahsoka's grasp, his shoulders caught in an iron grip, and he stumbled as Vader wheeled him away.

Luke and Ezra exchanged one last, desperate look of solidarity before the cell doors slid shut.

Vader kept a hand on Luke's shoulder. Luke did not bother fighting him on it.

"Can you please be kinder to Ahsoka?" Luke asked suddenly.

Vader seemed to stiffen, his helmet lifting up sharply.

"I have done more than my fair share for the wayward apprentice," he said gravely. "She is the ungrateful one."

"You kidnapped her," Luke reminded him, unable to keep himself from rolling his eyes. "You stuck her in a cell for three years, and then you taunt her with your plans to turn me to your side. Don't you see how much this is hurting her?"

"Perhaps she will become angry enough to use the Dark Side," Vader said.

"Or," Luke gasped, shaking his head, "she'll become too despondent and frightened to do anything! Have you even considered that what you've done to her has broken her?"

"That is impossible," Vader said firmly.

Luke exhaled sharply. All he wanted was to protect Ahsoka and Ezra at this point, and he was doing a pretty poor job.

"Just…" Luke hesitated as he lifted his hand to place it on Vader's arm. The moment his palm touched the man's suit, he froze. His feet stopped moving. He stared ahead for a few moments. "Can't you just try? Please? I'm not asking for much, just… don't touch Ahsoka. Okay?"

"My plan was to turn all of you," Vader said.

"Plans change." Luke stared up at Vader, and he tilted his head. "Listen, I won't fight you. I'll do what you want. But Ahsoka doesn't want this, so don't force her to join in on whatever it is you're planning."

Vader considered him for a second, and he slipped away from Luke's fingers. He started forward with the same sure march of a seasoned military official.

"How did you convince Bridger to comply?" he demanded.

Luke blinked rapidly. He struggled to catch up without jogging, but he managed.

"Ezra is a very good friend of mine," Luke said. "I told him I wasn't going to fight you, and he decided that he'd follow me. He's very loyal."

Vader seemed to consider this. He nodded once, and then led him down a dark hall.

The chamber they settled in was about as dark and foreboding as the rest of Vader's palace. It was black and sleek, shiny floors and walls with eerie white lights inlaid like white slashes along the durasteel panels. Luke knelt when Vader gestured toward the floor.

Ezra had been right, Luke quickly realized. This was not simple meditation. It was something else.

Something sinister.

Vader did not sit across from Luke, but rather paced the length of the chamber. He did not speak, but Luke felt his voice rattle in his bones.

Look at you.

Luke closed his eyes. The walls seemed to hum.

You imagined life as an infinite stream of adventures, and you never stopped to consider the cost of excitement and glory.

Uh oh. Luke quickly gathered just how bad this could get once the words truly settled in his brain. He exhaled shakily, and lifted his eyes to Vader, but Vader was gone.

There was nothing but a wide window, and the inky blackness of space drawn out before him. Distant stars twinkled behind the glass.

Alderaan shined like a jewel in the dark.

"No," he whispered.

This was cruelty. Like nothing he had felt before, the déjà vu trailed after his breath and devoured it. He could not think. He could not breathe. It was like he was being pinned down to the cold metal floor, and hellfire was raining down upon his head and his chest.

Nothing remained but rubble.

Watch, said the voice in his head that seemed both Vader and Luke combined. See your past, see your future, see your failures, and tremble in fear of losing it all again.

Luke choked on his own scream, the awful one that had ripped through his chest that day on the Death Star, and he watched the green light and the rapid burst of rock and dust and fire as his home became stardust in a breath and a wink.

You could have stopped it.

Luke's hands clapped against the floor.

"I know that!" he cried, his shoulders trembling.

Then why didn't you?

It was all Luke could do not to scream, his vision swimming as tears welled up in his eyes and slipped down the bridge of his nose. He watched the droplets patter to the durasteel floor.

A secret over a planet?

Bile clawed at his throat. He thought that maybe this would all stop if he could just get ahold of himself. Catch his breath. Stop shaking.

"Coward."

Luke's head shot up. The voice was so familiar, and all the longing that had built up inside him like a rut of roots that strangled all life burst apart.

Bail Organa stood before him, his eyes cold and glittering with pure disgust.

It was so strange, seeing him now, as though time had frozen and locked the Viceroy of Alderaan in an eternal glow of middle-age. He wore the same brown cloak he had carefully adorned that last day on Yavin 4, before the Battle of Scarif. Gray peppered the hair around his temples.

He looked so real. So alive.

Luke could only stare at him.

He realized that he would sit in this room forever, listening to Bail Organa spit insults at him, if it meant just a minute longer with his father.

But it all ended faster than it began, and Luke found himself on his hands and knees before Vader.

Not the father he wanted, to be sure.

Luke scooped himself off the floor with as much dignity as he could. He was out of breath and sweating, tears stinging his eyes and a scream still perched in his throat like an old bone that had gotten stuck there.

He looked into Vader's mask and tilted his head.

"Are we done here?" he asked.

If nothing else, he could get some satisfaction in the silence.


"Mon!" Leia cut smoothly through the small gaggle of Rebel Intelligence officers, ignoring how each of their eyes roved from her face, to the glinting crystal at her throat, to the shiny new lightsaber on her hip.

Leia had made it in the cave, in the dark. She had pulled out everything she had in her rucksack, and assembled it from there. She had most of the internal pieces, various metal aglets and ribbing, not to mention finicky wires and stubborn screws. The problem was that she did not have enough metal casing for the outside.

So Leia had used what scrap metal she had, lifted the white mask that she had seen Kanan Jarrus wear, and smashed it on the cobblestone. Leia pieced together the hilt of her lightsaber using scraps of metal and shards of porcelain. She'd reinforce it later.

Then she pulled Aunt Beru's japor snippet from around her neck, and she inlaid it in the lightsaber's face, just above the button.

It was odd, how people had begun to regard her differently. She'd always worn a lightsaber, but perhaps she'd never fully embraced being a Jedi. At least not in front of her fellow soldiers.

The red headed woman raised her head to watch Leia with a poised sort of interest. Her white gown did nothing if not make her seem more radiant, more official, like she had been born to wage war over a holographic chessboard.

"Commander Skywalker," Mon greeted. Her clear blue eyes did not stray from Leia's face. "Captain Verlaine. To what do I owe this pleasure?"

Evaan stood stiffly at Leia's side as she stood straight and addressed Mon Mothma curtly.

"I believe we should establish a colony on Jedha," Leia said.

Mon's eyebrows lifted, but she did not show any other sign that she found this request ridiculous. The officers around her, however, visibly recoiled.

"Jedha?" General Draven barked. "Oh, you must be joking."

"I was not talking to you, General," Leia said, not even bothering to look at the man. She and Mon watched each other. They hardly knew each other, but Leia remembered meeting her for the first time on Yavin 4. Requesting that she be the one to kill Darth Vader.

Not much had changed, and yet everything was different.

Mon lifted her hand to bring the officers to heel. Her eyes moved for the first time from Leia's face, to Evaan's.

"Captain Verlaine," Mon said gently. "How do you feel about this proposal?"

Evaan stood a little straighter, but she did not balk. That was the nice thing about Evaan, really. She had a way with authority.

"Jedha is not Alderaan," she said, speaking in a calm, measured voice. "The only thing it has in common with Alderaan is the shared trauma. However, having seen the planet… and simultaneously having spoken to many Alderaanians dealing with this sudden diaspora… I don't think it is a poor choice to plant ourselves in a place that carries visible scars of what our people have gone through."

"And what of Jedha City?" Mon asked, laying her hands flat on her console. "Colonies are tricky things to maintain. What of the survivors of Jedha?"

"I've asked Evaan to broaden her search," Leia said, "to include surviving Guardians of the Whills. Once this is all over, I intend to build a temple on Jedha. Not a Jedi temple, but just… a temple for those who believe in the Force, I guess. If I could help reestablish the Guardians of the Whills in their holy land, I'd be happy."

Evaan and Leia stood and watched Mon consider them. It was always difficult to tell what Mon was thinking, but Leia could tell everyone around her did not seem keen on this idea.

"Jedha is not remote, or even safe from the Empire," an officer pointed out. "It's also barren. There are no resources for a colony!"

"Alderaanians are a resourceful people," Evaan told the officer coolly. "We survived our entire planet exploding. I suppose in comparison, a desert is child's play."

Leia wished she could give the woman a high five.

Instead she kept herself composed, even when Mon gave a small, amused smile to their benefit.

"I will consider your request," she told them both gently. "Though I cannot promise anything. A colony requires resources that we do not possess right now."

"We understand," Leia said, nodding to Mon. "All we ask is that you consider it."

Mon's smile widened. "I certainly will," she said. Her gaze was warm, and Leia felt genuinely safe. "Now, if that is all…?"

"It isn't," Leia said flatly.

Draven hissed something under his breath, and Leia ignored him.

Mon's smile fell away in a flutter of sadness. "You wish to speak to me about Luke," she said in absolute resignation. She drifted to the nearest chair, and sat down delicately.

Leia did not know if this meant she should approach or stay put. She decided to approach, moving forward with certainty before reaching Mon's chair.

"He's out there," Leia said, not bothering with her façade of diplomacy. "Vader has him, and he's suffering. I know it. You still haven't approved our plan to retrieve him!"

Mon sighed deeply. She lifted her fingers to her forehead and rubbed the worry lines above her brow.

"I cannot authorize a suicide attempt," Mon said heavily. "I am sorry, Leia, but if you wish to pursue this course of action, you will be on your own."

It was hard to contain her anger. To really, truly get a grip on the rage that flared through her, and to let that rage dissipate into the Force.

But she did it.

She inhaled sharply, her fingernails digging into her palms. And she nodded.

"Fine," she said. "I'll save Luke by myself."

Leia turned on her heel and started to march out.

"That means that I must assign Captain Verlaine to another mission," Mon called.

Leia stopped. She stood in the doorway a moment, aching to turn back and share a startled look with her fellow pilot.

Instead, Leia just kept on walking.

She didn't stop walking, really. It seemed easier to just go, and to not stop going until her feet could no longer carry her.

No surprise that Han found her stuffing her things into an X-Wing a few hours later.

"What are you doing?" he sighed, leaning against one of the long wings and looking at her like she was a hopeless puppy that had gotten out of the kennel again.

Leia brushed past him, her shoulder bumping hard against his arm. "I thought that it was obvious," she said coolly.

For a moment he looked hurt. She was echoing his heartfelt confession back at him, and spitting it like it was a curse.

Guilt swarmed her heart, but she did not apologize.

"I meant," Han said, recovering fast and rolling his eyes as he circled around to trail after her, "why didn't you just come to the Falcon? I can take you wherever you need to go."

"Not to where I'm going, Han," she said.

Han shot her a quizzical look, like perhaps she had begun speaking in rhyme or tongues. "I don't like the sound of that," he said, folding his arms across his chest.

Ever since Jedha, they'd been… strange. Leia didn't want to be alone with him for too long. Maybe because she didn't trust herself to reject him again. She always did make the worst decisions when it came to boys.

"Leia," Han said firmly. "I'm not letting you go anywhere alone."

"That's not your decision."

"Nah, I guess it ain't, is it?" Han grimaced at her, and he shrugged. "I don't really care. Until we get Luke back, I go where you go. Got it?"

Leia sucked in a sharp breath. She whirled on him, throwing him a furious look. "Han," she said, her teeth gritting. "Trust me. You do not wanna come."

"Try me."

Leia did not explode. She didn't think she had it in her anymore, to explode with anger. She merely looked up into Han's eyes, her jaw setting.

"I'm going to my master," she said.

"Eh?" Han's brow wrinkled uncertainly. "He's dead, Leia. Are we going back to Lothal, to the temple, or…?"

"I'm going to Dagobah," she said, turning away from him. "I have a Jedi Master there. A live one. I promised him I'd come back, so I have to. Before I face Vader again."

She expected him to scoff at her. Like maybe the thought of a real live Jedi was too much. She wasn't sure, and she hated that. It was so much easier when she felt like she knew exactly what Han was all about. Nowadays, it was hard to tell.

"Okay," Han said steadily. "So when are we leaving?"

Leia rounded on him. He watched her without a silly smirk, or a haughty glance. His shoulders were slouched, and he seemed more certain than perhaps he'd ever been in his life.

For a few moments, she studied his face. He merely stared at her, as if he were daring her to find him at fault.

The worst part was, she didn't know why she was so frustrated. Shouldn't she be thankful that Han wanted to come with her? He knew her well enough that this wasn't so much about protection as it was about him genuinely caring for her. Maybe, she thought, maybe that was worse.

It was hard to accept that this wasn't going to go away.

I thought it was obvious.

Stupid. Stupid, Leia! She shouldn't have said anything. Wasn't it always better never to say anything, and to just leave things unsaid?

Against her better judgement, she offered him a small smirk.

"You're impossible," she told him.

He grinned at her. His response was to remove her bags from her X-Wing and help her carry them to the Falcon.


"It's been four weeks," Ezra told him one morning. It took Luke a few moments to process that as he withdrew the small, wafer-like scrap of toast from his lips.

Four weeks? Luke didn't know if it felt shorter or longer.

Their days had been filled with, among other things, catching up on each other's lives, trash talking Darth Vader, and being thrown into some rigorous training that made Ahsoka sit them down every goddamn night and ask them if they wanted to stop this.

They didn't.

"Four weeks?" Luke took a bite of his toast and blinked rapidly as Ahsoka changed the bandage on his raw, blistered flesh hand. "How do you keep the time? It all blurs together to me."

Ezra looked up from his own wafer, and his eyes glimmering with purpose.

"Only prisoners who give up hope of being free stop keeping days, Luke," Ezra said, his voice bold and his eyes alight.

Ahsoka nodded in agreement. This surprised him, since she was the only one here who was actively against their plan of escape.

"I've been here three years, three months, and five days," Ahsoka said, tying off Luke's bandage and shrugging. "You'll want to keep track. Even when there's nothing else, Luke, there is always that."

"A reminder that you were free once," Ezra said quietly.

"That you can be free again," Ahsoka sighed.

Luke had been a prisoner before. It wasn't like he was a stranger to feeling trapped. However, he'd never been in a position where he really had to face the fact that eternity in a cell was more than likely if he didn't act.

And that was frightening.

"We'll be free," Luke promised them. He offered a small, genuine smile. "Soon."

But the days kept bleeding away from him. He and Ezra took turns getting thrown into waking nightmares, and neither of them bothered to confide in the other about what they had seen in the Dark. All Luke wanted to do was cry, to curl up into a small ball and spill out all of his secrets and insecurities.

"I killed my parents!" he wanted to yell. "I destroyed my whole world for a death row extension! Curse me! Damn me! I am here, and they are not, and that alone condemns me."

He said nothing, though. Ahsoka asked once, and Luke had stared into her eyes and told her that he was fine.

Lies, it seemed, were much easier when you want them to be true.

One night, when Luke was lying in the dark, trying to blink way a harsh green light and stardust from his eyes, he heard whimpering in the dark. He knew it wasn't Ahsoka almost immediately. But what could he do? It would be cruel of him to wake Ezra up.

Only the whimpering grew worse.

Luke sat up groggily, and he nudged Ezra's leg with his toes. The blanket was trembling, and it did not seem to want to stop.

"Ezra," he said. His voice was like a whip cracking in the silence.

Very slowly, Luke kicked back his blanket and crawled to the place where Ezra lay, curled into a tight ball on the floor. The closer he got, the more aware he was of the soft, breathy sobs that had become muffled by the weight of the blanket.

Luke knelt beside him for a few moments, listening to the sound of him weeping into a pillow. It seemed this was their fate. Ezra crying over one thing or another, and Luke sitting by in silence, at a loss of what to say or do to make him feel better.

There was a short moment where Luke considered just letting Ezra go. It would be kinder, in a way.

But Luke was not the sort of person who could sit by and let a dear friend sob himself to sleep.

"Ezra," Luke repeated, laying a steady hand on Ezra's side. He froze beneath Luke's fingers.

The blankets slipped away slowly, revealing a stark and splotchy face that glistened in the dark. Luke and Ezra stared at one another in mute horror and despair.

"I—" Ezra blurted, his voice thick and trembling.

Luke took him by the shoulders and pulled him close. Ezra's face was wet, and cold tears stuck uncomfortably against Luke's skin as he gently cupped the back of Ezra's head and hugged him tight.

They sat like this in silence, Ezra's whole body unwinding and relaxing in Luke's arms. Then he began to cling to him, burying his face in Luke's collarbone and letting himself sob freely. Luke carefully smoothed back his hair before wondering if perhaps the gesture was too intimate. When Ezra said nothing about it, Luke sighed, and he rubbed small, soothing circles into Ezra's back.

Later, perhaps a few minutes or perhaps an hour, when Ezra was done crying, he kept his head against Luke's shoulder. His breathing was still shallow and uneven.

"Thank you," Ezra finally whispered.

Luke wanted to smile and say it was nothing. He wanted to reassure Ezra that it was okay. That they were all afraid.

But Luke was too close to bursting into tears himself to really say anything.

So he hugged Ezra a little tighter, and he pretended to fall asleep.


The moment they broken the atmosphere of Dagobah, Han was cursing. He flipped up numerous toggle switches, his eyes gleaming like a mad fever had overtaken him in the span of seconds, and he barked at her to check a pressure valve because they were coming in way too hot.

"I could barely fly to the surface in my X-Wing," she spat at Han, hanging onto the pressure valve for dear life as he swung the Falcon on its side and left her skidding onto her knees. "The jungle is too thick! Just let me jump down."

"Not happening," Han growled. "Now strap yourself back in!"

"You're the one who wanted me to check the valve—!" Leia sucked in a deep breath, her knees wobbling as the Falcon was jerked upright. Finally she dropped herself back into her seat, yanking her seatbelts around her and buckling herself in tight.

The greenery was coming up on them fast. Leia gripped the armrests on her seat, listening to Chewie yowl as they managed to narrowly slide through an opening between two massive trees. Vines smacked noisily against the outside of the ship, and Han hissed as branches scratched against the window, but otherwise they'd managed to push through to the surface.

"Swamp," Leia gasped.

Han did not look at her. His brow furrowed, and he leaned over the dashboard with an intense focus.

"Han!" Leia cried. "Do you love this thing, or don't you? Pull up! You can't land in the bog!"

"I wasn't plannin' on it, sweetheart," Han said, jerking the yoke at the last minute and swerving over the bog. Leia knew the bottom of the ship had grazed the swamp, but Han pushed a lever down and lowered the Falcon into a wobbly landing. Actually on land, too. Leia couldn't help but exhaled dramatically in relief, her head in her hands.

Han glanced back at her, and he laughed in her face. "C'mon," he teased her, unbuckling himself and elbowing her arm. "You know that was fun."

"I should not have brought you here," she said glumly, peeking up at him through her fingers. "You bring out the worst in me."

"Oh, I know." Han winked at her. "I'm kinda counting on it."

Chewie gave a short yell, and Leia wrung her hands nervously. She didn't think Yoda would be pleased that she had brought outsiders here, especially Han. The last thing she needed was Yoda to hear Han's views on the Force and the Jedi.

For a few moments, Leia just sat and stared out the window, the familiar rhythm of Dagobah's Force connection thrumming in her bones. She felt like there was a part of her left in this place, like just by coming here she had shed a bit of her soul somewhere along the path of gnarled trees and knotted vines.

She stood up and tossed her hair over her shoulder.

"Stay here," she ordered Han and Chewie, glancing between the two of them sharply. "I need to explain myself. Do not make this about you. Got it?"

"Testy!" Han huffed. "What's with this crusty old man, then? He can't really be worse than Old Ben."

"Shut up, Han." Leia sucked a deep breath, and she pushed forward. "You really don't know what you're talking about."

The swampy air of Dagobah had that same acrid tinge to it that drove her a little mad. Artoo followed her down the ramp, beeping up a storm as she began to braid her hair into one long, thick plait down her back because of the sudden perspiration. She forgot how much she hated humidity. Force, dry desert heat was far preferable to melting into a puddle of sweat in a bog.

There were parts of Dagobah that she found charming, though.

The first thing she did, in fact, was drag her hands over one of the large, ancient tree trunks that surrounded the area. Artoo warbled, and she smiled down at him.

"Yes, Artoo, we are going to see Yoda." Leia pushed off from the tree and wandered down the familiar path toward the old master's hut. How Han had managed to follow the coordinates she had given without killing them was beyond her.

The little droid beeped at her inquisitively, and she shook her head.

"No, keep the lightsaber," she said. "I don't need my father's right now."

She had stored the crystal-less lightsaber in Artoo for safekeeping, though she had to admit it felt strange not carrying it around everywhere. Her new lightsaber was probably a fraction of the weight of her father's, and it swung more easily at her hip. It was a very different, but not unwelcome feeling.

Something was off about the hut. Leia stood outside it for a few minutes, as though perhaps Yoda would come out and greet her. When he didn't, she swallowed hard and ducked inside.

"Master?" Leia called.

The Force was moving strangely today. The Light that she had grown so accustomed to was flickering idly.

"Master Yoda?" Leia asked tentatively, her eyes falling on the bed. Yoda was a small creature to begin with, but it seemed her time away had only shrunk him.

Beneath the raggedy old blanket, Yoda cracked open an eye.

"Come, you have," he croaked.

Leia knelt down beside him, and smiled. "Well, I said I would," she said, "didn't I?"

Yoda inhaled deeply. His eyes opened, but they seemed to droop.

"Late, you are," he said.

"I came back as quickly as I could," Leia sighed, resting her elbows on his bed. "I know we ended things… well, badly, to say the least, but I'm here to complete my training."

Yoda gave a little huff. He settled deeper into his blankets.

"Dying, I am," he said matter-of-factly.

Leia stared at him. She blinked twice.

"What," Leia scoffed, "now?"

Yoda eyed her. He gave a short, irritable humph.

"Well," he rasped, "this minute, maybe not."

Leia nodded to him curtly. "I thought not," she said, rising to her feet. "Up and at 'em, Master Yoda. It's time for me to complete my training."

"So sure, you are," Yoda said, straining himself to sit up. "Ready, are you?"

"Yes." Leia helped Yoda sit upright, and she searched his old, wizened face desperately. "Master, I know about my father."

Yoda stared past her face for a moment before he closed his eyes. His whole body seemed to deflate.

"Hm," he hummed softly. "Too late to die, is it?"

"Master," Leia warned. She sat gingerly on the edge of his bed, and she looked down at her hands. He opened his eyes to peer at her. She did not miss how his gaze swept curiously over her black tabard and undertunic. They lingered on her crimson obi, a gift from the long gone, but not forgotten, Guardians of the Whills. She stared at her hands as he leaned forward to get a better look at her lightsaber.

"Busy, you have been," he noted.

"Yeah." Leia rubbed her hands together uncertainly. "I'm ready. I know it. I came back to tell you that I… I can't blame you, exactly, for not telling me about my father. I understand the necessity of it all, the need for secrecy. Most people wouldn't be too pleased to learn the father they wanted their whole life, who they idolized forever, is a coldblooded murderer. But I'm not most people."

Yoda observed her. If her words shocked him, he did not show it. Instead, he merely nodded.

"You are not," he agreed

"So I will kill Darth Vader," Leia said, turning and looking Yoda in the eye. "Not because he's my father, or because he's hurt Luke— which, by the way, is another bombshell you neglected to inform me— but because he's a monster. The Jedi are responsible for bringing peace. A Sith Lord is a threat to peace, always."

Yoda nodded sagely. "In agreement, we are," he said. "Surprised, I am, about your brother."

"That he's been captured?" Leia glanced around the hut ruefully. "Did Ben not tell you that tidbit?"

"Captured," Yoda echoed.

"I'm going to get him back," Leia said quickly. "I just need to face Vader. Before that, though, I have to finish my training and become a Jedi Knight. So let's do this."

Yoda looked at her in that moment like he really would rather die than get up and knight her. Which Leia found highly offensive.

"Trials, you will face," Yoda told her. He scooted upright, and Leia watched him move at an agonizing pace. She grabbed his walking stick for him. "Three of them."

"Three trials," Leia said softly. "Sounds familiar. Okay, lay it on me."

Yoda lifted himself up, and it looked almost painful. It did not stop him from shooting her the most incredulous look, as though she had zero common sense.

"Set the trials for you, I do not!" Yoda whacked her shins with his walking stick, and she yelped. "Up to the Force, it is. Wait, we must."

"I can't wait," Leia gasped, rubbing her shin and glaring at Yoda when he shot her a dull look. "Oh, don't you dare lecture me about patience. My brother is being tortured by Vader right now!"

"Accept he may already be lost, you must."

Leia watched Yoda bustle past her with a gaping mouth. For a moment, his words rung in her ears.

"What?" she demanded, leaping to her feet and ducking as she followed Yoda out of the hut. "No. Hey! Listen to me. That's not going to happen, because I won't let it!"

"Ha!" Yoda all but collapsed on a nearby rock, and he leaned heavily on his walking stick. "So sure! Sure as you were when you believed Vader had your friends, hm?"

Leia's brow furrowed. "That's different," she said softly. "I wasn't wrong."

"Right, you were not either."

"Fine." Leia folded her arms across her chest, and she inhaled sharply. "I was mistaken about Bespin. I'll admit that. And since it was my mistake, I owe Luke. I have to save him!"

"More important, you are," said Yoda, "than the savior of one man."

Leia stared at him. She really looked down at him, and she thought for a small, insignificant moment that she might kill the little troll herself.

"Master Yoda," Leia said, her voice small and thin. "Are you really dying?"

Yoda tilted his head. He nodded to her once, a solemnness to his face.

Leia nodded too. She nodded, her eyes darting up toward the canopy of trees.

"Okay," she said. She turned away. "Go die, then."

It was like tearing the wings off a butterfly, or the legs off a spider. It was a terrible thing, and it stung her deep, but she found she held a sick fascination in how cruel and blunt it all was. She didn't even care. She realized it, and she wanted to laugh. She didn't care if Yoda didn't believe she was ready to be a Jedi.

He'd never been her true master, anyway.

"Did we really come all this way for that, sunshine?"

Leia froze, not quite far enough away from the hut to be out of Yoda's sight, and yet definitely not close enough to the Falcon for that voice to be here.

She whirled on him with dull eyes, her shoulders straight and her jaw tight.

"Han," she said, her voice low. "I said to stay on the ship."

Han brushed past her airily, shrugging as he strode up closer to Yoda. "Yeah, I don't know why you thought I'd do that," he said. "You don't get to boss me around. Also, I get bored easily. You know this."

Chewie yowled, ducking beneath a canopy of vines, and Leia held her forehead. This was a disaster.

"Hello," Han said, striding up to Yoda and giving him a once over. "Okay, you are not what I was expecting."

Yoda watched him for a moment before chuckling. "No?" He smiled, and offered the tiniest of shrugs. "All there is, I am."

Chewie gave a sharp, inquisitive howl as he stepped up behind Leia. Yoda blinked up at him, and his eyes widened.

"Ah," Yoda said fondly. "Chewbacca. Well, you look."

"You know Chewie?" Leia gaped, blinking down at the old master.

"From the Clone Wars, yes."

Leia and Han exchanged matching looks of astonishment.

"Why does my Wookiee know all of your Jedi?" he asked, a little miserably.

"The Force," Leia replied, if only because she couldn't think of anything better to say.

"Wow," Han said with a tight smile. "I hate it."

"Shut up," Leia snapped at him. "I'm still mad at you for coming when I told you not to."

"You just told this poor little troll to go die!" Han held his hand over his heart. "You should be thanking me for stopping you so you can apologize. Right, Mr. Troll Jedi?"

"Han, this is Master Yoda," Leia said, exasperated. "Master Yoda, this is Han."

Yoda nodded slowly.

"Master, I'm still leaving," Leia said. "I can't stay here if you won't teach me."

"Those who wait, victory favors," Yoda said.

"Uh…?" Han looked already very uncomfortable. "You were right, I'm not equipped to handle this thing."

"This thing is a Jedi master, and you will respect him," Leia told Han coolly.

"You just told him to go die."

"He does have a point," sighed a familiar voice, "though I hate to admit it."

Leia turned her head to stare up at the ghostly visage of Ben incredulously. "You too?" she asked him glumly.

Han tilted his head. "Huh?"

"Ben's here," she explained. Han wrinkled his nose at that.

Ben studied Han with vague interest, and then he looked down at Leia. "How are you, little one?"

"Well," Leia said, folding her arms across her chest, "I'm angry with Yoda for telling me that Luke is essentially not worth my time, and that I should focus on the world as a whole. I'm still trying to understand my visions from the catacombs on Jedha, and I know can't defeat Vader as I am now. I know I'm too angry and volatile. I get that! I don't need to be told a thousand times that I have issues containing my rage, okay? I just need someone to tell me that the person I am about to murder deserves to die, and that I can save Luke. That's it."

Ben's expression seemed to melt rather quickly. Leia did not meet Han's eye, nor did she turn to face Yoda. She wanted nothing more than to wrap her arms around Ben, and to let him cradle her until she fell asleep.

But she was not a little girl anymore. Ben was dead, and she had to carry on.

"I will not warn you on your anger, then," Ben said softly. "I will give you only this: Luke is stronger than you think. You focus too much on what may be happening to him, rather than trusting him to fight this battle on his own, as he trusted you on Bespin."

"You know about that?" Leia asked weakly.

Ben smiled wanly. "I am acutely aware that you offered your life in exchange for Luke's," Ben said, "yes."

"Why you must let the boy go, this is," Yoda piped up from his rock. "A string of attachment that will strangle you, he is."

"Master," Leia said, turning to face the old Jedi, her eyes cold. "Do not presume to understand the bond between twins. My brother is half of me, and I am half of him. We are a set. You should never have separated us."

"Do you know why we separated you?" Ben asked curiously.

"Not for sure," Leia said, "but I guess probably to keep us safe."

"Together, we feared Vader would find you," Yoda admitted, closing his eyes. "Decided, we did. To Tatooine, goes the girl. To Alderaan, goes the boy."

"You cried the whole way," Ben said, his voice very much a gentle breeze that reminded her of Naboo. Reeds in the lake swaying. "I didn't know what to do— I'd never cared for a baby before. I thought you wanted milk, but that wasn't it. I thought you were scared, so I cradled you, but that wasn't it either."

"I wanted my brother," Leia sighed. She rubbed her arm, messaging her wrist and feeling as though it did not belong to her. Like perhaps she might cut it off and hand it to Luke, and it would work just as well for him. "I think that's all I've wanted my whole life. It felt like I was wrong, like I was missing something. You both stole that from me."

"I'm sorry," Ben had the grace to say. And he meant it, she knew, because his ghostly eyes were gleaming. There were tear tracks shivering on his wan blue cheeks.

Leia nodded to him in acknowledgement, neither forgiving nor condemning him. Then she turned her attention to Yoda.

He tilted his head at her, and he said nothing.

"What?" she demanded. "No apology?"

"See the point, I do not."

"I get why you hate this thing now," Han said. Chewie glanced down at Han, and he gave an irritated yowl. Han pursed his lips, and glared up at Chewie. "Listen, bud. I don't care if you're war buddies, this little gremlin is disrespecting Leia and Luke. Also, he's annoying as hell. Ancient Jedi Master or not, I will kick this son of a bitch into the sun if Leia gives me the okay."

"That is the sweetest thing you've ever said to me," Leia told him with a tight smile. She was trying not to laugh hysterically about Yoda getting kicked into the sun in front of Yoda himself.

Unfortunately that made Han's face light up like the sun itself, and he shuffled closer to her, bumping their shoulders together.

"Anything for you, sweetheart," he said.

Uh oh, she thought, her face growing warm as she smiled and turned away from him abruptly. She was keenly aware of Yoda's gaze. He didn't look at her with any sort of anger, but she could sense the disappointment in him.

"Master," Leia said, striding up to Yoda and kneeling down beside him. "I don't want to leave you to die. All I want is to finish my training. I know that you're scared I'll turn out like my father, but I won't. I promise you, I will not fail you like Anakin Skywalker did. I am going to be a Jedi."

"Conflicted," Yoda said, his eyes sliding sadly to her face. "A Jedi, you do not want to be."

Leia inhaled deeply. She looked down at her hands, and wondered if she had ever been meant to be one in the first place. She thought, again and again, night after night, that it would have been better if Luke had been the one dropped in Obi-Wan Kenobi's arms the day their mother had died. He would have been a much better, much calmer Jedi. He had the grace, the temperament, the patience to teach.

Once this was all over, Leia did not know if she would even be a whole person, let alone a good one.

"All I ever wanted my whole life was to be like my father," Leia said slowly. "I think… maybe I put too much into that dream. Now it's so hard… I think that maybe I don't even want to be me. But I'll learn to be. Just as I will learn to be the Jedi you and Ben dreamed I'd become." Leia laid her hand over Yoda's small, wrinkled fingers, and she smiled down at him warmly. "So give me my final lesson, Master. I am ready."

Yoda did not look entirely convinced as he searched her face. She could sense his reservations, and perhaps he looked at her and saw the handsome, haughty man that had smirked at her down in the catacombs. Perhaps that was her legacy. Cocky, arrogant, brutal, and weak.

But Leia knew better. She had a mother too, and Ben had told her once that she was the kindest, bravest person he'd ever known.

A Jedi was not strong because they were more powerful than everyone else. They were strong because they understood the power they had, and had not, and chose to be content with what they had.

Leia Skywalker would be glad to pass that torch to someone else.

Be kind, she'd tell her student. Be brave. Do not be afraid to feel, to love. Do not be afraid to let go either.

"Your brother," Yoda said, clearly watching her fumble through her own thoughts. "If he turns to the Dark Side, what will you do, hm?"

Leia looked at Yoda, and she understood. She felt Ben hovering near her shoulder, and his sadness crushed her.

A long time ago, he had to watch his brother fall into nothingness.

Maybe Ben had been the cruel one.

"I don't think Luke would ever willingly fall," she said softly. "If he did, he'd want to die. I'm sure of it. So if that happens… I'll do what needs to be done."

She ignored the way that Han inhaled sharply, struggling forward only to be stopped by Chewbacca.

Yoda closed his eyes tiredly. If this was the right answer, he did not show it. Or maybe it was an answer that could make no one happy.

"And the Jedi?" Yoda asked.

Leia smiled at Yoda. She looked down at him, and she squeezed his hand.

"I promised you when I came here that I would create a new Jedi Order," she said. "That was not a lie, Master. I will teach all who are willing to learn. That is my legacy. That is who I am, and who I will fight to be."

Yoda opened his eyes. He gave her a small, almost delirious smile.

"A Jedi, you will be," he whispered, raising his tiny clawed fingers to her cheeks.

Then he collapsed into her arms.

Chapter Text

The black walls and floors were bathed in a shivery, foreboding red glow. The whole room seemed to be cast in an uncertain light, as the tell-tale hum and hiss of lightsabers colliding filled the room.

Luke skidded back, flicking his metal hand so that the blood red blade slashed upright, blocking the quick parry that Ezra delivered. His movements were smooth, though he had visible issues dealing with Luke’s duel-wielding prowess. The moment Luke guarded, he was able to attack. Ezra slipped aside, his borrowed lightsaber humming as he twirled it between his hands.

“Your left side is weak,” Luke pointed out, using a lightsaber to gesture toward Ezra’s side. “You need a better strategy for opponents who do nothing but attack.”

“Good thing you’re not one of those, huh?” Ezra shot Luke a cocky grin, and he lifted his lightsaber with both hands.

Luke couldn’t help but smile shyly back at him as he reversed his lightsabers in his palms and slid back into position.

They had been doing this for weeks now. Once Vader had observed that they were not going to use the lightsabers to make an escape attempt, they spent a few hours each day sparring. At first Vader had stood by and watched silently, but now he left to do whatever Vader did when he wasn’t harassing them.

He didn’t want to admit that he enjoyed this part. Especially being alone with Ezra.

When Ezra moved forward, he dipped low. Luke caught his blow, their red lightsabers crossing as they both leaned forward. For a moment they stared at each other, eyes bright and mischievous.

Ezra bounced back first, spinning and striking again. Their lightsabers spat as Luke quickly blocked twice, catching each swift strike with a determined flick. Then Luke pushed forward, forcing Ezra back and slashing his left blade in an uppercut. Ezra slid away, keeping close to Luke as his blade slipped dangerously close to his shoulder. Luke ducked and crossed his blades, catching Ezra’s next attack and bracing himself for the blow.

They stared at each other, grinned, and then pushed off.

Again, they danced around each other, playfully batting their blades back and forth, trading blows and sliding across the floor. Luke was getting better at using his metal hand. The blades still felt wrong, though.

“You’re pretty good,” Ezra said, swiping low and then immediately hitting high. Luke caught the blow and lifted his second lightsaber close to his chin. “I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised. Ahsoka must’ve been a badass teacher.”

Luke smiled fondly, and he dodged Ezra’s next long attack, an arching slash that Luke had to block with both lightsabers dipped precariously low.

“She was,” he admitted.

Ezra tilted his head. A bright, haughty smirk came to his lips, and he offered a one shouldered shrug.

“Not as good as Kanan, though,” he said.

Luke blinked rapidly as Ezra swept low, sliding onto his knees and kicking Luke’s feet from under him. The ground came up to meet him fast, his back slamming into the black durasteel, and Luke flipped his blades in his hand so they were no longer reversed. He was not fast enough, it seemed, because Ezra’s red lightsaber was already burning far too close to Luke’s neck.

It was a strange feeling. Luke was pinned to the floor, Ezra’s knee digging into Luke’s side while his thighs brushed his stomach. He was bent over Luke, grinning boyishly despite the fact that Luke had his blades crossed over his throat. The smooth black waves of his hair had fallen into his deep blue eyes, which glinted like the devil itself had perched itself on his shoulders.

His face was also impossibly close.

As close as Ezra probably dared, it seemed. The only thing stopping him from lowering his head and closing the three inch gap between their face was the firm line of lightsabers.

The look on Ezra’s face suggested he did not think it much of a problem at all.

Is he doing this on purpose? Luke wondered. It wasn’t like Ezra could know that Luke had a crush on him. Luke Organa had been very careful not to let that information slip, at least when he and Ezra had seen each other often. It had been more for Luke’s own state of mind rather than preserving their friendship, which he was sure would carry on fine even in the face of rejection. Ezra did not let small things like that bother him. After all, he’d admitted to being rejected by Sabine at least fifteen times before he’d finally called a quits.

“You got lucky,” Luke found himself saying. He was a little breathless, and he knew his face was a little red, but hopefully that could be passed off as embarrassment.

“Nuh-uh,” Ezra said, lifting his lightsaber and rolling off Luke. He fell onto his side beside him, turning off his lightsaber and sprawling his legs. “I’m just a better Jedi than you.”

Luke sat up. He did not let his eyes stray to the camera in the corner of the room. He had no idea if their conversation was getting picked up, but he had to assume that nowhere was safe except for their cell, which Ahsoka assured them had no bugs. She had checked. Many, many times.

“I am not a Jedi,” Luke said stiffly, watching Ezra’s face crumple a bit as the warmth between them faded fast, “and neither are you.”

With a small push, he found himself back on his feet, twirling the red lightsabers lazily between his fingers. Ezra propped himself up on his elbows, watching Luke with a sad, but understanding gaze as Luke slid back into position, his lightsabers reversed.

“Shall we go again?” he asked.

Ezra eyed him, his thick eyebrows pulling together with a hint of uncertainty. Luke had his back to the camera, so he tilted his head and offered Ezra a little wink.

That seemed to be all Ezra needed. He got to his feet, dragging his lightsaber into both his hands, and his haughty smile slid right back into place.

“If you think you can take me,” he said boldly, his eyes lingering on Luke’s face as they circled each other.

The moment Ezra’s eyes flickered downwards, Luke pushed forward and struck.


Luke Organa was not what he expected.

He braved the rounds of meditation despite it bringing him continuously to his knees. He came and went without complaint. He fought Bridger, though admittedly Vader had not tried to pit them against each other as he had with the other Inquisitors.

Maybe that was a sign that his heart was becoming too soft. He could not even force his son to cause his friend serious harm. It simultaneously bothered him and relieved him that he could not do it.

Vader was not a fool. He understood that Luke was not doing any of this for him. He was doing it to protect Ahsoka and Bridger. It was unlikely that he would have complied so easily if he were the only Force sensitive on Mustafar.

It had been weeks— months, even— and Vader still had trouble acknowledging the boy as his son.

It was so odd, feeling that need to protect him and yet finding it so difficult to extricate his heart from the sole ambition of raising his progeny to the Imperial throne. The only way there was the Dark Side. So Luke must fall. It was his destiny, something that Bail Organa had continuously interrupted.

Vader tried to imagine him as a child again. Eleven years old, full of fear and wonder. Looking into Darth Vader’s mask and demanding to be set free.

He is Padmé, he found himself thinking as he observed his son put his own head on the chopping block to spare his fellow prisoners. He may look like me, but at his core, he is Padmé.

He thought that maybe he had already failed.

Sometimes, on the way to and from what Luke had aptly begun to refer to as the Brain Surgery Without Anesthetic Room, or the Brain Room for short, he would ask questions. Sometimes he was quiet about it, a bit down and stuck in the doldrums of his imprisonment, and sometimes he’d be rather energetic. No matter what, though, he was curious.

It was unnerving.

Vader filled his days now trying to keep his distance. He had decided the day he had dropped Luke in Ahsoka’s cell that he could not have too much contact with that boy. It was dangerous.

Not for Luke, but for him.

He’d realized it after Luke had lied, gladly, before the Emperor and the entire galaxy. The terror that struck him the moment the idiotic boy had fallen to his knees, gasping and retching, had been enlightening. Vader hated Luke Organa. There had been years of Vader’s life dedicated to finding and executing the cocky, lying, rebel scum of a prince and senator. Yet all of that hatred had slipped away, dissolved into the Force the moment his son had collapsed on the floor of the Imperial shuttle, his body consumed by panic and terror.

So Vader locked him up. He let Ahsoka work her magic, feeling the immediate change in Luke the moment he’d laid eyes on Ahsoka Tano. It had been almost miraculous. Luke Organa had gone from terrified and nearly defeated to rejuvenated and defiant in the span of a second.

Maybe the mistake had been Ezra Bridger.

Bridger had been an anomaly from the beginning. Vader felt nothing particular toward him, but Ahsoka had clung to him like a child to a stuffed toy. It seemed the Loth-rat was more of a comfort than any souvenir Vader could retrieve for her. He was a troubling soul, though, one that teetered on the edge of the Light and the Dark. Volatile, courageous, and wracked with guilt. The moment Vader had seen him he’d known that he had the potential to be a valuable tool for a machine that Vader had not yet built.

It bothered him that he understood Bridger best out of his three captives. This was a simple boy. Humble beginnings, an impossible promise made by a master destined to die, the immediate and radiating shame that stemmed from what he believed was cowardice, but really was grief.

Luke and Ahsoka were troublesome, complicated individuals. They looked at Vader, and they saw someone else.

Ezra Bridger only ever looked at him with hatred, and that was why he was the easiest to stand. That was why he took Ezra Bridger from that cell most often, sticking him in the Brain Room and bombarding him with feelings of guilt, of shame, of fear and loathing. He grew weaker every time, falling to his knees sooner and sooner.

He never begged, though. He never cried out for Vader to stop. He just let the guilt swarm him until he was a puddle of tears on the gleaming black floor.

And then there was Ahsoka.

Three years of captivity had not blunted her tongue or her wit. She had no qualms cutting Vader down to his most base insecurities, and she did it without even thinking.

Still, she did not offer herself up with the same mild-mannered surrender as Luke and Bridger. She had offered herself once, in exchange for the freedom of the two boys, but when he denied that she did not step up again. Perhaps she was the smartest of the lot, with the understanding of her limitations.

Or perhaps his taunts about the Dark Side had really rung true.

Vader stood outside her cell, which had become more or less a communal cell by his own negligence, and he considered his options.

He planned to shove these three into the roles of Inquisitors, if only to make room for Leia’s inevitable arrival. His daughter deserved his attention, and would likely want it more than his traitorous, princely son. If Leia Skywalker had been raised on Tatooine, Vader already had an advantage.

Ahsoka was the odd one. He did not want to throw her under his heel and force her to relive it all. Mortis, the trial, the Purges. If she wanted to suffer and watch him turn the things she loved against her, then that was her problem not his.

Yet here he was.

The door slid open, and he stood before her cell and waited.

She had her back turned to him. Her third lekku stretched down her back. He listened to her breathe in deeply, and then sigh.

“Is it my turn, then?” she asked, sounding as bitter and cold as ever.

Vader said nothing. He watched her, and he waited. After a minute or so, Ahsoka pushed herself to her feet and turned to face him.

Sometimes he looked at her, and he saw all that he had lost. It was hard to swallow, the twenty three year gap between them. She was so far away from the girl he had trained, and yet she glared at him and she was the same impudent little fourteen year old again.

Snippy to the last.

Vader hated it.

This weakness called Ahsoka Tano.

“I won’t do it,” Ahsoka said firmly. “I refuse.”

“You do not know why I am here,” Vader spat at her, feeling the need to pace the length of her cell, as he tended to when she baffled him.

The pale marking of her right eyebrow arched in disbelief. “So you’re not here to take me into one of your little rooms, and play all of my mistakes back before my eyes so I weep at your feet?” She gave him a long, hard gaze, and she scoffed. “Give me a break.”

Vader took a step back. “No,” he said. “That is not why I am here.”

He disappeared from the doorway, turning away fast. It took her longer than he expected to understand and follow him.

“Where are Luke and Ezra?” Ahsoka demanded after jogging to catch up with him. She was wearing loose black trousers that cinched around her calves, and a plain white tank top. Her bare feet padded softly against the floor. Vader wondered if she was cold.

He wondered what cold even felt like.

In his mind, he could conjure the image of a round-faced, wide eyed Padmé leaning over him. The sensation of a space chill would not come to him, though he knew it had seemed awfully painful at the time.

That had been the first time he’d ever felt cold in his whole life.

He did not remember the last time, though he supposed it might as well be the day Mace Windu had been thrown from a window. Vader had knelt, and he had felt overwhelmingly cold.

It was hard to feel anything now.

“They are fine,” Vader told her. She gave him a sharp look, and she glanced around the hall, as though she might escape him if she were quick enough. “You doubt me?”

“You’ve never given me much reason to trust you,” she said bitterly.

“I have said I will not torture my son, and I meant it.”

Physically,” Ahsoka hissed. She slid in front of him, halting him in the middle of the hall, and she lifted her chin defiantly. “Tell me, Anakin, do you really think it gives Luke a good impression of you that you tear into his mind and make him relive the worst day of his life over and over?”

“It will save him,” Vader said certainly. “That child is soft. He was raised to be soft, and this will harden him.”

Ahsoka’s eyes went wide briefly, before she began to shake her head in a slow, disappointed movement.

“You are delusional,” she told him frankly. “You have no idea how lucky you are, to have Luke as a son, and you seek to ruin everything good about him!”

“If I don’t do this,” Vader hissed, taking a wide step toward Ahsoka and watching her scramble back, “my Master will! He will not be so gentle and patient as I, Ahsoka. He will not step back and let the boy have his weak bouts of panic, his uneasy nightmares, his easy kindness. My master will strip Luke Organa to his bones, and make him walk on fire until it consumes him. I am cruel because I must be. This is a necessity.”

The silence between them was long and painful. Vader breathed. He did it because he had no other choice.

In the end, Ahsoka only shook her head gravely.

“No,” she said. “This is a choice. You always had a choice. If you just let Luke go—”

“It is too late for that,” Vader said.

Ahsoka took a step forward. She gazed at him with a hint of curiosity glinting in her eyes.

“It’s not,” she said softly.

“It is.” Vader bowed his head, and he felt the finality of it all. Luke would be used by the Emperor against Vader if Vader did not use Luke first. Not to mention Leia. It was best if the Emperor did not know Luke’s ties to Vader. What would letting the boy go look like? A tremendous failure that Vader could not face.

“I don’t think so.” Ahsoka’s lip twitched into a small smirk, and she leaned forward. “He reminds you of Padmé, doesn’t he?”

When Vader did not respond— he found it difficult to form words— she laughed. It was a familiar sound. One that made his chest ache.

When was the last time he had laughed?

He turned away abruptly when the young, arrogant face of Obi-Wan Kenobi flitted before his eyes.

Thinking of such things would bring him nowhere.

“Anakin,” Ahsoka said, catching his arm the moment he’d whirled away. “It is never too late. Never. There is always a way out of the dark.”

Vader shrugged of her hand and faced her while smacking her arm away, causing her to stumble backwards.

“You presume I want that,” he spat. “Take care to remember who I am, Apprentice.”

Ahsoka did not so much as blink.

“You are Anakin Skywalker,” she said, her voice small, and soft, and sweeter than he imagined.

“That man is dead,” Vader hissed.

Ahsoka merely smiled, and her eyes glinted knowingly at him. “I don’t think he is,” she admitted, crossing her arms behind her back and shrugging. “But who am I to say?”

It would be wise of him, he knew, to punish her. Her insolence was reaching a peak. Truly, she assumed she could say anything to him with no consequence.

If Vader’s men saw the way this Togruta brat spoke to him, they’d never respect him again.

Yet he could not bring himself to do it. He could not harm Ahsoka.

Not again. Not after the last time.

So instead of punishing her, Vader brushed past her. He said, “Come. Tell me about my children.”

Ahsoka seemed more than happy to comply. She bounced up behind him and began to spin him tales of Luke’s youth, where he was too inquisitive for his own good, and could not be contained behind palace walls. He’d always felt, apparently, like he was not meant for politics. Ahsoka walked and talked animatedly about all the times he stumbled back into the castle, covered head to toe in engine grease, needing three maids and a former Jedi Padawan to wrangle him into a bath.

While she laughed, Vader listened, and he found there was a hollow ache in his chest that seemed to spread like a black hole.

“Bail was a good father,” Ahsoka said, smiling sadly ahead of her. They were sitting now, in a chamber Vader had set aside for diplomatic visits. It was probably the only room in the castle with a table and chairs. “I know you don’t want to hear that, but you need to. Bail and Breha loved Luke so much, and they raised him like I think Padmé would have. You can’t blame them for fearing you, can you?”

“I would never have hurt my own son,” Vader said stiffly.

“Yet you torture him every day,” Ahsoka replied, her voice neither soft nor kind. “Imagine if you were them. You adopted a child who sorely needed a home, knowing all the danger of their past, and you love them without hesitation. They did not care about the consequences. They knew that if you found out, you’d probably kill them and steal their son. But they raised Luke anyway. That is why Luke is the way he is. That is why he looks at you not with anger, or even pity, but with curiosity. Because he was raised by the bravest people in the galaxy, and he is nothing if not kind.”

Vader did his best to stifle his rage. He really did. It would not benefit either of them if he exploded in anger about how Luke was his son, and the fact that someone else had raised him was unforgivable.

But he saw the logic in it. It wasn’t as though he had proved himself capable of raising a child to anyone involved, and it was hard to imagine those early years with an infant trailing after him.

What sort of person would Vader be if he’d had the chance to know his children?

“What of Leia?” he asked, hoping to dispel this awful feeling inside him. “Tell me, what sort of person did the desert breed?”

Ahsoka leaned back in her chair. She shot Vader a smirk.

“She’s a treat,” she said, draping her arms over the back of her chair and laughing. “Really, the fact that you took Luke has probably sealed the deal for her. You’re probably number one on her shit list right about now.”

“She will join me,” Vader said firmly.

Ahsoka shot him a dull glance, her smile tight.

“Uh, no, Anakin,” she said. “She will kill you, or die trying. That is Leia’s way. She probably won’t stop until Luke is safe, and you are dead. You did kill Obi-Wan, remember.”

“Obi-Wan stole her from me,” Vader hissed, his shoulders tensing. “Her mind has been filled with poison. Only I can make it clear.”

“Oh, boy,” Ahsoka muttered, closing her eyes. “You are never gonna learn, huh?”

“He betrayed me!” Vader could not keep the rage in any longer. He rose to his feet and gripped the edge of the table tightly. “He filled Leia’s head with lies, like he did with Padmé.”

“You must know how ridiculous that sounds,” Ahsoka said softly, sitting upright and undeterred by his outburst. “Anakin, think. Look past the Dark Side and remember who Padmé and Obi-Wan were. They didn’t betray you. You betrayed them.”

Another bout of silence hit them as a wave batters the mast of a ship during a storm. They stared at one another, twenty three years of pain and regret bubbling to the surface as Vader’s rage swelled and then went out like a flame in the wind.

Ahsoka wrung her hands. She bowed her head. She took a deep, shaky breath, and when she spoke, only sorrow filled her tongue.

“You betrayed me,” she whispered.

Vader stood and let her words fall on his shoulders.

He did not forget that she left.

He did not forget that she came back, either.

Luckily Vader did not have the chance to reply. The comm on his wrist warbled, and both Vader and Ahsoka stared at it like it was a bomb.

“What is that?” Ahsoka asked, sounding wary and looking bemused. “A summons?”

“No.” Vader watched the red light flicker. His personal line, it seemed. It could only really be a handful of people, and most of those people were dead. With a sigh, he pressed the receive button, and watched as the tiny hologram flickered into life above his palm. The caller wore a familiar helmet.

Ahsoka shifted in her seat, watching the bounty hunter warily.

“Fett,” Vader greeted. “I don’t recall giving you clearance to contact me when you are not on mission.”

Apologies,” said Fett, his voice characteristically distorted by a vocoder in his helmet. There was that same familiar lilt of the Jango Fett line of clones, though. “I found something of yours in the desert. Thought you might want it back. Had to rip it away from Jabba for you.”

Jee widd saee,” a familiar, guttural voice piped up, “jee huujah sash.

Fett tilted his head. “How much you willing to pay?” he asked to the Hutt who was likely standing behind him, just out of the comm’s view.

The Hutt gave a hearty laugh. “Boboba,” said Jabba.

Vader did not like this. He did not like this at all.

Ten thousand is a bargain,” Fett said, “for a beauty like her.”

It all fell into place. I will kill him, Vader thought, his fury cold in his veins. He saw Ahsoka’s face, distorted behind the hologram. She looked vaguely horrified, though there was confusion written in her bright blue eyes.

“Show her to me,” Vader demanded.

Fett looked at Vader, scoffed, and disappeared for a moment.

When he reappeared, the world itself seemed to shatter.

For there she was. Her head lolled, falling against Fett’s shoulder. One of her braids had come loose, and it sat wilted on the shoulder of her distinctly Jedi robes. They seemed dusty and weathered, likely from being knocked into the sand. It was her face that worried him. Her eyes were closed, and her mouth was parted by a strip of fabric acting as a gag. Two dark streams led from her nostrils to her lips.

Ahsoka clapped her hands over her mouth to stifle a gasp.

She was snooping around her old home,” Fett said, rattling Leia a bit. It took just about everything Vader had not to scream just then. “I would’ve called you then and there, but I got… summoned. Jabba’s real keen on adding a Jedi to his collection.

No one touches her,” Vader snarled, his fist smashing down on the table. “Do you understand me, Fett? If I arrive there and find her in anything less than perfect condition, there will be hell to pay.”

Fett watched the holo. Vader stared, sickened, as he lifted a hand and rested it on Leia’s hair.

You haven’t named your price,” Fett said, “sir.

Vader stared at Leia’s face. Her eye twitched. He wondered if she was awake. If she knew what was happening.

I will save you, he thought, his heart thudding in his chest.

“I will pay you a hundred thousand credits,” Vader said. His voice was clipped. Professional. This would have to do. He was supposed to keep things civil with Jabba.

Fett lifted his hand from Leia’s head. “Done,” he said.

And the holo flickered off.

Not even a second later, Ahsoka was on her feet. Her chair went skidding back, and her hands clapped on the table as she tensed up, searching Vader’s mask wildly.

“Let me come,” she said.

Vader stared at her. For a moment, he actually considered it. He relished in the vision of the two of them fighting side by side, cutting down foes as they had in a long forgotten war. Her lighsabers were tucked safely in a compartment on his ship, along with Kenobi’s.

Then he remembered all at once who Ahsoka was, and what was at stake.

“No.” Vader swept away from the table and out the sliding door. Ahsoka dashed after him, struggling to keep up.

“Wait!” she gasped as he moved down the hallway, veering sharply to the left and striding forward. “Listen to me. I love Leia too, and—!”

“This is not up for discussion,” Vader said icily.

Ahsoka inhaled sharply, her hands balling into fists. “Anakin,” she began.

No.” Vader whirled on her, snatching her by the arm and dragging her forward. “You mistake me for your master. I am not here to answer to your whims, nor do I have the time. You are not my friend, you are my prisoner. Care to remember that.”

They came to the training arena more quickly than he expected. He opened the door with a flick of his hand, and Ahsoka blinked up at him uncertainly.

“When it comes to protecting them,” Ahsoka whispered, leaning forward and searching his mask desperately, “we are on the same side.”

Vader could not bear to look at her.

The fighting did not break apart upon his arrival. Vader watched for a few moments as Luke’s lightsabers curved into an elegant arc, slashing down upon Bridger’s and quickly maneuvering aside before he could parry. Each blade moved like it was an extension of his arm, sweeping high and then low, catching Bridger’s blade with excellent speed and force. It should be enough to send Bridger into a panic.

But Bridger was grinning.

He blocked another blow, doing a quick series of defensive movements that ended with him flipping out of the way of Luke’s decisive, vicious swipe. He came back swinging, his whole body poised as he struck at Luke’s side, dashing toward his prosthetic hand and leaping at a chance to exploit that weakness. Luke’s defense was just as good as his offense, though he seemed distracted. His wrist flicked, curving his blade to meet Bridger’s every strike.

Bridger caught the grip of one of Luke’s sabers just as Luke hooked his foot behind Bridger’s ankle. They both went down, though Luke had the upper hand, his fingers flying into the air to catch his wayward lightsaber. He crossed his blades over Bridger’s neck, sitting atop his chest and pressing his knee into Bridger’s sword arm in order to keep his blade from coming up to meet his throat.

“Ha,” Luke gasped, a bright and exuberant grin painting his face. “Got you again!”

“That’s only twice,” Bridger huffed, not even seeming to notice the blades on his neck. “I’ve still got you at three.”

“Ever think that maybe my strategy was to wear you down?” Luke asked cheekily, bowing his head.

“Boys!” Ahsoka yelled, causing Luke to lift his lightsabers in the air and slip off Bridger. He leapt to his feet, his blades at his side, and he looked between Ahsoka and Vader warily. Bridger sat up, resting an arm on his knee as he frowned at them.

“Ahsoka,” Luke said, extinguishing his lightsabers and wiping his hair from his sweaty forehead. He was no longer smiling, though he still seemed flushed and filled with adrenaline. “What’s happening? Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, Luke,” Ahsoka said gently. “How are you two?”

“Enough,” Vader hissed, yanking Ahsoka back and glaring at the two boys. “I have been summoned away.”

“Ah,” Bridger said dully. He dropped back into a laying position, flopping rather gracelessly onto his back.

Luke glanced at Bridger, and had at least the shred of intelligence it took to be bewildered. “What?” he gasped.

Ahsoka yanked at her arm. “Come on,” she gasped, grimacing tightly. “Come on, don’t do this. You can keep us together, can’t you? We’ll be good!”

“You’re wasting your breath, Ahsoka,” Bridger called.

“Ezra,” Ahsoka said through gritted teeth, “hush.”

“I’m just saying.” Bridger closed his eyes, and he shrugged. “It was a good time while it lasted, but we have to get back to reality. We’re prisoners.”

“I don’t understand,” Luke said faintly. His big blue eyes darted to Vader’s mask. He dropped his lightsabers and stumbled forward. “You’re separating us? But— but we haven’t done anything—!”

“This is not something you can argue your way out of, Luke,” Vader said, wheeling Ahsoka around and yanking her forward. “Now, you two will come with me.”

“Vader— wait a minute!” Luke hurried after him, leaving Bridger to slink after them. “This isn’t right. You can go do whatever you have to do without making us go into separate cells.”

“We won’t run away,” Ahsoka added. “We can’t. There are no ships on this planet except for your personal one. Remember?”

Vader dragged them into the detention block. Luke seemed truly panicked by now, his eyes darting around him rapidly.

“Bridger,” Vader called, punching open a meager cell. There were a few blankets within it, and a few books. A model ship collecting dust, and some wobbly drawings on the walls.

Bridger gave him an enormous smile and a fake salute as he stepped into the doorway. His smile dropped as he gazed at Luke.

“Hang in there,” he said softly. His eyes were full of warmth, even as his shoulders slumped.

Luke took a step forward, and the door slid shut.

The cell beside Bridger’s was Ahsoka’s. Vader opened it and tossed her in, not bothering to meet her glower.

“Damn it, Anakin!” Ahsoka shouted from the floor. She scrambled to her feet and ran at the door.

It slid shut before she could reach him.

Luke stared at it as they listened to Ahsoka’s fists collide with the metal, and her wordless scream echoed through the hall.

“No,” Luke said. His eyes were wide, and his shoulders were shaking. “No. Why are you doing this?”

Vader snatched him by his bicep. Luke wrenched himself away with a surprising show of strength, and he shoved Vader’s chest.

“Why?” he demanded, his eyes wide and his brow furrowed. “This makes no sense! We’ve complied! We haven’t fought you, and you do what you want us to do, so why are you forcing us apart?”

“I should have never allowed you three together to begin with,” Vader hissed.

There were tears in Luke’s eyes. His shoulders trembled, and his eyes glistened, and he shook his head slowly.

“What are you so afraid of?” Luke whispered.

Vader gripped his shoulder. He pushed Luke forward, watching him stumble toward the third cell. It slid open, and it was as vacuous and pristine as any other Imperial cell.

Luke stood before the cell for a moment, inhaling deeply and bowing his head.

Then he whirled around and snatched Vader’s hand.

“Please,” he said, peering into Vader’s mask. For a moment, Vader wondered if he could see the scarred, ashen face beneath it, because his expression became soft. Pitying. “Please, Anakin. Don’t do this.”

Vader wrenched his hand from Luke’s, and he took a large step back.

In return, Luke just gazed at him. Then, he turned and entered his cell. The last thing Vader saw was his back.

It took most of his energy not to drop to his knees then and there and scream.

This boy was unfathomable. Nothing about him made any sense. Vader simply could not understand him!

Of course, he did not have time to dwell on it. He turned and swept from the hall without looking back.

It would be a long flight to Tatooine. The last time he had made it, he’d had Ahsoka and Aphra to keep his mind from wandering. Now he was by himself, and all of the thoughts he did not want crept back into his head.

Luke had loved Bail and Breha Organa.

Leia had loved Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Neither of them loved him. It was unlikely they ever would, after all he had done to them. It wasn’t like he did not grasp the immensity of what he had done. He knew he was a reprehensible human being, but he had always felt that the cost was worth it. Peace was worth it.

But it had been twenty three years, and there was still no peace to show for it.

Vader looked down at his hand. Despite not having touched a human hand in twenty three years, the ghost of Luke’s fingers warmed his own. Vader opened and closed his fist.

He tried to preoccupy himself a different way, like theorizing how Leia had gotten herself into this mess. She escaped capture from him for three straight years, yet Fett had managed to wrangle her in probably less than a day on Tatooine? It did not seem likely, especially for someone of her skill.

She could have been protecting someone. Or something.

Force, he hoped it was not Solo.

There was also a chance she was looking for something. Maybe something that Kenobi had left behind, or she herself in her rush to leave Tatooine. Part of him hoped to ask her, but a wiser part of him knew it was unlikely she would speak to him when this was over.

He’d done well to remember to withdraw a hundred thousand credits from his personal account. It sat in a briefcase as he watched the shivering blue lines of hyperspace go by.

What were his children like when they were together? Did they bicker? Did they finish each other’s sentences? He could recall various Force sensitive twins in the Jedi temple, but they always seemed, at least to Anakin Skywalker, to be an entirely different species altogether. Like they were one entity in two separate bodies.

It had been cruel to separate them. Vader knew that much.

Coming out of hyperspace, Vader grew impatient. He feared for Leia’s well-being, knowing intimately the horrors of slavery. Especially young women chained by Jabba. If he could be sick, he probably would be sick, and that was an issue all on its own.

He landed his ship outside of Jabba’s palace, snatching the briefcase and sweeping from his ship. The moment he stepped onto the sands, he felt a wave of unbidden nostalgia that seemed to choke him. He could almost smell it, the arid air, the dusty sand. The suns gazed upon him.

He made his way into the palace, opening the door with the Force and throwing Bib Fortuna to the floor the moment his weaselly little face appeared around the corner. He marched through the tunnel, his rage insurmountable, and watched Jabba’s guards move aside for him to enter the throne room.

The old slug glanced at him, his yellow eyes narrowing.

“Vader,” Jabba said, lifting a hookah pen to his wide, wet mouth and sucking deep. Vader stepped carefully so he was in the center of the room without being near the infamous trap door at the foot of Jabba’s throne. Jabba blew out the vapor. “Wata bu shag?”

“Bring her to me,” Vader said, his fists clenched. The moment Leia was in his grasp, he would blast this entire Force forsaken building off the face of the planet.

 Jabba watched him through heavily lidded eyes. Then he raised his hand. Vader watched as Fett and another guard disappeared from the room.

Tedd jeesh,” said Jabba, moving his head in a sort of tilt. “Whee bal uba huujah beet shag?”

“I don’t believe my intentions concern you,” Vader said, tensing as the guards began to thumb their weapons.

Jabba began to laugh. It was a deep, throaty laugh that made Vader want to choke him even more.

He felt a startling brightness in the Force. It was like a forest fire, and it was coming right towards him. He whirled around just in time to watch Fett drag Leia into the room. She stumbled, half crashing into Fett, and she looked around with wild disgust. Someone had fixed her hair, likely a slave by the familiar twists and braids that fell elegantly over her one shoulder. Vader was thankful she was still wearing those wretched Jedi robes, at least.

“No,” Leia said. Her eyes had landed on Vader, and she stepped back into Fett. “No way!”

“Would you rather a lifetime with Jabba?” Fett asked her, planting his hands on her shoulders and wheeling her forward. She began to struggle, almost admirably thrashing against Fett and baring her teeth.

“Let go of me!” she snapped. Her eyes flashed up to Jabba, and she sneered up at him. “E chu ta.” She spat a great glob of phlegm into Jabba’s face.

Vader didn’t know whether to reprimand his daughter for being so incredibly vulgar, or to praise her for her aim and accuracy.

Regardless, her little show caused an uproar.

Jabba very slowly wiped his face. He stared at his fingers.

Mi,” he said.

The guards were suddenly swarming in on Leia. Fett pulled her in close, raising his blaster and backing away.

“She is not yours,” Vader hissed. “She is no one’s.”

Leia’s head snapped in his direction. He glanced at her, and found himself overwhelmed. Perhaps this is how father’s felt when they saw their babies for the first time.

He’d never know.

“Do you have the money?” Fett asked.

Jee widd wamma,” Jabba said suddenly. “Dopa boboba!

There was a sudden burst of noise. The guards and guests began to shriek excitedly, clapping their hands. Leia’s eyes flickered fearfully toward Jabba.

“You don’t want me,” she said, her lips twisting into a smirk. “I don’t play nice.”

Her smirk fell into a look of pure revulsion as Jabba licked his lips and dragged his fingers through the air.

“Enough of this,” Vader said, pulling his lightsaber from his belt and reaching out with the Force. The blaster bolts came after a small uproar, various species yelling in Huttese as Vader began to choke the life from Jabba. He flicked away each bolt, sending them right back to their shooters and listening as guards began to drop one by one. A hog-like sentient came rushing him with an axe, and Vader cut through him without even looking.

Jabba choked and rasped, grappling at his rolls and rolls where maybe his throat might have been. Vader was not sure.

Vader flicked his wrist, and Jabba’s head snapped to the side. He began to deflate, his tongue rolling out of his mouth.

The remaining guests, guards, and slaves, skittered away. He eyed the dancers in the corner, and he waved his hand. Their shackles came undone.

Leia was watching him with narrowed eyes. Fett had her by the arm, and she held her shackled wrists to her chest as she scowled.

“Money,” Fett said. Vader could only admire his determination after that display, really.

Vader knew he could kill Fett right then and there, but he did have a gun to his daughter. He also had guts. Vader would kill him later.

So Vader dropped the briefcase and kicked it over to Fett. Fett in turn slid it to the guard beside him, who scooped it up and popped it open. He glanced at Fett, clicked the briefcase closed, and nodded.

“Good doing business with you,” Fett said, “sir.”

Leia let out an exasperated sigh.

“You do so well,” she said, scratching her forehead with her shacked hands, “until you do that.”

Fett let out a small, nervous laugh. “Apologies, Commander,” he said, unhooking something from his belt and slapping it into her palm. “Old programming dies hard, I’m afraid.”

Vader watched his daughter throw him an awful, devious smirk.

She shook off her shackles and slid into position, her two fingers point toward him before falling back to the grip of her odd white lightsaber hilt. It ignited, and he watched in mild awe as a long purple blade extended toward him.

“Thanks for taking care of the Hutt,” his daughter said, sounding genuinely grateful. “I probably would have strangled him myself, if I had the chance. So good on you, I guess.”

“This was a trick,” Vader said.

“Um,” Leia said, cocking her head, “yeah? I thought that was pretty clear by my everything. Get with it, dad.”

Vader had to take a deep breath. He did not know how willing he was to fight her just yet, so close to almost losing her.

“Fett,” he said, turning his attention to the bounty hunter. “I know you would never stoop to this level. Really? Working for rebel scum?”

“Ah,” said Fett. “See, the thing is, sir, you’re right. Boba Fett wouldn’t.” Then, inexplicably, Fett lifted his hand to his helmet and pulled it from his head. It took a moment for Vader to fully recognize the man before him. “But I am not Boba Fett.”

“Rex,” Vader said. He felt cold. He felt cold. His world was spinning. Was this really happening?

Captain Rex had aged so much, it was hard to really distinguish him. He was bald, with a weathered, freckled face, a scar on his head where he had undoubtedly cut out his chip, and a snowy white beard.

“Come on, Vader,” Leia said brightly. “Lighten up! It’s like a reunion. We just need Ahsoka and Luke. So tell me right now.” She took a step forward, her smile falling away. “Where the hell is my brother?”

Without pausing to think of the consequences, Vader unhooked his lightsaber from his belt. It shivered into life, and the remaining occupants of the room stared in horror.

Then Leia grinned at him devilishly.

“Catch me if you can,” she taunted him, whirling away in a flutter of black tabards and red silk, and she disappeared through a door. Vader darted after her, feeling himself actually run for the first time in what might have been decades. He never had to run after an opponent before. Usually he just walked toward them, understanding his own power well enough to know he would win regardless.

Leia was different.

He had truly underestimated her, and for that he deserved this. He needed to run if he was going to pin her down.

Even if he pinned her down, he was not sure she would stay.

He saw her dart between halls, her purple blade casting odd shadows. She swept down a flight of stairs, faster than he imagined, and slipped into an underground passageway. He fought to keep up. He considered using the Force to yank her off her feet, but she would feel that and likely be able to combat it.

Vader managed to rush out into the blinding daylight just as Leia was commandeering a swoop bike.

“You won’t be needing this,” she told a patron of Jabba’s as she kicked him off his own bike. Her head snapped to the side, and she looked over her shoulder at him with a small frown before revving the engine of the bike and taking off in a small storm of dust.

“Move,” he told another patron, catching him by the collar and throwing him into the sand. He skittered back, stammering apologies as Vader shot after Leia into the bright Tatooine evening.

Leia swerved, and for a moment he thought that she might be taking him to Beggar’s Canyon. It’s what he would have done, if someone were chasing him. But instead she made a sharp, distinct left, and shot out into the desert.

He realized quickly where she was heading, and couldn’t help but feel astonished by her guts. It was either incredibly smart or incredibly foolish to face a Sith Lord in a city.

The fact that he did not manage to catch her on a bike was probably proof enough that he was getting old. Or maybe he simply wanted to see where this ended. She did not turn to look behind her to see if he was following. It was likely she could sense him as he sensed her.

Leia jumped off her bike in the middle of a street. He watched her as she waved civilians off, her braid whipping around her as she shoved a Rodian out of her way.

“Everyone get out of here!” she cried. Many people skittered back, but otherwise did not listen. They watched her curiously. “Go! Go, now!”

Vader stepped off his bike and unhooked his lightsaber. His daughter stood among the sand, in the place where he had grown up, and she turned slowly to face him.

“Tell me where Luke is,” Leia said, pulling her lightsaber from her belt and gripping it loosely in one hand.

“All of this for him?” Vader tilted his head. His children must be very close.

“All of this for me?” Leia countered taking a small, reasonable step back. Her boots rocked uneasily against the sand.

Vader stared at her for a moment. He felt he needed to take in the sight of her before they began to fight. She was so much smaller than he imagined, tinier than even Padmé, with a round face and large eyes. Her long braid fell down her back, connecting to a series of complicated twists and plaits around the crown of her head. She wore dark robes, and they looked familiar to him, like something he had discarded a long time ago. He could tell her obi was red by deductive reasoning.

“Come with me,” Vader said, offering her his hand. Leia’s eye darted to his palm, and she gripped her lightsaber with both hands. Purple, he knew. He could tell by the eerie deep glow of it. Not quite red, not quite blue. Somewhere in between. “I will take you to your brother.”

Leia looked at him. Then, inexplicably, she laughed, and her blade hummed into life in her hands.

“You’ll have to kill me first,” Leia said, her body smoothly slipping into a classic Soresu pose. She didn’t bother pointing at him as Obi-Wan did, but rather kept her lightsaber close to her body and pointed it directly at Vader’s heart.

There was a brief moment where Vader considered simply letting her cut him down.

But then he remembered it all. The burning, the taunting, Obi-Wan’s tearful screams. Padmé on the ground, unmoving.

He swept forward, and let his lightsaber move by its own fury.

Chapter Text

Babies were possibly the softest thing in the whole galaxy.

In order to slip away from Rebel Command's hasty reassignments of each of Leia's conspirators, Kes Dameron had requested a leave of absence to go see his son. He was the only actual rebel besides Rex, who had been on Tatooine for nearly two months, who managed to avoid getting sent as far from Leia as possible.

She wasn't bitter about it. Not exactly. It was probably for the best that Evaan, Hera, Zeb, and Sabine were unavailable. Wedge had offered to help, but Leia had told him to stay put. It wasn't worth the court martial. The only reason why Kes was safe was because he was technically free to do whatever he liked on leave, and Rex had been assigned to Tatooine by a general.

Hera had gone into a long meeting with Mon, and when she came out, the Ghost was set to fly an Intelligence mission involving Imperial slaves from Ryloth. Leia had not accepted an apology from Hera, and instead insisted that this was something Hera had to do. Tatooine be damned.

Sabine had been sent back to Mandalore. Apparently there had been a skirmish, and Tristan had been hurt. Not badly, Sabine had explained hastily, but still. Family was family. Again, Leia accepted no apology. After all, Leia's entire crusade had been built on the sole reason that she had seen her brother hurting, and refused to accept it.

So here she was with Kes Dameron, waiting for Han to pick them up from Gorse, a planet that fascinated her to no end. It was not particularly connected to the Force, but she thought it should be, given that half of the planet was bathed in constant daylight, a barely inhabitable wasteland of a desert, while the other half was drowning in darkness yet thriving in its odds and ends, cities sprawling the endless night.

"I'll get him!" Leia gasped the moment little Poe began to cry. Kes was on his feet by the time she was flitting away, stealing into Poe's nursery and making faces from the doorway.

They were only there a day, but Leia had grown attached to the irritable one year old. She'd never really been so close to a baby before, and it was funny. Babies made no sense, and she was thankful for it.

Poe didn't really speak, but he made odd garbling noises that sounded like words. He looked expectantly up at Leia with huge brown eyes, holding up a tooka doll. Leia laughed and nodded.

"What's his name?" Leia asked as Poe rattled the tooka. He was a chubby baby, with round, smooth brown cheeks and a mop of dark curls. He was constantly grappling at things, standing up and waddling toward her before collapsing back onto his bottom.

"Kita!" Poe cried, smooshing the tooka into Leia's face.

"Hello, Kita," Leia laughed, taking the tooka and flopping its cloth head. The bell inside it jostled. "Hello, Poe!"

Poe stood on his legs again, reaching for the tooka doll. He fell back down, this time into Leia's lap. She scooped him up, carefully wiping his long forgotten tears from his cheeks, and brought him and the tooka into the sitting room.

Kes's father's apartment was small, but well kept. There was a tidiness and order to everything that reminded Leia of how her aunt had always kept the kitchen. The walls were lined with maps, and there was a diploma framed beside a bookcase. A holo of a much younger, much more clean-cut Dr. Dameron stood beside a pretty woman and a rather miserable looking child that could only be a pre-teen Kes.

Dr. Dal Dameron was a stiff, wary old man. He did not like Leia, but he was polite towards her, and he seemed to appreciate her assistance with Poe.

"I thought Poe was with Shara's parents," Leia had said when Kes had set a course for Gorse. He'd asked her to come along with him because he apparently did not want to be alone with his father, and Shara had only minutes to say goodbye to him before getting sent off on another mission.

"Yeah, he was," Kes had said bitterly. "But, see, Mida's eyes are going, and Kela works two jobs. It's hard enough on them."

Now Dr. Dameron watched her coldly as she bounced Poe on her knee and floated the tooka doll before his eyes with the Force. Poe's small lips were parted in awe, and his eyes trailed after the tooka as it spun slowly before him. He swatted at it, and it swooped out of reach. He burst into a fit of delighted giggles.

"Leia, you're a natural," Kes gasped, his grin broad and his eyebrows raised. "It takes me a solid half an hour to get him to stop crying, but you just swoop in and suddenly he's all smiles. You're gonna be a great mother."

The tooka fell from the air and onto the floor. Poe made a small huffy noise, and he reached his stubby arm toward it. She quickly scooped it up and set it in his lap.

"Oh," she said, blinking rapidly. "No. I don't think so."

"No, really!" Kes beamed at her. "Just wait, motherhood is gonna really suit you. I can tell."

"Thank you," Leia said curtly, "but I really don't plan on having children."

Dr. Dameron scoffed, but said nothing. Kes merely stared at her, looking mildly bemused, but nodding all the same.

"That's your choice," he said, holding up his hands in surrender. "A smart choice, probably. But if you ever do choose to have a kid, I have no doubt you'd raise them real good."

"Kes," Dr. Dameron rasped, his oxygen tank humming, "must you speak like a common spacer?"

Kes rolled his eyes and shot Leia a look of incredulity, as if to say, get a load of this. She smiled at him tightly before resting her chin in Poe's dark curls. He was babbling at her incoherently, shaking his tooka doll and slapping at her cheek.

After they put Poe to bed, Leia began to help cleaning up the apartment. She felt guilty for being here, even though Kes had been the one who had insisted she come. She could have been with Han, but there was a reason she didn't even stop to think about Kes's offer to join her on the trip to Gorse. She really did not trust herself to be alone in a ship with Han again, not after what had happened after Dagobah.

She laid awake thinking about it. The feeling of Yoda slumping into her arms, the Force slackening all at once, and his body dissipating until she was holding nothing but a small bundle of robes. She remembered feeling panicked, and yelling briefly before the numbness had set in.

Then she had whirled on Ben.

"Why?" she had gasped, her eyes wide and her arms full of tiny robes. "Why now? Why did he die now?"

"He warned you, little one," Ben had said.

Han had approached her slowly. "Leia," he said softly.

"I still needed him!" Leia had shaken her head furiously. "No. It's not fair! You don't just get to die and avoid all your problems and responsibilities!"

"You think he chose to die just then?" Ben had asked.

"Yes!" Leia had thrown Yoda's tiny robes into the forest floor. "He knew exactly what he was doing. Damn it!"

Han had caught her as she kicked Yoda's walking stick away angrily. She struggled against him, but to her surprise he had just squeezed her tighter.

"Let me go!" she'd cried, beating at his arms, at his chest, even taking a swipe at his face. Her palm smacked against his cheek, but his arms did not loosen. He just hugged her to him, his eyes squeezed shut. "Let me go right now!"

"No," Han had sighed, tucking her head beneath his chin as she began to tremble uncontrollably. "Not this time, Leia. I won't let go of you."

"This isn't fair," she'd gasped, pounding her fists against his chest. "It's not—! I'm not a Jedi yet, and yet somehow I'm the last of them? How does that make any sense?"

"I don't know."

"He wants me to kill Luke!" Leia had slumped at that sudden realization, her body going slack in Han's arms. "Oh. Oh, no. Han, what if Luke falls and I can't kill him? What do I do? Oh, no—"

"Shut up, okay?" Han had murmured, cupping the back of her head and holding it gently against his chest. "You ain't killing Luke. This is all a bunch of bantha shit, and you know it. You know Luke, Leia. You know him. So quit doubting him."

Leia had inhaled deeply, and then all but collapsed in his arms. He half-dragged her back to the Falcon, and though she did not weep, her body was overcome with shakes. She saw her reflection in a shiny metal surface, and her face was streaked with tears. She had been crying all along, maybe, and she had not even noticed. He led her up the ramp and left her in the Hold while he looked for a blanket.

"Alright," Han had said, throwing a heavy woolen blanket over her shoulders and sliding a steaming cup toward her. "Drink up. Chewie got this stuff from a Birrenese bird on Kaddak. It's as good as valium, so she says."

Leia had scooped up the cup and drained the tea in one gulp.

Han had stared at her in mild bewilderment before nodding. "Kay," he said, tapping his own cup thoughtfully. "That was like, piping hot, but alright. We'll just pretend the roof of your mouth didn't just lose a layer of skin."

"I don't feel anything," Leia had said, staring irritably at her empty cup.

"That's the point, ain't it?"

Leia had huffed, and sunk into her seat while Han had started sipping some sort of Corellian ale. She'd been able to tell by the smell.

After a little while Han's stories sort of blurred together. She could not recall what he had been saying when she'd plucked the cup from his fingers and climbed on top of him, but remembered the act rather well.

"Uh," he'd managed to utter as she began toying with his collar, "Leia?"

"Shut up," she'd said. Or maybe she'd said, "Be quiet." Or maybe, "Enough outta you."

It was perhaps the cruelest thing she'd ever done. She remembered it clearly now, staring up at the dull gray ceiling of Kes Dameron's father's sitting room, her hair loose across her shoulders. Han's skin had been warm around his throat, and she could still feel the vibration against her lips from the strangled noise he'd made when her fingers had found his belt.

"Stop," he'd murmured. He snatched her wrist and searched her face. She remembered thinking he was beautiful, in an awful sort of way. Maybe because she had known he was angry with her, and that made it all the sweeter. When she moved to steal a kiss from him, he slapped his palm over her mouth and threw her into the empty seat next to him. "Stop it. You are not doing this. This is not you."

She'd sneered at that, and licked his hand. That caused him to recoil, and she laughed at him.

"Oh, yuck." He'd wrinkled his nose and shifted away from her. "Nine hells, you're a child, you know that? Like a little kid. Shit. Sometimes I forget that. You're so much younger than me."

"You never forget it," Leia had said bitterly. "You like it. You think it's cute."

Han had merely shaken his head. "No," he'd said, rubbing his neck where she had kissed it. "No, I'm not gonna listen. Giving that tea to you was a mistake, and I'm not indulging this shit."

"You think you're so noble?" Leia had spat. "Just 'cause you won't fuck me?"

"I'm trying to save you from doing something you'll regret!" Han had stared at her, and it seemed like he was looking at another person entirely.

All she could remember after that was smiling, and saying dreamily, "Maybe you're something I want to regret."

Now she covered her face with a pillow and mumbled, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry…"

She hadn't spoken to him since.

The next morning Leia folded up her blanket and watched distantly as Kes swung Poe around and kissed his curls, and his forehead, and his chubby cheeks.

"Buh-bye," Kes gasped, nuzzling Poe's ear. "Can you say bye-bye to papa, Poe?"

Poe smacked his lips, and he tugged on Kes's goatee.

"Ah!" Kes handed Poe off to Leia, who grappled with him for a moment before smiling.

"Bye, Poe," she said, giving him a small, tight hug. He peered at her for a moment before reaching for his father again.

"Aw," Kes sighed, taking the tiny boy and ruffling his hair. "Dumb kid. Doesn't realize I'm leaving."

"That boy is smarter than you," Dr. Dameron croaked from the kitchen entryway. Kes's eyebrows raised, and he shot Leia another nonverbal glance of pure distress.

"Okay, okay," Kes said, walking Poe over to Dr. Dameron. "Stop clinging, it's time for papa to go."

"No!" Poe cried. It was one of the few words he knew, besides "mama," and "ship." Apparently he spent a lot of time in space.

"Poe…" Kes grimaced as he wrestled the boy into Dr. Dameron's frail arms. "Stay. Got it? Mama will be visiting soon, won't you like that?"

"Mama?" Poe whispered. His eyes darted around him wildly, as though Shara Bey might materialize from the faded maps. When she didn't, his eyes welled up with tears. "Mama!"

"Ah, shit!" Kes snatched Leia's wrist and yanked her toward the door. "Take care, dad! Please comm me next time you have a kriffin' heart attack, yeah?"

"Kes!" Poe's father cried, shortly before the door slid shut on him.

Meeting up with the undercover crew on Tatooine was a quick affair. Aphra was the one to meet them at Leia's old home, which still smelled faintly like something was burning. She stood outside it, sweltering under the bright suns, and then turned to face Aphra. She was wearing the bounty hunter get up, her mask firmly in place.

"Fuck!" Aphra cried, ripping the mask away and revealing a rather flushed, sweaty face. Her eyes were brighter than expected. "I hate that thing. Smells like a bantha's ass, makes me sweat just as much. Oh, I'm loving this new look, by the way." Aphra gestured to all of Leia without really looking at her. "And who is this?"

"Aphra, this is Kes," Leia said, gesturing to the smiling man beside her. "Kes, this is Aphra. You two will be working the ground in Mos Espa together."

Aphra pursed her lips. "Lovely," she said, sounding not very enthused. "I thought I was gonna be with Solo, though, so I guess this is a step up."

Leia couldn't help but tense at Han's name. She silently prayed it would go unnoticed by Aphra, but the Force did not seem to be listening today.

"What's with you?" Aphra demanded, smoothing back her unruly black hair and eyeing Leia curiously. "Trouble in paradise? Solo finally cross that line and go for it?"

"Aphra, I don't see how my personal life has anything to do with the mission," she said curtly as a speeder came rolling up. "Did you get what I told you to from Ben's house?"

"Yeah," Aphra said glumly. Her eyes had lost their glint, and she scowled at the sand. "I hate that you've done this to me. I would've sold it if it were anyone else, but no. Then Luke would be disappointed in me."

Leia blinked rapidly as Aphra reached into her rucksack and withdrew a long silver lightsaber. It glinted as she shoved it in Leia's hands.

"Thanks," she said, handing it off to Kes. "I don't need it right now, though. I just wanted to know if you got it."

Aphra snorted, her eyes rolling into the back of her head. "I am an archaeologist, sweetheart," she drawled. "Getting dead people's junk is like, my whole deal."

"Besides the whole backstabbing, greedy harpy part, huh?"

Aphra merely smiled brightly. "No, that's generally part of the job description. So where is Solo? And the Twi'lek, what's her name?"

"General Syndulla?" Kes offered. Aphra glanced at him, and then focused on Leia again as if he hadn't even spoken.

"Hera got sent on another mission at the last minute," Leia said, trying not to sound bitter when she was really just angry at High Command for putting her in this situation and not authorizing her very small excursion. "Han's here. He dropped us off."

Leia didn't mention that she had spent the entire time pretending to be asleep in one of the cabins. She was thankful Kes didn't ask her what was wrong.

"Oi," Rex called through his tinny helmet. The vocoder is what messed with her. His body language, however, told her the truth. "It took you long enough. I've caught enough bounties in the past few months to keep me good and fat for life."

"I'm glad you've gotten into character," Leia said smoothly. She spotted the masked guard in the speeder, and she smiled at him warmly. "Hello, Lando. How are you?"

"Better now that I've seen your face," Lando said without missing a beat. It seemed almost instinctual, and it made her laugh. His dark eyes brightened behind the heavy helmet. "You seem in far better spirts than the last time we met. Anything special happen?"

I got a new lightsaber, watched my second master die in front of me, drugged myself, and then made an awful mistake that probably has cost me Han's friendship, she thought numbly.

"New lightsaber," she said, waving it in front of Rex.

"Oh, good," Rex said, holding out his hand. "I'll be taking that, Commander."

Leia dropped it into his hand and watched as he clipped it to his belt. Lando climbed out of the speeder, holding a pair of binders loosely in his hands.

"Hey," Lando said, his voice hushed, "Leia, we don't have to do the rest. We can just call Vader right here and now, and he'll probably come."

Leia held out her wrists and did not reply.

Reluctantly, Lando set the binders onto her, his eyes flickering down worriedly toward her face as he shut them loosely. It was enough to keep her wrists in, but if she was jostled about they'd fall right off.

"Okay," Leia said after examining the binders. She turned to Aphra, and offered the woman a small smirk. "Punch me."

Aphra's face lit up like a small child in a sweet shop.

"Oh, darling," she said, dropping her rucksack and giving her knuckles a good crack. "I thought you'd never ask."


Luke had spent about an hour canvasing his cell. He found an air vent that his hand would bare fit through, and no other openings besides the front door. He threw the grille of the air vent against the door and watched it bounce away.

There had to be something he could do. Vader was gone, which meant they could finally do some real planning without fear of Vader walking in on them.

Meditating, it seemed, was the only thing that was going to make the time go by. That and sleeping, which seemed to elude Luke even with the lights on cycle.

After a few hours of sinking into the Force, he felt a shift. He realized very quickly he was no longer alone in the cell.

"General Kenobi," Luke greeted without opening his eyes.

There was no sound but a slight chuckle. No rustling of cloth, no cracking of old knees. Yet when Luke opened his eyes, Obi-Wan Kenobi was kneeling across from him.

"You have questions," Obi-Wan said gently. His old eyes were kind, and his smile easy. "I may have some answers."

Luke sucked in a small breath, and then he leaned forward desperately. "Is there good in Vader?" he all but demanded.

Obi-Wan did not so much as blink. He sat serenely, his hands folded in his lap.

"I don't think so, Luke," he said softly.

"Then I'm a fool to look," Luke said, running his hands through his hair and groaning. "What is wrong with me? Why do I keep trying to find something that isn't there?"

"You are too kind for your own good," Obi-Wan told him. "This is not a bad thing, you know. Think of it as your shield against Vader. He thinks he can corrupt you, but you have too much innate goodness. All of your sorrow and fear— and yes, even your rage— has brought you here. To me. Not any closer to the Dark Side."

"No," Luke said softly. "I guess not. But still, I know I'm missing something. Vader— there's something more there. He's not a selfish, unfeeling monster, even though I wish he was. He's my father." That made Luke actually flinch. He lifted his knees up to his chest and hugged them tight. "Not anything like my real father, I suppose, but still my father."

"You don't owe Vader anything," Obi-Wan said. "You may look upon his dark soul your whole life, Luke, and never see a spark of light."

"Maybe." Luke shook his head furiously. "It'd be awfully selfish of me not to try though, wouldn't it?"

Obi-Wan blinked rapidly. Then he laughed, bringing his hand to his chin and peering at Luke closely. "You and Leia are as different as night and day," he said.

"I guess…" Luke shifted uncomfortably, and he shrugged. "We're different people, you know. I mean, we're twins, and I've always felt connected to her, but we aren't much alike. Leia's very much about acting. She doesn't want to think or feel anything, she just wants results. I'm the opposite."

"You want to befriend everyone," Obi-Wan said.

"I do not," Luke objected, feeling sheepish. "I just like to give everyone a chance before I condemn them."

"You have given Vader more chances than he deserves."

Luke stared down at his hands. "Yeah," he murmured. "Maybe. But it takes more than a single attempt to save someone, doesn't it, General?"

Obi-Wan gave him a long look. He folded his arms into his sleeves, and he sighed. "You have too much of your mother in you," he observed.

"Is that such a bad thing?" Luke asked innocently.

"Yes," Obi-Wan said gravely. "When it comes to Anakin, it is. She believed in him until her dying breath, and look where it got her."

"Maybe she believed in him because she knew that there was still something left inside him that could be salvaged," Luke said, leaning forward and searching Obi-Wan's face desperately. "That could be saved. Think about it! The Dark Side is like… well, maybe it's like a drug. And maybe Vader is addicted to it. Doesn't that mean he's just… sick?"

"It does not excuse what he has done," Obi-Wan said warily.

"No," Luke agreed. He closed his eyes, and his shoulders slumped. "No, it does not. But it also means that there is another player at work here. Have you ever thought that rather than Vader using the Dark Side as a tool for his own means, the Dark Side is using Vader as a tool for itself?"

Obi-Wan stared at him. His eyes widened a bit, and he stroked his beard thoughtfully. "I have never considered that point of view," he admitted, sounding vaguely awed. "You mean to say that you believe Anakin is a victim of the Dark Side?"

"More like a vessel." Luke looked down at his hand, flexing it open and closed. Vader had seemed momentarily stunned when Luke had grabbed his hand. Like maybe it had meant something. "I can't know for sure. That meditation stuff isn't working as well as Vader would like, so I don't feel any sort of pull to the Dark Side. But if I did, wouldn't I just be another vessel?"

Obi-Wan regarded him curiously. "Anakin Skywalker is gone, Luke," he said softly. "Do you really believe you can bring him back?"

Luke sucked in a deep breath. He nodded.

"Yes," he said, opening and closing his fist. "I really do."


Luring Vader to the city had been Aphra's idea. It made more sense for them to play offense if they were in a crowd, and it would be difficult for Vader to figure out who was fighting with Leia and who was just another passerby.

The thing that surprised her the most about all of this was how little Vader seemed to care about keeping things cordial with Jabba. It had taken just about everything in her not to burst into laughter as she'd watched Jabba choke. In that moment, Leia thought to herself, Well, if I didn't believe we were related before, I definitely see it now.

It was probably as close as she'd ever feel to the monster before her.

Tatooine's suns were dipping on the horizon. The cream colored adobe buildings around her were bleeding orange, and the sunlight tickled her cheeks. Her purple blade made the shadows shift, casting uneasy light all around her.

She had been confused when she had slipped the crystal into place, and found herself cast in a hazy, dazzling purple glow. Maybe it was because she had been expecting blue again. 

When Vader struck, it seemed like the desert had melted away. She was back in the cold belly of a Bespin power shaft, and her body was weak with fatigue. She had to move quickly to catch the barrage of blows that came down on her, Vader's strong arms sweeping his lightsaber from left to right in calm, level swings. It hummed as he moved, each step an assurance as Leia backed away, always just catching his blade before it made contact with her skin.

The last time she had fought a man on the sands of Tatooine, it had been Ben.

Leia let her feet slide casually, remembering how Ben had criticized her footwork again and again. She dragged her blade up and met Vader's lightsaber in a strong block, leaning forward and baring her teeth.

"That the best you got?" she taunted him.

He shoved her away, hard enough that her feet slipped out from under her, but she managed to flip away and slide into a crouch. Her fingers dragged against the sand, and she swung her lightsaber through the air, getting a good grip on it before shielding herself with it. Vader stood and watched her as she tilted her head.

"You are conflicted, young one," Vader said, taking a step toward her and offering out his hand. "Let me help you. Together we can—"

"Oh, shut up!" Leia cried, leaping to her feet and smacking his hand out of the way as she made a wide slash at him, watching as he scrambled to catch her blade before it struck his breast plate. She gripped her hilt with both hands, spinning in the sand to hit him again, and again, making wide, sweeping arcs in the blood-red evening and forcing Vader back with each step.

At one point they were merely swiping at one another, standing in one place and trying desperately to make the other move. Leia blocked and parried, her eyes darting for a weakness in Vader's impeccable defenses, while Vader tried to move her with brute strength and found her defensive stance to be almost flawless. Ben had made sure of that when he had told her to use her small stature to her advantage. She ducked and slipped away from any strike that she deemed too strong to take the brunt of with a block.

Suddenly Vader's foot collided with her stomach, and she went flying across the sand. Her body collided with the ground, the wind stolen from her lungs, and she choked and spit up bile, rolling onto her side and blinking stars from her eyes.

Vader landed beside her and her eyes widened as he lifted his lightsaber to strike.

It slid across the sand as she flung herself away, her arm crossed over her stomach as she rolled onto her feet and bolted. She listened to the crystalized bits of sand crunch under Vader's feet as he stalked after her.

"Shit," she exhaled, swinging herself atop a large crate and clambering onto a high window sill. All of the onlookers were scattering, and Leia saw a blur of beige rush past the crate she'd been standing on. She leapt onto the roof of the building she'd been scaling, turning around and watching as Vader approached her.

He was about to step on the crate when he seemed to notice the flashing object that had been attached to the side of it.

Leia grinned as she ducked onto the other side of the roof, an explosion rocking the foundation of the building and sending sand skittering into her hair. She laughed weakly, wiping her mouth and sliding down into an alley. Breathless and a little dizzy, Leia looked around her and decidedly took off down another road.

Everything was red now. The sands, the buildings, her reflection in battered old metal sheets. She slipped smoothly from one alley to the next, her eyes darting behind her.

She nearly ran right into someone's broad chest.

"Ah!" the man cried, throwing his hands up in surrender as Leia pointed her blade at him instinctively. "Hold on, hold on! Leia, it's us!"

"What?" Leia took a step back, lowering her lightsaber to look into the man's face. He looked vaguely familiar but she couldn't put a name to him.

At least until she saw the pretty girl beside him whose blue eyes seemed to glow in the blood red sunset.

"Oh," she said faintly, holding her head and blinking in disbelief. "Camie? And… Fixer?"

Fixer nodded eagerly. "Listen," he said, leaning forward and glancing at Camie, who nodded to him. "We've got a ship. It ain't fast, but it's got a hyperdrive. You should get outta here while you can."

Leia blinked rapidly. She relaxed a little, realizing they had flagged her down because they were trying to save her.

It was genuinely very touching.

"I'll be fine," she assured them, her smile small but warm. "I mean… come on, guys. Look at me. I'm not exactly trapped."

"Yeah," Camie said, "you're a Jedi. Which means you're gonna die if you don't get away from here real fast."

"I ain't gonna die, Camie," Leia huffed, her old drawl bleeding back into her words faster than she could process it. "I'm gonna fight, and I'm gonna win. You oughta go back home, okay? Go home, forget you ever knew me. You'll be a lot safer."

"They killed the Darklighters!" Camie blurted. "We took over their old farm. I mean, once word got out that Biggs had been in the Rebellion—"

Fixer glared at her. Camie clamped her mouth shut and looked down at her feet.

Leia stared at them. Her whole body felt suddenly very cold. Had she not hid her aunt and uncle at the Darklighter homestead? Had she not watched Biggs die in front of her?

She took a deep breath, and she shook her head.

"Pretend you never knew me," Leia said. "Tell them you hated me. You used to call me names. I don't care, just do whatever you have to do to survive."

"What about you?" Camie gasped, leaning forward and searching Leia's face. Leia was reminded of how they had been when they'd been children. Camie had always trailed after Leia. Then when they'd become teenagers, Camie had sort of just stopped talking to her. It wasn't like Leia had tried to maintain many of her friendships around Anchorhead besides Biggs. She still wasn't sure what had happened to Windy.

"What about…?" Leia lifted her lightsaber, and it whirred softly. "Camie, what the hell do you think? I'm gonna go save the galaxy, alright?"

Camie stared at her blankly. "You really think you can beat him?" she asked.

"I know I can." Leia felt a burst of cold, like a draft rolling toward her, and she shoved them both down the first alley she saw. "Go! Damn it, you two— go on!"

"Be careful," Camie gasped, snatching Leia's hand and staring into her eyes.

Leia blinked rapidly. She couldn't help but feel unnaturally nostalgic, and her eyes began to water in spite of the dry heat.

"Thank you," Leia said softly.

Then she wrenched her hand away and ran in the opposite direction.

She really hoped none of her other old friends were lurking around. She could stand without seeing Cam Veruna's smug, scarred face. It'd just be a reminder of her awful taste in men, and how she always tended to hurt them.

Vader dropped from a roof rather unexpectedly. Leia threw up her lightsaber, skidding back and ducking beneath an awning as he swiped at the air where she had been a second before.

"Running," Vader rumbled, "is a coward's game."

"I said catch me if you can," Leia spat, blocking another quick, vicious blow, and whirling away down another forgotten alley. She kicked a busted skull of an old droid at Vader's head, and he sliced it in half. "I meant it."

She cut through a pillar and slipped away as it crashed down between her and Vader, cracking against the sand. Without looking back, she ran into an open street, watching as civilians skittered back at the sight of her.

The red evening was fading. She turned to look at the setting suns, and they were eclipsed by the arrival of Vader, who bore down on her without pity.

Leia blocked and ducked, weaving around Vader and managing to catch him off guard. She put a hole in his cape and singed his side, watching as he skidded away from her. Without pausing to check the damage to his suit, he flicked his wrist, and she scrambled to block the three harsh blows to aimed to her shoulder, stomach, and shins.

In a sudden burst of adrenaline, Leia cast his blade aside, swerving beneath it and kicking off his suit. She dodged his next swipe while in midair, spinning back to the ground and catching the inside of his calf with the edge of her blade. He buckled momentarily, and she slid her hilt through her palm before smashing the butt of it into his helmet.

The plasteel gave a satisfying crack.

For a moment both Leia and Vader were frozen. They stared at one another, almost in complete disbelief.

Then Vader grabbed her by the front of her tunic, took the hilt of his own lightsaber, and smacked it over her head.

In the dusty evening, the suns had blinked over the horizon and left everything a dull gray.

Leia saw red very suddenly, her head exploding in a vicious, sudden pain, before everything was inked out of existence.


Tatooine was one of the most miserable planets he'd ever stepped foot on. Which said a lot, really, because he'd seen his fair share of wastelands. He tugged on his collar and glanced at Aphra, who was lounging beneath an awning, a straw tucked beneath her mask so she could slurp up whatever 100-proof, blindness inducing clear liquor she'd procured from a nearby cantina.

"Look," she'd said, "if I'm gonna die today, I'm gonna die drunk and fearless. Alright?"

Kes wished he could find it in himself to relax a little and join her. However, the idea of fighting Darth Vader even mildly inebriated made him want to piss himself.

He thought about Shara. Their reunion and subsequent goodbye had been, as usual, full of small whispers of reassurance, of love and trust and hope.

"Be careful," he'd murmured into her neck.

"You be careful," she'd retorted. "You're the one going to face Vader, dumbass."

He had laughed at that. Shara had taken his face in her hands, stared into his eyes, and grinned such a wide, dazzling grin that it nearly made him drop to his knees and pray. She pulled his face to her and kissed him hard, her lips forming a desperate prayer even as she kissed him.

Most of their goodbye were like this.

He had held onto her tightly and buried his nose in her hair. Maybe, he had thought in a bout of dizzying hope, if I just don't let go of her, then maybe neither of us will have to leave. Maybe the Rebellion will move along without us, shuffling around us like we're statues.

What he wouldn't give to become a statue.

But they had parted. Shara had pulled back, brushed her knuckled over his cheek once, and then winked as she whirled away.

"Give Poe a kiss for me," she called, waving him off without looking back.

Now Aphra peered at him. She'd pulled off her mask to let it air out beside her, and her eyebrows knitted together uncertainly.

"I always wonder," she said. "How do guys like you get roped into the Rebellion?"

"Guys like me," Kes repeated, one eyebrow arching up.

Aphra rolled her eyes, and she blew a rather pesky wisp of hair from her eyes. "Rugged, handsome fellas," she said, resting her chin on her fist. "Y'know, like Solo."

"You think me and Solo are alike?" Kes scoffed. "I'm insulted."

"You should be." Aphra blinked at him. "Not really an answer, though."

"No. I mean, what kind of answer do you expect?" Kes rolled the long lightsaber hilt that Leia had handed him against the sand. It was the length of his arm, and there were two buttons on either side of it, suggesting it lit up at both ends. "Like, do you want my tragic backstory? My heartfelt confession that I joined up for love? My desire to fulfill some sort of legacy?"

"Any of that?" Aphra frowned deeply. "Literally any of that would suffice, y'know."

"Yeah, I know," Kes said with a smile and a shrug, "but that's not me."

"Okay, who are you, then?" Aphra asked, leaning forward and smirking. "Who is Kes Dameron?"

"Just a guy trying to do the right thing, Doctor," he said. "Always was, always will be."

Aphra groaned, and she leaned back, dropping her mask back over her head. "Lame!" she drawled.

Leia had immediately agreed to go with him to Gorse, and he'd suspected then what he knew now that she was eager to avoid Han Solo. It had taken zero convincing. All she had done was call up to the Falcon that she would be with Kes on Gorse when they came to retrieve him, and then she went to his ship. It had been almost jarring.

"How do you and Shara do it?" Leia had asked on their way to Gorse.

Kes had smirked at her, and he'd bobbed his head from side to side. "You'll have to be more specific than that, Leia," he'd said.

"Being in love while at war," Leia had said quickly, sinking in her seat. "Being married. You hardly see each other, and Poe… don't you worry about him?"

"Every day," Kes had said. "I am never not worrying about that ragamuffin. Life goes on, though, Leia. It sort of has to."

"But just…" Leia had shaken her head furiously. "It really, really sucks growing up not knowing your parents, Kes. Constantly wondering if maybe, just maybe, they might approve of the person you become. It's the worst."

"Poe will get along fine," Kes said firmly, "with or without me and Shara."

"You don't know that."

Kes looked Leia in the eye, and he stared at her until she looked away.

"You're right," he said quietly. "I don't. I really have no idea what will happen to Poe if neither of us survive this war. But at least he'll have a future, right? At least he'll have a chance."

Leia had nothing to say in response, which was fine by him. This was a topic he hated, and rarely broached with Shara because they never had the time. He couldn't imagine wasting precious seconds he had with his wife talking about their deaths. That'd be awful.

When they had arrived on Gorse, Leia had been beside herself. She quietly gushed, in her most level voice possible, about how interesting it was that the planet was tidally locked. The city lights had glittered in her eyes, and she had beamed around her delightedly as they watched the neon signs pass over them on their way to Kes's father's building.

Kes had buzzed them in and climbed the stairs with Leia, watching her get caught up by the wide windows on the landing of each flight.

When the door of the apartment slid open, there was a man looking half dead, leaning on a cane and watching Kes tiredly over the nasal cannula attached to his nostrils.

"What the hell happened to you?" Kes blurted. His father had not looked like that when Kes had dropped Poe off a few months before.

Dr. Dal Dameron had once created star maps for various systems under Separatist control. He'd created smuggling routes for freed slaves, escaped prisoners, and refugees fleeing occupation. Those smuggling routes were still used by rebels to this day, Kes knew, because he had been the one to hand them over to Mon Mothma. Dal Dameron had lived on Coruscant, Chandrila, Onderon, Alderaan, Corellia, Kafrene, Jelucan, and now Gorse. Cartography was his passion rather than his field of study, though to this day Kes was not entirely certain what that field of study was. It could be anything.

"Heart attack," Dal Dameron rasped, his dark eyes sliding warily to Leia's face. She shrunk into the shadows behind Kes, her face half obscured by a dark cloak. Dal turned his head and yelled behind him, a wretched sound like broken marbles sliding against pavement. "Tayam!"

Kes saw a pretty, blue skinned Twi'lek girl shuffle into the room behind his father. Poe was gathered in her arms, grasping vainly at her swinging lekku which were wrapped with colorful ribbons. At the sight of them, she clutched Poe to her chest fearfully.

"Take the rest of the day off," Dal said, rolling his oxygen tank out of the way of the door and hobbling to the side to let Kes and Leia in. Immediately Kes swept toward the young woman, reaching for Poe. She shrunk back.

"Tayam," Dal warned.

"Father," Kes breathed, "enough. Hello, Poe."

Poe turned his small, chubby face toward Kes, and his huge brown eyes lit up.

"Kaba!" he yelled, abandoning his mission to clutch at Tayam's lekku and reaching for Kes. Tayam's green eyes flitted between Poe and Kes, and she bowed her head as she shifted the toddler to Kes's arms.

"Sorry," she murmured in a thick Rylothi accent.

"Aw, it's no trouble," Kes said, his eyes glued to Poe as he stroked the boy's cheek distractedly with his knuckle. "Thank you for taking care of them for me. Tayam, was it?"

Tayam nodded shyly. Her eyes flashed uncertainly to Dal, who said something to her in Ryl. She bit her lip, nodded, and shuffled quickly to the door. Her green eyes swept over the small, cloaked figure of Leia before she shrugged on a beige jacket and left.

"Will she be alright on her own?" Kes had asked worriedly.

"She lives in the apartment below us," Dal said, sweeping a dusty gray curl from his dark eyes. "Once I realized, you know… that I couldn't take care of Poe alone, well… she's a good girl. Knows how to keep quiet."

"I hope so," Leia said softly, taking her hood in both her hands and laying it delicately onto her shoulders.

Dal had glanced over her, frowned deeply, and then turned away.

Leia, it seemed, had a natural affinity for calming babies. When she admitted to Kes that Poe was the first baby she'd ever really encountered up close, he was shocked. Poe seemed to adore her, and she chatted with him glibly as though she understood every word of his senseless babble.

"Hold his head," Kes advised her, noticing that her major flaw was that she had no idea how to properly hold a child. "Support it."

"And rock him?" Leia had blinked rapidly, but did what she was told. Poe rested his head on her shoulder and fell quickly asleep.

Dal had disappeared into the kitchen at one point to make tea, and Kes followed him. As much as he did not like his father, it was entirely strange that he had not been chewed out once since arriving. Was it because he'd brought company?

"Hey," Kes said, leaning against the counter as Dal set the pot on the stove. "How are you? You can't just… say you had a heart attack, end up looking like this, and then say nothing about it."

"You don't tell me what you're doing," Dal had said coolly.

Kes had exhaled sharply through his teeth, sinking against the counter and closing his eyes. "You know why," he whispered, anger prickling his tongue, begging to be unleashed in wicked words and hoarse screams. "You know why I don't tell you anything."

"If you are such a big shot in your little rebellion, then why do they let you come home so often?" Dal had asked, his eyes flicking as sharp as glass toward Kes's face.

Kes had merely smiled tightly. "I have a lot of vacation days," he had said. It wasn't really a lie. Kes had not technically gone on paternity leave, which was something the Alliance dished out in abundance. They did not want their soldiers to die without having met their children, it seemed.

Dal had scoffed, and he looked down at the water that had begun to simmer. The sound filled the silence between them.

"Father—" Kes began.

"No." Dal had held up a shaky, wizened hand, and he'd shaken his head. "Not now, Kes."

Kes had exhaled through his nose and strode out of the kitchen, his fists clenched and his shoulders tense.

Leia had taken her tea, thanked them both gratefully, and asked Dal about his maps. Dal went into a long, pedantic story about how the skill of cartography— being able to draw maps by hand— was a dying art. To Leia's credit, she had drunk in every word with a look of pure amazement.

"Thank you, Kes," Leia had said as she sat on the couch, a woolen blanket strewn over her legs. She smiled at him, and turned off the light without touching it.

Kes had stood in the dark for a moment, briefly stunned. He had seen her glowing purple sword, watched her lead them around the desert by the whim of a crystal, and even float Poe's toys around the room, and yet he still was not used to the Force.

He'd left the room smiling.

To his dismay, his father had been waiting for him in his room.

"Damn it," Kes had sighed, wincing under his father's piercing stare. "Why do you always do this?"

"Do what?"

"You're gonna grill me about literally everything," Kes said. "The Rebellion, my parenting skills, Shara, bringing Leia here."

"Yes, let's talk about the Jedi." Dal had sat on Kes's bed, and set aside his cane in order to fold his hands on his lap. "I always knew you were a bit daft, Kes, but really. A Jedi?"

"She's a good person," Kes had said defensively. "What about it?"

"Here a stand in a house of fools," Dal had murmured, running his trembling fingers over his oxygen tank and staring ahead of him dimly.

"Oh, quit being so dramatic."

"Do you think the Jedi Purges were dramatic, Kes?" Dal had asked, lifting one eyebrows and tilting his head. "Do you even remember them?"

"I was seven."

"Yes, you were seven, and you cheered when the Jedi generals were butchered by their clones. Do you remember that?"

Kes stood frozen, staring at his father in mild horror before he shook his head. "You're lying," he said.

"We were Separatists, Kes," Dal had said, watching Kes with narrowed eyes. "You were tearing the heads off Clone Trooper dolls and sticking them on pointy twigs. After a while, though, you grew to sympathize with the lost Jedi. The ones who got away, only to be butchered by Vader, barely blips on the evening news. Remember?"

"I really don't."

"People died," Dal had said coolly. "Anyone who was even suspected of knowing the location of a Jedi merely… disappeared. There are friends, colleagues of mine, who went missing twenty years ago and to this day I have no idea where they went. Think of that, Kes. Think of Poe."

"I think of Poe," Kes snapped. He had heard this before, from Leia herself, and it was worse coming from his father. "I think of him every damn day, okay? I am terrified for him, but that only solidifies my resolve! I have to do this. For him. For his future."

"What future will he have if the Empire comes and takes us all?" Dal had demanded.

"A brighter one, if the Rebellion succeeds," Kes replied in a sharp, heated tone. "Listen, I don't actually care what you think. I don't care if you don't like that Leia is here. We have a mission, and that mission is going to bring some light back to the galaxy. So, yeah. I brought a Jedi. The fact that she is a Jedi should mean something!"

"All it means to me," Dal had said, "is that you are an even bigger fool than I originally thought."

"Get out of my room," Kes had hissed.

In the end, Kes had laid awake, staring at the gray ceiling and wondering if maybe his father was right. To him, this mission to kill Vader and rescue Luke Organa was worth it. Destroy the image of oppression and raise up the image of hope? Kes wanted Poe to grow up in a world where peace wasn't an ideal, it was reality. He wanted Poe to meet Luke Organa one day, and see the kind of man he could become.

He'd rolled out of bed, crept into Poe's nursery, and stole him back into his own room. Poe's small, steady breaths against his neck had soothed him to sleep.

"I used to work for Darth Vader," Aphra said suddenly. The stark, bleached out landscape of Tatooine burned his eyes as he looked at her sharply. "You can tell me I'm an awful person, because I am, but I probably know that son of a bitch better than anyone here. I guess that's why Solo dragged me along."

"Solo did?" Kes raised an eyebrow. "Not Leia?"

"Leia was practically daring me to run away," Aphra said with a roll of her eyes and a tight smirk. "She thinks I'm a coward. Which, yeah. I am. You know how many times I've left Tatooine in the past three months, thinking maybe I could avoid this confrontation?"

Kes stared up at her. He shook his head and rested a hand on her arm. "Listen," he said, his mind trailing back to his father's wan face, his hollow eyes watching Kes as he breathed through a nasal cannula. "You're here now, aren't you?"

Aphra glanced at him. Her brow furrowed, and she did not reply.

"You ran away," he said. "Yeah, I get that. You were scared. Everyone is scared. But come on, Aphra. Look at you! You came back. You're trying. We've all done things in the past we're not proud of, and all we can do is repent. Repent, and hope."

Dr. Aphra wrinkled her nose and got up to get another drink.

Solo had plucked them off Gorse, and Leia had immediately swerved as far away from the cockpit as she could. Kes nodded to her, careful not to pry in her personal business before he decided to pry into her personal business and smack Solo over the head.

"Hey!" Solo had cried, rubbing the back of his head and scowling. "What's the big idea?"

"What'd you do to Leia?" he'd asked, plopping down into a seat and buckling himself in.

Solo had stared at him for a few moments, his face draining and his shoulders hunching up. He turned to face hyperspace, his hands flexing against the yoke.

"What'd she say I did?" he'd asked glumly.

"Nothing." When Solo twisted to shoot Kes an incredulous look, Kes threw his hands up in surrender. "No, really. She's just avoiding you, and usually she's all over you, trying to get under your skin."

"Ya noticed that?" Solo had grimaced. "Damn."

"I've learned that the best thing to do," Kes had said, trying to sound as wise and knowing as a man who had been married for three years, "is to just apologize. Whatever happened, she's in the right. If you think you can wear her down, you're wrong. Admit that, and she'll be happy, and then you can move on."

"Bad advice," Solo had said with a sigh.

"You think that you're gonna win against Leia Skywalker?" Kes's eyebrows shot up. "Solo, are you really that dumb? She's not gonna forgive you easily, so just admit you did something wrong—"

"Look," Solo had said, running his hand through his hair. "Dameron. I know this sounds like an excuse, but I have no idea how to fix this. If me apologizing could make it all better, don't you think I would? She's avoiding me because we both fucked up, and—" He winced when Chewbacca yowled beside him, and he glared at the Wookiee. "No, Chewie, I didn't. I've been giving her space, alright? If… if there is something she wants to say to me, I'll listen, but I think it's a bad idea for me to approach her right now. Kay?"

Kes had studied Solo's face and considered his options. He could butt out of the situation, which was the smart thing to do, or continue to pry.

As Dal Dameron always said, Kes was a fool.

"Why don't you tell me what happened," he'd suggested, watching Solo's expression twist. "I have a five year long relationship, three year marriage, and a child under my belt to prove I have the experience you need right now. So tell me what happened, and I'll tell you what you should do."

Solo had frowned deeply, and the Wookiee had nudged him and grumbled softly. In response, Solo groaned, and he swiveled his chair to face Kes.

"Leia was having a slight breakdown," he'd said, scratching his forehead with his thumbnail and shaking his head. "I didn't know what to do. She was going on and on about how she'd just agreed to—" His expression darkened, and he looked at Kes. "Never mind. You don't need to know about that. All you gotta know is that a mentor of hers had just died in her arms, and she was just… crying, and babbling, and I'd never really seen her act like that before. So I gave her some Birrenese Wading Tea."

Chewie twisted and barked something at Solo, who flinched.

"I know!" Solo had gasped. "I know it was bad idea, but I thought it would calm her nerves, not make her into a stone cold bitch. Drunk Leia is fun. Stoned Leia is a nightmare. She tried to hook up with me, and when I told her no, she got so angry— I've never seen her act like that before."

"She was grieving," Kes had told Solo very gently. "What did you do? After that?"

"I told her no!" Solo seemed frustrated, his brow furrowed and his eyes a little pained. "I said that she'd regret it, and…" He sighed and shook his head. "Leia's got this thing about her— she can cut you to the bone, know exactly what to say to hurt you, and she can do it without thinking. But usually she just… doesn't do it. She knows how to make you hurt all over, but she's too nice to do it. Even to me. I guess it was my fault for letting her have the drug, but I never thought it would end up like that."

Kes had to sit and think about it for a minute. He understood now why Solo thought the situation was so complicated. Leia had been the one in the wrong. It didn't seem like Solo even really blamed her for it, but it begged the question of how they were going to get through it.

"You should talk to her," Kes had said.

"Bad advice," Solo had said flatly, "again."

"No, really." Kes had stared at Solo, and he offered a small smile. "Leia won't make the first move. She must feel guilty, otherwise she wouldn't be avoiding you like this. Tell her that it was all a mistake, that you feel bad for giving her the Wading Tea, and she'll probably yell at you for apologizing and then apologize herself. Easy."

Solo stared at him blankly.

"That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard," he'd said.

"But you're gonna do it," Kes said with a wide grin.

Solo had snorted, and then slumped. His eyes trailed away thoughtfully.

"Yeah," he'd said. "Probably."

Kes was startled out of his reverie as Aphra smacked his arm. Her mask was back on her face, and she was holding a detonator in one hand. He looked at her, then looked out into the street. Residents were scrambling to get out of the way as Leia Skywalker stood in the dusty sunset, her lightsaber poised in her hands.

Across from her, Darth Vader approached with a brutal, unstoppable swing.

"Damn!" he gasped, scrambling back as Leia and Vader moved around one another, their blades locking and colliding rapidly. Lightsabers whirred and hummed in the shivering dusk, and Kes watched them in wonder.

Aphra yanked him back as Leia swept past them. Kes broke away from Aphra as she swept past the crate Leia had used to vault onto a roof, and she smacked the detonator onto its side. He allowed himself to be swept up in the crowd, rushing away as the crate exploded, sand bursting into the sky and showering them all.

Kes shook the sand from his hair, watching it skitter off his jacket, and he eyed Darth Vader from his place among the scrambling crowd. He was on his side, looking rather frustrated as he beat the sand from his cape and stood up.

The building Leia had climbed was beginning to crumble on one side. Vader looked at it, and briskly stalked toward an open alley.

Kes swept through the crowd, slipping into a different current of rushing bystanders and slapping a detonator onto a table. Someone smacked into him, and he wobbled the table crashing to the sand and rolling in a slight incline down into the alley that Vader had just strode into.

Without bothering to look to see if the table had made it, Kes whirled away, yelling over the din for someone named Leda. His cry got lost among the other shouts for various loved ones.

Aphra caught him with him after dropping another detonator from a building.

"He looked at me," she breathed, her gloved fingers digging into his bicep. "I think he saw me. Dameron, he saw me."

"He doesn't care about us," he said, patting Aphra on the shoulder. "He just wants Leia."

"Do you even know why he wants her?" Aphra asked, her voice heightening in distress. "Why he kidnapped Luke in the first place?"

Kes merely shook his head.

"They're his kids," Aphra said with an unsteady laugh. "Luke Organa and Leia Skywalker, the Rebellion's starlets, the incorruptible symbols of hope. They're Vader's children!"

For a moment, Kes could only stand and stare at her in shock.

It wore off pretty damn quick.

"So?" Kes asked.

He was thankful she had a mask on, so he didn't have to look at her incredulous face.

"What do you mean," she whispered, "so?"

"So, what do you want me to do about it?" Kes shrugged her off, and he pointed out to where he knew Leia had slipped away from Vader. "That girl is gonna fight for us. She'll do it because she believes that it is the best option, that it is the only way to go forward. It was her idea to kill Vader. She does not care who the hell he is, even if he happens to be her father, and that's why I'm following her. Why are you here, Aphra?"

Aphra jerked back. She stood for a moment, looking very small in the crimson evening, her body coiling in defense.

Then she spat, "I don't know."

Kes gazed at her for a short moment before he nodded.

"And that's okay," he told her gently. "Not everyone knows what they're fighting for. Just that they want to fight."

And with that he left her, weaving through the labyrinthine streets and following the waves of people running away to pinpoint where Leia had ended up.

He climbed up onto a low terrace to get a good look at his surroundings. Leia was doing stunts that made Kes blink rapidly, her body curling and flipping through the air like she was a gymnast. He pulled the long hilt of the double-bladed lightsaber from his rucksack, waiting for Leia to need it thrown at her. She seemed certain that Vader would disarm her at some point.

Kes spotted Aphra not too far away, sinking behind overturned tables and thumbing her blaster.

A strange, resounding crack shook him to his soul and made his bones rattle in his skin.

When he looked back at Leia, he saw the Vader had caught her by her front, and the hilt of his lightsaber glinted madly in the shadowy gray twilight. Leia did not scream when it collided with her head, though she did buckle, her body flinching and her hands flying to protect her skull as she collapsed onto the sand.

Silence rung out then as Kes and Aphra knelt and waited.

Leia did not move.

No, Kes thought numbly, watching as Vader extinguished his lightsaber and very slowly knelt beside Leia. He cradled her head for a moment, watching it roll in his hands.

Her leg twitched.

"She's still awake," Kes breathed, watching in wonder as she opened her eyes and rolled onto her side. She reached for her lightsaber, and it flew into Vader's hand. He clipped it to his belt, and then plucked up Leia's arms.

"No," Leia groaned, thrashing and kicking at Vader weakly. "No, no…"

Kes scrambled for his gun. The blaster felt heavy in his hands as he leveled it, aiming Vader's breast plate. The shot glowed red hot in the quiet dusk, missing Vader's shoulder by a breath as the man jerked aside. He did not look at Kes, however. Instead he focused on wrangling his daughter.

He shot again, this time caring less about hitting Vader and more about getting his attention.

"Shit," he gasped, shooting quickly and blindly as he hit his comm on his wrist. "Extraction needed, repeat, extraction needed. Skywalker is down!"

He could see that Leia was struggling to keep her eyes open. Her head fell back, and she moaned as she clawed at the sand while Vader caught her around the waist.

"Hey!"

Kes whirled around and saw the small, staggering form of Doctor Aphra standing only a few feet from Vader.

When Vader did not spare her a glance, she lifted her blaster and shot him.

The blaster bolt seemed poised to hit him square in the chest, but it veered off course at the last second and hit the sand with a jolt. It was enough to make Vader turn his head in her direction.

Kes swore under his breath as Aphra tore her mask away from her face, and gave Vader a little wave.

"Howdy, boss!" she greeted, her hair askew and her eyes alight with both terror and exhilaration. Like maybe Aphra had been dreaming of this for years. "Long time no see."

Vader dropped Leia. Kes gaped as he simply let go of her, letting her fall to the sand. Without pausing to look down at her, Vader stood up and stepped over her. Leia shuddered on the ground, spitting blood into the sand and coughing.

Kes saw now that Vader's helmet was cracked. His deep, mechanical breaths were shallow and uneven, like he was struggling to breathe.

"Aphra," Vader growled. His lightsaber was in his hand as Aphra scrambled back. "It is unlike you to aid rebels."

"What can I say?" Aphra asked weakly, her smile tight and bitter. She steadied her blaster and fixed it on Vader's chest. "I kinda hate your guts, boss."

"The feeling is mutual."

Aphra's eyes darted desperately toward Leia, who was holding her head and blinking wildly. Like maybe she was blinded. Kes saw the dark haze over her forehead and left eye, and he realized she probably could not see through the blood.

Vader approached Aphra slowly. His red blade glowed eerily in the calm blue night that had smoothed over the gray twilight. Aphra shot at him, scrambling backwards and watching in mounting horror as he blocked every shot.

Kes leapt from the balcony and landed in a crouch below. He met Leia's eye, and she pushed herself shakily upright, her eyes wide and her mouth gaping.

"You should have stayed hidden, Aphra," Vader told her, prying her blaster from her fingers with the Force.

Kes abandoned his rucksack and blaster. He held the broad lightsaber hilt in his hands, and he took a deep breath.

He ignited it, and he heard Leia scream.

"Kes, no!"

He did not listen. He sprung forward, sliding between Vader and Aphra's small, hunched body as she guarded her face with both her arms on the ground.

Red blade met red blade with an awful, satisfying hiss.

Kes stared at the bleeding, creeping glow of them, feeling the heat of the day get sucked away fast. Not even the hot, humming blades could warm him.

He looked up at Vader, and wondered if he was momentarily stunned.

"Kes!" Leia cried. She was scrambling to her feet.

Aphra was sprawled on the sand, looking up at him with awe glimmering in her eyes.

Vader pulled back and swept forward, his blade whirring fast and forcing Kes back as he managed to block it. Another blow, and then another, in a series of hits that left Kes breathless as he tried to block each one. Sweat broke out on his forehead.

Leia was running toward them.

The hilt of the lightsaber was smacked from his fingers. Kes jerked back, tearing his pistol from its holster and shooting blindly as Vader approached him swiftly.

"Stop!" Leia screamed.

Kes swallowed a scream of his own as the red blade came slashing through the air what was probably a perfect arc.

Pain enveloped him, the sort of delirious agony of a thousand suns bursting out of his chest and consuming the earth.

Chapter Text

It did not feel real.

Leia screamed, though she didn't quite hear it, and she pulled Maul's lightsaber through the air, summoning it into her hands and igniting it as she attacked Vader with a wordless, breathless cry.

Crimson blade connected to crimson blade, and the blow vibrated up her arms. She drew back and swung again, her whole body thrown into the upward arc as she spun and whacked the dead man's lightsaber against Vader's. She had been aiming for his middle, her mind blank as her body moved instinctively to cut Vader down.

Her head was pounding. Her knees were shaking. She could not quite see Vader, with the blood pouring into her left eye, sliding down her cheek and the side of her nose and into her mouth, but she sensed him. She moved without hesitation, without thinking, and pushed forward with such intensity that Vader staggered back after she managed to throw several vicious blows his way in the span of half a breath.

Vader's leg came crashing into her stomach suddenly, and she choked on blood and saliva as she hit the sand and skidded to a stop several feet away. Everything in her seemed to be on the move, like her blood was trying to seep out of her skin and her ribs were attempting to pry themselves apart to let her heart leap free into the silvery blue night.

When she heaved a breath, her lungs burned. When she pushed herself to her hands and knees, her bones quaked. When she lifted her head and spat blood onto the sand, her teeth glistened, and she pried herself from the ground with both hands gripping Maul's lightsaber. It hummed and shivered like a radiator.

The other end of the lightsaber ignited with a hiss, and she twirled it in both her hands until it fell like a staff at her side.

Maul's lightsaber was heavy. Much heavier than Anakin Skywalker's, and a thousand star systems away from Leia's own pale hilted, purple bladed beauty. She wasn't sure if it was because it held two kyber crytals, or because it was the blade of a former Sith Lord, and she didn't really care.

"Good," her father rasped. "Use your anger, Leia. Let it fuel your hatred."

The whole world seemed to shudder. She tasted blood, from the massive cut on her forehead that had dribbled down half her face, and from the two successive blows to her ribs that almost definitely had knocked something lose if the stark pain in her abdomen was anything to go by.

Still, she stalked forward, her shoulders back and her eyes glued to Vader's face. The soft blue evening was tainted by the shivery red glow of their lightsabers. The street was deserted, all except for Leia and Vader and Aphra, who was trying to drag Kes's body away.

Leia sprung forward, throwing each side of the lightsaber at Vader and moving in a smooth, twisting motion so each blade could slash gracefully at Vader's head. Vader blocked each swing, though he had to duck away from the third and slide back.

While he was thrown momentarily off balance, distracted by her sudden and vicious approach to battling him, Leia flung out her hand and tugged at the Force around her lightsaber. It was torn from Vader's belt, flying into her open palm and bursting into life.

For a moment they stared at one another.

Vader was not hurt, but his mask was cracked. Leia saw it, the spiderweb effect that had slithered up its left side, piercing the dark lens of his eye and splitting his brow. Bits of plasteel around the nose of the mask was chipping away. His breaths came out labored, and it usual rhythm of his suit which struck fear in the bravest of men was off by several beats. He even slumped a bit, his body as uneven as his mask or his breathing.

Leia did not know what she looked like, but she could feel the blood coagulating around her nostril and lips, so she could guess. Loose strands of her hair were stuck against her face, smacked up against the blood and slathered on her cheek. Her black robes were coated in a thick layer of dust, and her body swayed a little on her feet. Her equilibrium was off, and she could not actually tell where Vader was. It looked like there might be two of him, or maybe just one that was coated in red.

Vader glanced upon her now, one double-bladed red lightsaber and one purple one, and he tilted his head.

"Interesting," he said.

Leia spun Maul's lightsaber and lashed out, stepping forward and swinging fast. The red blade curved over her head, and Vader ducked so he could catch her purple lightsaber, shooting forward and blocking her sharply.

There was a roaring sound of an approaching engine. A ship's lights set the night apart, the even blue haze drifting into stark whites and stark blacks.

She ignored it.

It was against everything Ben had ever taught her. This way of fighting, attacking her opponent brutally, not even bothering to stop and think about where her feet should be, not using her small size to her advantage, not even bothering to rely on her dominant hand as she attacked. If Ben saw her now, he'd be yelling. He'd pry her sabers from her hands, send her flying into the sand, and scream at her.

Is this the kind of Jedi you want to be? Stupid, blind, and vicious? Think, Leia! Do not just act on your impulses, and do not let your anger drive you!

She lifted both lightsabers into the air and drove them down onto Vader's with a cry.

Vader swung his blade around, but she was already spinning away, slipping behind him and nearly skewering him. He managed to block her at the very last second, only half turning as his red blade slid beneath her own.

His arms shook. So did hers.

In an idiotic, split second decision, Leia extinguished her lightsabers. She tossed her own up into the air, watching Vader watch it warily, and then sucked in a breath.

Then she lifted her fist and smashed it into Vader's busted helmet.

Pain— delirious, sweet pain— shuddered up her arm. It felt like her hand had exploded, like her forearm was splintered, and her bicep was torn to pieces.

But it was enough.

She hooked Maul's lightsaber to her belt, caught her own and flipped it in her palm so it settled in a reverse grip.

Vader had fallen to one knee. The end of the shimmering plasma blade came to a point where his mask met his suit, where his throat might be.

For a moment, Leia stood there, drinking it all in. The pain, the rage, the unadulterated hate that poured through her.

"Leia!"

Her fingers trembled.

"Leia, let's go!"

The image of Kes Dameron sprang before her eyes, stinging just as well as the tears, and she stumbled back. She let the purple blade hum for a moment as she watched the plasteel crumble away from Vader's left eye to reveal gaunt, papery skin that melted into blackened, saggy skin that framed his sickly yellow eye.

The man in the catacombs of Jedha seemed to be an entirely different being altogether.

With a deep, shaky breath that seemed to puncture her lungs, she let her lightsaber go out. The night, it seemed, was plunged back into darkness.

Then she turned and ran.

She struggled, her body sluggish and aching in places she did not know really every existed, like all of her limbs were about to fall off and her lungs were molting. The ship that had landed before her was Vader's personal yacht, she realized, and the person who had yelled for her was none other than Lando Calrissian.

The Force propelled her up, shooting her several meters into the air so she could slide onto the open ramp and stumbled into the belly of the ship.

Lando caught her before she collapsed onto her knees.

"Shit," she gasped, dropping her lightsaber and squeezing her wrist. Blood was trailing after her, dripping on the shiny durasteel floors. "Shit!"

"Leia," Lando gasped, holding her shoulders and rattling her as gently as possible. "Pull it together!"

"Did you kill him?"

Leia looked down and saw that Aphra was on the floor beside the horrifically injured Kes Dameron. She looked pale and scared, all of her bravado stripped away and leaving her appearing raw and angry.

Leia licked her lips, but all she could taste was the metallic tang of the blood on her mouth, and her teeth, and the back of her throat.

"No," she said thickly.

Aphra's eyes flashed over Leia's face, and her rage seemed to overcome her. She leapt to her feet.

"Then what the hell was the point?" she gasped, throwing out her arms and searching Leia's face. "The fuck? What the actual fuck, Leia? You had him!"

Leia closed her eyes and shook her head.

"Hey, hey," Lando said, cutting between Aphra and Leia before the woman could get too close. "Obviously this didn't turn out how we thought it would, but we all knew the risks. We all knew there was a good chance Leia wouldn't be able to kill him, but we came anyway. For Luke."

Leia's eyes snapped open, and she snatched Lando by his arm.

"Luke," she gasped, searching Lando's face desperately. "Is he here? Is he safe?"

The shadow that drew over Lando's face was enough of an answer for her. She stood for a moment, laying her hand on her head and then hissing when it brushed her open wound.

"Damn it," she gasped, dropping to the floor and staring vacantly ahead of her.

She'd had Vader. She'd had him. One more fucking blow, one good swipe across his neck, and his head would have been lobbed clean off.

But she remembered the cave on Dagobah.

She remembered how the plasteel had cracked and melted away.

So she sat for a few moments, taking deep breaths to calm herself down. Lando knelt down beside her, his hand on her shoulder, and she nodded as he tried to comfort her.

"We know where he is," Lando said softly. "We can't go back to base with this ship, not with the chance that the Empire can track it."

"I can fix that," Aphra piped up.

Lando and Leia glanced at each other. It was not like Aphra to be so helpful without a price, but she'd also uncharacteristically almost died for Leia, so it was a surprising day for everyone.

"Okay…" Lando said, scratching his head. "Well, we're in free space here, and Han is waiting for a destination. Got any planets you wouldn't mind the Empire swooping in on?"

"We'll go anywhere," Leia said, dragging herself closer to Kes. "Once we get this ship debugged, then we go to Gorse." She managed to pull herself up beside him, and the extent of his injuries hit her like ice water being poured over her head.

It wasn't a small wound. It wasn't even an ugly burn, the sort that had undoubtedly blinded Kanan Jarrus and left Luke's forearms and torso riddled with scars. It was a catastrophic canyon running from his hip to his shoulder. The smell of burnt flesh made her gag a little.

"Is… is he…?" Leia laid her shaky, bloody hand on his forehead. It was clammy and cold.

Kes's eyes fluttered open, and she gasped, nearly jerking away.

"Kes!" she cried, smoothing his damp hair from his forehead and holding his face with both her hands. Tears sprung to her eyes. "Kes, listen to me. We're gonna get a doctor. We're gonna patch you up."

Kes flinched, as though the sound of her voice was too much for him. He tipped his head back, and his mouth opened. The sound that came out was a garbled, agonizing thing, like his voice was stuck inside his throat and tearing his esophagus to shreds.

"Don't speak," Leia said, shaking her head. "Don't try. It's okay, we're gonna get help."

"Leia…" Lando said, sounding awfully like a man about to deliver some bad news.

"He's dying," Aphra said bluntly.

"I can see that, Aphra," Leia said through gritted teeth. She focused on Kes's face. She watched as he continued to struggle to form words, and she lifted his head gingerly into her lap. "Listen to me, Kes. I can take us to Gorse. Your father and Poe would have to come with us, since we… we can't take this ship anywhere without being tracked, but we can go there. You can see them again."

For a moment, Kes's eyes glimmered. Unshed tears floated onto his eyelashes, and he very slowly shook his head.

"No…?" Leia slumped. She couldn't bear this. "Okay. Um…"

Kes lifted his chin. His lips trembled.

"Ah…" he managed to choke out. His voice sounded like a vocoder that had gone through a garbage disposal.

Leia stroked his temples with her thumbs, ignoring the blood that she smeared on his forehead from her busted hand.

"I can…?" Leia searched her surroundings rapidly, her eyes flicking over the surface of the shiny, immaculate Nubian Yacht. Then her eyes fell on Lando. "Rex is flying the ship?"

"Yeah?" Lando blinked rapidly. "You want me to grab him?"

"I want you to grab Boba Fett's comm. The one that sends holograms."

"Right. Okay." Lando nodded furiously, and left her to cradle Kes's head. Aphra simply watched her, her arms folded across her chest.

"You could have killed him," she said.

Leia bit her lip, and she focused on Kes. His pain was coiling around her in the Force, and she wondered if she could possibly manipulate it so he'd be at ease.

"Fuck, Skywalker!" Aphra gasped. "Why didn't you do it? We came here to end his sorry ass, and you… you just let him go?"

"Aphra," Leia said, her eyes squeezing shut. "I will kill Vader. I'll do it. But not like that."

"Like what?" Aphra snapped, her eyes wide. "On his knees, begging for mercy? I saw you! You won. Why the hell didn't you just end it? Do you think he'd have given anyone that kind of mercy? He didn't give it to Kes!"

"I know!" Leia gasped, drawing her trembling, bloody hand over head face and shaking her head. "I know. That's— that's why, okay? That's why I didn't do it."

"Because he eviscerated Kes?" Aphra demanded.

"Aphra, please," Leia murmured, watching Kes's eyes trail dazedly along the ceiling. "Not now."

"You want me to wait until he's dead to scream at you?" Aphra snorted, rolling her eyes and collapsing back onto the floor. "Fine. It's not like I have to wait long."

"Shut up, Aphra."

Lando came back holding a holoprojector. Leia took it gratefully, and she turned it over in her uninjured hand. Then she knelt beside Kes.

"Hey," she said. "Hey, Kes, I need you to give me the sequence. To call your father."

Kes's eyes flickered to her face. He inhaled sharply through his nose, and he began to speak. His voice was rough, and his words barely intelligible, but Leia listened hard, and she plugged the sequence into the holoprojector.

His hand shot out and grasped her wrist. She stared down at him.

"Shar… ah…" he rasped, his gloved fingers biting into her wrist. "Shara…"

"I'll…" Leia took a deep breath, and she smiled down at him. "I'll tell her."

His breaths were labored, and his lips trembled, but he managed to smile back at her.

"Kes?"

Leia looked down at her palm and saw that the sagging, weathered face of Dr. Dameron had appeared. She gazed at him, and then down at Kes, who was as pallid and disheveled as a dying man could be.

Oh, this was a terrible idea, she thought.

"Dr. Dameron," Leia said, sniffing hard and wiping her nose with her injured hand. She winced as she smeared more blood onto the tip of her nose and her mouth. "I… I'm sorry to bother you. Is it late on Gorse?"

Dr. Dameron gazed at her with dull, tired eyes.

"Shara," he said, his voice small. He looked down, and he seemed haunted. "Have you told her? Did you call her first?"

"Poe," Kes choked out. He lifted his hand shakily, reaching for the holoprojector.

Dr. Dameron's eyes slid to Leia's. They grew wide.

"Please," Leia said.

"Let me see him," Dr. Dameron said.

Leia swallowed hard. She gazed down at Kes, who was still reaching vainly for the holoprojector. Very carefully, Leia lowered her hand so Dr. Dameron could see Kes's face.

Father and son stared at one another. Their eyes were mirrors, both gazing toward something far out of reach.

"Kes," Dr. Dameron whispered, his brow furrowing.

"Poe," Kes repeated, tears in his eyes. His expression tightened in pain, and when he inhaled it sounded like he was choking. "Plea… plea… please…"

Dr. Dameron nodded quickly before disappearing, shouting for Tayam in Rylothi. Leia held Kes's head in her lap, and she sniffled again.

"Hey," she whispered, smoothing his hair back again. "Should I call Shara next?"

Kes shook his head mutely.

"N— no…?" Leia swallowed, blinking rapidly. She didn't understand it. He wanted to see Poe, but not Shara? Leia thought that if she was dying, she'd want to see Luke and Han one last time. "Okay."

Dr. Dameron swept back into view, Poe in arms. His head was moving, not really noticing that his father was floating before him, looking like the world had just ended and he was holding on by a thread.

"He won't remember," Dr. Dameron said stiffly, his thin arms barely holding onto Poe. "This… this shouldn't traumatize him. I don't… know how to…"

Kes shook his head. He tried to sit up, and he gave a shuddering, agonized yell as he collapsed back against Leia.

"Don't move," Leia gasped, as Kes's hand flew out and grasped hers. She bit the inside of her cheek as he squeezed it hard. It was her injured hand. Then she looked up at Lando, tears in her eyes. "Is there really nothing we can do?"

Lando just stared at her. He opened his mouth, and then he closed it.

"He's on borrowed time," Aphra said quietly. "Vader didn't manage to cut him in half, but only just barely. If the would wasn't cauterized, we'd be looking at his lungs right now."

"Thanks, Doctor," Leia snapped. "Any more helpful comments?"

"Yeah," Aphra said, "you're an idiot."

Leia bit her tongue and focused on the Damerons. If she were not trying to control her temper, she'd snap at Aphra that she had been the one to drag Kes's body onto the ship in the first place, and she should stop pretending like this didn't hurt her too.

"Poe," Kes croaked. Leia lowered the holoprojector a bit. "Poe…"

Poe's head swiveled, and he tilted his head curiously as he gazed a Kes. His brow knitted together.

Then his eyes brightened.

"Papa!" he gasped, clapping excitedly.

Kes stared at Poe, and the tears came streaming steadily down his face.

He smiled. The hand that had been crushing Leia's went slack.

Leia raised her eyes and met Dr. Dameron's. He turned Poe's face away as he began to squirm and babble.

"Papa," Poe gasped, "pa-pa! Pa-pa! Pa-pa!"

Dr. Dameron set Poe down on the floor. He clearly had gotten distracted by something else, because he quieted down.

"I'm sorry," Leia said, her voice tight.

Dr. Dameron closed his eyes. The holo went out in a blink.

Leia sat, still cradling Kes's head, and she dropped the holo projector. Very gingerly, she picked his head up off her lap and extricated herself from him. Her body felt heavy where he had touched it, even after she pulled herself to her feet, like his death had added weight to her soul.

For a few moments, Leia just stood. She held her hand to her mouth, her brow furrowed as she stared at Kes's body and the deep, cauterized line that Vader had drawn from his hip to shoulder.

Leia had dealt with death and grief before. She'd been on enough missions to understand the strange, puncturing fear and longing that overcame a pilot and a soldier who had to watch on of their comrades blown to smithereens in front of them. The feeling always passed quickly, leaving Leia feeling hollow but rather determined.

This felt so much different.

It was her fault for bringing him. It was her fault for not killing Vader, for allowing Aphra and Kes to loiter around where they'd been fighting.

It was her fault for wanting something impossible.

"What do we do with the body?" she wondered aloud.

Lando and Aphra simply stared at her. She knew that it was useless, trying to reconcile, trying to plead to the Force for Kes to come back. She knew better, and she could not be bothered to begin weeping for this man. The guilt was coiling itself around her neck like a noose, and she felt that as surely as she felt the air in her lungs. If she was not careful, if she did not act right now, this very moment, then she would stumble to her knees, and the noose would choke the life out of her.

"Leia…" Lando began, his face losing color and leaving him looking sick. "Listen…"

"Never mind," she said, shaking her head and glancing around her. "I'll find something to cover it. Until then, don't touch it."

She made up her mind and turned away. The motion was almost too fast, and she blinked back stars as she started forward, trying to walk in a straight line as she approached the cockpit.

"Rex," she said, her voice small.

The old clone general met her gaze. He was sitting in the captain's chair, the lines of hyperspace casting a bright blue glow upon his face. He took in her appearance with brief alarm before his expression softened.

"We're headed to, uh…" Rex shifted in his seat. "Umbara, actually. It was the first place that came to mind."

"That's fine," Leia said. Her eyes did not meet Rex's eye, and instead flicked past his face dazedly. "If Luke isn't on this ship, then wherever this ship jumped from is probably where he is. Right?"

"That… would be my guess, yes," Rex said hesitantly.

"Okay." Leia dropped into a chair, unable to keep herself standing for much longer. "Where?"

Rex's lips disappeared behind his snowy beard. "Commander," he sighed, shaking his head. "We… we can't…"

"Just tell me where, Rex," Leia said briskly. "I don't care how dangerous it is. I just have to know."

Sympathy washed over his face, and he nodded slowly. "Mustafar," he said, swiveling in his chair and pointing to the coordinates readout on the dashboard.

Leia's mouth was dry. Mustafar. That sounded vaguely familiar, though she could not place why. So she sat and stared at the coordinates read out, her body sinking into her seat and her head falling forward in a bow.

"How guarded will it be?" she asked vacantly.

Rex grimaced. "Too guarded to try," he said gravely. "Vader's personal estate is there. Fighting Vader alone on Tatooine is much different than fighting Vader alone in his home."

Leia sucked in a sharp breath and she drew a hand over her eyes. Her fingers trembled.

"Fuck," she breathed.

It was like the universe wanted her to fail. Maybe it had been naïve of her to assume that Vader would bring Luke, but she had hoped that because of the urgency of the situation he would be forced to.

She should never have done this.

Dr. Dameron's shining eyes floated behind her eyelids. She could not get the sight of him and Poe out of her head.

"Commander," Rex said softly. "I know it's no consolation, but losing your men… it happens. You can't protect everyone. Not in war."

"My father just killed a man because of me," Leia said thickly. "I made a mistake. I had the upper hand, and I hesitated. I hesitated twice."

"He's your father," Rex said, tilting his head. "Listen… when my brothers turned on me, I couldn't kill them. Ahsoka got us off Mandalore, and I spent my entire escape kicking myself for not doing something more. I'd cut out my own chip, hadn't I?" He gestured to the scar on his head, and Leia glanced at it with a frown. "I should have told more of my brothers. I could have saved more of them. I could have, but I didn't, because I was afraid. I didn't know for sure what the chip did, so I didn't tell anyone to get theirs removed. How many lives did that mistake cost? An entire battalion? An entire army?"

His expression twisted, almost as though he was pained, and he shook his head.

It was something Leia had learned to accept, for the most part. War, and what it did. How it existed on a separate plane of existence, perpetuating violent acts after violent acts, and each crusade was another peg on the ladder. Another dot on a pin. Another rank, another battle, a title for the survivors and a vacuous, empty grave for the losers.

This felt different than the rest, though. Maybe because it was an unsanctioned mission, or maybe because Kes had died from a lightsaber rather than a blaster bolt. She had no idea.

"My father," Leia said, her voice a little hoarse, "is a killer, and a monster, and I hate him. I hate him. Master Yoda is rolling in his grave, I bet. I want to kill Vader, but… but, what does it even mean? What does it matter, if Vader is dead, and I'm— I'm—"

Leia hung her head, her fingers knotting into her hair, and she took a deep breath.

What if I'm not even me anymore? She found herself wondering, feeling sick and dismayed. The man in the catacombs, the handsome, haughty, hero of a man that was probably the pinnacle of Jedi excellence is the same man that cut down Kes. Whose skin is like papers, whose eyes are like miniature suns.

Ben had always warned her never to let her anger get the best of her. It was the first time that it really had, the first time that she had felt the power that had corrupted Anakin Skywalker.

She had pulled away from it, but at what cost?

"How?" Leia raised her head and looked into Rex's face. "How can I kill my father if I'm risking my own soul in the process, Rex?"

Rex's old, tired eyes peered at her sadly. It was clear he did not understand what she meant, but he pitied her anyway.

"There are no easy answers in war," Rex told her. "Only easy excuses."

With that, Rex turned to face forward. It seemed to her that he was a century old, and a relic of a long forgotten war. Had he ever known peace? Had he ever felt at peace? Clones were on the production line, bred for some purpose or another, and war was in Rex's coding. He was a living weapon.

Not so different from Leia, really.


Luke awoke with a start.

He'd been dreaming of gray. Gray water and gray skies, gray horizons and gray tides. It was all dulling now, his dream senses muddled and his waking senses confused. He could not recall what he had dreamed, or when he had dreamed, only that he had dreamed, and it had been gray. As gray as this cell.

It wasn't Luke's job to save everyone. He knew that, and yet his heart ached. There had to be a reason. After all, Luke believed in the Force, and the Force served predestination on a platter.

He must have been meant to be with Vader. Vader felt it was true, and so did Luke. The only problem was that they differed on why.

It felt like Luke had been wading through life, seeking death in odd corners of the galaxy.

Now it was time to wake up.

Now it was time to live.

He just hadn't figured out how yet.

The door slid open, and he sat up expectantly. Vader had returned at some point during the night, and Luke felt his presence like the lashing waves of a typhoon on his back. He was the palisades, and Vader was the storm.

He opened his mouth to say something— to say anything— but the figure in the doorway was not the tall shadow Luke had grown accustomed to.

His mouth clamped shut, and he shrunk warily against the back of his cell as the Imperial officer stared at him.

"Prince Organa," the man said, his voice clipped and his shoulders straight. His eyes flitted over the empty cell and its drab gray walls. Perhaps he remembered Luke's small room on Vader's Star Destroyer. "I am glad to see you are in better health."

Luke frowned at the man, throwing his legs over the side of his cot and peering at his milquetoast face and straight-laced demeanor. He was no more familiar than any other Imperial, and yet he acted as though he knew Luke.

"Thank you," he said, lacking the vocabulary to express how he truly felt, so instead resorting to old niceties. His voice was thin and brisk. "I suppose it's rather sad that I look healthier and more well rested in a prison cell than I did when I was thrown before the Emperor, but who am I?"

The man watched him with an expressionless stare. He had the demeanor of most Imperial officers— stringent, cold, and utterly unfeeling. Business was all that mattered, and there were no jokes to be shared.

"Who is Lord Vader to you?" the man asked suddenly.

Luke blinked rapidly. His bare feet scraped the floor, and the cold metal bit at his toes. He wondered where Vader was in the castle, if he was close enough that he'd sense Luke. That was silly, he knew. Of course he could sense Luke. But if this man was here, wasn't it possible that there was another ship? Could Luke steal it?

The idea seemed appealing until he thought of the logistics. Even if he managed to strike down this Imperial officer, which seemed unlikely given the fact that this man was armed and Luke was not, he'd have to find a way to release Ahsoka and Ezra.

He would not leave without them.

"I am the son of someone he loved once," Luke said. He rubbed his fingers over his metal knuckles thoughtfully, and he did not meet the man's eye.

The man said nothing in response, though a flicker of bemusement did cross his eyes as he stared Luke down. In return, Luke raised his eyes to him curiously, and he cocked his head to one side.

"Was there something you wanted?" He rested his back and his head against the wall behind him and smiled thinly. "I'm rather busy at the moment. Perhaps you could come back later?"

The man's eyes narrowed. "I am Admiral Firmus Piett," the Imperial officer said, "the captain of the Executor."

"Wow," Luke said, his eyebrows shooting up dramatically. "Most impressive. Shall I curtsy, Admiral?"

Piett's cold blue eyes narrowed, and his jaw clenched and unclenched. Luke watched him lick his teeth and nod slowly.

"You were not quite so mouthy the last I saw of you," he said, "though I cannot say I'm surprised. Your reputation precedes you."

"I bet it does." Luke smiled, and he shrugged. "What can I say? I'm a colorful guy. If I were what everyone expected me to be, life would be awfully boring."

His accent had changed then. He felt it slipping, the core cadence washing off his tongue and falling away. Now his voice was soft, and he held his usual flippant tone like a ball of honey behind his teeth.

Piett exhaled through his nose. He lifted his chin high, and he stood at his full height, like perhaps that might intimidate Luke, who had spent the better half of the last two months shoulder to shoulder with Vader.

"I have been instructed to bring you to Vader," he said.

"Why?" Luke asked, unable to keep the apprehension and confusion from bleeding onto his face.

"Do I need a reason?" Piett sighed. "Get up."

"Why didn't he just come himself?" Luke asked, his mind reeling. "He's here, I know he is. Tell him if he wants me, he can come and face me."

"That is not possible at the moment," Piett said, his teeth gritting and his eyes flashing nervously. "You will have to trust me."

"You're a smart man, so I won't explain to you why that's a problem," Luke said.

Admitting he was worried didn't seem like an option. He imagined something had happened, but he could not gauge the severity of it from Piett's behavior. It seemed impossible, or close to it, because Luke would know if Vader was hurt. Wouldn't he?

What if Vader is hurt? Luke thought numbly. What even happens to us if he just… dies?

The Emperor's sunken, wizened face floated behind his eyelids, and he shivered.

At one point or another, Luke had decided that Vader could be saved. That Vader should have at least the chance of redemption, because Luke could not find it in himself to dismiss the man responsible for his existence.

It wasn't really that Vader deserved it. Luke was aware that monsters of Vader's caliber rarely deserved anything but swift and just punishment.

But swift and just punishment was not the way of Alderaan.

His mother had told him once that he would have to execute people as king. It was a rare occurrence, but it would happen one day. His parliament would expect him to be able to make the hard choices, to swing the sword if need be.

Breha knew Luke's disposition was not made for such things, so she gave him some advice.

Sometimes it is easier to swing the sword than to stay it. Justice is subjective. You cannot please everyone, Luke. So what you need to do is think very carefully, and be true to who you are. Death is a simple answer for a complicated issue. How you proceed in these instances will define you, not just as a king, but as a man.

As long as he'd known Breha Organa she had not executed anyone. He wondered if she'd be proud of him now.

"I have been given my orders, Prince Organa," Piett said gravely. "It is in your best interest to come willingly."

The threat hung heavily between them. Luke licked his lips, and he glanced around his barren cell. If he went to Vader, he could probably plead for him and Ezra and Ahsoka to be reunited. It was an enticing option.

"And what if I don't?" Luke asked. "You'll sic your dogs on me? Stormtroopers don't scare me, Admiral."

Piett watched him from the doorway, his cool gaze flickering around the room. He tipped his chin back, and he nodded slowly.

"You know what your file says about you, Prince Organa?"

"I didn't even know I had a file," Luke said, dropping his chin into his hands and resting his elbows on his knees, "so no."

Piett glanced at him. "It says that you are highly intelligent, dangerously competent, and needlessly self-sacrificing. Your life means very little to you in the grand scheme of things, doesn't it?"

"I guess so," Luke said, not seeing the point in dodging this question. He was a little annoyed that the Empire had picked up on that little tidbit, but it was bound to happen eventually. At least they thought he was intelligent and competent. Dangerous, even! How fun.

"So think of it this way," Piett said. "You come with me quietly, and whoever is occupying the cell next to you won't get hurt."

Luke's eyes widened. He jerked upright, watching a hint of smugness flash in Piett's face. Luke swallowed his question down, realizing quickly that Piett had not known for sure that there was any other prisoners, that he had just guessed. And Luke had confirmed it.

He inhaled sharply, and he pushed himself to his feet.

"Fine," he said, striding up to the door and allowing himself to be shackled roughly by a stray stormtrooper. It had been awhile since he'd seen one of them, and their bucket helmet left Luke with a dry mouth and the urge to punch something.

Piett led him away from the cell block, and he resisted the urge to glance back at the space where his friends were. He walked briskly, his bare feet clapping against the cool metal. The castle was well ventilated despite its foundation being set into a volcanic river.

The stormtroopers hung back as Piett walked across a long bridge. Luke peered over the side and saw that there was a molten river beneath them, red-hot liquid sliding slow as molasses and glowing orange in the darkened room. Piett paused to look back at him.

"This is an unforgiving planet," he said, observing Luke's uneasiness. "The air is noxious, and the earth is volcanic ash. One false step and you are vaporized. Keep close, Prince Organa. If you want to live, that is."

Luke eyed him. He knew he was too close to the edge, and when he turned his head he could see a wide window that displayed the blackened peaks and red rivers of this desolate planet. It felt like he was standing on Alderaan's evil twin.

"If you call whatever the Empire offers living," Luke said, his voice small and bitter, "so be it."

He hesitantly followed Piett to the other side of the bridge, through a great, yawning doorway, until he reached a tall, dark room.

There was a bacta tank in the middle of it. Luke noted that it had been recently emptied, the cleanly stench of it burning his nostrils. Beyond it was a circular device, rather massive in the grand scheme of things, and Luke wondered what it was for.

It was then that he noticed the discarded helmet. It lay on the floor at the foot of the bacta tank, and he scrambled forward. He fell to his knees, grappling at the shiny plasteel face. His wrists were bound, but he managed to turn it over in his hand, running his fingers over the broken eye and cracked nose.

Dread crept upon him like shadows. He stared at the mask, held it tight, and he could feel his own panic rising.

"Where is he?" Luke whispered.

Piett watched him with a furrowed brow.

The two guards— decidedly not stormtroopers, Luke noted— stepped forward.

"Remove the boy's shackles," one said.

Piett frowned deeply. "He is an Imperial prisoner—" he objected.

"Remove his shackles," the other guard said, "and then leave."

Piett inhaled sharply. He stepped up beside Luke, unfastened his binders, and looked him in the eye.

Luke bit his tongue and turned his face away. He knew Piett was searching him for something, and there was no way he was going to get it.

"Inform Lord Vader that I will be waiting on the Executor," Piett told the guards curtly. He then turned on his heel and strode from the room.

Luke exhaled shakily, pulling Vader's mask closer and peering at it uncertainly. It seemed cursed, like he held a demon's skull in the palms of his hand. It made him feel very small. As if he were eleven years old again, and staring into this mask for the first time.

For only half a second, Luke's head dipped low. He pressed his forehead against the cool mask, and he took a deep breath.

A startling, mechanical hiss caused him to look up. The circular chamber was opening slowly, and Luke gazed at a pale, scarred scalp in slight awe. A mechanical arm came treading down, attaching a new mask to Vader's suit.

Luke found himself shrinking back instinctively as Vader descended the contraption slowly, his footsteps heavy on the durasteel floor. When Vader turned to look at him, Luke had already managed to scramble to his feet, the mask hanging limply in his metal hand.

"What happened?" Luke demanded, taking a short and somewhat desperate step toward Vader. The man merely stared at him.

"Leave us," Vader said to the guards. They did not hesitate to oblige.

Luke found himself shaking as he stood before Vader, clutching the busted mask, praying for some sort of answer that would never come. Obi-Wan Kenobi did not believe it was possible to redeem Vader. He'd told Luke himself that the only reason he'd let Vader live, long ago on this very same planet, was because he had been too weak to strike down his brother.

"And you expect me to condemn him when you could not?" Luke had asked the old ghost, his eyes glued to Obi-Wan's sad, crumpled face. "I understand the necessity, but I have never been the type of person who could just… accept that someone has to die for the world to be a better place."

Now he had to wonder.

Vader did not make a move to approach him, but rather observed him from across the room. Luke glared at him.

"Your sister is…" Vader tipped his head back, as though he had lost track of his words, and his thoughts were running a mile a minute. "Impressive."

Luke's whole body seemed to freeze up, locking in place and turning to stone. He dared not look around the room, out of fear that maybe Leia was lurking. As though he wouldn't feel her the moment she broke orbit.

"You saw Leia?" he whispered.

Vader did not look at him, but he nodded. His shoulders were rigid and his body unmoving.

"The last person to crack this mask," Vader said, "was Ahsoka. How cruel. She could not kill me either."

The cracked mask slipped from Luke's fingers, and he stumbled forward.

"Leia fought you?" he gasped. "She… is she okay? What did you do? Tell me you didn't hurt her!"

He found himself clutching at his metal arm, the recently healed stump aching in a phantom pain. Vader turned his attention to Luke, as though perhaps he'd forgotten he had another child.

"She will survive," Vader said. "She was injured, but the damage was hardly more than a few superficial scrapes and bruises. A concussion at worst."

That did not make him feel any better. He held his head in his hands, remembering the concussion he'd had from when those Imperials had beaten him. His fingers grazed the hearing aid firmly fastened to his deaf ear.

"Hurting her was a mistake," Luke said. He felt like he was drifting. "It will only make her less inclined to believe in you."

"I don't suppose I care if she believes in me," Vader said. His breathing filled the empty room, and his shoulders rose and fell. "Why should I? Her destiny lies within the power she possesses, not the love she can carry in her heart."

"Why does it have to be about power?" Luke asked, feeling foolish and small. "Why? Why do you write off love so quickly? I don't understand."

"I'm not sure I follow your question." Vader tipped his head toward Luke, almost inquisitively. "Are you asking me if I am capable of love? Or why I find love distasteful?"

"Both."

Vader's regular breathing patterns filled the steady silence. Luke took a tentative step forward. Then he took another. Then another. He found himself standing only a foot away from Vader, his head tilted back.

"Why was their love not enough for you?" Luke whispered.

Vader bristled. "Who?" he spat.

"My mother's," Luke said with a sigh, "and… also, Obi-Wan's."

Vader whirled away, his cape flickering in the air as his footsteps echoed in the tall chamber.

"Obi-Wan did not love me," he hissed. "All he did was use me."

"He loves you," Luke said firmly.

"He is dead!" Vader snarled. "I made sure of that. I cut him down, and I have become victorious. He can taunt me no longer!"

"He loves you!" Luke cried, his fingers closing into fists. "Even still. Even now! Why are you so blind to it? Why can you not feel that you are loved, even when you don't deserve it? Because you don't deserve it? Please, look inside your heart and remember what it is like to love!"

"I know love," Vader hissed, turning on Luke in a terrible, breathless moment, his fingers flying through the air and nearly catching Luke. They faltered at the last second. They stood and stared at one another. The ghost of the unborn slap echoed between them. "I have loved and lost all my life. Now all I have is grief."

"You have me," Luke pointed out.

"A prisoner," Vader said, in a voice that was almost… dull. Resigned. His fingers wilted. "A weak, simple fool."

Luke had to swallow a quip about how offensive that was. He took a deep breath, and he shook his head.

"Father," he said, the word feeling ill-fitting inside his mouth, like it was made for a different boy in a different world. It made Vader tense up, and he jerked back as though Luke had struck him. "I am not here because you are keeping me here. I am here because I agreed to come with you. Because I am so sick of running from the truth. You are my father, and that means something. I think Papa— my other father— would want me to acknowledge how I feel. He always did say that there was too much love in my heart for my body to contain."

Vader's hand fell very slowly. Luke focused on schooling his features, and he refused to recoil when Vader pressed his hand to Luke's cheek.

"Do you love me, Luke?" he asked, as though it was a simple question.

Luke felt the world spinning. Vader's words, which were usually filled with authority, with rage and malice, fell softly to the floor.

He tilted his head, and he offered a meager smile.

"I can learn to," he said softly.


Umbara was always frightening. The Shadow People spooked Chewie, so Han had to be the one to exit the Falcon to refuel. The darkness made his skin crawl, and the eerie pallid people of this world watched him warily. At least Umbara had made a deal with the Empire years ago so they had a fairly light occupation by most standards. Han hadn't seen a stormtrooper in the hour and a half that he'd been on this rock.

Apparently whatever nonsense they'd found on Vader's personal yacht, now property of the Rebellion, was gonna take awhile to debug. They couldn't trace them as of right now, but it would take some time for the system to get wiped. Technically the Rebellion had people for that stuff, but Lando, Rex, and Aphra were pretty much determined to wipe all traces of Vader off the ship before they moved forward.

"Dameron's dead," Lando had said, his tone hushed and his voice grave. "It's… it's pretty gruesome, Han. Remember Keera Loch?"

"Fuck," Han had said, gaining a few odd looks from some passersby. "You're kidding!"

"Nah, it's real bad. Leia's pretty shaken up."

All of their past arguments and awkwardness melted away in that moment. Han found he really didn't care.

"Let me speak to her," he had gasped. "I gotta hear her voice. If I'd known— I'm out grabbing supplies right now, but I can—"

"Don't sweat, lover boy," Lando had said, sounding amused. "She's sleeping right now. Thank the stars for that."

Han had sighed in relief. Now he felt like a fool. Why did Leia always make him feel like a fool? He was a grown ass man, damn it! Why did she always make him feel like some gawky teenager again?

He pushed the fuel cell up the ramp of the Falcon, casting his eyes toward the Nubian vessel parked beside his freighter, and he wondered if he should go over and check on her. Even if she was still asleep, it'd make him feel a whole lot better just to see that she was okay.

The moment he reached the top of the ramp, Chewie shouted at him. The howl was brief and alarmed, and Han blinked rapidly.

"Huh?" He dropped the fuel cell and rounded a corner, nearly bumping into Chewie. "What do ya mean, Leia's here?"

Chewie tipped his head back and gave a mournful moan. Han brushed past him, nausea creeping up on him.

"Leia," he gasped, bursting into the Hold and staggering to a stop as his eyes flickered around the room. When they did not find her, he thought he might collapse in sheer despair. "Leia!"

"Han?"

He whirled around. She'd appeared in a corridor, her hair damp and loose around her shoulders. His eyes swept over her, taking in her appearance quickly. Her hair was pretty much soaked, which suggested she had just come from the fresher, and she was wearing on of his old shirts. It came down to her knees, which bore painful looking skid marks. There were fresh bruises on her calves and arms, and one of her hands looked absolutely mangled.

"What the hell happened?" he gasped, moving toward her and watching her take a large step back. He stopped, his hands flying up in surrender.

Despite having just bathed, there was blood. It seemed to be everywhere. Attached to her fingers, to her knuckles, her arm. Pressed into the groove of her nostril, beneath the creases of her eye, embedded in her eyebrows, tucked beneath her jaw.

"Vader," Leia said, like it was something easy. Something simple. It didn't even sound like a curse this time. Just a fact. "I'm fine."

"No," Han hissed, "you're not. Come on."

"Han…" Leia dragged her hand through her hair, and Han saw the crescent shaped cut marring her forehead. "Please. Trust me on this. I got out of this fight easy."

Han's jaw clenched irritably, but he nodded. He nodded, because it was easier than fighting.

"Well, you can't wash yourself to save your life," he said. She blinked at him, her nose scrunching indignantly. "Don't even try to fight me, okay? You've got blood all over you. Lemme clean that up."

Leia bit down on her lower lip, and Han watched the action with bated breath. She twisted the hem of the shirt she'd stolen from him, her eyes darting away from his face.

"I mean…" She sighed. "I guess… if it's a lot of blood."

"It is." Han turned away from her and dragged an old chair from the corner of the Hold. "Sit here."

Leia obliged, if not a bit hesitantly. Han did not spare her a glance, and instead left her to grab a basin full of water, the cleanest rag he could scrounge up, and a first aid kit. When he returned to her, she had her chin in her hands, and she was staring at the opposite wall.

"Who knew the interior of my ship could be so interesting," he joked, accidentally sneaking up on her from behind. She jumped, and she twisted to look at him.

"You scared me," she whispered.

He stared at her. Guilt wrapped its ugly little hands around his heart.

"I'm sorry," he said softly, laying a gentle hand on her head. "I'm gonna pull your hair back, kay? It's in the way."

"Sure."

Han relaxed a little. He pulled a comb from his small assortment of items and ran it through her hair. It snagged on a few tangles, and he tugged them free. He did this rhythmically, losing himself in the repetition, until Leia's hair was knot-free and silky smooth.

Leia gave a small sigh, and he tilted his head over her shoulder.

"What?" he asked. He felt a little sheepish. "It's been awhile since I had to brush hair this long, alright?"

"No," Leia said quickly, her eyes flickering to his face. "No, it's not— I don't mind it. I guess… it just reminds me of home."

Han had to slump a little at that. Home. He could see the dust-bowl planet behind his eyelids, stark and orange and inhospitable. He hated being on Tatooine, and he'd been glad when Leia had given him the order to standby as air support. Now he regretted it.

"I bet old Owen and Beru miss you," Han said, cautiously running the comb through her hair again. She seemed to relax in her chair.

"I miss them too," she said, her voice small. "I miss the farm. Can you believe that? I never thought I'd miss it, but I do."

"Everyone's got the place they grew up in, Leia," Han said, setting the comb aside and gingerly dragging his fingers through her hair. She tipped her head back, and he got a good waft of his own soap. "Everybody wants what they used to have. Especially when what they used to have is gone forever."

Leia swallowed hard enough that he heard her gulp, and she sighed again. He tugged her hair into a messy ponytail, and then knelt down beside her. Her eyes flickered to his face, which was now eyelevel with hers.

"What if I die before I ever get to see them again?" she whispered. Her eyes were wide, and her face was pale. "What if Luke dies before I get to see him again? What if you die? Han… I—"

"Stop thinking about it," Han told her sharply.

"I can't not think about it." She pressed her lips together thinly and squeezed her eyes shut. "Kes died, and his last request was to see his son. That's all he wanted. Shara doesn't even know he's dead yet, Han! I have to tell her. It's not fair! He shouldn't be dead. He shouldn't have been on that mission. It's all my fault, and I—"

"Dameron chose to come, Leia," Han said, snatching her chin and forcing her to look him in the eye. "Don't get so full of yourself, alright? You ain't that special. Kes Dameron was a grown ass man, and he made his own damn choices. He didn't have to come. You didn't ask him to come. He volunteered. He knew the risks. So stop blaming yourself."

Her lower lip quivered for about half a second before her eyes set determinedly, and she nodded to him. With that, he released her chin, and dragged the basin full of water toward him. Very gently he began to scrub away the rust-colored smears of blood that coated her skin. It was dried up and flaky. Most of it came off in one good wipe, but sometimes he had to scrub.

"How did this happen?" he asked, pointing to the cut on her forehead.

Leia snorted. "Vader whacked me with his lightsaber hilt," she said, sounding miserable.

"Oh," Han said. "Ow."

"Yeah."

"That must've been fun."

"I did it to him first so…" Leia's lips twisted a small smirk. "Yeah. Sorta fun."

Han paused, his hand against her cheek as he tried to scrub the blood from behind her ear. He looked down at her, and her smirk turned into a slight grin.

"Oh," he said, "you're really impossible. You know that?"

"Yeah." She slumped a little as he dropped the red stained rag back into the basin. He picked up her hand, dragging his thumb along her fingers for a moment before feeling her stare. He began to wipe up the blood from her knuckles. "Han?"

"Mhm?"

She was quiet then, her body tensing up.

He dropped the rag back into the water and pulled some bacta paste from the first aid kit. She watched his fingers work as he very gingerly rubbed the blue paste over her open, angry red knuckles. He massaged the paste into her wounds, and then tentatively began to wrap cloth bandages around them.

"Han?"

He wrapped the bandages carefully. He was very focused, and her voice startled him.

"Yeah?" he asked, unable to keep the hint of irritation from his tone.

She sucked in a deep breath, and she slumped a little.

"I'm sorry," she said.

He stopped. His fingers rested in her fingers, and his skin felt warm.

With a shake of his head, he scoffed.

"Don't worry about it," he said.

"No, Han, listen." She leaned forward and looked into his face. He couldn't meet her eye. "I messed up. I really, really did. I hurt you so badly, and you're being too forgiving. Yell at me."

"Uh, no?"

"I'd yell at you!" She huffed, and her eyes flashed away from his face furiously. "It's not fair. I don't deserve this."

"We all make dumb mistakes when we're out of it, Leia," Han said with a shrug. "Trust me. Been there, done that, have the scars to prove it."

"No, that's just it, I—" She took a deep breath. "I need you to know that I was wrong. I was wrong to use your feeling like that. I don't know why I wanted to hurt you so badly, but I did."

"It's fine, Leia."

"No, it's not!" She shook her head, and when he tied off her bandage she pulled it back so she could smooth stray strands of hair from her face. "I feel awful about this, Han. I thought I might've ruined our friendship forever, because I was so stupid. I was so cruel, and you… you've been nothing but kind to me since we lost Luke. I've been the jerk."

"You've been no more or less of a jerk than usual," Han said with a wry smirk. "Plus, I gave you the tea, remember? Kinda had it coming."

"Han," Leia said, staring into his eyes. "I was wrong. I am so sorry. Please forgive me."

He laughed. He really did. It had been a messy situation, and he'd been worrying about it for a few days, but now that he knew how bad she felt about it, it just seemed laughable. Like something so easy, so simple. An obstacle you could step over.

"All is forgiven," he said jauntily, squeezing her good hand. "You are absolved."

He swooped down and kissed her forehead, feeling her tense a bit before relaxing. He dragged his thumbs over her knuckles, and wondered.

Then he extricated his hands from hers, and he withdrew his lips from her forehead. Content, he turned away.

Her hands flew out, one hand catching the front of his shirt and dragging him back down while the other curved around his neck, forcing him to bow his head. He fell back to his knees before her as she tilted her head up and caught his lips with her own.

It was intense to say the least. Leia was never one to do anything half-way, and so she kissed him like it was their first and their last. Her tongue flitted on the edges of his mouth, too quick to catch no matter how he worked his lips against hers. Her fingernails dug into the back of his neck, and her teeth pulled at his lower lip teasingly, dragging him further and further down until he had to brace himself against the back of her chair, or else he'd topple over.

Han pulled back first, gasping for breath and blinking rapidly down at Leia's face. She was flushed and breathless, the pad of her thumb tracing his chin and dragging over his lower lip.

"You are never something I could regret," she said quietly.

Han stared at her vacantly for a few moments before he pulled her from her chair and wrapped his arms around her. She sunk into his arms and buried her face in his shoulder, melting into the hug and sighing as he buried his face in her hair.

Chapter Text

"Luke!" Ezra cried, scrambling to his feet and rushing to the door of his cell.

Luke smiled at him sheepishly, watching Ezra falter at about a foot away when he caught sight of the looming shadow of Darth Vader. His eyes darted from Luke to Vader and back, and his delighted expression fell.

"Are you okay?" he asked, his voice low.

"Fine." Luke offered out his arms so Ezra could get a good look at him. "A little stir-crazy, but otherwise fine. How about you?"

"Who cares about me?" Ezra scoffed.

"I do?"

Ezra rolled his eyes at that and folded his arms across his chest. It concerned Luke that he seemed to have such little regard for himself, but it then struck him that it was just another way that they were similar.

"Sucks to be you, then," Ezra said, patting him on the shoulder as he brushed past him and strode into the hall. He nodded to the Sith Lord behind Luke curtly. "Vader. Looking tall as ever."

"Bridger," Vader said. "A nuisance. As always."

Ezra smirked, and he cocked his head. "Aw," he said, "I'm growing on you!"

Luke watched this exchange amusedly, wondering how Ezra managed to keep his sense of humor when he'd been trapped for so long. Perhaps it was his resignation to his role as prisoner, or perhaps it was because he'd had such a troubling life up to this point. It wasn't like they talked about the past. Ezra never asked about Alderaan, and Luke never asked about Kanan Jarrus. It seemed simple.

Maybe Luke was selfish for wanting more.

When Vader turned away, striding toward Ahsoka's door, Luke closed his eyes. He wanted to feel like what he was doing was worth it. Like this impossible task could be achieved. But he simultaneously felt like he was selling his soul, and that was terrifying.

Callused, hesitant fingers brushed his.

Luke's eyes snapped open, and he stared ahead of him for a few moments as he felt the warmth of Ezra's hand as he nudged Luke's palm open.

He looked down just in time to watch Ezra intertwine their fingers.

"What's going to happen now?" he whispered, his head bowed so that his mouth as close to Luke's ear. He was fairly tall, probably close to Han's height. Perhaps even taller.

Luke squeezed Ezra's hand. He stared at Vader's back, and he turned to meet Ezra's eye.

"We survive," he said. "We keep the dream alive until we are gone. Then we pass it along."

Ezra stared at him for a few moments before retrieving his hand. He cast his eyes toward the floor and did not reply.

Vader opened Ahsoka's cell, and the moment the doors slid open a startling blur swept through the entryway. Luke stumbled back in alarm as he watched Ahsoka flip through the air and kick Vader in the head.

"Whoa!" Ezra gasped, leaning forward with a delighted grin. "Shit! Would you look at that?"

"I see," Luke said, watching Vader stumble slightly as Ahsoka settled on the ground in a crouch. She glared up at him while he raised his hand to his helmet.

"I suppose it is pointless to ask what that was for," Vader mused, rubbing the line of his mask as though he could feel her heel on his chin.

"I think you can figure it out," Ahsoka spat, rising to her feet and scowling. "Thanks for nothing, Anakin."

"Are you going to let us stay in the same cell?" Luke asked eagerly. He knew that Admiral Piett was still lurking somewhere close by, which meant that Vader had not returned for good. More likely than not, he would leave within the day.

"No," Vader said.

"Then what," Ahsoka sighed, holding her head as she shook it, "the hell is the point?"

Luke stared at Vader curiously. He had not gone into great detail about what had happened with Leia, but Luke had gathered a few things. By the state of Vader's helmet, he assumed Leia had won the duel. If she had won the duel, then she had decided to let Vader live for whatever reason. And if she had confronted Vader, the chances were that she was looking for Luke.

It gave him hope, at the very least.

I can hold on, he thought. I have nothing if not hope, and I can hold on a little longer.

"It has come to my attention that keeping you three here may prove…" Vader turned his head to glance at Luke briefly. "Unsatisfactory. I will oversee your training on the Executor."

They all stared up at him with varying degrees of shock. Ahsoka's mouth fell open. Ezra lurched closer to Luke, their arms bumping against each other. Luke blinked rapidly and tried to keep himself calm. He breathed in, and he breathed out, and he nodded slowly.

"Okay," he said.

Ezra glanced at him, horror clear in his deep blue eyes, but he clenched his jaw tight and said nothing. It seemed that he was ready to throw in his lot with Luke, even if it ruined him.

"We're— we're leaving?" Ahsoka took a sharp step back, and she looked between Vader and Luke wildly. "What happened? You don't have Leia, so I have to assume she escaped somehow."

"I underestimated my daughter," Vader said. "It will not happen again. As for you three… you would be wise to do as you are told and ask few questions. We are wading in dangerous waters, and if you are caught betraying the Empire, there will be dire consequences."

"Like we didn't already know that," Ezra said miserably.

Vader turned his attention to Ezra, and Luke felt the urge to shield him. If it were even possible, he'd throw himself in front of Ezra and beg Vader to let him go. He'd make a lifetime worth of empty promises and cut off his other hand to make it so.

But there was no easy escape from this. Luke knew that. Ezra knew that. Hell, even Ahsoka, who had bowed out of their risky shenanigans understood their narrow chances.

Leia Skywalker was their only hope.

Funny how things came full circle.

"You," Vader said, jerking a finger in Ezra's face. "You I have no use for. If any one of you slips up, it is you, Ezra Bridger, who will take the punishment."

"That's not fair!" Luke cried, stepping forward and taking Vader's arm instinctively. "Please reconsider, Father. I couldn't live with myself if my mistake cost Ezra anything!"

Vader glared down at him, and he tore his arm from Luke's grasp.

"Then you would be wise not to make a mistake," he hissed, "my son."

Ezra clapped Luke on the shoulder, and he offered a small, tight smile. "Leave it," he said softly. "It'll be alright. I'm tougher than I look."

Ahsoka stared at the two of them desperately, her eyes glimmering. He saw her age then as she watched them, her tired face crumpling as she realized she had no choice in the matter.

She bowed her head, and she took a deep breath. Her shoulders were tight, and her lekku slipped against her shoulders.

"Allow me to stay near them," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "I won't fight you. I won't sabotage anything. Just let me be close to them."

Whatever their purpose here, it wasn't to make a scene. At least not yet. Luke eyed Ezra, and he wondered just how long they could stave off the inevitable.

Vader was not attached to Ezra, and therefore Ezra was in danger. A constant, horrific sort of danger that made it clear that he needed to get out of Vader's grasp as soon as possible.

"You will need a disguise," Vader said quietly. He turned his attention from Ezra to Ahsoka. "Both of you. The Emperor must not know that you live."

"Because he won't find two random new Inquisitors suspicious?" Ezra scoffed, folding his arms across his chest. "He's not dumb, you know. Just creepy."

"Had many interactions with the Emperor, have you, Bridger?" Vader snapped.

Ezra stood straight, undeterred by Vader's harsh and rumbling tone. He glared up into Vader's mask and gave a one shoulder shrug.

"Just the one," he said nonchalantly. "That was enough for me, thanks."

Luke wondered if he should continue to position himself firmly between Vader and Ezra. If it would even matter. It seemed like Luke would be helpless to stop Vader if he so decided that Ezra Bridger was to die. After all, Luke had been helpless all the other times. On Naboo. On Cymoon 1. On the Death Star.

He wanted very dearly to take Ezra's hand again, to be certain that he had not hallucinated his touch just a few minutes ago.

He did not.

"Father," Luke said, straightening up and rolling his shoulders back. "If you are going to relocate us, then do me a favor. Do not merely throw me into a cell and pretend that I am not near you. I feel you as certainly as you feel me. Our destinies are intertwined, and therefore you should trust me."

"Trusting you would be foolish," Vader said. "I am no fool, Luke Organa. You are my blood, but your heart still radiates light like an expanding sun."

Luke grimaced. This would be difficult. Tricking Vader into believing that Luke was really on his side without dipping into the Dark Side seemed impossible, especially when they could see each other's souls in the wading, ethereal flow of the Force.

"Fine," Luke said, "don't trust me, then. But don't you dare ignore me either."

"Careful, Luke," Ahsoka warned him, her arms folding around her torso as she hugged herself. She looked both amused and worried. "You really don't want Vader's attention."

"No," Luke said, watching Vader's helmet as it tipped to the side. They studied each other. "I think I do."

It was different now than it was a decade ago on Coruscant. That shadow, that oppressive mass of cold energy that seemed to sweep up from behind and bite at Luke's heels, it didn't seem so scary now. In fact, Luke felt the Dark pressing upon him, as though if he dipped his hand into it he could retrieve a handful of it like black snow, and that did not frighten him. He was surrounded by serpentine paths, and shadows writhed around him, but he was sure that he knew who he was.

If there was any good in Vader, Luke would find it.

He would not fall, and he would not fail.

Not this time.

Vader broke eye contact first. He turned away swiftly, his cape fluttering at his back, and Luke smirked a little.

Vader was his father, and his father wanted Luke to love him.

That meant that Luke was the one who had the power here.

He just had to figure out how the hell to use it.


She woke up to the sound of someone else breathing.

It was a steady sound, deep inhales and exhales that marked the depth of sleep. She thought that maybe she could hear the dream that was rattling inside his head. The warmth of his breath against her neck settled her anxious thoughts, and she let the rhythm lull her in and out of sleep for a few minutes.

Very slowly, careful not to jostle the sheets, she turned onto her side. Her cheek sunk into the shared pillow that sat on Han's bunk, which was thankfully the solitary bed in his cabin. The last thing she'd needed was Chewbacca walking in on them, but really she should have known better. It wasn't like Leia was the first girl to end up in this position, her legs tangled between Han's, her head resting on his singular pillow so their faces were forced as close together as possible.

It didn't make her angry, exactly, this fact. Leia had met a few of Han's exes before— Lando being the most recent, and the most understandable. Lando Calrissian and Han Solo were cut from the same cloth. They were both smooth and charming, scoundrels at their core, but with a foolish streak of good heartedness. The main difference, she supposed, was that when Lando was suave, he was actually suave. Han put up the front, but he tried too hard.

She watched his face as he slept, and she wished she could tell him to his face that he was a goofball.

Han's face was peaceful. Up close, she could see all the flaws in it— his pores, and a little mole here and there, a scar on his chin, a blemish near his nostril. It was comforting. She never allowed him this close, and now that he was asleep and vulnerable, she had all the time in the world to gaze at him. She noted his lashes were long like a bird's feathers against his cheek.

Part of her wondered if this had been a mistake. She'd always thought that she would never have time for romance, that maybe she should stick to the old Jedi way and just… pledge herself to the Force.

Of course that'd never happen. Even Ben knew that much.

Still, it was hard to fight the feeling that she'd ruined something. That the fragile bond between them was now broken.

He'd gotten what he wanted, and now he was free to go. Right?

Of course she knew better, but it was so hard to keep the thought from bubbling up in her mind. What if? What if? What if?

This was a mistake, she found herself thinking, burying her lips in the pillow and closing her eyes. Mistake, mistake, mistake.

Her eyes snapped open. Han's face still lingered on the pillow, his breaths intermingling with her breaths, and his lips twitching soundlessly.

With a hard swallow, Leia carefully slipped one leg from the bunk. The air was cold, biting, and entirely uninviting as she shimmied out from underneath the covers.

Han's arm, which had been draped over her, tightened as she moved. His fingers clutched at the ends of the white cotton shirt he'd allowed her to borrow.

Panicking, Leia used the Force to nudge Han's fingers open, and the moment they released her shirt, she slipped out of bed and made a dash for the door.

The moment she was free, she pressed her back to the durasteel and took a deep breath. Her lungs filled up, and her chest expanded, but she felt no relief.

All of the trials and the turbulence, and Leia Skywalker faltered at something as trivial as love.

This wasn't how people were supposed to feel about things like this. All the stories, all the things she'd heard— being in love was supposed to feel right. There weren't supposed to be doubts. She shouldn't be considering that she had made an awful mistake, she should be sure. She'd told Han that she was sure.

Now, though, she wasn't so sure, and there was hollowness inside her that she could not escape.

Leia pushed off Han's door and she wandered barefoot through the corridor. Her toes scraped the icy floor, and she combed her mussed and tangled hair back behind her ears. She slipped into the fresher, considering the room for a moment before washing her face in the sink. Her fingers still smelled faintly metallic, and though she knew the blood had been hers, she still felt like somehow it was a stain from what had happened to Kes.

Her head hurt. She leaned close to the mirror, scraping back her hair and examining the crescent shaped wound. It was surprisingly deep, and she could see jagged pieces of flesh hanging off the edge. The bacta had soothed the swelling, but it was still gaping. She knew right away that it'd scar.

Frustrated and more than a little confused, Leia dropped to her knees and closed her eyes. Meditation came easy now, though it had once been as difficult as falling asleep on a particularly hot and humid night. Her thoughts fell away fast, trickling like dew on grass, and she let it all wash into a basin inside her chest. It gathered slowly, and then began to dissipate.

They were in hyperspace, so there was no planet to feel, no earth to melt into, no sun to latch onto, no sky and no dirt. That made it harder to focus, to anchor herself, because as she shot through space at an accelerated rate, her soul jostled inside her and the Force flitted freely, skittering out of grasp.

Then she grounded herself. She found roots, and she dug herself deep into the Force. The feeling of peace and tranquility fell through her, like she was nothing, like her flesh had unraveled and her bones had turned to dust.

All there was, it seemed, was the Force.

She buried herself deeper.

Her soul entangled itself with the soft and whispery light of the Force, which cleansed her mind and soothed her heart.

She pushed herself farther.

"Well, this is not where I expected us to meet."

Leia's eyes snapped open. The familiar voice had not quite wrenched her from her tranquility, but it had jarred her a little. She stared blankly at the ghostly blue visage of Ben Kenobi, and for a moment she thought she might burst into tears.

"I slept with Han," she blurted, leaning forward and wishing she could throw her arms around her old master.

Ben stared at her, his old eyes going fairly wide, and he blinked rapidly. For a moment he stared at her, and then he turned his gaze away, as though he were sharing some secret look with a conspirator that she could not see.

"You really do not need to tell me everything, you know," he sighed.

"Ben," Leia gasped, her fingers clenching at the thin white cotton shirt that pooled around her knees. "What do I do? Should I tell him that we should take things slow? No, that's stupid, we already just took things too fast. Maybe I should just… break it off? He wouldn't be so upset, would he?" Leia frowned deeply. "Or would that be too cruel? Oh, I don't know. I'm awful at this, Ben."

"I can see that," Ben said, sounding vaguely amused.

"Do you think this is funny?" Leia glared at him. "I'm freaking out, and you're smiling! I should have stayed celibate. This is exactly why the Jedi don't do this kind of stuff. I don't want to get all tangled up in feelings, I have to go kill my father!"

Ben stroked his chin thoughtfully as he spoke, and he nodded his head slowly.

"Are you quite done?" he asked.

Leia inhaled through her nose sharply. She bowed her head and nodded.

"Good," Ben said. He inched closer, and Leia yearned for his touch. She wanted him to stroke her head and tell her that it was okay. "Now, I want you to take another deep breath. Go on, little one."

Leia obliged. She breathed in deeply, and then she exhaled, and she slouched a bit.

"Leia," Ben said softly. "I told you a long time ago, swearing off relationships was never an expectation I had for you. That rule is what killed Anakin, in the end, and I was too much of a self-absorbed, self-congratulatory fool to see it. If you want to be with Han Solo, be with Han Solo. Do not lock yourself in a bathroom and panic about it."

"What if it was a mistake?" she asked, her shoulders slumping. "I… I keep doubting him. I don't know why. He's proved himself to me time and time again, and I keep doubting that he's good. That he's really there for me. He's in love with me!" She flung her arms into the air exasperatedly. "Like, what is that? Who falls in love with a Jedi? What an idiot!"

"It sounds like," Ben said very gently, "the problem is not Han."

Leia chewed on the inside of her cheek, and she stared hard at the durasteel floor.

They sat in a familiar silence, and Leia imagined they were back on Tatooine. Stale, arid air stuck in a cozy room where she could lounge and sip tea and listen to the stories of wars past. Back then she had always tried to imagine what it had been like to live it, but now she wondered how she might stop.

"I never got the chance to be with the woman I loved," Ben admitted, sounding woeful and distant, like an echo in a cave. "Never. When she died, I was filled with so much regret. I thought that I would do just about anything to go back— I'd renounce my vows, I'd plunge my lightsaber into my chest, I'd cast the whole world into fire and bathe in the light— but Leia, none of that would work. I'd lost my chance. I'd lost her. Perhaps we could have done it right. I always thought about it. A wedding would have been a large affair, because she was a Duchess, and I would be a former Jedi Knight, and really there was nothing about our relationship that was easy, so we could hardly have a simple service. Besides, we were both far too dramatic and extravagant. So I imagined a large affair, and Anakin would be my witness, and perhaps Padmé would officiate, and we'd go on to have two children and a tooka."

Ben stopped, if only to stare vacantly up at the ceiling. He looked unbearably sad, and she felt his sorrow as it oozed from him. It accumulated and became a small wave that threatened to drown her.

"That was one of the many fantasies I created for myself," he said. "Any life, it seemed, would be a good life if it were not my own. Because my life, little one, was a very sad, very lonely one. I never let anyone in. Even Anakin, who was my brother, or maybe even my son, in all the ways that count, he never heard me tell him that I loved him, not until I cut off his limbs and left him to burn to death on a bed of volcanic ash. I was a coward, Leia. I closed myself to the world, and I died with nothing. Nothing but you."

Leia gazed at him, her mouth falling open. She watched tears gather in Ben's eyes, and his old, ghostly face became streaked with them.

"Don't cry," Leia gasped, reaching out and finding her hands could grasp at nothing. There was nothing. Nothing but air. "Please, Ben… I'm sorry. I'm sorry my father was such an ass, and I'm sorry that your life turned out this way."

"No, Leia," Ben sighed, shaking his head. "That is the thing. It was all my own doing. I was meant to be here, to guide you, but nothing more and nothing less. My life could have been so many things, but ultimately all I was when I was alive was sad. Now I am dead, and I'm still sad!" He chuckled, though it was a mirthless thing. "Ah. I was a fool. I was a fool, and a coward, and I beg you do not make the same mistakes as me."

"I… I won't," Leia said. She clenched her fingers, and then she unclenched them. She smiled at Ben faintly. "I love you, Ben."

Ben looked at her, shock flitting across his features. His old eyes crinkled suddenly with warmth, and he smiled at her. His whole face seemed to melt, and he laughed bashfully, covering his mouth with his hand.

"Oh," he murmured, "I love you too, little one. Never forget that. I did not say it nearly enough."

"It's okay," Leia said softly. "Neither did I."

They sat once more in silence, and Leia scooted closer. If she could, she'd have rested her head in Ben's lap and fallen asleep.

"I miss you," she whispered. "I miss you so much."

"I am always with you," Ben told her gently.

"It's not the same."

"No." Ben closed his eyes, and his smile dimmed slightly. "No, it's not. But that is life."

"I guess." Leia opened her arms. "Pretend I'm hugging you."

He tilted his head curiously, but opened his arms out all the same.

"Okay," Leia said. "Hug on three. One, two…"

She wrapped her arms around herself, and Ben followed the suit. It wasn't the same as a real hug, and it felt silly, but a bit of an old, painful longing was alleviated by it.

"Goodbye, Ben," she whispered. "I'll see you again. Soon."

"Not too soon, I hope," Ben said. He winked. "Go on. Go woo that damn smuggler."

"Fine," she said, rolling her eyes as she rose to her feet. "Fine, fine. I'll woo the man, but I won't be happy about it."

"You are such a handful," Ben chuckled. He stared up at her, his hands folding into the sleeves of his cloak. He smiled. "I love you, Leia."

"I love you more, Ben."

She turned away before he disappeared, though she could feel the difference in the Force now that he was away. She took a deep breath, steadied herself, and then left the fresher.

Leia treaded carefully back to Han's cabin. The door slid open, and she held her breath, but to her relief he was still sound asleep in bed. She crossed the room and sat down carefully at the edge of it, glancing at the floor for an article of clothing that might be hers. Unfortunately for her, she hadn't actually been wearing anything besides this shirt the night before.

The sheets rustled, and she froze. The lapel of her borrowed shirt was peeled back, and she resisted a laugh as a pair of lips tickled the crook of her neck.

"Where," Han murmured, his arms snaking around her waist, "are you going?"

"I just went to the fresher," she whispered, allowing herself to fall backwards into his chest. "Go back to sleep."

"Why?" Han grinned down at her wickedly. "Now that we're both awake we can have an encore."

"Cute," Leia said, patting his cheek, "but unlikely. I have to find some clothes that are not bloodstained, and then figure out what the hell I'm going to say to Shara."

Han dropped back onto his bunk, and he frowned deeply.

"Okay," he said, "that definitely killed the mood."

"A dead friend will do that," Leia said coolly.

Han winced, and he drew his arms over his eyes with a groan. "Damn it, Leia," he said. "That's not what I meant."

"Yeah, well, that's how it sounded." Leia inhaled deeply, forgetting for a moment everything she had just learned. "He's dead because of me, you know."

"Come on, Leia, don't do this. Not right now."

"It's true." She folded her hands in her lap and blinked at the wall. "I know that Vader is the one who killed him, and Kes chose to come, but it was all still my idea. I was the one who let Kes and Aphra be ground support. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Now I just feel foolish."

"Stop beating yourself up over something you couldn't control," Han said, sitting upright and taking her by the arms. "Stop it, Leia. Stop thinking you can control everyone and everything around you. Bad things happen, and you can't save everyone!"

"I know that!"

"No," Han said, "I don't think you do."

He pulled her close then, and she moved to fight him, to kick and squirm out of his grasp, but then he held her to her chest and he waited. He held her tight, and he rested his chin on her head, and she sunk into his arms.

"Damn it," she murmured. "I hate you, Han."

He kissed her hair, and he pulled the blanket up so it covered her legs.

"I know," he said.


Boarding the Executor again was much stranger than he expected. He was not shackled this time, and he was pleased to be back in clothing that actually suited him. Vader had thought ahead and commissioned Luke a few articles of clothing that suited his more dramatic flair. Luke liked dressing up, and fashion had always interested him. It baffled some of his teachers who thought that the only thing princes were interested in were sword fighting. Luke liked that too, but not as much as fixing a bad motivator or sewing a pretty new cravat for his mother.

Luke adjusted his black cloak, which was heavy and primarily fixed to one side. Beneath it was a white velour suit. He had quite a bit of fun twirling the cloak in front of Ezra, who stared miserably at him from underneath the standard issue Inquisitor helmet he'd been given. The old Inquisitor uniform was form fitting on him, hugging his chest and arms.

"Glad to see you so happy," Ezra said glumly.

"I just like feeling like myself," Luke said with a shrug.

"Yeah. I can imagine." Ezra scowled at him before sliding the screen of his helmet closed so there was nothing but an opaque sheet of glass. Luke stared at his own reflection, and he slumped guiltily.

"Don't be like that," Luke said, nudging Ezra's arm. "C'mon. It'll all work out eventually."

"This is pretty hellish, Luke."

"Yeah," he said, "for now. But we're going to get there, alright? Just give me some time. I got us out of the cells, didn't I?"

Ezra scoffed, and he flung his arms out indignantly. "Yeah," he said, "and into an Imperial Star Destroyer. Not exactly a step up."

"Will you two hush?" Ahsoka hissed, strolling toward them. Her floor length robe pooled around her feet. The only way to hide her montrals was to throw a boxy black veil over her head, but now she looked more like a ghost than an Inquisitor. "The whole ship is bound to hear you."

They'd settled inside someone's office. Probably Piett's, but it was hard to tell by how spare it was. Vader had gone to the Bridge to oversee take off.

"Come on, Ahsoka," Luke teased her. "Doesn't it feel nice to be free?"

"We aren't free," Ahsoka sighed. "Not yet, at least. And… I don't know. I guess a little."

"See?" Luke rounded on Ezra and smiled brightly. "She gets it."

"Luke," Ezra said, "you are way too cheerful. Did you hear Imperial Star Destroyer, or are you just ignoring everything I say in favor of living in La La Land?"

"I'm just optimistic!" Luke leaned against the desk, and he smiled brightly. "Nothing wrong with that."

Ezra tipped his head toward Luke, and Luke could feel his pitying gaze even if he couldn't see it.

"I want to believe you," he said softly. "I really do. But, Luke, I have a really bad feeling about this."

That made Luke falter. He drummed his fingers against the desk, and he watched Ezra thoughtfully. He was slouched, his identity a mystery, and even his voice was different. Behind the helmet, he was nobody— certainly not Ezra Bridger.

"Just trust me," Luke said gently. "We're gonna make it. I promise."

Then the door slid open, and Luke pushed off the desk. Vader strolled in, Piett quick on his heels, and the air of geniality and mirth died a frozen death at his feet. Luke stood at attention, and he wondered what his father might think if he were still alive. Would he feel disappointed or proud that Luke had taken this dangerous path?

He knew his mother would have hugged him and pressed a vial into his fist.

A politician should never leave their home without some bare bone knowledge of poisons and antidotes.

"Lord Vader," Luke greeted, boxing up the word father and depositing it in the recesses of his mind. Right now he had to be careful, and he had to be convincing. He had spent enough years in the Senate to know when to save face, when to wear a mask of complicity.

He'd always felt so awful afterwards. So dirty and guilt-ridden. After all, if he was passive then he was an oppressor too. That was what Bail Organa had taught him.

But silence was not passivity.

Luke had gathered intel. He had spied, and he had lied, and he had embedded himself at the heart of the writhing, serpentine mass of evil that clutched at their galaxy.

He could handle this.

Of course he could handle this.

"Prince Organa," Vader said, nodding to him. "I explained your… situation, as it were, to the crew. I expect we will not have the same troubles as your last stay provided."

"If your single-handed butchering of five of your men has not dissuaded them from targeting me," Luke said glibly, "I doubt anything will."

Piett's eyes swiveled toward Vader, though he said nothing. Vader merely shrugged, as though this was a normal occurrence. Perhaps it was, and Luke really had no idea what he was getting into.

"Admiral Piett," Vader said, "Prince Luke is not a ranking official, but he is my apprentice. Therefore, he should be treated with respect, as should the Inquisitors."

Piett bowed his head in acknowledgment, his cold, pale eyes flicking between the three of them.

"And what shall I call the Inquisitors?" Piett asked, clearly smart enough not to ask for their names. Luke watched him curiously, wondering if perhaps he had a story to tell that would go untold.

Vader peered down at them, his helmet making it difficult to tell who exactly he was focusing on. He nodded slowly, as if to himself, and he gestured to Ezra, and then to Ahsoka.

"This is the Son," he said, "and this is the Daughter."

Ahsoka bristled. Her shoulders tensed, and her veil shifted as she bowed her head. Luke heard her let out a shaky breath, and he wondered what the significance of this was. After all, Luke was the one who was related to Vader.

"I see," said Piett. He was pallid and dull, but he had a quickness about him that made it clear that he was not here to lose. "Well then, Prince Organa, Son, and Daughter— welcome aboard the Executor."


The body was still beneath the sheet.

All Leia could do was steal glances at it. She took a breath, stole a glance, tore her eyes away, and then looked again. It was a game of torture, and she was as self-flagellating as a sinner before their god. She stood at the foot of Vader's yacht as Lando and Rex brought the body down. Aphra trailed after them, her eyes hard, yet somehow reignited. Like perhaps she'd found a reason to fight.

Han was at her side. He'd taken her hand at some point, and Leia was too tired to fight back. She let his callused fingers fold over hers, swallowing up her fist and leaving her without a limb. It was warm, though, and comforting.

The hangar was eerily quiet as they carried the body from Vader's yacht. A few officers hung back to observe, neither reporting their arrival nor speaking to each other.

It seemed hopeless.

Leia dreaded it. She dreaded each moment she spend standing here. She dreaded needing to open her mouth, to force an explanation, to spit an excuse.

There was none.

She had coerced Kes Dameron into a mission that led to his death.

It was quite simple.

A faint flutter of white caught her eye, and she turned slowly to face Mon Mothma. She was a vision of grace, even as she marched forward with genuine anger flashing in her bright blue eyes.

Han squeezed Leia's hand, and then he let go.

"Mon," Leia said hoarsely, greeting the woman with a curt nod.

The senator stared down at her from several feet away, her pale hands clenching at her sides. Her jaw moved, and her nostrils flared.

"Commander Skywalker," she said. "What have you done?"

Leia swallowed hard, feeling the words bubble up in her throat, and she bit her tongue. She was terrified that the thing that would fall from her lips would be a sob.

"Hey," Han said sharply, taking a bold and foolish step toward Mon. "Lay off her, will ya? She's been through a lot."

"Commander Skywalker can answer for herself," Mon said briskly.

Leia stared into Mon's eyes, and she wished that she could convey the things she had seen. Perhaps then this woman could understand the enormity of it all, the danger of letting Luke Organa dangle on the precipice of Darkness. She was the only thing standing between her brother and a long fall, and her legs were giving out.

What was she to do?

"I take full responsibility," Leia said. She straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin up high. "My actions are my own— I led this mission, which I understand was unsanctioned, but might I remind you, Mon, you allowed me to go regardless. So I went, and I took whoever wished to come with me. I take responsibility for what happened, but I did not make the choice for Kes Dameron. I wish I had. I wish I had told him to stay home."

Mon's blazing blue eyes seemed to simmer, and a deep, rueful sadness swept over her. She glanced at the body that Lando and Rex had laid out on the floor, and she sighed.

"Kes," she said softly, lifting a hand to her forehead and rubbing beneath her red bangs. "Foolish, brave-hearted Kes. I should have known better. Of course he'd go with you to fight Vader." Mon looked away suddenly, her mouth set in a thin line. "Of course he did."

Leia looked down at her hand. There was a bandage wrapped firmly around it, so there was no way to see the mangled flesh, but she felt it. Her head was still pounding, and she felt vaguely sick.

"Is Shara here?" Leia asked, her voice hushed.

Mon's eyes fluttered closed, and she nodded once. She turned away in a great sweep of white robes.

"I will send for her," she said.

Leia nodded, unable to speak. Han caught her shoulder and peered down at her. His eyes were big and his lips were tight.

"Hey," he murmured. "I'm here, okay?"

Leia nodded, and yet she felt like she might be sick.

"You should go to the medbay," Lando said suddenly. Leia locked eyes with him, and he threw his arms up in defense. "Hey, don't look at me like that. Really, you look sorta…" Lando shifted his hand back and forth in a swaying motion.

"Thanks," Leia said dryly.

"I meant that you look ill, darling," Lando said bluntly. "It must have something to do with that concussion you're nursing. You should be lying down."

"I have to tell Shara."

"This isn't just on you, you know," Aphra said suddenly. Leia turned to look at her, and noted that she was leaning against the yacht with her arms folded and her head bowed. Her dark hair curtained her face, and she looked both tired and angry. "He died saving me, not you."

"You would have died saving me," Leia said bitterly, "if Kes hadn't intervened."

Aphra snorted. She leaned her head back against the shiny silver hull of the yacht, and she blinked up at the ceiling of Home One.

"Yeah," she said, "maybe. It doesn't change the fact that it was on both of us."

"We could have gotten there faster," Rex said sullenly. His leathery old face, with its sun-kissed freckles and snowy beard, it looked unbearably sad. "It was on all of us."

The truth stung. Leia had been so ready to carry the blame all on her own, and feeling her friends alleviate her of some of it was not the relief she'd been expecting or hoping for. Instead she just felt more trapped.

Leia knew Shara had entered the docking bay without looking. She stared down at the white tarp that covered Kes, and she wondered what it had been once. What Vader had used it for.

She would be glad to burn it.

Shara's hurried footfalls were a nail through Leia's skull. She closed her eyes, and she begged forgiveness to anyone and anything that might listen.

The footsteps halted, and Leia opened her eyes. She looked up and met the impenetrable gaze of Shara Bey.

The woman held her elbows loosely, her arms crossed across her stomach, and she did not look at the tarp.

"I got the call this morning," she said. Her voice was surprisingly level, and her face did not betray a hint of sorrow. "There is nothing you have to say to me, but I have a few things I'd like to say to you."

Leia winced, but she nodded. She prepared herself for the rage, and the anguish, and the disgust.

Shara took a deep breath. Her shoulders rolled back.

"Kes went on this mission knowing exactly what he was getting into," she said, bowing her head so that a curl slipped against her forehead. "I knew exactly what he was getting into. We spend— spent—" Shara choked a little on that word, her eyelids fluttering rapidly. She pushed on. "— our whole lives saying goodbye, knowing it might be our last. So I don't blame you. I don't blame anyone except Vader."

Then Shara's eyes flashed to the body, and her jaw clenched.

"It was Vader, right?" she asked sharply. "Tell me it was."

Leia could only nod.

Shara sighed deeply. "Good," she murmured, smoothing her hair back. "He might be a fool, but he was always pretty adamant about how he wanted to go. Either old and gray, or charging Darth Vader with his final breath."

"That's idiotic," Leia blurted with a small, bubbling laugh. She caught it in her hand, and glanced at Shara guiltily.

To her surprise, Shara smiled too.

"I know," she said, laughter clawing at her words. "He was an idiot. I love him so much."

Her voice broke then, and she took a deep breath. She held up her hand when Mon took a step toward her.

"I'm good," she said. "I'm fine." Then she looked at Leia. Her eyes were glistening. "What were his last words? Dal didn't say."

Leia's heart broke. Her ears rung, and tears burned behind her eyes.

"Poe," she said softly. "He… he wanted Poe."

Shara stared at her. Her lower lip quivered. Two thick streams of tears spilt onto her cheeks.

And she smiled.

"Oh," she said breathlessly. "Okay."

Chapter Text

The Inquisitors were like ghosts.

Nobody met their eye. Nobody asked them questions, or asked to see them. Nobody even spoke to them directly. It was always officers who addressed either Luke or Vader, and it was always something along the lines of "Would the Inquisitor mind…?"

It was both a relief and a bore.

Luke, to his credit, was an incredible actor. Ezra watched him day after day assume the role of a traitorous, devious prince who sold out his cause for power. He was absurdly good at playing nice with Imperials, and he did not seem to care that everyone around him hated him. He wore a bright smile and followed Vader around like an obedient lapdog.

"It's not real, Ezra," Luke told him again and again when the three of them returned to their shared quarters. It was always after Ezra pulled off his helmet and hurled it at a wall. "I don't believe anything I'm saying, but I have to say it."

Ahsoka always sat quietly when this happened. She held her gloved black hands in her lap and stared at the veil that concealed her identity in silence.

"Whatever," Ezra would say, lying back on his bed and staring at the ceiling.

It was strange. At some point in the weeks following their arrival on the Executor, Vader had begun allowing Luke off on his own. Ezra was expected to follow him, as he was supposed to be Vader's loyal servant. There were sections of the ship they were not allowed to go to, though, which Luke obliged to for whatever reason.

Ahsoka stood by Vader's side most days. Considering she had not agreed to learn from Vader, it made sense that she was the one that he trusted the least.

"Lieutenant," Luke called one day, looking up from a holopad he had been given earlier. "Our TIE Fighters are too clustered. If you do not hold restraint, the Rebels will destroy our entire fleet before we have time to process it."

"My apologies, Prince Organa," the Lieutenant said, her eyes narrowed. "Though I sincerely doubt the Rebels would be able to destroy our TIE fighters so quickly, I will relay your concerns."

"You should," Luke told her with a coy smirk, "considering I have flown with them."

Then he shoved the datapad into her hands and walked away.

Ezra followed him without looking at the Lieutenant. They were always moving, though Ezra had no idea where or why. He didn't even know why he was following Luke. All he knew was that he trusted this man, and even if the world ended tomorrow, at the very least he would still have that.

They moved through the Star Destroyer at a leisurely pace, and Ezra watched Luke move. He always seemed to be both on alert, and completely unaware of his surroundings, like he had stumbled upon the Empire by mistake but was just rolling with it. His shoulders were straight, but his walk was deliberately slow. He constantly had a smile on his face, and as his hair grew longer he'd gotten into the habit of braiding it away from his face.

The longer they were on this ship, the more Ezra felt he was walking beside a stranger.

"Hello, boys," Luke chirped as he led Ezra into the bowels of the ship. There, a smattering of off-duty stormtroopers sat around a table. Luke pulled his scarf over his head and dropped it beside him, leaning forward with a grin. "Who's ready to lose their credits?"

Luke came down here every day. Ezra didn't ask why, but it was here that Luke felt the most like himself. It was probably because Ezra itched to join in on the fun. Unfortunately, he had a cover to maintain.

"Aw," said a female trooper who was called Rags. She had pale skin and dark hair, her eyes perpetually on alert. "The prince has lowered himself once more for our benefit. Touching."

"Don't be like that," a big trooper named Pim sighed. He was tall and broad, and he threw away too many credits too fast. Ezra pegged him as the nicest of the group, and the most moral. "Luke's always a good sport. And he's never cheated."

Rags scowled at that, and she leaned back with her arms folded across her chest.

"If you're scared of losing, Rags," Luke said, slipping his cards into his hand as he was dealt into the game, "maybe you should fold?"

Rags glared at him, and she tossed a few more credits into the pot.

The sabacc game unfolded before them. Luke wasn't doing well this time around, but nobody knew that but Luke and Ezra. Bluffing was part of the game, but it was also luck and strategy that got the winner to the top. Ezra itched to pull the helmet from his head and join in on the fun. However, Inquisitors didn't have fun.

What a shitty gig.

At least Vader was too busy to torture them.

Pim folded first, followed by a trooper who kept his helmet on. Only Luke and Rags were left.

"Wanna make this interesting?" Luke asked Rags, peering over his hand.

Rags's green eyes narrowed. Her gloved fingers tightened on her cards.

"If I win," Luke said, "you have to give me a blank datastick."

"That's not interesting at all," Rags said flatly. "What will you give me if I win?"

"A favor."

Rags stared at him vacantly. Then she grinned, and from her pocket she withdrew a datastick. Ezra watched her toss it onto the pile at the center of the table, and then lay her cards down face first.

"Your move," she drawled, "your highness."

An enormous, shuddering blast sent the table clattering to the floor. Ezra was knocked off his balance, teetering aside and barely managing to catch himself before diving forward and helping Luke to his feet. He had slid across the floor, his gloved, prosthetic hand grappling for something to hold onto. It caught hold of Ezra's arm and squeezed tight.

"What was that?" Luke gasped, leaning into Ezra as he was pulled away from the wreckage. His free hand was waving about wildly as he looked around him. Troopers were scurrying to get their helmets on while the alarm wailed around them, an emergency light blaring red near the doorway. "What's happening?"

"We're under attack," Pim gasped, rushing past Ezra and Luke. "Stay here, Luke. You don't want to get caught up in this."

Luke gaped at Pim and the others as they rushed from the belly of the ship. The moment they were alone, his face relaxed, and he leaned further against Ezra.

"That's sweet of him," Luke murmured.

"He's an idiot." Ezra shrugged Luke off him, watching the prince duck smoothly away and scoop his scarf off the floor. He beat it with his prosthetic hand and tossed it over his shoulder. "Was there a point to that? I have to assume you had some sort of plan, since your hand was crap."

Luke shot Ezra a devilish grin. He held up the datastick between two fingers, and then he winked as he tucked it into his sleeve.

"I would have gotten it somehow," he said, striding toward the door. "I just needed to know she had one."

"How'd you single her out?"

"Rags was a splicer before she was conscripted." Luke stared ahead at the door for a few moments, looking grim. "You ever forget that half of them are draftees?"

Ezra chewed on the inside of his cheek and thought back to his brief time as an Imperial cadet. "Sometimes," he admitted.

Luke nodded, as if this made total sense, and he himself forgot this fact too. Sometimes when Ezra watched Luke, it was like seeing a miracle come to life. Luke Organa did not quite seem possible, and yet he breathed and he moved and he smiled through every obstacle.

Ezra wanted to be more like him.

Luke would have been a good Jedi. Ezra knew this. He felt it. The Force sang around Luke Organa like a symphony, and Ezra often got lost in the noise. He let himself be submerged in the sounds, the gentle waves of sweet relief and unwavering light.

Sometimes he was jealous. Ezra never felt quite like he'd been the Jedi that could have made Kanan proud. Not then, and certainly not now.

Now he wasn't even sure if he counted as a Jedi.

If anyone ever asked him, he'd say he didn't. It was an easy lie. It wasn't like he'd ever been knighted. It wasn't like there'd been anyone to knight him.

Now, though? Now, surrounded by the sweet, immersive, all-encompassing light of Luke Organa?

He felt all of the enormity, all of the uncertainty, all of the reconciliation of the light he'd thought he'd grown away from. Now, Ezra Bridger felt he could still be the Jedi his master had dreamed he'd be.

Thinking about Kanan made Ezra feel a little sick.

"What now?" Ezra asked Luke, watching him navigate through the halls of the Star Destroyer effortlessly.

"We wait for an opening." Luke's eyes flickered up toward an air vent as they passed one. Ezra followed his gaze, and he grimaced.

"I am not climbing through a vent," he said coolly.

"You won't fit in a vent," Luke said, swatting his shoulder teasingly. "Your arms are so beefy. Come on. Obviously I wasn't talking about you."

Ezra jerked back in surprise. He was so used to plans were he was the youngest, the smallest, and the easiest to boss around. Luke was both younger and smaller than him, and he rarely gave orders. At least to Ezra. So it was a bit of a relief.

"I'll cover you," Ezra whispered. He wasn't sure if Luke heard him over the blare of the alarm, but he watched his shoulders rise and fall, and his chin tipped downwards.

Luke marched forward suddenly, flagging down an officer as the ship was rocked once more. Luke had to brace himself against a wall, and Ezra resisted the urge to reach out and steady him.

"What's happening?" Luke demanded.

"Rebels," the officer spat, his bland face twisting in disgust. "They're trying to break through the blockade."

"They won't be able to," Luke said. It didn't sound much like the assurance the man probably needed, but rather like a bitter and confused remark. "Shaval, though. That's interesting. May I see your datapad?"

The officer eyed Luke warily. Luke held out his hand patiently while another shell exploded rather close to where they were standing, sending them all to the floor. Ezra dove forward, covered Luke's body with his own as lights flickered and a great burst of sparks rained down from a busted lightbulb. They stayed crouched against one another, curled up in the corner of the corridor while troopers struggled to their feet.

The officer laid beside them, unconscious and bleeding from the forehead. Ezra relaxed a little as Luke shifted beneath him. He lowered his head against Ezra's shoulder, and he pressed his cheek against the glass of his helmet.

"Thank you," he breathed.

Ezra pulled back and peered at a camera that had fallen from the wall. Wires poked out of the ceiling, and they sputtered wildly.

"Looks like you're in the clear," he said, watching the remaining awake troopers rush from the hallway. He scooped up the officer's datapad and handed it to Luke, who grasped it tightly. He quickly dragged his fingers over the screen. "I'll wait for you in our cabin, okay?"

"Yeah." Luke nodded firmly. His brow was furrowed a bit, and he cupped his chin with a frown. "Shaval is pretty off the radar for the Rebellion to go full offensive like this. Did they know that Vader was here?"

"Does that matter?" Ezra huffed. He glanced around him nervously. If Luke got caught, things were going to end badly. For Ezra most of all.

"A little." Luke glanced at him, and he smiled shyly. "Sorry, I guess I'm just distracted by the logistics of it all. What's on Shaval that's worth breaking a blockade over?"

"Is saving the planet not worth our help?" Ezra hissed. He slid the visor of his helmet up with the Force so Luke could see his very grim, very annoyed face.

That only seemed to embolden him.

"Every planet is worth our help," he said softly. The softness of his voice surprised Ezra, who wilted a little at the sound. "Every people, every civilization, every world deserves a chance to be free. But not every world gets special attention from the Rebel Alliance."

Ezra thought about Lothal, and once more he felt sick. His home had left a fire in his soul, the sort of awful burning sensation that would last a millennium and never be extinguished.

"Maybe if they did, there would be less tragedies," Ezra said. "Less Alderaans. Less Lothals."

"Lothal is not lost," Luke said, his eyes only betraying a flicker of pain at the mention of his home. "It's not too late for you to return home."

"Sometimes it feels like it is."

Luke stared at him. His eyes searched Ezra's face, absorbing all the unrestrained heartache and fear that resided there. And he smiled. He lifted his hand and dragged his thumb carefully across the two scars that darkened his cheekbone.

"Don't count yourself out just yet," he whispered.

Then, without warning, he sprung to his feet and lifted his hand. An air vent grate swung open, and he bent his knees before jumping up into it, tucking himself into the small space and disappearing. The ship rocked once more, and Ezra stood and stared up at the grate as it shifted back into place.

Absently, he rubbed his cheek, and he frowned at the floor. His cheek felt warm where Luke's thumb had been.

"What is with that guy?" he muttered, turning away.


Smoke and dust had blotted out the sun.

The capital city of Val Amadt was in ruins, cobblestones littering the streets and clogging the canals. Buildings were caved in, smooth adobe walls cracked and half-collapsed. Some homes were flooded, while some were reduced to steaming husks. The water was a murky gray color, and the stench that arose from the city was somewhere between smoke pollution and the bloated rot of decay.

Leia pressed her back against a tall building, closing her eyes as she listened to blaster bolts collide sharply with the red brick. Dust shivered in the air, and when she breathed, her lungs filled with the burning edge of smoke.

"Y'know," Han said, staring ahead of him and grimacing as another blast shook the ground. "When you said we were going to Shaval, I was like, hell yeah. Vacation time."

"Is this not relaxing enough for you, sweetheart?" Leia asked, perching herself on a dislodged chunk of cobble and shooting a stormtrooper square in the chest. He went down and crashed into a canal. "'Cause I'm having a blast."

Han stared at her for a few moments, before a goofy grin stretched across his face.

"You're ridiculous," he said.

"Yup." She shot him a wink and rose to her feet, lifting her wrist to her mouth. "Artoo, can you patch me in to Aphra and Rex?"

Artoo warbled delightedly as Leia peeked around the side of the building. Immediately she reeled back, wincing as a blaster bolt whizzed cleanly past her ear. It left her eardrum buzzing.

"Ayo, Jedi," Aphra called brightly. "What's happening?"

"I need to know Lando's position," Leia said, counting in her head as she felt for an opening. There were three troopers approaching. She had to be quick. "How much time do we have until the blockade is broken?"

"We're standing by, Commander," Rex said. "The fighting above has gotten pretty bad. We're getting patchy frequencies, but the battle isn't in our favor."

Leia winced at that. She whirled around the corner of the building and counted her shots. One went through a trooper's head, one through a trooper's stomach, and she shot the third without looking at the trooper, moving too fast to really process the motion.

"It doesn't have to be in our favor," Leia breathed into her comm. "We just need one ship to get through."

Rex groaned a little. "Easier said than done, Commander."

"C'mon, Rex," Leia said, stepping over a dead stormtrooper and dusting off her black Jedi robes. "It's just a little blockade."

"Sometimes, Commander," Rex muttered, "sometimes you remind me of…"

Leia turned off the comm abruptly, her heart dropping into her stomach. She could hear Ben's voice inside her head.

Sometimes, my dear, you remind me so much of your father that it blinds me.

Her heart thudded against her chest. Her palms grew clammy beneath the fingerless gloves she'd acquired to protect her hands, as she'd scarred one of them to the point that it now looked rather grotesque and gnarled. Her arms were bare— no undertunic this time. It was too warm on Shaval, which was nearly tropical. She wore her lightsaber on one hip, and Maul's on the other.

She'd barely used either since arriving. It was paramount that she did not let her identity slip out into the ranks of stormtroopers.

"Lando will get through," Han said, appearing at her back and offering a small smile. "The guy's a mess, but he's a good pilot."

"Not as good as me," Leia muttered.

"Not as good as me, either," Han laughed. "Still good, though."

Leia ran her fingers over the tight twists of her hair, and she shrugged. It wasn't like they'd had much of a choice on who the pilot was going to be.

They had been on Shaval for about a month. Their original mission had been vague— apparently there were some former rebels who had sent out a distress beacon before the Empire's presence had become unbearable. Originally, Leia had not been interested, but then Rex had told her that the main rebel in question was a friend of Luke's. Unfortunately, no one knew where she was on the planet, so they had spent weeks scouring the surface for clues on where she could be.

Now they knew, but by this point, the planet was in ruins. The Rebellion had already given up on it.

Right now, they were not liberators. They were refugees.

"What do you think?" Han asked as they wedged themselves into another alleyway. They listened to the thundering motion of half a dozen pairs of feet clapping on cobbles. "Do we meet up with Rex and Aphra, or do we keep looking?"

Leia chewed on her lower lip. It was a decision that she did not want to make, because she knew what the stakes were. If she made the wrong choice— again— it could cost them a lot.

"Lando isn't here yet," Leia said quietly. "We still have time."

Han eyed her with a certain degree of reluctance, but he nodded all the same.

They slipped through the alley and moved swiftly across the busted cobblestone road towards the center of the city. Han kept close, his blaster close to his chin as he edged sideways along the canal. Leia kept her blaster at her side, feeling around in the Force for any imminent danger. The horizon was pooling with gray swirls, dark edges of smoke toiling around the sky. This place had once been beautiful, and now it was nothing but a gray wasteland.

"What do we do when we find this broad?" Han asked her.

She'd been thinking about it as well, the fact that they did not have a solid plan. That never bothered her, but they'd risked so much on this mission and it seemed foolish not to think ahead.

"I'd enlist her to help us find Luke," she admitted. "That's first and foremost my goal."

"Really one-track minded, huh?"

"Like that's not your goal too."

Han smirked, and he offered her a shrug. "Hey, what can I say? I'm soft on the Rebellion."

"I'll bet."

There had been a small rebel cell on Shaval, but they were all gone now. Leia, Han, Chewie, Aphra, and Rex had done their best to help them, but it was a lost cause. There were a scattered few still left fighting, which was the only reason the city had not been secured yet.

They were lucky. They still had time.

"Get down!" Leia gasped, yanking Han behind her and breezing aside as a blaster bolt sailed past her head. She shot twice at the stormtrooper, allowing the Force to work the logistics of her aim out on its own. The trooper went down, and she snatched Han by the hand and yanked him across a rickety bridge.

The ground shook, and they barely made it off the bridge before several stones shimmied loose, and half of it went tumbling into the water. Leia and Han skidded against the cobblestone, hand in hand, dodging the blast with nothing but their backs to the sky and their arms shielding one another. A distant wail caused them both to jerk upright.

Han's eyes were panicked. He looked down at Leia, and he shook his head.

"We don't have the time—"

She broke away from him, scrambling to her feet, and she darted in the direction of the child's cry.

The thing she hated the most about this mission was the length. She had seen so many people displaced, so many bodies stacked on top of each other, so many nameless victims wading in the canals of various Shavalan cities. Leia Skywalker was a pilot. Leia Skywalker was a child of sand and dust, and she knew that life was cruel and worlds were brutal. Yet she had never experienced war like this. She had never seen the resignation of it all, the senseless brutality, the understanding that a place and a people and an entire civilization was lost.

This was Alderaan all over, only they did not have the privilege of dying quickly.

Leia ran past bodies. Stormtroopers and civilians, half buried in rubble, burnt up in a blast, staring glassily up at the grayish morning with flecks of blood and dirt freckling their faces. She held her breath and kept going.

Another blast shook the earth, and the waters lashed against the brittle cobbles. Leia covered her head as debris and stones hailed from the sky, a smokescreen blinding her from the rain of fire falling from the ships overhead. She trusted the Force, her heart in her throat, and kept on going, kept darting farther and farther, her boots clapping on uneven stones.

The crying grew louder, and Leia realized it was a cacophony of small voices rising up through the screen of smoke, barely filtering through the wail of gunfire and roar of explosions. Leia came stumbling to a stop before a crumbling, caved in orange villa that was smattered with gray from the dust and the debris.

She could sense the lifeforms shifting beneath the rubble. She could hear their heartbeats thudding wildly as the fear and despair settled into their small bodies.

Leia reached into the Force and drew as much strength as she could from it. She imagined Yoda perched nearby, leaning against his walking stick as he hummed. The Force was here, and it was part of her, and she held it in her hands.

Her fingers dragged through the air as she dragged her hands palms up toward the sky. She closed her eyes and felt the boulders and the cobbles and the dust rise into the air around her, floating steadily as the ground shook and the sky turned from gray to red to black and then back again. The world was on fire, and she held the earth above her. It perched upon her shoulders and stayed still.

Then Leia's eyes snapped open, and she stared down at the gaping children.

"Come on," she gasped. "Go, go, go!"

The yelped, clinging to one another, and then one by one began to file out of the collapsed building. Cold sweat broke out upon her forehead. Her muscles strained, and her bones ached. She grinded her teeth, and clenched her fists. The debris remained steady overhead.

"Is that everyone?" she breathed, glancing down at a bespectacled Twi'lek girl who remained close by.

"Um…" The girl turned around and began to count under her breath. "Yeah, that's all of us. Our teacher is missing, though."

"Ah," Leia said dully. "Force. Of course." Leia took a deep breath, and she lifted her arms above her head, focusing on the rocks and leading them toward the canals. Then she let go, watching as the Force flung them into the murky water and left admirable sized waves to lap against the busted road. Then Leia turned her attention to the girl. "What's your name?"

The tiny Twi'lek looked astonished. Her mouth was open, and Leia saw that she was missing a front tooth. She had a spray of brown freckles across her blue face, and her lekku was stunted and stubby. The more Leia looked at her, the more she realized she had human ears, and was a hybrid species.

"Keyn," said the Twi'lek, adjusting her glasses and holding out her hand. "Keyn Nesseh."

"Okay, Keyn," Leia said, taking the little girl's hand amusedly. "Can you wrangle these kids together and get to a safe place?"

"Leia!" Han's voice pealed through the explosions, cutting her to her core.

She winced a little, and she rubbed the back of her neck.

"Well," she breathed. "Okay. Change of plans, you're gonna stick with my friend."

Han slowed to a jog beside her, clapping his hands on his knees and heaving a deep breath. "What?" he gasped, glancing up at Leia with a furrowed brow. "What am I doing now?"

"Just stay with the kids." Leia wiped at her brow with the back of her glove, perspiration gathering along her hairline and at the back of her neck. The air was thick, and if there were not so much smoke she believed she'd taste the now familiar acidity that prefaced a rainstorm. "You can project a few children, can't you?"

"Don't mock me!" Han straightened up and scowled at her. "I happen to be great with kids!"

"Can I have a blaster?" piped up a dark-skinned boy who'd appeared beside Keyn. He also wore glasses, and Leia noted that they were dressed similarly.

"What? No way!"

"Why not?" The boy quirked an eyebrow. "I know how to use it, and no offense, buddy, but you ain't as intimidating as your witch friend."

Han's lips twisted pitifully, and he turned to look at her as she entered the busted building. "Leia!" he called helplessly.

"You'll be fine," Leia called back, waving him off.

The inside of the building was a pile of wreckage. Large bits of the foundation were cracked, and there were bits of the roof littering the floor. Chunks of stone and wood, and shards of glasses that crunched loudly underfoot, greeted her as she moved slowly forward through the schoolhouse. It grew darker as she edged away from the hole in the wall, so she carefully pulled her lightsaber from her waist and lifted it. As it ignited, it cast the room in a haze of purple. Dust clouds swirled visibly in lavender undertones.

A hunk of stone came lose above her, and she waved it off with a nudge from the Force. It clattered against the floor.

There was another person in here. She could sense it.

A bit of a wall up ahead seemed to be caved in, and Leia examined it closely before she realized her folly. She quickly reached out with one hand and pried the debris into the air with the Force, sweat clinging to her forehead as she focused hard.

The woman beneath the rubble was conscious. She looked up, alarmed, and Leia blinked rapidly as she noted the blaster in her hands. Her leg was mangled, and her clothes torn, and there was dirt and grime marring her face, but otherwise she seemed healthy.

She took a look at Leia's lightsaber, and her blaster wilted in her hands.

"A Jedi?" she breathed, blinking rapidly.

"Hi," Leia said, smiling down at the woman. "I'm Leia."

The woman, to her credit, pushed herself up and dragged herself a safe distance from the rubble. Leia let the rocks and wood drop, and she exhaled in relief.

"I'm out of practice," she huffed. "I should be lifting stones more often."

"The Jedi are dead," the woman said sharply. It didn't sound much like an accusation, but it still stung a bit. Leia turned to face her, and she placed a hand on her hip. "How do you exist?"

"Luck and persistence," Leia said dryly. "Now, do you wanna get out of here?"

The woman frowned, but nevertheless allowed herself to be dragged to her feet. They moved slowly toward the hole in the wall, and Leia extinguished her lightsaber.

"You can't be a survivor," the woman murmured. "You're too young."

"My master survived the Purges," Leia told the woman. "I'm all that's left."

The woman pursed her lips, but nodded nonetheless. As they moved toward the opening, light came filtering in, and her face became a little clearer. Leia saw that she was middle-aged, with dark hair pulled strictly back from her face, which was both soft and angled. She looked both delicate and severe, and it was a fascinating dichotomy.

"Who was your master?" the woman asked suddenly.

Leia looked down at her curiously. The lightsabers at her hips bounced as she helped the woman out into the sunlight.

"Obi-Wan Kenobi," Leia said.

The woman's head swiveled sharply, and she stared down into Leia's eyes with a spark of intensity that made Leia lean back.

"Obi-Wan Kenobi," the woman repeated. "He survived?"

"Yeah." Leia couldn't help but wilt a little. It had been awhile since she'd spoken to Ben, and she felt a lingering hollowness in her chest from where he might have been if he were still beside her. "I mean, he's gone now. Vader killed him a few years ago. But he taught me a lot. Were you a fan of his from the Clone Wars, or something?"

The woman scoffed. She glanced at the children as they caught sight of her, suddenly hurtling past Han and yelling in differing tones.

"Miss Sabé, Miss Sabé!"

Leia stood, rattled and shocked, as the woman quickly and efficiently quieted down all the children. She even got them to form a single file line and grab each other's hands.

"Sabé," Leia said distantly. "Ah. I get it. You knew my master, then?"

Sabé turned, her dark eyes glinting mischievously. "You could say that," she said.

"Ew," Leia said.

Sabé rolled her eyes. "Obi-Wan and I were friends of sorts," she said, dusting off her stained and torn red dress as though the dust were all that was wrong. "He helped liberate my home planet when I was young. I suppose we were all rather taken with him."

"We?" Leia asked.

Sabé gave a short, but warm little laugh, and she smiled at the gray sky fondly.

"Me and the other handmaidens," she said, "and perhaps the queen as well. Though she never indulged in our gossip, she did admit once that she found Obi-Wan to be quite handsome. Which he was."

"Ew," Leia said again, despite recalling the visage of her old master from his youth in the Lothal temple. He had been handsome. It was strange to think about.

"You tell the lady that she's our mission or what, princess?" Han called, strolling up behind the children and smirking. "Did ya forget? We're in a warzone."

Leia rolled her eyes up toward the sky, and she licked her lips in frustration. It was not worth it to retort, she knew, but words were pooling in her mouth.

"I expect you two are from the Rebellion?" Sabé asked, arching an eyebrow. "How kind of you to rescue me. I did mean for you to rescue the world, however."

"We did the best we could," Leia sighed. "It's not like we have the resources to break this blockade."

"And if we did, it wouldn't be on a tiny planet like Shaval," Han said with a shrug. "The Alliance is pretty stingy with where they distribute their manpower, trust us. We would have had Darth Vader in a body bag if they ever gave us full support on a mission."

The children all looked at Han with wide, wondering eyes, and Leia groaned

"Not the time, Han," Leia muttered.

"Well, it's true." Han waved his blaster dramatically. "Anyhow, I'm Han Solo. Did this little witch tell you who we are?"

"You're not gonna drop the witch thing, huh?"

"Not a chance, love."

"I know she's a Jedi," Sabé said. "I suppose that's something."

"Thanks?" Leia's brow furrowed.

"We're friends of Luke Organa's," Han explained.

Sabé's face went immediately slack. Shock melted into excitement, and suddenly she was looking around in awe.

"Luke," she said breathlessly. "I haven't seen him since… oh, he must be so big now. Is he with you?"

Leia and Han shared a short, despairing look. Sabé noticed, and her grip on Leia tightened.

"Why don't we get these kids back home," Leia said softly. "Then we can talk."


Luke returned to their shared cabin around thirty minutes later, looking pale but otherwise unscathed. Ezra leapt up as the door slid closed behind him, and he searched his friend's face for a sign that things had gone badly. So far, with the gauziness of his gaze and the way he set his jaw, it did not look good.

"How'd it go?" Ezra gasped.

Luke walked up to him. He took his hand and led him to a bed. They sat in silence, their hands clasped inside one another. The datastick sat between their palms.

"I got what I wanted," he said. His voice was small and thin. "It's all there. We just have to…"

"Yeah."

"And you'll do it?"

"I'm your man."

Luke smiled at him in a curious way, and he looked down at their hands. Ezra knew this was for the benefit of the camera in their room. They didn't know if the room was bugged yet, but they had to assume it was, and that their conversations were at risk.

"You're too good to me, Ezra," Luke said earnestly.

"I'm just doing the right thing," Ezra said with a laugh. "You're the one who's too good."

Luke shook his head and turned away. "I'm not that good," he said quietly.

"Not everyone is perfect," Ezra said, "but you're probably damn well near it. Well, you and Hera."

That made Luke smile again, though it was a sad smile.

"Was there someone in Phoenix Squadron named Mart Mattin?" Luke asked him, drawing his hand away and leaving the datastick in his hand. Ezra's fingers closed around it.

"Mart?" Ezra raised an eyebrow, and he shrugged. "Yeah, sure. He was Commander Sato's nephew. I'm not sure what happened to him, uh… after, but you were there. I'm sure he never left."

"He didn't." Luke stood up. Ezra watched his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed hard, his eyes fixed forward and his hands clenched. "He was captured alive during the firefight just now. We've been summoned to the bridge."

Ezra's mouth went dry. He'd known Mart, been friends with Mart, bonded with Mart over their shared tragedies and close age. Now he realized he was going to watch Mart die.

"Vader?" Ezra croaked.

"Pull yourself together, Ezra," Luke said softly. "Yes. Vader."

"Did he ask you why I wasn't with you?"

"I said we got separated during the battle, and agreed to meet back here. As we were only about twenty feet from our door, he didn't push it."

"Shit." Ezra dragged his hand through his hair and blinked up at the ceiling. "What do we do?"

"What we have to do. Now put your helmet on."

Ezra stared at Luke's shoulders as he spoke. He looked defeated. It was a terrible look on him, and Ezra was angry that he had to witness it.

He dropped the datastick inside his helmet before fastening it to his head. He thought about Hera, and how she'd react if she knew that one of her own was on this Star Destroyer.

Ezra realized quickly he had not counted himself as one of her own, and the revelation left him feeling vaguely ill.

Luke led the way outside. The fake lightsaber on Ezra's belt didn't make him feel safe, but the mask on his face did. He never thought he'd be thankful for it, but he was glad no one could see his face. He was so angry and devastated, and they hadn't even reached the Bridge yet.

On the Bridge, Vader stood with Ahsoka at his side. She looked tall and imposing with her black lace veil hiding both her face and the shape of her montrals through a boxy contraption. Ezra nearly stopped walking when he saw the figure standing to the left of Vader.

Fear and loathing bubbled up inside him, stirring up an old sensation that Ezra had long thought he'd abandoned.

Rage.

"Lord Vader," Luke greeted, stalking across the Bridge as if he owned the whole vessel. He decidedly ignored the tall blue man in white. "I expect the battle went according to plan."

"The rebels have retreated," Vader said. He unclipped his lightsaber from his belt. Everyone in the room, Ezra included, stiffened. The only people left unfazed were Thrawn and Luke. "Tell me, Prince Organa. Why would the rebels target Shaval?"

"There are many reasons why the Rebel Alliance choose to fight, sir," Luke said innocently. "I am no longer a part of their inner circle, so their motivation here today is a mystery to me."

"If I may," Grand Admiral Thrawn cut in, "Shaval is a lost cause, and the Rebellion surely knows this. I suspect the ships were a ruse."

Luke finally turned his attention to Thrawn, and Ezra held his breath. He smiled politely.

"And you are?" he asked.

"Grand Admiral Thrawn," the man said, dipping his head respectfully, "Your Highness."

"Oh, I've heard of you," Luke said, his smile growing. "You gave General Syndulla hell a few years ago."

"General Syndulla's efforts were admirable," Thrawn admitted. "She did best me on Lothal. I am a man who can admit the sour taste of defeat."

"Yes," Luke said, tapping his chin thoughtfully. "I remember reading that your TIE Defender project had been undercut by rebels, but I never knew the details. General Syndulla never spoke to me much."

Thrawn's eerie red eyes lingered on Luke's face. Ezra's skin crawled at the sight, and he wanted nothing more than to snatch Luke's hand and Ahsoka's hand and leap out an airlock rather than be here right now.

"A boy of your… talents…" Thrawn said, his eyes trailing up and down Luke. "I find that odd indeed. Certainly Syndulla told you about her own Jedi."

"Afraid not." Luke smiled tightly. "I knew of them, but again, she didn't speak to me much. Especially not about them."

"I suppose that makes sense," Thrawn said, "considering their fates."

Luke stared at Thrawn blankly, his smile plastered firmly in place. Thrawn's eyes lit up.

"Oh, you don't know," he said. "Well—"

"Grand Admiral," Vader cut in sharply. "This does not pertain to the objective at hand."

Thrawn's thin lips stretched out in a small smile. "Of course, Lord Vader," he said, dipping his head toward Luke. "I'm sure we'll have time to talk about your rebellious past later, Your Highness. I do say, you fascinate me."

"I am a fascinating person," Luke replied, locking his hands behind his back and shrugging.

Vader decidedly to ignore his son's blatant arrogance, and he nodded to a crewman sitting at the controls. He nodded back, and after a few moments, the doors behind them slid open. Luke turned and watched with pity flashing momentarily in his bright blue eyes as Mart Mattin was dragged onto the Bridge. He schooled his features quickly, until it seemed he felt nothing at all.

"It is time for you to prove your loyalty to the Empire," Vader said, his deep voice enunciating each word so Luke understood the gravity of the situation. There was no running away from this. There was no avoiding it.

Ezra's hands were shaking. He was enraged.

Luke did not respond immediately. His eyes were closed, and he had a look about him that suggested that perhaps he had expected this. Then his gaze flashed to Vader in what was dangerously close to defiance.

Mart was thrown at Vader's feet. He curled up momentarily, the fear and resignation perhaps hitting him, before he lifted his head and glared at Vader.

"You won't win," Mart spat.

"Apprentice," Vader called to Luke. "Tell me who this is."

Mart's eyes swiveled sharply to Luke, and they widened in sudden recognition. His face crumpled with doubt and disbelief.

Luke met Mart's eye, and there was so much shame there that it was asphyxiating.

"Mart Mattin," Luke said, his voice slow and even. "Formerly of Phoenix Squadron, fought with Blue Squadron during the Battle of Scarif and Yavin. I have no idea what he's been up to since then."

"Traitor," Mart hissed, lurching forward. His legs were knocked out from under him, and he was pinned to the floor with the Force. Vader did not so much as glance at him.

Luke stared at him, and he said nothing in response.

Vader took a step forward, and he offered out the lightsaber that had been sitting in his fist for the duration of the uncomfortable meeting.

"You will do the honors," Vader said, "Prince Organa."

Luke, to his credit, did not balk. He merely closed his eyes, squeezing them shut tightly, and he shook his head mutely.

"You will not do it?" Vader tilted his head. "There will be an execution regardless."

"I understand that."

"Yet you think I am giving you an option."

"No."

"Then why do you resist?"

Luke's eyes fluttered open, and he looked up at Vader dimly.

"I have never believed in execution," he said, his voice rising almost breathlessly as his body shrunk under the weight of this responsibility. "My people all but abolished it, saving death penalties for extreme and unorthodox cases, which go through a series of courts before reaching parliament and, ultimately, the monarch. My mother heard one case in my entire life on Alderaan. I was not privy to the details, Lord Vader, but I do know it was gruesome. The man was sentenced by my mother to rot in a cell deep in the mountains, where food came by way of a voiceless droid, and the only way out was a steep drop into a ravine. That is justice, Lord Vader. This is not."

There was a beat of silence that allowed Luke's words to settle in the minds of the men of the Executor. Ezra was surprised to notice a few officers nodded, as though this resonated with them.

"This is not Alderaan, Your Highness," Vader hissed. "This is not justice. This is war, and this is your destiny. Execute the rebel scum, boy." As he held out his lightsaber her paused to consider Luke, and then turned his attention to Ezra. "If you are so weak, then I will have the Inquisitor do it."

Ezra took a step back in alarm. No, he thought, his eyes drifting to Mart's face. No way. I can't do that to him. No way.

To his surprise, Luke snatched the lightsaber from Vader's fingers and ignited it.

"I am not weak," he said firmly.

He lifted the blade, gripping the hilt with both hands. The lightsaber's red glow cast his face into eerie shadow. His blue eyes were stained.

Ezra reached out, and objection forming on his lips, but he found himself being pushed back. A gentle shove in the Force so Ezra would not get in his way.

Ahsoka also lurched forward, only for Vader's arm to shoot out and block her.

"Luke, wait—!" Her voice was garbled by the vocoder, but her panic resonated and ricocheted throughout the room as Luke knelt beside Mart, murmured something in his ear, and then leveled the lightsaber with his neck.

The lightsaber whirred, and Ezra squeezed his eyes shut. It did not muffle the sound of two separate, heavy thunks of weight hitting the durasteel floor.

Chapter Text

Mart's death had put a chasm between them.

In the hours following the execution, Luke had locked himself inside their quarters while Ahsoka and Ezra sat inside Vader's cabin silently, her veil pulled back and his visor away from his face. Ezra did not cry, but Ahsoka rubbed his back anyway. He had thrown up earlier, and now he felt like throwing up again as he thought of Luke's face as he'd stared down at Mart's corpse, silently handed Vader back his lightsaber, and asked to be dismissed.

Vader had forced the two of them to come back to his cabin, and he had been gone for an hour now. They sat and waited in relative silence.

They didn't talk about Luke, though Ezra knew Ahsoka was dying to. It wasn't like it used to be. Back when it had just been the two of them, when they saw each other for a few days every few months and were able to keep themselves sane for those small blips of human contact. Luke had changed everything, and now Ezra wasn't sure if that was for the better.

Would it be better to live the rest of his life in a cell than to stand silent and passive as a friend killed another friend?

"It was the right call," Ahsoka murmured, resting her cheek against his hair.

Ezra inhaled sharply, and he stared ahead of him. He didn't know what to say, so he swallowed the bile the clawed up his throat and closed his eyes.

"I know it's hard," Ahsoka said, "but Luke made the right decision. Mart would have died anyway."

"Yeah," Ezra said thickly, "by Imperial hands."

"Like it or not, Ezra, you made this your mission." Ahsoka dragged her fingers through his hair, and she sighed, lifting her head and shaking it. "Undercover missions are the worst. When you go this deep, you end up compromised. Luke is a politician first, and politicians know nothing if not the stakes. Compromise is in the way his brain is wired. He knows that sacrifice is necessary to achieve his goals, and he did not have a lot of options here."

"He didn't have to kill him," Ezra whispered.

"Yes," Ahsoka said, looking down into his eyes tiredly, "he did. The only alternative was to say he would not kill Mart, prove to Vader that he is still tied to the Rebellion, force all three of us back into cells or worse, and get Mart tortured for information before execution."

"The lesser of two evils is still evil, Ahsoka," Ezra said fiercely.

She released him, and he pulled his legs up so his chin rested on his knees. He glared ahead of him.

"We are all killers," Ahsoka said. "In some way, we've all done evil. Taking lives, even if it is for the greater good, that's some sort of evil. But we do it anyway."

"We don't murder people," Ezra insisted.

"We do, though," Ahsoka said softly. "War is murder. It is like Vader said. There is no justice. We cannot function like normal, civilized sentients when there is nothing normal or civilized about our environment. Ezra, you and I began our wars when we were children. It's all we know, to hate our enemy, but there is more to it than that. The enemy is alive, and we hurt just as much as we help."

It was difficult to swallow. Her words made sense, but he didn't want them to. He didn't want to think about the war that he had been born into, how everything up to this point seemed so pointless. Like he'd wasted everything, and his life was in shambles.

"Would you have done it?" Ezra whispered.

"To save you or Luke from that pain?" Ahsoka did not blink as she watched him intently. "Yes. In a heartbeat. I wish I had taken the lightsaber first."

"Even though Mart was innocent?"

"Better to die quickly by the hand of an ally than slowly at the hand of an enemy."

It was a terrible way to look at it, but Ezra found that this made the most sense to him. It made his anger and confusion subside enough that he began to see how strong Luke had to be to do it in the first place.

They both skittered to their feet as Vader swept back into the room, his cape fluttering behind him. He paused, looked between them, and then focused on Ezra.

"You," he said, breezing past them both. "Follow me."

"Anakin," Ahsoka objected, her prosthetic fingers latching onto Ezra's bicep. "Hasn't he been through enough today?"

"I was not speaking to you, Apprentice."

"Don't you care about your son?" Ahsoka stared at Vader's back with a flat expression on her face. Ezra watched in silent awe as Vader halted, his body swaying from the abrupt stop. "You know as well as I do that he was not happy about killing Mart."

"Of course he wasn't," Vader hissed. "I gave him the order because I wanted to test his soft heart. He proved me wrong today."

"Luke's heart isn't soft," Ahsoka said sharply, glaring at Vader's back. "He is as strong as steel, and as sweet as candied jogan. If you cared about him at all, you would see that the Dark Side will ruin him. He won't fall like you did, Anakin. He'll just die."

Ezra watched Vader pause, his shoulders tightening up and his head bowing. This was such a human reaction to Ahsoka's words that Ezra found himself struck completely silent. Vader's body seemed to fold in on itself momentarily, regret pooling beneath the cracks in his shield.

And then he snapped right back, the shields slamming down, and his spine straightening.

"Then he dies," he said in a deep, grave voice. He started forward once more, and Ezra yelped as his legs were forced forward. "Come, Bridger."

Ahsoka's blue eyes were big and fearful, but her jaw set fast, and she squeezed his wrist tightly. When she nodded to him, he nodded back, and he followed Vader into the next room with bated breath.

The room was bare. When the door slid shut behind him, Ezra let out a small breath, and he looked straight ahead. Vader had stopped walking, but did not look at him.

Ezra tried to focus on something else. He gazed at the large round chamber in the corner of the room, and observed how the gray walls seemed to close in on everything and everyone and leave him feeling claustrophobic. There were monitors and screens on the far side of the room, but none of them were on. This was the first time Ezra had been alone with Vader since Mustafar, and he suddenly felt much more inclined to throw his life on the line in order to get that one, precious shot at ending him.

"I can feel your hatred," Vader said, his voice rumbling. "If you want to kill me, go ahead and try."

Ezra's teeth clenched, and he watched Vader's back tiredly. He wanted to, that was true. However, Ezra was no fool, and he would not let himself be thrown into a trap.

Vader turned to face him. His cape swept behind him as he lifted his helmet high. "I thought not," he said. The room was cold, and Ezra resisted the urge to shiver. His fingernails bit into the leather gloves he wore, and he tried to keep his face free of expression.

"You know, Bridger," Vader said, not fully looking at Ezra as he began to circle around him. "You and I are similar."

He could not help the scoff that fell from his lips, strangled and small. He glared at the floor and wrinkled his nose.

"You do not believe me," Vader observed.

"I don't consider myself a monster," Ezra said flatly. He knew himself. He knew better. This was all a means to an end, and they would be free.

"All humans are monsters," Vader told him. There was no bitterness, no malice, no real emotion in the inflection of his words. Vader spoke as flatly as Ezra. It was all a matter of facts. "We think we are better. We think we are right. You are foolish to presume that your way is any better than mine."

"I don't murder babies," Ezra said, folding his arms across his chest, "but okay, then. Let's pretend you and I are comparable."

"You are angry," Vader said. "Far angrier than my son. I find that interesting. My son has lost everything. I took his planet, I took the people who raised him, I took his master, his friend, his freedom. Yet he does not hate me. He is bitter, yes, but there is no hate. There is no anger in his heart, no hatred of the Empire. All of his energy goes into useless hope and resilient love. You are different."

Ezra could not respond, because he knew it was not wrong. He watched Vader warily.

"You hate what the Empire has done to you. To your world. To your master."

"Don't," Ezra hissed, his eyes sliding dangerously toward Vader. "You don't get to talk about him."

"Your greatest fear has always been losing the people you love," Vader said. "We have been around this issue before, Bridger."

"I failed with Kanan," Ezra said miserably. "I won't fail again."

"Do not be so sure." Vader was close now. He loomed over Ezra, who could only shrink beneath his shadow. "Not when the man responsible for your master's death is but a few hallways away."

Ezra stared ahead of him. His mind had drained suddenly of all thought, like someone had pulled a plug and his reason had gone swirling away. He felt empty. His body was cold, and his stomach was hollow. It was a sickening feeling.

"What?" he breathed.

"Grand Admiral Thrawn claims the death of the Jedi, Kanan Jarrus. It was the only thing salvageable from the mess he made on Lothal, so he was not punished. Did you not know? You were there, after all."

"I didn't see," Ezra whispered, feeling himself falling away bit by bit into the horror of the memory. He felt the ground beneath his cheek, the pain in his side. He felt the sweat on his brow, and the blood on his teeth.

He remembered Kanan pressing his forehead to his and whispering that it would be alright.

He did not know how it happened. He had not seen it, but he had felt it. He had felt it, lying behind a collapsed building. He had felt the ground shake, the factory blow, and he had felt Kanan fade away. He had assumed it had been in the fire. He had laid there, tears flooding his cheeks, and after an hour or so, he had moved. He'd seared the wound shut with his lightsaber, and he'd hobbled into the street.

"Give Hera a message," he'd told Chopper, slipping his lightsaber and the one that Kanan left behind into a hollow compartment around Chopper's middle. "Tell her I'm sorry. Tell her I couldn't save him, and I'm sorry."

He hadn't said, "I'll come home soon." He had wanted to, but the lie got caught in his throat, and then he had fled.

Now he saw it all from Vader's eyes. He had seen the surveillance footage, because Vader knew a thing or two about Jedi who did not stay dead. Kanan Jarrus had defended an alleyway before getting caught. He had been armed with only a blaster. It had not taken him long before he had overtaken his captors, even blind, and stolen a swoop-bike. He moved fluidly, and Vader felt an old rage stir up inside him, the nostalgia of watching a youngling move like a cat through obstacles. Kanan Jarrus moved like that. He moved like Ahsoka used to, without caring much for his surroundings or for himself, and he shot forward.

The fuel depot was unmanned. The video showed Jarrus attaching the detonators, and Thrawn remarked in his report that he had expected Sabine Wren, a known vandal and weapons specialist to be the one to take the bait.

Sabine Wren had been on Mandalore. Ezra knew that, but maybe the Empire had not.

By the time Kanan had been overtaken, Thrawn had arrived. He took the remote detonator from Kanan, and the troopers began to drag him away. Kanan bowed his head, and the camera shook suddenly with the intensity of the explosion. They had all been thrown to their knees.

Thrawn was the first to his feet, and he marched up to Kanan. He kicked him in the face.

No, Ezra thought, bile stirring at the back of his throat.

Kanan Jarrus had buckled. His hands slapped against the ground. And then he drew himself up, his shoulders shaking. He threw his head back, and it became clear he was laughing.

No, Ezra thought desperately. I don't want to see this. I don't want to see this!

Thrawn pulled his blaster from his holster, and he pressed it to Kanan's forehead.

Please, please, please—

Kanan hit the ground, and Ezra screamed.

"Enough!" he cried, falling to his knees and scrubbing the tears from his eyes. His heart was hammering in his chest, and he thought he could feel the visceral lurch of his soul rattling inside him, like a bird in a cage, while the tethers that kept him intertwined with Kanan came loose with a snap. Nothing mattered now.

"Thrawn has never been a good omen," Vader said. "He has a way of ruining things. I suppose it is always dangerous to have someone too smart and too good at surviving around you at any given time. It is why I terminated my professional relationship with Doctor Aphra, after all."

Ezra's breathing slowly returned to normal, but he still felt sick. His face was streaked with tears, and phantom pain stretched over his abdomen, tickling his ribs and side.

"The moment he stepped onto this ship, I knew he would be trouble," Vader said.

Ezra clutched his side, and he stared ahead of him vacantly. Kanan's body hitting the ground played out behind his eyes, and he saw it, and he felt it, and now the mystery unraveled before him. He had always felt both blessed and cursed, not knowing how he had died. The memory that Vader had force fed him over and over had caused him so much pain, left him questioning his own sanity at points, but at least he had the comfort of ignorance. He could imagine what had happened, but could never know for sure.

Now he knew how easily he could have prevented it, and he wished, not for the first time, that it had been him.

"He asks no questions," Vader said, "but he knows. He watches you, and he knows. You know that well enough, I'm sure."

Ezra raised his eyes to Vader. His fingers dug into the place where the wound had once been.

"Luke," Ezra murmured.

"Yes." Vader unhooked his lightsaber, and he held it out. "He will come for Luke. Or you. I am not sure he cares for the difference, but know that he will come."

Ezra stared at the lightsaber for a moment.

Everything inside him burned.


There were no safehouses, so they crouched inside a dilapidated old house as they waited for Rex and Aphra to return. Sabé wasn't particularly tall or small, but she moved with a deliberate grace. She moved like Luke moved, with light steps and a high head. Like royalty. She allowed herself to be nursed by Han, who was a better medic than Leia, and she watched Leia pace in silence.

"Your friend," she said. "The one who is coming for us. Will he be able to get back through the blockade?"

"If he can't," Leia said, smoothing unruly wisps of hair back behind her ears, "I can."

Sabé watched her, and her eyes narrowed. "Don't get too arrogant, Jedi," she warned. "Your kind have a low survival rate."

"You've never seen Leia fly," Han said softly, tightening the tourniquet he'd made around her leg. She winced. "Okay, the bleeding should stop for now. Hopefully we can get you to some real medical supplies before your whole leg turns blue, huh?"

Sabé grimaced, but she did not make light of the idea of losing her leg, like Leia might have in her position. Instead, she watched Leia. Just… watched. She had eyes that seemed to see everything, and Leia felt vulnerable.

"You know Luke," Sabé said. "How?"

"We are all in a polyamorous relationship, obviously," Han said cheekily, dropping down onto a spare crate. "Leia's my girlfriend and Luke is my boyfriend, and we all love each other very much."

Sabé did not bat an eye. "You're certainly more his type than her," she said, jerking her chin at Leia. "Though I suppose that could have changed. It's been nearly ten years."

Leia rolled her eyes, and she shot Han a cold look. "Don't be such a liar," she said. "Just because you had a crush on Luke first—"

"I had a crush on you first," Han corrected her, waggling his finger. "I moved on to Luke because I didn't think a girl like you would ever fall for a guy like me— and also, I liked messing with Luke."

Leia shook her head, and she turned her attention to Sabé. "Luke is my brother," she said. "That's why I want him back so badly. Vader kidnapped him a few months ago, and I just… I need him. I'm not the same without him."

Sabé's expression had turned stony. Her eyes were glued to Leia's face, and her long, smooth face with its dark gaze and high, wide cheekbones was drawn solemnly. There were sharp angles to her jaw and chin and nose that did not match the soft pout of her mouth. Leia recognized how beautiful she was now, at the middle of her life, and she wondered what a beauty she must have been in her youth.

"You are Luke's sister," she said softly. Her tone had changed from its low, gravelly tone, and her core accent came tumbling into her words. Her voice was so suddenly transformed that Leia had to take a step back to reassess, not truly believing it had been Sabé who had spoken. "I… I see."

Leia stared at Sabé with a small frown. "Really?" she asked, arching an eyebrow. "That's it? I'd think you'd want an explanation."

"It makes sense." Sabé let her head fall back against the wall, and the foundation shook as a bomb detonated nearby. The explosion rattled in their ears, and they all braced themselves. "You look more like her than Luke ever did."

Another shell exploded, this time closer to where they hid, and Leia stumbled. She blinked rapidly, dust falling into her eyes, and she remembered the apparition of the woman in the desert of Jedha. Her long ringlets of brown hair, and her soft, sad brown eyes, and her full lips that made such a pitiful sound. Leia's hair was wavy and limp, shapeless and thin. Her eyes were big and brown, but they were too steely and cold. Her lips were pouty, but they were also thin and wan. Her face was too round and her jaw too severe.

Padmé Amidala had been beautiful. Leia was a passable imitation.

"You knew my mother?" Leia asked. Her voice was not hoarse, but it did carry a short and bitter bite. "And my master. Guess the mission ain't such a loss after all."

Sabé tilted her head as she peered up at Leia. Her lips turned upward. "You talk like Anakin, though," she said, lifting up her good knee and resting her chin against it. "That makes sense. Luke was always so careful with his words. He might look like your father, but he did not inherit much from him."

"I'm aware," Leia said coolly.

Sabé blinked up at her curiously. "I think I am confused," she said, her gentle accent softening the edges of her words. "I've missed too much of Luke's life, and I'm afraid I have fallen behind. When did you find each other? Was it before or after Alderaan was destroyed?"

"After."

"Did Bail tell him?" Sabé asked eagerly. "About Padmé?"

"I have no idea. Luke and I didn't have much time to talk about it."

"Uh, actually," Han said, raising his hand sheepishly, "I know a little bit here. I think Luke said he figured it out when he was about fifteen."

"That was the last time I saw him," Sabé said quietly. She nodded. "He must have deduced it. He was always such a smart boy, and we put him on the path of Padmé Amidala. Of course he'd figure it out."

"Do you know who their father is?" Han asked, kneeling beside Sabé and watching her grimly. "Really?"

"Anakin Skywalker," Sabé said firmly. "I know my queen. I knew she was pregnant, and I knew who she married in secret, because it was my job to know. I was to be her decoy when she left Coruscant to give birth on Naboo, but something went wrong."

"Anakin went wrong," Leia spat.

Han raised his eyes to her, and he stared at her until she lowered her head and took a deep breath. They had always brought out the worst in each other, but now? Leia did not know when Han had cooled down and leveled his head, but he was the one thing that anchored her to reality.

"Anakin Skywalker turned into Darth Vader," Han told Sabé. She stiffened, but said nothing. "Leia and Luke were separated to keep them safe from him."

"Luke was never safe from Vader!" Sabé jerked upright, her eyes flashing angrily. "I told Bail— I offered to take Luke with me, when I realized he had the Force. Bail refused, and now he is dead, and Luke— oh." Sabé stared ahead, the horror of it all setting in. "Oh, that poor boy."

"He'll be fine," Leia said firmly. "He's strong. You said you were my mom's… decoy…?"

"Queens on Naboo use creepily alike handmaidens," Han said, leaning back onto his palms and shrugging. "Met a few in my time. Y'all are stone cold and ruthless."

"That is what it means to be a handmaiden, Solo," Sabé said coolly.

The makeshift door, which was little more than a sheet, was half torn away as a small woman came marching in. All three of them had blasters out and ready as she strolled forward, her thumbs hooked around her belt-hoops.

Aphra arched an eyebrow at them, but did not balk at the sight of the guns.

"Sometimes I wonder how any of you people have survived this long," she said, rolling her eyes as Han and Leia lowered their blasters. Sabé kept hers trained on Aphra. When Rex ducked beneath the sheet, Sabé gaped openly.

"A clonetrooper?" she asked faintly. She kept her gun high.

Rex smiled at her wanly. "Nice to see you again, Miss Sabé. I'm Captain Rex of the—"

"Five hundred and first," Sabé said, slowly letting her blaster fall to her side. "Yes. I remember you. Do you follow Anakin's child for kicks, or are you together by chance?"

Rex's smile slipped away, and he shook his head. "Commander Skywalker is her own person," he said firmly. "I follow her by virtue of her own skill and merit."

"Hmm," Sabé hummed thoughtfully. "I suppose I shouldn't compare the two. Anakin and Padmé are gone. We continue anyway."

Leia found herself relaxing in a way that she didn't know she needed. These words, coming from a complete stranger, soothed her anxieties more than weeks of mulling over what could have beens and what might bes. She was tired of being compared to a mad man, and she wanted nothing more than to be recognized as her own person. Her own Jedi. Even if that Jedi was a little unorthodox, it wasn't like there were any others wandering around to tell her she was wrong. Yoda was dead. This was her Order now.

"We've got a pretty looking yacht landing," Aphra said, parting the sheet at the entrance of the crumbling building and tilting her head. "Looks like it's time to kiss this sorry planet goodbye."

"You say that like you'll miss it," Leia said, helping Sabé struggle to her feet.

Aphra glanced at her, and she gave a derisive snort. "Look here, farmgirl," she said, clutching the strap of her rucksack. "I may be throwing my lot in with your zany "cause," or whatever," she said this while making exaggerated quotations in the air, "but I will never, ever like putting my life in unnecessary danger for nothing. So I stole some shit."

"Of course you did," Leia said. She rolled her eyes and bowed beneath Sabé's arm as Rex took her place in supporting her weight. "Do me a favor, Aphra. Do some research. Write a paper. You're such a shitty doctor, you make it seem like anyone can get their PhD. Like, goddamn, I might as well just roll up to a university and turn in the philosophical ramblings I had while growing up with Ben. Boom. I'm Dr. Leia Skywalker, Jedi Knight and expert philosopher."

Aphra stared at Leia with cold, dark eyes.

"I may be a third-rate doctor," she said, her smirk twisting on her lips, "but my love of archaeology is as real as this blaster. Now let's go, ya brat."

Aphra ducked beneath the sheet and disappeared into the war-torn street. Leia watched her go, feeling a little bitter and a little deflated. She didn't trust Aphra. It was clear in the way that she and the woman interacted that they did not like each other, yet they had a mutual love for Luke for whatever reason. Aphra was a mystery, it seemed, and Leia did not think she had the time or energy to unravel her.

They moved quickly along the cobblestone alleys, keeping close to the brutalized infrastructures and away from the canals. For whatever reason, Lando believed that Vader's yacht was less conspicuous than the Falcon, and they needed something that could maneuver around Star Destroyers so a shuttle was out of the question. They watched it hover over a canal, sleek and silver in the dusty gray daylight.

Sabé gasped when she saw it.

"Is that…?" She limped alongside Rex and Han. Rex looked down at her, and he smiled so wide his lips disappeared into his snowy beard.

"Yeah," he said.

"I never thought I'd see this ship again," she uttered faintly. "Remarkable. You are all remarkable."

It made Leia bow her head so she might hide the smile that rose to her lips.

Another ship came barreling through the smokescreen that gathered on the fringes of the canals, and Leia snatched her lightsaber from her belt.

"Get to the ship," she barked, igniting it and relishing in its cool lavender glow as the bolts came flying. She blocked each of them in a blur of movement, her muscles working before her brain, led by the Force itself.

Lando had lowered the ramp so it brushed the edge of the cobblestones. Aphra was up it first, and Rex covered Han's back while he dragged Sabé up the ramp. He shot wildly at the ship, though his aim was true enough. Leia swept forward, skidding across the stone and leaping up onto the platform just as the yacht pulled away from the ground. She covered Rex with three swift movements, her blade arching up and over, blocking the last of the attacks as they backed into the ship.

"Shit," Leia gasped as the door clicked closed behind them. She leaned heavily against the wall, and she rested her wrist against her damp forehead. Her hair was plastered to her face and neck. "That's gonna get out. Shit."

"We're leaving," Rex assured her, patting her shoulder delicately. "Even if news that you were on Shaval gets back to Vader, we'll be long gone."

"But the people will still be here," Leia hissed, extinguishing her lightsaber. "The last remnants of the rebels. The children. We're just… leaving them to die."

"Shaval is lost," Sabé said gravely. "There is nothing we can do about it now."

"You spent so long here, and you just… give up?" Leia shot Sabé a sharp, heated look. "How? How can you be so cold?"

"Age," Sabé said, leaning heavily against Han as he helped her rest against a bench. "I'm a handmaiden, Leia, not a soldier. I have always tried my best to help people, and I save as many as I can, but it is not possible to save everyone. Luke understands that. You should learn it too."

Leia stared at Sabé, her anger spiking automatically at the implication that there was something weak in wanting to save everyone. She wanted so badly to help Shaval, but she knew it was impossible. She knew it, she accepted it, and yet she was furious.

"Whatever," Leia hissed, clipping her lightsaber to her belt and marching through the belly of the yacht and into the cockpit.

They would be smart to strap in. Leia had flown through blockades before, and this was about to get ugly.


Luke was crying.

He had been crying for hours now. He had been crying when another shell penetrated the shields, and the lights flickered out momentarily. He had been crying when the sirens wailed, and when they stopped. He had been crying, and he stopped only to hiccup, stare dazedly at the wall, and then burst into tears again.

He hadn't meant for it to come to this, though he had been expecting it.

He'd told himself he would do it, if he had to. Once, a long time ago, when he'd been young and fresh faced and a senator of all things, he had sat down with his father and talked about hard choices. Bail Organa had given him the ultimatum.

If it was between his life, the last thread the Rebel Alliance has between the inner workings of the Empire and the life of one rebel operative, who would inevitably be tortured and interrogated, then he would be wise to choose his own life. He still had good to do in the world. A prisoner marked for execution had nothing left but a noble death.

It was why he had antagonized Vader on the Death Star. He had wanted nothing more or less than a death worth something, worth anything, especially after Alderaan.

Now he felt sick. He wiped his cheeks and his nose pitifully, and he hugged his pillow to his chest as his shoulders shook.

It wasn't fair. He'd go on thinking that, even though he was the one with his head on his shoulders, and Mart Mattin currently lacked one.

It didn't matter that he had whispered, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. This way you won't be tortured. There is still hope."

It didn't matter that Mart had glanced at him with some bare semblance of recognition, understanding flashing in his eyes just as swiftly as the resignation drained them of life.

All that mattered was that Mart was gone, and Luke was responsible.

"Calm down," Luke whispered to himself, smacking his cheek limply. "Calm down."

It all seemed hopeless.

He thought about his very personal mission to save Darth Vader. How it had come about by accident, how he had never intended for that to be his end goal. Luke knew that he was replaceable. The Rebel Alliance had leaders, and future leaders appeared every day. He was smart, yes, and he had a personal vendetta against the Empire, but that did not mean that he was anything special. Leia was the one who was irreplaceable. She was the one who needed to get out of this alive. So Luke resigned himself to his fate, as he tended to, and decided that if he was going to die, then he would die knowing that he had made his father a better person.

Today made him really reconsider all of it.

I can't expect him to just… change. I can't expect him to understand that he is a monster, and that even monsters can love and be loved. Not right now. He doesn't get it yet. He doesn't realize that he needs me much more than I need him.

Killing Mart had been Vader's last ditch effort to push Luke over the edge. Nothing else was working, not the philosophy, or the mental torture, and Vader had already refused to physically hurt Luke. So this was despair. This was hopelessness.

It almost worked, really. If Luke didn't know exactly what Vader was doing, maybe it would have.

Luke was smarter than Vader, though. This was a truth.

By the time Luke calmed down, he was exhausted. All his emotions seemed to have been drained from him, and he felt like a lifeless husk, half drawn over his bed as he examined the ceiling.

He sensed Ezra as he came toward the door, and he could tell that he was not happy. He smoothed out his unruly hair, and he took a deep breath. He hoped his face wasn't too red and puffy.

"Ezra," he said the moment the door opened. "Good, I need to talk to—"

Luke's eyes trailed to the tall figure behind Ezra. His words died in his throat, and he leapt to his feet.

"What the hell?" he gasped, his fingers flying to his hip where the absence of a blaster left his fingers trembly.

"Luke," Ezra said, his visor slipping back and revealing a dull fury in his stormy blue eyes. "This is Grand Admiral Thrawn. He knows who I am."

"I know who both of you are," Thrawn said, cupping his chin thoughtfully. He had a blaster trained on Ezra, and it shifted so the barrel of it faced Luke. "Really, did you think it wouldn't be obvious that you still harbor rebel sympathies? After that horrid performance?"

"Get out," Luke snapped. "Get away from Ezra, and get out!"

"I am rather curious," Thrawn said. "Why does Vader protect you? Keep you two and the other Inquisitor around? I have my theories, but I've only been on this ship a few hours."

"A few hours is enough," Ezra said darkly.

"Don't get so defensive, Bridger," Thrawn sighed. "I am not here to kill you. Yet. I simply want to understand the game I have unwittingly stepped into. You and Vader are locked in a dispute. Why? Why not simply kill you?"

"Obviously he thinks we have potential," Luke snapped, "or we wouldn't be having this conversation. I have stated where my loyalties lie, Grand Admiral, and if you think you can come in here and question them—"

"I do question them," Thrawn said sharply. "Rightfully, as you are a Rebel Spy. A very brave one, might I add. You must know this is a suicide run."

Luke's jaw muscle jumped, and he said nothing. He had just been thinking about his own mortality, and the fact that his mission was not one that spelled a happy end.

"Shut up," Ezra hissed. "Just shut up, already, will you? I can't believe that I'm still stuck listening to you drone about shit you don't understand. You're really a vile excuse for a person, Thrawn."

Luke felt the urge to pull Ezra away from the Grand Admiral. He understood that the man had been involved with Phoenix Squadron before it had all fallen apart, and he knew that they were treading on thin ice by speaking to him.

"If you're so concerned," Luke said curtly, "why don't you ask Vader about all this? Surely he can vouch for our loyalty."

"Ezra Bridger has no loyalty but to the Rebellion," Thrawn said coolly. "I am doing you both a favor by not informing Lord Vader of your treachery."

Ezra bristled. It was then at Luke noticed the lightsaber on his hip. It was not the fake, impractical weapon that Vader had saddled the Inquisitors with.

It was Vader's lightsaber.

"Ezra—" Luke warned, his eyes widening.

"You're right," Ezra said. His voice was dead, and his eyes were too. "I am loyal to the Rebellion. To Hera. To Kanan." Ezra turned to face him. "You know, Thrawn, it's funny. I thought I hated you before I knew you killed my master, but I don't think I even knew what hate meant then."

"Ezra!" Luke shouted, lurching forward as Ezra pried the lightsaber from his hip.

Thrawn, who was intelligent enough to note Ezra's rage, took a step back and disappeared through the sliding door. He had shot twice before disappearing, and Luke dove forward, narrowly missing the blaster bolt as it scarred the white wall behind him. The other bolt bounced off Ezra's stolen red blade.

It happened too quickly to think. Ezra was bolting after him, and Luke after Ezra, his mind frantic and his heart hammering in his chest.

Vader had done this. Vader had thrown Luke into a fit of sorrow, because Luke had made this terrible choice, and now he had to pay. Ezra had just been following Luke, and now he was closer to the Dark Side than ever.

This was all Vader wanted. Two guilty, helpless Force sensitives with nowhere left to run. There would be no light left, if Vader had his way.

But if we make it through this, Luke thought, dashing along the corridors of the Star Destroyer and shoving Imperials out of the way. If we survive this, then Vader will have failed. He'll know he'll have failed.

"Stop!" Luke cried, leaping through a closing hatch as Ezra slipped down another hall. Vader's lightsaber was lit and burning red in his palm. "Stop it! I—" He turned sharply to the man beside him. "Will somebody alert Lord Vader that we have a situation?"

"But what's happening?" the officer asked. "I only saw the Inquisitor—"

"Obviously there is a misunderstanding, and we must put a stop to it!" Luke brushed past the man and ran along after Ezra.

Luke ran faster. He jumped up, kicked off the wall and used the Force to propel him forward. He tackled Ezra just as they made it to the Bridge.

"Let me go," Ezra hissed, his voice strangled by the vocoder in his helmet. "Let me go, Luke!"

"Get ahold of yourself!" Luke wrestled Ezra to the floor, wrapping his leg around Ezra's knee and pinning it down. He had a good grip on Ezra's wrist, and the lightsaber whirred. "Don't be an idiot, you can't just kill someone who you don't like."

"Tell that to him!" Ezra snapped.

"Kanan Jarrus was a criminal," Thrawn said stiffly. "As are you, Jedi."

The officers on the Bridge began murmuring. Luke felt Ezra freeze up beneath him, and he hesitantly loosened his grip enough so Ezra could sit upright.

"Lower your weapons," Luke said, his eyes trained on the men who had decided to point their blasters in Ezra and Luke's direction. "Inquisitors are not Jedi."

"He was trained to be a Jedi," Thrawn said, folding his arms behind his back. "Therefore—"

"Vader was as Jedi," Luke snapped, glaring at Thrawn and hovering protectively over Ezra. "You think he gives a damn about former allegiance? The Inquisitors were founded by former Jedi, you fool."

Whether or not Thrawn knew that did not matter. His eyes had lit up curiously, and he leaned forward.

"Lord Vader was a Jedi," he said, testing out the sentence like it was some delicious desert. "Vader. A Jedi. Oh my, that is interesting."

Luke considered for a moment letting Ezra go and watching, satisfied, as this man was cut down.

"Interesting is not the word I would use, Grand Admiral."

Luke did not know whether to be relieved or terrified when he felt Vader approach slowly from behind him. Ahsoka was with him, her resilient lightness muted by Vader's oppressive shadow.

"Lord Vader," Luke said. "There has been a misunderstanding."

"Certainly," Vader said. "You have prevented my Inquisitor from doing his job."

Luke's hand tightened around Ezra's wrist. He looked behind him, and though he could not meet Ahsoka's eye, they watched each other.

"Luke," Ezra murmured, "let me go."

"No." Luke turned his face back to Ezra. "No, I won't."

"You are a stubborn fool," Vader said with a sigh.

To Thrawn's credit, he did not seem shocked that Vader had turned on him. He offered no more astonishment than a raised brow and a twist of his thin blue lips.

"Assassination, Lord Vader," he said in his cool, lofty voice, "really? How poorly planned."

"Poorly planned," Vader repeated, his voice rumbling across the Bridge like a thunderclap. "Imagine, coming upon my ship alone, armed with nothing but a blaster, antagonizing my apprentices, and then accusing me of poor planning. You are a fool, Grand Admiral. Luke, let go of the Inquisitor."

"No."

Vader did not ask him again. Instead, he strode toward them, his every step sending a ripple of dark energy through the floor, and Luke shivered. He shrunk away from Vader as he was snatched by the arms and forcibly torn from Ezra.

"Let me go, Lord Vader," Luke gasped, struggling feebly in his father's grasp. "This is insanity. This is treason!"

"The prince is correct on that account," Thrawn said, eyeing Ezra uneasily as he rose to his feet. "Tell me, Vader, what do you stand to gain from my murder?"

Luke felt sick. His knees were shaking. Vader had him, and maybe he could have gotten out of that, but the situation was too much all at once. They were standing in the place were Mart Mattin had died at Luke's hand only a few hours before. Now Ezra was getting ready to murder, and Luke didn't know what justice was. If it was this, this fearsome rage that radiated from his friend, or if it was some form of mercy that would inevitably cost them all.

"Power," Vader said simply, the word coiling around them all like electricity along a wire. Luke's hair stood on end.

As Ezra approached Thrawn, a blaster bolt came hurtling through the air, and Thrawn gasped as he fell to his knees. He was caught before he hit the floor, and Ezra halted as Ahsoka gripped the back of Thrawn's neck and held a blaster to his temple.

"Oh," said the man, his red eyes fluttering closed. He grimaced in pain. "This day just gets more and more eventful."

"Get out of the way." Ezra's voice was shaking. His hands were shaking. His shoulders were shaking, and the whole world seemed to shake.

Luke felt like he might disappear into the walls and fall through the floor until he was caught in the abyss outside.

"Killing him will not bring Kanan back," Ahsoka said softly. "It will, however, destroy everything he ever did for you. You will betray him if you kill this man."

"You just shot him!" Ezra snapped.

"And I would shoot him again," Ahsoka said calmly. "First you really need to drop that lightsaber, though. I won't warn you twice."

Luke could not see Ezra's face, but he knew that he felt angry and hopeless, and most of all he was overwhelmed with grief. His shoulders quaked, and his body swayed.

"Ezra," Luke called, his voice hoarse. "Please."

Ezra bowed his head. The red blade collapsed in on itself until it disappeared.

Vader tensed up. Luke felt his immense disappointment, and he could not help but smile in satisfaction.

Ahsoka raised her veiled head. She did not look at Thrawn as she smacked him over the head with the butt of her stolen blaster, stepping away from him before he hit the floor. Ezra looked away.

"This mess is yours," Ahsoka said, her voice dripping in malice behind the eerie crackle of her vocoder. With the way she stood, her veil drifting over her face and flowing over her hands and arms, and her long dress pooling at her feet, she seemed have a specter as she spat in Vader's direction. "You should take responsibility for it, Master."

Luke was not sure what had happened. He knew that Vader had been manipulating them all, and not in a very smart way. Killing Thrawn was treason. He had no idea what Vader was thinking but putting Ezra to the task was… frightening, to say the least. Ahsoka was braver than all of them. Ahsoka knew that Vader would never kill her for disobeying him. Yet the rage that rippled through the air was enough to make Luke stop breathing. He felt it beneath his skin, ripping up the fibers of his muscles and tendons and leaving him buckling under the weight of it all. He wanted to scream.

Vader still had Luke's shoulders grasped firmly in his hands. His mechanical fingers dug into Luke's shoulders, hard enough that Luke gasped. He lowered his head, his knees wobbling pitifully, and he closed his eyes.

"Take the Grand Admiral to a cell," Vader barked at a stormtrooper behind him. "I will deal with him later."

He did not need to explain to the officers beneath him why he wanted Thrawn dead. Luke learned quickly that Vader could kill anyone if he really wanted to, and nobody would bat an eye.

Vader's attention fell upon Ahsoka. She stared him down levelly, though her eyes were not visible, and the whole room was overtaken with a chill. The force began to gather up around her, and Luke wriggled beneath Vader's grasp as he lifted his left hand toward her.

Ahsoka began to gasp softly, her shoulders hunching up as her fingers fluttered toward her throat. They gathered around the fabric of her veil.

"No," Luke hissed, twisting under his iron grasp. "Stop it. Stop it! You don't have to do this, you—!"

Vader threw him to the floor.

He wanted to say something, but there were shouts all around him as the officers on the Bridge went back to observing the battle outside.

"A ship broke Shaval's atmosphere, Lord Vader," Piett said briskly, his icy eyes flashing toward Vader's face. He had not so much blinked throughout the entirety of the Thrawn debacle. "It's trying to maneuver through the blockade."

Vader's hand fell back to his side, and Ahsoka began to cough violently, heaving deep breaths as Ezra rushed to her side.

"Shoot it down," Vader said.

Luke did not see the ship, but the Force swam around him in a familiar, desperate way. It tugged at him, yanked at his skin and his muscles and his bones. It wanted him elsewhere, suddenly, and his mind swam in and out of focus as he swayed in the belly of the Star Destroyer. A familiar presence was sweeping toward him, and the Force rang out for him to go to it now, go to it fast, until he was certain that he had left his body and now stood in the cockpit of a familiar yacht.

He and his sister gazed at each other in a distant, bemused sort of longing.

"Leia," he said softly, shock settling in his bones.

Leia gazed at him, her eyes searching his face for answers, for clues, and then she reached toward him. It felt like a dream, like he was pooling in the crevices of the durasteel beneath him, like his mind was tipping inside his skull and falling out his ears.

She touched his cheek, and that felt real.

"You…" Leia stroked his cheek with her thumb, as though she could feel the residual tracks of his tears. "You're here? You're…"

He realized that he was shaking, and she smoothed his hair back from his face and allowed him to drop to his knees beside her, her arms draping over his shoulders as tears leaked from his eyes.

"Luke," she murmured against his hair, "Luke, I'm going to save you. You're not alone. I will save you."

"No," he murmured, "no, no… you need to go… you need to—!"

The immense and overwhelming light that had spread over him, Leia's blazing sun of a Force signature, was eclipsed by the dark and all-encompassing nature of their father. They held each other limply, shock rattling them to the bone as they stared at one another helplessly.

"Leia," Vader hissed, his voice splitting between them and unfolding rapidly inside their heads and inside their chests, leaving them both to choke on their words and their breaths and blink back tears.

Luke clutched his sister's arms, feeling himself waver like a flickering light, and he stared into her big brown eyes.

"Go!" he cried, his grip on her slipping until her found himself hurtled back into the belly of the Star Destroyer, on his hands and knees.

He stared at the floor for a moment, tears slipping down his nose and pattering softly against the floor.

"Catch that ship!" Vader all but shouted, his voice booming and rattling their eardrums. Then for a moment, he looked down at Luke, and their eyes met. Tears fell freely down Luke's cheeks.

His jaw set, and he glared up at Vader.

"And remove Prince Organa and the Inquisitors," Vader hissed. "They are a nuisance."

Chapter Text

"Lando," Leia said, her nails biting into the soft leather seat, "let me fly."

The scene before her was playing out horrifically. She watched the Star Destroyers loom closer and closer, and they all winced as the bombardment of their shields sent the alarms whirring. They spun rapidly, and Artoo shrieked as he slid across the floor unceremoniously. The stars were blotted out by the streaks of red and the shadows of ship bellies, and she held her breath as a bolt got a direct hit to their stern.

"Lando!" Leia barked at him.

"You oughta listen to her," Han gasped, leaning forward desperately as he clung to the wall behind them. There were extra straps that held him in place, but he and Rex were far less secure than the rest of them who had seats. "If anyone can fly us outta here, it's Leia."

"Oh?" Lando's brows shot up as he gripped the yoke, jerking it up and pinning them all to their seats as they narrowly missed a volley of powerful ion blasts. "I'm surprised you're not volunteering, Han, ol' boy. Where's your sense of adventure? Your pride?"

"I might be the best pilot you know, pal," Han said, his voice strained as he gritted his teeth, "but Leia's the best pilot I know."

Leia twisted in her seat to stare at Han, but he was looking at Lando. He seemed desperate to be heard. Lando's eyes did not move from the stars outside, but they had gone a bit wide as he whistled low.

"Damn," he muttered, a small, silly smile brightening up his face as he swung the yacht aside. "You've got it bad, my friend."

Leia winced as another bolt skidded over the top of the ship, shaking it to its core and rattling them in their seats. Her seatbelts were biting into her ribs, and her heart was palpitating to the point where she felt it drumming in her throat. They had cleared maybe three Destroyers, miraculously, but Leia was not sure how long they would last if they kept going under heavy fire.

"I really don't know why we didn't just let the crazy bitch who blew up the Death Star fly in the first place," Aphra said passively, her feet kicked up on Chewbacca's seat in front of her as she gripped her seatbelt loosely.

"See?" Leia huffed, sinking into her seat. "Even Aphra gets it!"

"Listen!" Lando shook his head furiously. "I'd hand over the controls if I could but I cannot move right now. Chewie, do you think you can hold down the fort for a minute while me and the kid switch?"

Chewie gave a short, affirmative yowl.

Lando shrugged his shoulders up to his ears, and he smiled wanly out into the battlefield. "Guess I best trust the Force, eh?" he chuckled. They braced themselves as he spun them, half shouting as they kept spinning. Once they stopped, Aphra kicked Lando's chair.

Four Star Destroyers. They'd gotten past four.

"We can do this," Leia said aloud, realizing for the first time it was true. A small, disbelieving smile crept onto her face, and she gave a little laugh. Beside her, Sabé gazed at her curiously, but said nothing.

Then, like a solar flare, the Force swept over her. It was warm and soft, smothering her like a bed of feathers, and she had no time to think or to scream before she was soothed by a familiar presence. It touched her mind and her heart, pooling around her tentatively.

His name got caught in her throat, and tears filled her eyes.

She found herself in the belly of an Imperial Star Destroyer. That fact did not terrify her so much as the sight of her brother comforted her, his face pale and awed only a foot away. He looked at her like she might be a messiah, and his eyes glistened as they found her face. As they watched each other, she took in his appearance carefully. He was wearing a white tunic with black leggings and a sparsely decorated silver belt served as a girdle. His hair fell in soft dirty blond waves around his head, longer than she remembered and braided away from his face.

He looked miserable, however. There was a scar on his forehead, almost a mirror of the one on hers, though that seemed to be the only remnant of the horrific state he had been in when he had made his grand appearance on the holonet a few months prior. Aside from the hearing aid, which she noticed immediately. He looked at her with a glassy daze to his usually bright blue eyes, and the dark circles beneath his eyes looked more like bruises than anything else.

Yet when he looked at her, he smiled. It was small and disbelieving, but it was there.

"Leia…" he breathed, the hollowness in his eyes falling away as excitement and delight backlit the tender blue of them.

In spite of herself, Leia found herself reaching out. Her fingers moved tentatively, slowly approaching his face. She hesitated, and then brushed them against his cheek.

"You…" Leia could have laughed. She almost did as she smiled, stroking his cheek absently, trying to fathom the miracle she was given. "You're here…? You're…"

His lower lip trembled, and she watched him quake a little as she smoothed the hair back from his face, hoping that she might soothe him in some way. If she could protect him— just shield him for a moment, and take even a fraction of his pain and shoulder that, then she would.

If Leia could trade places with him, if she could bear this burden for him, then she would in a heartbeat.

I will never leave you, Leia thought, not strong enough for him to hear it. I will never give up on you. If you die, if that is what fate has spun you, then show me the noose. I am with you.

"Luke," she said, resting her mouth against the soft waves of his hair, baffled by how soft and warm he was even now in the belly of the beast. "Luke, I'm going to save you. You're not alone." She inhaled sharply, squeezing him tightly. "I will save you."

That caused him to stiffen beneath her arms. His body coiled up and tensed, his head lifted from his shoulder as he shook his head and moaned.

"No, no," he murmured, tears leaking onto his cheeks, "no, you need to go… you need to—"

Leia gripped him tightly as another familiar presence came sweeping into view. Luke looked panicked, his eyes wide as his image became wan and began to melt away like candle wax in her hands. It was both a mirage and an afterimage, as his form was still superimposed upon her vision, flickering in the aftermath as she stared into the dark that had crowded around her, shadows consuming the Bridge and lapping at her feet.

Then he came, like a monster in a nightmare, sweeping forward with the world on its hinge, and his voice boomed inside her head with a deafening clap.

"Leia."

Luke's face was still flickering in her eyes, behind her lids, a faint impression of some phantom brightness that stung her irises.

She clapped her hands over her ears and shook her head furiously.

Out, out, out, she thought wildly. Get me out!

Then, like a lucid dream, she remembered where she really was. Seated in a Nubian yacht, far away from Vader.

"Help," she croaked.

Leia, Vader's voice rumbled inside her head, crashing like vicious waves upon her mind and breaking whatever it struck. I know you are here. I know what you desire.

"Shut up, shut up…" Leia combed her fingers through her hair, and she took a deep, shaky breath. "Someone knock me out."

"Huh?"

Han. That was Han. She knew that was Han.

"Han," she breathed, reaching out blindly. Her fingers found his rough cotton shirt, tangling in the fabric and digging hard into his ribs. "Han, please. I can't be awake. He's in my head, I have to—"

"What's happening now?" asked the high, flute-like voice of Dr. Aphra. "What is up with this girl—?"

"It's Vader," Han hissed, suddenly very close. Leia's eyes were still closed, and she was still caught inside the whirlwind of darkness with shadows moving around her like currents. She felt a pair of rough, callused hands cup her cheeks, and the familiarity of them made her feel safe. "Leia? Tell him to go fuck himself."

Come, Leia, Vader hissed. I know that you have been searching for him. He is here. He is right here. Will you abandon him again?

"Ah," Leia sighed, tipping her head back as Han laid a soft, gentle kiss to her forehead, and then to her hair. "You know what, dad? Go fuck yourself."

Han laughed in her ear, and then with a sharp and sudden pain to the base of her neck, it all faded rapidly.


In their singular room, there was nothing that could be said, so they all sat in silence. Luke was still shaking, still half weeping, and he felt pathetic as he swiped at his eyes, hiccuped, and then repeated. Ezra was curled up in the corner of the room, his helmet abandoned and his head in his knees. Ahsoka stood stiffly, her veil twisted in her hands as she stared straight ahead and said nothing.

What had they done?

Luke kept trying to get ahold of Leia, but it seemed like a fruitless effort. She was no longer able to answer, and before he knew it, she was out of range. It was more of a relief than anything, and after he felt her presence trickle away easily, a sign from the Force that she had escaped, he relaxed.

Soon his tears subsided, and his breathing returned to normal.

He sat on the floor, blinking rapidly, and he wondered if any of this could have been prevented, or if this madness was an inevitable result of his own hubris. He had believed whole heartedly that people could change— that Vader could change. Maybe he was looking at it all wrong. Maybe it wasn't about asking Vader to change, but forcing Vader to fail.

"Ahsoka," Luke croaked.

She snapped out of her daze, as though perhaps she had forgotten he was there, and she blinked rapidly before taking to her knees before him and gathering him in her arms. His shoulders went rigid, and he gaped at her for a moment before he submitted to the hug.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, squeezing him tight. "I can't do anything. I've tried, and I've tried, and I've— I just don't know."

"It's okay," Luke murmured. He rested his head against her shoulder, and he tried to soothe her by rubbing her back. "It's okay not to know. I have no idea what I'm doing, but that hasn't stopped me, has it?"

"Oh," Ahsoka sighed, a small smile appearing on her lips as she shook her head. "Luke. You— you know what?" She gathered him up, almost in her lap as though he were a child again, and he kissed his hair. "You're perfect."

Luke couldn't help but feel warm and content at that. He flushed at the validation, and he allowed himself to be squeezed and kissed and snuggled like a toddler because not only did it make Ahsoka feel better, but it made him feel better too. She was like the aunt he never had, but in this moment he felt such a strong maternal bond with her that he thought Breha Organa's ghost might appear and remind him who raised him.

"Ezra," Luke called after a few minutes of hugging. "Come here."

It seemed, for a minute or two at least, that Ezra was not going to come. Luke found a knot forming in his stomach at the idea that Ezra might feel left out, especially after what had just happened. They all needed to have a long talk about it.

But first, they all needed to hug it out.

Then Ezra came shuffling toward them, his head bowed as he knelt in front of them. He was staring at the ground vacantly.

Luke snatched him by the shoulder and tugged him in.

"Give him a kiss too," he told Ahsoka as they both crushed him in their duel embrace. "He's too sad. We can't have that."

"No," Ahsoka mused, "nobody likes a moody Ezra."

Ezra raised his head, staring at her in shock and dismay as she placed a gentle kiss on his forehead. Luke laughed, and he let the laugh rattle in his hollow chest, and expand slowly until it enveloped him and became real. He lowered his head against Ezra's shoulder, and he pulled him close.

"We won't let him win," he murmured. "You hear me? We're trapped, and we're scared, and we know how fragile our lives can be, but the worst thing Vader can do to us is make us into something we are not. So we refuse him."

"I'm not sorry."

Luke raised his head from Ezra's shoulder and stared at him. He gaped for a moment before clamping his mouth shut. He shared a glance with Ahsoka, who did not look surprised, but had lowered her gaze nonetheless.

"Ezra…" Luke sighed.

"No." Ezra extricated himself from their grasp, and he slid back sharply. "I know what you're all thinking. You think Vader tricked me. You think I didn't know what I was getting into, that I'm innocent of blame." He barked a sharp, disgusted laugh, and he dragged his hands down his face. "Are you kidding? You think this is my first rodeo with the Dark Side?"

"Huh?" Luke asked, a faint, disbelieving smile stretching on his lips.

Ezra took a deep breath. It wracked his whole body and when he exhaled it seemed like his soul might have left him. He crumpled like a leaf falling to the forest floor.

"Maul…" Ezra winced. He scratched his beard, his dark blue eyes falling away from them suddenly. "Look. I'm not proud of it, but… after Ahsoka got left behind on Malachor, and Kanan lost his eyesight, I really… I fell through the cracks a little. I had a Sith holocron, and I used it. A lot."

"What?" This was entirely news to Luke, who had visited Ezra semi-regularly at that time. He remembered Vader had taunted Ezra about it once, but Luke had never thought much of it until now. Even Ahsoka was looking at Ezra strangely. "Why would you do that?"

"Because I was angry," Ezra said, his voice flat and his eyes distant. "I wanted to be stronger, and Kanan wasn't teaching me. So I found a different teacher."

"A Sith holocron is not a teacher," Ahsoka said sternly.

"Yeah," Ezra said tiredly, "I figured that out."

"I don't understand," Luke said quietly.

Ezra looked him in the eye, and he smiled lazily.

"Isn't it obvious?" He gave a short laugh. "I'm tainted goods. I'll never be a Jedi."

"Ezra," Ahsoka said sharply.

"What? It's true." Ezra snorted as he leaned back against the far wall, tipping his head back and sighing. "It's better that I'm not. I can't pretend that I'm… this force of light that everyone expects a Jedi to be. Luke, you're a Jedi."

"No," Luke laughed nervously, "uh, I really am not."

Ezra shot him a quizzical glance, and he smirked. "You really don't know, do you?"

"Know what?"

With a one-shouldered shrug, Ezra's eyes closed, and he drew an outline of Luke in the air.

"How bright you shine," he said, not opening his eyes. "It's blinding."

"Huh?"

Ahsoka rested her hand on his shoulder, and she shook her head. It was a kind, wordless suggestion not to ask questions. At least not about this.

"Ezra," Ahsoka said, her voice sharp and authoritative. "Every Jedi is tempted. That's how Vader even exists. Do you want to end up like Vader?"

Ezra gave a short snort, and he cracked an eye open. "Y'know," he said, "he said that we are a lot alike. What do you think, Ahsoka? Am I anything like Anakin Skywalker?"

Ahsoka's eyes widened momentarily, and she leaned back. Luke looked between the two of them bemusedly.

Ezra smiled very weakly, and he slumped. "Thought so," he said softly.

"There is nothing wrong with being similar to Anakin," Ahsoka said sharply. "Anakin was good once. Truly. I know no one believes me now, but… but Leia is like Anakin. More than anyone I've ever known and will know. She is all of Anakin's raw, untempered emotions poured into a single human being. Yet Leia is still good. Why do you think that is?"

"Because Leia isn't an idiot?" Ezra offered.

"No," Ahsoka said, frowning deeply. "No, she— oh, you better shut up. You are not an idiot."

"Did you not see the stunt I pulled where I tried to murder an Imperial officer onboard an Imperial Star Destroyer?"

"Technically you were just following orders," Luke quipped.

"Not helping," Ahsoka said, clamping her hand over his mouth. "Ezra, Leia is only good because she has not had a negative influencer to tempt her to do bad things. Trust me, if Obi-Wan hadn't taken such good care of her on Tatooine, teaching her as much as he could before passing, allowing her the freedoms Anakin was never given— trust me, she'd be insufferable."

"I'll remember not to tell her you said that," Luke said twisting away from Ahsoka's hand.

Ezra sat quietly, lowering his head and frowning deeply.

"I…" He shook his head furiously. "Guys, I'm not okay."

Neither Ahsoka nor Luke said anything for a few moments. Then Luke shuffled closer. He took Ezra's hand, and waited for him to meet his eye.

"None of us are okay," he said softly, squeezing Ezra's hand and stroking his knuckles with the pad of his thumb. "But things are going to get better."

Ezra's eyes began to glisten, and he shook his head dazedly.

"You can't be sure of that," he whispered.

"No," Luke said, "but I've got a good feeling about it."


Leia was lost.

There were doors that led nowhere, and she stumbled through each sliding entrance, entranced by one hallway and then another. They were identical. The walls stretched out before her, stretching one way and then the other, on forever into nothing. There was light on both ends, but the light seemed distorted, and as she walked she felt the light flicker and dim. Every step caused a current to ripple across the floor, which looked metal but wavered at the slightest step. It stirred like still water, reflecting back whatever was shone upon it and becoming something of a moving mirror.

She kept going. Her mind told her she was asleep, but she felt that this was all too focused and sharp to be a dream. Yet there was nothing here. How could it be a vision?

"Ben?" Leia called, her voice echoing off the durasteel walls and floors. Her own voice bounced and bled into the crevices of the hallway, looming high and then bearing low as the light flopped over the dark and she found herself grappling ahead of her blindly. "Ben, I gotta say, I hate mind games."

"Who's Ben?"

Leia whirled around, her fingers flying to her blaster. The holster was empty, and the figure behind her blinked up at her innocently. She relaxed the moment she saw the boy's small stature and round face. It was just a child.

"Luke?" she asked, peering down at him curiously. The boy looked eerily like that phantom version of Luke she had seen in the catacombs of Jedha, playing that sad song on the viol. He was dressed a little shabbier though.

"Hm?" The boy tilted his head. "Luke?"

"Oh. He's…" Leia looked around the abandoned corridor thoughtfully. She wished she had a blaster. Stupid vision. "He's my brother."

"Well," the boy sniffed, "that's not me. I'm Ani."

"Ani," Leia repeated. The name was light on her tongue, sweet as sliced polpa fruit.

"Yep." The boy, Ani, beamed up at her. "It's been awhile since I've seen a fresh face. Ages, really. What brings you around here?"

"I'm… visit…ing?" Leia offered, wincing at how stupid she sounded. "Just here for the night, I guess."

"Is it night?" Ani asked, sounding sad and distant. "I wouldn't know."

"Oh." Leia's eyes drifted away from Ani, and she looked around the corridor once more. "Do you know where we are?"

"Oh, that's easy," Ani said with a bright, boisterous laugh. "This is my mind."

Leia jerked back. "What?" she demanded. "What did you say?"

Ani eyed her uncertainly. "What?" he asked. "What did you expect?"

"Who…?" It dawned on Leia all at once who she was speaking to. Her heart sank. She backed up into a wall, and then slid down it. "I'm in your head? No. No, no, no—"

"He doesn't know," Ani said to her, looking both annoyed and concerned. "He's busy. If you stick with me, he won't know you're here."

"Get me out of here," Leia said softly, staring straight ahead in horror in disgust. "I can't stay here. I can't."

Ani watched her with a great deal of pity swelling in his bright blue eyes. He stepped toward her, and he took her hand.

"Kay," he said. "We'll get you out. But you gotta stand."

Leia stood up.

"And you gotta be real quiet when we get farther in."

Leia nodded.

"And you gotta smile, kay?"

Leia shot him a cold look, but she found she couldn't stand to hold it. The boy was beaming at her, and so she sighed and smiled back.

They drifted from hall to hall in silence for a bit before Ani began to swing her hand and hum. Her heart nearly stopped when she realized she recognized the song, a song that she had sung long ago as she mourned Ben in the fresher of the Falcon. She glared at him, and he stopped. Then he looked up at her face thoughtfully.

"You know," he said, "you look like my mom."

"What?" Leia managed to choke out, feeling dizzy and dazed. She stopped right there, Ani's arm stretching and going taut as he turned to blink up at her innocently. Her mind was whirling with all of this information pouring into her head.

All of her distant wonderings on that dust bowl of a planet. All of her hopeless fantasies of what her father could have been like, and this is what the Force gave her? A shattered dream and then a cruel mirage?

"Just a little. I guess it makes sense, 'cause you're you, but—"

"You know who I am?" Leia asked sharply.

Ani blinked, and then he smiled up at her. He placed one finger over his lips, and then he laughed. The hall dipped and twisted, upside slipping downwards and downside shivering upward, and all along Leia found herself standing still until suddenly they were in a small apartment.

It was a mild day. She even felt a bit of a chill as she stood beside an open window, staring at a pair of succulents that appeared freshly watered from the blackness of their soil. Ani drew his fingers over the bristles of a cactus, his lips pulled into a small frown.

"Anakin," a familiar voice said with the air of disappointment and dripping core cadence that Leia was well acquainted with, "will you please fold your clothes. I'm not telling you again."

Ani wrinkled his nose. "Too far," he mumbled, releasing Leia's hand and disappearing into the folds of the memory. Leia watched, mesmerized, as Ani's shabby garb turned to freshly pressed Jedi robes. His hair was shorn and suddenly unruly. There was a braid tucked behind his ear, and Leia tugged at her own hair nostalgically.

The Obi-Wan of Anakin's memory was even younger than the one that Leia had met at the temple on Lothal. He had a patchy ginger beard and floppy auburn hair, his youth exuding from him as he scowled down at the young Anakin. Leia stared at him in wonder, realizing that she was witnessing a Ben that was probably about Leia's age.

"You're not my mom," Ani sneered at Ben. "Why do you think you can tell me what to do?"

"Because I am your master, Anakin," Ben sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

Ani wrinkled his nose. His hands turned to fists, and he shook his head furiously.

"Free," he spat, staring at the ground. "I'm free, but I'm not. What's another master, right?"

Ben, to his credit, looked absolutely horrified. "Anakin," he said, his voice both shocked and soft, "you are free. Just because I want you to fold your clothes does not mean that you can't walk out that door right now."

Ani looked up at Ben curiously, but he didn't say anything more.

He turned and looked at Leia.

"I didn't," he said bitterly. "Maybe I should have."

"Where would you have gone?" Leia whispered.

"Home."

Leia shivered. She could see the orange haze of Tatooine behind her eyelids, the dust clogging her nose and mouth. The distant sandstorm howling in her ears. Sand was in her blood. It was in her soul. It called to her, just like it called to him.

"Did you hate it as much as I did?" Leia asked, a small laugh cracking through her voice.

Ani's hand fell into her fist. He smiled at her and laughed alongside her.

"I hated the sand," he said. "I still hate it, I think."

"It's a little bit a part of us though, in a way."

"Mmm…" Ani shrugged. "I guess so."

The walked farther and farther, hand and hand, until another door opened, and this time Leia gasped.

"Is that Ahsoka?" she asked excitedly. Ani looked up at her, and he grinned.

When he let go of her hand, the image of him began to distort. His legs stretched out and his shoulders grew broader, and his hair began to curl and wave until it reminded her of the way Luke's had been when she'd seen him last.

She was tiny. Maybe a little taller than Leia herself, which was laughable, and she wore a red velour dress with a high collar and no sleeves. She stood with her arms wrapped tightly around her stomach, her body hunched and guarded while a group of Jedi spoke to her. Leia peered around Ahsoka and blinked rapidly when she heard Yoda's frog-like voice croak, "Back into the order, you may come."

Leia's eyes shot back to Ahsoka's face, and she watched the young girl's eyes grow cloudy as they darted to the floor. Her jaw shifted. Her chin tipped downward.

Did these people not realize how uncomfortable she was?

Anakin stepped up suddenly. He was as he had been in the catacombs. Handsome and young, his eyes glinting with hubris. He looked at Ahsoka, and Leia could not help but feel a pang of jealousy at the way his face lit up when he spoke to her, as softly and tenderly as he might his own child.

"They're asking you back, Ahsoka," he said, moving toward her tentatively. From his pocket, he carefully withdrew a string of beads. They pooled inside his palm like river water. He looked down at them, smiled fondly, and then looked at Ahsoka, offering the beads out to her. "I'm asking you back."

The hope that radiated from him made Leia's heartache. She shook her head slowly. She bit her tongue to keep from yelling as Ahsoka took a deep breath, and she reached forward. Her fingers hesitated in midair, trembling slightly, and then she laid them upon his knuckles and pushed his palm closed around the beads.

"I'm sorry, Master," Ahsoka said, her voice soft and hoarse as she took a step back, "but I'm not coming back."

Then she turned away.

"Stop," Leia said faintly.

Anakin stared after Ahsoka dazedly. Then he turned his head and looked down at Leia.

"I'm sorry, little one," he whispered, his face growing gaunt. "I didn't want you to see this part of me."

Leia stared at him, feeling more and more like she was being tricked. "What?" she gasped, flinging her arms out incredulously. "The vulnerable part? The human part? What is it about this that is so wrong?"

Anakin glanced toward Ahsoka's shrinking back.

"That she's leaving," he said, "and I was too much of a coward to leave with her."

Leia looked up at him confusedly, and she yelped when he took her hand. His body faded, his skin melting away into the small and chubby flesh of Ani as he dragged her through the halls.

"Out," he whispered, "you gotta get out."

"Does… does he…?" Leia couldn't allow herself to finish that sentence. She swallowed hard, and she trudged on through the corridor. It was dark now. She felt cold as she waded through it dazedly, dragged by Ani's tiny fist.

"I'm sorry," Ani confessed, tears in his eyes. "I'm sorry that this is happening. Especially to you. Oh… I wish Qui-Gon was here. He'd know what to do."

Leia couldn't disagree. From her experience, Qui-Gon Jinn knew everything.

They stumbled to a stop as another door slammed down in front of them. Leia pulled Ani back as he yanked her forward.

"Ani, no," Leia whispered.

Ani yanked her into the room.

Ani grew back into Anakin like a tree grew in time lapse. He released her hand to run toward a figure that stood in the shadows of a parapet, cloaked in a dark shawl. Leia stared at her for a few moments before she approached the pair. Anakin darted toward the figure, who Leia saw was a woman, and then without warning swept her up into a hug.

Anakin Skywalker lifted the woman off the ground and swung her excitedly, his face half buried in her velvet shawl.

Leia hung back and stared.

She felt nauseous.

"Why…?" she asked, looking up at the ceiling of the ornately decorated corridor, tears welling in her eyes. "Why are you making me see this?"

Anakin turned his head to look at her.

"Because this is the thing about me you really can't stand," he said, smiling at her bitterly. "That I was loved, and I loved. Once."

"Shut up," Leia whispered, moving in a swift circle and grasping at her hair as she went round and round. "Shut up, shut up, shut up!"

Then he turned back to the woman, who Leia knew was her mother, and leaned down. They kissed, and Leia turned around. She began to walk away.

"Get me out of here!" she cried. "Somebody! Ben? Ben! I want to wake up!"

"He'll hear you," Anakin called toward her.

"He's you! So I don't care!" Leia stomped her feet petulantly. "I don't care who hears me! I want out!"

"Something wonderful has happened," Padmé Amidala was saying, rambling on through a memory that was acting against her. "Ani… I'm pregnant."

Leia froze. She turned to stare at the couple behind the pillar, and she saw that Anakin was not looking at Padmé, but rather directly at her.

"That's…" There was fear in his eyes. It fluttered behind his lashes as the information rattled inside his head. She felt it rolling off him. Fear, apprehension, confusion, and then delight flashed in his young face. And then he smiled at Leia. "That's wonderful."

Leia woke with a sharp gasp, her arms flailing as her eyes peeled open. She glanced around her hurriedly, her eyes darting from the ceiling to the floor. She was in the yacht again. She was in bed in the yacht.

There was an arm around her. She began to squirm against it until she saw the face attached to it.

"Hey," Han gasped, wrangling her up and pulling her to his chest. "Hey, shh. You're okay. It was just a nightmare."

"Oh…" Leia sank into the bed and let her forehead fall against Han's chest. "No. No, it was so much more than that."

It was all at once a nightmare, a vision, and something else. Anakin— Vader?— had been aware of her inside his own head. He had wanted to show her that specific instance, and she was disgusted. It seemed so fake, like he had fabricated the whole thing, like she should not even exist at all.

It took a few minutes for Leia to catch her breath. She stared at the ceiling vacantly, a knot inside her stomach sinking deeper and deeper until it tangled up inside her intestines and threatened to become permanent. She closed her eyes, and the darkness greeted her kindly.

"How'd we get away?" she whispered.

Beside her, Han shifted. His weight sank into the mattress, and she felt him scoot ever so close to her. Sometimes she wondered if people were ever meant to be so close, and if they were, then maybe it was a curse and a blessing all at once.

"Sabé knocked you out while I had you distracted," Han said quietly. "She was right next to you, and I guess she knows a thing or two about what pressure points do what. She was real efficient about it."

"Oh." Leia opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling. "Good. I'm glad."

"Lando did get us out, somehow," Han continued, sounding both appreciative and irritable. "Wish I'd had my hands on the controls, but hey. Who am I, y'know?"

"As long as we got away."

"Heh."

Han stroked her hair absently, and she allowed her muscles to relax as she laid beside him, watching his face as attentively as he watched hers.

"Wanna talk about it?" Han offered. He smoothed her hair back from her face, and traced the line of her cheek down to her lip. He dragged his thumb over her lower lip and then cupped her chin.

"No."

Leia closed her eyes as he leaned forward and kissed her. It was a warm, soft kiss. It was so open and genuine that it made her heart hurt. He kissed her knowing that she was the daughter of someone diabolical. Someone who would hurt the people who loved him even when they so clearly wanted the best for him. Han knew her, yet he did not care. He did not care, and he loved her anyway.

Han draped an arm over her, and then moved to hover above her. Leia placed a hand on his chest and pushed him back.

"Do you love me?" she demanded.

Han tilted his head. He smirked and rolled his eyes.

"Uh," he said, "yeah? We've been through this, haven't we?"

"I want you to say it."

Han's eyes lit up, and he leaned back, holding her hands in his. "Pushy today, huh?" He dragged her upright, and he leaned forward. Leia waited, but instead of kissing her again, he blew air in her face. "Dumbass. I love you."

Leia nodded. "Thank you," she said. Han's eyebrows shot up, and he looked away from her face as though to say to some invisible person, are you hearing this? "Now I need you to be honest with me. Would you still love me if I didn't want children?"

Han glanced back at her, and he made a strange face. "What kinda question is that?" he asked with a scoff.

"An important one."

"Did you dream we had kids?" Han grinned, and he sidled up next to her. "Tell me about it."

"No, Han, I didn't. Answer the question."

Han's face fell. He searched her face, and then slumped a little. "Wow, you're really on this one," he remarked, scratching his chin. "Hm. Well, I guess I'd be a little bummed about it, but if that's what you want, and we're still together and thirty years, then what's it matter?"

Leia stared at him intensely.

"What?" he asked defensively.

"Really?" Leia asked.

"What?" he repeated, shifted away from her. "Why you always gotta be so weird? Yes, really. Yeesh."

"Han," Leia said softly, leaning her head against his arm, "I love you."

Han looked down at her, blinked, and then smiled. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and kissed her forehead gently.

Chapter Text

Luke knew the game that Vader was playing. When he looked to the future with hope, he felt uncertain, yet he knew himself better than Vader could ever presume to know him. So Luke knew the conditions it would take for him to slip up.

He knew that it would take physical pain. A lot of it. He remembered how he had felt when he had been beaten by that Inquisitor on Mustafar a decade earlier, and how hopeless it had all seemed. That. That was what suffering was. True suffering, something that would lead his stubborn heart to crack open and spew all of its light until he was drained of it.

So what was so different now?

Luke rolled onto his side and stared through the darkness at the door. It was not locked, but there was a sensor on it that immediately informed Vader when activated. Luke had tested it once, and been thrown back into his room for his troubles. It was a game to Vader. He wanted Luke to feel trapped without being confined to a prison.

He remembered his warning to Vader that he would not be ignored when they got onto the Executor. Dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb. There had to be another way to get Vader's attention without becoming his executioner.

Ezra was asleep. He had passed out almost immediately, and Luke took comfort in that, despite the edge of envy that cut him when he realized he would get no sleep tonight.

Ahsoka was also asleep, though Ahsoka had an uncanny ability to turn her brain off like she was flipping a switch. It was unnerving, really, and Luke once more envied her.

Luke Organa had spent his childhood coddled and spoiled and swaddled in plush velvet blankets while he sunk into featherbeds. Ahsoka had spent hers on bedrolls and in war camps and barracks, whereas Ezra had lived his on scraps of cardboard in alleyways. Of course he always had trouble sleeping. Being a prince ruined him, in a way.

He tried to think about something else. Something besides the sight of Mart's head rolling off his body, and the sound of both hitting the floor separately, the weight leaving nothing to be imagined. At least there hadn't been any blood. That would have been hard to handle.

Memories swirled behind his eyelids. His father's face, warm and bright, came first. He tried to place himself deep inside his own mind, where he was safe and whole again. Where his father's hand stroked the side of his head, his knuckles dragging against the soft bristles of his newly shorn hair.

Luke would give anything to go back.

"Mama," he remembered mumbling once, tugging at the blankets of his parents bed. "Mama? You awake, Mama?"

His mother had inhaled sharply, and then stirred. In the faded edges of Luke's memory, he could recall her swatting at his father helplessly before resigning herself to the task that was Luke Organa.

"What is it?" she had murmured, propping herself upright on one elbow and squinting through the dark at him. "Luke? Baby, you— Bail."

Luke's eyes snapped open.

His fingers flew to his nose, the phantom warmth of blood oozing from his nostrils tickling his upper lip. He remembered it gushing out now, like an isthmus, and how his mother had darted out of bed and held his head in her hands and called his name while he had garbled on and on, "Mama? Mama? Mama?"

"Tell me about your dreams, Luke," Bail Organa's voice drifted into his head, heavy and defeated.

My dreams, he thought dimly. What did I dream, when I was young?

He had always felt that he had the dream that all men dreamed. A better world for better lives to come. Yet looking back on it, his childhood had been filled with such… uncertainty. His father and mother constantly rebuking him for his adventurous spirit, scolding him for running off, for not doing as he was told. For being more interested in engines and market place gossip than galactic history, law, and language.

"You're so smart, Luke," his father had always said, always a bit exasperated, "but you just don't apply yourself."

He had always felt like he was something someone left behind. Like he was never meant to be cooped up in a palace all day, doted on, living with a gold band weighing heavily on his head. When he had found out he was adopted, he had not been shocked. He remembered that clearly enough.

He had looked up at his mother and father curiously, and suddenly understood why he had always felt a little out of place.

"You will be a wonderful king," his mother had told him once, pulling him into her lap and nuzzling his hair. "My beautiful boy. My darling little prince. You're so kind and brave, and you want nothing but to help people. That's all you do. You sneak off to go help whoever you can, even when we tell you not to. That's how I know you'll be a good king. You do what is right no matter what anyone says." Then she had pulled back and waggled her finger in his face. "Mind my word, though, my love. You are not king yet."

King he would never be. The thought still left him a little hollow, knowing he was the prince of nothing. An empty title for a nobody king.

Luke kicked back the blankets furiously. He scrubbed his face in his hands, his mouth dry and his head spinning. What was he supposed to do? He'd killed for this mission. He'd killed for the off chance that maybe his father, his birth father, was not as evil as he thought. Breha Organa had always praised him for being so good and kind and just, but Luke knew what he was in truth.

Foolish. Stupid. Naïve. His stubborn pride was equated to goodness, and he had to live with that.

Luke wanted his mother. He wanted to curl up in her lap, to press his cheek to her warm chest as she sang him a lullaby. He wanted this all to be over.

The more he clung to the past, the more clouded the future became.

If they could see him now, what would they think of him?

"A king makes all the hardest choices," his mother had murmured to him, rubbing small circles into his back, "and you can never know which is right. You just convince yourself that the decision you make is the best one for your people, and you live with that."

My people are gone, Luke thought dazedly, staring into the dark. It is only me. Me and this Empire, which I will bring crashing down.

Luke leapt to his feet. The bare soles scraped the cool durasteel floor, and he swayed for a moment. Then he marched toward the door and pressed a button.

The Star Destroyer was strange when in its night cycle. Imperial vessels were always stark, eerie, and quiet, but at night more-so than ever. Luke treaded softly, his eyes flitting toward the cameras that would inevitably pick him up as he moved.

It took longer than expected for two patrolling troopers to stop him.

"Halt!" One jerked a blaster in his direction. "Prince Organa, you are not authorized—"

"I am authorized," Luke said lazily, probing at the Force and drawing his finger across the air in a slow, sharp streak.

"You…" The speaking stormtrooper hunched in confusion. "Uh…"

Luke tilted his head. He wasn't used to this.

"I am authorized to be here," Luke said, enunciating much more clearly and putting more effort into pressuring the Force upon his suggestion.

The trooper lowered his head. "You are authorized to be here," he said.

"Step aside, trooper," Luke said. The trooper side-stepped him, and Luke breezed past them both.

He had to move quickly. He knew that well enough. Vader had probably already been alerted to his cabin door opening, so Luke was running on borrowed time. He paused only to look back at the trooper.

"You will tell me which cell Grand Admiral Thrawn is being kept in," he said, the last dregs of the mind trick weaving its way between himself and the trooper. The stormtrooper's helmet tilted upwards.

"Cellblock C, number 221," said the trooper, his voice distant and dazed. Luke licked his lips, tired and unsure, and he whirled away from the stormtroopers and slipped down the hall. He could feel Vader, somewhere on the ship, anger rippling through the Force. He was awake, and he was angry.

Finding the cell was not especially hard. Luke trotted up to it, peered at the lock mechanism, and with a wave of his hand it unlocked and slid open. He schooled his features and forced himself to relax as he stepped into the cell, shielding his thoughts and emotions as Vader's presence grew stronger.

Thrawn was awake, which did not shock him. He was sitting upright on his cot, his red eyes glued to Luke's face. They were odd in that they almost seemed to have their own luminescence, gleaming in the low light of the cell. Luke stepped into the cell, and the door slid shut behind him.

"Well," Thrawn drawled, his accent coating his words softly, "this is a surprise."

Luke stood for a moment, standing before Thrawn and allowing the man to recognize who held the power here as he lifted his chin and stepped forward.

"Why does Lord Vader want you dead?" he demanded, not bothering to beat around the bush. There was no time for small talk. Not now.

Thrawn's thin lips melted together seamlessly into one thin line. He nodded once, as though this question was reasonable and well-timed, while his gaze never left Luke's face.

"I suppose he sees me as a threat," Thrawn said with the directness of a seasoned professor. Luke realized that was it— that was what bothered him about Thrawn. He was an academic in a military setting, and he had a way of analyzing people like a critic dissects words on a page or strokes on a painting. "Odd when one remembers who he keeps on a leash."

Luke ignored the clear attempt to pry some information out of him. He had to maintain control of this interrogation.

"You did nothing wrong," Luke said. "Did Ezra seek you out, or did you figure it out before he led you to me?"

Thrawn's thin lips turned upwards, and he looked up at Luke with a newfound interest.

"I suspected," Thrawn said, resting his back against the wall behind him. "I had no proof, but I suspected from the way you acted around him. During the execution, you protected him from doing what is truly an Inquisitor's duty. I found it fascinating, the way you threw away all of your convictions the moment Lord Vader suggested the Inquisitor kill the boy instead of you. And there is, of course, the fact that the boy was from Phoenix Squadron, which you admitted not to have had much contact with, yet recognized a single young pilot as being a part of."

"I killed Mart because Vader believed I was too weak to," Luke told the man curtly.

Thrawn tore his eyes from Luke for the first time, if only to close them. His blue eyelids slid shut, and his shoulders shuddered from the cold chuckle that reverberated through the room.

"Please, Your Highness, spare your lies for someone who could use them. I would entertain your façade if I were not on death row, but alas. Give a dead man some credit, hm?"

Luke's back molars grinded against each other as a muscle in his jaw jumped irritably. He glared at Thrawn, whose eyes remained closed, and he exhaled sharply through his nose.

"So I gave Ezra away," he breathed, wincing a little as the revelation hit him. "Damn it."

"As I said, I only suspected. I was more interested in you and the other Inquisitor, the Daughter, than whether or not Lord Vader had faked the death of Ezra Bridger." Thrawn's eyelids peeled open, and he tilted his head. "Who is she?"

"The Daughter?" Luke scoffed. "She's no one you would know or care about. Let's get back to the problem at hand, however. Why does Vader believe that you must die?"

Thrawn looked unamused now, and he leaned forward, his hands clapping on his knees.

"The question is not why I must die," Thrawn said smoothly, "but why you live."

Luke eyed the man warily, and he took a tentative step back as he stood up, favoring his uninjured side yet still remaining entirely composed. He was far taller than Luke and made for an intimidating presence when he was at his full height.

"Isn't it obvious?" Luke smiled, all teeth and bitterness, and it turned quickly to a grimace. "I'm useful."

"Vader does not keep traitors, even if they are useful." Thrawn took a step forward, and Luke decided to stand his ground. "No, Prince Organa, there is something else about you that interests him. Something, I imagine, that would give you reason to know about his Jedi past."

Shit, this guy is attentive, Luke thought wildly, glaring up at Thrawn as he took another step forward.

"You really don't get the Sith, do you?" Luke shook his head. "I am just another pawn in the Emperor's game, Grand Admiral. As are you, I imagine."

"Oh no, Your Highness," Thrawn said, his tongue clicking against the roof of his mouth. "You are no pawn. That is easy enough to see."

In three quick strides, Thrawn loomed over him. Luke stood still, held his breath, and watched Thrawn's face as he snatched Luke by the chin and peered into his eyes. It was clear he was searching for something, for an answer or a sign, and Luke regarded him with a blank stare.

"What are you to him?" Thrawn hissed, turning Luke's head from side to side. "More than an apprentice, I will grant you that. Not a lover, either, which is certainly to your benefit. Tell me, who could you possibly be to the mighty Darth Vader that, despite your clear and noble dedication to your rebel cause, he allows you to roam free and does not even lock your door at night?"

Luke's mouth was dry. He did not consider this to be a mistake, but he knew that he was out of time. His bones were frozen inside his blood, and he jerked his chin from Thrawn's grasp.

"Ask him yourself," he spat, moving backwards as the door behind him slid open.

All of Thrawn's haughtiness seemed to fall away, and the man took a decisive step back as Vader's shadow spilt over the cell. It swallowed Luke up whole, and he let himself fall into it with a defeated sigh.

"Organa," Vader growled, his voice crackling uneasily over them. It rattled and shook, and Luke could feel it inside his chest, shuddering like a thunderclap and leaving vibrations shooting through his nerves.

Luke smiled at Thrawn tightly, amused at how wary he suddenly was now that Vader had arrived, and he turned to face the old Sith Lord with an innocent grin.

"Oh, hello, Lord Vader," he said, giving his birth father a mocking bow. "How nice of you to have arrived."

Vader took one single step forward, snatched Luke by the arm, and tore him from the cell. Luke stumbled a bit, not entirely shocked by the display of strength and the physicality of it all, and he grimaced as he was tossed unceremoniously behind Vader. His shoulder bumped into the opposite wall just hard enough to hurt, and he hissed through his teeth.

Then Vader's attention turned to Thrawn.

"Prince Organa is a pleasant conversationalist," he said, his voice so low and so malicious that Luke froze and stared fearfully at his back, "is he not? Count yourself lucky, Grand Admiral, that he is the last voice you will hear."

Though Luke could not see Thrawn, he heard the man's retort clear as day.

"Yet you are the executioner, Lord Vader. Unless you are handing your weapon over to the boy once again."

Vader's breath rattled in the emptiness of the corridor. He did not turn to Luke, yet the Force beckoned him forward. He moved cautiously to Vader's side, and Luke bowed his head as Vader's fist came clapping down on his shoulder. He wheeled Luke into the cell, and the door slid closed behind him.

"You wanted to see this," Vader hissed in his ear.

Luke swallowed hard. He didn't refute the claim, but he stared straight ahead.

Vader then swept around Thrawn, knocking his legs out from under him and forcing him to his knees. The man rocked slightly, a lock of dark blue hair falling out of place and shifting into one of his eyes.

"Now?" Thrawn wondered aloud, seemingly disillusioned to the idea of his death. "Here? How anti-climactic. I truly expected a spectacle."

Luke had to bite his tongue. He looked at Vader, seeing his own reflection in the shiny black lenses of his eyes, and he sighed deeply.

"At least give the man the satisfaction of knowing what he's dying for," he told Vader sharply as the lightsaber ignited with a signature snap and hiss.

Thrawn looked up at him, but Luke refused to meet his eyes. He watched Vader's helmet. He did not move, nor did he respond.

Luke's fingers closed into fists. He shook his head in disgust.

"Keep your pity, child," Vader hissed. He leveled the lightsaber, and Thrawn, to his credit, did not flinch. He merely watched Luke. "Tell him, then. If that is your wish. Tell him whatever you want."

In the moment, Luke wondered if he had inadvertently sped up the execution of Thrawn by coming here. He supposed it did not matter much.

Luke faced his father, his fingers tight in fists.

"Don't do this," he whispered.

Vader stared at him. Thrawn looked mildly bewildered as well, his blue face crumpling as his brow furrowed.

In three steps, Luke was in front of Vader. He caught Vader's wrist, holding it tightly as he looked up and searched the man's helmet.

"Please," Luke gasped, eyes wide and beseeching, "you are making a mistake. You must believe me— this will hurt you more than it will hurt him."

Vader tore his wrist away from Luke viciously, taking a large step back. His lightsaber moaned softly as it whirred through the air, and Luke watched it out of the corner of his eye. His heart hammered in his chest.

"You are a fool," Vader hissed, regaining his bearings quickly and shoving Luke aside. "Grand Admiral Thrawn would slit your throat without a second thought if he knew your true nature."

Thrawn exhaled sharply through his nose, a sharp snort which was followed by shuffling. His red eyes flickered up at the ceiling.

"Perhaps you are more rebel than I thought, Lord Vader," Thrawn said, keeping all cordiality and politeness, even at the brink of execution.

Vader stepped forward, and Luke drove him back with both hands.

"Stop!" Luke squeezed his eyes shut, straining his muscles to hold the man away. "Don't act so rashly— think! The Emperor will know something is wrong. He'll ask questions. You can't have that suspicion on you!"

"Let go," Vader spat, standing frozen as Luke leaned his forehead against his blinking breastplate. "You insolent child. This man does not deserve your misguided mercy."

"Maybe not!" Luke was shaking. His fingers trembled as he clutched at the ridged, armored fabric of his suit. "Maybe he is evil, and maybe he doesn't deserve to live, but if that is the case, Lord Vader, then neither do I, and neither do you!"

Vader froze. Luke felt, without truly comprehending it, the twinge of uncertainty that flickered among the frigid fog of his mind.

In a moment of desperation, Luke reached out into the Force.

Father, he thought, closing his eyes and holding his breath, don't do this.

With a harsh, violent shove, Luke was pushed aside. He scrambled back, floundering in midair for a moment before catching himself. Thrawn knelt on the floor between them, watching with heavily lidded eyes and turning his chin up as his gaze slid from Vader to Luke and then back.

He opened his mouth to speak, and without looking down at him, Vader swung his leg around and kicked Thrawn in the head. The hell of his boot crashed into his temple, and he went crashing to the floor without so much as a whimper.

Luke jerked back, slipping into the corner of the cell fearfully. His hands hovered defensively over himself as the rage tumbled off Vader in thick, tumultuous waves.

Without another word, Vader strode forward, snatched Luke by the collar of his shirt, and dragged him from the cell.


The planet they had stopped on en route to a rebel base was a large blue, jewel-like planet with a gaseous atmosphere that forced its inhabitants to live in pressurized bubble cities. Leia stayed in bed with Han until she was practically forced outside, and when she finally emerged from the cabin the rest of their small band of rebels stopped to look at her.

"What?" she asked dully. Her hair was loose and scraggly around her head. She had not even bothered braiding it. It sat thick and limp around her face, and she smoothed it back irritably as she stalked forward. "Stop looking at me, will you?"

"We were just worried, Commander," Rex piped up first, taking a step forward and resting a weathered, freckled hand over his heart. "That's all."

"Yeah, well…" Leia sniffed, tugging her red sash down from where someone had hung it from a rafter and wrapping it around her waist. "Worry about yourselves."

Chewie and Rex exchanged a glance while Aphra gave a mighty scoff, as if to say that she already did, thanks ever so much. Then there was Sabé.

Sabé, beautiful and discrete, sat behind all the rest. She watched Leia with owl eyes, her gaze knowing and her jaw tight.

Leia did not want to speak with her right now.

"We need to do a few patch jobs before we go anywhere," Lando announced, strolling into the hold and pausing when he saw Leia. His dark eyes brightened, and they crinkled delightedly at the corners as he grinned. "Did Han finally drag you out of that room, knight in shining armor?"

"Maybe I was tired of being cooped up." Leia folded her arms across her chest, and she frowned deeply. They were acting so weird. Yes, she had heard Vader in her head, but it wasn't that odd. Staying in the cabin so long had probably been a mistake, but she had been content to lie with Han for hours and hours, sleeping on and off, chatting quietly, and sharing a few soft kisses before the cycle began again.

She thought maybe she liked this Han, who doted on her and rambled on and on about nothing as he absently dragged his fingers through her hair.

"Well," Lando said brightly, "glad to see you back among the living, hm? Now, who's interested in exploring? Han?"

"Sure."

Han looped his thumbs through the loop of his belt and strode forward. Leia followed him. He didn't stop moving, though he did glance down at her curiously. She said nothing. Maybe she wanted to declare them a matched set or maybe she was just in need of some distraction. Either way, she was coming with them.

"Well," Lando said, shrugging off his blue satin cape and tossing it to her. She caught it with one hand and quirked an eyebrow at him. "If you're gonna go out in these parts, dearest, you best cover up that lightsaber."

"Oh." Leia looked down at her lightsaber on her belt and found herself a little dazed as she remembered that not every planet she encountered would be a warzone. She had become so accustomed to Shaval, where she had needed her lightsaber ready at all times, that going back into hiding was a bit jarring. "I guess you're right."

So she tossed on the cape, finding it was just long enough on her to cover her lightsaber. She relaxed a little.

"We won't be long," Lando told Sabé, patting the backrest of her chair. "Hopefully we can gather some medical supplies while we're here."

"Do y'all have credits stashed somewhere I don't know about?" Aphra asked with a raised eyebrow. Her gaze flickered between the three of them, and she hopped to her feet. "I want in."

"Oh, goodie," Leia muttered, turning her face away as Han half stifled a snort into his hand.

Lando merely smirked at Aphra. "If you insist," he said.

"I do." Aphra's hair was pulled back into a messy bun, and strands of dark hair fell into her face. She was wearing a beaten black leather jacket and an oversized white button-down that seemed to overflow onto her stained trousers. "Nobody is having fun around here without me in on it."

"Fun," Leia mouthed to no one in particular. Han glanced down at her, and they shared a knowing glance before starting forward.

"Leia."

At the sound of Sabé's sweet, mild voice, her core accent filtering into her tone, Leia whirled around. She blinked down at the woman, who sat as primly as a princess.

"Come here," Sabé said, "please."

For a moment, Leia considered denying her. However, considering the lengths that they had gone through to get Sabé, she decided against it. Instead Leia shuffled closer to Sabé, feeling awkward as she stood before the woman.

"Turn around. Kneel."

Hesitantly, Leia turned and knelt down on the floor. She had no idea what was happening until she felt to strong, firm hands tug at her hair. It had been a long time since anyone had braided her hair, and in her mind's eye she could recall her kitchen on Tatooine and smell the acrid desert air as her aunt hummed an old slave tune as she deftly braided Leia's hair back from her face.

A sudden, intense ache drummed at her heart. Nostalgia crept upon her suddenly, and it overcame her senses and left her stranded— half in the past, half in the present. If she let her mind escape her, and threw logic to the wind, she could imagine that Sabé's firm grip and callused fingers were that of her aunt's. Maybe she could even pretend she was on Tatooine again. The Tatooine of her childhood, where the sun beat hot on her face and the desert sands loomed treacherously, and Leia Skywalker feared nothing.

When the braid was done, Leia swallowed thickly and drew her fingers down the length of it. It was one thick, smooth plait of hair that extended down her back. It was so tidily braided that Leia did not feel even a wisp of her unruly hair slip from behind her ears.

"Thank you," she said, struggling to get ahold of herself as she twisted to look up at Sabé. The woman's face was softer now than it had been on Shaval, and there was a glimmer in her dark eyes that was all at once sad and delighted.

Sabé nodded. She seemed distracted as she looked down at Leia, her big brown eyes glazed over. Like perhaps she was trapped in the past too.

"Come on," Lando called. "We do want to make this a quick errand."

Unable to disagree, Leia pushed herself to her feet. She shot one last curious look Sabé's way, and then followed the three of them down the yacht's ramp and onto the docking bay below.

"What's this planet called?" Leia asked as Lando strutted forward, immediately flagging down the nearest uniformed official and introducing himself. Leia trusted that he had a small arsenal of aliases, and didn't bother to listen to who he was this time.

"Think Lando called it Galledian," Han said, glancing around the docking bay. It was as clean as they could expect, considering they were definitely in a dodgier part of town.

"It is," Aphra said lazily. They both glanced at her, somewhat expectantly, and she wrinkled her nose. "What?"

"You've been here before?" Leia asked, unable to keep the suspicion from creeping into her tone.

Aphra sneered at her, wholly unkind and definitely annoyed, and she rolled her eyes. "I've been to a lot of places," she said fiercely. "I'm an interesting type of gal."

"You're definitely a type," Han replied in a level voice.

The insult didn't hit Aphra as hard as Leia expected it to, though she did bristle a bit.

"Galledian has thirteen cities," she explained tersely, folding her arms across her chest. "There are no natural resources on planet except gas, and there is only one mining colony on Galledian. Calrissian knows something about mining, so it's no surprise he took us here. He probably was involved in trade with Galledian when he was in charge of Cloud City."

Both Han and Leia stared at Aphra in shock, but she shrugged off their astonishment and stared ahead of her determinedly.

"We are not in Evermout— that's the mining colony. Trust me, there'd be a boat load more security, and a way nicer landing platform. Plus the air wouldn't smell like urine."

"Incredible," Leia remarked.

"Yes," Aphra said, "I am incredible. Thanks for finally taking a notice, Little Miss Witch."

"Will people stop calling me a witch?" Leia muttered.

"No," Aphra and Han said in unison. The moment they both spoke, their eyes slid toward one another with disdain.

Lando returned with a yellow ticket in hand, and he waved it appreciatively as they watched him.

"I love locals," he said breathlessly. "They are so genuinely oblivious."

"We're lucky that the yacht is so beaten up," Leia said. "Otherwise it'd look like we were hiding something."

"How d'ya think the Falcon slides by undetected all the time?" Han asked, a smirk rising to his lips.

"You're the one who let my ship go to shit, Han," Lando reminded. Han clamped his mouth shut. "Should we christen this ship, though? We've had it for a few months now, and it seems only fitting."

"You're gonna name it?" Han asked with a sharp scoff.

"No," Lando said curtly. "Leia should. She's the only reason we have it, after all. It's her ship."

Leia's eyes widened. She had not considered that, or the yacht, much at all. It seemed to her that the Falcon was the only ship that felt truly like home, and Lando had piloted the yacht far more than her.

"It's not my ship," she objected.

"Then whose is it?" Lando's smile was gentle, but thin. "Not mine, I'll tell you that much."

"He's right," Han murmured to her, taking her by the elbow and leaning down so his mouth was close to her ear. "Think about it. It was Vader's ship. Now it's yours."

"I don't want it."

"Shock," Lando murmured. His smile never wavered, and he nodded to himself. "We'll sort that out later. For now, we need some spare parts."

They walked away from the loading dock, moving casually. Or at least, Lando, Han, and Aphra, all seasoned criminals, walked casually. Leia marched ahead, her back straight and her eyes alert.

"She's gonna get us caught," Aphra remarked.

"Shut up, Doc."

"It's true. She's got this bossy air about her. Anyone looking at her will know she's trouble."

The city was starved of light. The buildings were squat and long, and the automated weather seemed stuck on gloomy and overcast. It was probably a ploy to save money, but Leia was missing the sun. Even though Shaval was tropical, the war had left the skies thick with smoke. It had been awhile since she had felt a sun— any sun. Probably since her last stint on Tatooine.

It was certainly seedier than Leia would have liked, but seedy was probably good in this situation. It meant a whole lot of people willing to turn the other way if it suited them. Not much of an Imperial presence, either. Leia did a cursory glance over the pub Lando had stopped in front of. A neon sign hung above the door, declaring it as The Clanker's Pot. Leia tilted her head curiously.

"A cantina?" she sighed, resting her hands on her hips. "All you rogue types are the same, aren't you?"

"Yes," Lando said, "which is exactly how we're gonna get those parts at a bargain price with no questions asked. Now let's move."

Inside, the pub was bustling. Music had dribbled out into the street, the vibration of it tingling Leia's legs, but she had not been prepared for the onslaught of noise that greeted her as they shuffled into the building. It was so scantly lit that she found herself using to Force to guide her to a booth.

For a minute or so Leia sat alone, not entirely sure what had happened to her companions. She squinted through blue backlights that framed the perimeter of the club, and decidedly reached out with the Force to examine her choice of exits. The front door was the quickest, but in a fire fight it seemed unlikely. There was a back entrance that led into an alleyway, and then a door behind the bar which led into the kitchen.

At least they had multiple exits. It made her feel a little bit better.

"Cheers," Han chirped, sliding a glass across the table as he slid into the booth beside her. There was a bottle in his fist, and Leia noted that the liquid within it was already half gone.

"This better not be drugged," Leia warned him, resting one hand on the glass and peering at the contents. It was a pinkish, translucent liquid that smelled fruity.

"Ooh," Aphra drawled, slipping into the booth across from them with a tall glass of clear alcohol in one hand and a tray of shots in the other. "There's a story I'd like to hear."

Leia glared at Aphra. She took a tentative sip of her own drink, and was pleasantly surprised by the taste. It was refreshing, yet sweet, and the alcohol that gathered at the bottom had a particular bite to it that almost immediately set her blood buzzing.

Beside her, Han took a swig of his ale. It sloshed inside the bottle, and she focused on the sound, trying to drown out the din of the music that shook the walls and the floor.

"Where's Lando?" she wondered aloud.

"Getting those parts," Han said, leaning back in his seat. The vinyl seat covering squelched as he scooted closer to her. "I've known the guy for years, and if he can't swindle us some spare parts then I'm the damn Emperor."

"Mmm…" Leia took another sip of her drink. "I trust him. He hasn't let us down so far."

"That's the spirit."

"Didn't he betray you guys like, immediately, though?" Aphra reminded them, beating a cube of ice down with her straw before taking a long sip.

"Didn't you try to kill us like, twenty times?" Han retorted, sneering at the woman. "Go fuck a skeleton, or whatever it is you do."

Aphra blinked rapidly, and she cocked her head. "Not that," she said, "though, as we have shared lovers in the past, Solo, I think—"

"Nevermind," Han choked, coughing into the lip of his bottle.

In response, Aphra rolled her eyes. "You're so boring," she muttered. "What's a girl gotta do for some fun? Everyone is getting some but me."

"How about Chewie?" Han glared at Aphra as she raised a single eyebrow.

"Flattering," she said. "But I'm not his type."

"What d'ya know about Wookiees, huh?"

"I'm very good friends with Black Krrranstan, so about as much as you, I expect." Aphra smirked against her straw as she drained half her glass in a gulp.

"How about Lando?" Leia offered. "He's single."

"Skywalker, have you listened to a word I've said? Do you even know me?"

"No," Leia said, blunt and honest as she could be, because she knew that it was true. She had no idea who Aphra was. Not really.

Aphra sucked in a deep breath, and she hung her head back with a groan.

"You people," she gasped. "It's not that difficult! I like women. Like, exclusively."

"Really?" Han smirked. "Never had a fling with a handsome trader? Bar tender?"

"Loads," Aphra said flatly. "They were just all handsome women."

"So you've never had sex with a guy?"

"Han," Leia said exasperatedly, swatting his arm. "Stop prying."

"I'm totally open," Aphra said, "and no. I haven't. Is it as disappointing as I'd imagine?"

Leia bit her tongue. She could feel her face getting warm, and she despised the feeling.

"I'm not answering that," she said sharply.

Aphra glanced at her, and she snorted. "I wasn't asking you, Master Jedi."

It became clear that Han was uncomfortable. She sensed it in the way his body stiffened minutely, and the way that his breathing changed. So she reached beneath the table and caught his hand within her own.

"He's not answering that either," Leia told Aphra with a cold, empty gaze.

Aphra stared at her. She plucked up a shot glass, emptied it, and dropped it back onto the table.

"You're no fun," she whined. "I bet Luke would tell me. He's too earnest not to be upfront about everything, the idiot."

"Luke is not an idiot," Leia snapped.

Aphra eyed her. She plucked up another shot glass, but this time slid it over to Leia before leaning back and folding her arms across her chest.

"You need to calm down, sister," Aphra said. "I'm trying to play nice with you two, but you keep acting like everything I do or say is offensive to your entire existence."

"That's because it usually is," Leia retorted.

"Not intentionally, okay? I'm just mean!"

"That doesn't— that doesn't exactly help you, you know that, right?"

"Eh." Aphra shrugged, and then took a long sip of her drink. She waved at Leia to take the shot, and Han watched her out of the corner of his eye while she thumbed the rim of the glass. "You're straight up fucking a smuggler, so I don't really care about your opinions."

Leia picked up the shot glass and downed it. The liquor was smooth and thick, and it ran hot down her throat. Her chest was ignited with some sort of flame, and she chased the shot with some more of the fruity drink Han had bought her. She was infinitely thankful for it, even if it did contain more alcohol than that shot and Han's ale put together.

"Not to change the subject suddenly, but I'm changing the subject," Han said, turning to look at Leia directly. "We didn't talk about what happened. On the yacht."

"What do you mean?"

"When we left Shaval. The thing."

Leia's mouth was dry. She took another sip of her drink, not caring if that would only exacerbate her dehydration, and stared at the waxed surface of the table dully.

"Leia. Come on, we need to talk about it."

"What exactly do you want to know?" she asked.

"Well why don't we start with Luke. Did you, uh…" Han shifted in his seat, and he wrinkled his nose. "Did you see him? You know. With your hokey Force stuff?"

Leia exhaled sharply through her nose, and her eyes rolled back so far into her head she saw white. "Yes," she hissed.

Aphra's eyes lit up. "How was he?" she asked eagerly. "Was he— you know— uh…" She gestured to her head, and then grimaced. Her gaze fell away quickly, and the excitement she'd had faded.

Leia watched this with mild interest. She often forgot that Aphra's reason for sticking around the rebels was Luke.

"He looked okay," she admitted, allowing a pause for both Han and Aphra to relax a little bit. Han blew a soft sigh of relief, and she squeezed his hand.

"He wasn't hurt?" Aphra demanded. "No signs that he's been tortured?"

"Not physically."

"Damn." Aphra sank back into her seat. "Damn… that's… that's good."

Leia pressed her lips together thinly. Was it good? Luke hadn't been injured when she'd seen him, but he had looked almost… sickly. His skin had been ghastly pale, and his eyes sunken into his skull, plunged beneath the weight of dark circles. He had been thin as a rod, and wobbly looking. Like he hadn't been eating properly.

"He's fighting," Leia said softly, "but I don't know how long he can last."

"Isn't it good that we know, though?" Han asked, looking unsure. "I mean, he's alive. He's not hurt. That's good, right?"

"I…" Leia couldn't help but bite her lip, and hear the echo of Yoda's warning inside her head. "I don't know."

Aphra's eyes narrowed, and she bobbed her head slowly. "Right," she muttered. "Great. Lovely. Glad to know he's probably getting royally mind fucked right now."

"Vader's gonna pay," Han said darkly. He stared down at his bottle of ale, and his deep-rooted hatred of Darth Vader pulsed off him like a pang. Leia felt it wholly, and she lowered her head.

"Yes," Leia said quietly. "He—"

A blaster bolt rang out, causing a cacophony of shouts and screeches. Dancers scattered and dispersed, and a swift figure came cutting through them.

Lando leaned over their table, grabbed the last of the shot glasses that Aphra had procured, and he tossed it back.

"Whoo!" he breathed, slapping the glass back down and lifting his blaster over his head. "Okay! Who's ready to get outta here?"

Leia and Han were already out of the booth.

"Back door," Leia said, directing Han toward the bar. She reached behind her and grasped Lando's wrist. "Aphra, grab Lando's shirt."

They slipped through the crowd as fast as they could, and Leia let go of Han and Lando only to leap over the bar, sliding onto the other side and leveling her blaster with the barkeep's face. The man, a tall, fresh faced Zabrak, held his hands up over his head. He did not look as surprised as one might expect, but his eyes had widened a bit at the barrel of her gun.

"Sorry," Leia said as Han, Lando, and Aphra filed behind the bar. "We gotta use this door."

"Whatever," the bartender said tiredly. "Just don't leave any more bodies, okay? I'm sick of cleaning them up."

Leia lifted her blaster and backed up into the door that led to the kitchen.

"Get a new job," she recommended to him before disappearing.

They shuffled quickly through the kitchen, earning some sharp looks from the staff as they bowed their heads and plowed through toward the back.

"What the hell just happened, Lando?" Han hissed, snatching Lando's arm as they were spat out in the back of an alley. Both Leia and Aphra had blasters in their fists, and they eyed the opening of the alley suspiciously.

"The old geezer recognized me," Lando said with a heavy sigh. "I must have done trade with him a few years ago, but it didn't hit me until it was too late."

"What about the parts?" Leia demanded.

"Cool it," Lando said with a sniff, readjusting his lapels and straightening upright. "I've got it under control."

"You just murdered a man!"

"Yeah," Han said, his eyes darting quickly from Leia to Lando and back. "Totally. Unethical. How unethical. How dare you."

"Leave the moral scrutiny to me, sweetheart," Leia murmured, patting his chest. "You're bad at it."

"Oh."

"He gave me the name of his supplier," Lando said, striding forward. "We can still get the parts and skedaddle before we get caught."

"We've already been caught," Leia said, sprinting to keep alongside him and shooting him a furious glance. "There's no point in sticking around now, we have to get back to the ship and leave before someone alerts the Empire!"

"With that ship?" Lando threw his head back and laughed, waggling his finger in her face. "You're a funny girl. But no. No, we won't make it to another habited system with the state the old girl's in."

"There has to be some other way." Leia licked her lips, and she could taste the sweat that clung to the crevice between her mouth and noise. The residual sweetness of the alcohol on her lips mixed in with it, causing her to grimace. "What if you're wrong? What if your informant gave you bad intel?"

"Then we run." Lando offered a shrug as they exited the alleyway, trotting down the street casually. "No need to get testy. We've faced worse odds."

"He's not wrong," Han muttered, causing Leia to glare up at him.

"Just because we have good luck doesn't mean we should test it," she hissed.

"Says the crazy bitch who cracked Vader's helmet open," Aphra said with a lazy drawl to her tone. "Hard pass on your opinions, sister. Tonight, we listen to Calrissian."

"I love her," Lando chirped, turning to shoot a dazzling smile at Aphra. "You are a breath of fresh air, Doc. Truly."

"Keep your eyes forward, sweet-talker," Aphra said with a roll of her eyes. "You're barking up the wrong tree."

"I wasn't trying to flirt," Lando said, his steps quick and delicate. "Though I suppose you are my type. I do like them mouthy."

"We know," Aphra said, her eyes sliding dangerously to Han, who stiffened a bit under her gaze. It was so pointed, and so ceaseless, that Leia turned around and glowered at Aphra.

"Get your eyes off him," Leia hissed, "and stop running your mouth about things you know nothing about."

"So you're just fine with your little boy toy hanging with his ex, like that's no big deal to you?" Aphra asked, folding her arms across her chest. "I personally hate watching him and Sana even be in the same room together, and Sana and I haven't been a thing in forever."

"You could be a thing if you weren't so incredibly awful," Han said with a sniff. "Bitch."

"Oho?" Aphra's grin was sharp and devilish. "Bitch yourself, you ugly bucket of bantha shit."

"How are you two?" Lando asked suddenly, glancing at Leia and then at Han with the sort of earnest curiosity that stunned Leia. It wasn't that she didn't like or trust Lando, it was just that she was reluctant to like and trust Lando. "I don't mean to pry, but I can't help but noticing how… fast it all seemed."

"Like we weren't fast?" Han muttered.

Lando didn't bat a single eyelash as he replied, "Love and passion cannot be measured in earthly numbers."

All three of them paused to shoot Lando incredulous looks. Han's face became completely contorted, his nose wrinkling in disgust while Aphra's eyes went wide and she whistled low. Leia simply stared at the man, and she wondered vaguely to herself just what had happened between him and Han.

"You're full of shit," Leia said softly.

Lando's eyes flitted to her, and his smile did not falter. "Only most of the time," he said with a wink. "Now, I believe we need to go… this way? Yes, this is definitely the way."

They shuffled down another alleyway, taking a shortcut into another street. This side was much shadier, and Leia frowned deeply.

"Aphra, get between me and Han."

"What?" Aphra snorted. "Why?"

"Just do it."

Aphra eyed Leia suspiciously, but she slipped between her and Han nonetheless. It was nice to have a woman around that was around her height, but Leia was not comfortable with the fact that she had not been able to see the woman. Now that she was right in front of her, she felt much better about trekking down this street.

It seemed unlikely that Aphra, loud as she was, could get snatched out from under their noses, but Leia knew Aphra's limits. She was safer in front of Leia.

They stopped outside a grimy looking building with a single pointed spire that reached for the heavens. There was no sign for it, only greasy windows and a heavy durasteel door that was guarded by a heavyset Trandoshan whose massive nostrils were pierced with one rod of metal. Lando wasted no time in rolling right up to him, talking smoothly and quickly. The Trandoshan nodded, and they all moved forward at once.

"You ssstay," the Trandoshan hissed, jerking a clawed finger in the direction of Leia, Han, and Aphra.

"No, no," Lando said, smiling breezily at the Trandoshan, "they're with me."

"Your name hasss weight," said the Trandoshan, glowering down at Lando and pushing a button behind him. The door slid open. "Thessse three? Might asss well be sssnacksss."

Lando pursed his lips, and he scratched his head thoughtfully. "Well, that puts things into perspective," he muttered. He whirled to face them. "I'll be right back. Do not kill each other, and do not get killed. Got it?"

"Who died and made you in charge?" Leia asked sharply.

"As of right now, no one, but life is short and the day is long. Play nice, now."

Then, without another word, he disappeared into the building.

"I hate that guy," Aphra said, though she was smirking as she turned away and kicked a rock into the street.

"Join the club, Doc," Han muttered, dragging his hand through his hair and slumping. They moved far enough away from the Trandoshan to feel safe, but not far enough that they could no longer see the entrance of the building. Han glanced at Leia, and he sighed deeply. "I'm sorry. I never thought weird ex stuff would come up with Lando of all people. We were barely a thing."

"But you were—" Leia winced at how small and short her tone had become. "—still a thing. It doesn't matter how short it was, or if it didn't mean anything to you."

"It didn't."

"I think it did to him," Leia told Han gently. "So you should talk to him about it. Not me."

"It's been years. Over a decade!" Han shook his head furiously. "What, do you want me to go and apologize for a relationship that never really existed? It's not like it is with us, Leia. He and I were barely friends, let alone—" Han cut himself off with a grimace, and he looked away.

"Lovers?" Leia found herself smirking at the way Han gagged a bit, and she cupped her chin thoughtfully. "Oh, this really does bother you, huh? You had no problem with your little crush on Luke."

"Luke was cute and fun to tease." Han chewed on his thumbnail and stared ahead. "I liked him. Genuinely. I liked how good he was. How honest and sweet he could be without making any effort. Part of me thought that if I could get a guy like Luke to love me, then maybe I'm worth something after all."

"Oh," Leia whispered, her eyes widening a little in horror. "Han…"

"Don't start," Han said, waving her off. "Don't tell me that I'm worth more than I think, or that I'm hard on myself— I'm really not. You know me, Leia, my ego is bigger than a supernova. Luke was just real, you know? Different than my other stints at love."

Leia was suddenly very aware of Aphra's open ears, and yet she knew she could not ask her to walk away. So she swallowed her pride, hard and fast, and she stared into Han's eyes.

"What about me?" she demanded.

Han blinked down at her. He tilted his head. "What about you?"

"Am I any different than the others?"

Han stared at her. Then unsurprisingly, he began to laugh. He caught her in a headlock and kissed her hair.

"Han," she mumbled into his collarbone, "not cool. Answer me."

"You're nothing like the others," he murmured into her hair. "Not even Qi'ra, and I loved her half my life."

"You didn't tell me about that one," Leia said, shifting in his arms.

"It's not a happy story, and I think a whole lot of my trust issues come from her." Han lowered his lips to her forehead and kissed it gently. "You're nothing like her. You're not really like anyone else I've ever met."

Leia gave a short scoff, and she pulled back from him. "Thanks," she said, "I think."

"Honestly," Aphra piped up, "I would've gone with the other twin, Han, ol' boy. Luke's the better option, and that's saying a lot coming from me."

"Get outta my space, Aphra," Han groaned, bowing his head until it collided with Leia's shoulder. She patted his head comfortingly, and kept her eyes trained on the entrance of the building.

"She's not wrong," Leia said. "Luke is the better twin. Why did you go with me?"

"That's a stupid question."

"Well… indulge me." She peered at him, tipping her head curiously. "Please?"

"Uh… because one, I liked you first," Han said, straightening up. "And also two, Luke wanted nothing to do with me romantically. He made that abundantly clear."

"Unfortunate for you," Aphra observed.

"Y'know what," Han grunted, whirling on Aphra with an accusatory finger jerked in her face. Leia caught his wrist. That didn't stop Han from lurching forward, his body looming over Aphra as he sneered at her. "You got a problem with me, Doc? 'Cause we can settle this right here, right now."

"Oh, shut up." Leia shoved him back, wedging herself between Aphra and Han and glaring at them both. "Being with you two is like babysitting two twelve-year-olds. It's exhausting! Just shut up already."

"Come on!" Han leaned over Leia's head to glower down at Aphra, despite her best efforts to push him back. "You know she's a few wires loose of a mainframe, she's certifiably insane!"

"She may be a bitch, Han, but she's been loyal so far! Just because someone has a bad attitude doesn't mean they get the snot beaten out of—" Leia's mouth clamped shut. There was a sensation of dread that fell over her, a sudden burst of paranoia that cluttered her chest and caused her to whirl around. She felt like a thousand eyes were boring into the back of her head.

"What?" Han asked nervously, taking a careful step away from her as she stared fixedly on the entrance of the building. When she did not respond, Han groaned exasperatedly. "You know, I don't gotta believe in any of this Force mumbo-jumbo. I can walk away right here, right now—"

"Lando's in trouble," Leia said quietly, her feet already moving fast against the pavement.

"Oh. Oh shit."

Han was behind her in a second, Aphra trailing behind them hesitantly. The feeling grew only more intense, her heart hammering inside her chest and her mouth going dry as she approached the Trandoshan.

"You will let us in," Leia growled, holding two fingers up and mimicking Ben's movements from the recesses of her memory in order to ply the man's mind with her suggestion until he repeated it back to her. She exhaled sharply through her nose. "Step aside."

The Trandoshan sidestepped her, and she strolled through the sliding door.

"Why didn't we do that first?" Aphra asked sharply.

"Because Lando made it seem like he could handle this," Leia said irritably.

"Lando's good in a fight, but only when he hasn't got himself trapped in his own head," Han said with a sniff. "He thinks real high and mighty about himself, and then suddenly he makes all kinds of mistakes. That's how I got the Falcon, actually."

"Maybe you should have informed us of that a little earlier, buddy," Leia hissed.

They cut through a narrow, dark passage and followed the sound of an upbeat live band and with the accompaniment of a scuffle. When they broke through into the light, they found themselves on a balcony that ran around the perimeter of the building, its floor covered in a plush red velvet carpet.

Without stopping to think, Leia rushed the balcony and flipped right over it.

On her way down she could hear Han cursing, sputtering her name as his hands came clamping down on the metal rail.

She landed on her feet, crouched with her braid flicking as she moved. Her heel collided with the nearest guard's shin, and she kicked him to his knees, sliding around him and smashing his face into the nearest table. Blaster bolts went off in quick succession, and Leia yanked the guard up by the helmet and caught each blast with his body. She unclipped her blaster, tearing it from her holster, and blindly shot two men who had crept up behind her.

"I told you!" Lando rasped, on his knees on the ground at the center of four sabacc tables. There were two grunts holding him in place, and one had a blaster to his temple. Leia glanced at him, taking in the extent of his injuries. Two thick streams of blood trailing from his nostrils, a cut on his brow, a few wrinkles in his usually pristine deep blue silk shirt, but otherwise he seemed fine. "Didn't I say you'd regret this?"

"Stop or we'll shoot him!" the guard with the blaster spat, the barrel of the gun jamming up against Lando's head hard enough to make him wince.

Leia trained her blaster on him, but stopped short. There were four men on the floor around her in varying states of dismay. Some groaned, some writhed, and the rest backed away from her with blasters out and ready to shoot.

"Let him go," Leia said, tilting her head, "and I won't shoot you."

The guard's eyebrows shot up, and he barked a sharp, disbelieving laugh.

"Lady," he said, "I don't think you get how this works."

"One," Leia warned. "Two."

"Gentlemen!" came the steady, haughty Corellian drawl that she knew too well. "And lady. What's all the fuss?"

Han walked up to them with the sort of lazy swagger that was innate to him. It was his gait, through and through, and he glanced around the room at the hot blasters and angry eyes and grinned.

"This one," the guard with the blaster said, nudging Lando's head, "was caught cheating."

Leia noted how Han's eyes rolled, but he managed not to say anything about it.

"And that one," the guard spat, glowering at Leia, "is beating up our men. What's your stake in this?"

"Curiosity," Han admitted, strolled up to a random table and scooping up a handful of chips. "I'm new in town. Don't know the ropes just yet. Say, what if we here play a game?"

"A game," the guard repeated.

"Yeah," Han said brightly, flicking a chip onto the table. "Me and whoever that poor bastard swindled."

Leia shared a glance with Lando, and they both realized at once that they were going to be here for a while.


"You are a fool."

"So you keep telling me," Luke murmured, rubbing his shoulder where it had collided with the wall. He had been tossed rather roughly into Vader's room, which was a smaller version of what he had seen on Mustafar. It made him feel cold and uncertain as he shrunk beneath Vader's gaze. "I'm not sorry."

"What," Vader spat, taking a step forward, "possesses you to do the things you do? You are an impossible child!"

"Maybe," Luke hissed, his eyes fixed on the ground, "the problem is that I am not a child."

His words rung out in the vacuous belly of the chamber. Luke hung back, his spine pressing against the wall as he let his head loll forward and his eyes close. The only sound was the rattling of Vader's breathing as it echoed around them, a familiar sound that never ceased to make Luke feel small again.

"What would you have me say?" Vader hissed. "Thrawn must die."

"I'm sure he deserves to die," Luke said, the image of Ezra's face, of the rage and the remorseless gaze that he had held when he talked about Thrawn, swimming in his mind's eye. "But I'm not sure you've thought this through. Thrawn's disappearance is going to garner some unwanted attention. You've already had to lie through your teeth to his Star Destroyer."

"I said he had been injured," Vader said, "which is entirely true."

"That lie won't hold together for long, and not to be rude but everyone will know who killed him when they retrieve a headless corpse with cauterized wounds. Think for a moment!" Luke shook his head furiously. "I know you're smarter than that. You're Anakin Skywalker, you're a military genius! So quit acting like a stubborn child and rationalize with me, will you?"

Vader stared at him. Luke met his gaze, his nostrils flaring, and he straightened up. His shoulders squared up and his chin tipped downward.

"I'm not pretending that I'm right," he said. "I don't know if I am. I just know that I don't want the Emperor breathing down our necks, and if that means that we have to keep Thrawn alive a little bit longer until we can stage his death properly, then fine."

Beneath the heaviness of Vader's breathing, Luke heard what might have been a scoff.

"You truly are a politician," Vader said, his disgust dripping from his voice and coating his words heavily.

"Yes. It's almost like… I was raised for it…?" Luke rolled his eyes and dragged his hands through his hair. "Pin it on the rebels. That shouldn't be hard for you. Or use the debris in the halls from the battle as a cover. Honestly, you'd think with all the murder you've done you'd know how to cover it up!"

"No." Vader seemed pensive. He looked away from Luke thoughtfully, and he shook his head. "I never had to."

"Wow. No wonder you're so insufferable." Luke could not keep himself from speaking. He knew it was dangerous, but it was so difficult to hold his tongue when he was so annoyed. Vader had danced on Luke's last nerve today. "Imagine if there were actually consequences to your actions? Then maybe you'd be a real person with feelings."

The smack was not unexpected, but it hurt a hell of a lot more than Luke thought it would. He was flung aside, his head snapping in one direction and his feet tangling in another until he was half on the floor and his good ear was ringing. He sat for a moment, blinking dazedly up at the ceiling before he touched his cheek gingerly, hissed in pain, and dragged his finger to his ear.

"Shit," he mumbled, dragging his hands along the floor, one eye squeezed closed as he felt for the small, fleshy device. It had fallen somewhere behind him, and he grabbed it the moment he caught hold of it. Then he glanced up at Vader, one eye still squinted closed. "You know, maybe I deserved that. But I don't regret it."

Vader's hand flexed momentarily, like he wanted to reach down, pluck Luke from the floor by his throat, and slam him into the wall.

He did not.

Instead he paced, rapidly, crossing the room in a few quick strides. Luke watched him quietly for a minute or so before sighing.

"It took you a long time to get to me," he remarked. "I didn't think I'd even make it to Thrawn."

"I did not expect you to be foolish enough to test me," Vader spat, his pacing unceasing.

"Oh, please," Luke murmured, closing his other eye. "Expect everything, Lord Vader. I know you don't actually trust us, so why leave the door unlocked?"

"I think," Vader said, pausing only to shoot Luke a look that he could not read, "that you already know the answer."

Luke rested his chin on one knee as he pushed his hearing aid back into his ear. He stared vacantly ahead of him.

"You knew that if we used the opportunity to try an escape, you'd have caught me in my lie," Luke said softly. "You think I'm not serious about staying with you."

"You are not."

Luke shook his head, and he exhaled sharply through his nose. "You don't know that," he said.

"I know you," Vader growled, his displeasure and dissatisfaction with the entire situation rolling around them, thick with the chill of Vader's numbing presence. "That is enough."

"You do not."

Vader watched him, and it was clear how frustrated he was by the way he stood. His shoulders were taut, and his helmet was tipped forward.

"You are my son," Vader said sharply. "I know you."

"No," Luke sighed, leaning his head back against the wall, "you don't. You don't know me at all. You don't even try to get to know me, and you avoid me just as much now as you did on Mustafar even though I'm more than happy to talk to you. What do you want from me? You can't stand to be around me, yet you want to torture me into submission. You don't want to hurt me, but you cause me to do unbearable things, things that you know will only make me hate myself. You want me to fall to the Dark Side, but you're so lazy about it. You think if you avoid me, manipulate me, assume that I will betray you, then force me to kill a rebel, that's enough to turn me? Make an effort, Vader, or leave it alone!"

Vader whirled on him, and he marched up to Luke until he was looming like an obelisk before him.

"You want me to torture you?" he snapped.

"No," Luke said defensively, feeling his eye swelling shut as he attempted in vain to open it. "I just don't like being ignored, and also… you're confusing. I don't exactly mind, you know, that you're not trying very hard. I just want to know why."

Luke knew he was tempting fate whenever he talked to Vader. He knew that this whole scheme was a long shot, and that he might not come out the other side. That wasn't the point. The point was that he was going to follow what his heart told him, and even if Vader was evil, even if Luke failed, he knew that it was not for nothing.

Ezra had the datachip. He was going to get out of this alive.

Then Leia could finish the rest.

If nothing else, he knew he could trust his twin.

"Why," Vader repeated quietly.

"Yeah." Luke straightened up. "Why not just torture me? What's the point?"

"You're my son," Vader hissed.

"So that's the only thing stopping you from putting a needle in my neck and pulling me apart?" Luke thought about it for a moment, and then he began to laugh. "That's bantha shit."

Vader stepped forward abruptly, and he raised his hand. Luke flinched involuntarily, and Vader stopped, his fist hovering inches from Luke's face.

They stared at each other confusedly, Luke searched Vader's mask for answers while Vader watched Luke with uncertainty toiling around him.

"You tortured me before," Luke reminded him softly.

Vader's fist did not waver.

"You destroyed my planet," Luke whispered, the devastation of it all coming back and welling up inside him, hammering at his chest and leaking through his eyes. "You killed my family. I don't… I don't know why you think that I am any different now than I was then just because now you know that we share blood. Does family really mean that much to you?"

"Yes," Vader hissed.

Luke pried open his throbbing eyelid, and he glared up at Vader.

"Prove it," he said.

The silence came and enveloped him as fast as a crest of a wave. He was bobbing like a cork in the lull of the moment, starkly aware of how sad and empty the room was. How they had nothing between them but this silence and two decades of lost time. There was nothing to heal between them because there was nothing between them to start with.

Vader lowered his fist. He turned slowly, his gait changed and his movements sluggish. Then, without another word, he left his own room.

Chapter Text

The sabacc table was set up so that Han sat on one end, and a representative of the club owner sat across from him. Because Lando was part of the bet, he was stationed behind the table with his arms restrained behind his back. All other games had been put on hold, and Leia was forced to relinquish her blaster until the game's end.

Aphra was sitting on a spare table, one leg kicked up, the heel of her boot digging into the polished wood. She was sipping something dark and syrupy, her dark eyes flitting curiously between Han and his opponent.

The club owner did not like to show his face, the security guard known only as Red informed her. He had professional gamblers to do the dirty work for him.

The gold carpet beneath them had receded to display a digital timer. Han glanced at it warily.

"You shouldn't put a time limit on a good sabacc game," he told the woman who had come to fill the owner's place.

She watched him with sharp, intelligent eyes. When she smiled, it made her look a bit wicked, and she tapped her stack of chips with one long nail that was trimmed in gold. There were gold flakes encrusted on her long lashes, and gold paint dashed across the lids of her eyes. Jewels, small clusters of crystal, sat between her lower lid and the points of her cheekbone. Another line of gold swept across her right cheek.

"Let us begin," the woman said, her core accent rich and deep. The way her voice lilted sent a ripple across the room, commanding silence and respect in a way that left Leia a bit breathless. "We are betting for the fool's life?"

"His freedom," Han said, taking hold his of his dealt cards without looking at them. "Also the parts he bargained for."

"Very well." The woman's sharp eyes flickered across her cards in one swift movement before she set them down. Han watched her with a furrowed brow. "You know my bet. However, I cannot see you making this worth my while."

Han's smirk was fireproof, and he cocked his head to one side lazily. "Lady," he said, "what could a gal like you want from a guy like me?"

Leia pressed her lips together thinly. She ignored the pointed stare that Aphra shot her, the way that her lips quirked and her eyebrows wiggled, and instead she focused on the task at hand. She had seen Han play sabacc before, but the stakes had never been this high. Her escape routes seemed dismal, not to mention risking a firefight with Han, Lando, and Aphra defenseless seemed idiotic at best and suicidal at worst.

The way the woman sat was very regal. She held her spine straight, and her chin up high, and it was clear that she was more than what she appeared. The glitter and the paint, the jewels on her eyes and laced in her long black hair, it all seemed like a glossy veneer for something else. Something more interesting.

The woman's black eyes slid to Leia's face. She drew a card, maintaining eye contact with her all the while.

Leia couldn't help but glance away, her lower lip caught between her teeth. We need to get out of here, she thought. Fast.

"Well," said the woman, "you must have something worthwhile, otherwise you'd never play sabacc."

"Hm." Han rubbed his chin thoughtfully, eyeing the woman's hands warily. "Fair enough. I'll bet our ship."

"Oh, this oughta be good," Lando muttered, loud enough for anyone in the general vicinity to hear. The woman, who was directly in front of Lando, lifted an eyebrow high enough that it disappeared behind her neatly trimmed bangs.

"Your ship," she repeated. She tapped the edge of her cards against the table, her long lashes grazing her cheeks as she glanced at them. "I imagine it's damaged?"

"Sure," Han said, "but it ain't like you don't got the parts, y'know? It's a pretty ship, too. Fast, sleek, and rich in history."

"Oh, I do love history." The woman's smile was tight and thin. "What is the make?"

"Our old girl?" Han shrugged. "She's an H-type Nubian yacht— customized, of course. She's a bit rough around the edges right now, but we're trying to fix her up real nice. She's vintage, you know— pre-Clone Wars."

This was too much information. Leia knew that this was too much information, and she felt the sting of panic as she watched the woman, whose face remained completely impassive and yet Leia knew that she was teeming with shock and curiosity. The whole atmosphere had shifted, and not in a particularly pleasant way. Before, Leia had felt comfortable in the tension that had arose at the start of their game. They were both equally blind, and that gave her some semblance of hope that Han could swindle the woman.

Now, her mouth dry and her hands going cold and clammy, she was not so sure.

"Oh, now that's intriguing," the woman said, her eyes darting back to her cards. "How did a man like you come across such a vessel?"

Leia bit down on her lower lip, hard enough that some peeling skin tore between her teeth. She and Aphra glanced at one another nervously. If they traced the ship back to Vader, there would be done for.

"What makes you think I didn't buy it fair and square?" Han asked. There were creases in his forehead, and his lips grew taut.

"You could not afford such a thing," the woman said listlessly. She pushed a small stack of chips into the center of the table.

Han's jaw tightened, and he looked into the woman's eyes with the sort of haughtiness that spelled out trouble. His lips quirked up at the corners, and his posture slid away into a lazy slouch as he leaned over and plucked a triangular glass filled with a greenish, luminescent liquid. He sipped it, glancing at his card with mild disinterest before his gaze flitted back to her face.

"Darling," he said, pushing all of his chips into the center of the table. "Try me."

For a moment, Leia could sense the uncertainty in the woman. She kept her features schooled, though her nostrils did flare a bit, and she glanced down at her cards thoughtfully.

They both pulled two more cards.

"Where did you get the yacht," the woman said conversationally, her eyes sliding with an almost catlike swiftness toward Han's face, "really?"

"What makes you think I'm lying?"

The woman drummed her fingers against the table. Then one finger dragged itself casually toward a stack of chips.

"I think you're the sort to swindle and slide your way through life," she said, tilting her head. Her long black hair pooled like silk in the hollow of her neck before slipping over her shoulders. "I think you know your way around a lie. It comes easy to you, doesn't it, smuggler?"

Han blinked, and his mouth opened to retort, but before he could she laid her cards out on the table. He glanced down at them, and his mouth clamped shut.

"Fuck," Aphra hissed, her forehead falling against her fist. Leia stood on her tip toes to get a good look at the woman's cards.

"Oh," Leia said, feeling incredibly foolish and a little baffled by the turn of events. She and Han exchanged a look. He winced, and his shoulders slumped.

"You got me," he admitted, laying his own cards down.

The woman did not smile. Her brow furrowed, and she looked at Han with a sudden glint of empathy lighting up her cold black eyes. She tipped her chin down, and she opened her mouth to speak.

"Well done, Lali," an unfamiliar voice boomed. The patrons of the casino all turned their heads to observe the man who had appeared on the balcony above. He was a heavyset human, pale and well dressed, with a bone chilling grin.

Lali's eyes closed. Her shoulders had tensed up at the sound of his voice.

"Well played," Lali said, her voice as dull as ever as she reached over the table and offered out her hand. "You nearly beat me with that Master."

Han stared at her hand. His lips curled, and Leia saw his fingers itch toward the knife he had hidden in his boot.

She strode forward, her boots clapping heavily against the floor, and she reached beneath her cape and popped the lid of the holster on her back. Four guns were on her in an instant, but she did not stop. Instead she reached the table, and smacked the old, absurdly long weapon onto the table.

"Rematch," Leia said firmly.

Han's eyes darted to her face, his hand had halted, yet he seemed unsure.

Lali's eyes were glued to the lightsaber. Then her gaze shot up to Leia.

They watched one another fixedly, trying to find answers in the other's dark eyes but unable to truly see anything. This woman, Leia decided, knew far too much.

"Is that real?" Lali asked.

Leia rolled her eyes. She plucked the lightsaber from the table, spun it once in her hand, and then activated the right end of it. The red blade shivered into life, hissing and sputtering as it bathed the dim, cylindrical room in harsh crimson light. Several blasters came hastily into guards' hands, pointed straight at her as she stared straight at Lali.

"Well?" Leia asked, tilting her head. "What do you got to lose?"

Lali's gaze shifted cautiously to the blade in Leia's fist. She inhaled sharply, leaning back in her chair.

"Odd thing to have," she remarked dully.

"We're an odd sort of folk," Leia said. She turned the lightsaber off, feeling a little anxious as she set it down on the table. It made a heavy clunking noise as she took a step back, her gaze darting to Han's face. They stared at one another for a few seconds before he nodded.

This game was much tenser than the previous. The duo made their moves in relative silence, their faces blank and impassive. Lali's eyes flickered from her cards to Han's face and back. Han kept his own gaze fixed on Lali's face, his distrust palpable with every passing second.

"You have nothing left to bet," Lali said, her hands full of cards and her eyes held low.

"I do still have my dignity," Han pointed out.

Lali raised a single eyebrow, and the corner of her lips quirked. "Not for much longer," she said.

Then, inexplicably, she set her cards down. Han watched her, and the whole room sat with bated breath as they observed Lali lean back and smirk at Han smugly.

Han licked his lips. He blinked thrice. He looked down at his cards, and he smiled tightly.

"Ah," he said, "y'know… you really are good."

Lali smiled. She lifted one shoulder up to her jaw, and her eyes fluttered almost bashfully.

Han shot her a quick, vicious grin. "Sorry to say, though, sweetheart, you just ain't good enough."

With a sweep of his fingers, the cards slapped against the table, and he jumped up with a triumphant cry of delight. Leia let out the breath she was holding, and she held her hand over her chest as she exhaled very sharply.

Han reached over, snatched her by the bicep, and he tugged her forward until she stumbled against his chest. She gasped against his mouth as he pulled her into a kiss, his arm slipping around her waist and his hand hooking behind her neck. Leia tentatively kissed him back, the warmth of his body sending shivers from her ribs to her shins.

Then Han broke away, and he snatched Maul's lightsaber from the betting pile.

"A pleasure doing business with you, madam," he said, faux saluting her with the metal rim of the saber. He jerked his head at the guard holding Lando. "I'd like my prize, please."

The guard glared at Han mutely, but complied nonetheless. He released the binders, shoved Lando forward, and though Lando stumbled for a step or two, he steadied himself and marched forward with his head high and his eyes glittering.

"You scoundrel!" he cried, a delighted grin splitting his lips wide open and flashing his white teeth as he flung his arms around both Leia and Han. "Never play Han in sabacc, that is the lesson all men must learn the hard way!"

Han chuckled a little uncertainly, and he patted Lando on the back. "You're gonna make me blush," he said.

"Is that a promise?" Lando laughed, lifting his arms from their shoulders and whirling around to face Lali. "We'll be taking the money and the parts, miss."

Leia leaned against Han and watched Lali warily as she nodded curtly, her sharp eyes always somehow flitting back to Leia's face. It seemed too easy. When she lifted her gaze toward the balcony, the casino owner was nowhere to be found.

The spare parts had to be wheeled to the docking bay, they were told. They stood by after being escorted outside, the winnings split between them in fat bantha-skin pouches. A few patrons congratulated them on their way out, though their eyes trailed after them in that particular way of suspicion that Leia had grown weary of.

"Thanks for that," Lando said, rubbing the back of his neck as he peered up at the synthetic night sky. Because the sky was fake, they could see the projection of the star map clear as day. Leia's eyes trailed across it curiously, noting the systems she could recognize and finding her eyes trailing, inexplicably, to the bold, blinding blip of light that was the combined force of a binary star system.

"Don't thank me," Han muttered, his arm still around Leia. "Just don't play sabacc anymore. You're no good at it if you can't cheat."

"I know, I know," Lando sighed, placing his hands on his hips. "I should have sent you in."

"You shouldn't have gone in at all. Something stinks about this place, Lando. I've got a bad feeling about it."

"Me too," Leia murmured.

"Oh, you know it's bad when the witch doesn't like it," Aphra scoffed.

Leia bit her tongue to keep from snapping at Aphra. Her instincts were to assume the worst of her, but that wasn't fair. Not when Aphra was just teasing her. Hell, Han teased her all the time. She should get over it, right? Aphra was on their side now, and they had to get along if they wanted to survive.

"Relax," Lando said. "We're outside Imperial jurisdiction."

"You're never really outside of Imperial jurisdiction, Lando," Leia said, shooting him a glare. "If there are stormtroopers on Tatooine, then nowhere is safe."

Lando exhaled through his nose sharply, and he shrugged. "Fair enough," he said.

Two guards stalked toward them, an aerial crate floating between them, and one offered a datapad to Lando.

"You have to sign for these."

Leia and Han glanced at each other nervously, but Lando took the datapad without hesitation, his smile bright and easy. He signed it with a flick of his wrist.

"A pleasure doing business with you boys," he said, winking as he handed the datapad back.

They stared at Lando for a few seconds. Then they turned and stalked away.

"Uh…" Aphra wrinkled her nose. "Weird?"

Leia nodded. "Let's get out of here," she said softly. The others murmured their agreements, and Lando wheeled the crate around and began to push it down the street.

It wasn't any surprise that Leia was tense after that debacle. She walked silently alongside Han, keeping one eye on Lando as he chatted casually with Aphra as though he hadn't almost just gotten trafficked into slavery, and she wondered if she had made the right choice. Every action she made was a reminder that she was free, and Luke was not.

He had been there. He had been so close, and in the end she'd run away. Again.

Knowing he was with Vader, not on Mustafar, helped a bit. It suggested that wherever Vader went, Luke went, and that made it much easier to trace him. Leia would not give up hope, but she couldn't help but feel swamped with the guilt that she had left him again. She knew he was hurting, she knew he was scared, she knew he was helpless, and yet she'd simply let herself escape without him again, and it hurt.

Leia did not feel anything like herself. She felt, inexplicably, like she had been hollowed out inside. Her heart was not in anything she did, and even as she leaned against Han, listening to his steady breathing and heavy footsteps as they moved about this unfamiliar city, she couldn't help but feel lost.

I'll save him.

Another part of her, the slithering voice that crept unbidden into her mind in the dark, in the night, when she stared up at the ceiling and felt utterly alone.

You've already lost him.

Leia shrunk into Han's side.

I'll save him.

Han glanced down at her worriedly. His arm tightened around her waist.

He's Vader's now. You've lost.

Han leaned down and tentatively kissed the top of her head.

I'll save him!

Her arms snaked around Han, and she sighed as he laughed at her, nudging her gently.

You'll kill him.

Leia closed her eyes. She shut them tight.

Whatever the cost, she was willing to pay it. She knew Yoda and Ben would be disappointed in her. She felt it all so clearly, like the option was already before her, and she wondered how simple it could be.

She would do anything for Luke. It was her fault that he was in this mess, after all.

"You okay?" Han whispered.

She tucked her head against his chest, and she smiled up at him.

"I'm fine," she said. "Just excited to leave. That's all."

Han didn't seem convinced, but he did not press her on the subject. Instead his arm slid from her waist to her shoulders, and he began to stroke her hair absently. They kept walking, and though she did not feel better, and she did not feel fine, she at the very least felt safe.

They made it to the docking bay unscathed. Leia looked upon the Nubian yacht with a newfound appreciation, and she wondered if maybe it wouldn't be so awful to call it her own.

And then, as they approached it, a small, lithe figure slipped out from behind it.

"Shit!" Han cried, releasing Leia in a moment to tear his blaster from its holster. In a second, all four of them had blasters in hand, and Leia's hand itched toward her lightsaber. Her head was buzzing as she kept her grip on the blaster and kept her eyes on Lali.

To the woman's credit, she did not even bat an eyelash at the four blasters trained on her. She tilted her head, her long black hair falling silkily against her shoulder, and she smirked at them.

"You really should be more careful," she noted. Leia noted that she had managed to change out of the sleek black evening gown she had been garbed in not even half an hour earlier, and now sported a pair of high waisted trousers, a weather beaten canvas shirt, and a boiled leather vest. This outfit did nothing to negate her elegance, and in fact only made her seem more intimidating. "I found you easily enough. I imagine Renaux will too."

"He's your boss, isn't he?" Lando demanded.

Lali glanced at him. Her smirk widened into a smile, and she laughed brightly.

"You'd think," she said with a sly wink and a dainty finger pressed to her golden lips. "Well, I was nearly done with my operation anyway. Speeding things along a few weeks won't hurt anyone."

A distant explosion rocked the earth, causing them all to buckle a bit. The noise half deafened them, and they whirled around to stare up at the mounting plume of black smoke that reached high above the skyscrapers around them.

"Uh oh," Aphra breathed. "We better get outta here."

"You took the words right out of my mouth," Lali said, sauntering over to the entrance ramp of the yacht. She tilted her head back at them. "Shall we?"

"Oh no," Han hissed, "we ain't going anywhere with you, sister."

Lali stared at him blankly. Then she rolled her eyes and held up her hands.

"I am not a spy," she said firmly. "I am not here to hurt you. Renaux is sponsored by Crimson Dawn, which is affiliated with the Empire. My mission was to destabilize his business and, if necessary, take aggressive measures. I've had those bombs set up for months."

Lando was the first to lower his weapon. He stared at her with a gaping mouth, his eyes darting everywhere for a few moments.

"Crimson Dawn?" he said vacantly. "Really?"

"Well it's a good thing I didn't give my name," Han muttered.

"A fairly recent development," Lali said. "Don't feel so bad. Not many people know about it."

"You said you're on a mission," Leia said, taking a short step forward without budging her blaster from where it was pointed at Lali's head. "For who?"

Lali actually sneered at her. Her elegance and poise seemed to fall away with a jarring snap, as though her personality had shifted.

"The Rebellion," she said, her core accent falling away to something much more familiar. Mid Rim at best. "Obviously. Did I not make that obvious? With the whole bomb thing?"

"You're part of the Rebellion?" Aphra asked with a snort. "Okay."

Lali rolled her eyes. "Yes, I'm part of the Rebellion. Now can we go before we all get caught?"

"We have to make repairs," Leia objected.

"Safety first, repairs later," Han hissed, grabbing her by the arm and dragging her toward the ramp. "I think this planet has a moon or two. I can do the work in zero G if I have to."

"Really?" Leia grumbled, tearing her arm from his grasp and whirling on Lali. "Who are you? Why should we trust you?"

"I'm a Fulcrum agent." Lali very slowly took hold of her left sleeve and yanked it up just enough so that Leia could see a faint white angular sigil tattooed onto her wrist. Leia stared at it for a moment before lowering her weapon.

"What the hell does that mean?" Aphra demanded.

"It means we can trust her," Leia said, as the ramp lowered before them. "Now let's go."

Lando went up first, the crate in hand. Aphra followed, shooting a hateful, wary look at Lali. Leia made Lali go next before she took Han's hand and walked slowly up the ramp as he covered them, moving backwards.

"I'll pilot," Han murmured to her, shooting Lali a glare as he brushed past her.

They all stood there for a few moments, staring at one another uncertainly.

"I promise," Lali said, "I won't hurt you."

"That's something someone who wants to hurt us would say," Aphra said snidely.

Lali sighed. She shook her head, and then she glanced around at the interior of the ship.

"Well," she said, "it's definitely an H-type Nubian yacht. For a little while there I thought you were lying."

"So how did you join the Rebellion?" Lando asked, both curiously and clearly a bit coyly.

Lali glanced at him. She stood much taller than her tiny frame, and she looked into his eyes for a few moments before offering a shrug.

"My home planet is heavily occupied," she said. Her voice grew dull and detached, as it had in the casino. "I did what I could, while I was there. It never felt like enough. I feel I've done irreparable damage— to my people, to my planet, to my galaxy. I felt so complicit in the Emperor's schemes that eventually I think I may have just… snapped. I don't remember when it began, but I've been rebelling for a long time."

Leia knew now that she believed the woman unconditionally. Her eyes told the truth, and what her eyes told, the Force sang. It was hard not to let all suspicion fall away.

Then Lali blinked, and she glanced around at them all. "How about all of you?" she asked.

They looked at each other uncertainly. Aphra cringed a bit, while Lando merely winced. Leia folded her arms across her chest. Artoo warbled as he rolled happily into the room, greeting her warmly. She smiled at him, and pressed her hand to his dome.

"I stumbled upon the droid with the Death Star plans in it," she said, gesturing to Artoo. "There was also some weird stuff about saving a prince which I won't get into. I blew up the Death Star, and kind of became public enemy number one. So. Not much of an option after that."

"You blew up the Death Star?" Lali asked sharply, her eyes trailing from Leia's head to her toes and back. Leia scowled.

"Yeah," she said, her voice just as sharp and ten times more venomous. "You got a problem with that?"

"No." Lali blinked. "I just didn't expect you to be so…" Her brow furrowed, and for a moment a softness broke through her black eyes. "Young."

Leia bristled. This did not make her feel much better. "You're not that much older than me," she snapped.

"No," Lali said quietly. "No, I'm not. However, I am reasonably acquainted with being thrust into a role of authority at a young age. It is not pleasant."

Leia frowned. She did not reply, but instead searched Lali's face. She turned away and moved through the doorway and into the common area. Leia quickly followed her, and Aphra and Lando were quick on her heels.

"Hey," Leia called sharply. "Hey, I'm not done talking to you!"

Lali had stopped. She stood frozen for a moment, transfixed in the middle of the room.

Rex had jumped to his feet, his blaster in his hands and his brow furrowed. He stood behind Sabé, hovering over her protectively until she very slowly, very uncertainly, raised her hand and pressed it to his arm.

"It's alright," she murmured to him. "Stand down."

Rex glanced down at her before nodding curtly. He holstered his gun.

"Well," Lali said vacantly. "This is certainly a surprise."

"Certainly," Sabé said, her voice quirking up a pitch despite her blank face and demeanor. She tipped her chin low and bowed her upper body deeply. "Your Highness."

"Eh?" Aphra squeaked. Lando stood beside her, looking at Lali as though she were made of gold.

Leia simply stared.

"Please, Sabé," Lali said gruffly. "I'm not a queen. Not anymore."

"Once you're a queen, it never really leaves you," Sabé said, lifting her head and smirking. "I think I should know."

"What's going on?" Leia asked, taking a step forward and staring at Lali expectantly. "You know each other?"

"In passing," Lali said, glancing at Sabé with a frown. "She does have a way of causing trouble."

"Me?" Sabé scoffed, leaning back in her seat and deigning to look scandalized. "I only do what is asked of me. You know when my queen went off masquerading as peasants, she never quite ran an undercover smuggling operation in her own capital, but I suppose times have changed."

"Don't give me that," Lali growled. "Don't compare me to Padmé Amidala, okay? I get enough of that from my wife."

"Oh, you're married now?" Sabé asked, her eyes lighting up with delight despite the twinge of sadness that quivered in her soft voice. "I didn't know— goodness, when did that happen?"

Lali looked suddenly flustered, and she looked away from Sabé sheepishly. "Three years ago," she said quickly. "We would have contacted you, but…"

"I understand." Sabé smiled tightly. "Discretion is key in times like these. It's no secret that you turned your back on the Empire."

"Unfortunately."

"Okay, wait," Leia said sharply. She pointed a finger accusingly in Lali's face. "You're from Naboo, then? You were a queen of Naboo?"

Lali smiled tightly. "Guilty," she said. She smoothed her hair back, and she glanced around the room. "Right. Let me formally introduce myself, I guess." She tipped her chin up, an action that was reminiscent of Luke in a way that made her heart ache. "My name is Lian Eulalia. You can call me Yule."


He waded through the tall grass, his waist parting the sallow grains as the wind cut through the field and sent waves rippling along the blades. He could almost smell it, the sweet bite of the grass around him and the chill of the evening in the air. He walked, and he did not pause, not even when a curious little Loth cat poked its head out from the yellow sea.

"Ezra!" his mother's voice rippled alongside the wind, skittering through the grass and brushing against his skin like a tender kiss. "Ezra, it's time for dinner!"

He walked unsteadily, his feet scraping against the ground, and he looked around helplessly.

"Mom?" he called. His own voice echoed across the field and bounced off nearby rock formations. Ezra stopped for a moment if only to frown.

From the ripples, slipping out from beneath the wavering grass, a tall figure emerged. Ezra stumbled back.

"What's that face for?" Kanan asked, his eyes bold, green, and lucid as they watched him.

"Kanan…?" Ezra couldn't help but sound skeptical. His eyes trailed around him, and he shook his head. The wind made no sound as it trickled through the grassy field, and the more he stood, the more he felt he might sink right into the center of the earth. "I don't understand… what's happening, why are you…?"

"Why am I here?" Kanan finished. The corners of his lips tugged upwards. "Why are you here?"

"This is Lothal," Ezra said simply. "This is my home."

"You don't act like it."

Ezra gazed at him, his mouth falling open in shock. Then the grass, every blade, a whole sea of yellow that blanketed the earth, caught flame. Ezra cried out, and he tried to back away, but the fire spread so quickly, devouring every stock of tall grass like they were candlewicks, that he could not move.

Kanan dove forward, catching Ezra by his wrist, and in a moment they were diving beneath the grass and falling through the earth until his body was submerged in water. They rolled, and Ezra blinked through the darkness, his eyes adjusting fast, and the buoyed to the surface. Ezra could still feel Kanan's hand tight on his wrist as he gasped, his head bobbing in the water.

"Kanan?" Ezra called, spitting water and sputtering a bit. He glanced around him, his feet falling against sand, and he stood up uncertainly. "Kanan, where…?"

Kanan was nowhere. It was like he had never been there at all.

Ezra lifted his wrist from the water, and he rubbed it thoughtfully. The ocean evaporated around him, shrinking with every breath he took, and he felt undeniably dehydrated as he trudged up the bank of sand.

The sand was loose and heavy. His boots slipped and slid against it, and the sun trickled down from the heavens with the consistency of molasses and smothered him. He was sluggish and weak, and his tongue seemed to swell in his mouth.

"Kanan…" he breathed, his eyes trailing from sand dune to sand dune. He felt like he was trapped on Tatooine again. Like he was seventeen years old, and the world was burning all around him, and he had one hand dipped in the cool and inviting lake that made everything seem so easy and made everything seem so dark. "Kanan, please… I'm sorry… I—"

His footing slipped unsteadily, and he yelled as his back collided with the sand. He slid unceremoniously down an embankment, dust caking his clothes and shifting around him. He groaned.

For a moment he laid there, the sun scorching the earth and threatening to vaporize him where he lay, and he considered not getting up. He was tired, and the world around him was nothing but dust and waves of heat so thick that they were nearly tangible. His eyelids stuck together lethargically as he tried to sit up and give his surroundings a cursory glance.

A vivid, terror filled cry ripped through the desert. Ezra's eyes snapped open, and a chill shuddered through his body, leaving him feeling cold and drained. The sun was turning above him, taunting him eerily, and the desert around him stayed still and lonesome as a tomb.

Another cry, this one deeper, more pained, cracked like thunder above him and sent ripples skidding along the sands. Like phantom wind, the cry nestled against his cheek, and then disappeared without a trace.

In the blinding desert sunlight, mirages flickered. Faces were superimposed on the backs of his eyelids, and no matter how much he blinked they would not go away.

The dust slithered and skittered and rose up in a cyclone. Ezra edged backwards, his hands sinking into the sand, and he tried to call out for help, but rough, gritty sand clogged up his throat and gathered on his tongue. It began to pour out of his mouth as he struggled to his feet.

On one side there was screaming. Pained, agonized screams that pierced through his brain and rattled his eardrums. He knew the voice, and it made him go limp and weak. He held his head in his hands, shaking it furiously, his eyes leaking profusely.

On the other side, there was weeping. Soft, terrified, uncertain, and growing louder by the moment. He felt it like a storm brewing beneath his skin. He felt it like he was crouched in the sand, head in his knees, helpless and alone.

The cyclone ripped across the sand before him, dispersing in suddenly and inexplicably. It expanded like a balloon, and the sand suspended itself in midair before falling sharply to the ground.

At the center of it was, Ezra saw shadowy figures. The sunlight did not reach them. They were tall and imposing silhouettes, one with a blaster extended in a hazy black fist, the other with a blade dripping crimson, blood solidified and rippling in circles. It seemed almost luminescent.

To the right, on the ground beneath the gun, Kanan knelt. His face was a map of swelling, of deep cuts that sent blood careening across his face and nose, and bruises hollowed out his eyes as he stared at Ezra, seeing all and yet seeing through him. Blood gathered on his lips as he choked out, "Ezra…"

Ezra struggled two steps toward him before a child's sob shook the earth. He whirled around, only to find that a small boy was slouched above the glistening lightsaber, on his knees with sand caking his trousers and jacket. Blood was drying on the side of his brown face, and Ezra could see it glistening in his black curls. Tears streaked his cheeks, and his lips quivered.

The moment his eyes landed on Ezra, they widened with recognition. His hand reached out toward him, small and desperate, and he cried out wordlessly.

The boy recognized him, and in some way, a way that Ezra could not place, he recognized the boy too.

He realized he had to choose. Kanan, with his glassy eyes and gun to his head, or this child, whose name was on the tip of his tongue, but he could not quite recall, like his mind was a corrupted datafile and the information was garbled.

He stood there, paralyzed with fear, and his eyes darted fearfully between the two.

A glinting metal object came sailing down from the sky, spat out by the devil sun itself, and landed in the sand at Ezra's feet.

It was his lightsaber. His lightsaber. Its hilt was half buried in the sand.

He had to think. He had to consider his options.

No, he realized, unable to look at Kanan's bludgeoned face, yet feeling his signature in the Force like a pleasant breeze. I have to trust the Force.

Ezra bent down, and he plucked his lightsaber up from the sand. It fit inside his palm like had been born with it nestled in his fist.

"Ezra," Kanan gasped, reaching for him desperately. "Ezra, help me!"

Ezra closed his eyes. He inhaled through his nose, and then exhaled through his mouth.

"You're not Kanan," Ezra murmured.

"Ezra!" Kanan cried, his voice breaking, and the pain and devastation muddled with the sound of his disbelief at this betrayal. "He's going to kill me. I'm going to die! Help me!"

Ezra's knees wobbled. Bile sat at the back of his tongue, and he shook his head furiously. His eyes burned with tears, and he could feel one leaking from between his lashes and pooling hot on his left cheek.

"No," Ezra said firmly, his voice thick with grief. He opened his eyes, and he ignited the lightsaber in his fist. "No, Kanan. You're dead already."

He leapt forward, his body taut as he gripped the lightsaber, sliding between the shadowy silhouette and the child. His blade caught the red lightsaber with ease but holding it there was painful. The shadow had cut down just as Ezra had moved, a sweeping red arc burned into the air and into Ezra's mind as he pushed back against the blow.

The sound of Kanan's sharp, pained scream before the blaster bolt blast rang through the air caused Ezra to buckle. The red blade slipped away and wound back for another blow. The finishing blow.

The child at Ezra's feet screamed.

In his panic, he gathered the Force around him, grief toiling inside him and rage boiling in his blood. He flung out his hand, pushing with everything he had in him, and watching the shadow burst away like the sun had finally found it. Wisps of darkness fell away toward the sand and disintegrated before it could reach the ground.

Ezra wasted no time. He bent down, gathered the boy in his arms, and he darted away. The boy clung to him, wrapping his arms around Ezra's neck and sobbing into his shoulder. The sand slipped and swallowed up Ezra's feet, and he stumbled, falling to his knees and choking on his own rattled sob.

The boy nestled his head against Ezra's neck.

Ezra sucked in a deep breath, blinking rapidly as he looked down at his lightsaber. The green blade shined as brightly as a gem against the sand. Then it began to drain of color, from its blinding pinpoint of a tip stretching downwards toward the hilt until the green was bleached out of the blade.

Confusedly, Ezra held up the white lightsaber toward the sun. It remained blanched and bright as a star in the night sky.

"Okay," he breathed, blinking rapidly. He took a deep breath, and he held the boy's head in his hand, his fingers disappearing in his black curls. "Okay. You're okay."

The boy sniffled. He lifted his head, pressed his nose to Ezra's cheek, and whispered a single word into Ezra's ear.

Ezra froze.

He woke up with salty tears gluing his eyes shut. He coughed, rubbing his eyes helplessly, and he sat up in bed. It was still dark, which meant that the ship was still on its night cycle. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he found himself scrubbing at his face, his mouth so dry that he could not feel where his tongue ended and his teeth began. He felt around blindly for a narrow bottle of water he kept on the ground by his bed.

It took a few moments for his heartrate to settle and for his eyes to start watering and for his thirst to be quenched. He sat there for a few minutes, breathless and dazed, before his eyes settled on the bed across from his.

"Luke?" Ezra called faintly, his mind buzzing as his eyes slid from the empty bed, sheets and blanket kicked violently into a bundle. He scrambled out of bed, darting to Luke's and hovering for a moment over the empty mattress before backing away slowly. "What? What the…?"

He pivoted, his feet guiding him mechanically to the final bed, and he began to shake the lump beneath the blankets.

"Ahsoka," Ezra said, panic beginning to seep into his voice. "Ahsoka, wake up!"

Ahsoka, to her credit, did not groan or mumble or bat him away. She sat up in a moment, blinking the sleep from her eyes and becoming utterly lucid and completely alert as she stared at him.

"What?" she asked sharply, her body taut with tension. "What happened?" Her eyes slid, almost by instinct, toward Luke's bed. She stared at it for only a second before she jumped to her feet. "Where is Luke?"

"I don't know," Ezra gasped, gripping her arm. "That's why I woke you. Did you… did you hear him get up at all?"

"No."

"Me either." Ezra grimaced. He tried to trace the night backwards, tried to fumble toward his dream… or was it a vision…? The answer was not clear, and Ezra found himself stuffing his knuckles into his mouth to keep from crying again.

"Oh," Ahsoka whispered, her eyes widening as she looked down at him. She gripped his shoulder, and she shook her head. "Oh, Ezra. It's okay, he couldn't have gone far. Besides, if anything happened to him, I would have felt it."

Ezra blinked back his tears, a knot tight around his throat, and he nodded vacantly. He didn't want to say that he believed he'd have felt it too, because he wasn't so sure. Would he have felt Luke's pain? Were they connected in that way, to the point where the Force held them by an intangible ribbon? Ezra could feel Ahsoka's signature in the Force, and he could sense Luke just as well, their independent senses of self etched into Ezra's senses like the smell of his childhood home and the smell of the Ghost. He could pick them both out anywhere, at any time, but he couldn't say if he'd be able to sense their feelings or distress.

Ahsoka marched toward the door, moved to open it, and then paused. She tried again.

"It's locked," she said, her voice flat.

"What?" Ezra blinked. He backed into a wall. His mind felt like it had turned to jelly all of a sudden, and he dragged his hands through his hair. "Oh, stars… what is going on? Where did he go? What did he do?"

"Don't," Ahsoka told Ezra sharply. "Don't start panicking. Luke is fine."

"But what if he isn't?" Ezra gasped, staring at Ahsoka desperately. "He killed a man yesterday, Ahsoka. He killed a good man, and you know he hates himself for it! He's so strong, and he's— he's so stupidly, unbelievably kind, and Vader wants to ruin that!"

"You said it yourself," Ahsoka said firmly. "Luke is strong."

Ezra dipped his head back unto his skull knocked against the durasteel wall behind him. He slid down it, pulled his legs up to his chest, and he stared ahead of him.

"So was Anakin Skywalker," Ezra said miserably.

"What?" Ahsoka hissed.

He inhaled sharply. Vader's words rolled around inside his head. The idea that Ezra could become someone like that made him feel nauseous, and yet, had he not almost allowed it to happen? Had he not almost thrown it all away to kill Thrawn?

Maybe Thrawn deserved to die. That was true. But Ezra had to think about what Kanan would want.

Kanan had wanted Ezra to be a Jedi. Whatever Ezra was now, Jedi or not, he had to keep himself from falling.

"Anakin Skywalker was a hero, and a Jedi, and everyone looked up to him." Ezra frowned deeply, and he rested his chin on his knees. "And still, he failed."

Ahsoka's eyes narrowed. She looked away sharply, her shoulders rising and falling as she took a deep breath. They never stopped to consider how hard this must be for her. How hard being a captive by her own master must be on her mental state. They never talked about it, and they all tried to support one another as best they could, but were they doing enough?

Ezra needed to see Luke. He needed to look into Luke's eyes, and he needed to see that he was safe.

"Anakin… was different," she said quietly.

"How?" Ezra demanded. "How the hell could a guy— a hero of the Jedi Order, standing tall as a general of the army of the Republic, with nothing but his whole life ahead of him— how does he turn to the Dark Side with everything going right? What chance do we have, then?"

"We just have to be stronger than him," Ahsoka said in an instant.

"But what if we're not?" Ezra winced, averting his gaze as Ahsoka stared down at him. "What if I'm not? You know I don't regret attacking Thrawn. You know I still think he deserves to die."

"Maybe he does deserve to die," Ahsoka said, offering nothing but a small shrug. "It doesn't matter. It is not our job to be judge, jury, and executioner. That is why the Jedi failed. They thought that they were infallible, and irreplaceable, when in reality they were just as blind and disposable as anyone else."

The lights flickered on, and Ezra looked up at them with wide eyes.

"Where is he?" he whispered. There was a feeling deep inside him that seemed to ache, like he'd lost something vital, and he was scared to admit what that was. "Why didn't he wake us up?"

"Vader won't hurt him."

"You don't know that!" Ezra shook his head. "Vader's a monster. I don't care if he's Luke's father, I don't care if he was your master, he's a monster now, and we have to get out of here!"

Ahsoka's jaw tightened, and she closed her eyes. This conversation seemed to cause her a great deal of discomfort, and Ezra felt terrible about it. He felt terrible about everything. He had caused so much unnecessary pain, and the worst part was that he should have known better. Kanan had taught him better! It seemed that Ezra was fumbling through everything, fumbling through life, blind and dumb and making all the mistakes.

"Ezra," Ahsoka said softly. "We are quite literally in the belly of the beast. We have no allies, no escape routes, and one shaky plan. Biding our time has done well for us so far, but…"

"We have to get out of here," he repeated.

"It isn't that simple."

"We need to make it that simple!" Ezra pushed himself to his feet and shook his head furiously. "We need to get Luke away from Vader. We can't let him be corrupted."

Ahsoka glanced at the wall to her right, and she frowned deeply. Her eyes were droopy, tired, and bore dark circles beneath them.

"Listen to me," Ahsoka said, her eyes sliding to Ezra's sharply. "I believe in Luke. I believe in us. Vader is hiding us in plain sight, and he's getting sloppy. He wants to undermine the Emperor. He wants to overthrow him."

"So?"

"So," Ahsoka sighed, "I don't… I don't think this situation is all so hopeless after all."

Ezra stared at her vacantly. She stared back, wise and determined, and he could only back himself into the wall once more his eyes straying to the door.

"I'll believe that," he said dazedly, "when I see Luke."


Luke sat there for what felt like hours. He paced the floor, studied the monitors, and even tried (and failed) to sleep a few times. He began meditating, and that did help a little to calm his nerves. He began with tracing each individual on the ship. He traced their vitals, felt them breathing, even took in some of their emotions— bleak, uncertain, determined, and proud. He inhaled and exhaled and inhaled and exhaled, and he felt the great expanse of the ship around him as it drifted through space.

Eventually, the door did slide open. Luke jumped to his feet, and he watched as Vader ignored him and strode right to his monitor. He sat down and got to work.

"Um…" Luke stood there, feeling genuinely petulant and confused that he was being ignored. "Hello? Father?"

Sometimes Luke felt a little bit evil for calling Vader that. The word tasted a bit like ash inside his mouth. Sometimes, like now, Luke imagined Bail Organa pulling him close and stroking his hair, and it made him feel all the better.

When Vader did not answer, Luke moved toward him. He hovered behind his chair and pressed his lips together thinly.

"Father," he repeated, "what's going on?"

"I am doing work," Vader said, "clearly."

"Clearly," Luke said, folding his arms across his chest. "But why did you lock me in your room?"

"Perhaps to keep you from running off again."

"Oh. Perhaps. Hm." Luke huffed, rolling his eyes back into his head and folding his arms across his chest. "Didn't I say to stop ignoring me?"

"What would you have me do?" Vader turned in his chair to look at Luke. His chilly energy crawled around him, yet Luke could feel that he seemed genuinely confused. Uncertain. "I cannot trust you to roam around free any longer."

"I told you I have no intention of running," Luke said gently.

"Then stay here," Vader said, turning away. "Stay here, keep your mouth shut, and do as you are told."

Luke licked his lips, and once more he rolled his eyes.

"I can do that from my room," he said.

Vader sat silently for a few moments.

It was a wonder that Luke got away with the things he did. He had been thinking about it all day, how Vader was both vile and yet somehow restrained. It seemed all at once impossible and maybe a bit hopeful that Luke could get through to the man.

After all, there was something inside him that wanted to break free from the Emperor's influence. Vader decision to dispose of Thrawn proved that.

When Vader did not respond to Luke, and instead went about his work, filing reports while Luke watched on, Luke sighed and shook his head.

"Have you put any thought into what you're going to do with Thrawn?" he asked.

Vader paused. "I imagine," he said, his voice rumbling low, "I will find a way to rid myself of him."

"I see." Luke chewed on the inside of his cheek. "Well, you know my opinion."

"You are a shameless pacifist," Vader growled, "yes."

"I am not a pacifist," Luke said calmly, "and, more importantly, I am a strategist. You would be making a mistake, killing Thrawn. It proves you are disloyal to the Emperor, and I don't think he needs an excuse to punish you." Luke waited, curious, for Vader to object. He almost wanted him to, as if that might make it somehow better. "I think you should frame him."

Vader turned his head sharply to look at Luke.

"Frame him." Vader sat for a moment, as if he were mulling it over. "Interesting. I did intend on accusing him of sabotaging the Emperor's plans by attempting to kill you."

"Ezra seemed convinced that Thrawn was going to," Luke admitted. "Even though he doesn't actually know who I am."

"Do not underestimate him," Vader hissed.

"I'm not. I'm only stating the facts, Vader, and the fact is that Thrawn was only suspicious until you gave him a reason to suspect a full-blown conspiracy."

"Which is why he must die."

Luke sighed, exasperated and defeated. Maybe he shouldn't put so much effort into trying to save Thrawn. He could be useful, that was true, but Luke only wanted him alive because he knew that he could pocket him for later. Thrawn seemed like the type who didn't want to have a life debt hanging over his head and would grant Luke a favor without much resistance.

Vader, for all his malice and all his infamy, had no will for a gambit. No wonder he had stayed on the Emperor's leash for so long.

"I can't stop you," Luke murmured, folding his arms across his chest and shooting Vader a cool glance. "However, I implore you to consider not executing him like a war prisoner, and instead have some tact about it."

"Instructing me on the nuances of murder," Vader said, his voice a dull rumble. Luke realized he sounded almost amused. "Perhaps you are my son after all."

"I am a politician, Lord Vader," Luke said tiredly. "I am well acquainted with the art of compromise, and the commodification of tragedy. Give me some credit, my father—" Luke choked, his eyes squeezing shut as Vader's head swiveled in his direction. A pang shot through his chest as Bail Organa's warm brown face hovered behind his eyelids.

"And so," Vader hissed, "your true loyalties spill out."

Luke inhaled deeply through his nose, forcing himself to remain calm. He had to banish all thoughts of home and family and focus on the here and now.

"You are my father," Luke said calmly.

"You do not truly feel that way."

Luke's eyes snapped open, and he rounded Vader's chair and leaned over him insistently. He gazed down at the man, watching his mask and wondering, not for the first time, what his expression might be beneath it.

"You are my father," Luke insisted, hovering close enough over Vader's face that he knew he was invading his personal space. "I don't deny that. I refuse to balk in the face of the truth. So you shouldn't either."

"The truth," Vader said, "that you consider a traitorous, spineless rebel terrorist more of a father than your own flesh and blood?"

"He raised me," Luke said simply. He stared at Vader's mask, and then he offered a small smile. "He loved me, too. I couldn't have asked for a better childhood."

"I could have given you a better one," Vader snapped, jerking to his feet so he was the one hovering over Luke. "I could have given you all the stars in the sky— I could have threaded worlds on a string and bestowed them upon you like pearls! I could have given you, and your sister, and your mother—"

"Well, she's dead, isn't she?" Luke said coldly, his eyes glued to Vader's mask as he leaned back against the desk.

Vader's raspy breaths settled between them. The hollow ins and outs of his broken lungs, and Luke's hard swallow were the only sounds that filled the room. He averted his eyes for the first time then, focusing on the wall to his right.

"She's dead," Luke repeated softly. "I never got to know her, and that… that is the saddest thing about all this, I think. Maybe I would have been happy with her, if she had survived." Then his eyes slid sadly to Vader's face. The mask was as dark and formidable as ever, like a wall between them. "Not with you, though. If I had grown up with you, I would have been miserable."

"For a senator," Vader said, his voice low and sharp, threatening to send cracks along the foundation of the room with the power it possessed, "you certainly lack a sense of self-preservation."

"I won't lie to you, Vader," Luke said with a small smile. "You should appreciate that. It means that when I say I am with you, I mean it. I am not leaving. You can trust me to stay by your side."

Vader watched him. It was a minute before he spoke again, a minute filled with tension and uncertainty, and Luke felt himself growing tired. He sat down on Vader's desk, and he wrung his hands in his lap.

"Why?" Vader asked suddenly.

Luke blinked. "What?"

"Why?" Vader repeated. He did not move forward, but instead continued to watch Luke without reservation. It seemed perhaps like he was looking at him for the first time. "You still harbor… so much light inside your heart. Why should you stay by my side unconditionally?"

Oh, Luke thought dimly, what a fool.

It was a wonder where he got it from.

"Because you're my father," Luke said gently, "of course."

For a few moments, Vader stayed silent, and Luke felt satisfied with the shock that resonated through the Force. The more Luke could convince Vader that he was capable of loving his adoptive family and his birth family at the same time, the better this would work out. Luke was certain.

Vader leaned forward, and almost gingerly shoved Luke.

"Off my desk," he said gruffly, his fingers digging into Luke's shoulder as he steadied him.

"You could have…" Luke winced as he was wheeled around and pushed toward the door. "You could have just asked, you know."

Vader paused at the door, and he gripped Luke's shoulder tightly.

"Luke," he said, his voice much quieter than before. "If I gave you the freedom to choose… would you leave?"

Luke stared straight ahead at the door. His heart dropped into his stomach, his mind flying by at a mile a minute as he tried to digest Vader's suggestion. Was this a trick? Or a test? It seemed impossible, and yet…

It was honest curiosity that had led them to this point. Vader holding Luke by the shoulder, standing at his back, unwilling to look him in the face as he forced Luke to choose.

Typical.

Luke thought about his birth mother. He thought about all the stories he had heard about her, about how hard she had fought for the good of all sentient beings. He could recall being young and impressionable, watching her holos on repeat as he tried to perfect his oration style before the auditory portion of his GLATs, and subsequent final exams. Every time he had an opportunity to speak before an audience, he had always tried to emulate the woman who ended up being his mother.

What would she think, if she were still alive?

Luke would give anything to ask her.

Finally, he turned to face Vader. He stared up into his mask, examining the crevices and the way in which the light refracted against the shiny exterior of the skull like plasteel.

"No," Luke said softly.

Chapter Text

Han's boast of being able to fix the ship, even in zero gravity, was a boast to be sure. They spent several hours hopping along the surface of Dede, a patchy moon with a blue surface, no atmosphere, and a crumbling façade. It might as well have been hollow, the way their feet left bits of rock sinking into the ground. Their ship was barely hanging on, half sunken into the surface, and they could not move fast enough.

"This carburetor," Leia muttered, "looks decades old."

"If it still runs, leave it," Han said, hammering a durasteel patch over the newly installed wiring that had been fried. "The longer we stay on this moon, the more I'm scared we're gonna get eaten by it."

"Ha ha." Leia slid the panel back into place, tightening the bolts and adding a few extra on the corners. Through the tinted yellow shield, and between all the filtered oxygen being pumped her way, her voice came out tinny and muffled. She felt a bit like a stormtrooper. "What do you make of Yule?"

"She has too many names."

"For real, Han," Leia huffed, sending another bolt into the durasteel plate. "Do you believe her?"

"Not really." Han sat for a moment, his eyes flickering to her face as he flipped his oil rag over his shoulder. "Does it really matter, though? You do. That's enough for me."

"Stop." Leia exhaled sharply, and she hooked the bolt gun onto her belt. "I need you to be honest with me. Have your own opinions."

"I trust you," Han said as if it were the simplest thing in the world. "Whatever happens now, whether that girl is really on our side— I don't think it matters. I believe in you."

"Sometimes I miss when you'd just argue with me," Leia groaned, sliding along the edge of the yacht and allowing herself to float in mid-air.

"Oh, like we don't still argue?" Han rolled his eyes, and he held her hands and pushed her down toward the ground.

"Not like we used to."

"Oh, you miss that, do you?"

"No," Leia groaned, "Force, no. You were insufferable." She eyed him as he floated alongside her, grinning goofily. "You're still insufferable. I hate you."

"You love me," he said firmly. "You said so. You love me. Leia loves me."

"Shut up!" Leia aimed to elbow him in the stomach, but missed due to the restraint on her reflexes.

"Leia Skywalker," Han said, holding both her hands, "a real live Jedi Knight, loves me— a poor, shameless smuggler—"

"Will someone please let us in?" Leia gasped, kicking the hull of the ship.

Once the ramp was lowered, they clambered inside, and Leia glowered at vacuum shield until it was lowered. Rex appeared immediately, glancing between the two of them as Leia tore off her helmet and chucked it at Han's stomach.

"Whoa, whoa there!" Rex caught the helmet as Han jerked out of the way. "What is it now?"

"Leia's just sore 'cause she loves me," Han said snidely, pulling off his helmet and sticking his tongue out at her.

"I'm mad because you say it like that!" Leia huffed, peeling away the thick protective layers of the spacesuit, kicking them aside as she shrunk beneath Han's laughter. "Oh, yeah, laugh it up, Han. Laugh it up. I'm gonna kill you."

Rex stared at a space between them, his eyes far away.

"Ah," he said. "You two… are a bit like younglings, eh?"

Han's laughter only grew louder at that remark. Leia gathered up the spacesuit and hung it ruefully on a hook.

"You're only encouraging him," she told Rex curtly.

"He's not doing anything," Han snorted. "You're just sensitive."

"I am not sensitive!"

"No? But it's so easy to rile you up!"

Leia bit her tongue hard. Ben said so too, that her temper was as easy to stoke as a dying flame. A single sturdy twig could send it flaring up in a second, and it was dangerous to be around her. She'd replied that perhaps he shouldn't stoke it then.

"The ship should work now," she told Rex, decidedly ignoring Han. "We should leave as soon as possible."

"Back to the Rebellion, then?" Rex nodded. "Suppose it's best. We haven't given an update in a month. If this were the Republic—"

"It's not," Leia cut in coolly. "So we have no problem."

Rex shut his mouth. His eyes were tired and sunken, but still overwhelmingly kind. He nodded once before disappearing back into the cockpit where Lando was undoubtedly lounging.

Leia and Han stood for a few moments, neither one of them speaking, before Han caught her around the waist and blew into her face.

"Ugh," she groaned, squirming as he caught her in a headlock. "Idiot. You really do act like a child, you know that?"

"So do you."

"Excuse me? I am very mature!"

"Keep telling yourself that, love."

Leia sucked in a harsh breath, her nose buried in his shirt, and she wondered how it had come to this. She was relaxed, limp against Han's side, allowing him to coddle and tease her, and she liked that. She loved it, even.

If they ever— no, when they got Luke back, she'd have some explaining to do.

They broke apart just long enough to step into the common area. Han peered at Sabé and Yule curiously, knowing only what Leia knew. Yule sat slumped, her makeup scrubbed away and the jewels pulled from her hair, which Sabé was in the process of hacking away.

"Oh," Leia said, blinking at the sight. Her own braid weighed heavily on her back. "Hello."

"Leia," Sabé greeted with a small smile. "Welcome back."

"Are you really Padmé Amidala's daughter?" Yule demanded.

"Wow." Han swaggered over to the nearest chair, dropping down into it. "No chit-chat, huh?"

Leia chewed on the inside of her cheek as she glanced around her. Aphra was nowhere to be seen, and Leia suspected she was either sleeping or up to no good. It was rare that she didn't linger around to listen to gossip. Lando and Chewie were piloting, and Rex had gone in to help them. It made sense that these two had been conversing in the meantime.

"I am," Leia said, glancing at Yule's round face. She cocked her head. "Does it matter? I never knew her."

"Does it matter," Yule scoffed, her gruff voice becoming all the gruffer as she dusted the hair off her knees. "Word to the wise, kid. Don't talk about Padmé Amidala like that to anyone from Naboo."

"We do hold her in high esteem," Sabé admitted, leaning back as the engines revved. "She was my queen, so I can hardly judge anyone for revering her."

"Amidala was our hero," Yule said fiercely. "I was very young when she died, but I remember her well enough. No queen of Naboo in recent memory can forget about her."

"There are paintings and holos and statues and stained glass everywhere," Sabé conceded. "Hardly any information beyond word of mouth, however. Curse the Empire for that."

"Sorry to be rude," Leia said quickly, not really all that sorry but recognizing her mistake. "I know she's important to your people—" Leia stumbled as they took off, and she made her way over to Han before she fell. He grasped her arm, steadying her as she sat beside him. "Sorry. I wish I'd known her. I really do. But I didn't. It's sad, and unfair, but…"

She paused as they hit hyperspace. Once the ship steadied out, Sabé took a long strand of Yule's black hair, and she clipped it.

"Yes," Sabé sighed. "It is unfair."

Yule's black eyes were glued to Leia's face.

"She was pregnant when she died," she said.

Leia raised an eyebrow, but she said nothing. Instead she just looked away, feeling guilty for not wondering more about her mother. Guilty for perhaps giving up on her the minute she'd let her hero-worship of Anakin Skywalker go.

"When I was little, I always wondered what kind of people my parents were," she said quietly. She remembered the listless days on Tatooine, thinking about the past and wondering how different life would have been if her father hadn't been killed. "I was so desperate and lonely. I wanted nothing more than for them to… I don't know. Come back from the dead and save me from my boredom. I grew up on Tatooine, you know."

Sabé looked at Leia sharply. "Truly?" she murmured. Her brows shot up, and she blinked rapidly. "Incredible."

"What?" Leia frowned. Then she remembered how close Sabé claimed to be to her mother. She'd known about the marriage, after all, and even Ben admitted to never being told that surprise. "Oh. My father. Yeah, I was raised by his family."

"I didn't know Anakin had surviving relatives," Sabé said absently.

Leia shrugged. "My uncle was his stepbrother. They weren't close." Then she bit her lip, her eyes lowering to her lap. "Force. It's been a long time since I saw him."

She remembered Naboo, and she had liked what she had seen of it. It seemed odd to her now to think that half her was innately tied to that planet. That she was of Naboo, of lake and marble, in the same way she was of Tatooine. Her uncle had always taught her that the desert lived inside her heart, and no matter how hard she dreamed, no matter what path she took, the desert would remain with her.

It had sounded harsh to a ten-year-old, but as an adult she understood it much more clearly.

Deserts were unforgiving, resolute, and defensive. Only that which was born in the desert can survive there, knowing well that the sand provided only to those who knew where to look.

"So how'd a queen of Naboo get mixed up in the Rebellion?" Han asked.

"Most queens of Naboo are involved in some way or another," Yule said, shaking out her hair as Sabé released the last long strand. It crumpled to the floor with the others. "Of course, we take care not to make our allegiances known, what with Palpatine being from our planet and all. I don't think I was meant to be queen. I was pretty shit at it, and I liked being a smuggler boy on the street better than being in my own palace half the time."

"Oh?" Han shared a glance with Leia. "That's… interesting."

"I'm good at disguises," Yule said coolly. "It's why I go on so many undercover ops. They know I'm good. I can be anyone."

"Yeah, you're exactly the breed of people I don't trust," Han muttered.

"Han," Leia sighed. "Give her a chance."

"Them."

Leia raised her eyes to Yule's, and met two cold black eyes.

"Oh. Right." Leia felt guilty and foolish. "Give them a chance."

"Like I said," Yule sighed, dragging their hand through their shorn hair. It was cropped around her ears, a little uneven in a way that made it stick up in thick black tufts. "I wasn't a very good queen."

"You did your best," Sabé said gently.

"Don't." Yule closed their eyes, and they leaned back in their chair tiredly. "Remember when Vader almost killed you? If Luke hadn't been there…"

"Luke?" Leia gasped, lurching forward desperately. She searched Yule's smooth, round face, and met their astonished gaze. "Luke Organa?"

"Yeah…?" Yule's brow furrowed, and they glanced at Sabé with a frown. "Luke's gotten himself mixed up in this crowd, huh?"

Sabé smile was smile, tight, and amused. "Oh," she said, her voice breathy and blithe, "you have no idea."

"Well," Yule sniffed, "Luke and I— well, we're friends, I suppose. Princes and queens tend to get along."

"A political friendship?" Leia murmured, trying to wrap her head around all of the information she was being fed.

"Definitely. But I liked him, you know. He was a funny kid. Always asking questions, always sticking his nose where it didn't belong. He was fourteen, I think, when we met." Yule paused, their nose wrinkling a bit. "Fourteen? I must have been sixteen— stars, that was so long ago! I'm getting old."

"Not so old," Sabé told them, sympathetically patting their arm. Then her eyes flickered to Leia's face, and she nodded once. "Luke is uniquely lovely, isn't he? I've never met anyone so kind and determined."

"He's trouble," Yule said weakly, a small smirk pulling on their lips.

"He's my brother," Leia said casually.

Yule straightened upright as though they'd been struck by lightning. Their eyes glazed over momentarily as their jaw hung open in shock.

"Wait," they said, "what?"

"Luke Organa is my brother," Leia said, feeling like she had explained this a thousand times. "My twin."

Yule's eyes were fixed on Leia's face inquisitively before they flashed to Sabé. Their smooth, round face was contorted in mild disbelief.

"It's true," Sabé confirmed. She nodded once, and Yule slumped a little, their brow furrowed. "Bail hired me as Luke's tutor for that specific reason."

"You knew that whole time?" Yule choked, blinking rapidly as they digested this new information. "Wait— does Pooja know?"

"No."

"What?"

"We should talk about this more later," Sabé said, laying a gentle hand on Yule's shoulder. Yule's expression had gone from confused to astonished to furious.

"Are you serious?" The stark offense and frustration in Yule's voice made it hard not to feel bad about breaking the news so flippantly. Leia hadn't thought much of it— after all, it wasn't all that shocking, was it?

"Yes," Sabé said, her fingers locking around Yule's arm. "I am. We should all try to get some rest."

"But—!"

Sabé shot her a chilly look, and Yule stared at her defiantly. They watched one another, their regality feeding off one another as they sat poised and detached. Rage simmered beneath Yule's pointed stare.

Leia took the hint. She grasped Han's wrist and stood up, nodding cordially to both Yule and Sabé, and made her way toward the door. Han followed her reluctantly to their shared cabin.

"What was that all about?" Han hissed after they both had stood and collected their thoughts for a few moments. "Seemed awful dramatic."

"I really don't know." Leia chewed on the inside of her cheek. "Luke makes friends with all sorts of people."

"Yeah," Han said bitterly, "we all know that."

"So," Leia said forcefully, shooting him a sharp look, "clearly Yule knows something we don't."

"Shouldn't we, I dunno…" Han rolled his eyes. "Ask?"

"I think Sabé wants to talk to her first."

"Doesn't make much sense," Han muttered, collapsing onto the bed. "But whatever. We're safe for now."

Leia stood silently, staring at Han with a mixture of longing and loathing.

We might be, she thought dazedly, but Luke is still out there suffering.


Vader led him, albeit reluctantly, through the halls of the Star Destroyer. Eyes followed them as they went, careful salutes and bated breaths and hungry gazes drawn right to the swollen side of Luke's face. He bowed his head, his loose hair falling into his eyes and tickling his cheeks. The durasteel floor seemed colder now than it had at midnight.

He could hear the whispers as they swept through the ship. He had tried to look fearless and impassive for the first few floors, but by now the self-conscious jitters were getting to him. The way that Vader held his shoulder, steering him directly, never letting go of him— the way his bare feet padded mechanically against the floor, the way he kept his eyes forward, or lingering toward his toes— the way he was dressed in wrinkled pajamas. It was all rather telling, Luke knew, in the most unusual way.

It wasn't like he hadn't heard the rumor before. The Empire always liked to gossip about Vader's preferences, how even machines had needs, all that bantha shit that he had always tried to ignore. Since Vader had publicly claimed him, the rumors had only multiplied.

Luke's face burned shamefully. It made him feel a little ill. He'd cultivated a very specific image of himself, and even Thrawn thought he was Vader's… what? Lover? Whore? It all felt so nauseating.

The worst part was that Vader seemed oblivious. He just walked on like they weren't whispering the moment Vader stepped out of the hall.

"You know they're talking about us, right?" Luke finally found the courage to ask as they entered a relatively deserted hallway.

"I did not realize you cared for what people thought of you," Vader said icily.

Luke exhaled sharply through his nose. He wrapped his arms around his stomach and stared at the gray floor. He wriggled his toes, feeling small and childish under the weight of Vader's hand. He was reminded, all at once, of sitting in an ISB detention center, his hands shaking and his mouth dry as Vader gripped his shoulders and the agent across from him demanded answers he could not give.

Twelve. He had been twelve.

Imagining being back in that position— imagining his father, alive and defiant, Alderaan's voice in the Senate. It felt like several lifetimes had passed since then. The memory was so faded and weak, like he was peering through a glass at sunset and could see nothing but figurines glimmering in the light.

"All politicians care about publicity," Luke said dryly, remembering all the warnings his father had given him. Luke had picked up enough tabloids in his life to be able to chuckle off the idea of all the sordid affairs people thought he got himself into. "However, it doesn't bode well for your own men to be gossiping about you behind your back."

Vader did stiffen. He paused, and he turned to glance back at Luke.

"They whisper because they fear me," he said.

"Not enough to stop them from thinking—" Luke bit his tongue. Was it worth it? He didn't really want to have this conversation, certainly not with Vader. It was uncomfortable enough as it was.

"What?" Vader demanded. "What are they saying that has the silver-tongued Luke Organa so shaken?"

"You really don't know?" Luke snapped, shaking Vader's hand off his shoulder and whirling to face him. A pair of troopers came rounding the corner, and Luke locked eyes with them. He glared at them until they halted, took a good look at the scene before them, and retreated hastily. Then Luke focused on Vader, staring up into his helmet and laughing ruefully. "Vader, they think you're fucking me."

The silence was more uncomfortable than the words themselves. Luke stood, shifting his weight from foot to foot as he turned his gaze toward anything besides Vader's helmet. He listened to the harsh wheezing of his respirator, and he glowered at an opposite wall.

"That," Vader said, the deep voice rattling out of his vocoder, "is absurd."

"Yeah, well, it's what they think." Luke frowned at his bare feet. "It's not like I don't get why. You're super possessive of me, you give me gifts, you let me have free reign of the ship even though I'm a known rebel collaborator. It's pretty damning."

"That has nothing to do with—"

"It's just what they think," Luke snapped. "You really didn't realize? It took a while for me to convince even a quarter of the troopers that I'm only here because it's what the Emperor wants, not because I'm you're— Force, whatever." Luke shuddered a little. "I don't know. I don't like it, but that's what people think."

Vader stood. His fists clenched, and Luke took a sharp step back as he felt the cold, unrelenting rage roll off the man as he stood and stared ahead of him.

"I'll put an end to this," he growled.

"What? How?" Luke gasped, blinking rapidly. "It's— you know it will only make it worse if you address it, and you can't tell the truth."

"Why not?"

Luke's mouth dropped open. Was he serious right now? Did he really think that revealing that Luke was his son was going to help anyone?

"You're already on thin ice with Thrawn," Luke warned Vader. "Not to mention letting Leia get away. You think the Emperor is going to like you spilling that secret?"

"It should not be a secret," Vader said heatedly. "It should never have been one. Not from me, not from—"

"I don't want people to know," Luke cut in. Vader paused, and he looked down at him.

They stood for a few moments and stared at each other.

"Truly?" Vader asked.

Luke swallowed hard. He nodded.

"Not even if it would stop those ungodly rumors?"

"What's god got to do with it?" Luke scoffed. He released the tension in his shoulders, and he glanced up at the ceiling. "If people are going to know who I am, I want it to be on my terms. No offense."

For all his faults, Vader seemed to grasp that this was one of the few things Luke had left.

"Where did these rumors originate?" Vader demanded.

Luke offered a short shrug. Even if he knew, he wouldn't tell Vader. After all, Luke was well aware of the fate that unfortunate person would meet.

Vader watched him. Then, once more he growled, "I will put an end to this."

Luke didn't bother objecting this time. He merely shook his head and turned around. "I just thought I'd point it out," he muttered. "I didn't think it was something you'd miss."

"I do not indulge in gossip."

"You don't indulge in anything," Luke snorted, "except perhaps murder."

"I do appreciate the… finer… things in life."

Luke shot a curious glance up at Vader as they began walking again. A small, silly smile rose to Luke's lips.

"Oh," he said, "well, there is nothing finer than murder. Mama said the most atrocious serial killers in history were aristocrats." He paused, thinking for a moment. "At least on Alderaan."

Vader bristled, and Luke realized he'd made a mistake bringing up his mother. Whether it was his adoptive or birth mother, that would be a sore subject with Vader. So Luke pressed on quickly.

"They're really quite gruesome," he said flippantly, wracking his mind for an example. "A century and a half ago there was a Viceroy named Castair Heed Mordaan who had the hearts of servants cut out, cooked, and served at his meals. When Queen Elyse found out what he'd been doing, she had him strung out the West Tower by his wrists and she personally smeared him with raw meat, so when the Rechaws came…"

Luke trailed off, wondering if he needed to fill in the rest for Vader and finding the man to be watching him quizzically.

"Did Breha Organa really tell you such tales?" Vader asked sharply.

"I liked scary stories," Luke said innocently. "Besides, she never went too much into details. It's just that she loved history, and she knew I liked it too, so if I could get a spooky tale and a history lesson in one, she was going to tell it to me. If I really wanted a nice bedtime story, I would have gone to my father— ah." Luke looked away from Vader sharply. He could sense his irritation mounting the more he talked about his childhood. "Anyway, as I said, I liked stories like that. Of course, that story did scare me a little witless. I wouldn't go into the West Tower for months, and I remember crying to my mother a few times that I'd seen the ghost of Castair wandering the halls."

"Perhaps you did."

Luke froze, his blood chilling in his veins at the very possibility that his childhood nightmares might have been true.

"Oh." Luke wondered if Vader could feel the outright fear that had struck him. "Well, that's troubling."

Vader made a noise, something like a scoff, and Luke bit down on his lower lip to keep a small smile from appearing on his face.

"I still believe that those kinds of stories are inappropriate for children," he said.

"Oh, don't act so high and mighty," Luke said as they turned another corner. "If you had raised me, Lord Vader, I'd probably have seen a man get his heart eaten by carnivorous carrion birds rather than be told of it."

Luke spoke as they passed by a few officers. Their eyes all darted toward them, fear glimmering in their eyes, and that was far more comforting than the hushed whispering he'd gotten on his way there.

"I never considered such a punishment," Vader said coolly. "It is your people, Prince Organa, who come up with the strangest executions."

"Well, I did tell you we don't like them, didn't I?" Luke smiled. "We… we were a peaceful planet. Peaceful does not mean toothless."

"Clearly."

"Thanks for destroying that, by the way."

Vader stiffened. He did not reply, and instead stared at him. Luke strode forward, ignoring the stares he got as he walked. Let them stare, then. Let them whisper. He was nauseated, and he was tired, and he felt the strain of this whole ordeal getting to him. But he knew he was getting somewhere. He knew that Vader, as distant and detached as he seemed, was not so hard-shelled after all.

He'd hardly call what had just transpired joking around, but it was certainly better than tireless arguing.

The truth was, Luke didn't think he could forgive Vader. Every time he thought about it, he felt sick, and he had to banish the thought of his father's face as it floated behind his eyelids. Dark eyes watching him sadly, regret gleaming like unshed tears. The immense guilt would consume him, if he was not careful, and he knew it well enough. He had always felt the enormity of the fact that Vader was his birth father, but now more than ever it threatened to eat him alive.

I cannot forget where I came from, Luke thought desperately as he moved through the labyrinthine hallways of the Imperial Star Destroyer. I cannot forget that, at my very core, I am Alderaan. I have the mountains in my heart and in my soul, and inside my mind is nothing but mountains rising tall and high and fierce. Nothing will change that. Nothing can change that.

Nearly a decade of deflecting the truth of Vader, the truth of his own blood, and Luke knew now how pointless it had all been.

He could abandon Vader. He wouldn't, of course, but he could. It wouldn't matter. Vader was not the man who raised him. Vader was not the man who had shaped him into the person that Luke was today.

Bail Organa's soft voice and infinite kindness was to blame for Luke's gentle heart. He knew it. When Vader called him weak, perhaps he was right. Luke was weak. He was weakened by his inability to abandon someone he knew was in need.

Maybe Vader did not realize how much he was hurting.

Maybe Vader thought that his life was going fine.

Maybe Vader truly felt that living like a slave was better than the alternative— death, or replacement, or perhaps even consequence.

Luke would free him, somehow. He believed it in his heart.

He doubted Vader would agree that what Luke was doing was mercy. It was a bridge they'd cross eventually, and Luke wondered if he was the only one who saw the duality of what might be considered mercy and what might be considered cruelty, like an antidote to a poison that was derived from the poison itself.

"I will not apologize," Vader said suddenly, appearing close by Luke's side within a few swift steps.

"I don't expect you to."

"Then what," Vader hissed, lowering his head so only Luke would hear him, "do you want?"

Luke paused. He understood that Vader was curious, and that the man was trying, and perhaps that he even felt guilty for doing what he had done to Luke. Yet it was so, so clear that Vader did not understand Luke at all.

He pulled away roughly, and he kept walking.

What he wanted and what was necessary— those things did not intersect. Luke understood his place in this disaster of a galaxy just as well as he knew Vader's, and that was the trouble.

No matter what he did, success or failure, this man… his father…

To assume that one was above consequence was to put oneself in the place of god.

Luke didn't know much about god. Alderaan had temples, but religion was such an abstract state of affairs for him. There were feast days, of course. Eternal gratitude to the mountains for shielding us, to the sun for warming us, to the trees for nourishing us. They even had a festival that marked the first snow of every year, celebrated at various times depending on what hemisphere of Alderaan a person found themselves. They never named the sun or the mountains or the snow gods, though. And afterlife for Alderaanians was less about the after and more about the life.

Once, Leia and Luke and Han had talked about religion. Leia had such a rich and fascinating insight into the idea of worship— of owing your life to something bigger than yourself. Tatooine was a culture that Luke did not quite understand, and he did not pretend to. Leia herself admitted that much of her own beliefs stemmed from centuries of folk tales passed from slave to slave.

Han's religion was not often spoken of, but he cursed them all to the nine Corellian hells and back and could list what torturous fate beheld them when they were passed from one layer to the next by the end of fate's talon.

When they finally came to Luke's cell, he found himself relaxing a bit. At least he could mull this all over in peace.

Or relative peace at the very least, since he was very nearly smothered to death the minute the door opened.

"Luke!" Ezra gasped into his ear, his head bent at an angle so his lips were abnormally close to his face. His body engulfed Luke's, and it was only then that Luke became acutely aware of the height difference between them.

His face, he realized, was really quite warm. He didn't want to pull away out of fear that Ezra might notice the pink tinge to his cheeks.

Over Ezra's shoulder, he met Ahsoka's eye. She looked both amused and relieved, though when she got a good look at his face she tilted her head. Then her eyes widened, and she glanced from Luke to Ezra with a gleeful curiosity.

"I'm okay," Luke finally managed to mumble, his mouth tucked against Ezra's shoulder. "Really. I'm fine."

Ezra pulled back, his hands clamping down on Luke's shoulders as he peered down at him. Luke blinked rapidly, relaxing him features and hoping that his smile didn't seem as nervous as he felt.

Luke held his breath as Ezra snatched his chin and tipped his head to the side, his brow furrowing as he leaned in close. His fingers were callused and warm.

Under Ezra's scrutiny, all Luke could do was stand and stare. He was frozen, and nervous, and feeling all too much like a child with butterflies tumbling around in his stomach, getting caught inside webs and strangling themselves trying to get free.

"Liar," Ezra muttered.

"What?" Luke couldn't help but yelp a little as Ezra shoved him behind him, and as he stumbled, Ahsoka caught him in her arms. She hovered protectively over him.

"What did you do?" Ezra demanded, glaring up at Vader.

Luke gaped for a few moments, not truly comprehending the situation.

"What are you talking about?" Luke gasped, extricating himself from Ahsoka's arms. "I'm fine?"

"Luke," Ahsoka murmured, her fingers tight on his wrist. She stared down at him expectantly, and when he only gave her a bewildered stare, she cupped his cheek in one hand, and grazed her thumb over his cheekbone. The pressure, even as light as it was, sent a sting of pain lancing up through his eye socket, and he hissed. He lurched away and cradled his cheek gingerly in both hands.

"You can't just steal him away for a whole day," Ezra gasped, "and then— and then bring him back with bruises!"

"Of course I can."

They all stood in the stark silence that followed that declaration. Ezra's rage was palpable, thrumming through the Force like a thunderclap.

"Ezra," Luke said, his voice sharp and clipped. He let it echo across the room, reverberating in the eerie silence.

Ezra's shoulders were tense. He looked like he might literally pounce at Vader, his body coiled and his head bowed.

Then he looked up, his face blank and his jaw set.

"You don't deserve him," Ezra said defiantly.

"Ezra," Luke gasped, moving forward to yank Ezra back. Ahsoka had him by the wrist, and she pulled him back to her.

The result of a true confrontation between Ezra and Vader would be disastrous. Luke could sense the rising tension, feel the rage that toiled between the two of them, and he knew that nothing good could come of it.

Vader stood tall and resilient under the harshest of Ezra's scrutiny. He did not seem entirely fazed by the ordeal, but there was something edging beneath his skin, some unpleasant force that Luke could feel boiling over.

"Learn to hold your tongue, Bridger," Vader warned. His voice echoed across the room, biting and harsh. "Where we are going, your survival depends on your invisibility. Try not to draw too much attention to yourself."

"What do you mean?" Ezra snapped. "What do you mean 'where we're going…'?"

Vader watched him for only a moment before his head swiveled, and his gaze settled on Luke. Even if Luke were hiding beneath the bed, his eyes closed, he'd feel the cold tremor of that stare.

"Prove yourself, child," Vader said. "You only have so many chances."

And with that, he swept from the room with a great flick of his cape. Luke stared after him, a coldness in his heart causing his breath to catch inside his throat.

Ezra deflated the moment the door closed. He whirled around to face Luke, his eyes wide and shining.

"What happened?" he asked, his voice shaking.

Luke shook his head. He blinked rapidly as Ahsoka pulled him close to her, her cheek resting against his head.

"It's nothing," he said.

"No it is not. Don't lie, Luke." Ezra approached him carefully. Their eyes met, and Luke could see the fear and the rage that simmered there. "What did he do?"

"He didn't do anything," Luke sighed, "I swear. This…?" He gestured to his cheek. "It was my fault."

"That's not true," Ahsoka murmured. She held him close to her, so close that he was nestled against her lekku. "The moment you blame yourself for a single blow, Luke… that's when Vader has you under his thumb. It will only get worse."

Luke swallowed hard. He unraveled himself from her grasp, her words drumming inside his head. He nodded once. He nodded, and then he collapsed onto the nearest bed.

"Maybe…" He frowned. His eyes trailed across the dull gray ceiling. "Maybe I'm a fool."

Ahsoka and Ezra did not answer.


Returning to the Rebellion was strange, to say the least. Leia was grateful for the warm shower and hot meal she'd been allotted, even if the shower was unbearably short and the meal was more or less mass produced mash. Even then, with all that had happened, she was thankful. She was warm, and her belly was full, and even if her heart did not quite match up with the contentment her body felt, she knew this was a good thing.

Han was sitting on her bed, re-stitching her red sash with a needle and thread. She wrung out her hair, watching him dully.

"My sewing isn't that bad," she said.

"Not bad," Han muttered, his brows furrowed. "Atrocious, more like."

"What?" Leia flung her wet towel at him, and he caught it in midair, his eyes raising to hers cockily. "Hey, screw you, pal. Aunt Beru taught me how to stitch!"

"All respect to Aunt Beru," Han said, his smirk bold and his teeth gleaming, "but you're terrible at this."

Leia scowled. She didn't tell him the Beru thought so too, and that she was always exasperated when Leia tried to fix her own clothes. She always said that just because Leia spent all her time hanging around a hermit didn't mean she had to look like one.

If Han knew that, he'd never let her hear the end of it.

Leia's legs collapsed beneath her as she sat down at Han's feet, examining the ends of her wet hair. He nudged her arm with his foot, and she shoved him.

"Are we gonna talk about it for real?" Han asked after a few minutes of comfortable silence.

Leia pressed her lips together. She knew he was talking about Luke, but she didn't want to say anything, so she looked down at her nails. They were stubby, uneven, and dirty.

Han sighed. He cut the string he was using with his teeth, and he draped the sash over her wet head.

"Luke is strong," he said, "but he can't last forever."

"I know."

"So," Han pressed, watching her with bright eyes, "what do we do?"

She missed a simpler time, when Han had tried to boss her around, where he had never looked to her for advice, where she had not been the clear pillar holding him up. The thing she had always feared about intimacy was knowing how much someone was going to rely on her. That emotional immediacy was not something she understood or was in touch with.

Han was strange. He was a strange exception to everything she thought she knew.

"Listen," Leia said quietly, frowning at her toes. "I'm… I'm not going to lie and say I have everything figured out. I don't. But I do trust Luke."

"Well," Han grumbled, "I don't trust Vader. I don't know what's happening to him, and I don't like that my imagination is— is just—"

"Going wild?" Leia glanced up at him, and when their eyes met, she could feel the immensity of his distress and despair. She could feel him breaking apart, his heart crumbling beneath the stress of what could be. Like not knowing, like imagining the worst possible outcome, was attacking him from the inside out.

"Yeah." Han slipped off the bed and dropped to the ground beside her. She pulled the sash off her head and draped it over both his knees and hers. "He's been tortured before, but… damn it, Leia, he's only a man, you know? He's not superhuman."

"I know," she murmured, staring fixedly at the wall ahead of her. "I… when I was with him… even for that instant… he was so happy, Han. I could feel how blissfully overjoyed he was to see me, to feel me there with him, but—"

"Then you felt something else?" Han offered.

She glanced up at him. His face was open, a book ready to be read, and she found herself smiling a little bit in disbelief. He had come so far since they had first met. He had opened his mind and his heart to things he never would have imagined before meeting her, and she was so grateful for that.

"He was scared," she said. She couldn't help but turn her eyes away. "For me. More than anything."

"For you?" Han scoffed. "What an idiot. He needs to be scared for himself!"

"That's what I was thinking!"

"You're fine," Han continued, "you're safe. You're super capable, and can hold your own against Vader no problem."

"Mhm, mhm…"

"He's the one in trouble." Han flung his hands into the air emphatically. "I'm gonna kill that kid!"

"Well, we have to save him first," Leia said lightly.

"Once I save him, I'm gonna kill him!"

"Here, here," Leia laughed.

A knock at the door cause them both to look up. It didn't take much reaching out for Leia to grasp who it was, the presence like steel shrouded in silk. Tilting her head, Leia rose to her feet.

"Hello?" Leia called. "Sabé?"

The door slid open, and the woman limped forward half a step. Her dark eyes met Leia's and something flickered there. An old pain, like a scar that had been torn open suddenly and viciously.

"Leia," she said, her voice soft and clipped. "I see you are readjusting well."

"Been doing this for a few years," Leia said sheepishly, brushing her hair behind her ears.

Sabé looked down at her. She drank in her face, her stature, her gait, and she looked away sharply.

"Yes," she said. "That… makes sense. I came to tell you that Mon Mothma wants to see you and Solo."

"Oh." Leia couldn't help but grimace. "Great. Amazing. Okay."

Han stood up, slid on some shoes, and he tossed a black robe over her head as he passed her. She scowled a little, but stuffed her arms into the sleeves and slipped on her nearest pair of shoes without a comment.

Sabé watched them move quietly. She had spent most of the day receiving bacta, but it seemed the medbay must have released her early on account of her wound not… being all that serious or life threatening. There had been a skirmish on an occupied moon, and a lot of soldiers were in critical condition.

Leia walked hesitantly alongside Han. The hallway was stark and deserted. She felt like she was walking among ghosts.

"I did…" Sabé took a deep, unsteady breath. She looked down at Leia, and the pain was back in her dark eyes. "I wanted to say… I am very honored to work by your side, Leia."

"Oh." Leia blinked rapidly. "Okay."

Sabé nodded once, and said nothing more, like this was enough. And maybe it was. Leia knew that Sabé was unsure. She knew that it did not help that Leia was a little cold and impersonal, that though she had a lot of big emotions, she was often closed off and hard to get a hold of.

It must have been hard for this woman to see the daughter of her queen and not be able to get close to her.

Leia understood. She just didn't know if she had it in her to offer a piece of herself to a stranger.

When they arrived, Mon Mothma greeted her with her usual genial smile, as graceful and benevolent as ever. Leia shoved her arms into the sleeves of her robe, hoping the action might shield her from the scrutiny of those around her, and she strode forward.

"You asked for me?" she asked.

Mon's eyes whisked over her and Han with only a hint of curiosity before she nodded curtly.

"I wanted to know your progress," Mon said, "on the Organa front. We are all most curious."

Leia winced at that. She refused to shrink under the stares, under the hidden accusation, under the expectations that were mounting as Luke's absence stretched on from weeks to months and months. She felt it burning inside her, the hole in her chest, in her heart, where her twin should be.

How had they ever grown up apart?

"We'd be doing a whole lot better if we had some help," Han snapped.

"Han," Leia said sharply. She shot him a cool glance, and he clamped his mouth shut. Yet his eyes were ablaze with a bitter rage, and she could not even blame him for it. Leia turned her attention to Mon. "We are trying our best with what we have been given. As you can see, we succeeded with our mission— Sabé is, after all, safe— so we would like to continue our search."

Mon nodded. "Have you put any thought about what is next?"

Han and Leia exchanged a knowing glance. Han sighed, rolling his shoulders, and he grimaced.

"Well," he said hesitantly, "actually, we know where he is right now."

Mon's eyebrows shot upward inquisitively.

"At least," Leia cut in, shooting Han a sharp glance, "we knew where he was two days ago. I made contact with him as we were leaving the atmosphere of Shaval."

"Made contact?" Mon echoed.

"On a secure line?" Admiral Akbar asked.

Leia shook her head furiously. "No, no," she said, "not like that."

Everyone in the room stared at her vacantly. Leia only noticed then that the rest of their team was very clearly missing. Lando was not present, and neither was Aphra or Rex. She did spot Yule hanging back in the crowd, frowning a little bit at the proceedings, but otherwise it seemed that they were alone.

"What Leia means," Han said, rolling his eyes, "is that… well, you can explain it better, can't you? I don't understand any of this Force stuff."

Leia patted his arm with a small smile. "The fact that you tried is very admirable," she said. She glanced around her, steeling herself under the gaze of unfamiliar faces, and she stepped forward. "Luke and I are siblings. We share a connection within the Force, something… strong, and unbreakable. I can feel people in the Force, I mean… that's normal. I can tell when people are near by the way that they feel. But with Luke… I was able to see him. Speak to him."

A flurry of murmurs ran through the room. She held her ground, ignoring how pointed and suspicious they were. It didn't matter if anyone else believed her. She knew Mon Mothma would.

"You spoke to him," Mon said cautiously, "in your head?"

"No, it was out loud."

"It was," Han admitted.

"How can we know that this is real?" someone asked sharply from the crowd. She did not recognize the officer, but she fixed him with a hard stare until he lowered his eyes and shrunk back.

Mon looked at them expectantly.

Leia knew she had no proof. Her jaw clenched irritably.

"Vader realized Luke and Leia were talking," Han said with a sneer. "You can ask anyone who was there. The moment Leia realized that Vader knew, she told us to knock her out so Vader couldn't get inside her head."

"That's true," Sabé said, stepping forward. "I was beside her the whole time. I was the one who rendered her unconscious, and the moment she asked us to do so, a Star Destroyer broke the blockade and began to tail us. If Lando Calrissian were not the pilot he is, we would not have gotten out of there in one piece."

"Is that an issue?" a young woman asked nervously. She was a captain, it looked like. "Vader getting into people's heads? How is that possible from that distance?"

"The Force works in mysterious ways," Leia said bitterly. She took a deep breath, and she shook her head. "It wouldn't happen to anyone else. I'm just very unfortunate enough to be Force sensitive. Usually I can shield from him, but… I was so focused on Luke…"

"If I may," Sabé said, resting a hand gingerly on Leia's shoulder. Her eyes were hard, and her chin was raised high. "I have had experience with Force sensitives— Jedi and Sith and anything in between. Leia's situation is not all that abnormal. Master and Apprentice of the old Jedi often were connected with a psychic link. Obi-Wan Kenobi explained it to me many moons ago, before the Clone Wars."

Another wave of murmurs skittered across the floor. Leia glanced up at Sabé's face, taking in how relaxed and yet how utterly cold it was, and she couldn't help but be awed. This was the seasoned politician. This was the deadly bodyguard.

"Luke was with Vader," Leia continued, looking straight into Mon's eyes. "He was scared, but he's not broken. I believe, with this information, that Vader is likely to bring Luke with him wherever he goes."

Mon frowned. It was an odd look for someone so bright and beautiful.

"Leia," Mon said, her voice as delicate as a doctor's before the news of a death breaks. "We have heard rumors. Rumors that Luke has… turned his back on our cause."

"Those are rumors," Leia said firmly. "Luke has always been pragmatic, hasn't he? He's one of your top strategists! You think he'd sit idle in a cell when he can sweet talk Vader into giving him some freedom, and therefore information? Don't underestimate him. He might be sweet, but he can be pretty ruthless too."

Mon watched her for a short moment. Then finally, she conceded with a nod.

"I believe that as well," she said. "I watched that boy grow up. No one— and I mean no one— has more cause to hate the Empire than him. So, I must ask. How do you plan to get him away from Vader?"

"I guess…" Leia frowned. She looked up at Han questioningly.

"We want to grab him in a public place," Han said quickly, like they hadn't just barely talked about it in passing. "If we can get a spy to slip us where Vader's next assignment is… I mean, it's a long shot, but…"

"But Vader is sloppiest when he thinks he's winning," Leia said firmly. "He'll bring Luke out in the open sooner or later. After all, the Emperor wants to see his prize shown off."

"Leia said she'll engage Vader," Han said with a shrug. He ignored the way the whole room seem to freeze at that suggestion. "She can hold him off for— how long, sunshine?"

"It's hard to say," she admitted. "The last time… it must have been about fifteen minutes, right?"

"I didn't see it. Aphra would know."

"Well, let's say ten to fifteen minutes," Leia said. "I can distract him, lead him away from Luke, and an extraction team can—"

"There will be stormtroopers," Mon reminded her gently.

"If it's a good team," Leia said firmly, "they won't be a problem."

"This plan needs work," Mon said. She looked at Leia, and then, very softly, she smiled. "However, if you can provide me with Vader's next on-planet visit…"

"Uh, actually," a familiar voice said suddenly, "I can help with that."

Leia watched in mute awe as Yule stepped forward, holding their hand up sheepishly. They walked up to Mon Mothma, who bowed her head respectfully. Even though Yule was no longer a queen, it seemed they were still respected like one.

"Eulalia," Mon greeted. "This is a turn of events. You did tell me you had no plans to speak tonight."

"Well, plans change," Yule said with a shrug. "I happen to be friends with Luke Organa, and…" A shadow passed over their face, and they looked around at the crowd that had gathered there. "Let me explain. I was queen of Naboo several years ago, and had the pleasure of calling Luke Organa a friend and confidant. During that time, for reasons that are still a mystery to me, my successor, my handmaidens, the royal guard, our government, and even the Imperial officers who were stationed there, Vader forcibly took Luke from the palace back to his home on Mustafar."

A deafening silence followed this announcement. Yule had paused, possibly for dramatic effect, and they soaked in the nervous energy floating around them. They smirked.

"Creepy, no?" they asked. "Creepier when you know he was fifteen, and uncovering some dark secrets involving one of our former queens."

"I was there for this," Sabé spoke up very sharply and very clearly. She released Leia's shoulder, and she marched up to Yule's side. She glanced around the room, her eyes whisking across faces serenely. "If you must know the full story, Luke had been investigating a murder of an ISB agent that I committed. Vader was pinning the blame on Naboo's senator, Pooja Naberrie, who Luke was close friends with. I turned myself in to save her, but Luke… he fought for me in a way that I cannot quite express in words. Vader's obsession with the Force led him to Luke."

"So he took Luke," Yule said. "I was never told what happened to him while he was with Vader, but Bail Organa came out of the situation with permanent tracheal damage, and Luke… he looked dismal. In less than twelve hours, Vader had turned a vibrant boy into a prisoner. When I spoke to him, not long after the incident, his hair had been shaved, he had lost a significant amount of weight, and he was heavily bandaged. He refused to tell me anything of the situation, insisted he was fine, and told me explicitly not to look into it further. So I didn't."

"Luke will suffer anything to protect the things he loves," Sabé said firmly. "That includes the Rebellion."

"Bail called me as soon as he was able to tell me one thing," Yule said, holding up a single finger. "He said that he was so, eternally grateful to me for getting in contact with him when I did. Because, he believed, if Luke had been with Vader for even a single day, it might have ruined him. That is what scares me about this situation. He has been gone for months, and all of you sit here like it is acceptable. Like allowing that boy to become Vader's weapon is anything less than barbaric. Doing nothing makes us complicit in his torture!"

The whole crowd seem to release a collective breath before soft chattering of agreements began to rise up.

Yule's eyes swiveled to Leia's. They nodded once.

"I know where Vader will be next," they said. "The Emperor cannot make his annual pilgrimage back to Naboo for Empire Day. He is sending Vader in his place."

Chapter Text

"Naboo," Luke echoed, standing stiffly behind Vader as he finished up a report. "Are you… are you sure about this?"

"You doubt me?"

Luke couldn't help but frown, his eyes narrowing on Vader's back. They had not seen each other since he had brought Luke back to his room, but according to his stormtrooper… friends? Was that the right word? He wasn't sure, but the stormtroopers had told him that Vader had been on a rampage. Even the officers were frightened to so much as whisper Luke's name.

This was what Luke had wanted to avoid, but he supposed he deserved this knot of guilt that was forming in his stomach at the revelation that his loose tongue was responsible for innumerous deaths.

"We have bad history with Naboo," Luke warned him. He folded his arms across his chest, and offered a shrug. "I like the idea of fresh air, but do you really know what you're doing?"

"You continuously presume I am not prepared for everything I do," Vader hissed, spinning around in his chair and watching Luke with his emotions spiking on pure disgust. "You are the one who makes the wrong choice time and again, my son. Think for a moment, and then speak."

"I have been thinking," Luke objected. "I think you should hand Thrawn over to the Rebels."

Vader stared at him.

Luke choked, the air falling out of his lungs like books toppling from a shelf, and his chin collided with the floor as a strong, obtuse force smacked him in the stomach. He laid there, half-sprawled, half-kneeling, and he gagged a little.

"The next time you feed me such ill advice," Vader said, his low voice bordering on a thunderclap. "I will throw you back into a cell, and forget you were ever born."

Luke stared at the floor for a moment, spittle and bile pooling in his mouth. A shiver struck him, tracing his bones like fingers on a map.

"Yes, sir," Luke rasped, not quite believing it, yet feeling the inescapable disgust, toiling with hatred, seeping into distress and disappointment. He was trapped, pinned beneath the weight of Vader's heart, and it was like having cubes made of durasteel slowly becoming imbedded in his brain.

The pressure lifted, and Luke couldn't help but gasp. He shook, his eyes watering, and he hastily wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

Vader merely stared at him.

Luke blinked rapidly. He pushed himself shakily upright, and he looked up at Vader.

"Fine," Luke said, his voice quivering. "Kill him. Fucking execute him in front of the Emperor for all I care."

"Perhaps I will," Vader said darkly, "but that is none of your concern."

"It is concerning, to say the least, that you're putting a man on death row for being smart."

"I have killed many men for far less," Vader said.

Luke stared at him dazedly.

How had he and Leia come from this idiot?

"Yet you haven't killed me," Luke said miserably, "and I have offended you more than most."

Vader stiffened, and he seemed to take true offense to that.

"You are my son," he said.

"Not even a minute ago you brought me to my knees, used our link within the Force to pour your— your unmitigated disgust, and disappointment, and dissatisfaction into my head and my heart— you just threatened to throw me into a cell for the rest of my life!" Luke couldn't help it. He couldn't help the tears that stung his eyes. He couldn't keep quiet. "You want me to be your son, and you want my love, but you hate me!"

"No," Vader said sharply, "I do not."

"Yes, you do!" Luke realized he was still kneeling, so he shoved himself to his feet. His bones were aching, and his stomach was clenched. "You think I'm weak, that I'm too soft for the life you want for me, but you don't seem to understand that I am not the person you want me to be! I don't think I can be that person!"

Vader, surprisingly, remained silent.

Luke sucked in a deep breath, and he quickly scrubbed at the space between the hollows of his eyes and the bridge of his nose. Tears transferred onto the heel of his hand, and it glistened in the low light.

"I don't want to fight," Luke whispered. "I don't think it helps either of us if we're at each other's throats. But I don't understand you, and I don't know if I want to. It's not like either of us want to change, but… if this is going to work… if you really want my love, then you can't be doing these things!"

"What things?" Vader spat. "You spoke out of turn. That was a just punishment."

"I offered you a real idea! Something substantial, something that will save your ass when the Emperor comes calling and asks, 'Hey, Vader, my boy, where the fuck did you put Grand Admiral Thrawn, and oh, by the way, can I have your head on a spike? Thanks.'" Luke snorted, dragging his hands through his hair exasperatedly. "You know you're fucked, right?"

"That was a poor impression," Vader said quietly, "and I do not appreciate the language."

"I bet the fuck not," Luke replied, feeling absolutely wired, "but I'm going to fucking use it, because it's the only thing that has gotten you to quiet down and listen. If you give Thrawn to the Rebels— it could be a very simple transaction if you let me think on it for a few days— then you rid yourself of responsibility. His death will not be on your hands. You reported him missing, didn't you?"

Vader did not respond, but the lack of a response was really all Luke needed. He nodded.

"Good," he said. "That means that you can forge a report that states that Thrawn was taken captive by Rebels during the Battle of Shaval. Just wash your hands of it. You don't need him, and the Rebels— well, best case scenario, he's locked in a cell until someone wins this war."

"And what is stopping Thrawn from betraying me?" Vader hissed.

"His loyalty to the Empire," Luke said simply. "He might have some strange… I don't know, admiration, maybe, for the Rebels, but he serves the Empire. He won't give away any secrets he doesn't want to. And really, he's killed enough Rebels that High Command might allow his execution."

"Do you do that?" Vader asked dryly. "I thought it was above you."

Luke glared at him. "I don't like it," he said, "but the Rebellion is a militaristic operation. They understand the rules of war."

Vader scoffed. He turned away sharply.

"I will…" His head drooped, and his helmet gleamed against the shadows. "…think on it."

Luke swallowed hard. This was far more than he had ever expected, especially after the threat Vader had flung at him earlier, so Luke nodded.

"Thank you," he said sincerely. He rubbed his arms, and he could feel his scars beneath the fabric. He felt dazed and nauseous. "I… apologize. For yelling."

"Perhaps it is what I deserve," he said.

Luke stared at him, struck mute by this small, slim admission of guilt. He couldn't help the nagging, intertwining blast of doubt and hope that found its way into his heart. Every time he looked at this man and tried to see a monster, he offered a man in its place, and that was exhausting.

"Oh," Luke said, his voice thick with uncertainty. "Well… regardless, thank you. I should…" Luke through a frantic glance back at his door. "I should go."

Vader's stare followed him like a shadow.


"It's brilliant," Lando said, his fingers pinching the end of the black wig, "but risky."

"We know," Leia said heavily.

Sabé was showing her how to get around with knives. Her lightsabers would be hidden, but she did not want to draw attention to herself, so knives were the best option. Not vibroblades, either. Leia weighed the cold metal against her hand, and the weight of it was comparable to how Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber felt in her palm.

Leia eyed Artoo, who was roving around the ship curiously. The weight of Anakin's kyber crystal seemed to press against her chest.

They were using Aphra's vessel, as it would garner the least attention, especially with the security detail they were about to face.

"I have not been able to contact my wife on Naboo just yet," Yule said, their boots appearing on the ladder beside them and their round face appearing not long after. "It will be difficult to get a message to her before we get on planet."

"How did you talk to her when you were on your mission?" Leia asked curiously.

"I didn't."

Leia froze at that, blinking at Yule pityingly. They had combed back their hair, and now wore a folded blue scarf as a headband. They peered down at the table full of wigs, and they grimaced.

"Styling these will be irritating," they said.

"Oh, we'll make it work," Sabé said. "It's only for you and Lua. Everyone else has hair the right color and length."

Leia looked down at her knife. She spun it lazily in her hand, finding herself growing a bit attached to it. Sabé had said that Luke had liked knives too, but his father, Bail Organa, had not liked the brutality of the weapon. He thought blasters were more civilized.

She couldn't help but think of how much Ben would disagree.

"Lua's a little monster," Yule grumbled, folding their arms across their chest. "The moment she was free to go, you know what she told me? She said she was honored to be in my service, and if given the chance she would have destroyed half the city if it meant giving Palpatine a kick in the nuts."

"Verbatim?" Han piped up, his eyes bright. "I wanna meet that broad."

"You will," Yule said, rolling their eyes. "She'll be on Naboo when we get there. Leda too, and… Sabé, did you say Rabé would be down there as well?"

"Rabé and Dormé, along with Apailana's handmaiden Shrua Mae, Jamillia's handmaidens, Cora and Cadda, and stars-willing, Mandira."

"Mandira?" Yule's eyebrows shot up curiously, a spark of hope and curiosity lingering there. "You got in contact with her? How?"

"I have my ways," Sabé said cryptically, her poise and elegance never seeming to crack even with the silly smile that rose to her lips as she met Yule's eye. Both of them began to laugh, and Yule leaned forward against the table, resting their face in their hands.

"How exciting," they said. "I haven't seen Mandira since her coronation."

"Another queen?" Han asked thickly.

"Why do you sound so glum?" Lando asked, clapping Han on the back with a broad grin. "We are swimming in royalty!"

"Royalty that's got an eye for murder," Han muttered, shooting a wary glance at Yule. They shot him a glance back, and their lips twisted into a smirk.

"Apailana, Jamillia, and Mandira… they're queens?" Leia scratched her head thoughtfully. "Before my mother?"

"No," Yule said. "After."

"I believe the order is Amidala, Calleda, Jamillia, Neeyutnee—" Sabé began thoughtfully.

"Oh, poor Neeyutnee," Yule murmured, closing their eyes. "The Clone Wars were tough on her. The last I saw her, she'd joined the Silent Sisters of Saerun."

"Neeyutnee was a peaceful queen in a tumultuous time," Sabé agreed. "I think she is much happier now than she was then. Apailana was next, and she… well, the rise of the Empire took its toll on her, didn't it?"

"She wanted to resign immediately in solidarity with Amidala," Yule said bitterly, "but the council—"

"Ah," Sabé said, a bite to her voice that left the whole room a chilly. "Yes. The council. Imbeciles."

Yule eyed her carefully before continuing. "— the council thought that she was strong enough to lead Naboo into the change. She was, bless her for that. She looked soft, but that girl had a steel skeleton."

"I did like Apailana," Sabé said, sitting down on the table beside the wigs. "She always hugged me when she saw me, even if it was against etiquette, and Shrua Mae told me she's quite happy with how her life turned out."

"Is she rebelling?" Yule asked.

"Not everyone needs to actively rebel to be happy, Eulalia," Sabé said with a wide smile. "No, she owns a farm now. In the countryside. She might join us, though. According to Shrua Mae, she has not decided."

"What was her real name?" Yule asked.

"Shalé Mel Tellisse, I believe."

"Shalé," Yule murmured. "Common."

"Not all of us can be Lian Julles Eulalia," Sabé teased. "Now, where was I? Apailana, Jervo—"

"Hated him," Yule said vehemently.

"I think I remember when he took the throne," Lando offered, blinking curiously between the two of them. "There was quite the upset on the holo, since he broke the tradition set by Amidala. Young queen rather than a king."

"He was trash," Yule said.

"He wasn't that bad," Sabé sighed. "He was about twenty at the time, and remembered the siege well enough, but… his ideas… it was a shame. He had been handpicked by Palpatine, essentially, to help the people adjust better to Imperial procedure. He told me—"

"You were in contact with him?" Yule wrinkled their nose. "I hate you. How could you associate with that scumbag?"

"He wasn't so bad," Sabé said defensively. "He thought he was doing the right thing by his people, because if Naboo showed any signs of distress or discomfort with Palpatine's reign, it would look unfavorable. The people would be punished collectively. He was a smart boy, if not ill suited for the throne, but I do think he saved us. If a queen like you or Apailana had ruled during those years— when things began to change for the worse? Blood would have rained down upon the streets of Theed."

"Rather blood than bondage," Yule muttered.

"Naboo is significantly freer than most star systems," Sabé told Yule sharply. "Mind yourself, Eulalia. You may have been queen, but you forget your people."

"Whatever," Yule said, their youth shining through as they shrunk beneath Sabé's wisdom. Leia watched this exchange with great interest, soaking in every word, and she couldn't help but wonder… if her mother had survived, would they have had a similar way of bickering? Leia with her vehemence, her sharp words and tactile anger, and Padmé with her patient wisdom and sharp rebukes?

It was hard to think about it.

"After Jervo, and do be easier on him, he was found dead not long after—"

"By who?" Leia demanded.

Sabé glanced at her. Her dark eyes were clouded. "It's still a mystery," she admitted. "He was found dead in his home. It looked like a murder, but I suspect it was a suicide. He was smart like that, always worrying over his legacy, always worrying over his people— always worrying. He was anxious, paranoid, and hopeless toward the end."

"Suicide?" Yule muttered. They frowned into their hand. "I didn't know that."

"You didn't want to know, Eulalia. You are biased in that way." Sabé inhaled sharply, her back straightening. "Karuna followed Jervo, and she was exactly what we needed. She was kind, but fair, and also able to bend to the Emperor's will when necessary."

"I remember her," Yule said softly. "She visited my class once. Told me I had the makings of a queen." At that, Yule gave a bitter laugh. "What happened to her? She disappeared off the radar after her term was up."

Sabé stared ahead of her distantly. There was a graveness to her voice as she spoke.

"She became the Ambassador for Naboo on Alderaan," she said.

The room became deathly still. No one moved, not even to take a breath.

Sabé, to her credit, too this in a stride. "We had lunch often when I was teaching Luke," she said. "She met him a few times, and I think she suspected his true nature. She gave him books about Naboo's culture and had him studying flowers. He loved that."

"Flowers?" Leia asked softly.

Sabé smiled at her tenderly. "Luke was a gentle child. He liked the simple things in life."

That only made the room more uncomfortable.

"After her, of course, was Leilana."

"Bitch," Yule said coolly.

"She was, wasn't she? She did her job, though, and she assists with the Rebellion when she has time."

"Her children are demons."

"Oh, Eulalia," Sabé sighed, "please have some self-awareness."

"My child is not a demon."

"I was speaking about you. I did meet you when you were still in school, remember, and if I recall you were quite the terror."

Yule scowled. They straightened up, their eyes darting away sharply. "I was passionate," they said defensively. "The other kids lacked ambition. And spines. What were they doing in the Apprentice Legislatures if they were going to complain about making tough decisions? Amateurs."

"Terror," Sabé said with a small, almost proud smile. "Leilana and I were not close. I was in hiding by then, bouncing between planets. We did have tea every now and then, though, since Rebellion business tended to bring us together. She was… proper. It always felt like I was having tea with an Imperial officer, but she had the most ruthless, tactile ideas for sabotaging Palpatine. I admire her."

"I was next," Yule said, addressing their small group with a wan smile. "Lian Julles Eulalia. A grand disappointment."

"You did what you could," Sabé argued.

"Not enough." Yule's eyes were downcast, and their tiny frame seemed to shrink into the dark hull. "I regret it. All of it. I never should have been queen."

"Eulalia…" Sabé shook her head. "Every queen has regrets. You had a tough time of it, following Leilana— stars know that woman was hyper-competent. Plus she was far older than you when she began. Eighteen, if I recall, and twenty-one when she left office. Relax. There were no major incidents during your reign, and the people adore you."

Yule didn't respond. They simply glared at the floor, and they slumped a bit.

"Mandira," Sabé continued, as if nothing had happened, "who will be joining us on Naboo, was Eulalia's successor. She had an interesting reign— there was that mining trouble, and I believe Luke did step in to help her with that, didn't he?"

"You're asking the wrong person," Yule said. "I jumped ship the moment the crown touched her head."

"Rumors and second-hand news," Sabé muttered disdainfully, her eyes flickering around her. "No wonder the Rebellion was hardly a cohesive whole back then."

Yule pursed their lips, and they shrugged.

"Now, where was I… Mandira, then Phoeba— I don't know much about her."

"She signed my wedding certificate," Yule offered. "It was her last act as queen, before she stepped down. The Emperor was not happy that year."

"The Death Star?"

Yule nodded.

"Hm. I suppose he wouldn't be."

"Phoeba was my agemate. We went through Legislative Youth together, and she was always a little softer on her politics than I was. I told her to become a Senator once if she didn't want to change anything. When I was queen, she told me she did not see much of a difference with the way I was ruling." Yule's lips twisted in a curious, almost fond way. "We were quite the rivals. She was old for a queen, wasn't she?"

"She was around Leilana's age," Sabé said.

"Well, Phoeba got out okay in the end. She feeds information to me sometimes, since she got herself involved with some ISB officer."

"She… does what now?" Leia asked curiously. Beside her, Han looked just as curious, and he and Lando exchanged pointed looks.

"She's soft on her politics, but ruthless about personal relationships," Yule said, their expression difficult to read. "Leaves her partners in puddles. Once I told her that her method of getting information was about as good as a whore's, and she told me that I think exactly like an Imperial officer does, and that is why her information is so damn good." Yule's smile was a bright grin now. "Illeana Phoeba is a force to be reckoned with."

"Will she be joining us then?" Leia asked eagerly.

"Nah." Yule rolled her eyes. "It'd mess up her operations. I wouldn't even ask."

"I do hope she doesn't feel too left out," Sabé said amusedly.

"Well, if she does, then fuck it. Phoeba can write me a strongly worded letter. Or, more likely, she'll take it up with my wife." Yule looked at the wall miserably, and they grimaced at that. 

"Who's left then?" Sabé asked. "Phoeba, who stepped down after the Death Star…"

"Amalphea," Yule said, ticking off their fingers, "then Orianthe, but she's gone now. I know there's a new queen, but I haven't been home since Orianthe got sick."

"I tried to keep up with the news from home," Sabé sighed, "but… well, you all saw how Shaval was, by the end."

"Bad," Han remarked dryly.

"You guys… sure do go through queens fast," Leia said faintly.

"Well, it does depend on the queen," Yule said defensively. "A term for a Monarch of Naboo is two years, but we can choose to run for a second term. In fact, a queen can be queen indefinitely if she wants to be. The thing is, the job is incredibly taxing— emotionally and physically— so shoving a barely pubescent girl into that level of responsibility… most of us are done with it in four years. Recently, with the Empire breathing down our neck? We're lucky if we get a queen for her entire term."

"I always suspected that is why Naboo tended toward young queens," Sabé said, her voice growing bitter. "Young women are not so power hungry as adult men, who, in our experience, do rule indefinitely. Veruna was king my whole life before Padmé."

"Fourteen years," Yule said vacantly. "I can't even imagine having a king for that long."

"You've had an Emperor for that long," Leia reminded them.

Yule glared at her. "You're from Hut Space," they said icily, "so I'll forgive you for not understanding the difference."

"Okay, so out of… all of those queens," Han said, leaning forward anxiously, "who's gonna help us?"

"Mandira, obviously," Yule said.

"I can try to contact Leilana," Sabé sighed.

"No, I'll do it," Yule said, looking none too thrilled about the prospect. "Once we get on planet I can talk to my wife, and she can talk to Leilana."

"What about your wife?" Sabé asked curiously.

Yule licked their lips. They glanced around the room, and then shrugged. "I don't want to ask her to do that for me," they said quietly.

"I understand."

Leia took a deep breath. It felt strange to be hearing about Naboo's recent history, and stranger to be so out of the loop. She knew it would be like talking to someone from Tatooine about water cycles and slave legends, but she didn't particularly like feeling like an outsider. Not when she now knew that this was her culture too.

"Amalphea might be interested," Yule said, blinking rapidly. "I never knew her well."

"I'm sure we'll have enough people," Sabé said calmly. "However, we still haven't solidified our plan of action."

"Well, Vader will have to make a speech, won't he?" Yule frowned. "That's how Empire Day works. Unless Palpatine has one set to holo."

"I would expect that more than Vader doing any sort of public speaking," Leia said ruefully.

"Yeah, unless he's about to mass murder the crowd," Han said with a snort, "best hope old Palpatine has got something pre-recorded."

"Maybe Luke will make a speech," Lando said thoughtfully, sounding as though he was thinking aloud.

They all stared at him blankly.

"Well, that'd be something," Yule said.

"I'd be scared to hear what he'd say," Leia admitted.

"Yeah, best not put that kid in front of a microphone," Han said with a grimace. "He might just say hey, fuck the Empire, drop the mic, and let the firing squad take him down."

"Yeah, sounds about right," Leia said bitterly. "I hate him."

"Same."

"We won't let it come to that," Sabé said delicately.

"Security is going to be tough," Yule said, "regardless of who is speaking. All four years that I was queen, the arrest numbers for Empire Day were higher than any day of the year. I had prison reports coming out of my nose, I was so busy trying to sort them out— and the crimes varied from small misdemeanors to acts of terrorism. It was pretty hellish."

"The only person we really need to worry about garnering too much attention is Leia," Sabé said, "and we've already found a way around that."

Leia grimaced. She wasn't sure how much she liked this plan, but it was too late to back out.

"How big and bold do we want this?" Leia asked curiously. "Sabine Wren has a track record for destroying Empire Day ceremonies. I'm sure she'd love to get in on the action."

"Sabine Wren?" Sabé tilted to her head. "I don't believe we've met."

"She's a Mandalorian rebel," Leia said quickly. "Phoenix Squadron? General Hera Syndulla?"

"I know of Cham Syndulla," Sabé said with a frown. "Is his daughter a General now? Really?"

"Yeah. Anyway, I can't guarantee Sabine will show, because Mandalore is…"

"Fucked?" Han offered.

"Royally," Leia sighed, smoothing her hair back and frowning. She'd been wearing it loose the past week or so, and it felt… freer, but also messier. Like she was losing track of herself, maybe even falling apart. She was aware that the change was less about aesthetics and more about time management and— and also, the oddest sense of laziness. She couldn't bring herself to sling a braid around her crown right now, let alone do any elaborate twists and plaits.

Her dreams had begun to muddle together, but when she fell asleep, she felt Luke. She felt him at a distance, and she was consumed by his presence and his fear.

"Wren is pretty good at destroying stuff," Han admitted, scratching his chin. He shot Sabé a small smile. "Could come in handy with a plan like this."

Sabé nodded. "Call her if you think she will make a difference," she said. "Do warn her of the risks, though. We barely got this operation approved to begin with, and I'd rather not lose more of Mon's people than strictly necessary."

"Sure," Leia said, not really sure when Sabé had become the leader, but falling in line nonetheless.

They broke apart after that. Leia, Han, and Lando wandered up to the cockpit where Aphra, Chewie, and Rex were sitting comfortably. Aphra seemed to be monologuing.

"Toss me a comm, will you?" Leia called to Aphra, lingering in the doorway as Han began to gripe and moan about how much damn work was being put into this Naboo stuff. Chewie yowled in response, and they got a conversation going.

Aphra threw her the nearest one, and Leia caught it easily.

"Glad I'm not on the ground for this one," Aphra said, leaning back in her chair and grinning haughtily. "Sounds like it oughta be a real mess."

"Well," Leia said, "it is Vader. I can't expect much less, can I? Then my life would be too easy."

"Tell Sabine I said hello, would you?" Lando said with a wink as he sat down beside Rex.

"Oh, you're comming Sabine?" Rex asked eagerly. "For this?"

"Not explicitly the… main event, per se," Leia said awkwardly. "Just the terrorism aspect. We have a lot of good fighters, a lot of good minds, but we don't have the… well…"

"Explosives?" Rex asked with a small smile. "Yes, she will most definitely bring that."

"We have it worked out so loosely," Leia confessed, feeling sheepish and confused. "We know how we're going to get Vader's attention, how we're going to draw him away from Luke, how we're going to get Luke— but the escape plan is hazy. Hopefully I can get Sabine to help us with that."

"Well, we'll be in the sky," Aphra said, kicking her feet up on her dashboard and shrugging. "Han will be on the ground with you— Rex too."

Rex tipped his helmet at her. She smiled down at him warmly.

"You're just happy that you don't have to face Vader again," Leia told Aphra snidely.

"Uh, yeah," Aphra scoffed. "Did Vader's personal vendetta against me not get Kes killed? It's way better if I stay up here where dumb heroes like you won't jump in on my behalf."

"Fair," Lando remarked.

Leia didn't like being reminded of Kes Dameron. She had not seen Shara when they had returned to Base, on account of her being out on a mission, but the thought of it still made Leia feel physically sick with guilt.

"Yeah, well…" Leia dragged her hands through her hair— a bad habit that had erupted upon the reality of it being completely loose. She couldn't keep her hands off it, and ended up piling it to one side or the other or smoothing it completely back out of boredom. "When we get Luke back, it'll be worth it."


They were giving strict instructions about Naboo.

Firstly, Luke was to keep silent. He would remain at Vader's side, look regal, and say nothing. If he was asked questions, he'd defer to Vader.

Ezra and Ahsoka were to flank them. If they made any unauthorized move, Vader would take it out on Ezra. That was the deal.

The palace in Theed was as sprawling, open, elaborate, and beautiful as Luke remembered. Walking into the throne room, stepping into Vader's shadow like he had been born into it, he felt nostalgia crashing over him like a wave. The smell of sandalwood hung in the air, throwing him right back to standing in this very spot when he was fifteen, and Pooja had been sitting before them with terror in her eyes as Vader nearly killed Sabé.

He shuddered. Closing his eyes made it all the worse.

The queen, a young woman Luke did not recognize, sat at the throne with a tilt of her head and a smirk on her face. She was much different than Eulalia had been, Luke realized immediately. Dalné, too, had the foresight to look a little less smug when she had sat the throne.

Luke sunk into a bow when they reached the throne. He was the only one to do so, and the queen glanced down at him. Her dark eyes glittered.

"Lord Vader," she greeted. "Is this your pet?"

Luke bristled.

Don't speak, he reminded himself sharply. Don't be stupid. Don't make any more mistakes!

"This is my apprentice," Vader said, clapping Luke on the shoulder and jerking him up from his bow. "Prince Luke Organa of Alderaan, meet Queen Soruna."

Luke blinked up at the queen, whose face was round and smooth, caked with white paint with a stark slash of red that extended from the center of her lower lip down to the point of her chin. It was the only decorative line of red on her face, which was another difference between her and the other queens Luke knew. Not counting his birth mother, with her two dots and small stripe of red, Eulalia had traditionally lined her eyes sharply with feathery red paint, and then carefully placed two curved rectangles beneath her eye, each one balanced against her cheekbones. Mandira had had a triangle of blue paint slashed upon her lower lip, and then on her forehead were three blue triangles, upside down, starting from the line of her hair down to her eyebrows. Mandira had sometimes switched between blue and red as her favored color, though, attributing much of her ruling style to Apailana before her.

Soruna's hair, which Luke knew was a wig, was a large twist of a bun fitted beneath a golden headpiece that seemed to jut out, spires of thin wire, encrusted in priceless crystals, like solar flares. Her dress was a deep, crimson red, made of a heavy velvet with careful pleating that shaped her bodice. The thread was gold, and each piece of her dress was lined with it. Her skirt was versatile and delicate across her legs, heavy velvet over soft gold brocade.

"Luke Organa," Soruna said. Her voice was raspier than expected. Queens of Naboo, in Luke's experience, kept their voices low. In Lian's case, their natural voice was actually lower than their queenly voice, but they were… an odd case. Soruna sounded like she smoked any chance she got, and yet her voice was melodious, like a blues singer. "How lovely! I've wanted to meet you for quite a long time. I read your essay on the cross-section of Naboo and Alderaanian politics— your voice is simply profound."

Luke stared up at her, his mouth falling open. He shrunk a little under her praise, feeling a little baffled and embarrassed at the thought of someone reading the essays he had written at— what, fifteen? He had managed to get into the Senate somehow, but he had been so… naïve.

"Prince Organa is a testament to his dearly departed planet," Vader said briskly.

Soruna's eyes, dark and cold, slid to Vader's mask. Her smile never faltered.

"I do not believe I was speaking of your voice, Lord Vader," she said coolly, "so perhaps you will allow me to hear his?"

Vader stared at her. Luke felt the sudden shudder of rage, and he glanced up at Vader, panicked. He sent a wave of assurance through the Force, his nails biting into his palms as he stared up into Vader's mask and let the careful reassurance go into the Force.

To Luke's surprise, Vader's shoulders slumped. He tipped his head toward Luke, who couldn't help but take a step back. This had not been part of the plan.

Soruna's smile was directed at him. It was softer this time.

"Prince Organa," she said. "I'm saddened that you haven't written anything more recent than your dissertation, "The Ideal Government," four years ago."

"My apologies, your highness," Luke said, gaining his bearings and bowing his head respectfully. "I haven't had much time as of late to write."

"Such a shame," Soruna said. "I so enjoy reading your work. Since the Empire has pardoned you, have you thought about writing more? I'd love to collaborate."

"That…" Luke's heart fluttered at the idea of recapturing something from his old life. Finding himself once more in a study, books overlapping his desk and splayed open on the floor around him, dying lamplight as his only note that time was passing. It was a dream. "I would be honored, Queen Soruna. Unfortunately, my writings do tend to spark…" Luke glanced up at Vader, and he smiled tightly. "Debate."

"Debate is healthy for any government," Soruna said smoothly. "What's a little talk? I find I am at my most productive when someone has insulted me."

Luke couldn't help but smirk. "Touché, your highness."

"Couldn't I steal your apprentice for a few days, Lord Vader?" Soruna asked. "You are here for a month, are you not? Give him to me."

Luke blinked rapidly, his eyes wide. A laugh bubbled up in his chest, and he stifled it as Vader stared at Soruna, clearly shocked by her demand.

"No," he said simply.

"Well," Soruna said, leaning back onto her throne. She tapped the armrest thoughtfully. "How blunt. You won't even think on it?"

"I do not see what there is to think about," Vader said curtly, "as Prince Organa and I will be leaving the city tonight."

Luke's eyes darted to Vader's face confusedly. He quickly masked it, but when he met Soruna's eye, he could tell she had caught it. She smirked down at him.

"Really?" She tilted her head. "I was not informed. Was this planned?"

"I planned for it," Vader said.

"Then why was I not informed?" Soruna's eyes narrowed. "You may be the Emperor's mouthpiece, Lord Vader, but this is my world. Your presence is a show of our friendship with the Empire, and our gratitude for our safety in such trying times. This does not mean you can saunter around without my knowledge."

"I do not believe I owe you anything, Soruna," Vader said coldly, "let alone leave you privy to my whereabouts."

"You are a guest here, Vader," Soruna said calmly. "Palpatine should have prepared you for what that entails. You are certainly free to roam about Naboo— it is a beautiful planet, and I would be happy for Prince Organa to see it— however, you must inform me of where you are going. This is for your sake as much as mine. I'm sure you take His Excellency's calls with as much joy as I do, so let's not be enemies in this."

Vader stood stiffly, and he glared up at Soruna with hatred boiling over as he stood there. Luke placed a hand gently on his arm, and he tipped his head.

"She is correct, Lord Vader," Luke said. "We have no reason to show any animosity toward one another— after all, we are all on the same side, are we not?"

Vader glared down at him while he smiled innocently.

"We are going to the Lake Country," Vader said, clearly hesitant and clearly annoyed.

"Ooh, the Lake Country?" Soruna's fingers steepled together. "Fascinating. Have you been before?"

Vader watched Soruna with barely disguised disdain. Luke knew that even without the Force, Soruna could feel the animosity. Yet she smiled and watched.

"Once or twice," Vader admitted gruffly.

"Lovely," Soruna said. Her eyes flickered to Luke. "And you, Your Highness?"

Luke bowed his head. "No need to call me that," he said quickly. "I'm no longer royalty."

"We mourn our Alderaanian brothers and sisters as dearly as we'd mourn our own," Soruna said gently. "There is no need to pretend you are someone you are not. Not here. So tell me, have you been to the Lake Country?"

Luke swallowed hard. His mind was on rewind, flickering back to when he had saved Ahsoka, secluded her in the Naberrie's summer estate, and then done the same thing for Leia's displaced family.

"Once or twice," he echoed vacantly.

Soruna raised an eyebrow. Vader looked down at him, and he could feel the question pressing upon his mind, but unable to enter. He did not face Vader as he shrugged.

"Pooja and I are friends," he said, "and I've been to Naboo quite a few times. I can't remember which instance it was, really, but I did see a bit of the Lake Country."

"Pooja Naberrie," Soruna said, blinking rapidly. "The former senator?"

"Yes. She is a dear friend of mine." Luke glanced around the throne room, and grimaced at the memories. "I… would be very happy to see her again."

"I'm sure she will be here for Empire Day," Soruna said. "The Naberries live in Theed, but Pooja… I cannot be certain. If you stay here, you are free to visit them."

Luke didn't dare look at Vader. He bowed his head, and he murmured his thanks, but he knew in his heart it was a fool's wish.

The Naberries were his cousins. He wanted to tell them that. He dearly wanted to tell him that he was Padmé's son, that he was hers through and through, and that he would always fight for democracy like she wanted. That he was striving to make her proud.

Damn Vader.

"We will return to Theed for Empire Day," Vader said. "However, tonight we leave for the Lake Country."

Soruna sighed. She eyed Luke, looking a bit deflated, and she nodded once. "I understand. Permit me to study with Prince Organa when you return to Theed, then."

Vader glared at her, and Luke could only look up at him with wide eyes, hopelessly hoping that maybe…

"Fine," he said.

Luke blinked. He slumped a little, and smiled dazedly at nothing.

"Excellent," Soruna said, clasping her hands together. "Well, if that is all… it is a long journey to the Lake Country. Best be off if you want to make it before sunset."

Vader nodded once, whirled around, and began to retreat with a swish of his cape. Ezra and Ahsoka followed him while Luke hung back. He looked up at Soruna, and she looked down at him.

He bowed deeply before turning around and trudging after his father.


"What's happening now?" Leia asked confusedly.

"Mon Mothma called me back to testify against Grand Admiral Thrawn," Sabine said, setting down her helmet on the table. They had moved the wigs, and cleaned up most of the robotics projects to the point where the Hold actually looked somewhat presentable. Artoo was chatting amiably with a legless monstrosity in the corner that wanted very badly to cut someone. Artoo chided it, but asked questions about why.

"Grand Admiral Thrawn…?" Leia frowned. "I don't think I know who that is."

"He's a real pain in the ass," Rex called over to them from where he was stacking ammunition crates.

"Yep," Sabine sighed, dragging her hand through her deep, royal blue hair. She'd shorn it so it fell choppily across her forehead. "That's about right. He was pretty much solely responsible for Kanan's death, and then Ezra… I don't know what happened with him, but he wouldn't have run off on his own if not for Thrawn."

"How'd Mon get her hands on him?" Rex asked dusting off his hands on his trousers.

Sabine shrugged. "Hera said she'll keep me posted, but apparently he was found in Rebel occupied territory on Onderon."

"Onderon?" Rex echoed. "One of the Partisans?"

"Probably." Sabine leaned back against the table, and she tapped the comm against her chin. "My money is on Lux Bonteri."

"Lux Bonteri… that little snot is still alive?" Rex looked at Sabine incredulously, and she merely shrugged. "Wow. I bet Vader must hate that."

"Hell if I know. I'm just the messenger." Sabine glanced at the explosives in the corner, and she smirked. "And maybe the deliverer."

"Thank the Force for that," Leia said, folding her arms across her chest. "I was worried you might not come— are you leaving now?"

"I don't think so," Sabine said. "Hera and Zeb have more than enough dirt on Thrawn to testify. Plus, with his record, I doubt the proceedings will be done before I get there."

"He's not being held on Home One, is he?" Leia asked worriedly.

"No, they sent him off to the nearest maximum security prison they had, at least until the trial starts," Sabine said, her eyes shadowy with disgust and disdain. "I'm glad they did. Otherwise I'd have gutted him with the Darksabre by now."

"Would that be so bad?" Rex asked.

Sabine shot him a smirk. "Don't tempt me, Rex."

Leia licked her lips. Han was sorting out the strategy of their escape with Yule and Sabé, with Aphra and Lando already aware that they were the getaway. They had to wait until they were actually on Naboo to finalize everything, since they had no idea how many they'd be until then, but it seemed to be coming together.

"Sabine," Leia said quietly. Sabine turned to face her, eyes big and curious. "I am really… really grateful that you came, but… this might end badly. You might be facing Darth Vader."

"I know." Sabine plucked the hilt from her belt and balanced it in her palm. "That's why I brought this with me. If I ever needed it, then now is the time."

"You are not dueling Darth Vader," Leia said coolly. "Put that down."

"It's just a precaution," Sabine said with a soft snort. "Yeesh."

"Last time someone untrained dueled Vader…" Rex glanced at Leia, and she stared at him fixedly. "It didn't go very well. We lost Kes Dameron."

Sabine blinked rapidly. "Kes died because he did what?" Sabine gasped.

"I didn't know you knew him," Leia murmured.

"I know, like, everyone in the Rebellion," Sabine said flippantly. "Hera's basically my mom. My mom away from mom. And she knows everyone, so…"

"Right."

"Kes did that, huh?" Sabine stared ahead of her, and she whistled low. "Wow. That's one way to go."

"Try not to follow in his footsteps," Leia said, patting her on the shoulder. "I'd like to return you to Hera in one piece."

"I know how to make myself disappear into a crowd," Sabine said with a tight smile. "Been doing this long enough."

"Yeah, well, you best not be wearing that armor," Leia said.

"What?" Sabine asked defensively. "What's wrong with my armor?"

"Nothing, if you're in the Outer Rim. But you're going to Naboo. Fancy as all shit Naboo. Unless you're a Gungan, you best be fitting in, because the Empire's security detail is gonna sniff out that painted helmet a mile away."

Sabine's eyes shifted to her helmet on the table. She scowled, and she folded her arms across her chest.

"I see your point," she said begrudgingly. "If I'd known that, I'd have brought some of my stormtrooper armor."

"You have some that isn't painted?" Rex asked curiously. "My, my, how they grow!"

"Shut up, Rex," Sabine said with a laugh, shaking her head. "I keep some clean for undercover ops. Hera's orders."

"Hera's smart," Leia remarked. She had never really gotten to know the Ghost captain, but the more she heard the more she liked.

"Of course she's smart," Sabine said. "She's Hera."

Han poked his head down from the hatch. "Hey," he said, "y'all better come up here. Yule said they're going on ahead to see who they can rally up, but we have to settle on a plan first."

They all glanced at each other. Then, one by one, they filed up the ladder.

Chapter Text

Luke had tried to convince himself on the unbearably long ride out to the Lake Country that Vader had some kind of estate out here. Or perhaps the Emperor had a house. Maybe they were staying in an inn. He tried to make up any viable explanation for this sudden and inexplicable move, but when it came time to disembark from the boat, Luke found himself staring up at the familiar, sprawling lakeside manor of the Naberrie family.

The caretaker, Abbi Accu, helped Luke out of the boat. She stared at him intently, a question burning in her dark eyes that Luke could not possibly answer, so he ducked his head and tried to remember what it was like to be sixteen and free from the burden of his father's expectations and the shackles of his own miserable heart.

The stone walkway was worn away by the lapping of the water against its white walls. Ezra had been silently awestruck the whole way across the lake, his head turning slowly as he took in the grandiose nature of the rich greenery and a restless mirror of blue. Ahsoka, who had been here before, sat silently.

"Why are we here?" Luke hissed at Vader, cutting him off as he began to climb the stone steps that circled up toward the house. "This is the Naberrie's family home."

"And therefore," Vader snapped, pushing Luke out of the way and continuing his way up the stairwell, "it is yours."

Luke stood on the lower step, gaping up as Vader as he marched up the sharp incline. His pace was astonishingly brisk, and Luke was not used to him moving at such a fast rate.

"No," Luke gasped, "it's really not!"

Vader looked out of place here. His dark silhouette seemed to be burned into the sandstone like a nuclear shadow. It was strange and claustrophobic being this close to him, like maybe the remnants of his soul were radioactive, and Luke was dying slowly from the proximity. The scenery— the oldness of the stone, of the architecture, of the stain glass windows and bold parapets and the sheer life emanating off the sprawling ivy and blooming flowers of pink and red and purple and the trees and bushes that lined the property— Vader just seemed to clash with everything around him, becoming like an anachronism made truth.

When Vader paused, standing at the landing, he cast a shadow a mile long.

"You and I know better than that," Vader said curtly. "Now come along."

Luke chewed on the inside of his cheek. He stood on the step, his fingers clenching into a fist, and he found himself shrinking under the sun's intense rays. The heat was surprising, dry and heavy, as though the sun was trying to bake him under the layers of white and black that he had accumulated on Vader's Star Destroyer. The soft breeze rolling off the lake was the only thing saving him from sweating through the velour and silk.

It had been so long since he'd been outside. He felt like he'd forgotten what fresh air tasted like, and it made him a bit lightheaded.

Luke plucked up what was left of his spirit, and he followed Vader up the steps.

Once they made it under the veranda, Vader paused. He turned, and he waved back at Ahsoka and Ezra offhandedly.

"They can unveil themselves," he said. Even this odd suggestion that almost felt like a gift was tinged with venom and packaged like a threat. "There is no one here who will run their mouths."

Luke stared at him. He glanced back at Ezra and Ahsoka, whose bodies were tense with apprehension. Ezra stood for a few moments, shrugged vaguely, and let his visor recede. His face was a pleasant sight, and his eyes caught Luke's immediately. There was a brightness to them, a sort of child-like glee that Luke had not seen in ages.

Ahsoka hung back as Ezra shuffled a little closer to Luke, tentatively tugging on his arm and pulling him toward a hanging fruit tree. Luke kept one eye on Vader, knowing he was watching him closely, but unable to resist Ezra's curiosity.

"It's a pooja tree," Luke told Ezra, tugging one of the low hanging branches and tickling Ezra's nose with the wide, heart-shaped leaf. Ezra snorted and smacked his arm away.

"Cut it out," he said, ducking as Luke tried to catch him with the leaf again. "I didn't come over here to get attacked by leaves, okay? I saw the fruit, I want the fruit."

"Wow," Luke said, releasing the leaf. It sprung back into place. "Spoken like a true street rat. Can you not reach the fruit yourself? You're certainly tall enough."

"You're closer," Ezra retorted with a snort. "You get it."

Luke stared at him incredulously before rolling his eyes. He reached up, plucked the round, purple fruit from where it was nestled between leaves, and he offered it out to Ezra.

Ezra's fingers brushed his, and Luke tossed the fruit to his other hand. Ezra stared, fingers outstretched, and his mouth dropped open.

"Hey!" he gasped. His mouth was twitching upwards at the corners. "That's not fair!"

Luke raised an eyebrow, and he grinned at Ezra as he lurched forward, going for the fruit. He maneuvered out of the way, twisting aside and slipping the fruit between two of his fingers.

"C'mon, Ezra," Luke taunted, "you can do better than that."

Ezra gazed down at him, light dancing in his deep blue eyes, and his fingers flew out, whistling past Luke's ear as he sidestepped him quickly. His feet were moving at an exceptional pace, dancing back and forth as Ezra's hand darted forward and then retracted. He was fast, but Luke was faster, and he dodged every strike until a nudge of the Force sent him stumbling.

A foot hooked behind his ankle, and he went crashing backwards. Ezra's hand snatched him by the wrist, and Luke dangled in midair for a moment, gaping up at him.

"That's cheating," he gasped, affronted by Ezra's loose morals.

Ezra pried the fruit from Luke's fingers, and he gazed down at Luke with one eyebrow quirked and his eyes lidded heavily.

"There's no cheating when you're hungry," he said, dropping Luke's wrist and biting into the soft flesh of the fruit as Luke went tumbling to the ground.

He laid there for a moment, his mind working faster than his logic, and he found himself more than a little embarrassed as Ezra stepped over him and strolled back over to Ahsoka.

At the very least, Luke thought, pulling himself to his feet, he didn't see how flustered I just was?

He found himself pausing mid-step as his eyes fell upon Vader. He was staring at Luke intently, like he had found something new and troubling about him that did not quite sit right.

Shit, Luke though dully.

"What exactly did you tell Sola," Ahsoka said, lifting her veil, shooting Luke a curious glance, and then turning to face Vader, "to make her hand over one of her family homes?"

"I merely told her that I was visiting," Vader said. "She would be wise to greet me."

Luke stared at Vader blankly. "This is her home," Luke reminded him. "We're intruding."

"And here I thought you were interested in understanding your family," Vader spat at him, looking down at him with a coldness that made Luke freeze. "Decide, Luke. Do you want to be a part of your mother's legacy?"

It was difficult to speak as Luke felt those words wash over him. His mother's legacy… it was a thought he'd toiled over for years.

His mother's legacy. The unreachable goal.

Luke didn't have time to formulate a response, because an older woman had come up from the steps, her wiry gray hair pulled back in a strict series of twists. Her blue, sleeveless tunic looked soft, but worn, and it left her shoulders bare as a brown sweater sat beneath it. In her hands was an ornately painted vase filled with an array of beautiful flowers. Luke saw a few pooja blooms that must have been plucked off a tree that was not ripe, as the one beside them was.

The woman, who he knew and recognized, locked eyes with him.

Then her gaze flickered to Vader, and the vase slipped from her fingers.

"Ah!" Luke grappled with the Force, squeezing his eyes shut, and allowing the vase to hover in midair. He blinked rapidly as his eyes snapped open, and he floated the vase into his hands.

Beru Lars stood frozen, her face abnormally pale as she hung back at the entrance of the veranda. She appeared as though she might turn around and run, but her jaw set firmly, and Luke knew she might try something stupid if provoked.

"Mrs. Roowan," Luke greeted with a small, easy smile. "It is nice to see you again. Did you speak to Abbi?"

Beru's eyes did not leave Vader's helmet as she frowned.

"Abbi?" she asked faintly. "No. No. I…" She blinked. Her brow furrowed. "Should I go find her?"

"That would be wise," Luke said, hoping he didn't sound too familiar. "She will brush you up on the news. Until then, may I present Lord Vader?"

Luke didn't bother with the theatrics on that point. He merely waved at his father, feeling the man's eyes burning into the back of his skull, and no matter their connection within the Force, Luke would kill to know what he was thinking.

"I see him," Beru said, her words ice and her tone as dry as the desert sands.

"Well then," Luke said, a warning sharp in his tone, "you might want to act quickly if you are to catch Abbi."

Beru finally tore her eyes at Vader. She stared at him, her blue eyes meeting his own, and Luke thought for a moment she truly saw through him. There was a harshness to her gaze that seemed to fall away when she stared at him, and he felt the nurturing energy to her just by standing but a few feet away.

Then her gaze hardened again, and she nodded briskly, bowed very briefly, and turned on her heel. She fled down the stairs without another word.

"Charming," Vader remarked.

Luke glared up at him. "Do not touch the servants," Luke hissed at him, pointing up at him accusingly. "They are not your soldiers, or your officers. They are not yours. You don't get to play god around them, and if you touch a single one of them—"

"You seem to know them well," Vader said coolly, "for a boy who has only been here once or twice."

"I'm good with names and faces," Luke replied without missing a beat. "It comes with the job description. Princes need to know how to navigate their household. Perhaps you should learn that skill, Lord Vader. You would find yourself much more at ease."

"If you are ever at ease," Vader hissed at him, "then you have learned nothing."

Luke stared up at him. He rolled his eyes, and he turn away. The only thing he wanted right now was to show Ezra the manor, and to get away from Vader.

"I think my stubbornness has been established," Luke said, wandering over to the nearest pedestal and distributing the vase. He recognized most of the flowers, and he thought perhaps he could name them all if given the time and proper company. "I also hope you have a plan for breaking this to the Naberries. As long as I've known about you, and as long as I've known Pooja…" Luke glanced up at Vader, and he shrugged. "I could never find a way to break it to her gently."

"That is because you are soft," Vader said simply. "They will arrive tomorrow, I expect. Until then, you may…" Vader watched him. His helmet tipped to the side, and he turned away with a flick of his cape. "Do whatever it is that entertains you."

Luke stared at him, and at last the understanding that he was free here settled in. He was as free as he could be, and Vader was allowing him to go off and— and enjoy himself!

With only a moment's hesitation to ponder over Vader's words, Luke walked up to Ezra's side, reached for his hand, and then paused. He reconsidered the action, and swatted him playfully on the bicep instead.

"Let's go," he whispered, jerking his chin toward a separate corridor. Ezra shot a glance at Vader uncertainly before following Luke into the hall.


"Yule," Leia said uncertainly as the former queen zipped up their pack. "You do think this plan will work, right?"

Yule did not have enough personal items to make their hasty packing difficult. They had thrown in a pair of spare trousers, a spare shirt, undergarments, food, and a small arsenal of weapons. Their fingers lingered on the zipper, and they stared at it for a long moment before their eyes flickered to Leia.

"I think it will be a statement," Yule said, "certainly. But whether or not it works really depends on Vader."

"And Luke," Leia murmured.

Yule cocked their head. "The boy's smart," they said. "He'll figure out what's happening fast. I know that much."

Leia didn't want to admit that she was scared of Luke's unpredictability. She was scared of his self-sacrificing nature, of his stubbornness, of his unyielding spirit, because as much as they were gifts, they might just curse them all if he did not think things through.

"I guess…" Leia chewed on the inside of her cheek, and she tried to smile. It didn't work. "I just… he's been gone for so long—"

"We'll get him back," Yule said firmly.

"But you said he might be changed," Leia reminded Yule, her brow furrowing. "You said that. You told everyone what happened to him last time Vader had him. And I saw him. He's hurt, Yule, but not— not physically. His heart is hurting. The Dark is creeping up on him, and he's being swallowed by it!"

"Which is why we are going to get to him," Yule said gently, "before anything serious happens. Trust me, okay?"

Leia did trust Yule. That was the reality of these Naboo natives, they seemed to pull at Leia through the Force and make her feel inexplicably at ease. It was hard to believe that a week prior, Leia and Yule had been at odds during a sabacc game.

"What about the current queen?" Leia asked, feeling a little desperate. "What are you going to do about her?"

"Whoever she is, I'm sure she's fine." Yule tossed their pack over their shoulder, and they shrugged. "Queens tend to turn the blind eye to rebel activity, and they'll only actively fight against it if they're hand is forced. Well, unless you're Jervo, but…"

"But he wasn't a queen," Leia said, understanding Yule a bit too well. They smirked at her, and winked conspiratorially. "Well, if she really is on our side, I hope this debacle doesn't blow up in her face."

"Please," Yule scoffed. "If a queen can't handle a little hell being raised at an Empire Day celebration, she doesn't deserve to be queen."

Leia stared at them, a small, disbelieving smile tight on her lips.

"Harsh," she remarked.

Yule shrugged. "You'll never be queen," they said, "so you can't understand. It's tough. You— you cannot be a good person when you are put in a position of that much power. Even if you have the best intentions at heart, there is a smear upon your conscience that never leaves you. No matter if you were the greatest queen that had ever been or the poorest, you leave office feeling like you failed a bit. It's a rigged system."

"I'm sorry," Leia said, not really knowing if she meant it or not. "That's… a lot to put on a child."

"Yeah, well…" Yule blinked, and they glanced at Leia with a smile. "It's not my job anymore. I don't really care."

"It…" Leia began, finding the words dying in her throat.

It doesn't sound like it.

"Anyway," Yule said, scratching their head and frowning. "I don't see the queen being anything more than a nuisance at worst, so don't go freaking out on me. I need that brain of yours to stay sharp if we're ever going to make this work."

Leia pressed her lips together thinly. She had so many things she wanted to ask Yule, but she couldn't put words to any of them. There was an abject longing that had resurfaced in her heart, the yearning for belonging, the need to understand her own muddled history that could not be ignored. Sabé had helped, sure, but there was something about knowing Yule had lived the same hellish process of being queen at fourteen as her mother had that really nagged at Leia's mind.

Were Leia and Padmé alike at all? Beyond those superficial similarities— the hair and the eyes and the line of her cheeks? Was there anything to tie them together as mother and daughter, as parent and child, as relatives in any form, in any life, anything at all?

She was latching onto information like a starving animal slurping marrow out of a bone.

She couldn't focus. She couldn't see what was right in front of her, because she felt like there was a part of her missing, and the feeling was so hauntingly familiar— like she had spent her whole life feeling this empty and wild and untethered from the earth and the stars, because she did not have a boy with kind blue eyes and sandy brown hair to weigh her down.

"Yule," Han called, poking his head down from the floor above and eyeing them both curiously. "Your ride is here."

With that, Yule shot Leia a lazy smirk, and they clapped her on the shoulder.

"Later, kid," they said.

Leia bit her tongue. Yule was around her own height, and really was only a few years older than her. It was annoying that she got treated like a baby just because she was the youngest.

The freighter that attached to Arkangel was beaten up and dusty, but it looked like it would pass Imperial inspection. Leia climbed up the ladder behind Yule as she heard a connecting vacuum hatch open. By the time she reached the floor above, there were two new passengers, and neither of them looked particularly friendly.

The man was a Togruta. He had his back turned, but Leia could see a prosthetic hand, a myriad of scarring, and a missing lekku. He was dressed in fatigues, the off-green hue paling his already somber complexion. He was tall and well built, though much older than anticipated. His companion turned to look at Leia immediately.

Something stung there.

The young woman's dark eyes narrowed upon her face. She had delicate features, her brown skin seemingly golden in the unnatural light of space. Her chin was pointed, her eyes big and almond shaped, and she had thick eyebrows that furrowed together disapprovingly. Her long black hair was sleek and parted straight down the middle.

She was, frankly, quite beautiful, and Leia was both intimidated and a bit breathless.

"Selda," Yule greeted, their arms extended and their voice eager. "Long time no see."

The Togruta turned to look at Yule, and Leia relaxed upon seeing his face. Though the scarring was a bit intense, his eyes were soft, warm, and welcoming. He smiled at Yule, and bowed his head respectfully toward them.

"Yule," the woman said, her voice brusque and smooth. "I don't suppose you are going to brush us up on your antics this time, hm?"

"Hedala," Yule said, their eyes flickering to the woman coyly, "I have no idea what you are talking about."

Hedala folded her arms across her chest. She shook her head in disbelief, but said nothing. She was wearing a very sensible pair of cuffed gray trousers with a tight, athletic black shirt tucked in. It was sleeveless, and Leia could see the lines of her muscles.

Leia very much wanted to fight this girl, but she did not know how to initiate such a thing without seeming like an asshole, so she bit her tongue and averted her gaze.

"Hedala Fardi?" Aphra poked her head out from the cockpit, her eyes locking with Hedala's. "Ho-ly shit! It's been a while!"

"Why in the great west wind is this idiot here?" Hedala demanded, jerking her thumb at Aphra.

"This is her ship," Yule said with a shrug.

Hedala stared at Yule with the dullness of an old man.

"How did you rule an entire planet," she said, "with nothing but marbles for brains?"

Yule grinned, shrugged, and did not dignify her with a response.

"Aphra might be an idiot," Leia said, placing her hands on her hips, "but she's useful."

"Are you defending me?" Aphra gasped, her fingers interlocking and her grin as shit eating as it could get. "Leia Skywalker? Defending lil' ol' me? I'm touched!"

"Okay," Leia muttered to Han, "just shoot her."

"With pleasure," Han said dryly. Then he studied Hedala, his eyebrow quirking up. "So you're a Fardi? Funny. I heard you all look alike, but I've only ever met your father, so I don't have much to compare you to."

Hedala watched him coldly. "You know my father?" she asked.

"Do I know Fardi?" Han snorted, nudging Chewie. Chewie yowled in response, nudging him back. "C'mon, sister, every smuggler worth their salt in the Outer Rim knows the Fardi clan."

"Then you know not to fuck with me," Hedala said simply.

"I wasn't planning on it." Han glanced at Leia and then up at Chewie, as if to ask, 'what the hell?'

"Selda and Hedala helped save me once," Sabé said suddenly. She had been sitting back, watching the exchange while cupping a mug of tea in her hands. "And Cassian Andor, if I remember correctly."

"Yeah," Hedala said, her mouth twisting into a grimace. "That was… something."

"Be kind, Hedala," Selda chided her softly. "Andor was a brave man. Hard, but kind. Not unlike you."

"Shut up, Selda." Hedala frowned deeply. Her eyes traveled to Leia's. They watched each other for a few moments, and Leia felt an inexplicable tug toward her, like she might dig her fingers into her chest, pry open her ribs, and spill gold onto the grimy durasteel floor.

"Kay," Yule said, glancing between Hedala and Leia, "well, we should go. I want to get to Theed before the Empire Day traffic hits."

"I can't believe we are going back to that wretched city," Hedala said stiffly.

"Theed is beautiful!" Yule objected. "It's the Emperor who's wretched."

"Same difference," Hedala said. "The city that bred him feels tainted."

Leia stared at Hedala mutely. She considered something that had been nagging her since she and Hedala had laid eyes on each other, but… it seemed like a leap of faith, if nothing else.

"Are you Force sensitive?" Leia blurted.

Han looked down at her with the most absurd look contorting his face.

Yule blinked at her. Her gaze was blank for a moment before it drew into a mellow sort of shock.

Selda glanced down at Hedala, and Hedala stared at Leia with narrowed eyes that gradually softened.

"Oh," she said, her shoulders relaxing. "I see. That's why you feel that way."

"You are!" Leia gasped, delight flooding her like a breath of fresh air. "You're strong with the Force, you know. I could tell the minute I walked in here."

Hedala frowned. She shook her head furiously. "No," she said firmly. "I'm not strong, I'm just…" She glanced around the ship's interior, seemingly lost in thought for a moment. "Me. I'm just me."

Leia recognized that she probably should stop speaking, so she nodded at Hedala encouragingly.

"I can't control it," Hedala confessed, looking down at her hands dazedly. "I used to be able to… when I was very small, I remember moving things. Ashla always said—"

"Ashla?" Leia asked.

"You mean Ahsoka?" Rex asked suddenly. He had been leaning against the wall, watching this exchange silently.

"The original Fulcrum," Hedala said tiredly. "Yes."

"Wow," Leia said, rubbing her head. "I'm getting this feeling like everything and everyone we know is connected, and I hate it. It's like Ben is here lecturing me, without the fun of Ben being here."

"There is nothing fun about Old Ben," Han said with a snort.

"Leave him alone," Leia muttered.

"Well," Yule said, frowning a little. "I guess it's good to know? Why'd you never tell me before, Hedala?"

"I can't control it," Hedala said simply. "It is a curse. I had to flee my home and my family because of it. I am hunted by the Empire because I feel something different, something stronger than the rest of us, and that…" She shook her head, her knuckles white against her arms. "It's terrifying."

"I'm sorry," Yule said gently. "I didn't realize."

Hedala shrugged. She looked down at her feet, and said nothing.

"If you want," Leia offered, "someday… maybe… I can teach you how to control it?"

Hedala glanced at Leia. She frowned deeply, and watched her for a long few moments before tilting her head.

"Maybe," she agreed, the corners of her lips twitching upward.


In the end, as in the beginning, it was the two of them.

She had thought about it a lot. This dynamic that never seemed to make sense. The push and pull, the longing for love and approval backed with the knife of pain and fear. There was nothing easy about this place they were in. It was her and him until the end, and she was scared that her whole life had amounted to her kneeling at the feet of a man she had once imagined was her partner, her brother, her equal.

Ahsoka pulled the veil from her head and folded it neatly. Vader had watched Luke and Ezra disappear into the manor, which was so sprawling and open, and it was difficult to imagine that they weren't already daring each other to jump off some balcony or another.

To say she was surprised was an understatement.

She had barely spoken since they had arrived here because, quite frankly, she had nothing to say. She was just too shocked.

It only seemed to get stranger. She had not forgotten about Beru and Owen Lars, and thankfully neither had Luke. They were dressed as Nubian servants, and if they were smart— which Ahsoka knew they were— they would hardly garner Vader's attention, and if they didn't hold his attention then they were not worth remembering. It made her nervous, though, knowing that Leia's aunt and uncle were under the same roof as Vader.

Not to mention the repercussions this sense of freedom would have on the kids. Ahsoka was anticipating Luke getting a little too cocky, and feeling the pressure of his self-assigned mission a little too much.

If Luke was anything like his father, Ahsoka had a feeling about how it was going to go down, and she was both excited and terrified.

"I'm surprised with you," Ahsoka said, her voice a bit hoarse as she tucked her veil into her belt.

Vader turned to look at her. He had been staring at a table in the dining room. That was all. Simply staring.

"Surprised," he repeated. "For what? Speaking with my son?"

"Letting him go," Ahsoka said gently. "Letting him and Ezra roam free? That's not like you."

"They roam free on the ship often enough. This is not new."

"On the ship, yes," Ahsoka said. "This is Naboo. This is open country. This is a planet, with resources, with ships. They could escape, yet… you do not seem concerned at all."

"I'm not," Vader admitted.

Ahsoka stared at him. Something had changed, but she could not place what or when the change had occurred. She felt like she had missed something crucial, and it made her frown.

"How truly unlike you," Ahsoka said.

"Perhaps you have forgotten who you are speaking to," Vader said in a low, rumbling voice. "Let me remind you, then. I have never cared much for possibilities that seem unlikely. I won't allow myself to grow anxious over nothing."

"So you are not scared at all that Luke might just… leave?" Ahsoka arched one single white brow marking.

"He said he wouldn't," Vader said simply.

Ahsoka stared at him blankly, and she realized there was a lot that she had missed.

There was a lot she willfully had ignored.

"I said I wouldn't too," Ahsoka said ruefully. She sat down on the wide oak table and stared out the nearest open floor-to-ceiling window. The peaks of a nearby mountain were visible even in the dying daylight. The sunset had sent the sky a hazy pink, and the rocky skyline was bathed in a gleaming blue.

"Do you still believe that?" Vader asked. It seemed almost innocent, this question. Ahsoka examined the palms of her hands, drawing along the line of an old lightsaber callus. She sighed.

"I don't know," she admitted. "It's hard when you've been a prisoner for so long."

Vader bowed his head. For a moment they were left in silence, and Ahsoka closed her eyes. The bellowing of an amphibian below— of the water lapping against the steps, and of a distant waterfall roaring— it lulled her into a security that she had not felt in ages.

"I imagine everything I do must seem cruel," he said.

"No," Ahsoka said, rubbing her forehead. "Not everything. There are a lot of things you do that just straight up confuse me."

Vader stared at her. "Why?" he asked.

Was he serious? Ahsoka couldn't help but think of all the baubles in her cell on Mustafar. A prisoner in a gilded cage.

"Nothing you do makes sense," she said, her voice biting. "You act like you care about me one moment, and threaten me the next. You bully everyone around you, including your own son, into doing what you want, but you want validation from us in return. You want love. Even though you're a monster, you believe love might save you, but you don't seem to grasp that you had it all along and you've wasted it."

Vader stood silently, his rasping breaths as unnatural as a mechanical whir among the lapping water and croaking amphibians and chirping crickets. He dragged his gloved fingers across the length of the table, his steps quick and short.

"Do not patronize me," he said coolly, walking the perimeter of the table. "Me and my mistakes are intimate friends. I cannot deny your accusations any more than I can deny this suit."

To be all that honest, Ahsoka had not expected him to be this forthcoming with her. It had been awhile since they had last spoken like this— free of the Imperial scrutiny that came with walking the halls of a Star Destroyer, free of prying eyes and open ears.

Maybe here, in this room that burned orange from the dying light, they were equals once more.

"If you're that aware of it," Ahsoka said desperately, "why can't you change?"

"So that the last two decades of my life have been wasted?" Vader snapped, his head whipping in her direction. "You ask too much, child."

"I am not a child," Ahsoka snapped right back. "Not anymore. So don't patronize me, and don't act like I don't know the extremity of what I'm asking of you. I know it's hard, but what you've done— you can't go back. You can't take any of it back. But you can go forward."

"I have lost too much to be where I am," Vader hissed, his voice so quiet that the hiss was nearly a whisper. "I have bled and made bled for this. You want your boyish, insipid Master back, but he is right here. I killed him, and he melted into me, and we are one and the same. Power unto power, death unto death, and the stars crash down at my feet."

Ahsoka heaved a deep breath.

"Oh," she said softly, "bantha shit."

Vader glanced at her, and all at once she felt how tired and angry he was.

"It is the truth," he said. "Whether you like it or not, I am all there is and was and will be of your former Master."

"You are not all he ever was," Ahsoka said bitterly. "You are not Anakin Skywalker by half, by a quarter, or even by a hair. You are a cheap echo of the man you once were."

"I am stronger now than he ever was."

"He was more than his strength," Ahsoka said. She had to catch herself once more, separating Anakin from Vader. Her eyes narrowed. "You were so much more, but you lost yourself to the pursuit of power, and now you're nothing."

Vader sat down heavily at the table, and Ahsoka wondered if he simply could not bear to stand any longer. Knowing it was all true, knowing how far he'd fallen, knowing that he had failed in every possible way— she knew it was crushing, and she wanted to break him like he had broken her.

It hurt.

It hurt to hurt him.

Even now. Even after all of this and all of that and all of infinity crashing down upon them.

"You are nothing," Ahsoka repeated, the bite gone from her voice. The fact settled between them, and the burnt orange glow of dusk settled into gray.

Vader steepled his fingers, and he bowed his head.

"I am a result," he said simply.

Ahsoka frowned, not truly able to wrap her head around his thinking. His mind seemed fractured, and sometimes when he spoke to her she could hear the echoes of the past falling through the cracks, but mostly he was just a maddened, hungry, enraged, and ultimately terrified mess.

She sighed, circling the table and dropping into the seat across from him. The evening was bright and clear, and she was thankful to have the veil off for once. She was thankful for this moment, even if she had to share it with Vader.

"My son," Vader said hesitantly. "He and Bridger are… close?"

Ahsoka stared ahead of her, hoping her face did not betray the shock and dismay she felt. So he'd noticed the flirting, huh? That wasn't good. She was pretty sure Ezra hadn't even quite figured out what was happening yet, and if Vader interfered…

"I thought that was clear," Ahsoka said coolly.

Vader slumped in his chair. He watched her closely.

"They are… frustrating," he admitted. "I cannot deny the similarities."

"Similarities…?" Ahsoka's eyes flashed to Vader's helmet, and it all at once became very clear that Vader did not see what she saw. "You mean…? Them and you and Master Obi-Wan?"

"Yes," Vader spat. "They have that quality to them. That carefree attitude that Kenobi and I had acquired. I hate it."

"How long has this been bothering you?" Ahsoka asked, a bit awed by this revelation.

Vader tipped his head back. "Since they began training together," Vader said.

Ahsoka puzzled over this information for a minute, and she realized it made sense. Luke's feelings for Ezra aside, there was a playful, teasing element to his and Ezra's relationship that did strike Ahsoka as somewhat reminiscent of the old days.

There was one thing that did strike her as interesting, though.

"Luke reminds you of Obi-Wan?" she asked breathlessly. She raised her hands to her head, her eyes widening. "Oh. Oh wow."

Vader looked down at her. She could sense his irritation, but she couldn't help it. She began to laugh in disbelief.

"Oh man," she gasped, "you're not even wrong. He is like Obi-Wan!"

"He is insufferable."

"Oh, please," Ahsoka snorted, burying a smile in her hand. "It's endearing, and you know it."

"For all of the imbecile's hatred of politics," Vader spat, "he was certainly a politician."

"Certainly," Ahsoka said, "and so was your wife, and so is your son."

Vader leaned back. They sat in silence as the dusk turned to night, and lightning bugs danced along the balcony.

Chapter Text

Ascension Week, and the days leading up to it, always seemed hellish. He could recall the first one he spent alone, crouched in an alley with a swollen belly because he could not yet muster the courage to steal food. He remembered lying in his makeshift nest of a bed, peering through the crack between the box and the rooftops of the buildings he laid between.

Fireworks lit up the sky every night.

Later, Ascension Week on Lothal dwindled. Nobody wanted to celebrate a whole week for the Empire.

Yet even still, Empire Day rolled around.

Another year, another inch, another bitter recollection of all he'd lost.

He had spent the last few Empire Days in a cage, not even fully knowing what day it really was. So realizing the celebration he was in for was more than a little jarring.

"It's your birthday soon," Luke was saying, his hands reaching our and grasping tufts of grass and cattails that had sprouted near the lake's edge.

"It's yours too," Ezra reminded him, smirking down at him amusedly.

"That's not that important. You were born first, you get seniority."

"Oh, come on."

Luke seemed to thrive here. Some color had returned to his wan face, and there was a brightness to his blue eyes that Ezra had sorely missed. His white shirt seemed to be made of a light, airy white fabric, and was reminiscent of a chiton. It spilled over his torso in folds, pinned to his shoulders with golden clasps. It had one long sleeve, which covered his prosthetic arm. He wore black leggings beneath it, and his bare feet quashed the grass happily.

He'd braided his hair back and tied it into a stubby, messy little bun. Ezra scratched his beard, which was much fuller than it had ever been before, and he wondered if anyone from his past would even recognize him like this.

When Ezra caught a glimpse of his reflection in the water, he saw his father's face, and the thought made his heart go still.

"You've never liked your birthday," Luke said, a flippancy to his tone that reminded Ezra that this man was a prince. "You know that doesn't mean you can't have a good one."

"I can have a good day some other time," Ezra said. "Empire Day isn't mine, Luke."

"Well," Luke said with a shrug, "you're the only part of that day that matters, so why shouldn't you claim it?"

Ezra glanced down at him, and he couldn't help but laugh.

"Once this is all over, and the Empire is in ashes, then maybe I'll consider my birthday mine," Ezra said, "not before."

Luke smiled tightly. "That day will come," he said firmly. "I hope we might be able to witness it together."

"Oh, like you'd miss that?" Ezra scoffed, shoving him playfully.

Luke mis-stepped his foot sliding off the rocky bank of the lake, and Ezra watched in both horror and amusement as he toppled over the side and went crashing into the water.

Ezra stood for a moment, gaping at the small, lapping waves that splashed up against the rocks, and for a moment he felt guilty.

Then, without warning, the Force laughed at him as an invisible hand hooked around his ankle and dragged him into the lake.

For a moment, Ezra was submerged beneath the cool water, shock lancing through his bones and freezing his brain. Then it registered that Luke had done this, and Ezra's head bounced to the surface, water pouring from his hair and dribbling down his neck.

"Hey!" Ezra gasped, flicking water from his eyes and making his bleary vision worsen. Luke bobbed in the water, foam gathering around his arms as he splashed Ezra playfully. "Really? Really? It's gonna be like that?"

"Lighten up," Luke gasped, sending a wave into Ezra's face. Ezra coughed, and he spat a mouthful of water back at Luke. "We have all the time in the world to be sad. I, for one, am so tired of it!"

Ezra blinked at him. He realized that what was happening to Luke was only growing worse. He had recognized the change in him as Vader's oppressive shadow began to chisel away at Luke's resilience. And yet, here Luke was, smiling like nothing in the world could hurt him.

He's been through enough, Ezra thought, sinking into the water and hiding his smile. Then he splashed Luke and ducked away. If all we have is just this once to be happy, then I'll take this moment, and I'm gonna cherish it forever.

Luke caught him when he bobbed back to the surface, his hands clapping on Ezra's shoulders and shoving him back down.

"Ha!" Luke fell back when Ezra pushed him, kicking a great wave of water as he dropped. "Come on! Is that the best you can do?"

Ezra waded forward and then jumped, diving on top of Luke and pushing his torso toward the murky clay bottom of the lake. His head submerged, and Luke swung his arms around Ezra's neck so that when Ezra let go he bounced right back up, laughter ringing bright in the warm summer air.

Luke's thin white tunic was reduced to a translucent second skin. It draped along his chest and became like milk in the water, bobbing along with the waves. The lines of his ribs were visible, and the muscles of his abdomen, and water gathered around the crevice of his belly as he laid back in the water.

"I missed swimming," he sighed, tipping his head back and lettering the water feather out the wisps of his hair, the dirty blonde hue dyed brown by the absorption. His arms remained hooked around Ezra's neck, and his skin was silky and warm. Ezra blinked, lowering himself deeper into the cool water. It was very hot today. "Empire Day always falls in the winter on Alderaan, so I hardly ever…"

He trailed off, his eyes going far away very suddenly. Ezra supported his back as he dropped his arms, letting the water suck him down.

"Carry me," Luke demanded.

"Oh?" Ezra quirked a brow. "Why should I?"

"Because I don't think you can."

That made both Ezra's eyebrows shoot up. Out of pure defiance, Ezra's other arm slipped beneath Luke's legs, and he scooped him out of the water smoothly and with ease. Water poured from his tunic, dribbling back into the lake, and Ezra steadied himself, his boots sinking into the lakebed.

"See?" Ezra huffed, feeling the sun beating against his neck. "Easy."

Luke glanced up at him. His eyelashes seemed to brush his cheeks as he closed his eyes and sighed rather dramatically, resting his cheek against Ezra's shoulder.

"Ezra," he said, "you're so dumb."

"Huh?" Ezra backpedaled, nearly tumbling over a rock, and he frowned down at Luke. "I'm dumb? Mr. Play Nice With the Devil?"

"I wanted you to carry me, so now you're carrying me," Luke said simply. His eyelashes tickled Ezra's neck, and the sensation caused Ezra's breath to catch in his throat.

It seemed like a silly suggestion. It seemed silly, like a children's game, but Ezra couldn't think straight as he stood there, waist deep in water, cradling Luke close to his chest.

Ezra released Luke without thinking, letting him crash back into the water and stepping back as he flailed and splashed and kicked at the air.

"Hey!" he whined, his teeth glinting as he grinned up at Ezra. "That's not fair!"

"Get used to it," Ezra said, sticking his tongue out. "If you're gonna trick me into doing stuff, you might as well learn some humility. Asshole."

"I just wanted to see if you would do it!" Luke really was whining now, splashing around in the water with a pout that was half a smile plastered on his face. "Don't be mad."

"How could I ever forgive you? Playing with my mind like that. I thought you were better—"

"Ezra," Luke gasped, crouched in the water, "I'm sorry. I'll pick you up, doesn't that sound fair?"

"Luke, I'm twice your size."

"I can do it!"

"Luke."

Ezra backed away slowly as Luke approached him, his arms outstretched.

"Let me try!"

"Luke, no!"

In the end, both of them went toppling backwards in the water, laughter bruising their ribs as their limbs tangled up and their mouths filled up with water.

They both calmed down, their backs in the water, and they floated for a few minutes in silence, watching the clouds tumble by.

"I haven't heard you laugh like that in a long time," Ezra whispered.

Luke did not answer.

The silence stretched onward, filled only with the sound of lapping water and amphibious croaks. A distant bird bellowed, and a breeze tickled their noses.

Luke dragged himself upright, water pouring off him desperately, like fingers trying to drag him back and weigh him down onto the lake floor. He trudged back to the bank, and Ezra listened to the sound of his bare feet as they clapped softly against the rocks.

Unable to bear it, Ezra stood upright and turned to watch Luke. He had slipped into the grass, his tunic soaked through and the fabric clinging to his body without shame. He didn't bother to shake off the water or remove the tunic to ring it out, and instead he began to gather wildflowers along the bank.

Then, against the lapping of the water and the distant twitter of birds, a soft and melodic sound arose from Luke. Ezra listened, half entranced as he bent down, his fingers grasping at stems, and he plucked flowers with a song fluttering from his throat.

Ezra waded to the rocks, and he leaned against them, bowing his head so he could listen better. The song was soft and melodic, and it sounded a bit like a dirge.

After a few minutes, Ezra climbed onto the rocks, and he knelt there, his eyes closed.

Words formed to the rhythm of the tide and the chirping of the birds.

"Speak out for the wretched, little queen, sweet and fair... speak out, speak out, speak out once more, if you dare," Luke sang, his voice small and dazed. "She speaks no more, our little queen whose voice was so sweet, whose face was so fair. Now she weeps alone in shame, with river flowers in her hair."

Ezra opened his eyes, and he blinked up at Luke, only to find he had disappeared.

"Luke?" Ezra gasped, leaping to his feet and running into the grass. It crunched beneath his feet.

He found Luke immediately, laying in the tall grass with flowers strewn about his chest. Ezra relaxed, letting out the breath he had not realized he had been holding, and he dropped down beside him.

Luke's eyes trailed along the sky.

"That song is about my mother," he said. "This house? It's hers."

"Oh." Ezra didn't know much about the details of Luke's birth, but every time he thought too hard about it he felt a little sick. Sick in the heart, sick in the head.

"It's so beautiful here," Luke murmured, his thumb pressing against the petal of a flower. "I always feel nearest to her when I'm here on Naboo, but Varykino is different. When I'm here, I almost understand. I can almost put myself in her place, and I can believe it in my heart."

"Believe what?" Ezra asked softly, plucking up a flower from his chest— a fat red bloom that blackened near the stem— and tucked it in his hair. He took another, this one bell-like and blue, and slipped it into his loose braid. He continued to do this absently as Luke frowned at the sky.

"That she loved him," he said.

The silence would creep up on them, and Ezra thought they might both drown in it if they weren't careful. His fingers lingered on the last flower, a white, spidery thing, and he stared at it blankly.

"He was Anakin Skywalker," Ezra said, his voice thick, "once."

"Once," Luke agreed, propping himself up on his elbows. "Once, long ago, there was a queen who loved a knight and the stars all fell because they loved each other a little too much, and nothing in excess can ever be good, not even light, not even love."

He plucked the flower from Ezra's fingers.

"That's sad, Luke," Ezra said.

Luke hummed, his eyes drawn naturally to the flower.

"I don't want to sit here and philosophize why I think maybe love and sadness might be a double edged sword. But I do think I understand her. I can feel her here, and it makes me want to reach out, to leap back in time and pull her away from it all, and to tell her to run. To leave her heart behind, and run as far away as possible."

A breeze whistled through the grass as Luke stroked the spindly white petals of the flower.

"Even if that means you and Leia never exist?" Ezra asked softly.

Luke looked up at him. His eyes were misty but clear.

He reached up, tucking the flower behind Ezra's ear, and his warm palm pressed gently to his cheek.

"Yes," he said firmly. "Even then."

Another breeze cut through the grass, blades tickling Ezra's arms and bending along Luke's shoulders and brushing his cheeks as he tilted his head and peered upward. His palm lingered against Ezra's cheek, which felt unnaturally warm, and the smell of flowers floated up between them as Luke tipped his chin up.

Ezra thought, Oh.

He reached very carefully up and grasped the hand on his cheek.

Luke's fingers were trembling.

Ezra thought, I see.

The sun made his hair and his skin glow white, and Luke's face was so close that Ezra could see the detail of his eyes, the deep cerulean ring around his pupils and the oceanic softness of his irises. He could see the freckles that peppered his cheekbones and nose, once light but now browning in the midday sun. He could see his lips, half parted, half questioning, and tipping closer even as Ezra formulated his next thought.

A hurried pair of footsteps caused Luke to freeze.

Ezra looked past his head, and he dropped his hand, panic flooding through him.

"Luke!"

Ezra swallowed hard, watching Luke's shoulders slump and his jaw tighten. The place where his hand had been seemed to still feel his touch, and it burned.

"Beru," Luke greeted, turning away from Ezra and smiling up at her as she jogged up to meet them. Grass bent beneath her feet, and she glanced between them once before huffing.

"You shouldn't have gone so far," she said sternly.

"I'm sorry," Luke said earnestly. "We didn't mean to cause trouble."

"Never mind that," Beru sighed, rubbing her forehead tiredly. She glanced Luke up and down, her lips pulling into a grimace. "Oh, dear… well, there's no real helping it now. Vader is already angry, and keeping him waiting any longer—"

"Vader's waiting?" Luke choked out, jumping to his feet. His eyes were wide and genuinely terrified. "Beru, don't go near him again. Don't, you hear me?"

"Yes," Beru said tiredly. She wrung her hands nervously, glancing over her shoulder. "The Naberries have arrived."

Luke stood, his mouth slackening into a gape. He glanced down at Ezra, who found himself a bit chilled.

"Go," he said. "Go! I'll catch up."

Luke bit his lip, and turned back to face Beru. He nodded once, and rushed past her, his bare feet clapping against the dirt.

Beru followed him with her eyes, and she sighed heavily.

"That boy," she said softly, "has the heart of a desert flower."

Ezra toyed with the flower behind his ear.

"He has the heart of a loth-wolf," he said absently.


"Leia!" Sabine's voice drifted from the hull above. "Come watch with us!"

Leia glanced up from the condolence letter she had been writing. She still had not quite gotten through all of them from the Battle of Shaval. Seeing as they were biding their time until all the preparations were completed and they would land on Naboo, she thought it best to complete as many as she could.

While she had been doing this, the rest of their motley crew were watching a trial play out.

She thought that watching a trial for a man she didn't know seemed like a morbid affair, but it meant a lot to Sabine.

So Leia set the datapad aside, scraping the hair from her face and tossing it behind her shoulders. It was getting so long now that she considered cutting it. It weighed a lot, and braiding it made her tired.

As she climbed the ladder, she wondered how Luke was feeling at this moment. If he was scared. If he missed her as much as she missed him.

When she reached the hull, she hung back. The room was dyed blue, the light of the holo spilling across every surface. She eyed the man in question, curious at the structure of his face. It did not seem quite human.

"That's Thrawn?" she whispered, leaning forward to squint at the man.

Rex nodded to her once.

"But," Leia said, blinking, "he's an alien."

"The Empire's sole alien officer," Sabine said, her arms folded across her chest. She glared at the holo with the disdain of a thousand men.

The man's eyes slid toward them, as if, even lightyears away, he could hear them speaking of him.

Mon Mothma's voice could be heard. She was listing off his crimes, and Leia listened with a grimace.

"— War Crimes, including reckless endangerment of civilian lives, resulting in mass casualties at the Battle of Batonn, knowingly orchestrating the death of Morad Sumar, perpetuating the destruction of Lothal's natural resources to the point where the planet became nearly uninhabitable in regions, torturing your prisoners, and finally the execution of Kanan Jarrus."

Sabine let out a small, shaky breath. She pressed her hand over her heart, and she closed her eyes.

Leia watched Thrawn's face, and she found herself unnerved by how unusually calm it seemed.

"Do you deny these allegations?" Mon asked.

Thrawn leaned forward, his thin mouth reaching the microphone.

"I do not," he said, his voice carrying the oddest lilt to it. Something about the way he spoke made Leia want to shrink into the shadows and not move an inch. "Though you have hardly given me ample time to prepare a defense, Senator Mothma."

"You admit to your crimes, yet you claim you have a defense?"

Thrawn tilted his head. "I believe it is customary for even guilty parties to plead their case, is it not, Senator?"

Mon stayed silent for a moment before she sighed.

"Go on, Grand Admiral," she said tiredly. "Defend yourself, if you can."

Thrawn stood a little straighter. His hands were bound, and he wore what appeared to be a standard issue prison jumpsuit. It seemed ill-fitting, even though he had broad shoulders and large arms.

"To begin with," he said, "I had a very different strategy for drawing the rebels out of Batonn, but I take full responsibility for the casualties, but I gave them a— shall I say… fair warning. If they had turned themselves in when I had asked, excessive force would not have been necessary."

"Excessive force is never necessary!" An observer barked.

Thrawn raised his eyes to somewhere beyond the camera, and he tipped his chin down.

"Please," he said softly, "spare me your moral gymnastics. Do you forget the Death Star? Your Rebellion is responsible for the mass murder of ten thousand, seven hundred and eighty-six people. Some of them were your own prisoners."

Leia's blood froze over, and she stared dazedly up at the holo, her heart hollowing out as she registered her guilt.

She had never known the exact number.

"And the Death Star murdered billions of innocent civilians and wiped an entire culture, an entire history off the map!" Mon sounded furious, so angry that her voice boomed like a clap of thunder, and Leia shrunk at the sound.

She had never heard Mon Mothma scream before, but the sound was like a sandstorm stripping the color off stained clay walls.

"Yes, I know." Thrawn had the audacity to sound remorseful. "I never wished for that. I had hoped to quash that abomination in its infancy, but I had some difficulty, considering my project— the only thing, and I do mean that, that stood between funding the completion of the Death Star— was put to rest when Kanan Jarrus destroyed the fuel depot on Lothal."

"What?" Sabine hissed, lurching forward. Rex yanked her back before she could smash her fist into the holoprojector. "You fucking monster! You killed him for that?"

"You don't really understand the meaning of defense, do you?" Mon sounded frustrated. "Do you admit to killing Kanan Jarrus?"

"Yes." Thrawn did not look even a little ashamed of this fact.

"You recognize that this, is in fact, a war crime, as you did not give him a trial?"

"Kanan Jarrus was a Jedi," Thrawn said simply. "I do not take execution lightly, but I do believe he would be grateful that I killed him quickly rather than captured him and handed him to Lord Vader, as I was told to."

The murmuring that followed this declaration was maddening. Leia watched the man as he stood there, his expression blank, and she gritted her teeth.

"That's…" Sabine stared up at the holo, the blue glow of it illuminating her face and causing the tears that spilt onto her cheeks to become luminescent. "That's not fair. This isn't fair!"

"A living prisoner has hope," Mon said heatedly. "You destroyed that when you shot him."

"I have seen first hand what the Sith do to good men like Kanan Jarrus," Thrawn said simply. "Shall I spin you the tale? Good men, Jedi Knights, they believe themselves infallible. And then the Dark comes in, like whispers in the night, and those good men become something else. It is the way of Darth Vader. Even of the prodigious Luke Organa."

The murmurs in the background came to an uproar.

Leia stood frozen for a moment, her brother's name burrowing into her head and leaving a brand upon her mind.

"What do you mean?" Mon asked sharply, calling the assembly to order. "You have information on Luke Organa?"

"I have more than that," Thrawn said calmly. "I have reason to believe that Prince Luke Organa is conspiring with Darth Vader."

Another uproar came crashing down around them, so loud and raucous that it shook the very room they stood in.

"Turn it off!" Leia cried, finally finding her voice as the shock shivered through her. "Turn it off now!"

"Leia—" Rex objected, his brow furrowing.

Han and Lando had already cut the transmission.

They stood in the silence, a great and swarming thing that gathered around her and threatened to smother her.

"Hey," Han said softly, shuffling toward her. He reached out, his callused hand brushing her cheek.

She turned her head away sharply, her eyes wet with angry tears.

"Aphra," Leia said, her voice low and cold, "take us back to Home."


The dirt sunk beneath his feet as he slid down the hill, flowers bending and grass crushing beneath his feet. His hair was beginning to dry in the hot sun, curling against the nape of his neck and across his forehead. His heart hammered in his ears as he ran, his feet dashing against the earth, and he realized how foolish he was.

Allowing himself to feel free, even for a moment, was a death sentence.

He was squirming just thinking about Vader alone with the Naberries. It was bad enough that the Lars family was here, and Luke had still not mustered up the courage to explain to Beru what was happening. He feared that interacting with her beyond the passing exchange would garner suspicion.

Running through the fields, flowers fluttering past him, he thought he could probably die here and that might make him happy.

He thought maybe he was already dead, and this was the Force's final gift to him,

His bare feet clapped against hard stone as he reached the path up to the manor. He tried to adjust his tunic, wringing it out uselessly so at the very least his nipples would not be as visible to the naked eye, and he sped up the steps two at a time. His callused soles scraped the stone, and flower petals danced around him as he reached the landing of the veranda, his legs pumping at a speed that nearly forced them out from under him as he swerved, his heels sliding painfully on mosaic glass, and he kept running.

When he skidded into the sitting room, a large and cylindrical chamber that shot off the foyer, his dirty feet swerved to miss the plush white velvet carpet. He nearly tripped over himself, his chest heaving, and he clapped his hands on his knees. The only thing that had saved him from sweating pools was the fact that he had already been soaked to the bone, and now, thankfully, his skin was dry.

His hair and clothes, however, were not, and they remained plastered to his skin.

"I'm sorry," he choked, immediately feeling Vader's stare with the intensity of twin suns. He sunk a bit under the weight of it. "I'm so sorry, I lost track of time—"

"Taking a dip, I imagine," a terse voice said, causing Luke to look up in alarm.

The woman who had spoken was thin, her face long and her frown-lines prominent. Her hair was covered with a black veil, but Luke saw a wisp of white that floated near her forehead. Her dark eyes watched him like a hawk.

"I, um…" Luke flushed, a bit unnerved by how the intensity of her gaze seemed to match Vader's. "I fell."

"Well, we can all see that," a more familiar voice teased. Luke relaxed a little as his eyes slid to Sola's warm face. She had a few more wrinkles here and there, but she was no less beautiful or elegant than when Luke had last seen her. Her hair was pulled back in a loose, simple twist, pinned with a wooden ornament shaped like a flower. "My, my, haven't you grown."

"Grown?" the older woman scoffed. "Darling, I love you, but I'd hate to have seen this child if this bony state he's in is growth."

"Mother," Sola said sharply, "I haven't seen him in a decade, give the boy some credit."

Mother, Luke thought numbly, his eyes swiveling to the old woman's face. Her sunken cheeks, her beautiful eyes, her pursed mouth. My grandmother. This is my grandmother.

"Do you even feed the boy?" his grandmother demanded, turning her head to glance at Vader with clear disdain. Luke's eyes widened at her lack of respect and her lack of fear. "How he ran all the way here on those skinny little legs of his is beyond me. A boy should be strong and sturdy."

"I am sure," Vader rumbled, sounding clearly offended, "that you are an expert on the subject, having raised so many girls."

His grandmother bristled at the backslap of a remark.

"I have four younger siblings, Lord Vader," the woman said icily, "and three of them were boys. I imagine my expertise of raising three boys and three girls along with two grandchildren trumps your… what? Approximate of zero?"

"Mom," Sola hissed, catching her mother's arm and dragging her from Vader's side. "Enough."

"Yes, grandmama," the low and raspy drawl of Ryoo Naberrie fluttered up from the plush red sofa. "Please don't antagonize the mass murderer."

"Ryoo!" Sola snapped.

Ryoo stood up, her long legs stretching as she smoothed her short black hair behind her ears. It was still cropped in that easy bob that it had been in years earlier, though her bangs were longer now, and parted in the middle.

She strode forward, circling around her mother to get a good look at Luke. She wore a pair of high-waisted black trousers, and tucked into it was a long, sheer purple shirt. It was loose, sleeveless, and adorned with a high neck that was cinched around her throat with an adornment of pale crystals that clustered along her neck. Beneath it she wore a black lace bodice.

"Ryoo," Luke greeted, smiling at her sheepishly.

Ryoo glanced him over, sighed a little, and shook her head.

"You little mess," she murmured, looking down at him fondly. "You don't visit in years, and when you do, you bring Vader? Why is everything such an event with you?"

"I don't know," Luke admitted, bowing his head. "I didn't realize we were coming here, otherwise I would have reached out and asked if we could use your home rather than demand it."

"Nonsense," his grandmother huffed. "As short notice as it is, I do love a good dinner party. And it is good to see the younger generation putting this old house to good use."

"Pooja is here all the time," Ryoo pointed out, glancing back at their grandmother.

"Oh," Luke said suddenly, glancing around the room, "is Pooja here? I haven't seen her in ages!"

Ryoo snorted at that. She folded her arms across her chest, and she shrugged.

"She'll get here eventually," she said. "For now, I am just glad to see you safe."

"Ah." Luke tugged at a stray curl that had fallen into his eyes as it dried. "I'm okay. I mean, obviously I've been better, but I've definitely been worse."

Ryoo watched him like she wanted to object, but Sola rested her hand on her daughter's shoulder and smiled.

"Stop making the boy nervous, Ryoo," she said, "he's flustered enough."

"Go get changed, Luke," Vader said sharply. "I will excuse this behavior this once."

That was about as good as it was going to get.

"Yes, Lord Vader," Luke said mechanically, bowing his head.

He turned and fled the room before Vader decided to say anything more.


The General whirled around at the sound of her name, her lekku swinging. Her big green eyes blinked rapidly as Sabine jogged up to her, Leia close at her heels.

"Sabine?" Hera asked blankly, one eyebrow shooting up. "And… Commander Skywalker, what on earth are you doing here?"

"Where's Thrawn?" Leia demanded, Han's hands shooting out and wheeling her back before she climbed on top of something and began to scream.

"What?" Hera frowned at her, and then she groaned. "Don't tell me you came all the way back here for that. Come on, you all know better. Thrawn is a sadistic piece of work, and he's smart. Don't let him get in your head."

"He knows something about Luke, and I want him to tell me the whole truth of it," Leia said firmly. "Whatever it is he thinks he knows, I bet he's wrong. I have to hear it."

Hera eyed her tiredly. "I think," she said gently, "that you're frightened for Luke. I understand that."

"He killed your friend," Leia said through gritted teeth. "This guy— he must be a monster. All of that stuff he said? He's just another one of the Empire's dogs, like Vader. I won't let him drag Luke's name through the dirt, not when I know better!"

"Leia," Hera said, her voice very sharp and very reprimanding. "This is not your mission. This is not your responsibility. Go back to your rescue mission, and get Luke out of there so he can prove his innocence himself!"

"Not until I talk to Thrawn," Leia said.

Hera shot Leia a pitying glance, and then she turned to Sabine, who looked just as pissed as Leia felt.

"You're putting up with this?" Hera demanded.

"Putting up with what?" Sabine scowled at Hera. "I'm all for letting Leia rearrange Thrawn's face."

"Sabine, that is not how we do things and you know it!"

"It didn't used to be this way," Sabine snapped. "All this bureaucracy— a trial? Everyone here knows Thrawn is guilty already!"

"He's still a person," Hera said simply. "We don't know all the facts—"

"He stole your kalikori, remember?" Sabine's voice was dangerously low, and Hera actually flinched at her words. "He stole your home, your history, and he even stole Kanan and Ezra. How the hell am I supposed to sit back and let him walk away with his life when I know that all of the suffering that you've endured always seems to trail back to him?"

"Because we taught you better than that!" Hera gasped, her eyes wide and searching. "Didn't we?"

Sabine jerked back, looking vaguely panicked.

"Didn't we?" Hera repeated, this time with a bite to her voice as she demanded an answer.

"I don't know, Hera," Sabine said dazedly. "But regardless, I'm not leaving here until I talk to him."

Hera inhaled sharply. She glanced down at Leia, who stood stiffly as she waited for Hera to give up the fight.

Finally, with a sigh, Hera shook her head.

"I'll let you speak with him," she said, holding up a single finger, "on one condition. Leia interrogates him, and Sabine watches from a two-way."

"What?" Sabine snapped, her teeth baring in half a snarl.

"He knows you too well," Hera said, glancing at Sabine tiredly. "If you got in the room, he'd have a feast with how angry you are. He might goad you into attacking him, which would land you a court-martial. So Leia goes in. She's never met him before, so she should be fine."

"Good," Leia said, rolling her shoulders. "When do I meet this asshole?"

Hera rubbed her eyes.

"Now," she said, whirling away from them.

"Ah," Han murmured from behind her, squeezing her shoulders, "fuck."

Chapter Text

When Vader told her she could wander, she knew it was as good a gift as any. She knew that he could sense her, and that she couldn't go far without alerting him, but even so, feeling the sun on her face and breathing in the scent of fresh flowers and tree sap and lake water— it made her feel more alive than she had felt in years.

Probably since the last time she had been in Varykino.

The memories were sliding through her mind hazily. She recalled listless days, sunbathing in the tall flowers, fishing in the lakes, exploring in the forest, reading in the Naberrie's extensive library. In the winter, she would skate on the frozen lakes with Ryoo or Pooja or both. Most of the time she had been training in one of the open rooms at the top of the manor, relearning how to use her arm.

It had been odd, those few years. Ahsoka had felt… normal. Fear, which had become a constant in her life since her adolescence, had been utterly absent.

Now she was back, and she was very afraid, but the flowers had not changed, and the trees still stretched out toward the crystal sky, and she remembered what it was like to be at peace.

Maybe Luke and Ezra helped with that a little.

She wouldn't call it spying. She was a grown woman, and she had long since put up her sleuthing cape when it came to the romances of her loved ones. The bright eyed, gangly limbed Ahsoka had spent tireless nights snooping around Skyguy's old haunts to figure out what he did every night (of course what he did was Padmé, which she didn't realize until a little later when it was too late to approach him about it). Now she swung her leg from a high branch of a jogan tree, cutting the fruit to slices and watching her boys from afar.

"You know Vader thinks their relationship is like yours?" she asked offhandedly through a mouthful of fruit.

Beside her, a glowing blue man frowned deeply.

"I do think Anakin's oblivious to the true nature of his son and Ezra Bridger," Obi-Wan said tiredly. "Not that I would have guessed it either. I did perceive that he and Leia might have a connection, but never did I imagine it would be Luke that he got involved with."

"Leia and Ezra?" Ahsoka asked, scratching her cheek. "Never thought of that."

"She was quite smitten with him," Obi-Wan sighed. "I was afraid she was going to smuggle herself onto his ship and head straight for the Rebellion at seventeen."

"Glad to know that Luke and Leia have the same type in men," Ahsoka said hiding a smile behind her hand.

"Well, I much prefer a Jedi to a smuggler."

"Han?" Ahsoka glanced at Obi-Wan curiously. "Oh? Wait, do you know something I don't?"

Obi-Wan glanced at her, and he sunk against the tree, neither corporeal nor non-corporeal, and he gave an exasperated snort.

"She has struck up a relationship with Han Solo, yes," Obi-Wan said, sounding… well, not quite bitter, but not really particularly pleased. "I knew it would happen— she is Anakin's daughter, so I always knew she would make the absolute worst choices regarding love, and I tried to prepare her for it—"

"Oh, Force," Ahsoka said through a laugh, "what happened?"

"It was a private matter, Ahsoka, I can't tell you that." Obi-Wan looked at her, clearly affronted. "She does trust me well enough to keep me well informed of her personal life and feelings. I am… forever grateful, really. She is the opposite of Anakin in that regard."

Ahsoka studied him, trying to place traces of the fearless, silver-tongued leader she had known several lifetimes before, and coming up with only the softness of his gaze as he stared along the wavering grass and into the glassy surface of the lake.

They both watched in silence as Luke stumbled to his feet, sopping wet and wavering, and he darted past Beru with the speed of a startled fox.

Ezra sat in the tall grass, the breeze fluttering the flowers and grass around him.

"So is this the last time I'll be seeing you for a while?" Ahsoka asked, afraid of the answer yet keeping her expression calm and her body relaxed.

"I believe so," Obi-Wan said, his gaze flickering back to her. "It's always difficult to reach you when you're around Vader. Have you considered running?"

Ahsoka shot him a pointed look.

"Don't give me that," Obi-Wan scoffed at her. "I just think it's a waste to not even attempt to slip away from Vader when he has given you the chance."

"Vader's not an idiot," Ahsoka said bitterly. "He knows exactly where I am. But, more importantly, he knows Luke won't try anything as long as he continues to threaten Ezra."

"Why not spirit Ezra away, then?"

"We're trying," Ahsoka said, rolling her eyes. "Obviously we're trying. But it's not that easy. We're just as trapped here as we were on The Executor, or Mustafar, but only now our cage is not lava or the cold expanse of space, it's a beautiful country side that is essentially leagues and leagues of untouched land. No transportation, no way out. We have to wait until we're back in the capital to get Ezra out."

"That is your plan, then? Give Ezra an escape, and yet remain imprisoned?" Obi-Wan's expression was grave, and he looked like he wanted to reach for her, but instead tucked his hands into his cloak sleeves. "He will be furious."

"I want to escape," Ahsoka murmured. "I do. But it all depends on Luke."

"You think Luke will choose to stay?"

Ahsoka licked her lips. She had thought about it a lot lately, the idea of running, but ever since they had arrived on Vader's ship the idea became more and more like a fantasy and less and less like a hope. Ezra was the one who was in the most physical danger, though Vader had yet to make good on his threats. Ahsoka knew he would if he had to.

But Vader was acting odd. So was Luke.

The idea of escaping, she realized, hinged on Luke.

And Luke, Ahsoka knew well, was too good to let Vader go.

It was not a happy end, and she did not look forward to it.

For now, though, the tree was high and the flowers were clustered together, a thousand scents inside her nose and muddying her mind, and she thought that she could be happy here for just a few minutes in the bright Naboo sun.

"You've got Leia, Obi-Wan," Ahsoka said softly. "No matter what Luke chooses, you know she'll do what's right."

"I am not asking because I doubt her," Obi-Wan said softly, "I'm asking because I fear for Luke's sake."

"I don't know what Luke will choose," Ahsoka said simply. "If I did, this would all be easier."

Obi-Wan glanced at her, a frown gracing his lips, but he did not push it any further. She was thankful. He always did know how to stop prying when things got to be too much.

"What is Vader thinking?" Obi-Wan murmured, his hazy fingers pinching his beard thoughtfully. "Taking you all to Varykino… it seems out of character."

"From what I gathered, he wants the Naberries to know that Luke is Padmé's son," Ahsoka said tiredly. "Which is going to be messy."

"But why?" Obi-Wan asked. "Why does he care if the Naberries are aware of Padmé's child or not? He never cared much before."

"I don't know what to tell you," Ahsoka said with a shrug. "Vader is not a simple man. In fact, it is painful to speak to him, because sometimes… I don't know." She wiped her sticky fingers on her dark trousers. She'd managed to find her stash of clothes from her residence here three years earlier, and these cargo pants were as durable as ever. "Sometimes it feels like Anakin is still there, which makes it all harder. Isn't it so much easier to believe he's dead?"

"I always stood by that viewpoint," Obi-Wan admitted.

"But it's not the truth," Ahsoka sighed, resting her head back. "If it were, this would be so much easier. It'd be so much easier to hate him."

"I suppose."

"Don't you hate him?"

Obi-Wan's eyes, a sad echo of what perhaps they had once been, drifted along the lake.

"No," he said simply.

"No? Never?"

"No." Obi-Wan closed his eyes. "Not even once. I had wished him dead. I had tried to kill him. But I could never imagine him as anything else but the boy I raised, and that is why I failed. It is why I chose to die."

"Oh," Ahsoka whispered, reaching for him, "Obi-Wan…"

His eyes snapped open, and they slid to her face sharply.

"Do not make my mistakes," he warned. "Get Luke away from him, Ahsoka. He is Padmé's son, and that frightens me."

Ahsoka glanced at him worriedly, unable to admit that she felt very much the same. The painful thing was, Luke's similarity to Padmé was endearing usually. Neither of them wanted to see him end up like she had, though, which made this beautiful scenery and budding romance all the more painful.

"Once Ezra is safe, Luke will be smarter," Ahsoka insisted. "He's just blinded by love right now."

"He will still be blinded by love if he remains, once Ezra has left," Obi-Wan told her gravely. "Think hard, Ahsoka. You might not make it out of this alive."

"I know."

"Then act."

"You want me to do it, don't you?" she said tiredly. "Take those steps toward removing myself from the Cosmic Force, like you."

"Like my own master and great-grandmaster," Obi-Wan said.

"What if I don't want that?" Ahsoka demanded, twisting her whole body to look at him with a curled lip. "I can't just… just become a ghost when thousands of my brothers and sisters never got that chance."

"It is your choice," Obi-Wan told her delicately. "But you should think on it. Quickly."

"I can't go to Degobah."

"I never said you had to. I learned on the dunes of Tatooine."

Ahsoka slumped. She supposed she had already half-learned, if her meditations were anything to go by, but the idea of digging deeper frightened her.

"Next you'll be asking me to kill Vader for you," she said, turning her face away.

"Would you?"

The question made her wish she could push Obi-Wan out of the tree.

"I don't know," she said softly. "I've tried before. Didn't take."

"I see."

"Will Leia do it?" Ahsoka glanced at Obi-Wan with a frown. "Now that she knows—"

"She knows, and she is more than ready to murder her father if that means bringing Luke home." Obi-Wan grimaced. "It worries me, at times. I have asked Yoda time and time again if perhaps we have been the cruelest of caretakers, to raise a young girl for the butcher of the remnants of her family. He says that she is stronger than we will ever be, and I should thank the Force that she is glad to do the job."

"I doubt glad is the word Leia would use," Ahsoka said bitterly.

"No," Obi-Wan sighed, "I suppose it's not the word I would use either."

"I should do it," Ahsoka said. "I should save them both that pain."

"Leia never knew Anakin," Obi-Wan said delicately, "and she is determined to do what is right. Don't damn yourself at her expense, Ahsoka. It is not your job to clean up all of our messes."

"Yeah, well," Ahsoka said, staring out into the sea of green grass and flowers, "someone has to."

Before Obi-Wan could reply, they were both struck speechless by an approaching figure. Her fair skin and bouncing ringlets of brown hair were visible from Ahsoka's vantage point, and the line of her long green dress was familiar, as was its stunning embroidery and carefully crafted hood.

"Padmé?" Obi-Wan uttered faintly, his visage waning as the sun burst through him and made him out to be a trick of the light.

Ahsoka gaped for a moment, stunned by the presence of two ghosts at once, before the truth hit her hard.

"Oh," Ahsoka gasped, standing up on her branch. "No. No, I know who it is."

She jumped down from the tree, landing before the woman just as she reached it. She jerked back for a moment, and her arm jutted out, shielding a tiny form behind her.

Then, with only a short delay, she burst with a delighted cry.

"Ahsoka!" Pooja cried, her dress cutting through the grass and her arms tossing over Ahsoka's neck. She was a good deal shorter than Ahsoka, so it was easy for her to pluck the woman off the ground and spin her around.

"Pooja," she laughed, lowering her to her feet and beaming at her. She looked radiant in the midday sun, her hair like spun gold and her eyes glowing with a secret sort of joy. She wore a dress that was a deep, forest green, the fabric appearing to be some kind of velvet or velour, and it was rigid beneath her abdomen like a tent. "Aren't you hot in that?"

"Hm?" Pooja glanced down at her dress, and she blinked before laughing heartily. "Oh, no, I'm pretty much immune to Naboo's sun at this point. But what are you doing here?"

"Ah," Ahsoka said with a tight smile. "A long story. Who's this?"

The child had decided to peak her head around Pooja, and Ahsoka noted her big, black, almond eyes, and her pouty mouth that she hid in the rigid line of Pooja's skirt. She wore a bright blue dress that spilled like water over her dirty knees, and a dusty yellow cape that hung limply off her small shoulders. Her hair was straight and black, cut at her chin in a sharp bob.

"It really has been that long, hasn't it?" Pooja smiled at Ahsoka dimly, and she placed a gentle hand on the girl's head. "Ahsoka, this is my daughter, Nerys. Say hello, Ner."

The tiny girl blinked up at Ahsoka, her fists full of her mother's enormous green skirt, and her mouth flattened. She ducked her head and mumbled, "Hullo…"

"She's shy," Pooja confessed, absently stroking Nerys's head. "Especially around people she doesn't know."

"Most children are," Ahsoka said with a smile, and she watched Nerys closely. "Do you like jogan, Nerys?"

Nerys's eyes widened behind the folds of her mother's skirt.

Ahsoka's smile brightened, and with the Force she let a fat fruit snap from its tree and float steadily down between them. Upon laying eyes on it, Nerys gasped, and she stumbled back in shock.

"Mama, it's floating!" she cried, pointing at the fruit in awe.

"Ahsoka," Pooja hissed, snatching the fruit from midair. "What are you doing? What are you thinking? Don't you know who's here—?"

"Vader doesn't scare me," she said steadily, eyeing Nerys out of curiosity. The child didn't flinch at Vader's name, so she continued. "Besides, he knows I'm here."

"What?"

"I told you," Ahsoka sighed, scratching her forehead with her thumbnail. "It's a long story. But I bet not as long as yours. A daughter? When did that happen?"

"Three years ago," Pooja huffed, folding her arms across her chest. "Don't act so high and mighty, Ahsoka, you are hardly reachable by holo on most days."

Ahsoka didn't mention that it was her holo about the dissolution of the Senate and the destruction of Alderaan that had sent her running, quite literally sprinting in her pretty blue dress and ornamental headband that had been meant for her wedding to the nearest farm— a three hour jog— to steal a fathier and ride it to the nearest station, which was an hour at best, then take a flight to Theed where she had narrowly evaded Imperial capture and stolen the first ship she'd laid eyes on, promptly sending her to Yavin 4.

"I've been busy," Ahsoka said defensively.

Pooja sighed. Her eyes, bright and golden, much lighter than Padmé's had ever been, drifted off far away.

"I know," she said softly. "I know how taxing the Rebellion can be."

"Don't," Ahsoka said sharply, lurching forward and clapping her hands over Pooja's mouth. She stared up at Ahsoka with widening eyes. "Don't speak of it here. Not with Vader around."

Pooja swatted Ahsoka's hand aside, and she frowned. "I am aware of the danger," she said coolly. "Though I really would like to know why you're with him. Are you a prisoner? I can arrange—"

"No arranging!" Ahsoka shook her head furiously. "Vader will know it's you. Just let me deal with it. Don't put yourself or your family at risk."

"Oh," Pooja said softly, "Ahsoka, please. You know that's impossible."

Ahsoka swallowed hard. She decided not to dwell on it.

"Where have you been, anyway?" Ahsoka asked blinking at her. "This isn't the normal way to get into the house."

"Oh," Pooja laughed, her brightness returning, "Ner and I took our own speeder here, from Roos's estate. Do you remember Roos?"

"Roos…?" Ahsoka wrinkled her nose at the sudden memory that surface— a prim, elegant woman with skin dark as night and eyes as piercingly light as a frozen lake. "Leilana? Really, Pooja? Now of all times?"

"I was only having tea with my good friend," Pooja said, sounding both offended and amused. "Honestly, Ahsoka, you are too judgmental. You'd never make it in politics."

"Fuck no, I wouldn't," Ahsoka said fiercely, "and I'm proud of that."

"Ahsoka, please," Pooja said with a scoff, not bothering to cover her daughter's ears, but gesturing to her vaguely.

"Eek!" Ahsoka clapped her hands over her mouth, shame flushing her face. "Sorry, sorry. Kri— no, no, that's a bad word too… um…"

"Military brat," Pooja teased her softly, nudging her arm. "Growing up with soldiers gave you a potty mouth."

"I'm usually not so bad," Ahsoka said defensively.

"Darling, I lived with you for years," Pooja said. "Don't lie."

"Don't darling me, you're married," Ahsoka huffed. "Honestly, I forgot how annoying you could be."

"Don't be like that, Ahsoka," Pooja said, hooking her arm through Ahsoka's and reaching for Nerys's hand. "You missed me."

"Missed you?" Ahsoka rolled her eyes. "Maybe a little, until I remembered just now what a brat you are."

"See, Nerys?" Pooja said to her daughter cheekily. "When Da says you're bratty, it's just because you take after Mama."

"Da says you're a brat too, Mama," Nerys said, a small smile appearing on her lips.

Pooja grimaced. "Da is the brattiest of all of us," she said matter-of-factly.

Nerys snickered into her mother's skirt, and Ahsoka watched the exchange with an amused smile. It was odd to see Pooja in a maternal role, but not exactly unexpected. The woman did have a way with becoming everyone's mother in some way or another, something that Ahsoka thought she'd probably inherited from her aunt.

"Well," Pooja said huffily, pulling both Ahsoka and Nerys forward, "I'm glad you're here, even if it's under unfortunate circumstances. Vader hasn't…?"

The implication was clear in her voice.

"I'm okay," Ahsoka said, placing her flesh hand on Pooja's arm, "really. I promise."

"Good," Pooja breathed, looking a little rattled. "Good. You worry me, Ahsoka."

"I think I worry everyone just a little," Ahsoka said cheekily. "It's part of my charm."

"Ugh…" Pooja grimaced tightly, and she shook her head. "You? Charming? I think not."

Ahsoka laughed, finding herself bursting into giggles that she had to smother with her hand.

"Of course I am!" Ahsoka bumped shoulders with Pooja, and she winked down at Nerys when she glanced up at Ahsoka curiously. "Everyone loves me. I'm just loveable."

"Tell that to the Empire."

"Shh!" Ahsoka grinned through her fingers. Pooja smiled a small, secretive smile at the great expanse of grass and flowers, and they walked arm and arm toward the manor.


Luke spent maybe a little too long scrubbing the grime and dirt from his fingernails and cheeks and calves and the soles of his feet. He dried out his hair quickly enough, but he got distracted by the sheer amount of perfumes and soaps and lotions that lined the shelves of the fresher. It was a proper bathroom, like in the palace at Aldera, with an old fashioned tub and everything. Luke sniffed at bottles, running his fingers along the peculiar crystals and rounded glass, and some scents brought him right back to the dregs of his childhood, his bony legs stuffed inside the tub, just too long to stretch out, and he recited ancient poetry with a dull drawl, his fingers scraping bubbles from the water and tossing them into the air lazily.

His reverie was smashed by the fervent knocking on the door.

"Luke," came Owen's gruff voice. "Luke, I know you're in there."

Luke wiped his wet fingers on a downy white towel, tearing it off its rack and padding down his cheeks as he rushed to the door. It slid open, and he grasped Owen by his wrist and yanked him into the bathroom.

"Hey!" Owen stumbled, his hard-soled boots clapping noisily against the tile. He glanced around the room, and he wrinkled his nose. "Aw, look, I've made a mess!"

"Owen, you can't be so familiar with me," Luke gasped, searching the man's face. "Vader can't know that you know me."

Owen stared at him blankly. He had an old, weathered face with limp gray waves framing his sweaty forehead. "Well, I've avoided the beast so far," he said stiffly.

Luke realized that Owen didn't understand the enormity of this situation. Owen and Beru were Leia's uncle and aunt. They were Luke's uncle and aunt. Which meant that Vader must have known them well enough in the past.

"You know how dangerous this is for you," Luke said softly, staring at the man with a pained expression. "Please, Owen. I couldn't bear it if Leia's love for you and Beru was turned into a weapon against her."

Owen stiffened at his niece's name, as though he had forgotten he had a niece and was struck by years of buried emotions. His jaw tightened, and his eyes flitted around the room, growing wide and watery.

"She's a smart girl," he muttered. "Can't be helped."

"Yes, it can be," Luke gasped. "Take Beru and go. Stay with a friend for a week. Take a vacation. All that matters is that you aren't here."

"And what about you?" Owen snapped, his lips curling back. "Damn it, Luke. We built a life here. A new life, something we never imagined. We can't just—"

"I'm not saying for forever, I'm saying until Vader leaves," Luke insisted. "You know he'll recognize you eventually. Ahsoka told me that he ransacked your home when he was searching for Leia, so he must know."

"He didn't recognize Beru," Owen said with a huff, though the knowledge that Vader had been inside their old home caused a flicker of emotions to tumble across his face— fear, rage, and sorrow.

"Beru has aged a bit since she got here, and she's grown her hair out." Luke shook his head. "Please. Don't let your stubbornness be the thing that sends Leia to her knees. Vader wants her bad enough, and you being here— he already has me. Don't give him another tool against her."

Owen scowled at him. The thing about Owen was that he never asked how Leia was. He never asked why Luke was here. He just understood that the situation was too complicated, and trusted that they knew what to do.

If it threatened his livelihood, though, he fought tooth and nail to become a statistic.

"Leia is smarter than that," Owen muttered, drawing his hand over his face. "She's smarter than that. She won't fall for a trick like that."

"Come on, Owen, you raised her," Luke said, smiling at him. "You know better than that."

Owen glanced at him, sighed heavily, and nodded once.

"Fine," he said, rolling his shoulders. "We'll go. I will have to explain to the Naberries, though—"

"Oh, I can do that," Luke said, waving his hand. "Just hurry, and be subtle about it. If Vader sees you—"

"I know," Owen said, his voice thick. "I know."

"Good." Luke smiled at him tightly. "Then you better get going."

Luke watched him hurry off tiredly, wondering if he should have told him the truth. That Vader was Anakin Skywalker, that this was a family affair.

He felt he couldn't predict Owen well enough to know how he'd handle that information.

He wished they could speak more about Leia, but the truth was that Luke had no idea how she was doing and wouldn't know how to respond to Owen and Beru even if they asked him.

All he knew for certain was that she missed him, and maybe that she would be better off without him, but he'd never speak that aloud.

Luke walked back to his room and hastily pulled on a pair of dark dress pants and tucked a white shirt into them. After what he'd arrived in that afternoon, it seemed like a foolish endeavor to wear anything adventurous. Instead, he smoothed out his shirt and plucked a tie from his suitcase.

It was a wonder when and where Vader had gotten these clothes, but Luke was thankful all the same.

"Well this is a real posh look for you."

Luke blinked, and glanced at the doorway through the mirror. Ezra was leaning against the doorframe, and somehow, through all his ponderings, Luke had not heard it open.

"Do I not always look posh?" Luke asked, his lips quirking upwards.

"Well," Ezra said, studying him with a widening smirk of his own, "maybe, but not always on this level of swankiness. Is that the right word? Swanky?"

"I think I prefer princely," Luke snorted, hanging the undone tie around his throat and taming the limp waves of his hair. He remembered rejecting haircuts as a child, remembered asking his mother if he should wear his hair like she did, but she had always left it up to him, and he had always been too active and starry eyed to think about elaborate braids and twists.

Now he braided his hair back into a neat bun, which was also a single plait. He pinned it with star pins he found in the drawer, and he tried not to think that this might have been his birth mother's room once.

"You know what?" Ezra said, tilting his head. "I like your hair this way."

"Braided?" Luke glanced over his shoulder at him, and he couldn't help but grin. "I've been avoiding the traditional hairstyles for two decades. Thought I might finally let Alderaan have me."

"I meant long," Ezra said with a roll of his eyes. "Yeesh. Obviously you look good in braids."

"Grow your hair out again," Luke said with a snort, "we can match."

"Aw," Ezra said, holding his hand over his heart. "I'll be the triplet you never wanted!"

"Don't make it weird."

Ezra laughed, and it was a nice sound to hear. The boisterous mixture of chuckles and snorts, made Luke relax a little.

"Us? Weird? Never."

Luke swallowed. The phantom of the blush that had crept up on him that afternoon, the feeling of boldness and the incredible surge of courage that he had mustered while lying in among the grass and flowers, it seemed to come back muted. Like he might fall on his knees and spout ancient sonnets if he was not careful.

When Luke didn't respond right away, Ezra's expression seemed to dampen.

"I'm here to tell you to hurry up, you know," he said, glancing over his shoulder. "One of the ladies here caught me walking around and figured I was Vader's servant. Which…" Ezra's nose wrinkled. "I guess maybe I am?"

"Don't say that," Luke laughed uneasily, glancing away from the mirror. "It's all an act. You know that."

"The longer I'm around him, the less it feels that way," Ezra said wistfully.

Luke sighed, knowing he couldn't help Ezra's discomfort with Vader, and he tugged at the tie around his neck.

"Oh," Ezra said eagerly, pushing off the doorframe and striding forward hastily. "Let me!"

"Huh?" Luke blinked up at him as he stooped down, his forehead nearly brushing the curl of Luke's bangs, and he took the tie from Luke's fingers and delicately began to fold it. "Oh… um, okay."

Ezra's eyes were focused on his fingers. "I saw Owen and Beru," he said. "They were in a hurry. What did you tell them?"

"I thought it might be better if they were away from Vader," Luke said quietly, Ezra's proximity causing his breath to hitch in his throat. He felt abnormally warm. "After all, it's only a matter of time before he recognizes one of them."

"Right…" Ezra frowned. "Luke, you know you don't have to take care of everyone right?"

"What do you mean?"

Ezra sighed. His fingers worked at the tie, and Luke held his breath, listening to the soft shuffle of fabric sliding against fabric. When he looked at Ezra's face, his brown skin seemed to glow bronze in the dying daylight. His eyes, dark and magnificent blue, were ignited by the golden rays, and they flickered from his own fingers to Luke's face.

"You want to save everyone," Ezra said plainly, a frown tugging at his lips. "It's not fair. Your stupid savior complex— you're not even a Jedi. But you go out of your way to give everyone a chance. Even Vader. I just don't get it."

"Everyone deserves a chance," Luke murmured.

"You've given Vader plenty of chances," Ezra breathed, his eyes fluttering closed. This close, Luke could truly see the length of his lashes as they fanned out across his dark cheeks. "He never even deserved the first one. I just don't get it."

"He's my father," Luke offered mildly. "I have to believe there's good in him. Somewhere."

"Well," Ezra said, his shoulders tensing, "maybe there's not."

"And maybe I'm doomed," Luke said softly, "but that doesn't mean I shouldn't try, right?"

Ezra's eyes snapped open, and he searched Luke's face with a wildness in his eyes that made Luke feel a little dizzy.

"Luke," Ezra said, his voice small and almost pained, "let's run away."

In response, Luke blinked rapidly, and he laughed. He placed a hand on Ezra's, feeling that he'd stopped trying to tie the tie, and he smiled up at him.

"Not yet," he said gently. "You know the plan. Don't go rushing things."

"Fuck the plan!" Ezra grasped Luke by the shoulders, and for a moment Luke staggered limply as Ezra shook him a little. "It's not like you or Ahsoka talked about going too. I don't want to leave this planet without you."

"Ezra," Luke said, his eyes darting away from his face. "Let's not talk about this right now."

"You're just going to force me to go? What if I don't want to?" Ezra's nails dug into Luke's shoulders, and he was so close that Luke could feel the heat of his skin. "Because I don't. I could never want to leave you or Ahsoka, not when these fucking madmen want to turn you into monsters."

"They won't," Luke said softly.

"You don't know that!" Ezra shook his head furiously. "Vader almost got me. He did. He almost had me kill Thrawn, and I would have. I would have done it in a heartbeat. Hell, I still want to do it."

"Which is exactly why I need you to go," Luke said, his eyes cast toward his feet. "Please. Don't make this any harder than it already is."

"What do you mean harder? This is breaking my heart!" Ezra cried, his voice cracking a little.

Luke looked up at him, startled, and he took a step back instinctively. "I—" he said, his voice unsteady.

In the back of his mind, memories that were not his spooled around his head, unraveling like a loose tapestry.

You're breaking my heart!

He'd heard that before. Somewhere. Maybe in a dream of a dream of a dream.

"Take Ahsoka," Luke offered, feeling at a loss.

"No."

"Ezra—"

"Luke, don't you get it?" Ezra asked, his eyes widening a little as he stared down at him. "I think I would rather die than lose you."

Luke was struck absolutely silent. His mouth dropped open, and he found himself blinking rapidly, his whole body flooded with both anxiety and an aching sort of longing.

He covered his mouth with his hand, realizing that he was a fool after all, and he glanced up at Ezra dazedly.

"Oh," he said, his voice small and thick. "Oh."

Ezra stared at him for a moment, his brow furrowing. He exhaled shakily, and he took a small step back, raising his hands in defeat.

"Funny thing," he said, taking another step back, "I don't actually know how to tie a tie."

It all seemed to click so suddenly that Luke was at a complete loss. He couldn't speak or even really breathe, so instead he stood and stared at Ezra with parted lips that only kept parting and a look of shock on his face that melted into somber understanding as he watched Ezra avert his gaze.

Maybe if Luke were a little braver...

But even all the time in the world wasn't enough.

"Ezra," Luke said, his voice small and a little strangled. "I— I have to go, but—"

"Then go," Ezra said, lifting a single eyebrow. "What's stopping you?"

"Please stay here," Luke said, sidestepping a little shakily and glancing back at Ezra dazedly. "Don't go anywhere, okay? I think we— we really need to talk."

"We've been talking."

"No," Luke said firmly, "I don't think we have. Just wait for me, okay?"

"I guess I could wait," Ezra said, folding his arms across his chest and shrugging. "Not much else to do around here."

Luke exhaled shakily, and he backpedaled, his feet dragging across the floor as he hastily tied up the loose cord around his neck and darted from the room.


Leia felt naked without her lightsaber. The flight suit she had adorned was one of Hera's, and she had to cuff the legs several times before she stuffed her feet back into her boots. Because it was not a standard issue suit, it was more like a pair of orange overalls, and she felt too stuffy to button up her undershirt all the way.

"Be careful," Hera warned as Leia tossed her hair up in a messy bun, foregoing braids and Tatooine-style twists altogether. "He can sniff out a secret from a galaxy away. Don't let him trick you into giving him what he wants."

"Got it," Leia said, licking her lips and tasting the sweat that had settled in the crevice between her nose and mouth. "I gotta act cool. Smart. Like Luke."

"Maybe a little smarter than Luke," Hera said, smiling at Leia tightly.

"Smarter than Luke?" Leia hissed, her eyes rolling upwards as she held her head in distress. "Oh shit."

"That's for sure," Sabine said dryly, leaning against the far wall with her helmet under her arm.

"Please, Leia," Hera sighed, "remember not to fall into one of his traps. He might learn everything he needs to know about you by simply asking your something mundane. Don't fall for it."

"What do I say to him?"

"Nothing about yourself, for one thing," Hera said sharply. "Keep your stature up, don't slouch. Try to curb your Outer Rim accent."

"Okay," Leia said, making sure to enunciate and to banish the lazy drawl that seemed to cling to her mouth a coating of jelly. "How does this sound? Pleasantly Mid Rim enough for you?"

"Don't do that," Sabine snorted. "That accent makes you sound like you're faking a Core accent. Badly."

"Hm…" Leia bit her lip. The cadence was hard for her to grasp, even though she knew a good deal of her old backwater slurring of words had disappeared. "Right. How about now? Do I sound boring enough?"

"Perfectly boring, Lieutenant Lars," Hera said with a soft smile. She patted her gently on the head. "Be careful, won't you?"

"Sure." Leia sucked in a deep breath. She rolled her shoulders, and shot a look back at Han, who had been sitting silently by the door, watching this whole exchange with a pensive expression. It was unlike him to sit back and wait. "Okay. I'm ready."

Hera glanced at her, sighed, and typed her clearance code into the keypad on the interrogation room's door.

Leia strode in without glancing back, a datapad clutched in her white fist. The first thing she noticed was that the holo did not quite do Thrawn's coloring justice. He was a deep blue hue, a little lighter than the night sky, with dark, blackish-blue hair that looked as though it had once been hard and stiff, but now tumbled across his forehead in unmanageable wisps.

The oddest thing was the eyes, though. They were an uncanny type of red that nearly eclipsed his irises and pupil, leaving the whole thing to gaze like bloody pits in his long, bony skull. Even odder, if she looked too long, they seemed to almost glow.

"Hello," Leia said neutrally, gazing at him for only maybe a few seconds too long before glancing back down at her datapad. "Thrawn, was it? Unusual name."

Thrawn watched her, his chin lowering and his shackled wrists moving from his lap to the table.

"Interrogation," Thrawn said, his voice just as unsettling and slithering as it had been in the holo, "is a tactic you have tried before."

He seemed to be looking at Leia, but addressing Hera. Leia could tell by how he tipped his head in the direction of the two way mirror.

"I haven't tried yet," Leia said, setting the datapad down on the table and staring at him coolly. "Now let's start with your name. Thrawn, I expect, is a name that means something in your culture?"

"My culture," Thrawn repeated, his lips curling into a small smile. "Did General Syndulla write down those questions? I am honored she finds my culture interesting enough to ponder about."

"Please answer the question," Leia said briskly.

Thrawn studied her for a moment, his red eyes flitting fast before he leaned back.

"Alright," he said. "My name is Mitth'raw'nuruodo."

Leia blinked rapidly. That was certainly a name.

"Mitth'raw'nuruodo?"

The corner of Thrawn's lips quirked upward. "Not quite, Knight Skywalker," he said, bowing his head. "But that is why I go by Thrawn."

Leia had frozen up at the first syllables of her name, and she stared at Thrawn blankly before leaning back.

"I was never going to fool you," she said bitterly, "was I?"

"It hardly matters. Even if your disguise were not abysmal, I know your face quite well. I am, after all, a Grand Admiral."

"And therefore are well acquainted with the destroyer of the Death Star," Leia muttered, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Stupid."

"I admire the effort put forth, though I admit your presence is indeed a surprise."

Thrawn was annoying. He was too cordial and soft spoken, and that really bothered her.

"I think you can guess why I'm here," Leia said sharply.

Thrawn gazed at her, his red eyes searching her face curiously.

"I am not a mind reader, Knight Skywalker," he said. "Or do you have a proper military rank?"

Leia bristled. "I'm a Commander," she said, practically feeling Hera getting ready to pull her out for speaking about herself.

That sparked his interest even more. "Commander Skywalker," he said, his thin smile widening. "It is an honor to meet you at last. I do believe I owe you my gratitude."

"Excuse me?"

"The Death Star's destruction was, if nothing else, a violent affair. However, I cannot say I was not relieved— perhaps even pleased— that it happened."

Leia glanced down at her datapad, knowing full well that it was recording. She felt a little dazed, hearing this.

"Aren't you an Imperial?" she found herself snapping. "Why would you be glad that your biggest, meanest weapon was destroyed?"

"I am loyal to the Empire," Thrawn said, nodding once. "I swore an oath. Promises are promises. However, mass murder… the ethical implications of creating a weapon specifically to wipe entire civilizations off the map? Please, Commander, permit me to ask for some credit. I am not a barbarian."

"You certainly murdered Kanan Jarrus like one," Leia said icily.

Thrawn glanced down at his shackles. His breath came out shortly through his nostrils.

"Kanan Jarrus," he said, spitting the name like it was something foul. "Yes. I did murder him in a particularly unfortunate fashion. Does General Syndulla want me to beg for her forgiveness? I hardly think it matters whether or not a feel remorse. It will not bring the Jedi back."

"Do you?"

Thrawn blinked at her curiously, and he seemed taken aback that he himself was taken aback.

"Excuse me?" he asked.

"Do you feel remorse?" Leia asked.

"Like I said," Thrawn said calmly, "I hardly think it—"

"I think it matters," Leia said boldly, staring into Thrawn's eyes. "The point here, Thrawn, is not whether or not you're guilty, but whether or not you are a monster. Do you want to live?"

"I believe that is hardly a fair question."

"Answer it honestly."

Thrawn's smile was thin and hollow.

"Child," he said, addressing her for the first time with an informal condescension to his voice, "saying things to save my own skin will hardly make them true."

"I can tell if you're lying."

"I doubt that."

Leia's eyes narrowed. She reached out, probing his mind for answers, only to find it was locked behind a carefully constructed, almost labyrinthine wall.

It seemed like he was just closed off to the Force altogether.

"Let's play a game, then," Leia said, straightening up. Thrawn eyed her, the protrusion above his left eye rising. "A question for a question."

"Oh," Thrawn said, his fingers closing around one another. "I do like the sound of that."

"But you have to tell the truth, Thrawn," Leia said, waggling her finger. "No wordplay. No funny business. Just the truth."

"If those are your conditions. Be mindful, Commander Skywalker. Are there any others you wish to add before we start?"

Leia considered it, and she bit her lip. "I can't tell you information about the Rebellion," she said, deciding to forego everything Hera told her. "Ask me questions about me."

"I suppose that will sate my curiosity." Thrawn shrugged. "Shall we start?"

"Fine. Answer my first question."

"You asked a few things, Commander."

"Do you feel guilty, Thrawn?" Leia hissed, frustrated with this man's voice and even more annoyed by his demeanor.

Thrawn only hesitated for a moment.

"Of course I do," he said simply. "One does not make a living out of war and find their soul to be fully whole. I feel guilty because I am guilty. But the question you asked earlier, that was not an admission of guilt but an admission of remorse, which I find to be a different demon altogether. Don't you?"

"I'd think they're the same thing," Leia said stiffly.

"Guilt is an acknowledgement of the wrongs that you have done. It is the recognition that you have sullied yourself with a wrongdoing, and you did so knowingly. Remorse is regret, and regret is to desire another chance where you might take the action back."

"So you don't regret killing Kanan?"

"I regret it as much as I imagine you regret destroying the Death Star," Thrawn said, tilting his head.

That made her want to smack him across the face. She sat and boiled with barely contained rage, and she clenched in unclenched her jaw as she glared at him.

"Answer the damn question, Thrawn."

"I will do so, but first I believe it is my turn." He held up a single finger and smiled. "Commander Skywalker, why are you here?"

Leia scraped her teeth along her tongue and nearly bit it clean off.

"I wanted to ask you questions," she said simply.

"I imagine that is not all there is to it," Thrawn said, his smile tight, "but I will allow you the luxury of revealing that with time."

"Just answer my question, Thrawn."

Thrawn sighed. He leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling. "I do not regret killing Kanan Jarrus," he said. "I do feel his death was a waste. I feel he should not have bothered with Lothal and could have been very happy elsewhere. Perhaps I deprived him of a wonderful future, but in his efforts to free Lothal and destroy the Empire, he destroyed my TIE Defender project, which was— at the time— the only project the Emperor saw as a competitor to the Death Star."

"Oh," Leia said, blinking rapidly. "You were… trying to prevent the Death Star from being finished?"

"I would have prevented it," Thrawn said firmly, "if not for the Rebels. Now you owe me two questions."

"Kriff," Leia muttered, sinking into her chair.

"May I see your necklaces?" Thrawn asked, holding out his hand.

"What? No!" Leia clasped her hand over her chest. "How did you even see them?"

"The chains, child. You did not button the shirt all the way. If I guess what they are, will you then allow me to look at them?"

Leia's eyes narrowed. She had no idea how he might figure it out, so she shrugged. "Fine," she said.

Thrawn nodded. He watched her for about a minute before blinking.

"A family heirloom," he said, "a memory, and… perhaps… a remnant of your father?"

Leia stared at him. "How the fuck…?" she murmured, her fingers closing around the chains.

Thrawn nodded. "Let me explain," he said. "The heirloom is on a leather cord— bantha hide, I would imagine. Old world, but understandable. The memory is newer, and I imagine you had a chain forged for it. The remnant of your father was a guess."

"Fuck you," Leia spat at him, flinging the cords and chains up from around her neck and dropping them onto the table. She watched, her heart sinking, as Thrawn reached for Anakin's crystal first.

"Kyber," he said with the reverent awe of both a religious man and an avid scientist. "Your father's lightsaber? Oh, child… how very sentimental of you."

"Okay, give it back to me." Leia held out her hand. Thrawn clapped it into her palm, and she threw it back over her head, feeling a little dizzy without it. "What the hell do you know about my father, anyway?"

"Hm?" Thrawn blinked up at her, having picked up Beru's japor snippet next. "Oh. We were allies, briefly."

"You're allies—" Leia cut herself off, earning the curious look of Thrawn's hungry eyes. He slid the japor snippet over to her, and she hastily tied the leather cord around her throat.

"Oh," Thrawn said, lifting the holodisc and making the image of Leia, youthful and flushed with her arms slung around Ben's waist burst into life. "This is quite sentimental. I apologize."

"Just give it back," Leia snapped.

Thrawn handed it back to her obediently.

"I believe it is my turn," Thrawn said after a beat of silence. Leia took a moment to stare at Ben's face, not so different in the hologram than it was in its ghostly form, and she banished the holo quickly when she felt tears burn the backs of her eyelids. "How long have you been training as a Jedi?"

Leia frowned at him. These were not the questions she expected.

"Ten years," she said, "give or take. How long have you been in service of the Empire?"

Thrawn smiled thinly. "Twenty years," he replied, "give or take."

"Twenty—" Leia reeled back, her brow furrowing.

"Yes, I realize that is just about your entire life." Thrawn looked at her, and she hated to see that he seemed amused by her shock. "Did you imagine I was younger?"

"You don't look all that old."

"You may consider that I was in fact quite young at the time. Your age, I imagine."

"Well," Leia said, sinking into her chair, "that's a little weird to think about, I won't lie."

"We were all young once, Commander. Do you permit me to ask a real question, or did my curiosity get the better of me?"

Leia blinked. She had not realized he'd asked her a question off-handedly, and probably would have allowed him a free question without thinking.

"Oh," she sighed, "whatever. What else do you want to know about me?"

"Are you the last of the Jedi?" Thrawn asked.

That caused Leia to shoot him a chilly glare. "I guess I am," she said, her voice very low. "No thanks to you."

"I cannot bring Kanan Jarrus back from the dead," Thrawn sighed, "and I cannot apologize for my deed without it sounding false. All I can say is that I bear responsibility for taking him from this world, and that he is better dead by my hand than twisted into a shell of himself by Palpatine's."

Leia sat for a moment, thinking hard on this statement and realizing that this man had the same twisted ideology as Yoda.

That a dead Jedi was better than a tainted one.

"What about Ezra?" Leia demanded, earning a surprised glance from Thrawn. "Do you take responsibility for him too?"

"I would hardly say I feel responsible for him, but I suppose I am at fault for his current state, yes."

Leia exhaled shakily. She thought that this would be harder. They had all told her that Thrawn was slippery and fiendish, and she had believed it— and to an extent he was, but he was not a monster at all, and that made it all the harder to want him dead.

They sat in silence for a few moments. Leia stared at her hands, waiting with a grimace, and then blinking up at him.

"It's your turn," she said.

"Oh?" Thrawn blinked back at her. "Is it?"

"Just ask the question."

"Hm…" Thrawn rolled his shoulders and tapped his chin thoughtfully. His shackles clinked together. "How about… do you feel you are more like your father or like your mother?"

Leia's mouth fell open. She watched him incredulously, and then she shook he head.

"Are you fucking with me?" she asked him sharply.

The corner of his mouth turned up. "More like your father, then," he said amusedly.

"Did you know my mother?" Leia demanded.

"Not particularly well." Thrawn eyed her, and there was amusement dancing in his eyes. Like this was all fun to him. Well, she had staged it like a game, but still. "Not as well as I would have liked. She was a remarkable woman from what I observed."

"You don't even know her," Leia murmured, shaking her head furiously. "It doesn't matter. You didn't even know her. Ask me a different question. Nothing about my mother."

"That was not part of the bargain, my dear." Thrawn leaned forward, and his red eyes glowed with bright curiosity. "What is it about your mother that terrifies you so? Is it that she died so young? That I, your chosen enemy, had the privilege of sharing her company, hearing her laugh, all the while I imagine you have no memory of her?"

"I do remember her," Leia said coldly.

"That is not an answer, though I find that fact curious."

"She doesn't scare me," Leia said.

"And that," Thrawn sighed, leaning back, "is a lie. Does that mean I win?"

"No," Leia snapped, leaning forward. "I'm telling the truth. I'm not scared of her, she was my mother."

"Then why avoid the topic? Come, Commander. Does she scare you because you never got to know her? Because you feel she died for nothing? Or does she scare you, perhaps, because you have realized that your similarities to her are vastly superficial, and on the inside you are tooth for tooth with Anakin Skywalker."

"Shut up," Leia gasped. "Don't— I'm not like him!"

Thrawn nodded absently, and he carefully averted his gaze, turning toward the two way window.

"Shall I ask something different?" he asked. Maybe he was addressing all of them in this moment.

"Yes," Leia hissed.

"Fine." Thrawn's eyes slid back to her. "Why did you come here, Commander?"

Leia sat for a moment, her brow furrowing. "You asked that already. But I'd think it was obvious," she said.

"Me," Thrawn said, nodding. "But why? You and I have never met, though I must say I have admired your work."

Leia wrinkled her nose. "Ew," she said.

"Ah, perhaps I misspoke." Thrawn straightened up, and he spoke very clearly. He even attempted to shave away his accent. "I respect you a great deal, Commander Skywalker. However, I never imagined you knew I existed. What have I done to warrant such a desperate scheme such as this game?"

Unable to contain her disgust, she sneered at him.

"Take a guess, pal," she spat.

"The trial, yes, I know that," he sighed. "But answer me. You did come up with this idea."

"Luke," Leia snapped.

And with that, Thrawn's shoulders sagged.

His thin, wormy lips drifted into a smile, and Leia sank into her seat.

Because in that moment, Thrawn's eyes seemed to boast check mate.


"Sorry," Luke gasped, speeding into the dining room— he had only just stuffed his arms into a jacket in the hallway, and now his flushed face grew even redder as he stood in the doorway. His grandmother was already laying food out on the table. "I'm sorry I'm late again, I got distracted— it's so beautiful here, I just—"

"Oh, child," his grandmother tutted, shooting him a glance. "Do you always stammer that way? Weren't you in the Senate?"

"Mother!" Sola gasped, carrying a serving dish out from a neighboring door and glaring at her mother. "You are being very rude today."

"When you get to be as old as me," his grandmother said, shooting an irritated glance at Vader, who loomed like a great shadow in the open terrace door, the balcony glinting in the fading daylight, "you are allowed to be a little rude. Come along, now, Luke. Where did that other boy go?"

"Bridger will not be joining us," Vader said flatly.

"Well," his grandmother said stiffly, "that is rude. The boy needs to eat too, doesn't he? He looks human enough, so he must have the same needs."

"I can bring a plate to him," Luke chirped, leaning forward to snatch a plate from the dinner table.

"Luke," Vader growled, "sit."

Luke dropped the plate back onto the wood, and he straightened up. He stared at Vader for a moment, his brow furrowing, before he lowered himself into the nearest chair. Sola and his grandmother watched this exchange with thin mouths, their eyes flitting toward one another.

Without warning, Ryoo came rushing in, her eyes alight. Her bright smile was dampened by the somber mood that she stumbled into, but nonetheless she grinned.

"Guess who's here!" she gasped, sliding aside just in time for Luke to catch sight of the heaps of green fabric tumbling toward the floor. The woman before him stepped forward carefully, the natural light casting odd shadows upon her round face, and her eyes found Luke's almost immediately.

But Luke couldn't hold her gaze, because an onslaught of emotion— distress like skin cracking, like porcelain crumbling, confusion like a fog or a mist or a haze clouding his mind, despair like a fire-poker impaled through his heart, white-hot and sizzling as it punctured the stringy meat and seared the wound shut just as readily as it punctured it— all of that overcame him, and he broke his gaze from Pooja to instead stare at Vader.

For Vader had stumbled backward, and nearly toppled off the balcony.

"Lord Vader," Luke gasped, twisting in his seat.

"Whoa," Ahsoka's voice drifted in from the hall, "he's really losing it, huh?"

Luke frowned as Vader's feelings were crushed by a bleak, iron-tight wall. He was cut off from feeling this myriad of emotions stemming from Vader's alarm at having seen a ghost.

He regained his composure quickly, and he stepped into the dining room, his head held high.

"Senator," he said briskly. "How long has it been?"

Pooja eyed Vader with a frown, her pouty lips growing poutier. She had a baby face, even now as she pushed thirty, and this motion made her look decades younger.

"Forgive me for saying, Lord Vader," Pooja said, "but not long enough."

"Stars," Sola breathed, clasping her hand to her heart, "is everyone in this house trying to die today? Apologize, Pooja."

Pooja blinked, and her mouth fell open in clear offense. "But— Mother—!"

"No!" Sola exhaled sharply through her nose, and she pointed to the table, specifically the seat beside Luke. "Sit down. The both of you. Go on, sit."

"I'm not a child," Pooja said with a huff, "you can't just—"

"Now."

Pooja scooped up a tiny parcel that had gotten lost in her skirts and shuffled beside Luke. He realized as she sat down that it was a child.

"Oh," Luke gasped, smiling brightly at the girl, "hello."

The little girl stared at him dully, and she turned her face into Pooja's shoulder.

"She's shy," Pooja said, breaking her long glower at her mother to smile at Luke. "Don't expect her to speak much."

"You have a daughter, Senator?" Vader asked.

Both Luke and Pooja glanced at him with varying degrees of incredulity. Luke looked dubious while Pooja looked contemplative on why the fuck Vader was addressing her.

"Yes," she said through gritted teeth as Sola smacked her shoulder. "Her name is Nerys."

"That is not Nubian."

"She is not Nubian," Pooja said with a roll of her eyes, "so that makes sense."

"Your husband is from off world, then?"

Luke stared at Vader with widening eyes. He tried to get his attention, hoping to ask him what he thought he was doing with a pointed glance or a plain gesture, but Vader was completely ensnared by Pooja and Nerys.

"My husband," Pooja repeated, amusement tickling her tone. "No, I would think not. Nerys is adopted, my lord. She is a Jedha orphan who snuck onto my ship during a relief mission, and I could hardly part with her since."

Vader merely stared at her, and Luke stared at him, and Sola and Ryoo and his grandmother glanced at one another, all of them unsure of what was happening.

"Uh…" Ahsoka waved from the doorway. "Vader, let's not get sidetracked. Remember why you're here?"

"I was hoping you wouldn't bring it up," Luke murmured.

"Well," Ahsoka said, rolling her eyes, "someone has to take the initiative around here. Everyone seems pretty damn confused, and there is an easy solution. Vader, would you like to inform everyone why you're staring at Pooja like she might disappear at any moment?"

"Subtle, Ahsoka," Luke sighed, shrinking into his chair.

"I like to think so," Ahsoka said, folding her arms across her chest. She stared at Vader impatiently. "Well?"

"The fresh air has reawakened you," Vader hissed, his unsteady breaths filling up the room and seeming misplaced. "By all means, Ahsoka, go on and enjoy it more."

"And what if I don't come back?" Ahsoka snapped.

"Then you leave Luke and Bridger with me." Vader dipped his head. "That is your choice. It is your conscience, not mine."

All of the bravado Ahsoka had had even seconds earlier seemed to be pried from her eyes, and she slumped.

"Just tell them," she said softly, backing away. "Don't let this be for nothing."

Luke watched her retreat, and he glanced at Pooja. She was watching him with wide eyes, confusion clear inside them while her face remained eerily blank.

"Pooja…" Luke shook his head. He glanced up at Vader, who seemed to be struck frozen. "Are you really going to make me do this?"

Vader did not reply. Instead he turned his face away.

Luke exhaled shakily, and he smiled down at his hands in disbelief.

"Bastard," he muttered, rising to his feet. All eyes remained on him. "Okay, everyone sit. Everyone. Yes, Vader, you too."

Once the entire Naberrie clan had shuffled into seats, and Vader collapsed into the chair at the head of the table, Luke took a deep breath.

"Okay," he said, "why don't we start with… well, Vader, why exactly are you so focused on Pooja?"

"Yes," Sola said, her voice very sharp and very politely dangerous, "I would also like to know that."

Vader watched Luke, and Luke watched him right back.

"Her dress," he said simply.

Luke let out a breath. It was shaky, but relieved. Then he focused on Pooja, who sat frozen with her daughter on her lap.

"Pooja," Luke said. "Whose dress is that?"

Pooja blinked up at him. Her mouth parted in a small 'o', and she leaned back in her seat.

"Aunt Padmé's," she said, her eyes flitting to her mother's face. "I took— I always have taken her things, ever since I became a senator. No one else had any use for those dresses, after all, and— and there were so many."

Knowing for certain that Pooja was wearing a real dress that had belonged to Luke's mother made him feel a little lightheaded.

"I've always allowed that," Sola said, frowning between Vader and Luke. "I don't understand. Don't tell me she's on trial again!"

Pooja seemed to instinctively pull her daughter closer, her mouth disappearing in her dark hair. Luke watched her with sad eyes, and he shook his head.

"No, that's not it," he sighed. "Pooja, haven't you ever wondered why Vader pinned you as the murderer all those years ago? To begin with, there was no evidence besides the circumstantial— you were in the area, and the report said that the murderer bore a resemblance to Padmé Amidala. He specifically picked you."

"Because he hates me?" Pooja supplied, cupping the back of her daughter's head and glaring at the table. "Good for me."

"No, Pooja," Luke sighed, "because he loved Padmé."

Chapter Text

Leia shrank into her seat, afraid for a moment to breathe as Thrawn's red eyes remained fixed upon her face. She bit her tongue, internally cursing herself for not heeding Hera's warning, and she glared at her hands impudently.

"Ah," Thrawn said, "Prince Luke Organa. I did hear that you two were well acquainted. Well, my dear, ask me whatever you desire to know about him."

"First off," Leia spat, her body coiling up almost instinctively, like an animal sensing a predator, "don't call me that. Secondly, why did you lie to Mon Mothma and High Command about Luke?"

"Lie?" Thrawn blinked at her. "I haven't lied."

"Luke is not conspiring with Darth Vader," Leia said, her head bowed and her eyes peering up at him through her lashes and brow, a dangerous undercurrent running through her voice. "You lied to seem like you have more information than you do."

"I have more than enough valuable information to keep your Rebellion content for several decades," Thrawn said, looking suddenly very bored. "I spoke of Prince Organa merely to spark a reaction."

"Exactly! You don't actually have proof of anything."

"Well," Thrawn said, his smile small and almost secretive, like they were both in on some dangerous clandestine knowledge. "That's not entirely true. I do believe my presence here is proof enough of their conspiring behavior."

"What does that mean?"

"Ah-ah." Thrawn flicked his finger back and forth at her. "One question at a time, remember?"

"You haven't answered my first one!" Leia objected. She couldn't help but be frustrated. Thrawn was becoming increasingly more antagonistic as he consumed more information, like a vampire of knowledge. The more he knew, the more information he absorbed, the stronger he got.

"I told you the truth," Thrawn said, this time with a heavy finality. "I have not lied. Luke and Vader were conspiring."

Leia bit her tongue to keep from screaming at him, and instead of shouting she glowered. Thrawn waited, as if he expected her to explode and snap at him, but when she did not he merely tipped his head to the side and nodded.

"My turn," he said.

Then, without much warning, he asked her a question in Huttese.

Leia's mouth dropped open. The familiar words echoed inside her head, tangling up as she recognized the curiosity and the malevolence that was buried beneath the softness of his voice. It was such a guttural language for someone whose voice naturally softened consonants and elongated vowels.

She sucked in a deep breath, staring into Thrawn's eyes like two crimson gemstones that glistened in the dim light, and she forced herself to swallow. She forced herself to relax. She forced her hands to stop shaking.

"What—" she began, her voice very cold and very harsh.

Before she could finish her sentence, the door slid open, and Leia watched with wide eyes as a figure came barreling toward Thrawn.

"Han, no," Leia cried, yanking him back with the Force just before his fingers could curl around the front of Thrawn's jumpsuit. The moment he was close enough, her arms hooked around his waist and she manually held him in place. Once she had her arms around him, he stopped throwing himself in Thrawn's direction and instead let himself be reined in, his teeth bare and his eyes glinting with rage.

"You bastard," Han growled, backpedaling slowly as Leia pushed him farther away from Thrawn. "This is over, you got it? Leia." Han's hands were on her then, his palms scraping her cheeks as he lifted her head and stared down at her. "That's enough. He's just playing with your mind."

"Han," Leia said gently, "I'm fine."

Han grimaced, and she could tell that he wanted to object, wanted to say that she wasn't, because he knew her well enough by now, and he knew how much she hated this, but when it came to it there was nothing that he could say to change her mind when she made a decision. He knew that. He knew her mind and her heart and her soul, and maybe that was the tragic thing.

"I'm staying in here," Han declared, dropping his hands from her face and taking a step back.

"Han…" Leia sighed, shaking her head. "That's not necessary."

"I certainly don't mind," Thrawn said, looking unbelievably unfazed.

"Shut up," Leia told him, glancing back at his long blue face and frowning. "Was I talking to you? No."

"This was a bad idea," Han whispered to her, his fingers tight around her bicep. He looked down at her, and she realized he was truly worried. "C'mon, Leia, haven't you had enough?"

Leia stared up at him. Then she tore her arm from his grasp and whirled away from him.

"No," she said, dropping back down into the chair. "Not until I find out what's going on with Luke."

Han groaned, clearly not happy with her decision, and he clapped his hands over his head in frustration.

"You idiot," he gasped, shaking his head furiously, "you crazy little witch."

Leia stared at Thrawn and decidedly ignored Han as he backed into the corner behind her and scowled.

"To answer your question," Leia said, her throat tight, "I've only known for a few months. It doesn't matter, anyway."

"I hardly think your brother shares your point of view," Thrawn said matter-of-factly.

Leia did not bat an eye.

"Luke is kinder than I am," she said simply. "If you think he is conspiring with Vader because his heart outweighs his brain, that is just… poor observational skills."

"I do not think it is my observational skills that are lacking, Commander," Thrawn said.

"It's my turn," Leia said curtly. "How did you know?"

Thrawn's lips curled up, his smile ghostly and his eyes falling down to his hands.

"I deduced the truth of Luke Organa's parentage as I was shuttled away from the Executor. It was a working theory that I did not quite understand at first, given your existence. It did not make much sense. The timeline of events— it was impossible for both you and your brother to exist. I had convinced myself it could not be true."

"Well," Leia said stiffly, "it is. Now do you understand?"

"My turn," Thrawn countered, his red eyes flicking up to her face. "Why are you so ready to absolve your brother yet you condemn your father?"

"That monster," Leia said calmly, well aware of the fact she was being recorded, "is not my father. The fact of it is, I have known Luke long enough to understand him. He is compassionate to a fault. That alone warrants some forgiveness for his misjudgment, doesn't it?"

"I'd hardly say so," Thrawn said. "Though he has a knack for survival, I will give him that."

"How did he seem?" Leia asked suddenly, feeling very desperate as she leaned forward and searched Thrawn's face. "On Vader's ship, was he…? Was he okay?"

Thrawn blinked down at her. There was not a single ounce of emotion in his cold red eyes, yet his mouth flattened, almost as if he pitied her.

"That is not a word I would use," Thrawn said.

Leia sucked in a breath, and she heard Han shift behind her. "What does that mean?" he demanded.

Thrawn did not bother to glance up at Han, and instead kept his eyes trained on Leia's face.

"Please tell your pet that he is not allowed to ask questions," he said.

"You don't make the rules," Leia argued, her jaw clenching and unclenching furiously. "And he's not my pet!"

"Fine. Your husband." Thrawn waved toward Han offhandedly, his ruby red gaze still fixed upon Leia as a statue's blank eyes might be fixed upon some unknown sun.

"He isn't my husband either!"

"Oh?" Thrawn blinked at her. "My mistake. It is so hard to tell with humans. Your perception of partnership is strange."

"What do you mean?" Leia asked, confused yet intrigued by Thrawn's foreign nature. She had never met an Imperial that simply— misunderstood human culture. It made her realize just why he was so curious and inquisitive. It wasn't just simply out of a need to manipulate the situation, but because he genuinely did not know and felt like he needed to compensate for that.

"I have not answered your first question," Thrawn reminded her. "Be patient. First, Prince Luke Organa was wise enough to take control of the situation he was in. Perhaps to an untrained eye he could pass for the spoiled prince he pretended to be. I do believe he became friendly with some of Vader's officers and troopers, which I respect a great deal. While Vader keeps his men in line with the constant, oppressive threat of his very presence looming over their heads, the prince… he got on the same level of the soldiers that he had and perhaps still considered his enemies."

"I didn't ask for an analysis of his leadership skills," Leia said dryly. "I know that already. What I don't know is if he's alright."

"I do not know," Thrawn answered, his shoulders rising and falling. "My apologies, Commander Skywalker. I wish I could give you a better answer, as I know that this hurts you, but the fact of it is that I did not have the chance to know Prince Organa well enough to say. If I had to gauge his emotional state at the time, I would say he was… overwhelmed. Perhaps tired. He was consistently either arguing or bargaining with Lord Vader, trying to appeal to whatever humanity is left within him."

Leia sighed, shrinking in her seat. "Yeah," she muttered, "sounds like Luke."

"Now, I will give you a free answer," Thrawn said, opening his hands toward her so she could see the pastel blue flesh of his palms. "The Chiss— my people— do not have the concept of marriage as many of you humans do. We are matched with an appropriate mate."

"Matched?" Leia wrinkled her nose. "That sounds like an arranged marriage."

"It is a similar concept." Thrawn did glance up at Han at that, and his eyes narrowed. "Curiosity reigns. If he is not your husband, then may I ask what he is to you?"

"You say that like I have a choice in answering," Leia said bitterly. She rolled her eyes and glanced back at Han. "He's not my husband, but I love him, so make of that what you will."

She could sense Han's shock well enough, and she had to keep herself from smiling as his eyes drilled into the back of her head.

"I see," Thrawn said, nodding once.

Leia, feeling vindictive and generally fed up with Thrawn's behavior, decided she would make him squirm one way or another.

"Have you ever loved anyone?" she asked him, hearing Han inhale sharply through his teeth. She could almost see him wincing.

Thrawn stared at her blankly, his eyes trailing slowly along the lines of her face.

"I have never been matched," he said.

"That is not what I asked you, Thrawn."

And with that, for the first time, a flicker of emotion flashed in his eyes. Frustration, and— just maybe— a small flash of pain.

"Yes," he said. It was all he said. No explanation or quiet monologue. His eyes remained on her face with a steadiness that made her want to repeatedly smash his nose into the durasteel table.

Leia didn't think she could feel self-satisfied, because Thrawn leaned forward and spoke once more in Huttese.

"Do you know that your brother is a killer?" he asked.

She didn't balk and she didn't blink.

"Yes," she said, leaning forward just as far and staring into his eyes. "It doesn't bother me. Was the person you loved a Chiss?"

"No." Thrawn's nostrils flared slightly. He glanced at the datapad, and he sighed. "Did you know Prince Luke Organa executed a rebel pilot?"

"What?"

"Oh," Han snapped, gesturing wildly at Thrawn, "this guy is full of shit!"

"Han!" Leia twisted to glare at him. "Shut up! Not right now!"

"This guy is just trying to get a rise outta us," Han gasped, taking a step forward. He looked down at her, his brown eyes big and desperate. "He lured you here, and now he's getting everything he wants!"

"This is what I wanted, Han," Leia reminded him, her eyes whisking away from his face. "I wanted to know."

"He's lying!"

"He isn't," Leia said, turning to face Thrawn again. Though the Force was dodging her when it came to sensing the truth from Thrawn, she could tell he was not lying. "No, I didn't know that. Who was it?"

"A pilot from Phoenix Squadron." Thrawn jerked his chin at her datapad. "I believe his name was Mart Mattin. He was captured shortly after the Battle of Shaval."

Leia felt very cold and very dazed as she plucked up her datapad and typed the name in. Mart's photo depicted a young man that she knew she had seen in passing, with muted features and dark, salient eyes. This was an old picture, because he looked too young and too innocent as he smiled guilelessly with his helmet under his arm. He wore his orange flight-suit with pride clear in his face, and she wondered if her own ID contained that bright-eyed naivety of youth at the onset of war.

Below his image, there were some factors. His age, birthday, home world. Next of kin— deceased. Status— Unknown.

Last seen post aerial strike at the Battle of Shaval.

Leia swallowed hard, and she chewed thoughtfully on her lower lip. It didn't make much sense to her that Luke would kill Mart Mattin, but…

"You said execute," Leia said softly, lifting her eyes to Thrawn. "Did Luke actually want to do it?"

Thrawn's eyes glinted knowingly. He inclined his head.

"No," he admitted.

"Then I don't know why you think that's evidence against him," she said, dropping the datapad back onto the table. "Luke is not an idiot. He's been imprisoned by Vader before, and I'm sure he feels guilty enough about it already without us judging him for making a difficult decision under duress."

"Yet you are so quick to judge my execution of Kanan Jarrus," Thrawn said, glancing at her thoughtfully. "And here I was beginning to believe I had found a worthy opponent."

Leia sat in a dazed sort of silence, because she had not actually thought of that.

"Here is a question, and do forgive me for using Basic to phrase this." Thrawn glanced at the datapad, and then back up at her. "How did your father become Darth Vader?"

It was difficult not to be taken aback, and she stared at him blankly as she tried to wrap her head around the question.

Before she could reply, the door slid open once more, and Hera strode inside, her lekku swinging as her heavy steps clapped with purpose against the durasteel floor.

"That's enough," she said icily.

It was difficult to tell who she was more angry at— Thrawn or Leia.

"Ah," Thrawn said, relaxing back into his seat and peering up at Hera through the heavy lids of his eyes. "General Syndulla. You have been listening all this time?"

Leia pressed her lips together and bit down on them hard to keep from smiling. This cheeky bastard.

"I think we've learned all we needed to, Leia," Hera said, not looking at Leia and instead glaring down at Thrawn. "Go on."

"General," Leia objected, "I'm not done—"

"That was an order."

"He knows more about Luke!" Leia shook her head furiously. "Has he talked like this with anyone else?"

"It doesn't matter, Leia. You need to go."

Leia's head swiveled, and she looked at Thrawn with a wave of determination passing over her.

"I don't know what happened to him," she said firmly. "Nobody was with him when it happened. My Master said that it had happened so quickly, and there was no warning— he was just gone, he was—"

"Leia!" Hera clapped her palm against the table. "This is non-negotiable."

"If we help you, would you help us?" Leia demanded, pushing Han back by his chest as he approached her.

Hera glanced down at her like perhaps she had gone absolutely insane.

Yet Thrawn merely tilted his head.

"I swore my allegiance to the Empire," Thrawn said, looking a bit thoughtful, "but that allegiance only matters if there is an Empire to serve."

Hera's mouth dropped open, and then she very suddenly schooled her features. She whirled around, snatched Leia by the arm, and dragged her from the interrogation room.

"Let go!" Leia gasped, wriggling free and stumbling away from Hera as she was thrown through the sliding door.

Hera's green eyes were burning with unquestionable anger, and she jerked a finger in Leia's face.

"What did I say?" she snapped. "What did I say about Thrawn?"

"General, he's smart," Leia gasped, tossing a vague gesture over her shoulder. "He can help us!"

"I thought you were smarter than this, but I guess you aren't." Hera stepped back. She had a look about her that reminded Leia of Aunt Beru whenever Leia had come home from a day playing with Biggs caked head to toe in sand and tracking dust all throughout the house. "Thrawn is playing you. He's loyal to the Empire, and he has no reason to become a traitor!"

"He has every reason to hate the Empire," Leia said. "He's not human, for one. I doubt it was easy for him to become a Grand Admiral, and more than that— he knew my parents. He definitely has some ulterior motive, but I think that motive transcends the Empire and the Rebellion. I'm not saying let him go, I'm saying use him as a weapon."

"Leia, he admitted he doesn't care at all that he killed Kanan!" Sabine gasped, her eyes shining with angry, unshed tears. "We can't trust him, he's a— a monster."

"I don't agree with him," Leia sighed, "I just think that it would be a waste to have him rot in a cell or be executed when he knows things that can help us. He figured out who my father was, and I sincerely doubt anyone told him that information."

"Oh," Sabine gasped, "there's another thing. Were you going to tell any of us that Darth Vader is your dad?"

"Hera and Han already know," Leia said, glancing down at the datapad in her hand. "I know eventually I'll have to tell everyone, but for right now I'd like the amount of people who know to be kept at a minimum."

"Am I going to get an explanation?" Sabine asked impatiently. "That whole thing was a lot."

Leia folded her arms across her chest and looked at the ground thoughtfully. They had to get Thrawn on their side somehow, even if it was just to bargain away his freedom after they won this war. She was certain that a man of his intelligence would see the benefit of playing both sides. If the Rebels lost the war, he'd be free. If the Rebels won the war, he'd be free. It seemed like a good deal for him.

However, they would need insurance.

"Hera," Leia said, glancing up at the general. "I want to dig up as much on his past as possible. Where are the Chiss from? What planet?"

"Oh, I don't know," Hera huffed, clearly irritated. "Sabine?"

"Not a clue," Sabine said, shooting a glare at the window that showed them Thrawn's blue face as he stared at the wall contemplatively. "He knows Huttese, which suggests Outer Rim, but—"

"It's accented," Leia muttered, shaking her head. "He learned it."

"Lots of smugglers know Huttese," Han piped up.

"He's not a smuggler," Sabine said flatly.

"I know that," Han said, scowling at her. "I'm just saying that smugglers— spacers, traders, you know the type— we know lots of languages."

"So do I," Sabine pointed out.

"You know trade languages, though?" Han tilted his head at her.

"I know some."

Han jerked his chin at Thrawn through the window. "Leia," he said, "see if you can get him to talk in something besides Huttese or Basic."

"Sure."

"Hey!" Hera's arm jutted out, halting Leia from going through the door again. "Not happening. We're not entertaining this idea."

"If we know where he's from," Leia argued, "and his history, and who he was close with when he left his home, we can figure out who the person he loved was."

Han's eyes widened in understanding, and a slow grin spread across his face.

"You genius," Han murmured, swinging his arm around her neck and kissing her hair affectionately. "You evil genius!"

"How do you suppose we do that?" Hera sighed. "Even if we do find this person, capturing them—"

"We don't have to capture them," Leia said. "We just have to make it seem like we're a threat to them, but not if Thrawn cooperates."

"Or alternatively catch them, sway them to our cause, and then Thrawn will just have to help us," Han said.

"That works too," Leia agreed.

"You're both insane," Hera said flatly. She considered them for a moment before rolling her eyes. "I'll let you talk to him one more time before you leave tomorrow morning, but that's it."

"Thank you, Hera!" Leia gasped. "If he's willing to answer my questions again, this will be such a big help."

"I still think we should kill him," Sabine muttered.

Leia didn't respond as she glanced at Thrawn through the glass. Maybe she could agree, but for right now it seemed foolish not to milk this resource for all it was worth. Even if that meant giving Thrawn everything he wanted to know about her, it would be worth it if she could get Luke back and destroy the Emperor.


They sat in silence, dull shock blooming on each of the Naberries' faces before finally someone spoke.

"He what?" Sola gasped, a hint of disgust twitching on her face. Ryoo was looking at her sister who was staring at Luke with a great deal of incredulity shining in her amber eyes. Their grandmother was watching Vader with a frown.

"Luke," Vader growled.

"You wanted this," Luke reminded him. "I was fine staying in Theed and pretending like I didn't exist for a month, but you wanted to come here and prattle on about legacies, like that even matters. Like you'd know or even care about Padmé Amidala's legacy."

"I don't understand," Ryoo said, glancing between Luke and Vader with a tight grimace. "How did you know my aunt?"

Luke watched Vader pointedly, but Vader did not answer. Instead he bowed his head, and Luke sighed in exasperation, dragging his hands through his hair and mussing his bangs.

"You're impossible," he muttered, blinking rapidly. "You were there. You can't tell them the truth?"

"Forgive me for having difficulty dredging up such painful memories," Vader snapped at him.

"Forgive me for not caring," Luke replied curtly, earning the surprised glances of each and every one of the Naberrie girls. "Remember how I didn't want to come here? Let me say it again. This was your idea."

"I did not imagine it would be this difficult," Vader admitted.

"You mean you forgot you had feelings?" Luke rolled his eyes, and he folded his arms across his chest. Well then, maybe this will be good for you."

"Luke," Pooja gasped, reaching out and catching his sleeve. When he looked down at her, her amber eyes were wide and a little frightened. Her daughter was clinging to her neck, and she seemed to refuse to lift her head. "What is going on?"

Luke relaxed a little, and he smiled down at Pooja sadly.

"Do you remember when you were framed," Luke said gently, "and I was going crazy trying to get information on Padmé Amidala to prove your innocence?"

"I—" Pooja leaned back, her brown ringlets bouncing against her round cheeks. "Yes, I guess so. But, Luke—"

"Ryoo," Luke said, turning to look at his other cousin. Her eyes were far darker than Pooja's, and if Luke had to compare the two, her face was longer and her cheekbones higher, giving her a closer resemblance to Padmé as well. The only thing that seemed to save her was her straight black hair, and the severity of her bob. "Sola. You remember too, right? I was desperate, and everywhere I went I just kept feeling like I was missing something."

"I remember," Sola said heavily, frowning at him as she ignored her mother's stare. "I told you to forget about her, did I not?"

"You did," Luke said, bowing his head a little in shame. "I didn't listen. I— I don't think I could listen, honestly."

"Luke," Pooja said tenderly, her fingers sliding from his sleeve to his hand, and grasping at his fingers with the lightest touch. "What is this about?"

"Well… you see…" Luke didn't know how to break it to them lightly. This was why he'd never told them in the first place. He stared at Vader, and Vader stared back at him. Then Luke sighed, and he sunk back into his seat. "I'm… I'm Padmé's son."

They sat quietly, their expressions remaining unflinching for a few seconds before Ryoo clapped her hands over her mouth to stifle a gasp and Pooja's hand slowly slipped from his, her expression remaining eerily blank. Sola's eyes had flashed wide, and then narrowed.

"That's absurd," his grandmother said, her voice peeling across the room like a slap in the face.

Vader looked down at her, and Luke had to shoot him a glare and nudge him with the Force to keep him from doing something he might regret.

"It's the truth," Luke said.

"Do not toy with us, boy," his grandmother said, her eyes narrowing. "Padmé was pregnant when she died. I was there— we all were there."

"It's true," Ryoo said softly, lowering her hands just a bit. "I remember."

"I don't," Pooja admitted, cupping the back of her daughter's head and staring at Luke's face curiously. "But… oh, it does make sense, doesn't it?"

"Pooja," their grandmother hissed.

"This is a very cruel joke," Sola murmured.

"It's not a joke," Luke said, sinking under the weight of all their stares. "It's true. I— I don't know what happened, not really, but I do know that my father— my adoptive father, Bail Organa, he was there when she died."

"Aunt Padmé was so close with him, Mom," Ryoo said insistently.

"Yes," Pooja agreed, glancing over her shoulder at her mother. "You were always saying that Luke looked nothing like Bail."

"He certainly doesn't look anything like Padmé!" Sola snapped, her shoulders tensing up. She did not look at Luke, but instead stared at her hands.

"That's right," his grandmother said firmly. "There is nothing of her in you, not a drop. I do not know where you got this idea from, but I demand that you end this now. My daughter is dead, and so is her child."

"Lies," Vader hissed.

"Oh?" their grandmother asked, arching one eyebrow up at Vader. "Is my daughter not interred in Theed as we speak, Lord Vader? I don't suppose you were at her funeral."

"I should have been," Vader said darkly.

"No," their grandmother said, her tone biting. "You would not be welcome."

"My father told me that I wasn't allowed to tell anyone," Luke gasped. Sola and her mother spared him a glance, Sola's eyes glistening and his grandmother's eyes narrowed. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, I should have said something when I found out, but he made me promise. He said it wasn't safe, and that— that one day you'd understand."

"And what, pray tell, was so dangerous about telling us?" their grandmother asked coldly.

"Me," Vader said.

They all sat in silence once more. Ryoo shared a glance with her sister, and then they both turned to look at Luke.

"We believe you," Pooja whispered.

"After all the pestering you did about Aunt Padmé, I feel like everything about you finally makes sense," Ryoo admitted.

"Girls," Sola murmured, shaking her head. "There's— there's just no proof. And besides, Padmé was pregnant when she died."

"She wasn't."

All heads swiveled towards Vader once more.

"And how would you know that?" their grandmother asked, glaring up at him. "Honestly, what gives you the right—?"

"I had the mortician who embalmed her interrogated," Vader cut in sharply.

"Interrogated?" Luke repeated, his eyes narrowed. "You had someone torture them?"

"Yes, I do think you and Dr. Aphra are well acquainted," Vader spat back at him, causing Luke to settle back in his chair, alarmed. "The mortician was hired to make her corpse appear as though she were still pregnant. She had given birth before dying."

Sola blinked rapidly, and her eyes flickered to Luke's face, apprehension and despair muddling together before settling into a glint of hope.

"Do you have proof?" their grandmother demanded.

"I did the DNA analysis on Luke myself," Vader said. "You are welcome to test him, but he is Padmé's son."

"And you are the father?" She gave a sharp, spiteful laugh. "My daughter would never."

That caused Vader to bristle, his rage stirring like a mounting wave.

"She was my wife, Jobal," Vader hissed.

Jobal Naberrie glanced up at Vader, scoffed, and she stood up very slowly.

"Well," she said, gripping the back of her chair with stiff, white knuckles, "I've had quite enough. Sola, let's go."

But Sola's gaze was fixed on Vader. She turned her head very slowly, her dark eyes flitting from Vader's helmet to Luke's face.

Tears welled up in her eyes as she gaped at Luke.

"Oh," she said, cupping her hands over her mouth. "Oh no."

"Sola?" Jubal's fingers found Sola's shoulder, and she leaned down to rub her back. "Stop. Sola, you know they are lying, don't cry. It's not true—"

"It is," Sola gasped, tears flooding her cheeks. "Oh… I— I'm such a fool."

"Mom," Ryoo gasped, pushing herself shakily to her feet.

"Nana," Nerys whispered, peeking over Pooja's shoulder.

"Sola—" Jobal started, her voice soft.

"Mother, it's Anakin," Sola said, her voice breaking. She didn't look away from Luke, but her fingers flew jerkily toward Vader. "It's Anakin."

Jobal froze, her dark eyes glued to her daughter's face, and Luke watched her expression shift from incredulous to astonished. She straightened up, her mouth slackening, and she spared Vader a sharp glance before her eyes swiveled toward Luke.

Luke shrunk beneath her gaze, which was sharp and accusatory, and then he watched as it melted.

"Oh," Jobal said softly, her big brown eyes widening as they gleamed from unshed tears. "I… how on earth do you know that?"

"Because of course it was Anakin," Sola gasped, her voice shaking. "Who else was there? And don't say Clovis."

"Who's Clovis?" Luke asked, watching Vader tense up in pure rage at the mention of that name.

"No one of importance," Vader hissed.

"You want me to believe that this hunk of metal is that sweet boy we met all those years ago?" Jobal asked her daughter, tutting quietly. "Honestly, Sola, what's gotten into you?"

"She's right," Luke said.

That caused Sola to flinch, and a soft sob fluttered from her lips. She scrambled to stifle it, her fingers pressed against her mouth, but the sound settled between them and plunged them all into silence.

Jobal took a deep breath. She sat back down beside her daughter, her arms wrapping slowly around her shoulders.

"Shh," she murmured, rocking her gently. "None of that."

Luke watched this exchange, and he realized how hollow he felt. How incredible removed he was from the situation.

Because no matter his blood or the circumstances of his birth, his real mother and father had died nearly four years ago.

His throat constricted. His vision was obscured. He felt the immensity of his shame and misfortune, the realization that the stars had aligned against him and that he would never ever feel the warmth of a mother's touch again. Never crawl into her lap as Nerys did, never cry into her shoulder as Sola did, never let her run her fingers through his hair and sing him songs until he fell asleep.

It seemed like he would never be whole again.

Jobal glanced at Vader, and she frowned at him.

"Are you really Anakin?" she sighed, looking a little pained.

Vader bowed his head. "I was once," he said quietly.

"Are you," Jobal demanded, "or are you not?"

Vader stood stiffly, as though perhaps he considered lying, before he nodded.

Jobal grimaced. Then she turned her face away and decidedly stared at Luke.

"I can't be certain until I test it," she said firmly.

"Mother…" Sola whispered, shaking her head.

"But," Jobal said sharply, holding up her hand, "I can see the similarities now. Tell me, did Bail Organa tell you the circumstances of her death?"

"Um…" Luke had to think back. His eyes were watering, and he blinked rapidly to banish the tears. "I— I remember him saying she died in childbirth. He said that she… died loving me. That she lived long enough to name us."

"Us?" Pooja asked sharply.

"Me and my sister," Luke said softly, tears burning his eyes.

"Twins?" Jobal leaned back in her chair and stared dazedly up at the ceiling. "Oh, stars, child. I don't know how much more of this I can take."

"Leia's your sister?" Ryoo asked before yelping, a sharp thump floating up from beneath the table. "Ow! What was that—?" Ryoo's eyes slid fearfully to Vader, who had jerked to his feet. "Oh."

"You," he said, his voice dangerously low. "You conspire with rebels?"

"Vader!" Luke jumped up just as fast, his eyes wide and the tears slipping from his lashes. "Stop, they didn't know who she was!"

"If Leia was with you, then they knew they were harboring a fugitive," Vader reminded him. He turned his attention to Ryoo, who sat with an ashen face as Vader swept up to her. "Have you had any contact with the rebels since that time?"

"Stop it!" Luke shook his head furiously. "Don't do this. They only helped us once, and it had was just to shelter us for a night! We're your children! You should be thanking them!"

"If they harbored two rebels they might harbor more." Vader considered Ryoo for a moment, and then he leaned down, not far enough that he was close to her but enough that his shadow enveloped her. "What favor did he ask of you?"

"Just a place to stay," Ryoo said insistently, her eyes wide.

"Vader, no!" Luke lurched forward, but he was yanked back unexpectedly by the tiny woman beside him. Luke glanced down at Pooja as she pushed Nerys into his arms and rounded the table. Sola and Jobal had screamed when Ryoo began to grasp at her throat, her fingers twitching wildly and her eyes growing wider and wider as her breath was cut off.

Pooja slid between Ryoo and Vader, and Vader jerked back.

"Enough," Pooja snapped.

And with that word, Ryoo heaved a deep breath, and she began to cough violently. She gripped her chest, her fingers getting lost in the sheer purply fabric of her shirt, and she inhaled great gulps of air.

Vader recovered quickly enough from being disturbed by the ghost of Luke's mother.

"Tell me," Vader said sharply.

Pooja eyed him. She took a deep breath, and she jerked her chin over the shoulder. "We offered to give some people some jobs. That was all. They weren't criminals."

Vader peered at her for a moment, and Luke held his breath as Vader pondered over this new information.

His helmet snapped toward the nearest vase, a round, wine colored mosaic piece that had a great cascade of ryoo blooms, the blue petals tipping over the lip of the glass and fluttering softly in the evening breeze. Inside the arrangement was an assortment of different flowers— fat lyris bulbs that faded from white to navy, and delicate starflowers that sent his heart into his throat as he remembered rolling in a field of pointed petalled blooms when he had been ten or eleven, the aroma still stuck inside his nostrils if he focused long enough, and of course bright white pooja blossoms that seemed to humble the whole arrangement. At the center there was a small cluster of red Queen's Flowers.

"The gardener," Vader said, his chilly voice echoing in the silent room. He stepped toward the vase, and a single red Queen's Flower flew into his palm. He stared at it for a moment. "You must think yourself very clever, my son."

Luke stood, tears on his cheeks, and he lifted his head high.

"Whatever you're thinking," he said, "whatever you want— it isn't worth it."

"I do not sense them here any longer," Vader said. "You sent them away?"

"Why does it matter?" Luke asked desperately.

"Because Leia loves them," Vader hissed, crushing the red flower in his fist. "I could have used that. I could have used them."

"Am I not enough?" Luke asked, his voice small and vacant.

The tears, he realized, had not stopped.

Vader did not look at him.

The little girl whose hand he held looked up at him, and very tentatively squeezed his hand.

He wished he could tell her how much that meant to him, but he did not quite have the words. He didn't have any words at all in fact.

He let go of Nerys's hand and he stepped back.

"Luke," Pooja said, taking a step toward him. She had been nursing Ryoo while Jobal had been comforting Sola, and all the while he was the outsider, a blonde haired, blue eyed boy among a small clan of dark haired, dark eyed girls.

Luke shook his head mutely. He whirled away, scrubbing at his tears with the heel of his hand and retreating into the hall, his feet clapping heavily against the floor. He ran, feeling that he had been running all day and all night, and he could run forever if it meant escaping this loneliness.

When he reached his room, he was close to sobbing. The tears had not stopped, and had in fact grown into a steady stream that poured down his cheeks, and he had to take big gulps of air as he stumbled through the sliding door and found himself wanting to scream.

Kicking off his shoes, he rounded the bed and looked out onto the balcony.

To his great surprise, he was not alone.

Ezra did not look at him as he leaned against the rail, his body relaxed and his expression serene.

"Y'know," he said softly, "I think I'm in love with this place."

Luke stared at him for a moment. The night had fallen steadily across the lake, and it looked like glass from this vantage point. Stars glittered on its surface, an echo, a mirror, a portal to another world.

"Is it selfish that I kinda just wish we could forget this whole war," Ezra sighed, "and stay here forever?"

The tears felt cold on Luke's face as he marched out onto the balcony, took Ezra by the hand and whirled him around. Ezra blinked down at him, his eyes widening a bit as he took in Luke's teary-eyed face, and just as he opened his mouth to ask, Luke pushed Ezra back so he wa