That night, Abby has the dream again: an isolated region of the universe, noiseless and void, and then the blossom of life—color and sound, heartbeats and need. That life grows, stretches out. The galaxy draws its first breaths, and the Force guides it.
In the hours following the dream, her senses always sharpen, and now, they shout that she isn't alone. She hates the dream. Inside it, she's at ease—comforted and protected—but it leaves her vulnerable. After, she spends weeks fearing her mind has reached out to someone who would harm her.
Her hands curl into fists, but then comes her mother's voice. "Shh," her mother whispers, easing Abby back against her pillows. "I didn't mean to startle you. I only wanted to tell you the news."
Abby's mother settles next to her, drawing her close. With an index finger, her mother traces little circles on Abby's wrists. The gesture sooths her, as it has since her infancy. "What news?" Abby asks, although somehow she knows. Perhaps it's her mother's smile as she pulls her closer, or maybe it's the dream, but Abby can feel the universe shift, like a weight lifted.
Abby Walters is seventeen, and the Empire has fallen.
Her mother and father met through the Alliance. Abby loves their story. Her mother joined to fight for planets like her homeworld, stripped of its resources by the Empire in its first years and then forgotten. She stumbled onto the Alliance by accident. But Abby's father, he was like her: Born on Mandasha, just like her, and raised by parents with a gift for flying under the radar. Their loyalty to the Republic—and later, the Alliance—was without question to those who knew them well, but they donned the facade of Imperialists with ease. Abby's father followed in their footsteps.
Abby asked about the Jedi, just once. "It made me sick," her father said, "pretending to hate them."
Before Abby, her parents' loyalty to the Alliance was unwavering, but after… The Alliance was their only hope of protecting her.
"What do you think, Abby?" her mother asks, and her smile is so hopeful. Her parents are sensible, but they need her to have hope. They want her to believe this means her connection to the Force won't make her a target all of her life.
"We could travel," Abby suggests, "go system-to-system to help people who need us?"
She doesn't know if her parents are right. It's impossible for Abby to imagine Force-sensitive children living without fear. But it doesn't matter. She's buried the Force, ignored it with such determination she feels it strongest only when she has the dream. In another ten years, it could wither within her, and she might never feel it again.
"This is just the beginning," her father promises. "You'll see."
The journey to the Alliance's base takes the better part of a day. Abby stares at the stars the whole time.
If nothing else, Abby's Force-sensitivity has taught her it pays to be sensible, so she ignores the gossip and instead focuses on memorizing everything she sees on the planet. As long as she can remember, she's wanted to travel, but her parents' caution kept her firmly rooted on Mandasha. Anyway, she thinks the facts are spectacular enough: Leia Organa—one of the few Alderannains left—leading the charge; a known smuggler turned Rebel fighter; and a moisture farmer from a desert planet who's a Jedi.
(If she's honest, some of the gossip piques her curiosity: Is it true the smuggler fell in love with Alderaan's princess? Is Luke really Leia's brother? But all of those rumors pale against the word "Jedi," because it means she isn't alone. Others survived. The Force survived.)
Most of her life, the details of parents' missions have been kept quiet. Like Leia Organa, Abby has played the role of dutiful daughter of the Empire, covering her parents' deception. Only now, within the confines of the Alliance base, does Abby realize how many risks they took every time they left her. They might not have blown up a Death Star, but they fed intel to the Alliance that kept it on its feet.
It's only this information, whispered to Abby behind her parents' backs, that saves her from shock at the sight of Leia at their door.
Still, Abby can't help but stare at Leia, and for a moment, Leia stares back. Leia's brow furrows, as if examining a puzzle—or perhaps, realizing its solution. She's eight years older than Abby, but looking at her is like looking at something so familiar she could be a mirror. It's a familiarity that comes from within… one that Abby can't name.
Her mother appears, breaking their stares, and leads Leia inside. Like the rest of the temporary housing on the base, their home isn't much, but there's a small sitting area with large windows. Abby leans against the doorway into the sitting area, listening to her parents exchange pleasantries with Leia, until she says, "I've come to talk about what comes next."
Abby's father ushers her out of their home. "Go on to the banquet," he insists, "we'll be along soon."
Lonely as it is, the solidarity is familiar. Though none of her friendships on Mandasha were genuine, she kept them for appearance's sake—for her parents' sake—and so could never confess how alone she felt.
As she wanders aimlessly through the crowd, she's drawn to a side room where the younger children play, free to run and climb without incurring their parents' ire. She's come here a few times before. Like Abby, these children see more unfamiliar faces than familiar, and they make no distinction between her and other strangers. They teach her their games, and they're happy to talk about the planets they've come from.
This evening, at the center of a titanic cluster of children, Abby finds Luke Skywalker. Ten or so trinkets and toys spin above his head, zipping around each other. Once in awhile, one zooms away from the others, as if fleeing, only to be drawn back in. Half the kids collapse into laughter; the other half stare at him in awe.
After a few minutes, he returns each item to its owner, and then he turns to meet Abby's eye.
The Force rolls off of him. Abby has never felt it this strong, not even in the dream. The universe tilts—as though it's been off-kilter all her life—and suddenly, Abby feels everything: she's the universe, and she can pinpoint every living thing inside of her.
Luke's audience wanders away, whispering to each other, and he crosses the room to her. His hand is gentle on the crook of her elbow as he leads her to a nearby bench. They sit facing one another, each of them with one leg drawn up onto the bench, and Abby realizes that this is what she saw in Leia—the Force.
"What's your name?" asks Luke.
"Abby," she answers. Every sound, even her own voice, seems to be coming from another room. Without meaning to, she reaches out with the Force. Her consciousness skirts closer to his. She expects Luke to recoil, but he doesn't.
"Abby," he repeats, and for the first time in her seventeen years, Abby feels a sense of belonging. His mind reaches for hers, gentle and questioning. "You've put up walls."
"I had to hide," she says, "The Empire—"
"I know," Luke assures her, withdrawing his consciousness from hers. With some effort, she does the same, but they linger there in silence, considering each other.
She wonders if he's felt as alone as she has. According to her mother, if any of the Jedi survived, they've been hiding. Until now, she hasn't met one, and Abby doubts he's met any younger than himself. She has so many questions, seventeen years worth of things she doesn't understand about herself, but when she looks into Luke's eyes, she sees no answers.
Instead, she decides to ask about him. "Is it true you were a farmer?"
He smiles, but it's a smile like remembering a story, like it wasn't his life. "I grew up on my aunt and uncle's farm."
"What about your parents?"
A shadow passes across his features. "I never knew them." The words are off somehow—not a lie, but not the truth either. "Your parents are Alliance?"
Abby nods. "Where was your farm? I haven't been anywhere except Mandasha until now."
"Tatooine. It isn't much… mostly sand. Tell me about Mandasha. Do you miss it?"
She doesn't, she realizes. Not at all. "It's never felt like home," she admits, "it's just where we—"
She's interrupted by the crack!I of plastic snapping, followed by a string of obscenities her father would blush to hear, and just like that Abby's little universe tilts back out of alignment.
Luke glances over Abby's shoulder, and she turns to find Han Solo glaring at the ruined miniature X-wing he's crushed beneath his boot. "Han?" Abby wonders if Han catches the hint of laughter in Luke's voice.
"Leia's looking for you. It's time for the pomp and circumstance." Han looks like he'd rather face an airlock.
Luke's hand rests on Abby's elbow again, drawing her attention back to him. "I hope you find your home," he says.
"You, too," she whispers.
As Luke passes him, Han raises an eyebrow at Abby. She holds his gaze, chin raised, and he grins at her as he turns away.
Later, she spots him with Leia, bent slightly to whisper something in her ear. Leia rolls her eyes, but her grin betrays her.
When Abby leaves that night, she's certain it's the last she'll see of any of the three. As it turns out, she's right only about Han Solo.
Her mother stills, just for a second, deciding how to phrase her answer. "She has an assignment for us."
"For all three of us," her father adds.
Instead, Ilendoorans offered as little loyalty to the Empire as it could, supplying the Imperial army with the materials to build its ships and weapons. In return, Palpatine left Ilendoor as it was, satisfied that its people wouldn't risk their lives to aid the rest of the galaxy.
He wasn't wrong.
"I still don't understand why we're helping them." Her mother tosses her a pillow, which Abby places at the head of her bed. For such an enormous planet—Mandasha was a pebble by comparison—the homes on Ilendoor are tiny. Her room here is much smaller than her old room. Some of their belongings will have to go into storage.
"Because whether they like it not, they're part of this galaxy," her mother says, "and whether we like it or not, the resources on this planet could help rebuild what the Empire tore down."
A month or so before the Empire fell, a virus took root along Ilendoor's equator. Since then, it's become a global pandemic. If the Alliance can find and distribute a cure, they would secure a foothold to cripple the Empire once and for all.
So far, life on Ilendoor has felt no less isolating than Mandasha. The Alliance doctors who've come with them have confirmed that those most vulnerable to the virus come from families who've lived on Ilendoor at least five generations. Unfortunately, that description fits most of the population. These people aren't known for welcome outsiders.
"What if the doctors can't find a cure?" Abby asks.
Her mother doesn't answer.
Her new school ranks among the top three on the planet, and the handbook boasts of competitive classes.
It isn't until her first day that the gravity of what's happening on Ilendoor hits her: She walks into a school built for ten thousand students and finds it less than half-full.
In class, no one talks about the virus. They aren't taught about its theorized origins or the few things their doctors have been able to figure out about it. Her teacher offers her a pamphlet on safety procedures, but they both know it's an empty gesture—no one in Abby's family, living or dead, has set foot on this planet. She won't contract the virus.
When she raises this concern with her parents, her mother simply says, "They've left that to their doctors and scientists. It's far too complex to teach."
It isn't, Abby wants to protest, but her father cuts in, "I think it's easier to focus on what their other subjects if they don't have to think about the virus."
"But they need to learn. It's killing their doctors and scientists, too. Shouldn't they be prepared to try to stop it?"
"That's why we're here. Why we've brought our own people to work on it."
"I hate that school," Abby confesses. "It's too empty, and everyone looks at me like we brought the virus."
"They know that isn't true. The virus originated here."
"I know. I read the reports their scientists sent to ours."
"You understood those?" Abby's mother asks, glancing at Abby's father.
"Some of it," Abby shrugs. "Most of it, I guess."
"Abby, would it help your frustration at all if you could help?" asks her father.
And for the first time since she met Luke, Abby feels like she belongs somewhere.
One day, one of the doctors—an outsider, like her, but not one of the Alliance's—finds her studying a breakdown of the virus from its early days. It hasn't mutated much, hasn't needed to, but the virus in its infancy even looks less aggressive than it does now.
Still, it's clear from its makeup that it could only have originated on Ilendoor. "Frustrating, isn't it?" the doctor says. "We've compared this virus, in all its stages and mutations, to every known illness common to this planet… and it doesn't look like any of them. We can only speculate how it came to be."
"And without a source, finding the cure may be impossible," Abby finishes.
The doctor nods. "But we'll keep working anyway." He's exhausted, she notices. Like most of the people working here, he rests much less than he should. "Are you liking the school? My son attends, you know? He's a year ahead of you, I believe."
Abby tries to picture the doctor's son: If he has his father's brown hair and sea-green eyes, he could almost pass for Ilendooran, unless he also has his father's large frame. "His class must meet in a different hall."
"Ah, well, you'll run into him here eventually, no doubt. He volunteers with the patients."
They're interrupted by an alert telling Abby to check on a test. When she returns to her station, the doctor has retreated to his office. They don't talk the rest of the day, but the following afternoon, there's a stack of medical textbooks at her station. "Just to get you started," he explains.
"Thank you, Dr. Griffin."
"You're welcome," he replies, and she wonders if his son has his easy grin. "And please, call me Clarke."
Attendance drops below two thousand, and soon, the school decides to close all its wings except the one that houses the library and the dining hall. With fewer and fewer teachers to go around, their headmaster regularly reconfigures the classes. Before long, he arranges a class comprised of overachievers—most of them outsiders like Abby—and sends them their curriculum.
This idea suits Abby, who's already a month ahead of her peers in their studies. She decides to spend the morning reading through one of the textbooks Dr. Griffin gave her.
She's so consumed with her reading that she doesn't see him enter, but she feels him. Just like when she met Luke, the Force comes alive around her, and she senses him so strongly she thinks she could reach out and touch him.
Abby lifts her eyes from her book and finds a boy her age staring at her. He lingers in the doorway, looking as stunned as she feels; and when their eyes meet, a deluge of emotion crashes over her: their surprise, his fear, and her inexplicable hope. The Force stirs, longing to flow from them, anxious to grow now that the weeds of the Empire have stopped choking it.
"Go on, Marcus," the headmaster says. The boy's eyes flicker toward him, and the Force quiets, like a door slamming shut.
He chooses a seat near hers, although he doesn't meet her gaze the rest of the morning. Every time she tries to read her textbook, she remembers his face when he first saw her.
"Marcus Kane," he says.
"Kane? You're Vera's son?"
For the first time since that morning, he looks at her. His eyes are a murky brown, but she decides she likes them. They remind her of the earth after a rain. "You know my mom?"
"I volunteer in the lab. She's… nice."
Marcus laughs. Vera Kane likes to preach and lecture and meddle. She's a stern woman, but she's also gentle. She loves without reservation, and she's become one of Abby's favorite people in the lab.
"Your family's with the Alliance, aren't they? Dr. Griffin talks about your parents."
"You know Dr. Griffin?"
"Most of my life," he says. "I'm friends with his son. The four of us came here together." It's the way he says together that gives Marcus away: They're family.
He gets quiet after that, like his mind has drifted away from Ilendoor. Abby draws a little more conversation out of him, mostly about Jake. As the lunch hour ends, she gathers the nerve to ask the question she's wanted to ask since she saw him: "Marcus, in my family, it's just me. Is it the same with your family?"
He stills, and it's as if his blood has turned to ice. He doesn't look at her. "Yes."
When Abby does meet Jake Griffin, it's a disaster: Distracted by a chapter about virology, she nearly forgets to run an errand at the hospital.
She rushes over, hoping she hasn't missed Vera; and as she rounds a corner, she plows straight into Jake.
He helps her to her feet, and he doesn't complain about the fact that she's knocked the wind out of him. His hands linger on hers a moment too long. She blushes, regretting that she hasn't so much as run her fingers through her hair since that morning, but looking into his eyes, she feels safe.
"He had a brother," Jake explains. "Or I guess, he would have. Their parents were young when he was born. He was seven, I think, when they let him go to the Jedi Academy."
Oh. "He's dead."
"My father, he's known Vera all of his life. He says it's a miracle they stayed together as long as they did. When Marcus came along, it seemed like a second chance."
"Until he started showing the signs, too?"
He doesn't need to tell her the rest. Abby sees it unfold as if it were her father, not Marcus's, who walked away. Ignoring the gnawing ache in her gut, she curls into Jake's arms.
It's her mother's birthday, or it's her mother's birthday next week, but there's a restaurant and a reservation. Abby has covered their dining table in textbooks, working on a theory that came to her that morning. They call to her, tell her that they're going, and she shouts a distracted "bye" in their direction.
That night, she goes to bed jittery with excitement, not knowing her little universe has collapsed.
But it's Marcus who comes to her without words or expectation. He lets her cry, because she needs to cry, and he lets her laugh, even when it's inappropriate. When she sinks into him, exhausted and empty, he holds her, and the silence holds them.
Inside her, the Force becomes still and silent. She doesn't feel it again until she gives birth to her daughter.
She learns to cook in this apartment. She helps Marcus study to join the city guard. When Jake moves in, they paint the rooms a soft gray, and then fill it with as much art as they can afford.
Four months after her parents' deaths, the Alliance scientists finally find a cure for Ilendoor's virus.
Jake comes home with a ring.
They're young—so young, too young—but they've seen so much death, and there are whispers of an organization calling itself the First Order.
Luke comes to Ilendoor, seeking a location to build his Jedi Temple. Despite misgivings from some, including Marcus, he finds a place outside their city.
Abby becomes a doctor while Marcus rises in the guard's ranks. A temporary teaching position at the school becomes a permanent job for Jake. Little by little, the classrooms begin to fill again.
She marries Jake, and then there's Clarke, defiant from her first breath.
Sometimes, Luke tries to convince Abby to come to the Academy. "You can still learn, if you want to," he assures her, but she likes her life. She didn't choose the Force; she chose medicine and Jake and Clarke.
"You rebuild the Jedi Order," she insists, "and I'll patch them up."
She never asks Marcus if Luke has approached him. She doesn't doubt Vera has encouraged Luke to do so, but Abby knows what Marcus's answer would be.
It isn't that Marcus fears the Force. She's known since they met that it doesn't frighten him anymore than it does her. It isn't even that he doesn't trust himself—although Abby suspects that he doesn't. Marcus doesn't trust the Jedi Order, not after the massacre that took his brother.
He's afraid history will repeat itself.
It takes Abby too long to realize she should fear that, too.
Abby finishes slicing the vegetables for dinner and passes them to Jake. He tosses them into a pan. "Luke has twenty-nine kids at that Academy, Jake. He's bound to be anxious sometimes."
"I talked to Sinclair. You remember him? He's working at the communications tower. I asked him if anything strange had come through off-world channels and into a private network lately. He told me he'd noticed a few encrypted files, all of them uploaded to the Academy."
Abby glances at Clarke. At four, she loves nothing more than tearing apart their living room and building a massive fort. "Have you talked to Marcus?"
"He doesn't think there's reason to worry."
"See? You know how he feels about the Academy. Those are about to burn." She nudges him back toward the vegetables. He pulls them away from the fire. "You also know we can't just walk into the Academy and accuse Luke Skywalker of… what is it you're suggesting?"
"Don't be like that. I don't think whatever's happening has to do with Luke… and you're sounding like Marcus now. You know that, right?"
She rolls her eyes. "I'll talk to Luke, all right? Now, it's your turn to wrangle your daughter in here for dinner."
At twenty-four, Abby becomes a widow. At four, Clarke has few memories of her father that she'll carry all the way to adulthood. The Jedi Order has failed again.
The First Order rises.
"I didn't know who else to come to," Callie says when she answers the door.
"Where is he?"
"I got him back to his place, but… He won't talk to me." Abby turns and glances down the hall. Clarke hasn't slept through a single night since her father's death. Callie follows her gaze toward Clarke's door. "I can watch her," she offers.
"She's had nightmares."
"If she wakes up, we'll play games until she passes out again. I have four younger siblings. I've got this."
She hasn't seen Marcus since the funeral. They buried Jake and Vera on the same morning, side-by-side. He helped carry Clarke home, her gentle snoring the only sound between them. He lingered at the doorway, unable to cross the threshold into the home she no longer shared with Jake.
From her window, Abby watched him walk away, and she supposes they retreated into their own private grief after that.
She doesn't realize until she reaches his front door that she's needed this excuse to see him. These last few years, their friendship has waned, and in some ways, he's changed into a man she doesn't quite know. But beneath all of that, there's Jake, and there's the things they don't talk about.
Abby lets herself in. "Marcus?" she calls. He might've passed out since Callie left him here, but she's not ready to risk startling a man who carries a weapon.
It isn't much warmer inside than outside, and when Abby walks into the dining room, she sees why. Marcus stands on the balcony, leaning against the railing. She calls his name again. If he hears her, he doesn't show it.
He's staring at the stars, although Abby realizes as she approaches him that it looks more like he's trying to stare through the stars. He's shivering, but he doesn't seem to notice. She steps onto the balcony, and finally, he looks at her.
She stops mid-step. He hasn't been drinking, as Abby suspect when Callie showed up at her door. Outwardly, he's calm. Other than the shivering, he stands perfectly still.
Inside, he's a hurricane. It's been seven years since they met in that classroom, seven years since the Force stirred within them, but when her eyes meet his, they might as well be back in that moment.
Abby steadies herself, ignores the Force reawakening in her veins. "Marcus, it's freezing. Come inside."
He doesn't move, but his eyes don't leave hers. "It's my fault." His voice cracks on the word fault. "It's my…"
She takes a step toward him. "What's your fault?"
"All of it. The Academy. Jake." He swallows, draws a shuddering breath. "My mother. Those children."
"No," Abby says. Another step, and she could touch him. She almost does, but her hand trembles, and she curls it into a fist instead. "It wasn't."
"I couldn't stop it. I don't know how Jake got there first, and my mother—always bringing sweets to those kids—and I couldn't stop it."
"We didn't know it was happening, Marcus. That isn't your fault." She's lost track of her emotions now; they've bled into his, and his have bled into hers. Is that his grief or hers? His fear? Her guilt?
"Jake warned me. He knew something was off, he—"
A sob escapes Abby's throat. Every morsel of guilt she's buried this last month finds its way to the surface. "I know," she confesses, "I know. He told me, too. And I—" She's crying now, tears she hasn't let herself shed, for Clarke's sake. "It isn't your fault, Marcus, it's mine."
"No," he protests, "I could have—"
"I told him I would talk to Luke. I promised him. But I didn't. I wasn't worried, and it slipped my mind. Jake never asked me."
"No," Marcus says, "It isn't your fault. You didn't know. We didn't—"
She doesn't know what breaks her—if it's a month's worth of held back grief or the way Marcus seems ready to shatter—but she reaches out with the Force... and for the first time since she's known him, Marcus reaches back.
She kisses him.
The Force surges between them. Catches fire. Bursts to life. Their minds meet, and everything comes to the surface. Every unspoken thing between them, every if only, stirs. He hesitates, his fingertips ghosting across her waist; but her hands find their way beneath his shirt, and his resolve crumbles.
"Inside," she commands, and he obeys, his mouth never leaving her skin.
She dresses, pausing only to brush his bangs out of his eyes, and then leaves.
If you need to go, I understand.
Abby calls the hospital. Then she begins to pack.
Instead, she sends him a message: It isn't your fault.
She doesn't see him for fourteen years.
So when one of the pilots asks if Abby's heard the rumor—"Dameron's found another stray," Jessika laughs—she knows it's him.
She finds him after she stitches the pilot's wound, letting the Force guide her footsteps. He's standing in General Organa's office, although she's mysteriously absent.
Against reason, she finds herself saying. "You've come home." As if he's set foot on D'Qar before today. As if —
He steps toward her, his eyes locked on hers. He looks older—of course he does—but when he sees her, he grins, and it's like looking at the boy she first met again.
"Abby," he says, and if it's a little like a benediction, well, she understands.
He kisses her, and the universe tilts.