The situation in Bathspa, on the planet of Sumersaet in the Chandrilan system, was not what it had been eight years ago. Then, Senator Mothma had still been a (theoretically) loyal member of the Imperial Senate, her open defiance restricted to passionate speeches and liberal bills which tended to die in committee. Frederick Wentworth, visiting his unimpeachably respectable brother, had been in no danger of being denounced and handed over to the nearest garrison, provided he was discreet - but nobody had spoken openly of rebellion, either, and the polite society code of careful euphemism had been maintained.
Now that the Emperor and Darth Vader were dead in the skies over Endor, matters were quite otherwise. The Miss Musgroves could chatter freely about their late brother and his dedication to the Rebel Alliance (Wentworth, who had had Dick Musgrove inflicted on him early in his career, said nothing as politely as possible) and the Elliots could make casual reference to their acquaintance with the heroic Admiral Crofts, recovering from their Battle of Endor injuries at the Elliots' country home. Good-natured Sophy and Thomas rolled their eyes at that kind of thing, and went back to learning how to drive a speeder instead of a warship and navigate pleasant roads instead of hyperlanes, but Frederick found it difficult to repress his irritation at the Elliots and those like them.
Well. Not all the Elliots. There was an entire galaxy of difference between the elder Elliots' fashionable embrace of the fight against the Empire now that the tide had definitively turned, and Anne's surprisingly deep knowledge of the Alliance.
Wentworth had not come to Bathspa expecting to find Anne. He hadn't actually expected to come to Bathspa at all, considering that it was on a totally different continent to the Crofts' original destination. Thomas had been born on the other side of the planet, though he hadn't been back since his short-lived career as a Republic naval cadet. When he had sustained severe burns in the course of the Battle of Endor, and Sophy's entire cartography table and most of her cartographer minions had been propelled through a wall at great speed, he and Sophy had decided to take their well-deserved medical leave there. Wentworth had been granted a shorter period of holiday leave, to acknowledge the fact that he had taken none in the last four years, and had intended to join them. But no sooner had he arrived in orbit than a cheery message from Sophy arrived saying that all Crofts were crashing snobs and Thomas was considering changing their name to Wentworth in protest, and incidentally, the Crofts had moved to Bathspa and rented a house called Kellynch.
Wentworth seriously considered crashing into the planetary ring, but talked himself out of it.
There was little chance of encountering Anne, he reasoned. She clearly couldn't be living at Kellynch any more: she'd probably pursued her plan to take up a post as a doctor somewhere outside Bathspa. Lady Russell had once talked, in her high-handed fashion, of Anne's working at the Medical Institute in Hanna City itself, or perhaps something even closer to the Core. Anne had favoured Alderaan, which might have put a very permanent end to any awkwardness, but Wentworth already knew that that had come to nothing. He'd spent an anxious few weeks ferreting uselessly around on the holonet before calling in a favour from Harville in Intelligence, who had been able to determine that Anne Elliot of Chandrila was not among the casualties of the Death Star.
Wentworth, in orbit around Sumersaet, consoled himself that (Alderaan or not) it wasn't the slightest bit likely Anne was still dancing attendance on her family, and landed at the main spaceport on Bathspa. Because the galaxy hated him and was out to get him, the first thing Sophy said to him was that they were all going to have dinner with a local family of repute, the Musgroves - and the first person he saw when the Musgroves arrived was Anne, looking tired and worn and unappreciated.
He could have been pleased. He should have been pleased. He was better off without her, she'd shown him that herself when she turned her back on him, and if Anne now thought -
He couldn't tell what Anne thought. Her lovely dark eyes were more guarded than ever.
He couldn’t talk to Sophy about it, or Thomas. Thomas thought he was either going to marry or recruit one of the Musgrove girls. Sophy didn't think Wentworth should do either, and was visibly refraining from delivering sisterly advice. And neither of them knew Wentworth had been engaged to Anne for the space of two weeks eight years ago, until Lady Russell had talked Anne out of it by telling her it was not in her best interests, and she must finish her studies, and that the Rebellion was far too dangerous a cause; if her own safety didn’t weigh with her, what about her family's?
Wentworth vented to Harville, now living in nearby Regis Lyme and intelligence-gathering in a rather more sedentary role than he'd once had, thanks to the Hoth injuries no treatment could quite resolve. Harville only laughed and told him to recruit Anne, instead of Louisa or Henrietta.
"She's a fine doctor," Harville said, paging through sheaves of dubiously-acquired records. "The Imperial garrison - back when they had a garrison here - thought she was some kind of stupid but talented angel of mercy. Their propaganda department let her get away with nearly anything she asked for, just to make themselves look reasonable and benign. Which is why a surprising number of Chandrilan dissidents are still alive!"
Wentworth didn’t say anything. His knees felt alarmingly jelly-like. If Anne had indeed done that, she was extremely lucky their engagement and his attachment to the Rebel Alliance hadn’t come to light.
"She has a good head for management, too," Harville said. "Only small charitable initiatives, but we can train her up to bigger things. And we're going to need doctors, Fred - the more worlds that come out from under Imperial hegemony, the more damage we'll know about, the more humanitarian crises we'll need to address."
"I don't know if I'm the best recruiter," Wentworth replied, stiffly.
"Who cares? You're what there is."
Wentworth disagreed with him then, but over the ensuing months - Louisa Musgrove's accident, Penelope Clay's embezzlement, the identification of William Elliot as the Imperial informant who had sold out Mrs Smith - it became obvious to him that however hard he might have tried to cauterise his heart, he cared about Anne as much as he ever had done. And that there was no-one better fitted than Anne to join the Rebel Alliance and lead the galaxy into a kinder, fairer future.
He realised as he wrote his letter the risk he was running, not only in taking a chance on Anne's feelings but in making explicit that he was offering her a place in the Alliance to go with the place in his heart. It made his palms sweat. He and Anne had once exchanged love-notes on flimsi, but to put the Alliance into words had then been far too dangerous. It probably wasn’t now - Chandrila was no longer under official Imperial occupation and the Musgroves wouldn’t hand him in anyway - but Wentworth was breaking the habits of half a lifetime and every regulation he could think of. And yet the Rebellion was a part of him that couldn't be separated from the whole, and to leave it out would have been culpably incomplete.
I offer to you now a heart even more yours than it was when you first broke it - Anne, will you come with me?
She didn’t have to commission into the Alliance if she didn't want to, of course. But Wentworth was pretty confident that if she accepted his offer at all it would be with the full intention of doing so. Anne did nothing by halves, made no commitment by accident.
He was nervous, waiting for her the next day at the spaceport. She had said she would come - had promised - had told her friends and informed her family. (The Elliots had not been much interested, too preoccupied with the curious case of Penelope Clay's dubious loyalties and even more dubious bank accounts, and too well aware that a connection to Wentworth could only be prestigious now. But Anne had not spoken of her discussion with Lady Russell.) She might yet change her mind. Wentworth didn't believe she would. But he had missed her too much and wanted this too much to risk believing it was real until they were off-planet, and there was no turning back.
Anne separated herself from the crowds at the passenger terminal, a small figure presenting her credentials to the droid in charge of the spaceport tram. She was evidently successful, because she whizzed across on the tram and dismounted at the stop closest to his small ship. Wentworth let out a stupid grin and waved to her. She waved back - this close, he could see her smiling - and hurried up to him.
"Ready?" he asked. "We have an hour before our take-off window."
"Yes," Anne said firmly, and stepped into his arms as if she had never belonged anywhere else.
He pulled back a little, and cupped her face in his hands. "Anne. Are you sure you want to do this? It won't be safe. The Emperor is dead, but the Empire is not defeated."
"I'm sure," Anne said, those dark eyes alight with a spark as bright as it had ever been, and her eyes full of warmth. She leaned up and kissed him, her hands resting on his waist. "And no-one will ever persuade me otherwise."