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Of Queens, Knights, and Pawns

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ABA Day 137

 

 

Leia was humming to herself as she made her way to the hanger bay. Han was due back today, and while that fact alone would put her in a good mood, his arrival represented something else today.

Freedom.

Leia knew that the work she was doing here on Yavin was necessary. Vital even. Rebellions didn’t just happen through hoping, will, and climatic battles. They required planning, logistics, meetings, and surprisingly, a lot of begging for money. Thanks to her upbringing, the training she received from her parents, her years with the Rebellion, then her years with the Resistance, these were all skills she had. And they were in desperate need now, most of the people who were drawn to an armed insurrection didn’t. Those cold hard facts didn’t make her enforced stay on Yavin any easier to bear. Especially, since this confinement was another thing she could lay at Vader’s feet, with that outrageous bounty he had put on her.

There was also Draven and his insane paranoia. But all of Draven’s actions had stemmed from Vader’s, and his inability to do anything with a degree of subtly. It was a miracle of all the gods in the universe, that Palpatine, so far, hadn’t put together yet that she was Vader’s daughter. At least, from what Leia had heard about his actions, she didn’t think he had.

Of course, the Emperor had to know something was going on, but as ever, he was keeping his own counsel. The spies they had in the outer circle of his trust didn’t know what he thought about Vader’s actions, in regards to Leia, despite it being a subject of open speculation in the Imperial court.

Being confined and grounded to a base wasn’t something that had happened to Luke. By the time Luke’s bounty had been upped to this much, he had already been leading Rogue Squadron for a year. He was a trained and experienced fighter. As far as the Alliance was concerned, he could handle any and all trouble sent his way. Well, not Vader himself. But that was true for anyone in the Alliance, and it had no bearing on the decision to keep Luke on the front lines.

In fact, when that bounty had been made known, Luke had found it to be something of a relief. He, hell, all of them, had known that it was only a matter of time before the identity of the pilot who blew up the Death Star became known to the Empire. Luke didn’t like dealing with uncertainties and having that dangle over his head nibbled away at him. The worst had come, and now he could get to dealing with it.

Luke also had the advantage over Leia that no one questioned Vader’s motives about the reward for him. It hadn’t come out of nowhere as far as the Alliance leadership was concerned, leading people to question why Luke was so important. 

Perhaps, with the wisdom of years and reflection, the fact that it wasn’t a surprise, hadn’t been all that much of an advantage for Luke. Well, it was an advantage in the fact that it hadn’t caused Draven to suddenly start stalking him. But because it made so much sense, it hadn’t occurred to any of them, Luke included, that Vader didn’t care about the pilot who destroyed the Death Star. He was far more interested in Luke Skywalker.

Hindsight was perfect, Leia knew. It wasn’t something she acknowledged at the time, or even years later, when the personal connection between them had been revealed, but she had known Vader had been apathetic about the Death Star. For all she knew, he had privately celebrated it’s, and Tarkin’s, destruction. She had also been struck by, even then, about the single-minded focus Vader brought to his search for Luke. It was more energy he had shown in anything for more than a decade. And she could back that analysis up by all the research she had done on Vader, looking for a weakness, so that she could kill him.

She just never thought to put those two facts together at the time. If she had questioned it, just a little bit more, was it possible that the confrontation on Bespin would have gone differently than it had? Would Luke have not ended up as shattered as he had been?

Leia shook her head. There was no way she could have known. It was the smallest thing at the time and easily brushed aside. Han was right. Vader’s former identity was a closely held secret. She was fairly certain that there were only a few people in the upper echelons of the Imperial Navy, who even suspected who Vader had been. And that was only because they had actually worked with the Jedi during the Clone Wars. They weren’t stupid enough to air those suspicions in public though. 

Even among the Alliance, she had to wonder about the people who had interacted with Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker, who sometimes might wonder. Mon had to have thought it was possible, especially this Mon, who had more information simply from Obi-Wan’s reactions to Vader. Ackbar had served with him at some point, hadn’t he? And Dodonna? She vaguely remembered him mentioning it to Luke.

She was certain Draven never had. His mind was certainly twisted enough to go for that possibility. The man saw shadows everywhere. But if any of them had suspected, they had certainly never mentioned it to Luke. 

Leia was willing to bet good money that Tarkin had figured it out. Even if he never had gotten official confirmation, he had to have known. The man had been many things, but stupid and unobservant had not been one of them.

Leia was fairly confident, that except the Emperor, no one knew for certain. It was part of Vader’s legend, and used to make him more frightening. He was this thing, with no will but the Emperor’s. No desires but the Emperor’s. No loyalty, but to the Emperor.

“And he wants to put the galaxy at your feet,” Han’s voice echoed again in her head.

Leia shuddered. Another reason she wanted off this base. So she could stop her mind from circling around that. She was accepting, slowly, that it was the truth. But that didn’t mean she knew what to do with it.

It was Vader’s fault that she couldn’t use physical action to clear her head. Luke hadn’t had to deal with this. Even if everyone had known that he was Vader’s son, by the time Vader realized it, the Alliance wouldn’t have pulled him back from the front anyway.

The Alliance had made Luke into the poster boy for the existence of the rebellion. Even before his name became public knowledge, the people who were in charge of the public image of the Alliance made sure that it was widely known that the pilot who took out the Death Star only joined the Alliance because his guardians had been killed by the Empire.

Even if grounding him had been considered at the time, there was nothing Luke could do if he was confined to the fleet. He wasn’t like Leia, with the training in diplomatic matters and tactical logistics. He was very charming, but he was not a seasoned politician or had the nature of one.

Luke, for his own sanity, and the Alliance’s need, had to be on the front line, leading the charge.

Which wasn’t a line of argument that Leia could use, here and now. She couldn’t exactly tell Mon that she had decades of experience in the field and would be fine. All Mon saw was someone who had the basic training of all spies, some extra physical combat training provided by her parents, and an injury from one of the few missions she had been allowed on.

Perhaps this enforced stay was grating so hard on her now, because what she remembered of this time was that she had always been on missions. Or at least always moving, traveling with the Fleet.

Maybe that wasn’t a fair comparison? She had a bounty then, but it had only been ten million, and she, like Luke, was an important rallying cry. She was the leader of a pacifistic people, who had been forced to take up arms to defend what was left of her people. The Alliance couldn’t afford to keep her in reserves, anymore then they could keep Luke.

But in this reality, Mama and Papa were here to fulfill that role to a large extent. People had the strangest reaction to royalty, and a couple, who were well known in galactic politics, made better cover than an untried and untested Princess. In this time, Leia wasn’t the sole survivor of a catastrophe, but the “extra” surviving member of the Royal family in exile.

This hadn’t been the first time in her life that she had to watch where she went. She couldn’t recall being this restless during the Resistance, where her movements had been just as curtailed for her safety. No, that was an exaggeration. She did go off their base on D’Qar. It just wasn’t something she did frequently. Much like the position Mon was in now. That had been her choice though, not imposed on her by others.

This was ridiculous. She had gone years without throwing herself into danger when she was a member of the New Republic Senate. It had been less than three months since she had been sent to Whiforla with Luke and Han, so why was she filled to the brim with impatience to get off Yavin?  Why did she feel like she had been put into a prison? 

There had been some relief in the occasional flights that she had taken in the CAP rotation, when she was needed, but as more and more of the defecting Imperial pilots were cleared, she was being gently pushed out of that duty. Which meant she was left to sit through endless meetings and handle mountains of paperwork.

Was this something she could blame on this younger body? The one that didn’t tire as easily? That hadn’t accumulated all the aches and scars the old one had? Where she once again was filled with so much energy, she barely knew how to funnel it?

Leia was good at logistics, at talking to people. Perhaps not as good at being soothing and compassionate as Mama, but she could inspire people in her own way. Too often, it was with her actions, not her words, but she could use them.

It was also irritating because Leia knew she was good in the field, the shot she had taken on Cymoon 1 withstanding. She had the lifespan to prove it. Too many of the people on this base hadn’t lived to see their next birthday, never mind reach fifty-three, as she had done.

Leia was grateful that the Rebellion was still on Yavin. She was. She knew that there were those among them, especially the new recruits, who felt that they were moving too slow to capitalize on their victory above Alderaan. There was no one on this base, no one, that had any idea of how much more precarious their position could be.

Leia had lived with the Rebellion after they had been forced to flee from Yavin. She knew in that first fragile year, how close everything came to falling apart. She could imagine, all too easily, how in this time, they could find themselves back there if they didn’t exercise some caution.

They needed to rebuild. The current situation with the food supplies was only the most obvious sign that they were growing faster than the leadership had anticipated. They were fast approaching having more pilots then ships for them to fly. But those facts didn’t change the restless hum under Leia’s skin.

The trick,” she reminded herself, “is to know when to strike. Too early, and you waste everything. Too late, and all you have is bitter regrets.”

But no matter how grateful she was that she was here, that the Alliance was still here,  and not stuck on a cruiser, Leia felt like the walls themselves were closing in on her. She could argue with logic all she wanted, but she was starting to feel that old familiar restlessness haunting her thoughts, that she was not doing anything. Which is why she was grateful, even outside of being free of Draven’s watchful eye, that Ahsoka was giving her a chance to get off this humid hell hole, and contribute in a meaningful way. 

The mind could lie, even to itself. Leia knew she wasn’t doing nothing. The work she was doing was important. Boring, but important. Supply lines didn’t come out of thin air. Logistics needed to be handled by someone. And money, money was always needed.

Leia could find some small comfort in that aspect of her new life. Mama had taken on the brunt of the pleading and fundraising that Leia had done in her past. She was also better at it, as Leia knew she would be.

Leia was surprised though that she had been requested for some of those calls. Her mother was a much better-known figure on the galactic political scene at this point in time. It wasn’t until her first meeting with Trehhipoi, and his misunderstanding about her “defeating” Vader that those requests begin to make sense. For a certain set of donors, there was an appeal to meeting the woman who defeated Darth Vader.

Leia snorted to herself. Defeated, what a joke. He had walked out of that cell alive, hadn’t he?

“He almost didn’t,“ her mind reminded her. “You almost killed him in that cell, remember?”

Leia took a deep breath in. She didn’t like being reminded of how out of control she had gotten in that cell. Yes, she wanted Vader dead. That wasn’t something that had changed for her since she had landed in this time and learned more than she had ever wanted to know about him. But it was also true, that when she found herself standing in that cell, confronted with the man who had warped so much of her life, all she had been focused on was surviving, and him learning as little as possible about her.

It hadn’t even occurred to her to attack him. Well, she amended, attack him with nothing more than her words. Leia was no Jedi, and she had been unarmed. Even though she had the advantage of surprise, Vader had no reason to suspect she had as much training as she did in the Force, she still wouldn’t be able to take him. Not there.

Even with these new skills she had honed in the last few months, in her effort to keep him out of her head, she wasn’t able to beat him.

What worried Leia, was in that moment, when she had tried to free herself, she hadn’t been trying to hurt him, never mind kill him.  All she had been thinking, as much as she could think with oxygen rapidly becoming an issue, was that she wanted him to let go. The fact that she had nearly committed patricide, on accident, made her very wary of her abilities in the Force.

Leia had never thought she was stronger than Vader in the Force. Luke certainly wasn’t, he had told her as much. It made sense. Vader was the source of that strength, being their biological father, it was highly unlikely they would be stronger than him. Maybe if they had confronted him together, but certainly not alone.

Until she spoke to Obi-Wan, she had never had any context to their potential. Leia knew that she and Luke were strong in the Force. Both Vader and Palpatine’s actions in regards to her brother made that very clear. The smart play would have been to kill Luke, once they were aware of his existence. Instead, both of them had wanted to turn him into a weapon to use against the other.

But as Obi-Wan, and now Ahsoka, had made very clear, Leia and Luke were capable of feats in the Force that were considered far outside the norm. Ergo, Vader hadn’t just been taken by surprise by her skills in that cell, but by her raw power. He had been expecting her to be wielding a blaster, and instead, she brought a laser cannon. Of course, if she followed that analogy to its logical conclusion, it meant that she had been carrying a far deadlier weapon then she had realized for most of her life.

All Leia wanted to do with that information was push everything she knew about the Force into the back of her mind and forget everything. The Force was unpredictable at the best of times. Yes, those who could channel it, could do incredible feats with it, but that power came with huge personal costs. There was a strong part of her urging her to run away from all of this, as fast as she could.

Which wasn’t a healthy, or very mature attitude, but Leia couldn’t think of anyone to talk to about it. Mama and Papa had no context when it came to the Force. As far as they were concerned, it was something she could choose to embrace, or not embrace, which certainly wasn’t the case. If that was an option, Leia would have forced this all away decades ago by sheer will.

Leia knew that Han and Luke had enough to deal with. Luke was currently grappling with his own issues regarding the Force, which left Obi-Wan. It didn’t take but a moment to discard that as a very bad idea. He would have the same problem as Mama and Papa. Only the context he would be missing was from the other side. As far as he was concerned, there was no need for her to cling to her old life, and that she should follow the path the Force had laid out for her.

Mind Healers were a rare resource on Yavin, for all that they were desperately needed. Even if they had been drowning in them, Leia couldn’t think of any, that were currently here or would be here, that she could trust enough to talk to. Either to believe her story, or worse, believe her and go running to the Alliance High Command and let them know that not only was Leia Vader’s daughter, and had the potential to be a Jedi just as powerful as Luke, she also had a road map in her head of how to defeat the Empire.

It didn’t matter. Much like paper pushers, mind healers weren’t inherently drawn to this life, unless they had been grievously wronged by the Empire. She didn’t need to talk to someone. She needed, as Poe would put it, “To blow some shit up.”

At the thought of Poe, Leia felt a warm smile cross her lips. He would be so flustered and embarrassed that the alias Luke was operating under here and now, was his name. She could see him now, in her mind’s eye, looking down bashfully while she had her eyes on him.

But the second she was out of sight, not hearing mind you, just sight, he would be shouting out gleefully to his squadron, “Hear that? The Empire wants me dead or alive for ten million! Are you worth ten million, Snap?”

Snap would shake his head, and tell him that he had actually been there during the Rebellion, while Poe was still in his diapers. And the two would dissolve into their familiar pissing contest that Snap had technically never been a member of the Rebellion. That his mother, Nora Wexley, was the one who held official rank. And that Snap had been brought along, because he, in Poe’s succinct words, “was too stupid to stay out of a battlefield, when the war was already won.”

Snap had been fourteen, bright, curious, and part of his mother’s retrieval squad that had gone after high ranking Imperials after the Battle of Endor, but before the signing of the Galactic Concordance. Leia had objected to his inclusion, but Nora was afraid that her son would follow her if she outright forbade him. If she brought him along, at least he was more likely to listen to her, and her orders, instead of running around trying to “help”.

It was too close to the arguments that Papa had made against allowing Leia’s inclusion into the Rebellion at sixteen to Mon, for Leia to really argue against. But she had watched that whip-smart boy grow into a fine man. Leia could hardly wait to meet him again.

Of course, that was dependent on if Nora even came to Yavin.

Leia felt her breath hitch. It hadn’t occurred to her, until right this second, that would be the case. Nora had a passionate heart and a firm sense of justice.  But now that Alderaan hadn’t been destroyed, would her husband even be arrested for broadcasting “false information”? That had been the event that sent Nora to the Alliance in the first place. Otherwise, the woman would never have walked away from her family.

And if Nora didn’t join the Alliance, looking for what happened to her husband, did that mean that her son would never cross paths with Leia?

Or Poe? Leia knew that Shara and Kes had been married before they joined the Alliance, so Poe could still possibly be born. But that date was three years in the future, right before the Alliance had settled on Hoth. Would the war even last that long? Things were changing so fast from Leia’s timeline she had no guarantee that she would ever meet the Dameron’s before everything came to a stop, one way or another.

If there was no flight from Hoth, there would be no need for Leia, Han, and Chewie to seek refuge in Cloud City. Lando would have no reason to join their crusade at all. For all his flashy ways, and scoundrel’s heart, the running of Cloud City, was something he took seriously. He wouldn’t leave, no matter how hard Han tried to persuade him to. Not without a good reason.

Without the experience of war to forge them together, would Lando ever become something more than an old friend of Han’s? No, not friends, Leia remembered with a sinking heart. Currently, they weren’t even that. They were not speaking to each other. This was the fight, the one that neither of them would ever discuss with her.

So, chances were, if, by some miracle, they did run into Lando now, at best, he would treat Han as someone to be wary of. At worst, as an enemy. Lando would never know who Han grew into being. He would never know who he could grow into being.

Would he be someone who would see Leia, and just treat her like ”Her Highness”? And Luke like a Jedi? Not the people they were, but the titles they wore?

Leia picked up her pace, trying to outrun her own thoughts. This was all ridiculous, and maudlin speculation. It was not a thought for today. If Leia started counting all the costs of those she might lose, she would never get going. For the safety of everyone she loved, or would love, the Empire needed to be destroyed, the sooner, the better. Because once that beast was dead, she could bring all her concentration on destroying the bastard child that grew up to replace it. Focusing on what she could lose was ridiculous.

“Or perhaps you should focus on those you have gained.”

Leia’s feet immediately froze to the stone floor of the temple. That had not been her thought. Leia was intimately aware of what her own inner thoughts sounded like. They came in a variety of voices and tones. There were the ones that sounded like loved ones. There were the ones that sounded like her, only five. The ones that sounded like the best version of her, and the ones that were thoughtless and spiteful. That thought had been in none of those familiar sounds.

She was vaguely aware that she got a disgruntled look from the one lone soul in the hallway, that had to swerve to avoid her, but she paid them little heed. She focused on her breathing and tried not to start screaming. That had been the Force, clear as a bell, whispering in her mind.

She closed her eyes, and concentrated on solidifying her shields, of disappearing from everyone’s sight. Of becoming so small and insignificant, that no one would find her of interest again.

“Leia?” a shaky voice shouted across her mind, shattering the shields she had been trying to bury herself in. 

Leia’s eyes flew open at the feel of her brother’s panic and worry. Damn, she had gone too far.

It’s nothing,” she sent back to Luke.

“That didn’t feel like nothing. It felt like you suddenly disappeared.His voice was sliding from concern into irritation.

She had really worried him. Why? What did he possibly think could happen to her here, on Yavin? Or maybe it wasn’t about that and was instead about the new fears he had. For Luke, the last time she had disappeared so suddenly on him in the Force, she had been shot.

“I’m sorry,” she sent back and opened herself back up to her normal reception in the Force. “I got startled by something and brought my walls down hard on instinct.”

Leia could feel Luke weighing the truth of that, along with his worry. “Was it Father?” he finally asked.

Leia shook her head, even though he couldn’t see her. “No,” she said, hoping her tone would keep him from asking further questions. “It was nothing.”

Leia could feel his doubt through their link, but he didn’t press her further. “Okay,” he said grudgingly, “I’m here if you want to talk though.”

“I know that,” she said back. And she did. But just exactly what was she supposed to say? The semi-mystical energy that has played games with us, for our whole lives, is getting pushy?

But that snide question, even if it was in her own head, helped Leia realize that she was acting in fear and panic. So what if the Force had managed to speak to her? It’s not like she hadn’t ever heard it before. Granted, all those times had been when she reached out, but that didn’t mean it had never happened. And it was right. She had regained so many things she thought lost to her forever. Mama and Papa. Han. Luke. Chewie, if he ever forgave her for bruising Han’s heart.

There were also the people that she had never known before. Obi-Wan, nothing more than a legend for most of her life, but now before her, in all his complicated, broken self. But a friend, for all the troubles and rough edges to that friendship.

And then there was Rex. Who was even more of a miracle. Someone who wasn’t a younger version of someone she knew. A stranger, but who was intimately connected to so many facets of her life, that she had somehow missed the first time. That she had been granted the privilege of meeting and getting to know. Someone who was not only a good ally, clear-headed and loyal, but a good friend, and that was a rare thing in Leia’s life.

The Force only knew who she would encounter going forward. Yes, she would mourn those relationships that might never come to be, but that didn’t mean that whoever came into her life now would be somehow less. Just different.

She shoved a petulant “So there,” to the Force, and could swear, the Force laughed back at her.

“Still not listening, are we?” it whispered, the words echoing in her bones. For one brief moment, all of Leia ached, and she felt like she was cold and hot all at once as the roar of all creation sounded in her ears. Then that overwhelming sensation faded away, the point being made.

Leia reached out a shaky hand and braced herself on the wall closest to her, trying to catch her breath. The human mind wasn’t meant to feel this, experience this, deal with that full and intense connection. No matter how powerfully the Force was connected to her family, it wasn’t something she would ever be able to understand in its entirety, and she didn’t understand why it insisted that she try.   

Like for instance, what the hell was that supposed to mean? Who else had she supposedly picked up as an ally that she hadn’t noticed? Or was the Force just going to randomly start showing her things that could be?

Leia fervently hoped that wasn’t the case. She was having enough trouble balancing two timelines in her head, she didn’t need the fragments of more, and started seeing all the possible allies and friends she could have.

The sound of chuckling laughter caught her attention, and she looked to the end of the hallway to see some pilots dressed in those gods awful orange uniforms. She was pretty sure among the crowd, she recognized Wedge. Hell, that meant that the CAP flight shift was happening. Which meant that soon much of the base would be getting up. Which meant there would be more witnesses to her roaming the halls of this base, looking lost.

Leia took a deep breath and shoved all of this aside. All of this was a problem that could plague her at another time. Today she was going to focus on the fact that Han was going to be here, and the sooner he got here, the sooner she could get off-world. She had long ago learned how to find the joy and satisfaction in the moments she could, and not let other problems steal those tenuous emotions away. If she hadn’t, she would have gone mad long ago.

She gave a firm shake of her head. Standing in the middle of this hallway was going to get her nowhere, other than people start to question her sanity. It was early in Yavin’s day cycle, but that didn’t mean no one was up. Besides, she wanted to catch Han, if he was here, before he had to give his report to Mon.

Because he was considered an ally, not a full member of the Alliance, those briefings weren’t as long as if Leia was the one who had to give them. However, that didn’t mean he got out of the act entirely, much to his very vocal displeasure. 

She made it to the intersection just before the entrance of the hangar bay, when in the corner of her eyes, she caught a flash of orange. Leia turned her head, expecting to see more pilots, as they headed into the hanger bay.

To her surprise, it was Ahsoka. The woman was too good at hiding herself in the Force. Leia hadn’t even sensed she was on base, never mind this close.

She was standing in the mouth of the intersecting hallway that led to the main entrance to the hanger bay. She hadn’t caught sight of Leia yet if her intense focus on the tall human woman standing in front of her was anything to go by.

Leia weighed whether she should go over and say hello. This was another person from her past, that while she had known a bit more about than Rex, hadn’t understood the full importance of. Ahsoka was an ally, Leia was pretty sure about that. But it remained to be seen if she would become a friend.

Leia reminded herself that standing there gawking at Ahsoka, dithering about whether she should say a simple “Good morning,” wouldn’t help her make that decision either way.  

Leia took a step towards Ahsoka, just as the woman she was talking to reached out a hand, grabbing Ahsoka’s in her own. Whatever pleasant greeting that Leia had been about to shout out, died on her lips. Even in the brief time Leia had known the woman, she knew Ahsoka was very much like Obi-Wan in this regard. She didn’t invite touch. Whoever this person was, Ahsoka knew them intimately, to allow this level of familiarity.

Leia couldn’t make out what was being said, they were too far away for that. That didn’t mean she couldn’t glean anything. The two of them were having a serious conversation based on the way they were slowly moving closer to each other, the sustained eye contact, and hushed voices. Leia would feel bad about spying on what was clearly a close moment between them, if they weren’t having it in the middle of one of the main hallways on the base.

Leia didn’t recognize the woman. She was human, as far as Leia could tell from this angle, tall, with her dark hair intricately woven into small braids, and skin that was darker than Papa’s. 

Ahsoka looked down at their grasped hands, and there was something there. Not in the Force, Ahsoka was ever her reserved presence, but in the way she was standing so still, her sharp gaze focused with intense concentration. Whatever their relationship, it wasn’t casual, by any means. This woman meant something to her. Ahsoka hadn’t even noticed that Leia was here, she was so wrapped up in this conversation. And Ahsoka wasn’t someone who let her awareness of her surroundings escape her notice. She had been alive too long for that to be the case.

The unnamed woman came forward and hugged Ahsoka. The Togruta didn’t hesitate, just grabbed back as fiercely. Leia broke her gaze off. This was private and personal. Whoever this woman was to Ahsoka, she meant a lot, and it wasn’t Leia’s place to pry. It was foolish to go to the hanger anyway. Han hadn’t been all that clear on when he would arrive, and even if he was here, he was probably stuck in Mon’s office, giving a report to the woman.

Leia turned on her heels and started down the hallway leading to her parent’s room. As she walked, she allowed her mind to ponder over what she had just seen. By her own admission, Ahsoka had a rough leaving from the Order. Undoubtedly those experiences did lead to her current reluctance to call herself a Jedi. But Leia had to ask herself, if maybe some of Ahsoka’s resistance to being a Jedi, had anything to do with their strict adherence to non-attachment, and that woman she was talking to.

 

 

Leia made it to her parent’s room on autopilot, lost in her own head, mulling over what she had witnessed. She gave a quick rap of her knuckles, letting them know she was here.

Instead of Threepio opening the door, as he usually did, she heard a grateful, “Leia!” from the other side of the door.

Leia blinked, not sure if she had heard who she thought she had. She palmed the door open, and her startled gaze immediately fell on Han. He was sitting at the foot of her parents table, in direct sightline of the door. As soon as her eyes met his, his face broke out in a wide welcome smile. Despite how foolishly young it made her feel, she couldn’t stop the goofy smile that crossed her own face.

Without even bothering to greet her parents, she walked over to him. “Han,” she said warmly, leaning down and brushing a light kiss on the cheek. “You’re here,” she remarked wonderingly.

“Yeah,” his eyes looked into hers, and she could see the small wrinkles form in the corner of his eyes. It was his real smile, and he was giving it to her in a room where her parents were sitting. Some progress on that front then. But she didn’t overlook the lingering tension that was even now, fading in his shoulders. So not anxious before she arrived, but not comfortable either. 

“I got here about ten minutes ago,” he explained, as if she could ever think that he was here just to visit her parents. Well, if it had only been Mama maybe. Han liked her, and she was amused by him. Nervousness filled his gaze, and his eyes flicked behind Leia, to Mama and Papa. “Thought you would be here already,” and his gaze returned to hers. “Oversleep?” There was a small hint of concern in that question. 

She gave him a fond smile and shook her head. “I went to the hanger to see if you had arrived yet.” Han looked surprised, then an expression of shy pleasure came over his face before he ducked his head to hide from her.

Leia cupped his cheek, trying to reassure him through touch that he didn’t need to hide from her. But her words were softly chiding, to give him an out if he wanted it. “You didn’t give me an exact time of when you would arrive.”

Han’s face came back up, and it was open and warm. But he met her cool tone with an insolent shrug. “Turns out, I’m even more impressive than I thought. Got done early, and Mon had a meeting ongoing when I got to Yavin. She told me to go eat breakfast and come back later.”

Leia rolled her eyes at his boasting. “Your ego is going to get you into even more trouble one of these days.”

“Oh, but I like trouble,” he grinned and leaned forward. “I like the Kid, don’t I?”

She was about to point out that wasn’t exactly the way to lead a long life, when Papa pointedly cleared his throat. Leia didn’t miss the quick flicker of Han’s eyes as he looked at Papa behind her.

She turned to face Papa. He was sitting at the head of the table, with Mama at his right side. If this was an official meeting of some kind, it would be a horrible breach of etiquette for the Prince Consort to take the rightful place of his Queen. Since it was only Han, and Leia doubted at this point in his life he even knew there were protocols to who sat where, and it was the seat with the clear line of sight of him, Leia had a pretty good idea why Papa was not sitting in his normal place.

But those dark brown eyes weren’t looking at Han. No, his stern gaze was currently fixed on her.

“Good morning Leia,” he said very pointedly.

Leia felt a slight blush grace her cheeks at her lack of manners. She had been taught better than to enter a room and ignore the other occupants in it. Unless, of course, that was the point. Leia knew her parents weren’t all that useful with conventional weapons, but they had honed their manners into the finest cutting knife.

“Good morning Papa,” she said and nodded her head to Mama, who was looking amused at everything. “Mama. Did you sleep well?”

“We slept fine,” Mama answered. “And you?”

“I did too,” Leia answered. It wasn’t an exaggeration. There had been no nightmares plaguing her sleep last night, as had been the case for her over the last week or so. And because Luke had the night shift on the CAP rotation, she hadn’t been pulled into one of his nightmares either. It had led to a rare morning well she felt fully rested.

Now that the pleasantries were dealt with, Leia could address Han’s mood when she walked into this room. Well aware of which parent was most likely to blame, she asked, “Papa, anything happen before I got here that I should be aware of?“

Papa, to his credit, didn’t play dumb. He shook his head. “No,” he said, sipping from the mug cradled in his hand. “I have not had enough caf this morning yet to function, never mind indulge in my new favorite hobby of tormenting your suitor.”

Behind her, Han made a strange noise at the word “suitor”.

“Are you alright, Han?” Papa asked, voice full of solicitous concern.

Leia turned to face him, worried that Han had choked on his food. “I’m fine,” he croaked, red in the face, waving her help away. “Water went down the wrong pipe.”

“Well, that’s good to hear,” Papa said lightly. “It would be terribly inconvenient if you died at our breakfast table. Think of the paperwork.”

“Papa,” Leia said, glaring at him.

Papa looked at her, amusement crinkling the small wrinkles around his eyes. “Oh, no, Leia. This is not my fault. Han’s current mood is all on your mother.”

Leia found herself plunking down into the chair to the right of Han, her legs suddenly refusing to work, as she stared in astonishment at Mama. That didn’t make any sense. Mama liked Han.

“I was simply asking Han a few questions,” Mama said, a wicked twinkle in her eyes. “Nothing nefarious. I assure you.”

Leia’s eyes narrowed. “Uh-huh,” she said, but before she could press further, there was a knock at the door. A second later, Luke’s head popped in.

“Luke!” Mama said, surprise and happiness equally clear in her voice. She stood, and took one step forward, like she was going to go over and greet him with a kiss on the cheek, like she had done in the past. Leia could see when Luke’s guarded face registered for her, and she came to an ungainly halt. There was disappointment on her face, before it was all covered with her Queen’s mask. “What a pleasant surprise,” she said in a welcoming, but reserved tone. “Won’t you please join us?”

Mama wasn’t the only one surprised to see him. “Luke?” Leia sent.

“Han was in the hanger when I came back from my CAP rotation. He asked for back up,” was his terse answer. And why hadn’t he mentioned that Han was here in her parent’s room earlier, when she had been talking to him? And how had she beaten him here?

“What took you so long?”

“I wanted to take a shower.”

That made sense. Luke never missed a chance to take a bath or shower, still luxuriating in the ability to bathe with water, instead of sonics.

Luke’s gaze fell away from her, and his eyes met Mama, who was still standing, hand out to the empty spot. Luke looked at it for a moment, then at Leia, and finally, his eyes fell on Han. Leia could feel his emotions bounce back and forth between his desire to stay, to eat breakfast with people he considered family, and his lingering resentment at Papa and Mama.

Or maybe something else was going on? Leia wasn’t sure. The subject of her parent’s wasn’t like Vader. It’s not that Luke had told her he wouldn’t talk to her about it. It’s just that they hadn’t.

She was a terrible sister. She had been so consumed in her own pain, that she hadn’t put much thought into his. She wasn’t the only one who had several emotional wounds ripped open over the last few months.

Leia had no idea what Luke thought about her parents now. He had been furious that they hadn’t told him about Vader, but so many other issues and betrayals had come up since then, it was very possible that he had let it go.

She took note of the resentment in his eyes and marked that down as wishful thinking on her part. Luke could hold a grudge just as fiercely as she could. His anger was fading, but it was still there. He was over it enough to come here, to help Han, but Leia doubted he thought he would be staying here after she arrived. Hell, it was probably why he chose to take a shower before showing up, to limit the amount of time he needed to be in this room with both of them.

As much as she wanted him to stay, Leia knew Luke. He always had a temper, and time had passed since the revelation that had sundered the relationship growing between him and her parent’s. But he had also taken several more blows since then. Her parents weren’t the ones who had dealt them, but they were the ones here.

And it was breakfast. Luke didn’t argue at the breakfast table. It was a family tradition with the Lars, and Luke held to it as much as he could. At least the breakfast’s Leia had with him. It was something he hadn’t liked when he was living with them, he had told her once, back when they were both twenty. He had thought it was irritating and confining, too young, and too impatient to understand the lessons they had been trying to teach him. But once they were gone, it was a way to hold on to them, and the wisdom they tried to pass on to him.

Luke had no holos of them, no keepsakes from his childhood. All he had was the lessons they gave him, and he tried to keep to them as much as he could. Staying here, and now, would be pushing his limits. If he gave in to his anger now, no matter how righteous he was feeling about it, he wasn’t in the best frame of mind to forgive himself later, after he cooled down.

Luke had enough going on now, without adding the guilt of feeling like he was betraying their memory. Not when family was such a complicated subject for him.

But her brother surprised her. His face took on a thoughtful air as he noticed the tension as quickly as Leia had.

“Are you okay?” he asked Han, taking a step into the room. To protect Han, or start a fight, Leia wasn’t sure.

Han waved a lazy hand. “I’m fine,” he said breezily.

Luke’s eyes narrowed and swung his gaze to Papa, who rolled his eyes at Luke. “I, unlike everyone else at this table,” he grumbled, “did not get enough sleep last night. All I want is to drink my caf, and not speak for an hour.”

Han and Luke both stared goggled eyed at Papa.

Leia settled back into her chair. No, Papa didn’t do well when he slept poorly. Of course, neither Luke nor Han could possibly know that about him. But Leia did. It made Leia relax about Papa and Han being in the same room without her in the future. Even when he was tired and irritable, Papa wasn’t this easy to rile unless he felt comfortable being around the people in the room. He might not trust Han to show him all of himself, but it was something that he showed him this.

Papa’s defense of himself also had the benefit of giving Leia the verbal opening she needed to push further.

“What did you ask him?” Leia demanded, perhaps a bit sharper than she should have.

Mama gave her a secretive smile. “Nothing outrageous,” she said. “His plans for the future. Favorite meals. That sort of thing.”

Oh, by all the gods, no wonder Han was internally freaking out. He had never had to deal with a concerned parent, prodding into their child’s potential...husband? Lover? Whatever. The point was that Han would view this as an interrogation, about his fitness to be Leia’s husband, not polite conversation in order to get to know him better.

Luke’s frown deepened, as if he too didn’t understand what about those questions would set Han off. He knew Han had lived rough, but Leia was almost sure Luke had no idea what the true extent of what Han’s childhood was like. That wasn’t her secret to tell Luke. Han would tell him when he was damn good and ready.

“Sit, Luke,” Han said, waving a hand at one of the seats in the small living space.

Luke looked like he was debating with himself for one long moment, then he let out a sigh. He came in, eyes wary as they looked at Leia’s parents. Mama only gave him an encouraging smile, and Papa was focusing on drinking his caf.

Leia almost told him to go. It wasn’t that he wasn’t still angry at Mama and Papa, but he could feel Han’s need for him to be here, for Leia’s need for her whole family to be here.  Luke had always had a hard time saying no to the people he loved. It had led to some disastrous consequences to him in the past.

It was the whole reason he agreed to train Ben after all, because she asked for his help.

Or maybe she was overthinking all of this. It was only breakfast after all, not the war for someone’s soul. Luke was an adult, and if he wanted to stay, then she wasn’t going to say anything. The fact that she had missed seeing him here in the morning was inconsequential to her reasoning for keeping quiet. Really.

Luke went into the small seating area, and grabbed one of the chairs over there, bringing it to the table. He set it so that he was beside Leia, with Papa to his left at the head of the table. Mama was sitting directly across from Leia, and she cleared her throat before she asked. “Have you eaten?”

“No,” Luke said, with a shake of his head.

Mama looked down at the table and frowned. She resolutely picked up her plate. It still contained one ration bar on it, along with the wrappers for about two others. She reached across the table to hand it to Luke.

“No,” Luke said, very firmly. “I’m fine.”

“I insist,” Mama said with a smile, the plate now in front of Leia’s face. She couldn’t see Luke’s face, but she could feel his shock roll through him.

“I can’t,” Luke said. His voice hoarse and desperate-sounding.

Leia’s eyes flicked over to Mama, whose face tightened just the slightest. “It’s not a problem,” she said.

Luke actually put a hand up and pushed the plate away from him. Papa looked like he was about two seconds from giving Luke a lesson about manners. Han looked like he wanted to crawl under the table to hide from the fallout. Leia was about to kick Luke under the table, when it occurred to her just what was going on here.

Leia cleared her throat to get everyone’s attention. In the normal course of events, she wouldn’t even consider playing mediator between Luke and Mama. They needed to find their own way, and Leia playing the peacemaker between them wouldn’t work in the long run, and would just lead to hurt feelings for everyone.  But since it looked like a small war was about to break out over what was a cultural misunderstanding between the two of them, it was probably for the best she break that rule, just this once. 

“Luke,” Leia said softly, turning to face her brother and grabbing the hand he was still using to keep the plate from him. “It’s fine. You are not taking the last of her food.”

“But-“ Luke started to protest. Leia shook her head.

“You are not,” she said firmly. “Good food has been scarce, but I’ve seen the rations we have, and it’s enough to feed this entire base for a good long while.”

Luke flicked his eyes to Mama, then back to Leia. He could feel that she was telling the truth, but the scars of his childhood ran deep. Obi-Wan wasn’t the only one who had issues with food security. 

Papa, using his years of experience in diplomatic settings, or his kind heart, said softly, “When we realized Han was going to be eating with us, we sent Threepio to get enough food for three more people. Breha has already had one bar, and she didn’t want you to wait hungry until Threepio brought more.”

Luke blinked, and Han looked startled too. It was enough of a non sequitur to break into the fear swallowing Luke whole. “Why did you do that?” Luke asked.

Papa looked amused. “Well, I knew if Han was here, you and Leia weren’t going to be that far behind. Where one of you goes, the others soon follow.”

“Please take the food Luke,” Leia whispered across his mind. She could feel him wavering between his trust in her and the conditioning of his childhood.

“It’s not so bad,” Luke sent back. “I can wait.”

His stomach chose to let out a loud gurgle right then.

Leia went in for the kill. “No matter what you do, she’s not going to eat it, Luke.” At his shocked look that someone would turn away perfectly acceptable food, Leia followed up with, “On Alderaan, it is rude to eat while someone at your table is hungry.”

Luke looked at the plate and then at Mama. He stiffened, and Leia could see when he realized his refusal to take the food meant something different then he intended. “My apologies,” he said softly to Mama, “I meant no insult.”

Mama’s face was full of concern, and Leia could practically feel all the questions she wanted to ask. But all she said was, “It’s alright.”

She waved the plate, so it was under Luke’s face, and this time, he reached out and took it, slowly lowering in front of him.

Leia relaxed as the tense mood melted away. Luke looked at his plate, then looked at Leia’s, then Han’s, and did the math. “Why did you have four plates on hand?” Luke looked puzzled.

Mama kept her face deliberately calm and pleasant. “We always have four plates delivered with breakfast, Luke.” He only stared at her blankly. Mama looked surprisingly hurt at Luke’s still questioning face. “One of them was meant for you. We hoped you would come back and join us regularly.”

Luke’s eyes flicked to Leia, a look of betrayal on his face.

"Pressuring your parents to accept me?” he asked, tone snide. If it wasn’t for the hurt she could feel lurking under those words, Leia would have given him a tongue lashing he would remember.

But she could feel the pain that Luke felt feeling that he wasn’t wanted for himself. She shook her head. “I didn’t know,” she said. “It doesn’t surprise me they did, but I didn’t know.”

He looked at her suspiciously. “Leia, you notice everything.”

She glared at him for being a stubborn gundark about this.  “Not before my caf, Luke.”

Luke had the grace to look a little abashed at that reminder. Then he turned to look at Mama and Papa. “You wanted me to come back here for breakfast?” And there was just the smallest note of vulnerability in that question.

“Of course,” Mama said.

Luke’s face clouded. “Because I am important to Leia,” he said, his hands balling into fists under the table. “And no matter your flaws, or what I think about what you’ve done to me, I don’t doubt you love her, and her happiness is important to you.”

Mama frowned. “Because we love you, and you are a part of this family.”

Luke looked gobsmacked. “I-“ he shook his head. There were several long moments, as they all maintained their silence as he tried to find his words. “But I’m not anything to you,” he finally managed to get out. “I’m the child you didn’t take.”

Leia stiffened. There was more going on here than just anger at her parents. Luke was a riot of hurt, jealousy, and self-loathing. Was that why he was having a hard time letting his anger go? Because he had looked at Leia’s parents, and seen something he wanted. And felt like that was a betrayal of the love he felt for Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen?

This wasn’t what happened last time. Not the part about growing up together. Once they had known they were related, that had been something that both of them regretted bitterly. But there had never been any envy for the other’s parents. How could they? They had never met the other set.

But this Luke had. Not only that, he had met them not after four years of training to be a Jedi, but days after his family was slaughtered. When he had been desperate and alone, an orphan, suddenly there was a sister, with parents of her own. Parent’s that he had liked and respected, before everything between them went to hell.

Mama looked over to Papa, and Leia was shocked that there were tears in her eyes. “Luke,” she whispered, and her voice failed her.

Papa cleared his throat and said in a hoarse voice. “That was done for your safety, Luke,” he said, voice rough. “It was never because you wouldn’t have been loved by us.”

Luke looked at both of them, expression lost.

A tear fell down Mama’s cheek. “I don’t think I’ve ever envied the Lars more than I do right this moment.”

Envy them?” Luke’s voice was incredulous. “For what?”

Mama slumped in her chair, looking defeated. “For starters, they got to raise you.” Luke blinked at the pure envy in Mama’s voice. “And for another could have called Leia their niece, and no one would have batted an eye.”

“You can’t acknowledge who I am to Leia,” Luke said in a wavering voice. “It would put her in danger.”

Mama gave him a sad smile. “I know. But that doesn’t make not acknowledging who you are any easier to bear.”

“And what am I to you?” Luke looked like he was teetering between hope and despair.

Mama looked sad. “There are no words for it, not in any language I know, Luke.”

“So nothing then?” Luke muttered bitterly.

Papa shook his head. “Just because a thing has no name doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It’s just that Leia is our daughter, but you are not our son.” Luke visibly flinched at that. Papa started to get up, and Leia realized he was about to go over to Luke and pull him into a hug. She shook her head. Luke would not respond well to that gesture, right this minute.

Papa caught the motion of her head, and his mouth flattened into an unhappy line, as he sat back into his seat. “It’s not because we don’t want you to be. But rather, we think you have enough fathers at the moment.”

Luke looked up, shocked. “I only have the one,” he whispered.

Papa’s mouth twitched in bitter amusement. “And I would argue he comes with enough issues to qualify him as two.” Then Papa’s smile slipped off his face. “But, I was referring to your Uncle Owen.”

“He was my Uncle,” Luke said.

“And he raised you, like a father should,” Papa said gently. Leia desperately wanted to tell him to stay off this subject. Luke wasn’t nearly ready to reconcile his grief with what he had truly lost when the Lars had died. But she wasn’t here to mediate between them.

Mama wasn’t nearly as blind as Papa. “Perhaps that is a discussion for another time?”

Papa nodded. “But, regardless as to what words you want to use, know this, we consider you part of this family. No matter if there is no word for it, we love you.”

Luke didn’t look like he knew what to say to that. Han also looked a bit embarrassed, over what Leia couldn’t begin to guess. That Papa had guessed, and accurately, that Leia and Luke would follow him here? The fact that he was seeing something so vulnerable from two people who he knew didn’t trust him? For all she knew, it was the abundance of emotion that was causing him discomfort. Han was much more comfortable with sarcasm, and heroic gestures to show he cared.

Leia would never learn how Luke would have responded to that offer, because at that moment, there was a soft knock at the door.

Han scowled. “Does that droid have a sensor or something that tells him when the most awkward moment is to show up?”

Leia shook her head. “That isn’t Threepio.” Because he would knock, his protocol programming was too deep for him to do anything else, even if Mama and Papa ordered him not to. But he would call out his name, and then enter in. Whoever was at the door, wasn’t Threepio.

The knock repeated, but softer this time. 

“I’ll get it,” Han offered, but Papa put up a hand to stop him.

“Don’t,” he said, pushing back from the table. “It’s probably for me or Breha.”

The person at the door definitely wasn’t there on official business.

“Good morning, Bail,” a very familiar cultured voice said. Leia’s eyes went to the door, and she caught a glimpse of Obi-Wan’s face. It was placid and calm, but as his eyes slipped past Papa’s shoulder, she felt the flash of envy and longing slide across her shields in the Force. Leia took an instinctive breath in as those emotions played a little too close in harmony with hers.

No, she wasn’t the one on the outside looking in anymore. She wasn’t the one whose loved ones were all dead, or so far from her, she could barely feel them. She was the one who was eating breakfast, surrounded by miracles on all sides of her. But she had lived with those feelings for years, and what she was getting off Obi-Wan was a painful memory spike of all the times she had felt cut off from the crowds of people who surrounded her in the Resistance.

These few precious months had been more than she ever thought was possible, and they had been healing in ways she didn’t have the words to explain, for all the other emotional costs she was paying. But that didn’t mean she didn’t understand, on a level she didn’t think anyone at this table did, the depth of Obi-Wan’s loneliness.

Which also meant she was now more worried then she had been when she issued the invitation. She had thought it would take Obi-Wan at least a week to work up the nerve to come here. His loneliness must be even deeper than she thought, if he showed up this quickly.

Beside her, Luke stood up, his chair clattering to the floor as he threw his napkin on the table. “What is he doing here?” he growled. He wasn’t yelling, not yet, but that probably had more to do with it being breakfast, and old habits, then any real grip on his temper. All along her shields, his anger made tiny slices into her mind.

She kicked him under the table, and he let out a sharp yelp.

“Hey!” he sputtered, turning outraged eyes to her. “What was that for?”

“Knock it off,” she groused, and rubbed her hands up and down her arms to emphasize her point. “I haven’t had enough caf yet to deal with what you’re leaking everywhere.”

He continued to scowl at her for another moment, until what she said sank into his thick head. A look of sheepishness entered his eyes, and Leia felt those pinpricks of pain go away, as he retreated behind his own shields.

He continued to scowl, though, turning irritated eyes to Papa. “So, all that talk of being part of your family is your way of manipulating me into resuming my training?” he shot at her parents. Mama and Papa both looked taken aback and then hurt.

Well, Luke was in a fine mood this morning. That was alright, his unprovoked attack against her parents meant Leia was now in a fine mood herself. Family was important to Mama and Papa, they would never use such a ploy to trick him into doing anything. They had exposed a vulnerability to Luke, and now here he was using it to hurt them. She sent him the equivalent of a flick of her fingers across his shields, making sure it was sharp enough to hurt.

Luke didn’t turn to look at her, but in the Force, his irritated voice complained, “Will you stop that?”

When you stop being a brat,” Leia shot back, allowing him to feel her anger and hurt. “Mama and Papa had nothing to do with Obi-Wan being here.

“Oh sure,” Luke snorted mentally. “It’s just a coincidence-“

Leia did the equivalent of a push against his shoulder, only she was doing it against his mind. That didn’t mean there weren’t physical effects. Luke stumbled a bit, catching himself on the table. He turned betrayed eyes to her.

“I invited Obi-Wan here, Luke. Not them,” Leia said out loud.

They wouldn’t have had a problem with it, of course, if she had remembered to tell them. Mama’s actions with Obi-Wan’s wardrobe showed how concerned she was. In the normal course of events, she wasn’t given to burning people’s possessions in front of them.

“Luke?” Mama asked, cutting into the awkward silence. “Leia?”

Han snorted. “Give ’em a minute. They are fighting it out.”

Papa’s voice was incredulous, “They haven’t said a word until just now.”

“Not out loud, Bail,” Obi-Wan’s voice was soft, as if he was afraid that if he drew too much attention to himself, Luke would immediately throw him out.

The look of betrayal melted from Luke’s face, and it turned into a mutinous glare to Obi-Wan. “It’s rude to eavesdrop,” he hissed.

Obi-Wan put both hands up. “I can’t hear what you are saying, Luke,” he said, voice still whisper soft. “I am just aware that you are talking.”

Luke’s eyes narrowed, but as Leia was well aware, there was no hint of deception in him in the Force. Luke huffed, then trained his angry gaze on Leia.

Why invite him here?” he demanded, crossing his arms over his chest, and those pinpricks along her shield were back, but more intense now that he was doing it deliberately. He wasn’t hiding his anger away anymore then she was.

What was wrong with him? He was acting like some moody, hormone driven…teenager. Leia’s anger deflated, as she cursed her own foolishness. Of course, he was. He still was one.

Leia sighed, and she made sure that she withdrew all the emotions she had been battering him with, safely into her own mind. There was a ripple of shock in Luke’s emotions, and then he repaid the gesture by reigning himself in.

She couldn’t make Luke pay for her own forgetfulness. She had been reacting like it was the same Luke that she had known for decades standing in front of her. The Luke, whose compassion took her breath away, even if it made her fear for him. That wasn’t this Luke.

It could be though. Hell, for all she knew, this was how her Luke first dealt with the revelation that Vader was his father. He had confided nothing in her, between Bespin and Endor. She knew something was eating at him, but she had thought it was a combination of his failure in his fight against Vader, along with the trauma of his lost limb. How none of what he had done, had made a damn bit of difference, because Leia was the one who ended up rescuing him. To say nothing in his failure to keep Han away from Jabba.

This wasn’t something she could help this Luke with, because she didn’t know how the other one had ever regained his footing. If all that had happened to her…well, it was for the best it hadn’t been her in that situation.

Regardless of what happened, what was going on now needed more than words to explain. She owed it to Luke for him to see everything, especially for how out of proportion she had reacted to his anger. Leia gently tapped on his shields. He frowned, but he nodded his head, giving permission. 

Leia showed him Obi-Wan, as she had seen him that morning she went to his quarters. The exhaustion and beaten air about him. Several moments in time, where she had seen him around the base, the feeling of isolation and loneliness around him. Obi-Wan in the Falcon, on the night they had both gotten drunk, telling Leia that people didn’t see him, only his legend.

Luke blinked, and some of his hostility faded. Leia said nothing, giving him time. This Luke was much less in control of his temper, and in the midst of her own, she had forgotten that. But his heart was still as generous as it always had been. He was still angry at Obi-Wan, there was no denying that. But that first white-hot fury had faded, and it was now more disappointment than rage.

Luke might not be all that forgiving at this moment, but he wasn’t cruel. He turned his head, to look at Obi-Wan, who was still standing in the doorway. As he took in the older man’s features, he could see the hunger in Obi-Wan’s eyes as he looked into her parent’s room. His longing for a connection.

And so much of Obi-Wan’s isolation in his life had been done for Luke’s sake and wellbeing. No matter how Luke looked at it, kidnapped from Vader or not, he understood that he and Leia needed to be hidden from the Emperor at all costs. What Obi-Wan had initially done, the action that had set so much of Leia and Luke’s life into motion, had been a decision based on that fact. He really had thought Vader was dead, and that his children must be protected.

What Obi-Wan should have done when he learned Vader was alive, that was an issue that Luke was still grappling with. That wasn’t taking into account tricking Luke into involuntary patricide, or that by all technical definitions of the word, the Jedi had been slave overseers.

Leia didn’t fault Luke for his anger. Hell, from where she was sitting, he deserved to be furious. But just because he was angry at Obi-Wan didn’t mean he still didn’t love him. And that was what was tearing her brother apart about this, she realized. Life hadn’t handed him this lesson yet. He thought, because someone hurt you, or made mistakes that hurt you, that the love should die with it. That wasn’t how any of this worked.

Love wasn’t easy. Forgiveness wasn’t easy. But this Luke had never been tested yet on those concepts. Leia wanted to guide him, but he hadn’t asked for her help in any way. She had offered, but he wanted to keep his own counsel for now. Luke had the right to choose who he wanted to be, not the man she remembered him growing into.

Luke’s eyes met Obi-Wan’s, who was still standing there, very still. Leia could tell by the tension in his shoulders how nervous he was. 

That deafening silence went on for a long moment, until Han snorted, “In or out Luke. No sense for all of us to sit here like statues when there is food on the table.”

Luke gave a long slow blink and then nodded. “Alright,” he said to Obi-Wan. “You can stay. But nothing about my Jedi training. Or my father.”

Obi-Wan gave a nod of his head. “Of course,” he said smoothly.

Luke only scowled harder and very aggressively sat down and started picking his ration bar apart.

Obi-Wan grabbed one of the unoccupied chairs that was in the small sitting area and brought it over to the table. He chose the empty spot next to Mama. It was a tight fit, especially since they were all trying to eat, but Leia certainly didn’t mind scooting as close as she could to Han.

Sitting that close to him, though, Leia found she was having a hard time concentrating on anything but him. Now that Luke wasn’t bombarding her with his anger and frustration, she found that watching Han’s hands as he tore the wrapper off his ration bar, was suddenly something she couldn’t look away from. She was close enough to smell him, and she wanted to run her fingers through his hair. Touch his skin everywhere. It had been so long since she could indulge in even casual touches with him, now that he was sitting right beside her, she found she was a starving woman set in front of a feast, and told she could only have a bite.

Idly, she wondered if she should suggest eating in his lap. It would certainly free up some room at the table. It might even be worth it, to see the looks on everyone’s faces, for the waves it would cause between Papa and Han. At the very least, it would break up the tense air between Obi-Wan and Luke. They were both a bit too fond of the deliberate pushing of boundaries to be anything but amused at Papa and Han’s verbal dancing around each other.

The knock on the door this time was Threepio, because his ability to interrupt anything with Han was legendary to Leia. Even if it was a fantasy in her own mind. Huh, maybe she should have suspected Vader was his creator after all.

“I have returned!” he announced in that excessive cheerful voice of his, carrying the tray in his hands. He spotted everyone at the table and went, “Oh my! I did not bring enough plates for everyone.”

“It’s okay, Threepio,” Leia said, sliding her plate over to Obi-Wan. “I’m done.”

She had been in this time long enough that Mama and Papa didn’t protest this, especially since she had very clearly eaten all the bars on her plate. Leia ate fast, and quickly, it was a habit she couldn’t seem to break. Especially since she knew, here, on Yavin, she would be the last person to be called into any battle situation. 

Obi-Wan gave her a small smile of thanks. Threepio carefully set the tray down, maneuvering between all the plates and cups.

“Caf or tea, Knight Kenobi? He asked Obi-Wan.

“Tea,” Obi-Wan said.

Threepio turned his head to Luke. “Master Luke?” he asked.

“Tea as well.” Leia looked at him in surprise, and Luke grimaced. “After this, I’m going to bed. These night shifts are killing me.”

Threepio poured the drinks from the pitchers on the tray, refilling Leia’s in the process without her even having to ask. The droid was well aware of her preference.

That done, he gave more bars to Mama and Luke. When the droid placed them in front of Obi-Wan, though, he gave a long sigh.

“Now what?” Luke asked snottily.

Obi-Wan ignored her little prat of a brother and poked the ration bar sitting on his plate. “Again?” he asked, in a voice that coming out of a less dignified face, could be called a whine.

Luke blinked, irritation fading as he realized that Obi-Wan’s mood had very little to do with him. “You don’t like them?”

Obi-Wan scowled at them, like they had insulted his honor. “No one likes them,” he groused.

As one, everyone at that table looked at Leia. She glared back at all of them. “Oh, by all the Gods,” she said, for what felt like the millionth time. “I do not like them. I just don’t mind them.”

Obi-Wan looked across the table at her. “You are a very strange woman,” he said.

Leia transferred her scowl from everyone at the table, to him, specifically. “And what does that say about you?” she asked haughtily. “You like me.”

 “Oh, I passed odd decades ago,” he told her cheerfully. Then he made a face and took a reluctant looking bite of the bar. 

Luke looked between her and Obi-Wan, curiosity on his face. Leia hadn’t talked much about Obi-Wan to Luke. He vacillated so much between anger and love with the man, even in the better moments between the two of them, she hadn’t said much about him. Luke might not know that she and the Jedi were friends. Combative friends, but friends.

“You need to get out more,” Luke told Obi-Wan. “Leia liking ration bars isn’t the oddest thing about her.”

Han snorted. “You’re one to talk,” he said, leaning forward to stare at Luke. “You eat wamp rats.”

Luke sputtered, “They’re good. And they are everywhere. Meat isn’t the easiest thing to get on Tatooine.”

“Yeah, and if you don’t prepare them right, they are poisonous, Luke,” Han huffed.

Luke smirked, “They’re easy to prepare. As long as you know what you are doing.”

“They aren’t that bad, Captain Solo,” Obi-Wan said. Then his nose wrinkled. “Especially compared to this.”

Luke’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t take my side.”

Obi-Wan looked startled. “I was only speaking the truth.”

Luke’s voice was biting. “That would be a first.”

“Luke,” Leia said warningly into his mind. “Manners.”

“Fine,” he shot back, annoyed.

Into the fraught silence, Han said, “Yes, taste. That is something to bet your life on.”

Mama put her tea down, a look of curiosity in her eyes. “And how many people know how to prepare them correctly?” she asked.

Luke squirmed in his seat. “Enough,” he said.

Mama wasn’t fooled. “Outsiders and those aligned with the Hutts not being told a crucial bit of information?” Mama knew as well as Leia did it didn’t matter if the Hutts ate the creatures. Their physiology made it so they were naturally immune to most poisons, natural and synthetic.

Luke just looked at her, but his silence spoke volumes.

Mama leaned back in her chair. “How clever,” she murmured.

Luke frowned. “I thought you were pacifists.”

Leia looked at Luke in amazement. Yes, they had been. They still were, in their hearts, Leia was sure. But Papa and Mama were here, weren’t they? And the Alliance certainly wasn’t going around asking the Empire to surrender peacefully, was it?

Mama blinked, and then her eyes grew thoughtful. “Because I could afford to be,” she said lightly, but her eyes remained fixed on Luke’s face, studying his reactions to her words. “And it was useful to use that as a shield, for others to stand behind.”

“A shield for who?” Luke asked, his tone almost disrespectful. It was the almost that saved him from another kick in the shins.

Papa gave Luke a weary smile. “For our people, of course,” he said smoothly.

Luke’s suspicious face turned thoughtful. “And who are your people?”

“Whoever was born on Alderaan,” Mama said lightly. “Physically or spiritually.”

Luke’s defensive posture dropped, and he shot a quick glance at Leia before returning his attention to them. “Spiritually?”

Mama gave a nod. “Of course, Luke,” she said. “Just because one is not born physically on Alderaan, that doesn’t mean you aren’t Alderaanian.” She gave him a tight smile. “Of course, until twenty-three years ago, it wasn’t something that happened often, but it has been an accepted practice for centuries. Some of our greatest artists and politicians were born somewhere else and found their home with us.”

Luke’s eyes lit up. “The refugees,” he said. “The ones that your people were rioting over.”

Mama looked at him proudly. “Bringing people into our culture is something we take seriously Luke.” She nodded her head towards Leia. “It’s well known that Leia was not born on Alderaan, and it has never been questioned that she is Alderaanian.” Then a shadow passed over her face. “Or at least it wasn’t.”

Han reached under the table and squeezed Leia’s hand, and she squeezed back. It was sweet of him to be concerned, but it was done. Or not done, as the case may be.

She cleared her throat. “Even then,” she said, fighting to keep her voice even. Mama was on edge enough about this subject as it was, Leia would not add to that fire by breaking down about this. “I was stripped of my title, but not my citizenship.” She nodded her head to Mama and Papa. “That isn’t something we do unless the person involved asks for it.”

Mama’s face became implacable as stone. “Nevertheless,” she said in her frostiest voice of the Queen, “children shouldn’t be held accountable for the sins of their parents.”

“No,” Luke said, looking at Mama, “but in an ideal world, children wouldn’t be asked to clean up their parents' mess either.”

Dammit, up until this point, he had been hearing them. Even better, part of him was listening. But the bigger part, the part of him that hadn’t grown up yet, was looking to pick a fight.

Whatever Mama was going to say was lost at the sound of a knock on the door.

They all looked around at each other.

Han let out a long groan. “I just wanted to eat breakfast,” he whined. “What new problem is going to walk in, now?”

“You don’t know that,” Leia said. “It could be Chewie, or someone looking for Mama and Papa.”

“I’m eating with you all,” Han muttered. “It’s not going to be that simple.”

Threepio went to answer the door. Han was right, it turned out to be a complication.

Ahsoka came three steps into the room and paused. She took careful note of everyone there, and remarked dryly, “I feel like I’ve entered into a hostage situation.”

“There is no fighting at the breakfast table,” Leia and Luke said at the same time.

Everyone looked at them, but Leia couldn’t pay them too much attention. Luke was looking at her like she had revealed the most important truth in the galaxy. “He told you that one too?” he asked, for once the bitterness and envy about his alternate gone from his voice.

Leia nodded, and Luke’s eyes softened.

Obi-Wan leaned forward, catching Leia’s attention. “Please explain what you mean by that,” he said. Leia blinked, Obi-Wan looked desperate to have an answer to what she thought was a rather simple thing. 

Luke shot him a dirty look, and all softness was gone from his face. “It was Aunt Beru’s rule,” he said, voice bordering on snotty. He muttered, “Not that you would know that.”

Leia winced at the guilt-stricken look on Obi-Wan’s face.

Threepio made a tut-tut noise. “I certainly didn’t bring food for you, Mistress Tano. If, in the future, you could inform me of your plans, I would be most appreciative.”

Ahsoka gave the droid a gentle smile. “My apologies, it was a last-minute decision on my part. I’ve already eaten, but if you wouldn’t mind, I would love some caf.”

Threepio sighed but turned and walked out the door. Leia watched him go, but didn’t say anything about how Ahsoka just imperiously ordered the droid away. It was probably for the best, given Threepio’s inability to keep anything to himself.

As soon as the droid cleared the room, Han cleared his throat. “Wanna explain for the people who don’t know what you are talking about?” he asked Luke.

Luke sighed. “Aunt Beru had a rule that there was no fighting at the breakfast table. It was the first time you would see each other for the day, and it might be your last.” He shook his head. “She knew that people fight. But there, at breakfast, that is a place of peace. So you could-“

“Settle your mind for the day,” Obi-Wan chimed in with him in unison. He was staring at Luke, astonishment on his face. Luke blinked, and the rest of them stared at him, surprised.

“Thought you weren’t welcome at the Lars?” Han asked suspiciously.

 “I wasn’t,” he said hoarsely, and beside him, Ahsoka was staring at Luke in shock as well. “But…” he cleared his throat, “Anakin had a…rocky adolescence.” His eyes grew distant. “And there was conflict, especially once he got comfortable around me. But the first time we had a disagreement over breakfast, he was visibly shaken.” Obi-Wan let out a long sigh. “Later, after I had cooled down, I asked him why this fight had affected him so badly. He said, almost word for word, what you just did, Luke.”

Vader, according to what she understood about his history, had only met Beru Lars once. And it had been after he had joined the Jedi. This rule predated his meeting the Lars. This rule wasn’t Aunt Beru’s. It was Shmi’s rule. Leia’s grandmother’s rule. A rule that Leia had incorporated into her own life with her loved ones. It had made sense to her, and while her parents had never so clearly made it a declarative sentence, it certainly was understood that same feeling applied to their family breakfasts as well.

Leia had also incorporated it because it was a way to honor the family she had never gotten to meet. But they had both shaped so much of what she loved about Luke.

Luke had done the same with her tradition of everyone eating breakfast together if they were on the same planet, for the same reasons as she had adopted his traditions. Back when they had been together enough for that to happen. When had they fallen out of practice with it? When she sent Ben to Luke? Or further, when Luke had left them all to found his school? And neither she nor Han had gone out there enough to keep the ties as strong as they should have been?

Luke’s face went pale. “Oh,” he whispered. “I didn’t know it was grandmother’s rule.”

Obi-Wan looked nervous. “I didn’t either,” he confessed. “I thought it was a local Tatooine custom,” he said, almost pleading to Ahsoka’s astonished face. And how screwed up was the Jedi Order that he felt the need to explain that he had inadvertently let Vader keep a part of his mother? No matter how much sense it made, or the fact that it had been decades since the Jedi Order had existed.

He turned back to Luke. “And it was a wise one. Your father and I,” he trailed off, and a bitter smile crossed his lips. “We had a lot of disagreements.”

“You mean fights,” Ahsoka said, face tightening with her disapproval. “They were fights, Obi-Wan.”

Obi-Wan shook his head. “No, fight meant we-“

“Hurt each other?” Ahsoka interrupted gently. She sighed and walked over to the sitting area to grab the last chair and brought it so that she was next to Obi-Wan. She swung into it so that she was sitting perpendicular to Obi-Wan, not sitting properly at the table.

“We didn’t fight,” he said, an almost desperate edge to his voice.

Ahsoka just looked at him calmly.

Obi-Wan’s face twisted, as he wrestled with something. Then his shoulders slumped. “They weren’t all fights,” he protested, somewhat weakly. His look was pleading that she agree with at least that. 

A small fond smile played on Ahsoka’s lips. “No,” she said. “They weren’t. Sometimes you both were just playing.” Then a frown crossed her forehead. “But I think you and he had very different ideas of when you were playing, and when you were hurting each other.”

Obi-Wan looked desperate. “I never wanted to hurt Anakin,” he protested.

“I know,” Ahsoka said. She reached out and took his hand in hers. “That doesn’t mean you didn’t,” her voice was soothing and gentle.

Obi-Wan looked away from her and cleared his throat. “I would have done anything to avoid what happened on Mustafar, Ahsoka.”

Ahsoka cut him off before he could flail about more. “Rako Hardeen, Obi-Wan.”

Obi-Wan flinched and took his hand out of hers. “That-“ he started to say. “I didn’t-“

She put a hand on his cheek. “I know why you did what you did,” she said gently.

“I was ordered to,” Obi-Wan said, and there was nothing but misery on his face.

“I know,” Ahsoka said.

“Ordered to do what?” Luke asked.

Ahsoka sighed. “Fake his own death.”

Han looked from Ahsoka to Obi-Wan. “That’s what Rex was talking about?” he asked. “When he said Luke and Leia weren’t allowed to fake their own deaths?”

Both of them nodded.

Han leaned back in his chair. “And you didn’t tell Vader?”

Obi-Wan shook his head.

Han whistled through his teeth. “That was a shitty thing to do,” he said.

Obi-Wan looked uncomfortable. “It was war,” he said.

“Doesn’t make it any less shitty.”

“No,” Obi-Wan admitted. “But there was a reasonable chance that if the mission was a complete success, we could end the war.” He closed his eyes. “I could see what the war was doing to all of us, especially Anakin. I thought he would see the necessity of it, especially if it got us Dooku.”

“That blew up in your face,” Han observed.

Leia wouldn’t have put it so crassly, but she couldn’t help but agree with Han. It was a minor miracle that Vader had been willing to work with Obi-Wan at all after that. If Luke and Han had done the same thing to her, she wasn’t sure she could ever trust them again.

But maybe, that had been the point.

“Why?” Leia asked, leaning forward.

“Why what?” Obi-Wan asked, sounding defeated.

“Why were you ordered to fake your death?”

Ahsoka snorted. “So he could pretend to be the bounty hunter who murdered him.”

“And why would you want to do that?” Han asked when she didn’t go any further than that.

“Because we were trying to break up a plot to kidnap the Chancellor,” Obi-Wan rubbed his forehead. “It was thought that the ringleader would trust someone who was infamous for “killing” a Jedi. Rako Hardeen was human, and my height.”

Luke’s eyes narrowed. “Who was trying to kidnap Palpatine?”

Obi-Wan’s smile was very bitter. “Count Dooku.”

Luke cursed, and Han looked taken aback.

“Hell,” he said. “I thought Jabba liked plots within plots. The Emperor is playing on a whole different level.”

It was as Leia had suspected, but she wanted to be sure she understood all the details here. “Who actually gave you the order Obi-Wan?”

Obi-Wan looked tired. “The Council,” he said. “And they were the ones that forbade me from telling Anakin. They thought his obvious grief would help sell the ruse.”

“They weren’t wrong,” Ahsoka said.

“I warned them he would not take it well,” Obi-Wan defended himself. “But they said that if he was really a Jedi Knight, he would let it go.”

Ahsoka let out a laugh, and there was a tinge of hysteria to it. “Obi-Wan, I was raised in the temple, and I didn’t take it well.”

Obi-Wan stiffened. “If you are still angry about it-“

Ahsoka shook her head. “No,” she said firmly. “I don’t have enough loved ones left to throw people out of my life over things that happened decades ago.” She gave him a soft smile. “Besides, I did come to peace with it. It was many years later, but I did.”

“It’s easier to forgive a dead man,” Obi-Wan said softly.

“It is,” Ahsoka agreed. “But it is also easy to become lonely on a mountain of self-righteousness.” She leaned forward and put her forehead to his. “And I missed you too much to not stay here now.”

Obi-Wan looked at her speechless. “How can you forgive me?” he whispered.

Ahsoka drew back. “Maybe because I was there, and I know how much what you did cost you? Maybe because looking back, as an adult, I could see how much the war was wearing you down, just as much, if not more, than Anakin?” She gave his hand a squeeze. “Or maybe I’m too old to hold grudges anymore. That is best left to the young.”

Ahsoka could think what she liked. Leia had at least ten years on her, and she held on to her grudges just fine.

“Or maybe because, despite the fact your orders came from the Council, it sounds suspiciously like something Palpatine dreamed up and ordered them to do.” Her face became fierce. “It’s like Han said, we all walked into the trap. And even if it wasn’t his idea in the first place, Palpatine had to know in the aftermath, what that would do to you and Anakin’s relationship.”

Obi-Wan looked away. “You heard that fight?” he asked in a strangled voice.

“I think the entire Temple heard that fight,” Ahsoka said dryly.

“So, if Father failed the Jedi’s test of his control,” Luke asked, “why did they keep him in the Order?”

Obi-Wan looked uncomfortable. “They wouldn’t have kicked him out of his home, Luke.”

Ahsoka snorted. “Of course, they would have Obi-Wan. It’s what they did to me.”

“You left,” Obi-Wan protested.

Ahsoka bared her teeth at him. “After the Council threw me on Tarkin’s mercy.”

The two of them stared at each other fiercely for a moment, then Papa cleared his throat. “I’m pretty sure I have a good idea as to why Anakin was allowed to stay,” he said.

All of them looked at him. “Oh?” Obi-Wan asked.

Papa nodded. “It was before you were on the Council, Obi-Wan. The Jedi were under enormous pressure to deliver victories.”

“That didn’t change after I was made a counselor,” Obi-Wan responded bitterly.

Papa nodded. “That is true. But you also weren’t ever put in the hot seat with the Senate Finance and War committees either. Because you had a record of delivering victories. Other council members, the ones who weren’t on the front lines, got much more pointed questions about that.”

Obi-Wan’s mouth dropped open. “They all served on the front,” he said. “As much as they could. For Force sakes, Yoda was almost nine hundred years old, he had no business being in a war zone in the first place.”

“Oh, but it was okay for the fourteen-year-old,” Leia said pointedly.

Obi-Wan flinched, but Papa only looked grave. “I know,” he said. “But my point was, that even by then, Anakin’s record was impressive. The Jedi couldn’t afford to throw him out. Not without weakening their political position even further.”

“Probably best they didn’t,” Leia murmured, thinking out loud.

 “I beg your pardon?” Obi-Wan asked.

She grimaced, she actually hadn’t meant to say that out loud, but since she had, she might as well explain her reasoning. “If he had left the Order Obi-Wan, who would he have gone running to?”

“Padme,” Obi-Wan and Ahsoka said in unison.

“I-I hadn’t considered that,” Leia admitted. If he had been thrown out of the Order, that meant his marriage would no longer be a problem. It was an interesting point, but Leia shook her head.

“Even if he had, there is no way Palpatine would leave him alone,” she said. “If only for the fact that he was a powerful weapon that could have been used against him. If he had been expelled, thrown from the only support he knew, he might have fallen faster.”

“Or he might not have fallen at all,” Luke said angrily. “Since the system he was relying on was part of the problem.

Ahsoka shrugged. “Possibly,” she allowed. “But not withstanding my, and Leia’s, unique circumstances, it’s pointless to argue about what-ifs.”

“Ahsoka is right,” Leia said, then gave her parent’s a stern look. “Which is not the same thing as withholding what actually happened so that we can recreate all the same mistakes from before.”

Her parents looked slightly taken aback, but Leia wasn’t going to let them think that just because she didn’t see the need to rehash what might have been done, didn’t mean she didn’t need to know what had been done.

“You’re one to talk,” Luke said darkly.

Leia transferred her glare to him. “What is that supposed to mean?” she demanded.

Luke huffed. “It means that every time you hear anything that would explain how Father ended up where he did, you brush it aside as unimportant, because you hate him. But anything else about how the galaxy ended up in this mess, you listen to with patience and understanding.”

Leia’s mouth dropped open. “What good does it do me to learn about Vader’s past?” she hissed back. “I’m trying to stop the galaxy spinning itself out of control. For the third time.”

Luke’s eyes narrowed. “And learning how Father fell isn’t at all relevant to rebuilding the Jedi Order better this time?” He leaned forward, so that he was practically in her face. “Tell me if you had known what happened between Father and Palpatine, the conditioning and warping that man put Father through as a child, you wouldn’t have handled Ben and Snoke differently than you did?”

Leia reared back, stunned that Luke would even dare to compare the two.

“Kid,” Han said softly in warning.

Luke flushed, as if he realized he had gone too far, but then his chin went up in stubbornness, and he squared his shoulders. “No,” he said firmly. “I’m right, and she knows it. That’s why she’s so mad.”

There was nothing but a tense silence at that proclamation, as Leia could feel everyone else in the room watching her, waiting to see what she would do.

It might have started with Luke, or more accurately with their grandmother, but no fighting at breakfast was a rule Leia held to. She took a deep breath in, and closed her eyes, focusing on that swirling rage in her mind, trying to find a way to submerge it, tame it, or best of all, let it go. But underneath all her efforts to master it, was the chant of her inner five-year-old going, “It’s not the same. It’s not the same. It’s not the same.”

“Isn’t it?” asked Luke. The Luke in her mind, not the one sitting beside her that she desperately wanted to lash out at. The Luke that had tried to tell her about what he had learned about Vader, and she had argued with and refused to listen to.

Gods, was this Luke, right? Had refusing to listen to Luke damned her son? Like her parents, had she refused to learn from the past? Worse yet, cripple any chance Ben had to fight back?

The Force whirled around her, scooping up her guilt, her helplessness, her fear, and anger, and offered it all up to her. She only needed to drop her control just the tiniest bit, and that coldness would seep into her bones. It was there, begging to be used, and to take all this pain away.

It was a choice she had made once before. After Alderaan, and being plagued by what if’s and internal doubts, she had embraced that cold to keep going, to keep moving. It would stop this pain, right now, and let her think.

She could feel the strongest of her walls, start to thin, just a little, when a startling warmth was suddenly cupping her face. It made Leia shiver, as that internal frost she had begun to embrace was suddenly bathed in love and care. 

No,” a voice echoed across her mental landscape, and she found her eyes fluttering open. Oh, it was Luke’s hands that was the source of all that heat. He was holding her chin and forcing her to look at him. “Leia, don’t.”

Leia felt her temper rise at that question. How dare he question her? He was the reason she was even in this position in the first place. That cold icy blankness existing outside the walls of her mind, suddenly became a hot fire that was dancing along her skin, promising her everything, if she just used it. Just this once, that is all it wanted.

Why not?” she asked, only half interested in his answer, more entranced by the power that was just outside of her reach.

“Because I will follow you,” he said simply.

And that was all she needed. The thought of Luke embracing this rage, and that was what this was, rage, left her frightened enough to realize what she was doing. Leia felt her breath leave her in a whoosh, as she deliberately turned away from those false lies the Dark Side was offering, and let the pain of Luke’s accusation wash over her. Pain wasn’t anything new to her, she had spent her whole life with it as one of her constant companions. She wouldn’t run from a burden she knew how to bear, if it meant endangering Luke.

Leia took in one long breath, and held it for a moment, trying to ride the eddies and emotions in her mind. On the out breath, she let the pain and confusion hit her in a wave. Then she took in another deep breath, rising above her feelings, and on the out, embracing them in turn.

After several of these, she felt more herself, and not a raging riot of poorly controlled impulses. Her logical side, the part of her not gibbering at her in panic at what she had just almost done, was pointing out no matter if Luke was right or not, she wasn’t responsible for Ben’s fall.

“No. Ben was.”

She took another breath in and fought back that traitorous thought. Snoke had corrupted her son. He had eaten at the foundations of the person Ben could have, should have been, and left someone who was consumed by his own emotions. 

“And the Emperor didn’t do the same to Vader?”

And now that voice sounded too like Mama for Leia to so easily dismiss it.

Now was not the time to think about this. Not until Leia was calmer, more at peace. And definitely not when she could feel the bitter copper taste of the Dark Side lingering in the room. She focused on the physical world around her and opened her eyes. At some point, she had closed them again, although she couldn’t recall when.

Luke was still in front of her, his hands cupping her face.

“I’m alright,” she said softly.

He gave her a worried look. “You sure?”

She nodded. “The intensity of the feedback took me by surprise, that’s all.”

He looked like he wanted to argue, but his hands did slip from her face. Obi-Wan was very pale, and Leia could see the fine tremors along his hands. She couldn’t really blame him. She hadn’t accessed the Dark Side, not really, but it certainly had been drawn to her. And given what happened the last time he was that close to the Dark Side, she couldn’t fault him if he was reliving some very horrible memories.

Then she got a good look at his face. There was fear there, no question, but there was also a good deal of awe. Leia was getting very tired of that look being aimed at her.

“Now what did I do?” she asked him, aware of the snappishness of her voice, but unable to keep it from coming out.

“Proving that you know yourself very well, Leia.”

Leia frowned, not understanding what the hell he was talking about.

Obi-Wan’s eyes slid to Luke and then back to her. “Where one of you goes, the other follows.” Something like pain flashed in his eyes, but his voice was steady. “As to what you did, why only withdraw from the Dark Side. Because of your attachment. Something that flies in the face of a thousand years of Jedi doctrine.”

Well, that wasn’t the answer she had been expecting. But Leia supposed that it was better than sending him into a panic attack about how very much like Vader she really was. Not that she thought for a moment that if she had accessed the Dark Side in this room, she would have immediately started killing her loved ones and seeking galactic domination. But it would make the next time she was upset or angry, just that much easier to rely on it.

“Not to minimize the two of them doing the impossible again,” Ahsoka’s voice was deliberately light, “but can I ask a question?”

Leia waved her hand. “Sure, why not?”

“Who's Snoke?”

Leia debated with herself on what to say to that, but Han beat her to it. “Best as I can tell, he was who replaced the Emperor.”

Leia opened her mouth, that wasn’t quite right, but before she could contradict that, the door slammed open.

As one, everyone at the table’s head swung towards it, to see Rex standing there, chest heaving, and face red. Leia immediately stood, her chair clattering to the floor, echoed by both Han and Luke’s chairs as they surged to their feet as well.

“Rex,” Leia asked in a fast voice, “what’s wrong?” She hadn’t sensed anything in the Force about there being a cause for alarm, but she had spent most of the morning consciously ignoring it, in an effort to keep out Luke. Then she had become too lost in her own emotions to accurately read anything, good or bad.

Rex ignored her and stalked up to Ahsoka, who, along with Obi-Wan, had remained seated. She calmly watched as he approached her, anger coming off him in waves.

When he was almost on top of her, he pointed a finger in her face. “You are sending Leia off-world?” he demanded in a bellowing voice.

“Yes, Rex,” Ahsoka said calmly. “I am.”

Everything in Leia relaxed at that. Oh, so that was what this was about. She reached behind her, and with a wave of the Force, brought both her and Han’s chairs back to upright positions. Luke did the same thing with his, and the three of them took their seats.

But Mama and Papa were still sitting. As she watched, both of them slowly unfroze.

They had training. Leia knew they had combat training. It was mostly self-defense, but they had had it. Alderaan was a pacifistic society, but Mama and Papa weren’t stupid. It was better to be able to defend yourself, and choose not to use it, then to be completely vulnerable.

But they still froze when an unexpected person, body language screaming murder, walked into a room they were in. That was a major weakness in a battle. Not that either of them had ever seen a battle. Well, perhaps Papa had, or at least the tail end of ones. He had certainly seen the aftermath of what had been done to the Jedi Temple, and he had done a lot of relief work during the Clone Wars.

It was still a vulnerability, though, for their own survival, and Leia’s sanity. From the moment Leia entered this time stream, they were a spot for an enemy to strike at. Especially since she knew now that they weren’t the untouchable giants she had always seen them as in her youth. They could be taken from her, and she knew exactly what it was like to live without them. She would never forgive herself if something happened to them again. 

As her gaze flowed to Obi-Wan, she had to wonder how he had managed to stay so calm and keep his seat. Perhaps the answer lay in the small amused smile on his lips. Rex on a rampage could be something he was very familiar with.

Or he was enjoying that for once the tirade wasn’t aimed at him. Leia had to wonder how many “lectures” Rex had given his old General when Leia wasn’t there to see it. If the amount of glee Obi-Wan was showing at the prospect of Ahsoka getting one, quite a lot.

“With only Solo as her backup?” Rex protested.

“Hey!” Han sputtered. “I do just fine.”

Ahsoka didn’t look ruffled. “And Chewbacca,” she pointed out.

Leia cleared her throat, and both Ahsoka and Rex looked at her. “If you don’t mind, Luke,” she said, “I would like to bring R2. Provided he wants to come along.”

“Why?” Ahsoka asked.

Leia stiffened. Ahsoka knew R2, and she had the audacity to ask that? Then she caught the intent gleam in the woman’s eyes. A test. Well, it wasn’t like Leia wasn’t doing her own tests of Ahsoka’s abilities and loyalties. “He’s one of the best slicers I know. Better to have him there, and not need his help, then need him, and him not being there.”

Ahsoka gave a satisfied smile, pleased with Leia’s answer.

Luke nodded. “Sure, if he wants to,” he said.

Leia really didn’t think that was going to be an issue. If he had been an organic, she would accuse the droid of being an adrenaline junkie.

Apparently, neither did Ahsoka. “See Rex,” she said breezily. “Leia is taking Chewbacca and R2. She’ll be fine.”

Rex did not look mollified. “R2 is worth a small army,” he said through clenched teeth. “But I want to know why I’m not going?”

Ahsoka didn’t answer him, choosing instead to reach out and grab Obi-Wan’s mug. She scowled at him after she took a sip. “Tea, Obi-Wan?” she complained.

“It’s my drink,” he pointed out. “I don’t need to drink what you like.”

She shoved it back at him. “There is something wrong with you that you can function this efficiently without caf.”

Another thing Leia agreed with Ahsoka about.

“Ahsoka,” Rex growled, clearly at the end of his patience.

Mama looked between the two of them, tension on her face. “Rex, why don’t you take a s-“ her voice trailed off as she realized there were no seats to offer. “We are definitely going to need more chairs,” Mama murmured to herself. “Possibly a bigger table.”

“No, thank you, Your Majesty,” Rex said in a frigid voice. “I’m good with standing.”

Ahsoka looked up at him. “You aren’t going with Leia to Nimban, because I need you to go to Lothal, Rex.”

Leia blinked. She knew Ahsoka had said that she had a plan for dealing with Rex. She had just figured it would be babysitting Luke, or some other made-up chore. She hadn’t realized that Ahsoka would actually send Rex on his own mission. Leia felt a pang in her heart at the thought of Rex off-world, where someone she didn’t know, would be watching his back.

Leia didn’t like the thought of Rex trying to get to Lothal. Oh, Lothal itself, was fine, Rex would be in no danger there, but getting there was another matter altogether. The Empire might have relinquished its hold on that planet, due to its physical position in the outer reaches of known space. Currently, the amount of effort it would take to reel it back in wasn’t worth the cost. They had declared the planet lost to a natural disaster on the holo net, and with its remoteness and lack of strategic value, what average citizen of the Empire would even want to go there in the first place?

Leia supposed the long-term plan was to use the Death Star, when it was completed, and have the planet taken out so that the lie could become truth. Of course, Lothal wouldn’t have been the only planet to suffer such a fate. Any system, where there was even a hint of resistance, would have been obliterated.

That had never come to pass, not in Leia’s past, or the present that she found herself in. The Empire had no Death Star, and because there were so many other planets in quiet revolt, the Empire didn’t have the resources to spend on such an insignificant issue as bringing Lothal back into the fold.  

That didn’t mean that the Empire wasn’t watching Lothal. They were well aware of the close connections between the planet and the Rebellion, for all that it wasn’t anything approaching a formal alliance.  The hyperspace lanes in that sector of space were heavily patrolled, and there were remote spying droids, littering the system. Any and all ships heading to Lothal the Empire attempted to destroy or capture.

It was a two-prong approach. The first, and most obvious, was trying to blockade any and all supplies heading to Lothal, and doing everything it could to sabotage the planet. Fortunately, the ecological damage done by the Empire wasn’t severe enough to endanger their ability to feed themselves. From what Leia recalled, the first year had been lean, but manageable. But there were no facilities on Lothal capable of manufacturing medications. The fight to free Lothal had also destroyed several of the factories that could have been used to manufacture materials for computers, buildings, and ships. What they could produce to support their own infrastructure was very limited. These were also facts that the Empire was aware of, or would make a good guess at. So, the blockade was there in order to make life that much more difficult for them. It was cruelty, simply for the sake of being cruel.

The second, and more sinister reason, was the Empire was making sure that the Rebellion did not use Lothal as a staging ground. It would take a lot of effort to bring that planet back into the fold. It was an effort that the leadership of the Imperial Navy and Army didn’t want to expend. Well, the smart ones anyway.

The deepest irony was, the Alliance wasn’t stupid enough to even try. The logistical nightmare of trying to move there, undetected no less, was beyond the Alliance’s capabilities. Plus, it’s remote location, which made it such a tricky thing to bring back into the Empire, also made it so the Alliance would have a hard time hitting any targets quickly in the Mid-Rim and Core worlds. The headaches it would cause them wasn’t worth the temporary advantage it would give them to go there.

But that didn’t mean it wasn’t a risk to send Rex to Lothal. It had been one to go get Kallus. It was why Hera, for all that she was a general in the Alliance, wasn’t often here. The communications between them was fraught for other reasons besides Sabine Wren's declaration that Lothal was staying out of the Rebellion. Any increase in chatter between Yavin and Lothal would bring added attention to the hyperspace lanes around Lothal. The Empire would use the existence of those communiques to figure out when high-value target’s were coming or leaving the planet.

And Rex certainly was a highly valuable target.

Rex, voicing Leia’s own thoughts, hissed. “Why am I going back to Lothal?”

“Well, Kallus needs to go back,” Ahsoka said. “Hera wouldn’t like it if we kept him.”

Rex folded his arms across his chest. “Kallus is a big boy, he can fly his own damn ship there.” His golden eyes narrowed. “Why am I really going, Ahsoka?”

“I need you to get Sabine,” Ahsoka said smoothly, as if this wasn’t the oddest request to come out of nowhere.

Rex snorted. “If you think Hera would be mad about us taking Kallus, she would be downright furious if you are trying to woo Sabine away.”

“I wouldn’t even bother. Sabine wouldn’t come,” Ahsoka said, waving her hand in the air. “But you aren’t coming back to Yavin. At least not directly. You, her, and Obi-Wan are making a trip to Mandalore.”

At the name of that planet, Leia stiffened, then forced herself to relax before the others in the room took notice. Mandalore was one of the planets she had been keeping a close eye on, aware of what the Empire had done to it in her past. But so far, she hadn’t seen the buildup of military forces in that system that would be a cause for concern. But she wasn’t given access to the level of intel Ahsoka had now. What had the woman seen that Leia wasn’t aware of?

Obi-Wan gave an undignified squawk at that. “How did I get pulled into this?” he demanded. “And why would I even go to Mandalore?”

Ahsoka gave him a sweet smile. “Because I am asking you to.”

Obi-Wan gave her a sharp look. “I know you too well to take that on face value.”

“I learned from the best,” Ahsoka said back calmly.

Obi-Wan’s face fell into his hands. “Anakin was a horrible influence on you,” he complained.

Rex snorted. “Yes, because you were the model of following orders to the letter.”

Ashoka looked interested. “He wasn’t?” she asked.

Rex shook his head, and Obi-Wan sighed and pulled his face out of his hands. “No,” he said ruefully. “I wasn’t. Especially after the Rako Hardeen incident. I just never did it in front of you, or Anakin.”

“Hmmm,” Ahsoka looked thoughtful. “Yet, as I recall, there were plenty of lectures, even after the fake murdered incident, about listening to the wisdom of the council. Do as you say, not as you do?”

Leia leaned back in her chair, enjoying the show as someone else was now here, to call Obi-Wan out. At least willing to do it in front of her. Mama burning his clothes showed that neither of her parents were going gentle on him either, but they never would do so publicly. It wasn’t their way.

Obi-Wan’s mouth opened and closed soundlessly for a few moments. “In the beginning, perhaps I was more…zealous then I should have been,” he admitted. “But it wasn’t the same. I was an adult and knew what the costs would be for disobeying orders.”

Ahsoka’s eyes narrowed. “That may be. But I’m hardly a child now.”

“Ahsoka,” Obi-Wan’s voice was full of warning.

And just like that, the woman gave him a saucy grin. “You need to be teased more,” she informed him, reaching over and grabbing a ration bar off his plate. Leia noticed he didn’t complain about that being stolen. “Nobody outside of this room has called you on your bantha shit for far too long. Did you really think I would start ordering you around now, just because I could?”

Leia could feel Luke’s fascination at the casual way Ahsoka wound Obi-Wan up and down. She was right, Obi-Wan did need more people to challenge him. Not that what Ahsoka said was strictly true. Obi-Wan didn’t work for the Alliance. He…well, if truth be told, his position was a lot like Han’s. And wouldn’t that fact just horrify Han? But it was true, Obi-Wan held no rank, and couldn’t be ordered to do anything. He merely was consulted and asked for advice. Come to think of it, was Obi-Wan being paid? Or compensated in some way for his work? Or was a safe harbor something the Alliance Council had decided was compensation enough?

Obi-Wan let out a long groan, and Leia brought her attention back to him. He was rubbing his forehead. “None of this explains why I need to go to Mandalore.”

“Because you are very familiar with their culture, and I need you to talk to Bo-Katan,” Ahsoka said.

Obi-Wan didn’t look like that cleared up anything for him. “Why?”

“Because you are about the only person on this base she will listen to,” Ahsoka said calmly.

Papa’s voice was sharp with his incredulity. “Ahsoka, are you sending an envoy to Mandalore?”

Leia agreed with Papa, but not for the same reasons she knew he had. He couldn’t see the sense in making such a move, especially with the risk of Obi-Wan, Rex, and Sabine being captured thrown into the bargain. Leia was worried about why out of nowhere, Ahsoka was making this decision.

Obi-Wan sputtered. “Bo-Katan isn’t going to listen to my pleas to get the rebel faction of Mandalore to join the Alliance.”

“Of course, she isn’t,” Ahsoka agreed calmly. “But that isn’t why you are going. I’ve been going over the reports and intel we have. It’s shameful how much the Alliance was pressuring these outside groups to give up their autonomy. But as Trehhipoi has shown, there is a great deal of knowledge and intel to be gained if we just make the smallest effort to talk to them.”

“Seems risky,” Luke said, voicing Leia’s own thoughts. “Sending out Obi-Wan and Rex for so little gain.”

Ahsoka nodded. “From certain angles, yes. And although the Empire has stayed out of Mandalore’s civil war-”

“For now,” Rex muttered darkly.

“For now,” Ahsoka agreed. Then quick as a nexu, she looked at Leia. “But by the look on your face earlier, I don’t think that is a state of affairs that is going to last much longer.”

Leia winced, as all eyes turned to her. Foolish of her to think Ahsoka wasn’t paying close attention to every reaction Leia had. “Maybe,” she said. “Maybe not.”

Ahsoka cocked her head. “I can’t force you to tell me anything, Leia,” she said. “And I assume you have your reasons for keeping your silence. But I would like to know if I’m sending people into a trap.”

Leia bit her lip, weighing the possibilities and probabilities in her head. She looked at everyone in the room, staring at her expectantly. She had promised that she would let them help her. Excepting Ahsoka, whose abilities Leia didn’t doubt, she trusted every person in this room with her life. More than her life, the survival of the Rebellion. But she didn’t want to influence their thinking too much.

“Not that I am aware of,” she said slowly.

Luke frowned. “What does that mean?”

Leia looked at Ahsoka. “Has the military presence hovering on the edges of that sector increased in the last few months?”

Ahsoka tapped her fingers on her arm, her own mental calculations going on. “No,” she said at last. “In fact, the presence of that fleet has shrunk, as more and more ships are pulled away to deal with other situations occurring in the galaxy.”

Leia let out a sigh of relief. “That’s what my understanding of the situation was too.”

Papa leaned forward. “Leia, why were you paying attention at all to Mandalore?”

Leia looked at him. She was afraid of influencing his viewpoint too much. He simply regarded her patiently, no demand in his eyes. He wanted to help her, Leia knew that, and there was simply too much going on for her to see to every problem that was going to crop up. Besides, the Alliance had been watching that fleet, long before Leia had made her arrival into this time, because everyone knew that the Empire was going to get involved sooner or later in Mandalore.

“Because in my original timeline, at this point, the Empire was gearing up its forces to purge Mandalore of all seditious elements.”

Papa paled, and Mama whispered, horrified. “The Empire did what?”

Obi-Wan only frowned. “Why wait so long?” he asked. “I was given to understand this war started well over a year ago.”

Leia gave him a bitter smile. “They didn’t get involved in Mandalore before this because they thought they would have the Death Star to level the planet. Why spend the resources to subdue it, when you could obliterate it with a flick of a button? When that fell through….” Her voice trailed off.

“I don’t understand,” Luke said. “Why is it considered so bad that the Empire purged this planet? They do it all the time in the Outer Rim.”

Han snorted. “You ever met a Mandalorian?”

Luke frowned. “No.”

“They consider war their religion,” Han hissed. “It’s not so easy to just roll over them.”

Obi-Wan looked tired. “Not all of them,” he corrected. “And even for the ones that do, their faith is a bit more complicated than that, Captain Solo.”

“You and I have met some very different Mandalorians.”

Rex snapped his fingers and pointed at Ahsoka. “You weren’t planning to send Obi-Wan there just as a goodwill gesture,” he breathed. “He’s taking what intel we know about those armaments with him.”

Ashoka nodded.

Mama looked confused. “I don’t understand,” she confessed.

“Thin the line,” Leia and Luke said in unison, as why Ahsoka was taking this insane gamble became clear to both of them at the same time.

“Thin what line?” Mama looked between Leia, Luke, and Ahsoka, tone demanding answers.

Rex’s voice was flat. “Ahsoka is hoping that with more actionable intelligence, the Mandalorians in rebellion will notch up their efforts and draw even more resources to that planet.”

Mama frowned. “Why?”

“Because I want the Empire fighting as many wars as it possibly can, on as many fronts.” Ahsoka leaned forward and placed her chin in her propped up hand. “The idea to put pressure on the Hutts and rupture that alliance is a good one. But it isn’t the only weak point that we can put pressure on.”

“Why involve Mandalore?” Luke asked. “And not some of the other groups that Trehhipoi is trying to bring in?”

Ahsoka’s smile was grim. “You heard Han. For many of them, war is their way of life. And because of that, they have an army Luke, not a guerrilla force.”

Luke opened his mouth to protest, but Ahsoka put her hands up to stop him. “I am not saying that those Outer Rim groups don’t know what they are doing,” she said firmly. “And that they haven’t done damage to the Empire and the Hutts. What I’m saying is that Mandalore has the capability to build their own ships. Even better, they have weapons designers, so they can improve them on a mass scale operation, not ad hoc.”

She gave him a rueful grin. “I would also like to point out that they are ahead of the Alliance in that regard as well.”

Luke frowned. “The Empire let them keep factories that build weapons?”

Han, surprisingly, was the one who answered that question. “Of course, they did, Kid. Because they also build weapons for the Empire.” He scowled. “Just like what happened on Corellia with their shipyards.”

“Also, the Mandalorians would have rioted if an outside power tried to impose disarmament on them,” Ahsoka pointed out. “Especially after the chaos of the Clone Wars and their second civil war.”

Luke paled. “How many civil wars have they had?” he asked aghast.

“Three in the last forty years,” Obi-Wan said grimly. “And the first one was fought because one of their own tried to disarm them.”

“She succeeded,” Papa pointed out.

Obi-Wan looked pale. “No, she didn’t. She only temporarily halted the insanity.”

Mama looked grave. “That is not nothing, Obi-Wan. She did more than anyone else has in that regard for centuries.”

Obi-Wan’s face twisted. “She died, Breha, and it was all for nothing. The Mandalorians went right back to slaughtering each other.”

Ahsoka sent Obi-Wan a sympathetic glance. “Not all of them,” she said softly as she gave Obi-Wan’s hand a hard squeeze. “But those wars are why early in the Empire’s formation, picking a fight with Mandalore wasn’t a battle the Empire wanted to wage. Far easier to install a pro-Imperial force to rule them, and in the meanwhile, co-opt the ones they could, taking their best and brightest away to work for the Empire.”

Luke rubbed his forehead. “So, what happened? Why is Mandalore in a civil war again?”

“Sabine Wren happened,” Rex said proudly. “She found the Darksaber-“

“Yes, I’ve been meaning to ask,” Obi-Wan interrupted, muscle in his jaw tense, “how did you pry that away from Maul?”

“Long story,” Rex said, “which I will tell you another time. But Sabine had it, Kanan trained her to use it and challenged Gar Saxon, the Imperial Viceroy and Governor of Mandalore. When she defeated him, she created a power vacuum on the planet. One that she convinced Bo-Katan to fill.”

“Whose Bo-Katan?” Luke asked.

“Former regent of Mandalore,” Mama said. “And considered by many to be the rightful ruler of that world. A position that she has made more secure by having possession of the Darksaber, since Sabine gave it to her.”

“Her position got stronger because she has a black sword?” Luke sounded dubious. “They aren’t that hard to make, you know. Having one doesn’t sound like it should make your political position stronger.”

Obi-Wan blew a breath out. “The Dark Saber is a lightsaber, Luke. It belonged to the first Mandalorian Jedi, a man named Tarre Vizsla. After he died, Vizla clan stole it from the Jedi. Shortly after that, Clan Vizla cemented their hold on ruling all of Mandalore. They hold great store by it.”

Luke only looked flabbergasted. “And Core Worlder’s think the Outer Rim is backwards?”

Ahsoka huffed lightly. “Oh, they think Mandalore is backwards too,” she said. “But given the long history of Mandalore trying, and almost succeeding in destroying the Republic, they have learned a lot of caution.”

Luke sobered at that. “They that good?”

Ahsoka nodded. “The clone’s training was based on their methods.”

Luke looked thoughtful, instead of outraged like he usually did when that subject was brought up.

“It would create a hell of a pressure point for the Empire,” Ahsoka said. “There is all the history involved, and they could do a lot of damage, for all the fact that they are outnumbered.”

Papa looked troubled. “They went to war with the Empire in Leia’s past, and they lost, Ahsoka. I don’t want to help them along to the same fate.”

Luke looked confused. “But you just said they were fighting each other.”

“Between the forces that the Empire has propped up and those who want Mandalore to be free,” Mama explained.

“So, they can return to their glory days in the Republic?” Luke asked with a bit of bitterness.

Mama looked surprised. Luke learned things so fast, he was so smart and eager to learn, that sometimes it was easy to forget how lacking his basic education had been. The Lar’s had done their best by him, but all they could afford to provide was remote learning modules. Provided by the Empire, for free, to the citizens of the Outer Rim. Leia sometimes wondered whose idea that had been. It was one of their better propaganda moves, making sure that all the history that anyone in the Outer Rim learned was the one the Empire approved of.

“No,” Mama said. “Mandalore was never a member of the Republic.”

Luke blinked. “They weren’t?”

Obi-Wan snorted. “No. Neither Mandalore’s ruling clan nor the Core members of the Senate would ever have approved of Mandalore’s admission.”

Ahsoka looked at Bail. “Despite the fraught history between Mandalore and the Republic, I would like them to avoid wholesale slaughter if we can help it.”

“Why such a desperate gamble?” Papa asked. “It’s a long shot, at best, that you can get them involved. Especially since we can’t tell them anything of the future.”

“Possible future,” Leia corrected. This was why she was so reluctant to share what she knew. It became fact, not speculation. “It’s not set in stone, Papa. Things are different now.”

“And why didn’t the Alliance help them in your past, Leia?” Luke was bristling with defensiveness. “Because they don’t matter, like the Outer Rim?”

Leia forced herself to think about Luke’s question, not simply snap at him. “Because there was precious little we could do to help, Luke.” She sent Ahsoka a thoughtful look. “Looking back, we should have given them the intel we had on the armaments surrounding their system.”

Luke let out a sigh that was bitterly resigned. Leia turned to him and cautioned. “But frankly, I’m not sure it would have saved them.”

“Oh, and sending help was out of the question?” Luke grumbled.

Leia leaned forward and hissed. “Yes, it was. Because we were barely surviving ourselves.”

Luke opened his mouth to say something else, but Leia didn’t let him talk. “I get it,” she said. “I do. Luke, I have spent a good portion of my life in the Outer Rim, for one reason or another. But believe me when I tell you that not every decision made about that region of space is about the Core looking to screw it over.”

Luke waved his hands in the air, encompassing the whole base. “We could have helped,” he insisted.

Leia’s mouth dropped open at his sheer stubbornness, when suddenly it occurred to her what the hell he was talking about. “Now?” she said. “Possibly. And before you get all defensive again, we are low on ships Luke, you know that. We lost a good portion of our fleet above Scarif and Alderaan.” 

Luke nodded, reluctantly conceding her point.

“But helping Mandalore wasn’t possible for the Alliance of then. We had all the same problems we do now, only it was worse because we had no base.”

Luke looked startled. “Why?” he asked.

Leia’s mouth dropped open. Had he really not put this together? “Because the Empire knew where we were. We blew up the Death Star above Yavin, Luke, not Alderaan. We were all crammed into our too-small fleet, trying to stay ahead of the Empire and keep the coffers full enough to pay for the fuel to do so.”

Luke blinked, and then his face went white. “Oh,” he whispered. Worried, he reached out a hand to her. “Leia, I’m sorry, I forgot that happened. I was thinking-“

“That the Alliance then and now were the same,” Leia finished for him. “This, this is why I wanted to keep your information about the future limited. Because it affects your thinking in ways I can’t predict, and could prove devastating.”

Luke looked abashed.

Ahsoka let out a loud laugh, and Leia turned on her, glad to have a target for her irritation that wasn’t Luke.

“What is so funny about that?” she demanded.

Ahsoka shook her head. “Not a damn thing,” she explained. “I just think it’s very ironic that I’m running into the same problem.”

Leia blinked. “With knowing too much about the future?”

“No, with people who think they know everything, and have very rigid thinking.”

Papa leaned forward. “Ahsoka, what do you mean?”

Ahsoka let out a long sigh. “The Alliance has some brilliant generals. But some of them…” Her voice became frustrated. “This isn’t the Clone Wars. We don’t have the resources to go head to head with the Imperial Navy, never mind the Army. Not by ourselves. We are limited to surgical strikes and sabotage. And even that has been severely restricted over the last few months.”

Ahsoka tilted her head to Leia. “Which is a problem I’m hoping your mission will help solve, so we can take advantage of the opportunity put in front of us.”

Mama looked intrigued. “What do you mean?”

“Those battles cost the Empire, and dearly. They lost many men, resources, and quite a bit of their military leadership with the destruction of the Death Star.” Her eyes grew distant for a moment. “The competent ones, anyway.”

There were a lot of veterans from the Clone Wars among the upper echelons of the military leadership, both in the Alliance and the Empire. It suddenly occurred to Leia that Ahsoka might have known quite a few of the ones that had died on the Death Star, and her relationship with them could have been much more friendly than the one she had with Tarkin.

Ahsoka shook her head, eyes focusing back in on the people in front of her. “Either way, that was a lot of resources to lose, even for the Empire. If we can just get over what happened two decades ago, and work together, we can use this to our advantage.”

Luke leaned forward. “You have a lot of ground to make up, Ahsoka.”

Ahsoka made a face. “I know. Believe me, I know. Just like Leia, I have spent a long time on the Rim. But I have to start somewhere.”

Papa drummed his fingers on the table. “It’s a risk,” he said. “And I don’t just mean sending Obi-Wan to Mandalore.”

Ahsoka looked shocked. “You think Bo-Katan will turn traitor on us?”

Papa shook his head. “No, whatever Bo-Katan’s issues with the Jedi and the Alliance, I highly doubt she would turn him over to the Empire. But sharing this intel Ahsoka, among all these groups. That information was hard-won by us, and there is always the chance it could fall into Imperial hands. There is a lot we stand to lose.”

Ahsoka nodded. “I know the Empire has plenty of spies littered in those groups. But their intelligence network is currently in shambles. They are facing a very similar problem that the Alliance was until I conveniently appeared on Yavin.”

“Which is?” Mama asked.

“Yulren was on the Death Star,” Ahsoka said flatly. “He was the head of their network, and like Draven, he wasn’t one to hand things off to subordinates. Not that it would have mattered if he had, because most of them were on the Death Star as well.”

“He was the only one who had access to the entire network,” Leia breathed.

Ahsoka nodded. “It’s going to take the Empire months to decode his files. More so, since Draven snatched Drusil from them. That was the problem she was working on for them when she defected. All those spies, on all their missions, making reports no one is hearing.”

“That still doesn’t answer the question of why you want me to go to Mandalore, Ahsoka,” Obi-Wan said flatly. “There are plenty of people here that could do it just as well. 

Ahsoka gave Obi-Wan an incredulous look. “Bo-Katan knows you.”

Obi-Wan’s face twisted. “We’ve only met twice.”

Ahsoka snorted. “She knows about you, Obi-Wan.’

Obi-Wan looked hurt. “Yes, how could I forget? The legend of the Obi-Wan Kenobi, General of the Clone War, and the first Mandalorian Civil War.” He sneered at Ahsoka, “In case you haven’t forgotten, Bo-Katan ended up on the other side of that conflict. She has no reason to trust me, or what I stand for.”

Ahsoka was looking at him like she couldn’t believe he was being this stupid. “She joined Death Watch years after you left Mandalore, Obi-Wan. It’s not like you fought her there.”

“But-“ Obi-Wan started.

Ahsoka cut him off. “If you think for one moment that Bo-Katan didn’t hear an earful from Satine about you in those intervening years before they had their falling out, you’re delusional. She knows you, Obi-Wan. From someone who, as I recall Anakin telling me, never saw the legend.”

Obi-Wan scowled. “There is no way he would have-”

Ahsoka tapped a finger against her lips. “What did he say Satine called you? A collection of half-truths and hyperbole?”

Luke let out a shocked laugh, and Obi-Wan’s head sank into his hands. “Of course, he chose to pay attention then,” he grumbled. He looked up at Ahsoka wearily. “And he chose to tell you about it.”

Satine. Something about that struck a chord in Leia’s mind. She knew that name, but from where?

Ahsoka’s face became sympathetic. “I’m not saying she’s your friend, Obi-Wan. Or even an ally. Not yet. But she does know where you stand. More importantly, she knows you have no love for the Empire and the will to fight it.”

Obi-Wan opened his mouth, probably to argue, but Ahsoka only gave him a flatly unimpressed look, and he closed it very slowly.

Someone named Satine, who was connected to Bo-Katan, …and all the pieces fell together in Leia’s mind.

She turned to Obi-Wan. “The Duchess of Mandalore,” she gaped at him. “You knew the Duchess of Mandalore?”

Obi-Wan transferred his glare from Ahsoka to Leia. “It was a lifetime ago.”

Leia swallowed hard. Satine Kryze had died during the Clone Wars, so yes, in many ways, it was a lifetime ago. And given his words earlier, lamenting her death, she was someone Obi-Wan deeply mourned the loss of.

“But she knew you well enough to tell her sister about you,” Leia pressed.

Obi-Wan only scowled harder. “We were friends,” he insisted, but there was an almost desperate plea in his voice for her to leave it at that. 

Sore spot for Obi-Wan. But neither Ahsoka or Rex had much use for his denial. They both snorted in derision in unison.

“Sure, General, you were just friends,” Rex said mockingly.

Obi-Wan flushed and looked away. There was more here than he was saying.

That was the name of one of Obi-Wan’s naked friends. Satine.

Vader’s voice rolled through her head, and it took every ounce of control Leia had not to scowl. What was with the Force, and its meddling ways today? She pushed her irritation into that well of power, aware that it would be as effective as a mosquito biting a Sarlaac.

“Why won’t you just tell me what you want me to know?” she thought at it. “Instead of giving me mysterious hints and might have beens?”

Luke, catching the tail end of what she was saying, blinked, and looked at her.

“Tell you what?” he asked Leia.

“You should listen,” the Force said loud enough for both of them to hear.

Obi-Wan and Ahsoka’s heads both swung to look at them.

“Luke?” Ahsoka asked.

Luke shook his head. “It’s nothing.”

Obi-Wan’s eyes narrowed. “That didn’t feel like nothing.”

Luke shrugged. “Leia being Leia,” he said. “She’s picking more fights, then she knows what to do with.”

“Excuse you,” Leia snapped. “I do not pick fights.”

Luke gave her a bitter smile. “Leia, I think you would pick a fight with the Gods themselves, for designing a universe so unfair, if you could.”

Leia sniffed. “That’s not picking a fight,” she said. “That’s me pointing out where they went wrong.”

Han let out a long rolling laugh at that. “Yes,” he said. “And you would be very proper and dignified about it. Until you weren’t and just try to roll over everyone in your way.”

“Not saying anything is a form of complicity,” Leia hissed. “There are times when it isn’t wise. Times when it would cause more trouble than it’s worth. Times when it’s best to lie to your enemies until you can strike. But in those cases, I’m still doing something. I’m not standing by and keeping my head down.”

Han’s face was amused. “And yet, you don’t pick fights.”

She gave him a saucy grin. “Only for fun,” she promised him.

“Not that you two aren’t entertaining to watch,” Obi-Wan said tightly. “But I would like to stay on subject. Bo-Katan isn’t going to listen to me, Ahsoka.”

Ahsoka gave a shrug. “Maybe, this all will come to naught. But maybe it won’t. At the very least, she knows we are willing to listen to her.”

Ahsoka tilted her head to Leia. “And given what we have learned about what is possible, both good and bad, don’t you think we should give them all the data we have so they aren’t fighting blind?

Obi-Wan only pulled on his beard, clearly uncomfortable of just cutting Mandalore loose to its own fate.

Luke gave a bitter laugh. “You think the Alliance High Command is going to listen to you, or anything this Bo-Katan has to say?”

Ahsoka’s grin grew mocking. “I don’t know. But Mandalore has a long history of fighting, and the Alliance leadership knows that. They are not so easily brushed aside.”

“Start with someone easier to believe then the Outer Rim?” Luke’s voice was bitter.

“Yes,” Ahsoka said. “And no. Because we are going forward with that too. I told you, Luke, I want to thin out those lines as much as I can.”

“You really think this has a chance?” Mama asked. “There are a good many councilors who are still trying to make sure that this experiment with Trehhipoi’s temporary seat fails.”

“Not all of them,” Ahsoka countered. “And I got the impression that several of them have come to our way of thinking because of you and Bail.”

Luke gave Mama and Papa a startled look. Leia tried not to think too badly of him that he hadn’t known that. Why would he? By his own admission, Luke found political maneuvering boring and tedious. And he wasn’t stuck here every day, attending endless meetings after endless meetings.

“But I do know I will get nothing if I don’t try.” She gave Luke a mischievous grin. “Besides, I have leverage Draven never had.”

“Such as?”

“It’s amazing how much the Core-aligned representatives just give in when confronted by a Jedi.” Luke looked slightly taken aback by that. Then his face grew thoughtful.

“Wouldn’t that have been nice to have before everything went to hell?” Obi-Wan muttered darkly.

Surprisingly, it was Mama, who answered him. “It’s all about degrees of comparison Obi-Wan. The Jedi were flawed, yes,” and she shot Leia a guilty look. “But when faced with the actions of the Empire, it’s quite easy to romanticize them in light of what we have now. Perspective is a wonderful thing.”

Obi-Wan looked at Ahsoka. “But you don’t consider yourself a Jedi,” he said dryly.

Ahsoka gave him an impish grin. “I never said I was a Jedi. I only might have implied I was.” Then her face grew serious. “This is something that needs to happen, Obi-Wan. Even before Leia came back, showing the consequences of where this path would lead, the abuses between the Outer Rim and the Core is something that hasn’t been addressed in far too long.”

Obi-Wan rubbed a hand over his face. “I am not disagreeing with you, Ahsoka. I’m simply stating that it might be harder than you think.”

Ahsoka leaned back in her chair. “Harder than dislodging Palpatine from his throne in the first place? Harder than someone who was seeped in the Dark Side for decades coming back to the Light?”

Obi-Wan arched an eyebrow at her. “I think your scale is a bit off,” he said dryly.

She smirked. “I’m not saying it will be easy, but it’s not impossible. And we get nowhere if we don’t at least try.” Then that self-satisfied smile left her face, and she waved at Leia. “Especially since we know what will happen if we do nothing.”

Rex’s voice cut in. “Do, or do not, General. There is no try.”

Now is when you choose to quote Yoda?” he squawked. “You know he only meant that as a teaching lesson. That if you go in expecting defeat, that is exactly….” Then his voice trailed off, and a sheepish expression crossed his face. He cleared his throat. “Yes, well said.”

Rex only smirked at him.

Luke was looking at Rex, but his voice was cautious, and by his words, he was clearly addressing Obi-Wan. “I don’t know. Sounds to me like the Jedi were destroyed partially because you only tried before, you didn’t do.”

Obi-Wan scowled at Luke, and that was when Leia knew the man was actually angry. “We gave everything to the war effort.“

Luke didn’t back down. “No, you tried to play it safe. You tried to restore the status quo. What you didn’t do is look at what would have actually won the war.”

“There was no winning that war,” Obi-Wan growled.

Han’s voice cut in, confused. “Then why were you fighting it?”

Rex let out a small laugh. “He’s right,” he said. “It was all pointless and stupid.”

Obi-Wan turned to look at the clone in astonishment. “You’re agreeing with him?”

“I am,” Rex didn’t look happy about that. “It was something I figured out years ago. That war couldn’t be won. Not on the terms it was presented to you.” He leaned forward. “I learned from the best General. You don’t like the battleground, change it.”

Papa cleared his throat. “You’re saying the Jedi should have refused to fight?”

Rex shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “That involves more political calculations, then a simple soldier is capable of making.”

“Just a soldier, he says,” Obi-Wan muttered under his breath. 

Luke gave a frustrated growl. “And I think you are missing my point. You told me that the Jedi were peacemakers. Or was that just a lie, like how my father was a good man?”

Obi-Wan’s face paled. “He was a good man,” he said. “I never lied about that. And the Jedi were keepers of the peace.”

Luke sneered. “What kind of peacemaker goes around making peace at the end of a lightsaber?”

“They are a close-range combat weapon,” Obi-Wan protested. “We needed something to defend ourselves. It’s not like we had tanks rolling across worlds.”

“Oh, yes,” Luke said, sarcasm dripping off every word. “You’re right, Rex and the other clones, they magically appeared on worlds. And as soon as they appeared, the droids willingly surrendered, every time. And of course, it was never on Core Worlds that battles were fought.”

Papa cleared his throat, “That is not true,” he said firmly. “Towards the end, there were quite a few battles fought in the Core. I don’t think you understand how close the Republic came to losing.”

“Oh, and their suffering was anything compared to the damage the Outer Rim took?”

“And those civilians who died, or were mutilated in the Core, is their pain any less real than the Outer Rims, Luke?” Mama asked quietly.

Luke opened his mouth, then shut it, his shoulders slumping. “No,” he said wearily.

“And that,” Ahsoka said firmly, “is how we win. And, more importantly, the first step to fixing all of this.”

They all stared at her, and she gave Luke a fierce smile. “Because nothing unites old enemies like a new foe,” she explained. “And despite the negligent mismanaging of the Outer Rim by the of the Republic, what they did is nothing compared to the Empire. Or do you disagree with that?”

Luke opened his mouth, then closed it, thoughtful. “Yes,” he said slowly. “But it doesn’t look that way to most citizens of the Outer Rim. The Empire is worse, but they have never cloaked what they are either. They didn’t pretend to care or hide what they are doing, like the Republic.”

He turned and looked at Leia. “They do the same thing to us that they do to Mandalore and Corellia, don’t they?”

Leia nodded. Mama frowned. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“Biggs,” Luke’s voice failed him. He gave a cough to clear his throat, and on his second try, his voice didn’t falter. “My friend, Biggs. His father served in the Imperial Army for ten years after the Clone Wars.”

Papa nodded. “Yes, a great many recruits came from that area of space. Especially in the beginning of the Empire when the clones were being phased out.”

Luke nodded. “There was a bonus attached. Bigg’s father, he came home and purchased a farm with it.” Luke turned his eyes back to Leia. “But that wasn’t the norm, was it?”

Leia shook her head. “No, most of those recruits never went home.”

Luke scowled. “Why fight, when you can lure them away?”

Mama looked at him, grimly. ‘Yes,” she agreed. “It is more efficient that way.”

Luke shook his head and addressed her. “It’s still going to be a hard sell to the Outer Rim. The Empire doesn’t care and doesn’t pretend it ever did, but if you are willing to risk your life, there is a chance you can escape and build a better one. The Republic never did that.”

Mama looked at him, coolly. “Are you quoting from experience, or is this what your Uncle told you?”

“Him. Bigg’s father. All fifteen people who lived in Toschi station. And the much bigger population in Anchorhead.” Luke’s face grew pained. “There is nothing on Tatooine. Not to build a life. To scrape by, to survive, maybe. If you want any kind of life for yourself, buy any independence, you need to leave. Of all my friends that I grew up with, only two are still there. And it’s been a few months, they could have left by now.”

Mama didn’t react, only kept that calm, pleasant façade. “Then what do you suggest we do?”

Luke took in a deep breath. “I’m not saying that the Empire doesn’t need to be stopped. Uncle Owen wasn’t someone who took unnecessary risks. If those stormtroopers had shown up, demanding the droids, he would have given them to them.” Luke’s face crumpled in on itself in grief. “But he would have asked for payment for them. And that is probably why they killed him. Because it was easier and more efficient to do that, then just giving him, what to them, was nothing.

Luke’s gaze came up to meet hers. “And any government that does that needs to be dismantled. Any government that is willing to kill billions of innocent people to get one person to talk, isn’t worth keeping. The only reason that didn’t happen here and now, is because the Force intervened.” A small smirk twisted his mouth, but his eyes, they only radiated belief and sincerity. “And Leia is very quick on her feet.”

Leia felt the need to point out that she hadn’t exactly walked away from that battle unscathed. “I failed Luke, in what I set out to do. Vader still found out about me.”

Luke gave a wry shake of his head. “It’s bad enough you set impossible standards for everyone else to live up to, but that you hold yourself to them as well, that really isn’t nice, Leia.”

Leia opened her mouth to protest, but Luke cut her off. “Trehhipoi said it. Ahsoka said it. Half of this base has said it. Even the barest whisper of it has half the galaxy living in hope. Hell, even Draven said it. You walked away from Father, alive. That is no small thing.”

“But-“

“And yes, Father knows about you. But he still doesn’t know who Han is. He doesn’t know about me. He doesn’t know Palpatine was killed by him.” And something flickered in Luke’s eyes at that statement. “He doesn’t know that the Empire fell.”

Han snorted. “Good luck convincing her that she did better than anybody else would have in that cell.”

Luke nodded. “I know. But it still needs to be said.”

Then his eyes slid from hers, fell on Papa, Mama, and finally Obi-Wan. “You walked right into the trap set out for you. All of you. If you had actually bothered to look around you, you would have seen that. Palpatine didn’t create the Separatists out of thin air. But as far as I can tell, you completely ignored the fact that the system you were defending had long ago disappeared for a good many of the people. You were trying to restore something that wasn’t even there to begin with. That was fundamentally broken.”

Obi-Wan’s face was decidedly neutral. “So, you think we should throw everything out? Start from scratch?”

“Yes,” Luke said, just as Leia said, “No.”

Luke looked at her startled. “What do you mean, no? You’re the one who keeps going on about how you recreated all the problems of the past unknowingly.”

“Yes,” Leia said. “But I’m also old enough to recognize that burning down the galaxy, in order to save it, doesn’t work. It only leaves you with the people you were trying to save dead. Better to co-opt those systems.”

Ahsoka rapped her knuckles on the table. “While I do believe this is a question that does need answering, I do think you all are getting a little ahead of yourselves. We need to keep focus on bringing down the Empire.”

“Oh, so it can all wait?” Luke asked snidely.

“No,” Ahsoka said firmly. “I can walk and chew at the same time, Luke.” She looked down at her chrono. “But I have somewhere to be in half an hour, and this isn’t going to be solved now.”

Luke crossed his arms over his chest. “Then when?”

Ahsoka looked at him seriously. “We’ve already started. Steps have been taken that the other Alliance never did. Bringing the Rim in on this, and on their terms. I know you don’t want to hear this, but right now, we need to go slow. Because we are all fighting a war, and to do that effectively? That takes trust. And trust takes time to build. So, let’s get through today, shall we?”

Luke nodded his head reluctantly.

“Great,” Rex growled. “Speaking of today, let’s talk about your insane plan to send Leia to Nimban.” Leia was hoping he would have forgotten about that. Didn’t expect him to, but had hoped.

“Have you thought this through at all? How exactly are you going to hide her identity? It’s not like she can wear a mask on her face the entire time she is on Nimban!”

“Why not?” Ahsoka asked. “It worked on Whiforla, didn’t it?”

Rex’s face was disbelieving. “Because the Empire has run Whiforla into the ground and everyone knows it. It wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if you step on that planet with some kind of filter to combat the pollutants. That is not the case on Nimban. She’s human, there is no need, and it will look suspicious.”

Yes, it would look suspicious. For a human. Leia turned to Han. “Do you know where Boushh is?” she asked.

Han’s face was blank for a moment, as he tried to keep up with the abrupt subject change. Then his eyes narrowed. “Why?” he asked suspiciously.

Leia grinned. “Because I fit in his armor. And I speak Ubese. We take him out of the game for a while, and I can impersonate him.”

Nobody, except Han, looked like that explained much to them.

“Whose Boushh?” Luke asked.

“He’s a bounty hunter,” Leia explained. “A fairly well-known one, in the Outer Rim.”

“Okay,” Luke said. “How does that help?”

Han sighed. “He wears a breathing mask over his head, Kid. It’s part of his armor, but all Ubese wear something over their head.”

Mama frowned. “I’m not familiar with that race.”

“Most of them are on the Outer Rim,” Han said. “They are a pretty insular lot, but they like money, so they tend to stick to jobs and careers where they can stay on the edges.”

Ahsoka looked intrigued. “Now that’s a solution,” she said. She looked at Han. “Do you know where he is?”

Han shook his head. “No.”

Leia gave him an encouraging smile. “But I bet you know who does.”

Han ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah, I might.”

Ahsoka hummed to herself. “I don’t know when those ships are scheduled to be delivered to the Empire.”

Papa arched his eyebrows. “What does that have to do with anything?”

Leia stared at him. Papa had been instrumental in the founding of the Alliance. He was a master of political and logistical planning. And the man still had no clue to military strategy.

Ahsoka didn’t look shocked at his question, though. Perhaps she had been the one to explain this to him in the past, when there had been so precious few of them. “It makes the timeline tight,” she said. “And I don’t know if we have enough time to do a search for him, and set up a situation where he is unaccounted for.”

“I believe you mean kidnap him,” Obi-Wan said dryly.

Ahsoka scowled. “I was trying to be diplomatic.”

Mama leaned forward. “Does it matter?”

Ahsoka looked at her. “What do you mean?”

“Bounty hunters aren’t known for being the most stationery of individuals. They follow the work, and that means moving around a lot. It also means that sometimes it is hard to take into account exactly where they are.”

Papa’s voice was just this side of scathing. “Are you saying that this Boushh won’t notice someone else is using his name?”

Han snorted. “He’s an idiot. Good at his work, really bad at calculating the odds.”

Leia nodded her head. “Yes, he is. He tried to blackmail the Black Sun crime syndicate. That’s how he ended up dead last time.”

“And why do you know any of this?” Papa asked, voice baffled.

Leia smiled. “I told you. We needed to rescue Han. Impersonating Boushh is how I got into Jabba’s palace.”

All of them stared at her. Well, Obi-Wan and Rex were staring at Han, as if they were wondering why Han needed to be rescued from Jabba. It’s like they hadn’t met him, and his ability to piss people off.

Han surprised her. He jumped from his seat and started pacing. “Chewie said,” he started to say, then broke off, muttering to himself and running his hands through his hair. Leia wondered if he was refraining from yelling because it was so early in the morning, and she wouldn’t react well, or because Papa was in the room.

Han took a deep breath in and stated flatly. “I thought he misheard you.”

Leia gave him a satisfied smirk. “He did not.”

Han paled. “Are you telling me you actually did that?” he barked at her.

“Yes,” Leia said blandly and took a sip of her caf.

Han whirled and pointed a finger at Luke. “Did you know about this?” he demanded.

Luke only blinked. “I’m going to need a few more words than that, Han.”

“About her killing Jabba, Luke!!” Han’s face was turning a very interesting shade of red.

Luke got a satisfied look on his face. “Yes,” he said, and there was such a vicious joy in those words.

Han put his face in his hands and let out a high-pitched nervous laugh. “Of course, you did.”

Obi-Wan cleared his throat, drawing Leia’s attention. “You killed Jabba?” he asked her. “In your past?”

Leia nodded. “With the chain he used to tie me to him,” she elaborated. She was quite proud of that fact and a little sorry that she probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to do it again in this time. She was rather fond of the title “Hutt Slayer.”

Rex gave her a beaming grin. “Excellent.”

Ahsoka cocked her head. “Interesting,” and there was a faraway quality to her voice. Leia could see that mind whirling. Not reveling in the victory, Leia realized. Thinking through all the scenarios of how that fit into the future Leia had laid out.

Han dropped his hands from his face, and one of them came to point at Luke.  “You went too, didn’t you?”

Luke leaned back in his chair. “I didn’t go anywhere,” he said calmly. “But I certainly see why he did.”

Han threw his hands up in the air. “Why am I not surprised? Is insanity hereditary in your family or something?”

Obi-Wan shrugged. “Depends on what you mean by insanity, Captain Solo. The vision to see things differently and the will to carry them out often seem outlandish by those too timid to try.”

“You, zip it,” Han said, turning his irritation on the older Jedi. “You may be less flashy about it, but you are just as crazy as they are.”

Ahsoka snorted. “He has you there,” she told Obi-Wan.

Papa’s voice was very controlled. “I’m agreeing with Han,” he said, voice not wavering, but Leia could see his hands shaking slightly as they gripped his mug. “Was it part of your plan to become that close to him?”

Leia instantly sobered. “No,” she said. “It was not. I was supposed to free Han and get both of us out of there. But Jabba caught me. According to Lando, someone told him that Boushh was dead before I got there.“

“I see,” Papa didn’t look remotely reassured by that. “And who, pray tell, is Lando?

Leia frowned. How was it possible that she had never mentioned Lando to Papa? “A friend.”

Han snorted.

“He is,” Leia insisted.

“To you,” Han said. “Lando always did have a type.”

Leia glared at him.

“Why were you in Jabba’s harem, Leia?” Rex was frowning.

Leia blinked. That was a stupid question, and Rex didn’t ask stupid questions. It was one of the reasons she liked him so much. Jabba’s proclivities were well known by anyone who knew of him. “Because I’m apparently his type?”

Rex shook his head. “No, I mean, why not turn you over to the Empire? From everything I’ve heard from you, and what your parents have told me, you were fairly high up in the Alliance’s leadership in this other timeline. There had to be a bounty on you.”

Oh, that. “It was ten million,” she said. “And Jabba was being stupid.” She thought about it and shrugged. “Or maybe he thought he would keep me until he got bored and turn me over to the Empire for the money? I never did get the chance to ask him.”

“How did you get out?” Mama asked.

“Luke was our back-up plan,” Leia explained. She looked at Han, “I know I can come off a reckless, but we did try multiple ways to get you out. None of us rushed into this, Han.”

Han scowled. “Walking into Jabba’s palace was the very definition of reckless.”

Leia looked at him steadily. “It was non-negotiable to me, Luke, Chewie, and Lando. That was where you were, so that was where we were going.”

Han’s face shattered, and he sat back into his chair, hard. He looked like he had been given his deepest wish and greatest fear, all in one go.

Ahsoka drummed her fingers on the table. “Jabba is slipping,” she said. “He never would have made such a mistake twenty years ago. Not about something that wasn’t personal for him.”

Obi-Wan also looked thoughtful. “What are you saying, Ahsoka?”

“That we need to be very precise in our next steps,” Ahsoka said.

“Are you suggesting we not bring down Jabba?” Luke asked, the resigned disappointment clear in his voice.

Ahsoka blinked in surprise. “No, I think we should do it sooner. If we play this right, we can bring down the entire Hutt alliance.”

There was a long-stunned silence in the room at that proclamation. Until Han’s voice, shaky and wobbly said. “Okay, you are no longer the sane one.”

Ahsoka shook her head. “This is the most opportune time the Outer Rim has had in centuries.

Leia felt the need to caution her. “That happened in my past too,” she told Ahsoka. “Jabba’s death led to a series of cascading events that lead to the reduction of the Hutt syndicate. But the peace didn’t last long, within a few years there were new gangs to take their place.”

Ahsoka looked at her, eyes bright. “That’s why we need to move now.”

Luke frowned. “I don’t follow.”

Ahsoka gestured to Leia. “Given what you’ve already told us, I’m guessing Jabba died around the time the Emperor did? That’s the only reason I can think of why the Alliance didn’t get involved when a major ruling entity collapsed along its borders. It was because they were too busy building their own government?”

Leia nodded in the affirmative.

“So how likely is it going to be, that if the Hutt’s collapse now, well before the Empire does, that the Alliance will be able to ignore the situation?” Ahsoka asked triumphantly.

Luke looked stunned, and Leia wanted to slap herself for overlooking this possibility.

“Or,” Papa pointed out, voice grave, “the Empire will step in and do it themselves.”

“Not possibly,” Ahsoka said fiercely. “Will. And that will also give us what we want, because again, they will thin their lines.”

“And the other gangs?” Luke looked like he wanted to believe so badly. “Who’s to say the Empire won’t just set one of them up to replace the Hutts so they don’t have to rule the area directly?”

Ahsoka nodded her head. “It’s a risk that might happen,” she allowed. “But I don’t think it will. The Empire doesn’t suffer rivals. The Hutts are useful and are far too entrenched to be easily moved from their positions of power. It’s why the Empire hasn’t moved against them. But any other criminal group?” Ahsoka shook her head. “The Empire will respond to a vacuum in power the way it always does.”

“That might not be better for the people living there, Ahsoka,” Mama murmured.

“Maybe, or maybe it will just be a new form of cruelty. But the Hutts aren’t going to be dislodged without some blood being shed, Breha.” Ahsoka lectured.  “And doing it this way, will give them the kick in the ass, the more stubborn members of the council need to get involved. Because it won’t be a war against the Hutts anymore-“

“It’s against the Empire,” Luke breathed.

Ahsoka nodded. “Exactly.”

Han whistled. “Okay,” he conceded. “Maybe you aren’t that insane.”

Luke leaned back. “You should bring this up with Trehhipoi,” he said. “This is going beyond what we told him we were planning. He has talked to them about pressuring the trade routes, but I doubt they are going to appreciate coups being plotted by Core Worlders without their input.”

Han let out a semi-hysterical laugh. Papa turned to him. “Is there a problem, Han?” he asked coolly.

Han waved a hand to encompass all of them. “That’s it? You all just decided, at breakfast no less, to overthrow a group that has been ruling the Outer Rim for a thousand years?”

Papa frowned. “How do you think such things are decided?”

“I dunno,” Han said. “A bunch of meetings, where there are lots of charts, and people with more education then they know what to do with?” He waved his hands helplessly in the air. “Not like this. Not with a smuggler, a farm boy, a soldier, a spy, and…” His voice trailed off. “Okay, the Jedi and royalty do fit into those mighty meetings. But I certainly don’t.

Leia laughed, she couldn’t help it. “Oh, I’ve been in meetings like you are describing,” she told Han’s baffled face. “Trust me when I tell you, you are far smarter than most of the people you are describing who ‘belong’ there.”

Han’s mouth gaped. “I don’t know if I find that flattering or horrifying.”

Obi-Wan cleared his throat. “I think you are missing a crucial step, Captain Solo. Deciding and getting it done are two very different things.”

“Not apparently to you all,” Han grumbled.

Ahsoka laughed. “Nobody ever accused me of not being bold, Captain Solo.”

Han scowled at her. “Gee, I never would have guessed that, given who your friends are.” Then he pointed a finger at Obi-Wan, while still addressing Ahsoka. “And will you two stop it with the Captain Solo? It’s Han.

Ahsoka nodded her head in his direction. “Han,” she agreed. Then she turned to Luke. “And you’re right, Luke. Trehhipoi needs to be told, so he can ask those groups what they think. Lucky for me, he’s coming to Yavin in a week.”

She gave him a sly grin. “And while he’s disappointed that he is probably going to miss Leia, he is very interested in seeing you again, Luke.”

Luke turned red to the roots of his hair. “I told him he wasn’t my type,” he muttered.

“You sure, Kid?” Han asked. “You could do a lot worse.”

“Oh, like you’re one to talk,” Luke muttered. “You and Leia are still gazing at each other longingly.”

Han’s face shuttered, and Leia glared at Luke, kicking him under the table. “I do not need you to play matchmaker,” she hissed.

“Says you,” he retorted. “If you had a naked friend, you would be in a much better mood.”

Leia sneered. “Same goes for you. Even Ahsoka has a naked friend.”

Everyone at the table looked in Ahsoka’s direction. For the first time since she had entered the room, she looked surprised.

“I don’t-“ she started to say.

Leia just gave her a satisfied smirk.

“It’s not-“ she stuttered, then gave up, and glared at Leia. “How did you know?” she demanded.

“Saw you talking to her this morning in the hallway on my way here.”

Ahsoka’s glare deepened. “We were just talking,” she insisted.

Leia nodded her head, sagely. “Yes,” she agreed. “Han and I talk a lot too.” Han let out a pleased sound at that, and underneath the table, Leia felt him give a small squeeze to her knee.

Obi-Wan’s gaze was sharp and interested. “And just who is this friend?”

Ahsoka’s shoulders straightened. “A friend,” she said, a touch of defensiveness in her voice. And why would she be so defensive about that? Oh, right, he helped train her, and the Jedi were forbidden attachments.

Clones, on the other hand, hadn’t had any such strictures. Rex leaned forward. “But?” he pressed.

Ahsoka’s shoulders slumped. “But once she was more,” she admitted with a guilty look at Obi-Wan.

“Ah,” Obi-Wan said softly, voice remote and detached. “I see.”

Something rippled across Ahsoka’s shields in the Force. It was there and gone so fast that Leia didn’t have time to identify it. But the fact that she could sense any emotion out of her was worrying.

“Do you?” Ahsoka snapped. “Because, as I recall, you did a lot of pointed ignoring about Padme and Anakin.”

Leia looked between the two of them. Something had shifted, something in their tone suggested they had gone beyond playing with each other and were moving into areas that were very tender. The question was, why?

Obi-Wan’s face went blank. “If I had, he would have been kicked out of the Order, you know that.”

Ahsoka snapped to attention so fast Leia was surprised that she didn’t hear the woman’s back crack. If she had been standing, she would have been in perfect parade rest.  For the first time since Leia had met her, she could see the soldier that Ahsoka had been so long ago. It wasn’t just her posture that was screaming her defensiveness. Her voice was guarded and full of hidden meanings.

“Maybe Luke is right. Maybe it would have been better if he had.”

“We can’t know that,” Obi-Wan protested.

Ahsoka thumped her chest. “His training saved me,” she said. “Everything he taught me. It saved me during the last nineteen years. Do you really think, if he had a moment to rest, he would have done what he did? Obi-Wan, even I could see he was falling apart during the siege of Mandalore.”

Obi-Wan’s voice rose. “We were all under stress,”

Ahsoka sneered. “He was the only one who’s Master faked his own death, and used that grief.”

He glared at her. “I had good reason to. And it’s not like you didn’t do the same thing.”

“I never promised I wouldn’t,” Ahsoka said primly. “You did.”

“Because you faked your death, I didn’t think I had anyone left to tell that I survived Order 66,” Obi-Wan said, folding his arms over his chest.

Ahsoka’s eyes narrowed. “You have some nerve-“

“Do Jedi always have to be so difficult?” Han’s voice sounded bored as he inserted himself into their conversation.

Both of them turned to glare at him, but Han didn’t back down. In fact, he rolled his eyes at them.

“Say you’re sorry to each other,” he said, exasperated. Neither Obi-Wan nor Ahsoka so much as flicked a covert glance at each other.

Han leaned forward, placing his hands on the table. “Look, I don’t understand half of what the hell you two were cutting each other to shreds about. All I do know, is that I sincerely doubt that you woke up this morning looking to pick a fight with the other.”

Ahsoka and Obi-Wan exchanged looks, but both kept their silence.

Han shook his head. “Look, it was a crap situation, followed by even more crappy situations. It all sucked, everybody made mistakes, everybody feels bad about it. Somebody said something this morning that was taken the wrong way, and everything came flying out of your mouth. You didn’t mean to hurt each other. Back then, or now. Say sorry and move on. It is not that hard.”

“As if you would know anything about it?” Obi-Wan asked snidely.

Leia immediately straightened, and beside her, Luke tensed too, both of them ready to come to Han’s defense, but Han only laughed. “You have part of your family back,” he told both of them.

“The Jedi didn’t-” Obi-Wan started to say.

Han waved a hand, cutting him off. “No,” he said. “No, I don’t want to hear you twist yourself into denying what everyone, including me, can see. And you’re right, I don’t know much about families, but I do know how much I wanted one.” He leaned back in his chair, studying both of them.

“And in this galaxy, given who you two are, the fact that you both survived is miracle enough. Either agree to never speak to each other again, or let this fight go.”

There was a long silence in the room, then Rex said grudgingly. “Okay, I might see now why Leia married you.”

Papa cleared his throat. “I must admit, when I find myself agreeing with Han on emotional maturity, I’m afraid you both have sunk very far indeed.”

A muscle in Ahsoka’s jaw twitched. “I’m sorry I got defensive.”

“And?” Han prompted.

She sighed. “And that I used you faking your death against you. Especially since I told you I had let it go.”

“It’s a hard thing to forgive,” Han said.

“You are not helping,” Leia hissed at him.

“I am too,” Han looked entirely too delighted with himself. “Bail even said so.”

Obi-Wan shook his head. “I am sorry, Ahsoka.”

Ahsoka gave him a shaky nod of her head.

Obi-Wan looked at her, eyes troubled, as he stroked his beard.  “And I did get your meaning,” he said voice soft. His hand dropped, and he leaned forward, almost touching her. “I didn’t mean it as a judgment of any kind.”

She looked at him, eyes searching. “Really?”

He nodded. “Quite the opposite, in fact. I was just surprised.” He gave her a fond smile. “Part of me still sees you as that brash padawan on Christophsis. It’s hard for me to remember that you are all grown up now.”

A shy smile crossed her face, and for one moment, Leia could see the girl Ahsoka must have been so long ago. “Not so old that I don’t need you in my life, Obi-Wan.”

Obi-Wan smiled. “And I do want you to know how delighted I am to know you found some measure of happiness in all of this.”

Ahsoka’s eyes met his. “Honestly?” she whispered.

He nodded, and then Ahsoka’s face darkened. “It doesn’t matter,” she muttered.

Obi-Wan blinked. “Why not?”

“She thought I was dead for three years,” Ahsoka swallowed hard. “She mourned me and moved on. She is very happy that I’m alive, but…” her eyes closed in defeat. “That is a lot to ask a person to sort through. It’s messy,” she said, voice sounding very young in that moment. “And I don’t have time right now for messy.”

Obi-Wan very gently reached out and cupped her face. “Take it from a very old man,” he said softly. “It is better to deal with the messy while you can, rather than live with your regrets for everything you didn’t say.”

Didn’t understand families, Leia’s ass. He might not have the words to define what he was feeling, but he sure as hell knew how to do the actions.

Ahsoka stared at him for one long moment, looking for what, Leia didn’t know. Then she cupped the hands that were still on her cheek. “Thank you, Obi-Wan.”

He cleared his throat. “Anytime,” he said, his fingers slipping from hers, and returning to his lap. “But other than that, I am afraid I’m useless when it comes to advising someone on their love life.”

Ahsoka snorted. “Tell me something I didn’t know,” as she slipped back into that breezy persona she had.

Obi-Wan looked mock hurt. “I don’t know what you mean.”

Rex snorted. “Not that I’m not delighted that you two have finally learned how to use your words with each other, but we still haven’t figured out how to keep Leia’s identity concealed on Nimban.”

“Do you want to know where Boushh is?” Han looked at Ahsoka. “I can ask around.”

Ahsoka shook her head. “I don’t think we have time to find out where he is, never mind detain-”

“Kidnap,” Obi-Wan said pleasantly.

“Kidnap him,” Ahsoka growled. “And I don’t like sending you to Nimban without knowing where he is. Too many variables and too many things could go wrong.”

“Then what do you suggest?” Leia asked, heart in her throat. If Ahsoka changed her mind now, about letting Leia off-world, it didn’t matter how much she loved him, she was going to kill Rex.

Ahsoka turned to Han. “How common are the Ubese on the Outer Rim?”

Han blinked. “I have no idea,” he said.

“Would it be hard to get an outfit that looks like something an Ubese would wear?”

Han frowned. “Shouldn’t be. The helmet’s are pretty distinct, but the rest of what they wear is pretty standard gear.”

“Hmmmm,” Ahsoka looked thoughtful.

“What are you thinking?” Rex asked.

“Even if we knew where Boushh was, right this minute, I don’t like kidnapping him. Too many variables, too many things we can’t control for, and too many things can go wrong. I’m thinking we create a new identity for Leia,” Ahsoka said. “Han said it himself, the Ubese are fairly common in that area of space.”

“Nobody is going to trust some stranger,” Han protested.

Ahsoka looked at him askance. “Of course they are, because you are going to vouch for her. And the Alliance will create the digital trail she needs to back that up, in case anyone does bother to go looking.”

“You can do that?” Han asked flabbergasted.

“For the Outer Rim? Of course.”

“Then why haven’t you been trying to slice into the Empire’s data networks?”

Ahsoka gave him an incredulous look. “Because they have more resources to protect themselves?”

Luke crossed his arms over his chest. “The Hutt’s aren’t too bad about keeping their data secrets either.”

“Yes, I know,” Ahsoka said patiently. “The Empire also has more people it can pull into handling the task.”  Ahsoka gave Luke a sharp grin. “But that is an advantage they might not have for much longer. We are a lot closer to entering their more sensitive networks since Drusil has defected and gave us access to her work.”

Luke looked thoughtful. “She’s that good?”

Ahsoka nodded. “She’s brilliant. It was quite the coup that Draven was able to convince her to run.”

Papa looked uneasy. “This is a lot of effort to send Leia.”

Ahsoka nodded her head. “It is.”

Mama’s mouth tightened, and she looked at Leia head on. “Are you sure that there isn’t someone else here on base that could handle this?”

“Maybe,” Ahsoka allowed. “But I don’t think you understand it’s not just about the ships.” She nodded her head to Leia. “This didn’t happen in your past, did it?”

Leia shook her head. “No, not that I am aware of.”

“This is a deviation and a worrying one. Besides the tactical advantage, it would give us to get those ships-“

“If they are even worth anything,” Papa muttered.

“Keeping them away from the Empire is key. And yes, there are people here that might be capable of pulling this off, but I think Leia is the most qualified.”

“And how would you know that?” Papa asked, voice rising, as he shot Leia an accusing look. Leia opened her mouth to defend herself. She hadn’t told Ahsoka more than she had told Papa, but Ahsoka got there first.

“Because in her past she escaped Anakin. Twice.” Leia blinked. That was a rather interesting way to look at that she had been caught by him twice. “That alone tells me how good she is.”

“You have another reason,” Rex growled.

“I do,” Ahsoka swung her gaze to Luke. “Sending Leia shows Trehhipoi that the Alliance is taking him, and any information he is willing to share with us, seriously.”

Luke sucked in a breath. “This tip came from Trehhipoi?”

Ahsoka nodded. “And before you ask, no, it wasn’t in the data his people stole either. One of the groups he is affiliated with told him.”

“So we are trusting, not Trehhipoi, but someone else?” Papa looked uneasy.

“Trehhipoi likes Leia,” Ahsoka countered. “It might be half in jest, but I do think he is serious about marrying her if she would agree to it. Or at least that was the impression I got when I introduced myself to him.” Ahsoka certainly hadn’t wasted any time. She had been here what, four days? “He wouldn’t deliberately send her into a trap. More than likely, he had other groups verify this intel.”

Mama looked thoughtful. “You’re showing him that you trust him. Because he is as aware as we are of what a high-value target she is. We wouldn’t send her, unless we thought this was important, and that we could trust the intel he gave for us.”

Ahsoka grinned, and Rex spat out, “Politics. Why does it always come down to politics?”

“Sadly, not everything can be solved by blowing it up,” Ahsoka said.

“When did you start believing that?” Obi-Wan demanded.

Ahsoka’s smile turned sly. “Since I was no longer under your dangerous influence.”

It hadn’t been just Obi-Wan. Vader’s tactics tended toward the explosive as well, and it wasn’t his fall to the Dark Side that caused that either. Anakin Skywalker was well known for leaving things on fire behind him.

Turning to her parents, Leia tried to reassure them. “This can’t be any riskier than the time Luke, Han, Chewie, and I stole a Star Destroyer by convincing the Empire it blew up.”

Mama paled, and Papa looked taken aback, but it was Han who squawked, “You convinced me to do what?”

Luke looked interested though. “Why did we need to steal a Star Destroyer?”

“To ram it through a blockade on Tureen VII.”

Rex laughed. “And you said explosions couldn’t solve everything,” he told Ahsoka gleefully.

Mama looked worried. “Tureen VII is an important ally to the Alliance.”

Leia nodded. “I know, that’s why the blockade was there.”

Mama shared a look with Papa. “And you pulled it off?”

Leia nodded solemnly, no fanfare needed. Yes, they had gotten through, but a lot of good men and women had died on that mission. And that was even before Vader had shown up, chasing Luke like he always did.

She folded her hands in her lap, to address Mama directly. No, neither of them was her direct commanding officer, and couldn’t order her not to go. At least not as far as Alliance business went. But Leia just wasn’t a soldier in the Alliance anymore. She was also the heir to the throne of Alderaan. It had been so long since that had been true for Leia, it was a fact she no longer took into consideration automatically. Outside of Vader, and his reasons for wanting her, if Leia was caught by the Empire, the first thing they would do was try to torture and break her so that she could be installed onto the throne of Alderaan as a puppet of the Empire.

And when that didn’t work, she would be executed live on the holo net in order to break her people’s will.

“It won’t come to that.” And Leia could feel that future in her bones. Not to say that the Empire wouldn’t kill her, but if they did, it wouldn’t be in a staged production. If Vader had any warning of such a plan, he would stop it.

“Vader would burn down the galaxy first,” the Force promised her. Which wasn’t as reassuring a thought as it seemed to think it was.

But in Leia’s role as Princess of Alderaan, Mon would be willing to listen to anything Mama had to say about what missions Leia could and could not go on. As Mama’s heir, she had a vested interest in keeping Leia alive.

Even outside those cold hard facts, these were her parents. They loved her, and they worried for her. Could she really blame them for wanting to wrap her in a cage of comfort and safety?

“I know you’re worried. I don’t blame you. But please, believe me, this mission isn’t something I consider all that difficult.”

“Even though I want no explosions,” Ahsoka remarked dryly.

“Even with no explosions. I can do this.” Leia kept her voice firm.

Mama and Papa exchanged a look, and then Mama nodded her head at Ahsoka.

“Great,” Ahsoka said. “Give me about a week, and I’ll make sure you have everything you need.”

 

 

ABA Day 142

 

 

Ahsoka wasn’t kidding about her ability to get what they needed. It was less than a week later when Leia found herself in her room, staring into her mirror, dressed from head to toe in an armor that was an eerie ghost of her past.

There were differences from Boushh’s uniform, which helped keep Leia’s mind in the present she was in. For one, this set was black and grey, instead of tan and brown. The visor had been modified, so that the words spilling across Leia’s viewscreen were in Basic, not Ubese, which she was grateful for. She had studied hard to learn the language in her past, and had spent the last few days in Threepio’s company, refreshing herself. But she had never learned to read the damn thing. Now the constant scrolling data would be helpful, instead of an annoying distraction.

“So, when do you leave?” Luke asked.

Leia pulled the helmet off, there was extra padding at the back, to make it more comfortable for her hair, but the damn thing was hot. She had forgotten about that. There were so many other things that had been scary and frightening about rescuing Han, that somehow the detail of how hot she had been the whole time had slipped her memory. She was remembering it now, in all its sweaty aching detail.

“Tomorrow,” Leia said.

Luke shuffled his feet back and forth. “You know, I’m only a call away,” he said.

She looked at him askance. “Yes, I’m sure your commander would love that. You, stealing an X-Wing and abandoning your post, because of a “summons” in the Force.”

“Leia,” he whined. “Be serious.”

She sighed. Beneath the attitude, there was a well of fear building in Luke, and she could feel how close he was to drowning in it. She wasn’t too surprised that the fear was there. It was the first time since he found out they were related that she would be going on a mission without him. Leia herself hadn’t been all that happy when he had been sent to Rodian without her, to say nothing that she had been forbidden from joining Han in the rescue mission. What did surprise her was how close he was to losing control over his fear. Hell, she thought her biggest problem would be Rex. How wrong she was.

She came up to him and laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “It will be fine Luke.”

“You say that now,” he grumbled.

She gestured down at the outfit she was wearing. “Ahsoka is good at what she does, Luke. I’m sure the records she has created for this persona are just as detail-oriented.”

He didn’t look convinced.

Leia gave him a winsome smile. “This can’t be any harder than impersonating a real person.”

“Not comforting,” Luke muttered, “You got caught on that mission.”

She gave him a kiss on his cheek. “Yes, I did. But I also escaped.”

“Because I was there.”

Leia wasn’t going to correct him. He had such a twisted view of his alternate that any positive outlook was worth encouraging. She gave a slight laugh. “This isn’t Jabba’s palace, or Nar Shadda, Luke. It’s a slightly seedy port. It’s nothing I can’t handle.”

He looked worried but only asked. “Want to have dinner with me?”

“Of course,” Leia said. “Let me change, and we can go.”

 

 

Because this was them, as Han was so fond of saying, even walking to get dinner came with a complication. As soon as Leia and Luke exited from her room, Obi-Wan came around the corner. He was getting better at hiding himself, Leia noted, she had no idea he was so close to her. Or perhaps he was falling back into old habits from his time in the desert. That thought made her sad, although she understood why he would suddenly not feel as secure on this base as he once did. Luke tried to keep his feelings to himself, but it was hard to miss his distrust and anger radiating in the Force when Obi-Wan was anywhere near him.

Obi-Wan stopped a few feet away from them and gave a nod of greeting to them both. “Leia,” he said quietly. “Luke.”

Luke stepped so that he was in front of Leia. Protecting her, Leia thought bemusedly. As if she needed protection from Obi-Wan.

“Why are you here, Ben?” Luke practically growled.

The man didn’t take his gaze from Leia. “To wish her luck on her mission,” he said. His voice was calm, but his hands were turning something over and over in them, betraying his nervousness.

Luke didn’t relax. “And?” he demanded. “There was no way you didn’t know I was in that room with her. You could have waited until I left.”

Well, at least he was starting to think about people’s motivations

“I did want to see you as well,” Obi-Wan said firmly. “Because I am leaving for Lothal the day after tomorrow, and I knew if Leia was here, chances were better that we could keep things civil.”

Luke scowled at him and crossed his hands over his chest. “Really?” he asked, sarcasm dripping from the word.  

“I was only hoping you were here with her, not expecting it,” Obi-Wan clarified.

Leia stepped forward. “Here I am, Obi-Wan,” she said quietly.

Obi-Wan’s gaze met hers and relaxed. He gave her a small smile. “Did Ahsoka find everything you needed?”

Leia nodded. “Yes, she is very thorough. I have your training to thank for that?”

“Anakin mostly, but I like to think I contributed a small part into the woman she became.” His eyes grew sharp. “It would be useless to counsel you on being cautious.”

“I am always cautious,” Leia protested.

Both Luke and Obi-Wan snorted at that.

“Leia,” Obi-Wan lectured half mockingly, “your version of cautious is not how most people define the word.” Then Obi-Wan’s amusement faded. “For an old man’s sake, do try to come back, will you?”

Leia cocked her head. “You saying you would miss me? I thought Jedi weren’t supposed to become attached.”

“I told you I was never very good at it.” Then a sly grin crossed his face. “And even if the Jedi were around, I would only tell the council I think that the universe would be a poorer place without you in it.”

“You stole my line,” Leia grumbled.

“I only borrow from the best,” he said lightly, then reached forward and gave her hand a squeeze. “May the Force be with you, Leia, on your mission.”

“Thank you, Obi-Wan,” Leia said sincerely.

Obi-Wan’s face went terrifyingly blank, and then he turned to face Luke. “And I would also like to speak with you, if you have the time.”

Luke’s voice had a frigid quality. “The only reason I’m not yelling is because I know you meant what you said to her. But what makes you think there is anything you have to say that I will listen to?”

Obi-Wan’s face didn’t even twitch, and in the Force, all Leia could feel was a muted blankness around him. “Alright,” he said. His hands started playing with whatever he had in his hands though, betraying his nerves. “I can understand why you don’t want to speak to me. But I also came here to give you this.” He took two quick steps forward, thrusting the object he held directly into Luke’s hands, then quickly stepping back.

Luke was so surprised, he didn’t immediately give it back.

Leia looked down to see what had driven Obi-Wan here in a fit of desperation. Her mouth dropped open when she registered what Luke was holding. It was a book. An actual physical book.

“What is it?” Luke asked, frowning as he turned it over in his hands. Not an unreasonable question from him. At this point in his life, she was pretty sure he had never seen one outside of a holo before. And then it occurred to Leia just what she was looking at. It had been decades since she had seen it, but she knew what this was.

“A record,” Obi-Wan said.

“Of what?” Luke asked, face twisting.

“Of many things,” he said. “Philosophies and realizations-“

“I told you,” Luke practically snarled, cutting him off. “I don’t want some lesson or history book on the importance of the Jedi. I want to think.”

“No, Luke,” Obi-Wan said, as he took another step back. “This isn’t about you being a Jedi.” He looked at him sadly. “I wrote it for you. It’s a record, and the musings of an old man and his observations.”

Luke looked taken aback, “It’s a diary?” he squealed.

“You should have it,” Obi-Wan said firmly and turned on his heel to walked quickly away. Leia was interested to note, that he hadn’t exactly refuted Luke’s assertion.

“Typical,” Luke muttered. “He always has to have the last word.” He looked down at the book in his hand. “What am I supposed to do with this?” he complained.

Leia held out her hand, and he turned it over to her. She looked at the front and, sure enough, just like before, Luke’s name was inscribed on it. “Read it.”

“What for?” Luke sniped.

“It has meaning to him, Luke,” Leia tapped on the inscription on the top. “I can’t imagine it was all that easy to get a hold of on Tatooine, never mind the cost.”

“Probably brought it with him,” Luke snarled.

Leia rolled her eyes. “When would he? Did he stroll back to his room when he was at the Jedi Temple, confronting the dead bodies left in Order 66’s wake to pick it up?”

“Well, it’s here on Yavin, isn’t it?” Luke shot back. “Why bring it along when you were just escorting someone back to their home?”

Leia frowned, that was a good point. Did Obi-Wan just carry this with him, always? He had never gone back to his home on Tatooine. In fact, she could still hear Han joking with Obi-Wan that he should have charged him more to retrieve his things...

“Han,” Leia breathed.

Luke frowned. “Come again?”

Leia looked at him. “When Han went back to Tatooine to pay off Jabba. Obi-Wan paid him to retrieve something from his house. I never got a look at it, but this is small enough to fit in the bag Han gave him.”

Luke crossed his arms over his chest. “Maybe,” he allowed grudgingly.

Leia hissed through her teeth, and grabbed Luke’s arm, to pull him back into her room. This was a damn foolish argument to have, but Luke clearly seemed to be in a fighting mood. She needed to get them out of a public space, where who knows who would be listening.

Luke let her drag him, until the door shut behind her, then he angrily jerked his arm out of hers.

“Seriously?” Leia demanded, placing the book carefully on her bed. “Is it that inconceivable to you that Obi-Wan did his best to retrieve something that if the Empire found it, would be disastrous?”

“Oh, because my welfare is Obi-Wan’s priority.”

“It is.” Leia hissed. “Disagree on how he is going about it, but that doesn’t change the fact that he loves you, Luke.”

“I thought that before,” Luke spat. “Who’s to say this isn’t another manipulation by him?”

Leia pointed to the book. “He spent a lot of money to get that back,” she said. “And a lot of time writing it.”

Luke’s eyes narrowed. “You recognize it, don’t you?”

Leia sighed. He could be so prickly about his alternate. “Yes.”

“Then I’ll have you just tell me what’s in it,” Luke said.

“I never read it,” Leia snapped. “It was for you.”

“And there was nothing in there you didn’t want to know?” he was looking at her with an intense focus.

“Of course not,” Leia said hotly back. “I am not a Jedi.”

Luke snorted. “Yeah, right.”

“What is with you?

Luke pointed to the book. “Clearly, that didn’t do my alternate any good in rebuilding anything.” 

Leia wanted to pull her hair out. “What does that have to do with anything. It’s a gift Luke, that’s all. It’s up to you with what you want to do with it. I was just making sure you understood the value of it, before you tossed it aside.”

“Oh, because he spent a lot of money on it, I should be grateful?”

“He went to a lot of effort to get a book so that he could write things down for you. Something that couldn’t be sliced remotely.”

“I told you, he had it on him when he got to Tatooine. You can’t get things like this on that planet.”

“Right, when he was busy being confronted with the atrocity that his friend perpetrated on their people, he went to his room to pick up some keepsakes for old times sake. Or maybe, he did it after Mustafar, when he was hurt, grieving, and trying to get medical attention for our mother, he stopped off at a rare antiques dealer?”

“Maybe Bail-“ Luke started to say. Leia cut him off. She had enough of this deliberately childish attitude.

“Papa never contacted Obi-Wan in all the years he was on Tatooine.”

“That you know of,” Luke’s voice was beginning to take on a grating quality. He was a fine one to complain about other people always needing to get in the last word.

“It was too risky,” Leia hissed. “Need I remind you, Papa was being watched and closely, for any such behavior. Think what you want about him, but he would never endanger me, not to answer a request for a book.”

“I’m not you, he had no such desire to protect me,” Luke muttered, but it was a halfhearted defense at best.

Time to bring some reality into her brother’s thick head. She shoved him gently in the shoulder with one finger. “You too,” she said. “Need I remind you, if the Empire had gotten a whiff of where Obi-Wan was, who the Emperor would have sent to deal with him.”

Luke squared his shoulders. “So? What does that have to do with me?”

Leia rolled her eyes. “How long do you think it would take Vader to notice you were on the planet in the Force? And how long after that would it take him to find you?”

Luke shifted uneasily on his feet. “We don’t know that he would have found out I was his son.”

“Vader can be incredibly blind about certain facts, but a strong Force Sensitive living with his stepbrother, with the last name of Skywalker, and calling said step-brother Uncle?” Leia snorted. “Even Vader isn’t that deluded.”

Luke sneered. “According to you, he is, because he didn’t see you.”

Leia’s hands balled into fists at her side. “Fine, have it your way. He wouldn’t have put it together that you were his son. That wouldn’t have ended up better for you.”

Luke scowled. “You keep going on and on how bad it would be if Father found out about me. Are you telling me it would be worse if he doesn’t?”

“At that time, yes.”

Luke threw his hands up in the air. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Yes, because you as an Inquisitor would have been so much better,” Leia shot back.

Luke frowned. “A what?”

Leia felt her stomach drop. He didn’t know. How did he not know about this? “The Inquisitors,” she stammered. Luke didn’t look like this illuminated anything for him. “The Empire’s specialized attack force who dealt with Force Sensitives.”

“I thought Father hunted all the remaining Jedi?” Luke asked.

“Most of them, yes,” Leia explained. “But not all. They were also sent to retrieve any and all Force Sensitives that the Empire became aware of.”

“And do what with them?” Luke’s expression was becoming wary now.

Leia shook her head. “I don’t know what happened to most of them. A lot of them were children, Luke.” Luke paled at that. “I do know that some of the people they found joined them, but you would have to ask Ahsoka for more details. She had more one on one experience with them.

“They were Sith?” Luke asked.

Leia frowned. “I don’t think so. Dark Side users yes, but not Sith. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure on how they worked, or fit into the Imperial hierarchy, but the rumors I heard at the time were enough to know that you never wanted to be a subject of interest for them.”

Luke looked thoughtful at that. Then he shook his head. “It didn’t happen. And since I’ve never heard anyone mention them to me, they are all gone now, aren’t they?”

“For now,” Leia hissed. “It doesn’t mean that the Emperor won’t resurrect them. Especially since Vader is starting to move against him.”

“Oh, now you believe Father wants to protect you.”

Leia grimaced. “Yes, fine,” she muttered. “Vader wants to protect me. I get it. I think he’s going about it entirely the wrong way, but that’s what he’s doing. Happy?”

“No,” Luke crossed his hands over his chest. “Why was it so hard for you to believe that?”

“Because I spent years being his prey, Luke,” Leia hissed. “And that is not something you ever forget, not if you want to live.”

Luke looked stricken and nodded his head. “Okay, I can see how that would make it hard to see.” His eyes grew distant. “The stories I’ve heard about him, they are all true, aren’t they?”

Leia nodded her head. “I’d say about five percent of what you have heard is exaggerated, but yes, most of it is true, Luke. He doesn’t stop and he will bring everything he has against you.”

Luke frowned. “What does that mean?”

“He once used an entire fleet of vessels to chase me, Han, and Chewie on the Falcon. For months.”

Luke looked flabbergasted. “You mean a Star Destroyer.”

“No, Luke, I mean a fleet. As in multiple Star Destroyers. And a Super-Star Destroyer as well.”

“For one ship? That’s insane.”

Leia nodded. “I know. And he did it because we could possibly lead him to you. So please believe me when I tell you, that him trying to ‘protect’ me, doesn’t in any way reassure me. Because I have no idea what that means to him, and what he considers ‘reasonable’ measures.”

Luke bit his lip, and his eyes slid away from hers. Satisfied that she had made her point, Leia pointed to the book again. “I think you should read this. Not because I want you to be a Jedi, or because I think you have to be this image you think I have of you in my head. But because I think it would bring you some peace if you at least try to understand where Obi-Wan is coming from.

“Why are you taking his side?” Luke whined.

“I’m not,” Leia said. “I’m just pointing out he’s trying.

Luke looked at the book on her bed. “Your one to lecture me about letting go of my anger,” he remarked snidely.

Leia flinched, and just stopped herself from snapping back at him. It would only make this situation worse. And she didn’t want to fight with him before she left on a mission.

“And look where that landed me,” she told him. “I was alone and all by myself, fighting an impossible war.”

Luke looked up at her, a scowl on his face, “You are not alone,” he hissed. “No matter how irritating you are right this minute, I am not him. I will not abandon you. Ever.”

Leia looked into that so young face and wished she could believe him. He meant well, he really did, but he had no idea the pain life could throw at you, and what you would do to escape that. But that wasn’t an issue to discuss today.

“I didn’t mean now,” she said softly. “I meant then, Luke, before I got here.” She stepped forward and put her hands on his shoulders. “I meant that maybe I was too happy to cling to my grudges, because it was easier than letting people in.”

“Maybe,” Luke allowed grudgingly. “Or maybe you were cautious because he turned out to be weak.”

Leia sighed. It was all so simple when you were young. Sometimes she missed that. “It doesn’t matter. Because I am here,” she raised her arm up a bit, so she could see the chrono on her wrist, “for the next twelve hours at least. And I am hungry, so let’s go eat.”

“You really think I should swallow this, like I did everything else?”

Leia sighed, as she let her arms slide off his shoulders. So much for appealing to a teenager’s bottomless stomach. “No, I think you need to talk to Rex,” Leia said.

“He can’t speak for all the clones,” Luke said.

“And you can’t speak for all the slaves in the galaxy,” Leia shot back. “But, you damn well seem comfortable doing so.”

Luke’s face twisted in frustration. ”Am I supposed to betray everything I was ever taught?” he asked. “Simply because it’s easier?”

Never,” Leia hissed, getting right into his face. Luke actually took a step back from her, he was so startled by her ferocity.

Leia forced herself to calm down.  “We don’t do easy in this family,” she said in a softer voice. “What I am saying is that you need to find a way to find peace with this. And soon.”

“For the Rebellion?” Luke sounded hurt.

Leia looked at him, startled. “No,” she said. “Because of the Force.”

Luke only looked confused.

Leia looked at him, dumbfounded. “Didn’t Obi-Wan warn you that the Force can amplify what you are feeling?”

“Yes,” Luke said slowly, “but what does that have to do with anything?”

“Luke,” she said aghast. “You let this keep going, it will eat you alive. The Force tunes to your emotions and feeds them back to you. Without control, without balance, you could be consumed. By either side.”

“Then I will stop using the Force,” Luke said.

Leia shook her head. “It doesn’t work that way. You’ve gone too far in your training.”

Luke opened his mouth to protest, and Leia didn’t let him talk. “I told you,” she said quietly. “I told you when you started this, it wasn’t something that you could just quit, that it was who you would be, forever.”

He looked uncomfortable. “You seem to be managing ignoring the Force alright.”

Not nearly as well as he thought she was. As evidenced by her brush with the Dark Side a few days ago. And the increasing awareness of the Force, and it’s ability to make its point known, when before she could ignore it at will.

“I’m not saying you have to be a Jedi, Luke,” Leia said softly. “And you are right, I’m certainly not. But what you can’t do, is run around ignoring this. You need to confront what is making you so angry.”

“Obi-Wan,” Luke said without hesitation.

“Are you sure about that?” Leia asked. “Have you actually thought about it?”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“He hurt you,” Leia acknowledged. “I am not arguing otherwise. But you seem awfully fixated on a mistake he made before you were even born. A mistake he is sorry for and is trying to make right.”

“It can never be made right,” Luke hissed. “It’s done.”

Leia gritted her teeth. “Damn Tatooine fatalism.”

Luke sneered, “Of course, blame the Outer Rim backward ways.”

Leia’s blood turned to ice. Well, if he wanted to play rough, she was more than willing to indulge him. “And do you think, maybe, that attitude that it’s done, you can never make up for it, no matter how hard you try, is why Vader never broke free from the Dark Side in all those years?”

Luke paled, and he took a step back. “I…That isn’t…It’s different.”

“How?”

Luke scrambled for words. “It just is,” he said weakly.

“It’s different because you don’t know Vader. He’s a concept, a figure in your head. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing or a good thing, Luke. Only it’s easier to overlook the faults of something when it isn’t personal.”

“My father isn’t personal to me?”

Leia’s anger drained away. She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. This was a stupid argument to have, especially when she was about to leave on a mission tomorrow. Not a very dangerous one, but Leia’s life had a tendency to veer towards nasty surprises.

She said in a soft voice. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry you said it, or sorry it hurt me?”

Leia’s eyes flew open and then gave Luke a pained grimace. “Both. It was uncalled for.” She rubbed her forehead. “I might have inelegantly said it, but what I meant was that you aren’t personally invested in Vader. He’s only a series of facts, not a person. You know Obi-Wan. You are personally invested in him.”

Luke huffed. “In a slaver.”

“You know that wasn’t what he was, Luke,” Leia pushed right back.

“No, it’s just wasn’t what anyone called him.”

“And how is that any different then what Vader is doing now?” Leia demanded. “You seem to overlook that little fact.”

Luke’s face hardened. “You have no idea what you are talking about.”

Leia took two steps to get right into Luke’s face. “You think? You’re angry at Obi-Wan, but the person who you are most angry with, is yourself. Because despite everything you know, everything you grew up believing in, you still love him. And that is what you can’t forgive.”

Luke looked panicked now. “No, I don’t.”

Leia almost, almost, told him that if she wasn’t allowed to lie to him anymore, then the same held true for him. But the whirlwind of emotion rolling off Luke stilled her tongue. It wasn’t that he believed what he was saying, he didn’t.  It was that he was desperately trying to convince himself that he did.

“Just because you care about him doesn’t make you a bad person, Luke,” she said softly.

“It’s wrong,” Luke said.

“No,” Leia corrected gently. “It just is.

“Oh, like you know anything about it?”

Leia gave him a sad smile. “My son is a patricide, and a mass murderer to boot. He is bent on dominating the galaxy to his will and restoring the government that took almost everything from me. And I still love him and miss him.”

Luke paled.

“Does that make me a bad person?” she asked.

Luke shook his head. “No, but he’s your son. Obi-Wan isn’t family.”

“That is for you to decide,” Leia said. “And only you. But you do yourself no favors by lying to yourself about how you feel, Luke. Ruthless honesty, remember?”

Luke’s shoulders slumped. “I know,” he said, sounding defeated. “But I don’t know what is true anymore.”

Leia looked at him, and her anger bled away. This was so much to lay on one person’s shoulders, could she blame him for lashing out like he had? She didn’t have any answers for him, on what to do about Vader, Obi-Wan, or even being a Jedi. So, she settled for the next best thing. She drew him into a hug. “I know,” she whispered into his shoulder.

Luke returned the embrace, arms tight. “I’m just so tired,” he said.

Leia let out a small laugh. “Me too, little brother.”

“I’m older,” he protested, but it was half-hearted at best.

They stayed wrapped around each other, trying to give the other strength, for a very long time.

 

 

ABA Day – 143

 

 

Nimban wasn’t anything special from space. It had two large continents surrounded by oceans. There were mountain ranges, and by the look of it, a great deal of lush green forests. It was like so many other inhabited worlds in the galaxy, nothing remarkable or unique. Average in every way.

Leia did notice that it didn’t have the stripped landscapes that other colonized Outer Rim worlds of the Empire had. You could always spot those worlds easily, even from space. Both from the devastated landscapes and the level of pollution in the atmosphere. Nimban lacked those features, it looked unremarkable, but peaceful. At least as peaceful as any planet that had sentients on it could be.

That impression changed the minute Leia’s boot left the gangplank of the Falcon and touched the ground. Hopelessness and despair curled around her spine, and she almost jumped back onto the gangplank at the unexpected sensation of being smothered with such intense emotions. No, the Empire wasn’t here. But the Hutts, in their own way, were just as bad. And that said something, that they could descend into the level of nastiness and cruelty of a Sith Empire.

Hastily, Leia thickened her mental walls. It didn’t help, those feelings, they didn’t abate.

Not now,” she hissed at the Force. “You aren’t telling me anything I can’t see with my eyes.

And she could, even if she wasn’t intimately familiar with what happened on Hutt controlled worlds. From the bent, sunken posture of the people in the landing bay, to the furtive looks over the shoulders, and the threadbare state of almost everyone’s clothes. She didn’t need the Force to tell her this was a place of misery.

The answer she got wasn’t in words, images, or even a flash of warning. If she didn’t know better, she would swear that the Force was blowing raspberries at her. Leia suppressed a shiver. As of late, the Force had gotten more and more insistent on what path it wanted her to walk.

Desperate to get her mind off what a semi-sentient power was trying to tell her, she turned to Han. “Wh-“ she cut herself off and quickly switched languages. {Where too?} she asked hastily, hoping that no one around her noticed what she had started to say.

She had been so rattled that she almost addressed Han in Basic, which would have been a fatal error in her cover. The Ubense didn’t have the vocal cords capable of the language, as far as anyone could tell. Not that she thought any of the haggard people around her were paying attention, but small mistakes are what got people killed in this line of work.

Han gave her a worried look. “You okay?” he asked.

Leia waved a hand in the air. {I’m fine,} she said.

Han didn’t look convinced. “You sure?”

Chewie’s voice came from behind Leia, as he descended the gangplank. <She said she is fine, Han,> he snarked. <You don’t need to baby her.>

Wonderful. Any progress she and Chewie had been making in repairing their friendship seemed to be gone. Although Leia couldn’t fathom what she had done over the last few days, that would get Chewie angry with her again.

“I am not babying her,” Han shot back, hands coming to his hips.

<I for one, would like an answer to her question too,> Chewie said, neatly changing the subject. Perhaps he realized that out here in the open, was not the best place for him and Han to get into their personal lives.

Han blinked, surprised. Then a rueful look came over his face, and he scratched the back of his neck. “Well,” he drawled, “the thing about that is-”

Chewie cut him off with a sharp bark, as he threw his hands into the air. <You don’t have a plan?>

Han’s face quickly morphed into anger. “Of course, I have a plan!” he hissed back, but Chewie wasn’t listening to him. He had already turned to Leia, pointing a finger at her.

<You are supposed to keep him from doing foolish things,> he spat, and before Leia could even think of a reply, he was storming to the door painted with the slightly faded words “exit”. 

Hey,” Han protested, scrambling to follow him. 

Leia found herself running to keep up, and R2, who was still halfway down the gangplank by the sound of it, gave a panicked warble when he saw all of them take off.

<What?> Chewie barked at Han, pushing the door open, and exiting through it. <Wander around the planet asking everyone you meet on the street where the super-secret ships are?>

Leia followed them through the door, and the moment she stepped outside, she was temporarily blinded as sunlight hit her visors. She blinked a few times to clear her vision, just in time, as the computer in the visors finally adjusted to the brightness, and made it so she could see out of them.

The hanger bay exit door deposited directly out into what looked like a busy thoroughfare. Leia’s eyes took in all the people, who were walking past her, most at a fast clip. There was shouting and the sounds and smells of the various pack animals, being led up and down the street. Leia could see a few hovercraft and land speeders whizzing by, but they were vastly outnumbered by live transport.

 Down the street, she caught sight of a pedestrian, who barely got out of the way of one ship cruising past. Leia felt someone bump into her back, and she whirled, expecting a fight, only to see the back of a Rodiarian. There were two large bags on his back, and that, not him, was what had hit her.

Han’s voice rose above the general noise of the crowd, temper hot. “What crawled in your throat and died?” he asked.

<You,> Chewie snarled back. <While you are running around trying to prove yourself to her,> one massive paw came up to point at Leia, <you dumped us in the middle of a mess. Again.>

Han pointed a finger down the road to the large building sitting at what looked like the edge of this town. Even from this distance, it was massive looking. “Yeah, like I need something other than my eyes to tell me where those ships are,” Han snarled. “And you would have noticed them too, if you hadn’t been so busy pouting the whole way here.”

Leia hissed through her teeth. Nobody seemed to be paying attention, but that wouldn’t stay that way for long the way the two of them were trying to rip holes into one another. This wasn’t their usual banter, and Leia had no idea what was going on between the two of them.

Whatever it was, it was bad. Because Han was right. Leia had noticed the warehouse too, as they had flown in. It was the only place near the shipyards that was covered, so that whatever was in them couldn’t be spied on by satellites in space. According to the remote probes the Alliance had sent here yesterday, the ships in the dock were still under construction. That large warehouse was too big for anything else that would be brought into this port. So, it stood to reason the ships that were completed were being stored in that massive structure. Chewie should have noticed too. It said something about his state of mind that he hadn’t.

Chewie bared his teeth at Han. <Then why are we here,> he said angrily pointing his finger to the ground, indicating where they were standing, <and not there, doing reconnaissance?>

Han scowled. “I thought we should talk around and get some information before trying to sneak around what is probably a highly guarded area filled with trigger happy guards.”

<And where would that be?> Chewie asked, arms stretched wide, taking in the bustling street, and all the buildings lining it.

Han jerked his finger over his shoulder, in the opposite direction of the warehouse. “The bar down there.”

Chewie scowled, and peered down the street. His eyes squinted as he read the sign aloud. <Caleno’s.> He blinked, once, and looked down at Han. <Oh,> he said contritely.

Han just looked back at him, arms crossed over his chest.

It was too close to Leia’s reaction when she had heard the name too, for her to call Chewie out on it. Caleno wasn’t a name she recognized as one of Han’s smuggling associates. Of course, it could be someone who died before she had started paying attention to Han’s contacts the first time around.

On second thought, no, she was still going to be mad at Chewie. He had been there, in the Falcon’s galley, when they discussed this on the flight to this planet

<I see,> Chewie shifted from foot to foot. <Why did he settle here?>

“Don’t know. Don’t care,” Han said, anger beating in every word. “But I did know he was here, and thought, hey, a bar is always a good spot to start if you want the local gossip.”

Chewie grumbled and rubbed the back of his neck <Sorry,> he said.

Han rolled his eyes. “I am not that distracted.”

Chewie shook his head. <Yes, you are.>

R2, finally catching up to them, gave a short whistle to Leia. [In case you all move past my maximum speed again, might I know what our final destination is?]

Leia patted him on the head. {The bar over there,} she said, {Han knows the owner}

R2, let out an electronic snigger. [Of course, he does.]

Han narrowed his eyes at the little droid. “What did he say?” he demanded to Leia.

{Just wants to know where we are going} Leia said blandly. By the look on Han’s face, she knew Han didn’t believe her. R2 only had so much more time as a period of grace to keep those snarky comments from Han. Han was going to learn binary, and fast, if she knew anything about him. He didn’t like the feeling of people talking behind his back. And she knew how fast he could learn to make out the language, he had done it the first time around too.

Not that it would, or had, slowed R2’s insults down. Then again, knowing the droid’s contrary nature, he probably enjoyed it more if Han traded quips with him.

That was on the horizon, not what was in front of her. She squared her shoulders and addressed Chewie and his stunning lack of attention. {Han did tell us where we were going. Or were you too busy glaring holes at my head to pay attention?}

Chewie’s eyes slid away from hers. <It wasn’t you I was glaring at,> he said.

Leia tried to hold onto her irritation, but it wasn’t worth the effort. She sighed. That comment was uncalled for on her end, plus it wasn’t her place to get between whatever issue was going on between Han and Chewie. She was just on edge. She had already gotten used to knowing more than everyone around her. This was the first time, since she arrived in this time, that she was walking into a situation she had no prior knowledge of. It was making her uneasy.

{You trust this Caleno?} Leia asked, letting her nerves take hold of her tongue. If she had objections, she should have voiced them on the ship when they were going over their plans, not here on a busy street where anyone could overhear them.

Han cast her an incredulous look. “Of course not,” he said. “He is my friend.”

Leia shook her head, cursing to herself. It was too easy. Han made it so easy to forget that the man standing in front of her hadn’t experienced the lifetime of shared memories with him. She had just relied on a shorthand they hadn’t developed yet.

So, they would develop new shorthand. It wouldn’t be better or worse than what happened before, just different.

{I mean} she clarified, {do you trust him not to punch you in the face when he sees you?}

Chewie let out a startled bark of laughter at that.

Han scowled at him. “Oh, like you are so popular,” he grumbled.

Chewie gave a rueful shake of his head. <I’m more popular then you,> and now there was nothing but open affection in his voice.

But his eyes were all serious when he turned to look at Leia. <How many of our friends did you meet?> he asked.

Leia shrugged. {None.}

Chewie’s face grew angry again, and Leia realized that because of the mask and the vocoder distorting her voice, Chewie had completely misread her meaning.

{If I recall correctly, at this point in your life, neither of you have ‘friends,} she said, putting as much sarcasm as she could into that word. {Only associates who fell on a varying scale of wanting to kill you or sleep with you.}

Chewie looked thoughtful, but Han said, semi-indignantly, “That’s not true. No one wants to kill me.”

All of them looked at him, and R2 gave a long sniggering warble.

“They don’t,” Han protested. “I’m a popular guy.”

He wasn’t denying the fact that people wanted to sleep with him though, Leia thought to herself.

Those words broke Chewie out of his thoughtful gaze at Leia. <No,> he said, turning on his heels and starting to walk toward Caleno’s <You are not. Even less so, since you stopped taking jobs from our usual clients.>

Han scowled and quickly turned to follow Chewie. “Hey, I don’t see you complaining about the jobs we are taking now.” This had the ring of a sore point with Han, and Leia wondered how many times they had this particular argument over the last few months. “The Falcon is staying in the air, and we have food in our bellies.”

This was a fascinating look into the problems between the two of them, but Leia wished, for a moment, they remembered how much taller than her they were. She was having to use the Force to keep up. And the Force did nothing to keep the sweat at bay. Nimban wasn’t as hot as Tatooine, but it wasn’t cold either, and sweat was starting to pool in the hollow of her back, and it wouldn’t be long before it started trickling down her face.

Chewie shrugged. <Yes,> he agreed. <There isn’t as much shame in what we do now.> He stopped and looked at Leia, who almost ran into him. <But you wouldn’t know anything about the choices we make when we are desperate? Would you?>

Leia stilled, not sure if Chewie was throwing that accusation at her, or himself. {There is nothing shameful about surviving Chewie,} she said cautiously.

Chewie bared his teeth. <Yes, I suppose that is a comforting thought from someone who has never been put in dire straits.>

Leia stiffened. She wasn’t about to judge Chewie for what he had done to survive the Empire. {My entire world was slaughtered in front of me,} Leia said quietly. {Do you really think I didn’t torment myself for years with the thought that if I had only given my torturers what they wanted, that wouldn’t be the case?}

Chewie reared back, as if he had forgotten about that. And he had, Leia realized with a sinking heart. Alderaan’s destruction was a theoretical to him. Or it was something he would shove into the back of his mind, because it was too terrible to contemplate. Leia didn’t have that luxury. Not for the Alderaan of now, or the planets that were in danger from the Empire’s determination to dominate the galaxy. Because of the second Death Star, that even now was in the first stages of construction. Or even further on the horizon, the First Order.

Leia had once said never again, and in her lifetime, the destruction of a planet had happened, with her son leading the charge. She wouldn’t screw up this miraculous chance to make it all right.

“Chewie,” Han said, true anger riding his voice. “Don’t take your anger out at me, on her.”

Chewie didn’t answer Han, just continued to stare at Leia. But it wasn’t anger in those blue eyes. Playing on a hunch, Leia took a step forward and laid a hand on his arm. {You’re not mad at Han, are you?} she said in the gentlest voice she could manage through the vocoder.

Chewie looked lost as he shook his head.

She nodded. {I’ve lived through as many battles as you, Chewie. I have survived the destruction of my home, my identity, and being thrown into a place I never expected to be. I survived all of it, and sometimes I wonder too.}

“Wonder what?” Han asked, exasperated.

<Why me?> Chewie ‘s voice was rough. <Why did I survive?>

“What kind of question is that?” Han asked, bewildered.

Chewie shook his head. <We need to get going,> he said, pulling back from Leia. <Now is not the time, and both Leia and I are far too old for such maudlin thoughts when there is work to be done.>

“What did I just miss?” Han demanded.

<Something I hope you never understand,> Chewie said, voice tired.

Leia looked at him sadly. {He will,} she said simply.

Chewie nodded. <I know. He will follow you wherever you go, and you won’t stay away.>

“I will know what?”

Chewie waved a hand in the air dismissively. <It doesn’t matter. You wouldn’t understand yet anyway.>

“I don’t follow anyone,” Han spat. “I am the captain of my own ship. My own life.” They both looked at him, and Han fidgeted just slightly. “I’m not saying that I wouldn’t go along, if we all happened to be heading in the same direction.”

Chewie and Leia both rolled their eyes at him, although Leia’s gesture was hidden behind her mask.

<It’s fine, Han,> Chewie said, starting to walk again, this time at a slow enough pace that Leia and R2 could easily keep up. <I just realized we have more true allies then I thought to watch our backs.>

Leia almost stopped in the middle of the busy sidewalk to gape at Chewie. He hadn’t named her as a friend, but she could live with being an ally. She had plenty of time to move herself into the friend category. If they all lived long enough.

[First, you were too fast, and now you are too slow,] R2 complained. [Are we going to stand here all day talking about your organic bioelectric impulses?]

Chewie nodded. <Yes,> he agreed. <We should get going.>

Han looked like he wanted to press all of them, about what they were talking about before, but of course, his mind decided that him being right was the important thing here. “Finally came to my way of thinking about her, huh?”

They all stopped to let a land speeder float bye. Lea could see Chewie visibly restrain himself from whapping Han across the back of his head. <No,> Chewie said. <Because I have no desire to mate with her, as you do.>

Han turned bright red. “CHEWBACCA!” he howled like some distraught dandy.

Chewie shrugged. <Are you insulted that I do not wish to mate you?> he asked Leia, completely ignoring Han, who was sputtering. <Because I got the impression you did not want to be my….how did you put it?>

{Naked friend,} Leia supplied cheerfully.

Chewie nodded. <Yes, naked friend.>

{No, I am not insulted,} Leia said. And she checked carefully for incoming traffic and crossed the street, Chewie and R2, on her heels. Han was still standing there gaping. It wasn’t until they got into the middle of the street that he broke out of his daze, and hurried to catch up with them.

“Okay,” he grumbled. “Ha-ha. You all had a good laugh at my expense.”

<I do not recall laughing,> Chewie said, face straight.

{Neither do I.} Leia agreed.

They came to the sidewalk, and Han put a hand on Chewie’s arm. “Seriously,” he said. “We good? Because walking into this bar fighting with each other is not a great way to stay alive.”

Chewie sighed. <We are fine Han.>

Han didn’t look relieved. “And her?” he asked, gesturing to Leia.

Chewie looked at Leia. <I was being stupid,> he said. <And I now realize that she is far wiser than you.>

Han straightened up to his full height. “Name in one way.”

<She handled Jabba for you, did she not?>

“Hey! That was me!” Han protested as they started walking again. “I paid him off, not her!”

<Only because she manipulated you into it,> Chewie said easily, head swinging side to side, as he took in the people around them. <Otherwise you would have ended up at Jabba’s mercy.>

Leia shook her head and leaned forward a bit so that Chewie could see her mask. {Not just at his mercy} she told him. {As a wall decoration.}

Han scowled at her as she leaned back. “Whose side are you on?” he demanded.

{The one that keeps you alive,} Leia informed him. And even through the distortion of the vocoder in her mask, and the guttural cadence of Ubese, she could hear the fear in the tone of her voice.

Han’s indignant look melted away, and he looked at her in wonder.

The moment was broken by Chewie’s exasperated voice, <Are we going into the bar?> he asked snidely. <Or are you two going to stare at each other longingly?>

Leia snapped her attention back to the here and now, and was fervently glad for a moment for the mask covering her face, hiding her blush. Han wasn’t so lucky, he was beet red, but he muttered, “Yeah, yeah,” as he swung the door open.

 

 

Bar was a generous term. Maz ran a bar. This was a dive

The first thing Leia noticed was that there was almost no light in the room. The bar itself, located in the back, was outlined by a glass tube, filled with a green neon gas. It caused odd sickly colored shadows to fall everywhere. Some of them were of weird hues from the light passing through the liquor bottles on display. There was a tall Abyssin, standing behind the bar, washing a glass. Caleno, Leia assumed, and his one eye was watching the crowd lazily.

There wasn’t a live band, or a place for one to play from. Just some thumping music, pumped out over speakers, that made it hard to overhear conversations. And music was a generous term for the jangling notes that were being played, or beaten to death, if Leia was going to be honest. But then again, the music wasn’t here to make anyone happy, just give plausible deniability if the authorities asked the patrons if they heard anything.

There were about a dozen tables, scattered through the room. Each one had their own dim holo light, but it was only enough to light the table it was attached to. Leia, with the enhanced vision of the visor, could make out structures that, once upon a time, had been windows. They were so caked with dirt, that no light was being let into them.

The only real source of full light was the open door, and it vanished as soon as the three of them walked into the bar. Leia noticed several heads turned to look at them, as the customers were now able to get a good look at them.

Leia wasn’t sure if Han was aware of their assessing audience. Her mask was filtering the lights. It dealt with changing from light circumstances to dark better than the other way around. But she was pretty sure he and Chewie’s eyes hadn’t adjusted yet. Beside her, Leia could feel R2 tremble just a bit, although he didn’t make a sound. She patted him on the head in reassurance.

 Han’s eyes must have adjusted fairly quickly because he strode to an empty table that was in the middle of the room. Now that she was in the room proper, Leia could see the filth and grime everywhere. She wrinkled her nose as something went crunch beneath her boot.

The floor looked like it hadn’t been washed since the building had been erected. And she was thankful that the mask cut the smell to a minimum. As she passed several tables, she caught sight of faint wisps of smoke wrapped around several patrons’ heads, as they smoked their drug of choice.

<I’ll go get us some drinks,> Chewie said before they could sit down. <And let Caleno know we’re here.>

Now, why was Chewie so eager to make the introduction first? She shot an accusing glance at Han. {You said he wasn’t a punching friend.}

Han grinned. “He’s not,” he said casually, as he took his seat. “But he likes Chewie better than me.”

{Oh,} Leia said. She rolled that thought in her head for a moment. She turned to Chewie. {Is he pursuing you as openly as Maz?} she asked.

Chewie started. <How do you…> his voice trailed off as he realized who he was asking that question to.

He gave a rueful shake of his head. <No,> he said. <Nobody flirts with me as blatantly as Maz. Caleno just prefers the quiet type,> he said with a pointed look at Han, who blithely ignored him.

<You want anything while I’m up there, Leia?>

Leia looked down at the table and frowned. She ran a gloved finger across the table, her frown deepening when she brought it up to inspect it. She could see that the glove was now several shades darker. {You trust anything this place has to sell?} she asked Chewie dubiously.

He gave her a fierce grin. <Food, no. Drinks, yes. Caleno likes to smuggle the good stuff, but he doesn’t keep it out on the floor for the customers.>

Leia turned her head to look at Han, who tried to look innocent. “What?” he asked, a knowing smile playing at his lips. “How do you think I know him? We met at a garden party?”

<The usual?> Chewie asked Han, and he nodded. Chewie turned to her, and Leia shook her head.

{Can’t drink with this on.}

<Shame,> Chewie said. <He really does carry the good stuff.>

“Oh, that’s what we need,” Han muttered, just loud enough for Leia to hear him. “Her drunk. She would get it into her head to burn the place down.”

{One time!} Leia hissed, as she took her seat, and Chewie wisely retreated to get his and Han’s drinks. {I got drunk one time.}

“Yeah, that one time was enough.”

{It was an accident.} She sniffed regally {And I didn’t burn anything down, that was Luke!}

“Uh-huh,” Han said, looking entirely too pleased with himself.

Leia shook her head. The flirting was fun and too reminiscent of old times that she hadn’t had with this Han. They were here to work. She looked around the room, trying to get a feel for the place and the people in it.

Danger,” the Force whispered. “Opportunity.

Leia gritted her teeth. Again, with the information she already knew. {So, now what?} she asked Han.

“Well,” Han leaned back in his chair and looked around the room. “We stay here for a bit. See what Caleno is willing to tell me and Chewie. Drink our drinks, see who else I know-“

“Solo!” a voice cried in a demanding tone. Both Leia and Han turned their heads to where that strident voice was coming from. There was a human-sized person, standing in the door. Leia could just make out that they were pointing an accusing finger at Han, not a blaster.  They were keeping in the bright spot cast by the sunlight pouring through the door. If they knew Han, chances were good, that meant that framing wasn’t an accident.  They had done it to intentionally blind Han.

There was a long pause, as whoever this person was waited for Han to answer. Han only squinted at the figure, trying to make them out. When he didn’t say anything in that fraught silence, the person came stomping towards their table, the light cutting out as the door swung shut.

Leia could finally make out that it was a human female. She was tall, with dark skin, dark brown hair, dressed in a practical jumpsuit, with knee-high boots, and armed with what looked like a rather nasty blaster on her left thigh. Leia couldn’t really tell through the red-tinted lenses what the color of the outfit was, but it fit her snugly.

As the stranger stomped over to them, Leia found herself frowning. This woman looked familiar, but the distorted version of her that Leia was seeing was throwing her off. And that voice. Leia could have sworn she recognized that voice. In her memory, she was screaming out Han’s name in annoyance, like she was doing now.

Han came to his feet, and Leia could tell by his squinting face, that he couldn't quite make out who was coming towards them either. Only it wasn’t a memory problem for him, his eyes still hadn’t adjusted to the sudden splash of light in the room.

”I think you have the wrong-“ was all that Han got out before there was a hand slapping him across the face.

Leia jumped to her feet, hand falling to her blaster, but before she could do anything, the woman grabbed Han’s shirt and hauled him down for a kiss.

Han didn’t return the embrace, his hands were just flailing wildly at his sides. All Leia could do was stare, her mind whirling as she tried to put together just what the hell was going on. Shooting this strange woman seemed the best option, but corpses don’t give you answers. Besides, Ahsoka wanted this mission to be low-key. Even in a place like this, on a planet like this, killing someone in public was bound to attract some notice.

The woman finished the kiss, and pulled back, her hand still firmly wrapped around Han’s shirt. “Where is my cut from the Stenness job, you son of a bitch?” she growled into Han’s face.

At the mention of Stenness, everything clicked into place for Leia. Sana Starros. The woman who was currently spitting fire into Han’s face was Sana.

It had been decades since Leia had even thought of the smuggler. Longer since she had seen her. And what was she doing here, on Nimban?

Han, meanwhile, was openly gaping at the woman. “I? You? What?” he sputtered.

Sana snorted and pushed Han so he fell back into his chair. “Eloquent as always.” She looked at the empty chair next to Han. “Where is your sidekick?”

“Getting drinks,” Han said automatically

Sana grinned, then her gaze fell on Leia. “New friend?”

Han blinked very rapidly and turned his head to look at Leia. Pure panic was written across his face. Leia just stared back at him, wondering how he wanted to play this.

“She’s not a friend,” Han said, turning back to face Sana. “She’s Le-…” his voice trailed off as he realized what he was about to say. Leia just kept herself from shaking her head. If she had known that Sana was going to show up, she would have brought Luke. He would have lied better than that, and that was saying something.

“She’s an acquaintance?” Han finished lamely.

Leia rolled her eyes. Oh, no, that wouldn’t get Sana’s attention at all.

“Oh really?” the woman purred and came over to Leia, a sway in her hips. Leia felt her eyebrows raise in surprise, and she almost took a step back. That was a much friendlier greeting then she remembered Sana giving to her the last time they were first introduced. Or ever.

“Hi,” Sana said, coming so close to Leia she almost knocked her over. “I’m this idiot’s wife, Sana Solo. And you are?”

Han’s voice was just this side of yelling. “You are not my wife!”

Sana didn’t even look at him, just smirked at Leia. “I have the paperwork that says otherwise.” She leaned forward, so much so she was practically kissing Leia’s mask. “Don’t believe a word this fool has told you. He may be useless, but even I have to admit he is one of the best liars in the galaxy.” She ran a hand down Leia’s mask. “You’re better off with me, sweetheart.”

This was definitely not how Sana had greeted her in the past. Leia was very bad at seeing flirtation, but Sana was being so over the top, it was hard to miss. Why? Did she have some secret fetish for non-humans? Or was she doing this to make Han jealous?

Didn’t matter either way. Leia put her hand out and softly pushed Sana back. {Shiok.}

Sana looked down at the space between the two of them bemusedly, like she didn’t get rejected that often. “I’m sorry?”

{Shiok,} Leia repeated firmly. {My name is Shiok}

Sana’s brow wrinkled for a bit. “Shiok?” she said, making a passable pronunciation at the name. Great, it seemed she spoke Ubese. So much for talking to Han in private in front of her.

Leia nodded in answer to her question. Sana reached out, took Leia’s gloved hand, and brought it up to her lips. She pressed a light kiss to it, and then looked through her lashes at Leia. “It’s very nice to meet you, Shiok,” she purred.

Leia sent a small prayer to all the gods, that she was wearing a mask, so Sana couldn’t see the absolutely flabbergasted look she had to be wearing. She, fortunately, didn’t need to come up with anything to say because that was the moment that Chewie appeared next to her.

<Han, what-> Chewie’s voice trailed off as he got a good look at their guest. <Oh. You.>

Han waved a hand at Sana. “Look who found us,” he said, voice still semi-hysterical. “My not wife, Sana.”

Chewie very carefully put the two drinks he was holding on the table. <You’re not wife?> he asked slowly, as he took his seat.

Han only shot a panicked look at Leia.

Sana snorted, and thankfully let Leia’s hand go. She plopped herself in the chair next to Han’s and grabbed the drink he was starting to reach for.

“Hey!” Han protested.

Sana just took a sip and leveled a glare at Han. “Of course, you show up here,” she complained. “I have monitoring droids on all your favorite hidey holes, because you are nothing if not predictable. Then you walk in here, like you don’t have a care in the world.”

Han finally lost the expression that made him look like a dying fish, and sat up straight. “I am not predictable!”

Sana gave him a coy smile. “Of course, you aren’t, dear,” she said, voice saccharine sweet.

Han scowled, and threw her own words back in her face. “You weren’t expecting me here, were you?”

Sana frowned at that and put the drink back on the table. Chewie, so far, was saying nothing, just taking sips of his drink, looking between Han, Sana, and Leia. Leia wondered if he was enjoying the show.

Sana looked at Han thoughtfully. “Why are you here, Han?” she asked. “Nimban isn’t where you usually look for work.”

Han’s face contorted with resignation. “Jabba’s still a little pissed at me. Thought it was best to stay clear of Tatooine for a while.”

Sana snorted. “He’ll get over it. Especially since you paid him back for that spice you dumped.” She gave Han a mocking smirk. “After all, you are his favorite.”

Leia frowned. There were undertones here she wasn’t understanding the meaning of. Both from Sana, and the shuttered look on Han’s face.

“That’s only because I’m good at what I do,” Han told Sana stiffly. “It’s not like we’re drinking buddies.”

Sana shook her head. “Believe what you want,” she said, her fingers playing on the edge of the glass. “But you two, are too alike.”

“I have a fast ship,” Han said, leaning forward a bit. “And Jabba has need of it. Other than that, we have nothing in common.”

Sana didn’t dispute that statement but narrowed in on the Falcon. “Still telling tales, Han?” She clucked her tongue in disapproval, then looked over at Leia.

“Let me guess,” she drawled. “He told you about how the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs?”

Leia nodded. From the corner of her eye, she saw Han start, then cover it up. Oh, that’s right, this Han hadn’t mentioned it yet. Seriously though, did he think she didn’t know that? Leia was half convinced that a good portion of the galaxy thought that little fact was part of Han’s name, he mentioned it so often.

Sana didn’t notice Han’s start of surprise. She was too busy laughing. “Sometimes, I’m still amazed that cosmic flotsam is still space worthy.”

Beside her, R2 gave an indignant whistle. [The Falcon flies just fine. She just has standards about who she will transport.]

Sana started at the noise and craned her head to look down at R2, noticing him for the first time. “What is a droid doing here?” she asked.

[What are you doing here, you pushy organic?] R2 snarked right back, the hostility in his beeps unmistakable.

Leia put a hand on the droid’s dome, silently asking him to be quiet.

Sana’s lips curled. “I don’t like droids,” she hissed, hand starting to inch towards her thigh.

[I can’t tell you how disappointed I am] R2 beeped back. [Fortunately for me, my programming was altered for me long ago. Unlike my fellow units, I can harm an organic.]

Leia was pretty sure Sana didn’t understand binary, or at least not fully. If she did, she would have already shot him for threatening her. But even if she didn’t understand what he was saying, there was no mistaking R2’s tone. Sana’s hand was continuing to move towards her blaster, and Leia wondered if it would draw that much attention if she shot her.

Han’s voice cut through the tense standoff. “You shoot him Sana, you owe the money to replace him.”

Sana looked into R2’s visual sensor for one long moment, then her hand fell away from her blaster. “Why are droids’ eyes always so creepy?” she complained.

Leia rapped her fingers on R2’s dome, warning him to be quiet. They couldn’t afford to indulge in a brawl with this woman.

The droid let out a soft whistle, indicating that he understood, but he wasn’t happy. 

Chewie cleared his throat. <Why are you looking for us, Sana?>

Sana waved her hand. “I’m not looking for you,” she told him. Then she shot a scathing look at Han. “I was looking for him.”

Han crossed his arms over his chest, “Why?”

Sana’s smile was sharply predatory. “Weren’t you listening when I came up to greet you?”

Han snorted. “Greet me? You slapped me, and then kissed me before I even knew who the hell you were.”

Sana sniffed delicately. “I’ll have you know there are many people across this galaxy who would be honored if I greeted them that way.”

Han rolled his eyes. “Whatever,” he muttered.

Sana’s smile grew brittle. “I told you, Han, you owe me money.”

“Says you,” Han shot back. “I’m just here looking for work. If I had known you were here, I would have gone somewhere else.”

Sana’s eyes grew calculating. “And why are you looking for work?”

Han shifted in his seat, giving a wonderful impression of a man who was this shy of desperate. “Things have been a bit slow,” he said, dropping his arms and running a hand through his hair.

Sana gave him a long assessing look. “That’s not what I’ve heard.”

Han’s eyes never left hers. “Oh?

“Mhhh.” She playfully leaned out and patted his cheek. “Word is that you have been taking less jobs with Jabba lately.”

Han batted her hand away. “I told you, he’s still pissed.”

She wagged a finger in his face. “Oh, that’s not true. In fact, he’s been upset that he hasn’t been able to get your services on several big jobs.”

Han tensed just the slightest. “And how do you know that?” he demanded.

She waved the drink in his face. “Where do you think I went first to find you?”

Han swore, then snagged the drink Sana had been waving in his face, drowning the rest of the contents. “How many other places have you been,” he demanded as he slammed the drink to the table, “screaming my name to the skies?”

“Enough,” Sana leaned back in her chair. “Gossip is that you found yourself a private client. Some high and mighty businessman who wants to avoid Imperial entanglements.”

 “And if I had,” he asked, “what of it?”

She gave him a calculating grin. “Then, you tell them that I am the better pilot named Solo, and my ship is infinitely more reliable than yours.”

Han snarled. “You are not my wife.“

Sana put a hand to her chest. “You mean those vows you gave me, that we would be together until our death meant nothing to you?” She widened her eyes to an almost comical width. “I’m devastated, Han.”

Han slapped his hands on the top of the table. “Stop saying that!” he hissed. Leia gave a start. What the hell was Han doing? Yes, Sana could be annoying, but she was a known quantity. There was no telling what they might learn from her.  Or what trouble she would bring down on their heads if Han kept annoying her.

“But it’s so much fun!” she chortled, and there was an edge of meanness to her laughter. Then her face grew serious, and voice deadly. “You owe me for leaving in the middle of that mess on Stenness.”

“Sana,“ Han growled. “I did not leave you anywhere.”

“You used to be less uptight,” she told him, pouting. Then she waved a hand in the air. “Fine. I’m not your wife. It was a fake and a con.”

Han relaxed. “Thank you,” he said.

Sana turned to look at Leia. “Or was it?” she asked.

By the look on his face, Han was about ready to shoot the woman. Time to put a stop to this and remind Han why they were here.

{I don’t care,} Leia said. {I care if there is any work on this planet.}

Sana pouted at Leia’s matter of fact tone, then she looked puzzled. “And just who are you?” she asked.

{Shiok,} Leia said.

Sana rolled her eyes. “Ubese,” she complained. “Always so literal.” She turned to scowl at Han. “If you are short on cash, how did you afford to pay her?”

“She owes me a favor,” Han said.

“Hmmm,” Sana tapped a finger on her lip thoughtfully. “Any good?”

<She has potential,> Chewie said calmly. <And skills we do not.>

Sana looked at Leia, and the playful flirt was nowhere in evidence now. “What favor could you possibly owe this loser?” she asked seriously.

Leia bristled at the insult to Han. {My business!} she snarled.

Sana leaned back, just the slightest, at Leia’s tone. “Alright, alright,” she said, putting her hands up in mock surrender. “I was just curious.”

{Stop being that.} Leia said.

Sana looked at Han, “Prickly little thing, isn’t she?”

Han’s face twisted into a scowl. “You’re just mad because you can’t seduce her.”

Oh. Leia could feel the blush creep up her face. Sana had been mostly serious. Han wouldn’t be so grouchy if she wasn’t. Well, wasn’t that horribly awkward?

Sana shrugged nonchalantly. “You win some, you lose some.” She looked at Han. “So, what wild tale did you hear that brought you to look for work on Nimban?”

“Heard there was a fleet of ships here.” Han made to take a sip of his drink, and his expression grew mournful when he realized the glass was empty.

“Caleno!” he roared, loud enough to be heard over the crowd and the noise pretending to be “music”.

Leia turned her head to see the bartender, who apparently had very good hearing, calmly put down the bottle he had been holding.

“No, Solo,” he shouted back. “I’m not getting between the two of you. Sana has been nothing if not vocal over the last few days about you.”

“You told her I was here?” Han shouted, face growing red. The rest of the patrons grew quiet as they realized they might catch a free show.

“Of course,” Caleno said. “She paid me too.” Then he leaned forward, his arms splayed across the bar, as that one eye looked Han directly in the face. “And you did not pay me not to.”

“Some friend,” Han muttered. Then he waved his glass. “Can I have a refill?” he asked.

“Your money’s no good here, Han.”

Han beamed. “I knew I could count on you!”

Caleno shrugged. “It’s mostly because I know you don’t have any.” Han’s face fell as Caleno went back to tending to his bar. Leia could feel the rest of the patrons lose interest as they realized there was no fight to be had.

Han slumped in his chair and gave Sana a dirty look. “How did you get here so fast?” he complained.

Sana grinned. “Because we are fated to be.”

Han just glared at her.

“Fine, ruin my fun,” she muttered. “If you must know, I was at a party nearby when Caleno called me.”

“Of course, you were,” Han said darkly. “Did you leave those poor saps any silverware when you left?”

“As if I would indulge in petty theft,” Sana said. “That was always more your way, not mine.”

“Yeah,” Han grumbled. “Always on the lookout for the big score.”

Sana flashed him a smile. “And you were always content to scrounge up any scraps that fell your way. Which makes me wonder what leavings you think are here?”

“Where there is a fleet of new ships, there is a need for pilots.”

Sana let out a delighted laugh. “Oh, honey. You are really out of the loop. The Hutts aren’t planning to use those ships. They are planning to sell them.”

Han looked aggravated. “Great,” he muttered, leaning back in his chair and crossing one leg over the other. His fingers drummed on his boots in agitation. “That is the last time I listen to Farmat. Probably had fun sending me on a wild goose chase.”

Farmat. That wasn’t a name Leia was familiar with either. But apparently, Sana was. She leaned forward and looked up into his face, her fingers slowly walking up his leg. “Or he was hoping to steal your well-funded client from you while you were chasing phantom jobs.” She gave him a flirtatious smile. “You can tell me their name, Han. Promise I won’t tell a soul.”

Han didn’t look away, only gave her a large flirtatious smile. But his hand started creeping down his leg. Not towards Sana’s hand, but towards his blaster. “Tell anyone else? Not likely. You want to steal them away.”

The flirtatious manner disappeared, and Sana drew back. “You, of all people, have some nerve saying that to me, Solo.”

Han made a pained noise, and Leia noticed that although the woman was now sitting straight up, she hadn’t moved her hand from his leg. Leia had a fairly good idea of what body part Sana had just grabbed. Her hand went to her blaster, only to have Chewie’s hand fall on her own, stopping her.

Sana’s face was twisted in fury. “I told you, Han, you owe me.”

Han shifted in his seat, just a few inches away from her. But it was enough for him to have the space he needed to bring his own blaster up. He pointed it straight at Sana’s head. “Let go,” he said, voice shaking in pain.

Sana looked at him for a moment, and Leia worried that she would only tighten her grip in response to that threat. She was just petty enough to do it, even if it would cost her, her life. Then she snarled, and Leia could see her hand come to rest on the table.

Han took in a long sharp breath, but his blaster didn’t waver at all. Sana gave him a mocking smile. “I’ll play nice,” she said. Han shot her a disbelieving look. “Promise.”

Han looked her in the face for several tense moments, then nodded his head. He re-holstered the blaster. With a small wince, he adjusted himself in his seat, but when he started talking again, his voice was even. “That’s wasn’t fair, Sana, and you know it. If I had stayed, we all would have gotten busted.” He gestured to her. “And I can’t see why your complaining. It couldn’t have been that bad. You’re here, aren’t you? All limbs attached.”

Sana gave a bitter laugh. “Yes, I suppose I should have known better than to expect you to risk your pretty skin. I know how much store you put by it.” She looked at Leia, and there was a bitterness there that surprised Leia in its intensity. “Unless he has some blackmail material on you, or holding a loved one hostage, I would suggest walking away now. He has no honor and no care for anything but himself.”

Leia shifted in her seat. Sana wasn’t saying anything about Han that Leia didn’t know. He did value his skin and was willing to sell out almost anybody to preserve it.

But that was the thing. Almost anybody. But not Chewie. Not Luke. Not her.

And not Ben.

In the end, that was what had gotten him killed. Because he hadn’t been willing to walk away from Ben. And their son had run him through the heart for that.

Next to her, R2 rammed into her gently. Leia brought her focus back to him and realized to her shock that the glass sitting on the table in front of Chewie, the one Sana hadn’t stolen, was tinkling ever so slightly.

Like it was being moved back and forth very quickly.

Hastily Leia pulled her mind from the past to what was right in front of her. She tightened her grip on the Force until it felt like a hand of durasteel encasing her head. If she didn’t reign this in, more than just that glass would start moving on its own. That’s all this tense situation needed, her to completely lose it.

She glanced around the table, fortunately for her, both Han and Chewie were too focused on Sana, and her on them, to notice that there were objects in their vicinity that weren’t obeying the normal physical laws of the galaxy.

Leia let her hand down and gently rubbed R2 on his side, in thanks and acknowledgement of what he had just done for her. There was another small push against her chair, and R2 settled back on his wheels.

<That’s not true,> Chewie said, leaning forward to look Sana in the face. <Han is perfectly capable of caring about other people more than himself. He just didn’t care that way about you.>

Chewie was right. Han’s selfishness wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. And she wasn’t saying that simply because she loved him. Leia had it brought to her attention, and not just here and now in this time, that she was all too careless with her own welfare and life. Han was selfish enough to remind her that he cared about her and didn’t want to lose her. It was something she used, often, to pull herself back from going too far.

“You mean from becoming your father,” a snide inner voice reminded her. 

Sana reared back, and for one moment, there was only incandescent rage on her face. Then all that emotion was gone, like it had never been. “Believe what you want,” she told Chewie. “But one day you are going to look for him, and he won’t be there.”

Chewie didn’t twitch a muscle. At least not anywhere that Sana could see. Beside Leia’s leg, she could feel the hand that was closest to her, ball into a fist.

Leia wanted to shake Chewie senseless. Why in the hell was he taking Sana’s word on that? He really thought Han would leave him?

“Because he did,” the Force whispered to her, answering her unasked question about Chewie’s motivation.

Leia felt like her blood had been replaced with ice, and not just because the Force had gotten through to her again. It was right, Chewie wasn’t that stupid. He knew Han would never willingly leave him.

But what he did know, from Leia’s own lips no less, was that one day Han would leave him. Not in the way Sana was implying, but more thoroughly than she could possibly imagine.

If this was the glory days of the Republic, that fact wouldn’t have been a surprise to Chewie. He was fairly young, as Wookie’s went. In a more peaceful time, not even a century ago, it was all but a guarantee that Chewie would outlive Han.

But that was then, not now. Then was the stability of the Republic. Now was the Empire, and perilous was an understatement of the danger they were all in. Now, it was just as likely that Han would die in a blaze of glory, with Chewie by his side. In fact, Leia would have bet, before he and Han had met her, that Chewie had expected that exact scenario and had made his peace with it. 

Now he knew differently. That he, or rather, a possible version of him, had watched Han die right in front of him. Unknowingly, Sana had just probed at Chewie’s greatest fear.

Leia moved her hand as subtly as she could to under the table. She laid her gloved hand over his fist and gave it a squeeze. Trying to remind him that hadn’t happened. That together, she and him would do everything to make sure that it never happened.

Chewie didn’t say anything, he didn’t even look at her, but she felt that fist relax under hers.

“If that is true,” Han drawled, “why bother tracking me down?”

Sana gave him a flirtatious smile. “Maybe I wanted a ride for old times’ sake?”

Leia frowned. The Force was ringing with the truth in that statement. Sana meant that. This was unexpected. She didn’t remember Sana actually being interested in Han. At least nothing beyond the money he owed her. But that could be said about a lot of people.

Sana had rubbed Leia’s face in their supposed ‘marriage’, the first time they met. But that had all been about trying to drive a wedge between her and Han, so Sana could more easily take Leia in as a bounty to the Empire. It hadn’t been because she was jealous. Had it?

Leia’s past was rearranging itself in all kinds of interesting ways in her head. Which was massively inconvenient, because she needed to focus on the here and now. Sana was many things, but someone who was easily dismissed, was not one of them. Han really did have a type, didn’t he? Dark haired and dangerous.

Han leaned forward. “Yeah, no. Tell you what, you tell me what you know about this fleet, and I’ll think about what I might owe you.”

Sana cocked her head. “My, my. You seem awfully interested.”

Han didn’t look phased. “Ships need pilots.”

“Not sub-par ones like you.”

Han gave a long lazy smirk. “Oh, you know I’m good for a ride.” Then he stiffened, and his eyes darted quickly over to Leia. Leia didn’t say anything, she was too busy fighting the urge to reach out and smack him. Seriously? Like there wasn’t any way she didn’t know that he slept with Sana?

“Only because I was bored,” Sana said slowly. Then she looked between Leia and Han. “But you seem awfully interested in this random nobody’s-“

{Shiok} Leia said, interrupting into the conversation, hoping to annoy Sana of focusing on her. {My name is Shiok}

Sana just continued on, as if Leia hadn’t interrupted her “Opinion of you.” There was open curiosity in Sana’s face now, and Leia’s heart sank. She had done it now. Now Leia was interesting.

 “I thought I knew your type, Han,” Sana was looking Leia up and down, taking in the breathing mask and full suit. “And that did not include Ubese. Branching out, are you?”

“I-“ Han looked desperate, and Leia could practically feel Chewie want to put his face in his hands in sheer second-hand embarrassment. What had gotten into Han? He was usually smoother than this.

Leia would worry about Han’s loss of wit later. She needed to head this off, now. Han did not have a thing for Ubese, and it wouldn’t take long for that quick, agile mind of Sana’s to realize that pretending to be an Ubese was a great way to hide one’s identity. Sana had almost gone to suicidal lengths when Leia’s bounty had been worth ten million. Who knows how far she would go for one of twenty-five? Along with the prestige of catching the highest imperial bounty ever.

{I would not procreate with this one even if he had a hundred kilberages to give me} Leia told Sana flatly.

Sana’s look of curiosity melted into outright confusion. “I don’t know what a kilberages is, but a hundred sounds like a lot.” Sana looked back to Han, considering. “Sounds like more than enough to tolerate his company for a while.”

{Humans and Ubese can breed. It’s rare, but it can happen.} Leia said. {Offspring inherit their intelligence from both parents. A thousand kilberages would not suffice as compensation to be burdened with stupid descendants.}

Sana’s face was blank for a moment, then she broke out into a loud, raucous laugh. “Oh Han,” she said, fist banging on the table in her amusement. “I see you’re still making friends wherever you go.”

Han was studying Leia intently. “Yeah,” he said slowly. “I’m a real popular guy.” Then he relaxed and leaned back into his seat. “Someone has to fly those ships.”

“Not you,” Sana said. “They are for some big client.”

Han smirked. “That you know the name of.”

Sana cooed. “I might.”

“How?”

“Oh, the director of the ship docks,” she said airily. “He’s a good friend.” She leaned forward. “But why are you so interested? Your client not as rich as you’ve been leading everyone to believe?”

Han rolled his eyes. “I’ve been leading no one, anywhere.”

“That money you got to pay off Jabba didn’t fall out of the sky.”

“No, it didn’t,” Han agreed. “Just a wealthy Corusantii who got in over their heads, and needed a quick trip off Tatooine.”

That was actually not that far off the mark, and more importantly, plausible. Han’s mind was working again, praise be to all the gods.

“Oh,” Sana looked disappointed. “Why do you care so much? You can’t be that desperate? You know Jabba would have you back in a heartbeat.”

Han shook his head. “No. It’s a trap to lure me back.”

Sana snorted. “What? Did you insult his mother or something?”

“Worse,” Han hissed. “I paid back the money late.”

Sana swallowed hard, and her skin paled a bit. “Oh,” she said softly, genuine worry in her eyes.

“It was only one day,” Han said hastily. “I threw in some extra cash to make up for it. But he’s still pretty angry.”

Sana frowned. “That still doesn’t explain your new found obsession with those ships.”

Han sighed and rubbed his hands over his face. “Fine,” he spat. “Fine, you win. Yeah, I knew those ships were for sale to the Empire.”

Sana’s eyes narrowed. “What game are you playing, Han?”

“The one I hate the most,” Han grumbled. “Politics.”

“That is because you are a disaster at it,” Sana said.

“Well, I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”

“I have no idea,” Sana admitted. “Tell me what you’re thinking, and I’ll tell you how you're being stupid. Then I’ll fix whatever cockamamie idea you have rattling in that pretty head of yours.”

 Han’s eyes narrowed. Then he gritted out. “The Hutts are currently in turmoil because of Grakkus’ execution.”

Sana covered her mouth, pretending to yawn. “That is old news, Han.”

“Will you let me finish?” he complained.

“Fine, but if you bore me, I’m walking out of here.”

<Without your payment?> Chewie inquired politely.

Sana breathed hard through her nose, irritation plain for all of them to see, that Chewie called her bluff. “I’m listening.”

“As I was saying,” Han said pointedly. “Grakkus has brought the careful dance between the Empire and the Hutts to a jarring halt. And Jabba was a close ally of his. Because of that relationship, Jabba didn’t get oversight of the construction of those ships.”

Sana snorted. “As if he would in any case,” she said. “He doesn’t leave Tatooine, and the Hutts are keeping a close eye on this one.”

“Gardulla rules this planet, doesn’t she?” Han pointed out. “And she rarely leaves Nal Hutta.”

“She leaves it enough,” Sana said. “As in, now.”

Chewie’s voice was worried. <Gardulla is here?>

Sana grinned. “Yep,” she said, popping the word at the end. “The Empire is not in a very forgiving mood as of late. The Hutts can’t afford to piss them off.”

Leia looked at Han, and she could see his thoughts running along the same track as hers. If they managed to either steal or destroy those ships, they would be putting even more pressure on that particular alliance.

“Besides,” Sana waved a hand dismissively. “There is no infrastructure on Tatooine to build vast quantities of ships. Nimban was always going to be the choice.”

“There’s logic, and there is Jabba,” Han said sharply. “So, when I heard that he was pissed that he didn’t get the job, I thought, if I come back with some actionable intelligence for him to use-“

“He might be in a more forgiving mood,” Sana finished. She tapped her lips thoughtfully. “Surprisingly, for you, that is not a bad idea.” Her hand dropped from her face to the table. “Still doesn’t tell me what I get out of this?”

Leia desperately wished she could talk to non-Force Sensitives mind to mind. She and Han hadn’t even discussed a budget of what they could spend. An oversight on her part. Leia just hadn’t thought that something like this would appear so fast. And from a known quantity as well.  She thought they would go over it later tonight when they had a better idea of what they needed.

Leia might hate paperwork, but it did give her a good understanding of how much money the Alliance had, and what they could spend. There was no way Sana would demand as much as the Bothan’s were currently charging the Alliance to have access to their spy networks.

Hell, Leia would pay whatever they needed, out of her own funds. But she had a pretty good feeling that Ashoka would consider this mission cheaply acquired, for its speed and efficiency.

Leia discreetly reached out a foot and placed it on his boot. Offers like this didn’t just appear. They hadn’t even been on this planet ten minutes before an invitation to walk in the front door of what they needed, just appeared.

Han gave Sana a weak smile. “I’ll owe you one?” he offered.

They really should have had that talk before they set down on this planet. Han, this Han, wasn’t as familiar with what she was trying to tell him. He read her so well most days, it still took her by surprise that he didn’t always catch up with what she was trying to do. Of course, from his perspective, this was only the third mission he had ever been on with her. He didn’t have the rapport and experience that she had with his older alternate.

Although, to be fair to this Han, she and he were synching up faster than her and the other Han had. At this point in her past, Leia was still pretty heavily fantasizing about killing him. Preferably by smothering him, so he would shut up for once. At least, most of her fantasies were about that. Every once in a while, her mind would slip into other things that also didn’t require a lot of talking.

Sana snorted. “You already owe me.”

Han sighed and rubbed his hands through his hair. “Fine!” he spat. “You win. I’ll give you your cut of the Stenness job.”

Sana laughed out loud. “And is this money going to appear out of nowhere?” She gestured at him dismissively.

Han squirmed in his seat. “I might have a job lined up,” he said. “Huge risk, but a big reward.”

“How big?” Sana asked.

“Big enough,” Han said. “But it requires me to go through the Outer Rim, and the last thing I need is one of Jabba’s little bounty hunters getting in my way, trying to bring me to him.”

Sana’s eyebrow went up. “Just how mad is Jabba at you?”

“Mad enough,” Han said flatly.

“So, you make nice with Jabba, you do this high paying job, and I get paid?”

Han nodded. “That’s the plan.”

Sana shook her head. “Your plans never go the way you want them too.” She turned to Chewie. “Do I have your word?” she asked.

Chewie barked out a laugh. <You’ll take mine, but not his?>

“He’s a great liar,” Sana said. “You aren’t. Do I have your word that there is money in all of this, and he will pay me?”

Chewie nodded. <You will be paid.>

Sana leaned back. “My cut from the Stennes job, and a twenty percent late fee on top of it.”

“Twenty percent!” Han howled. “That’s robbery.”

“Well, would you like to try your luck on your own?”

“Fifteen,” Han shot back.

Sana smirked. “You must be desperate. I would have settled for ten.” She stood up. “No time like the present. I’ll show you where the shipmaster lives.”

Han moved to get up, but Chewie laid a hand on his arm. <And what good would that do us?> he asked, eyes fixed on Sana. <Beating him up to get the information is going to alert Gardulla that something is up. The information then becomes useless to Jabba, because Gardulla will know he is coming.>

“You always were the brains,” Sana said. She gestured to Leia. “Fortunately for all of us, you thought to bring a slicer with you.”

Han stiffened. “What makes you think that?”

“You didn’t have a solid plan when you landed here, so she’s not here because you have a play that requires three people. Chewbacca said she had skills neither of you possess. She isn’t carrying a long-range weapon, that rules out sniper. The next set of skills that neither of you are an expert at is slicer.”

Han looked at Sana thoughtfully. “You’re good at this when you want to be,” he said.

“I’m always good at this,” she said. “And you are good at blowing once in a lifetime deal.”

“What other once in a lifetime deal are you talking about? Han grumbled.

“Why, me as your wife,” Sana said prettily, tossing her braids over her shoulder in an exaggerated fashion. 

Han growled. Sana waved her hands. “Fine. I’ll let it go.” She turned to Leia. “So, slicer?”

Han answered for Leia. “The droid is. And the droid is hers.”

Sana’s smile was sharp. “Well, then, the arrogant fool is keeping the schematics of all the ships they are building, an inventory of them, and all the security measures around the docks on his personal servers. Which is located in his home. We just need to walk in and take them. Will that work for you?”

Han nodded. “Perfect.”

<And just how are we going to get into his home?> Chewie asked.

Sana rolled her eyes. “Oh, why didn’t I think of that?” she asked sarcastically. “Wait! I did. That is the house, with a party conveniently going on in it, that I just left, to track Han down. So, to answer your question, we walk in through the front door.”

Han grinned. “Good enough for me.”

Leia felt her breath catch. This had to be a trap. There was no way it was going to be this easy.

Chewie had the same thought. <Are you going to sell us out to this man Sana?> he asked.

Sana paused and looked at Chewie for a long, tense moment. “No,” she said slowly. “As long as I get my money at the end.”

Chewie looked at Leia, and she nodded her head. That was the truth.

Sana smiled. “I’m so happy we came to an agreement.” Then, quick as a nexu, she grabbed Han by the shirt and hauled him toward her face. “But you double-cross me again, Han, I will track you down, cut off your shiblas, and leave them out in the deserts of Tatooine to be picked over by scavengers. And no amount of money you try to pay me off with will stop me. Do you understand?”

Leia didn’t know what a shiblas was. Sana was speaking in a language she didn’t recognize. But given how pale Han had gotten, she had a pretty good guess as to what body part Sana was threatening.

“Yeah,” Han said.

“Good!” Sana let him go. “Let’s go rob, Kertha.”

Han frowned. “Whose Kertha?”

She gave him a very unimpressed look. “The man whose house we are going to?” Then she seemed to dismiss Han completely from her mind and came up beside Leia looping her arm into Leia’s.

“So, Shiok,” she said, as she dragged Leia towards the door, Han and Chewie coming behind them. “Is it true what they say about the Ubese?”

Leia felt her face flaming, again, and hoped like hell Kertha lived nearby.

 

 

Kertha did live nearby. Which Leia would have figured out on her own, if she hadn’t been so flustered by Sana, Sana, flirting with her. Leia, Chewie, and Han hadn’t been in the bar all that long before she had come storming in.

Kertha’s home wasn’t all that hard to spot. The loud music and murmuring crowd was one point in Sana’s favor. It was clear there was a gathering of some sort going on in there. The other fact that led credence to her claim, was that the house stood out like a sore thumb. Someone who was very rich, and wanted everyone to know it, lived here.

It was by far the largest home on the street, taking up an entire city block. Which by itself wasn’t so bad. Leia had seen larger homes, on worlds that were poorer than this. It was the fact that it looked like it had been plucked straight from Coruscant and deposited on this world of verdant green that made it such an eyesore.

Leia frowned as they came to a stop on the street across and down from the mansion. There had to be security droids around the house, as well as cameras, so Sana had brought them out of the sightlines of both.

Leia took in the durasteel columns, rigid lines, and extended upper levels. The harsh silver coating of the place was in contrast to the warm browns and exterior walls of its neighbors. He had to be using repulsor lifts to keep the top of it from collapsing the bottom levels of the house.

But it was just the house that was in that distinct style. Everything else Leia could see of the property, the small servants’ quarters in the back, the landscaping with its green lawns and voluminous trees, even the gate surrounding the property was done in the local style. If this had been a home on Coruscant, there would have been a garden, not a lawn. The servant’s quarters would be under the house, and there would be a deflector shield around the entire building.

Instead, there was a mid-sized fence, that could easily be climbed over, surrounding the property. Leia could see, even from this distance, that it was made of wood. Probably a local variety native to this planet. It was pretty, as fences went, but it wouldn’t hold up to a large-scale assault, and it didn’t match the home it was around at all. If you had enough money, you could buy almost anything. But good taste wasn’t one of those things that could be purchased. 

The fence also had a large gate in the middle of it, the high ornately carved wood rising several feet above the fence it was attached to. There was a small building sitting just outside of it. According to Sana, it was the guard building, and there were always at least two of them in there, during the entire day cycle of this planet. You needed to be cleared by them before you could enter.

Leia watched as two people made their way up the street, and came to the building. Sure enough, two men popped out, and by the look of the weapons they were wearing, they were not there just for show.  They inspected something that was in the couple’s hand, then the shorter one waved to the building. The gate started open, and that meant there were at least three heavily armed people at the front gate.

The couple stepped into the driveway, and was that marble? Why did Kertha have a driveway, on this planet that mostly used animals for transportation, paved in marble? It was a horribly impractical choice.

Han was also looking at the people as they entered the gate, but Leia was fairly certain that his scowl was for the guards, not Kertha’s choice in construction materials. “Looks like I’m not the only one who is popular,” he muttered. He gave Sana a suspicious look. “How exactly do you know this man?”

“Jealous, Han?” Sana asked.

“Hardly,” Han scoffed. He looked back to the gate. “So, who are we going in as?”

“Well,” Sana said, tapping her lips thoughtfully. “I thought I’d be Sana, and you be Han. Think you can handle that?”

“Funny,” Han snapped. “But that doesn’t explain how we,” and he gestured to all of them, ”are going to get in.”

“Oh,” Sana waved a hand. “I’m just going to walk to the gate with you, and the guards will let me back in.” She dropped Leia’s arm and walked towards Han. “They are very familiar with me by this point.”

Han scowled. “And Chewie and Shiok?”

Sana shook her head. “Oh, she is not coming.”

Han stiffened, and Leia perversely felt something inside her relax. This had been too easy up to this point. It said something about her life that she felt better when things went sideways on her. But the fact that there was no direct route into the house did, oddly, help reassure her that Sana wasn’t leading them into a trap. 

“What the hell Sana?” Han snarled.

“Humans only,” Sana said with a shrug.

Han’s voice was scathing. “For a man who works for Gardulla?”

“I told you, the Empire is keeping a close eye on this project.”

Han paled. “There are Imperial officers in there?”

“Yes,” she said. “Hence, the no non-humans rule.” Sana frowned, looking puzzled at Han’s obvious fear. “Do you have a bounty with the Empire I don’t know about?”

“No,” Han said petulantly.

Sana turned around to address Leia. “Do you, Shiok?”

Leia found herself looking back over to that eyesore monstrosity with a new wariness. {No,} she said. Imperials inside certainly complicated things. {There is no bounty on me.}

Sana peered into Leia’s mask, but there wasn’t anything there for her to read, and Leia wasn’t so green that she gave anything away with her body language. She just stood there, loose and relax as if she hadn’t a care in the world.

Han’s voice was just a shade too desperate. “Are those Imps in there all the time, or just for this party?”

Sana rolled her eyes. “For the party, of course. Kertha is a slimy little weasel who has to pay people to keep them around him, but he is very good at being accommodating. It’s half the reason Gardulla put him in charge of this. The Imperial officers stationed here aren’t the most receptive to non-humans.”

Han didn’t look convinced. “Then we wait until the party's over to enter,” he said, folding his arms over his chest.

Sana shook her head. “Oh love, you were being so smart, until you said that.”

“I am not your anything,” Han growled.

Sana waved her finger in his face. “Then don’t say stupid things. Now is the best time to do it, and you know it.”

Chewie growled, <You said they wouldn’t let Shiok in. What about me?>

Sana’s playful mood vanished. “Oh, Kertha would love for you to come in,” she said seriously. “You would be plied with good liquor and food, because everyone knows how many drugs it takes to knock out a Wookie. And tomorrow, you would wake up on a cargo ship, headed to a Mid-Rim world to work in labor camp.”

Chewie’s voice was practically biting the air. <I would die first!>

“I know,” Sana said, all hints of the playful woman gone. “That’s why I’m telling you.”

Chewie stayed tense for a moment, then his shoulders relaxed.

Han shook his head. “This is no good, Sana. How are we supposed to get Shiok in?”

“We take the droid,” Sana said back easily. “We don’t need her.” She turned around and gave Leia a lascivious wink. “In a professional capacity, of course. I’m sure she’s all kinds of useful in other situations.”

Leia had never been so grateful for wearing a horribly uncomfortable confining mask in her life.

Sana turned back to Han. “She and Chewbacca stay out here until we are done.”

Han snorted. “You think I’m going to walk in there, with only you as my backup?”

Sana’s eyes narrowed. “Fine, don’t trust me. But trust that I want to be paid.”

[No,] R2 protested. [I will not do this.]

Leia turned to the little droid, surprised at his objection. {R2?} she asked.

His dome head turned so that his visual sensor was staring directly at her. [My primary mission is to protect you.]

Leia huffed. As helpful as she found his ability to reason in unexpected ways, it could be a damn pain in the ass. {It will be fine R2,} Leia said. {Chewie will be here.}

The droid shook his head. [No,] he said. [I know what happens when I leave you, or anyone in your family, alone on a mission. You find trouble.] Then his dome moved slightly as if he was considering. [Or start it.]

Leia hissed through her teeth, well aware that she had to watch what she was saying. She couldn’t bring up the fact that Luke was currently without any babysitters to watch him.  {You are worried over nothing,} she tried to reassure the droid.

The droid shook his dome again. [I promised Rex and Ahsoka I would not leave your side.]

Leia scowled, but she knew R2 wouldn’t budge on this point. Especially since he knew Imperials were in there.

“What did he say?” Sana asked, suspiciously.

Leia focused back in on Sana, who was impatiently waiting for her to answer. {He won’t come without me,} she said.

Sana put her hands to her hips. “Well, even as charming as you are, you aren’t going to make it through the front gate, never mind the door. Order him to come with us.”

Leia gritted her teeth. R2 wasn’t her slave, to be bossed around like that. {He believes you will steal him.}

Sana rolled her eyes. “You can trust me.”

Leia straightened her shoulders. {I trust no one,} she said.

“Well then,” Sana folded her arms over her chest. “What do you suggest we do?”

Leia looked around, taking in what she could see of the fence. It was climbable, but more than likely, there were sensors all along it. If they didn’t alert the two guards out here, they definitely went to someone in that house. Kertha might have no taste, but there was no way he was stupid enough not to have security measures around his home.

As she tried to get her brain to think, a flash of movement caught her eyes. In the normal course of things, she would have ignored it. There was plenty of movement on this street, but in her bones was the feeling of, “Look, look, look.”

The gate hadn’t been closed yet, and from this angle, Leia could see two figures, both plainly dressed, come out through the side door of the mansion.

No, not a door. She was too familiar with this type of house to think that was an entrance guests used. That was meant for the servants. And she would bet anything that the baskets they carried had clothes in them.

Yes,” the Force prickled along her skin. “Them.”

{I will make my own way,} she told Sana, only partially paying attention to what she was saying, more focused on trying to listen to what the Force was whispering.

“And I’m supposed to trust that you can even get into the house, never mind not be spotted as you roam the halls?” Sana sneered.

Leia blinked and brought her mind back to this world. {I can,} Leia said. {I am very good.}

Han’s voice was harsh. “How do we know you won’t take the information and give it to Jabba before we get out?” he asked. Leia looked at him, past Sana, and the anger in his voice was a lie. He looked terrified. It was a rather inconvenient time for him to guess what she planned to do.

Sana turned her head to look at him and frowned. “Did you hire another person who would betray you in a heartbeat?” she asked, hands thrown up in the air.

Han scowled at her. “You are one of those people!” he hissed.

Leia put a rough edge in her voice. {I will keep my word!}

Chewie, keeping his voice low, said briskly, <Keep your voices down! We do not want to attract attention.> Both Sana and Han flushed, and Leia just managed to contain her flinch at the deserved rebuke.

Sure that all of them were paying attention. Chewie said, <I will stay with Shiok, Han.>

Sana looked at him. “How? Is she going to sneak you in too?” gesturing to all seven and a half feet of Wookie. 

Leia didn’t have time to argue this. Even now, those two were out of her sightlines, and she could feel the Force urging her to hurry. Time to cut this interference off at the source. She stepped forward and push Han in the chest. {You question my word?}

Han stumbled back a bit, she hadn’t been holding back at all. Then as he righted himself, she could see that brain of his whirling, trying to frantically counter her argument, without alerting Sana. “No,” he said. “Just your sanity.”

Leia snarled. {I will be fine. I do not need some prickly male, a human male, no less, questioning my skills.}

Han looked frantically at Chewie, but the Wookie only shook his head. <She is right, Han,> he said. <And if you don’t trust her, trust me to watch her.>

Han’s face filled with frustration, and for one horrible second, Leia was sure he was going to blow this entire mission just so he could yell at her.

Then he slapped his leg. “Fine,” he muttered. “Fine.” He pointed a finger in Leia’s mask. “Just don’t forget the consequences if you run off on me.”

She nodded her head. {Always.}

Han snorted. “No, not always. If you did, you wouldn’t be thinking about going in there, much less doing it. Because I’m going to be the one who pays if you get caught.” His face was ashen, but his voice steady as he said, “Or get hurt.”

Sana laughed. “That’s one way to inspire people, Han.”

Leia blinked, not quite following his warning. Oh, she understood the trouble they were all in, if an Imperial in there recognized her. And of course, she knew that Han would be upset if she was hurt. As well as Mama, Papa, Luke, and Obi-Wan. She would never hear the end of it from Rex. But did he really think any of them would make him pay? That they would punish him? She thought he was past thinking that about the people who had some authority in his life.

“Now that is settled?” Sana asked. “I’m assuming you are going to need a distraction of some sort while you sneak in?”

Actually, she wasn’t, but Leia nodded, playing along.

“Great!” Sana said and looped her arm through Han’s. “As I was saying, you get to be Han. Especially since everyone heard me curse your name to the skies when I tore out of there.”

Han’s eyes remained fixed on Leia. “So, why do I need to be me?”

“Because that is who you are best,” Sana said lightly. “And Kertha wants to sleep with me.”

Han finally looked away from Leia, to glower at Sana. “You think everyone wants to sleep with you.”

Sana’s smile became challenging. “That’s because they do.”

“I don’t,” Han and Chewie said in unison.

Sana’s smile became sharp. “You used to.”

Han sputtered, “That? That is your distraction? I’m supposed to make him jealous?”

Sana reached up and patted Han’s cheek condescendingly. “Just be your usual charming self, and it’ll be fine.”

Meaning Han will have insulted the man in the first three minutes of meeting him.

Han scowled at the insult but didn’t refute it. He pointed a finger at Chewie, “You com me the second Shiok is clear, do you understand?”

“Han, if I didn’t know better, I would say you were trying to avoid your loving wife,” Sana said.

“You are not-” Han started to say, but Sana cut him off by pulling on his arm, so he was forced to follow her.

“I am, in there,” Sana reminded him as they started walking across the street, heading toward the entrance to Kertha’s home. “Jealousy, remember? Fits, snotty behavior. We need the works, Solo.”

Han sent an uneasy look back over his shoulder at Leia. She shooed him, indicating he needed to get on with it. “Fine,” he huffed, turning around. “Fine! Everyone here as particular ideas on how things are going to be done. Why not go along, no matter how stupid?”

He and Sana stormed over to the gate. Leia spent a few precious seconds watching them. Sana didn’t seem like she was trying to walk Han into a trap, but she still breathed easier when the two guards waved them both in, looking bored.

Leia turned on her heels and quickly started moving up the street. R2 gave a squeal and immediately started following her. Chewie’s footsteps following moments after that.

<How are you going to get us in there?> Chewie asked as they rounded the corner of the cross street. He didn’t even sound out of breath from trying to keep up with her.

{You’ll see.} Leia risked going up another half of a block, then very quickly cut across the street. She immediately headed back down the way they came, hoping that she had gone far enough to be out of range of the security cameras around the property so that this would be the first time anyone who was watching those feeds would see her. 

She came to the fence and immediately started following it to the back of the property. and where she had seen that little house that was the servant’s quarters. Leia kept her eyes glued to the small gaps in the fence. She was trusting that the Force would tell her if there were any objects in her way on the street.

She had just spotted the far wall of the little house, and now that she was closer, she could see ‘house’ was a generous term. It looked like a small box with a door. But she did catch sight of the two figures. They were both dressed in grey shapeless dresses, one was a Twi’lek, the other human. And, no, the Force hadn’t misled her. Both of them were carrying baskets that were stuffed full of various colored clothes.

Leia breathed a sigh of relief. The Force could be annoyingly cryptic, and sometimes where it wanted you to go, wasn’t where you needed to be. But for now, it seemed to be aligned with her goals. She leaned forward, about to call out to the women, when a giant paw landed on her shoulder. She turned to face Chewie.

<Not here,> he said warningly. <This is too open.>

Leia frowned. {Someone is going to care that I’m going to buy a dress?}

Now Chewie was frowning. <Why are you buying a dress?>

{Never mind why I‘m buying a dress,} Leia said hotly, because the longer it took Chewie to realize what she was doing, the more likely it was she could just railroad over him when he inevitably started voicing his objections. {What did you think I was going to do?}

Chewie leaned forward and whispered softly. <Use the Force.>

Leia blinked. {To do what?} she asked, genuinely baffled.

<How should I know?> Chewie growled. <Use it to jump over the fence? Or break it down?>

{Chewie, I can’t do anything like that.}

He crossed his hands over his chest. <Oh, so it was someone else who was moving the glass in the bar?>

He had noticed. He hadn’t said anything, but he had noticed. Foolish of her to think he wouldn’t.

R2 gave out a plaintive beep. [The organics are almost in the annex building,] he said.

Leia turned her head to look back through the gate, and sure enough, the two women were almost at the door. She shook her head. Later, she and Chewie could discuss this all later.

She rattled the wooden slats and called out. {Hey!}

The two women stopped and turned around to look at her.

There was just enough room between the slats for her to put her hand through. She did so, beckoning them to come over. Both women shook their heads.

Leia pulled her hand back through the bars, and reached into her pouch, withdrawing a gold coin. It wasn’t Imperial credits, it was a Wupiupi coin. And it was enough to catch both women’s attention. The Hutts did prefer their physical money to shine, and what Leia had in her hands was probably enough to feed them both for a month. She slipped her hand through the gaps again, holding out the coin for them to inspect.

The Twi’lek stayed where she was, but the human, she stepped forward. She was moving slowly, cautiously, and she held her basket in front of her, like she was going to use it as a weapon if she had too, but she did come closer.

Leia waited till she was close enough, and threw the coin so it would land in the basket. The woman looked shocked at the gesture, but Leia needed her to relax, and listen to what she was saying. The woman looked into her basket and then back up to Leia.

“What do you want?” she asked, voice suspicious.

Leia pointed to the basket. {One of the dresses, please?}

The woman frowned. “I don’t understand you,” she said.

Chewie repeated Leia’s question, but the woman still shook her head.

Leia sighed, this would be so much easier if she could address the woman in Basic. But she had no idea if the camera’s that she could see were wired for sound as well as images. It would blow her cover to start talking in a language that no one had ever heard the Ubense speak. She reached into her pouch, pulling out another gold coin. She pointed exaggeratedly at the basket, then held out the coin.

The woman snorted. “Don’t know what you want a basket for, but it won’t fit between the fence.”

Leia shook her head, pointed to the basket, and held up one finger.

The woman frowned. “You want just one?” She looked at the basket as if to make sure that in the moment she had looked away, something more interesting then clothes hadn’t appeared. “One item?”

Leia nodded.

The woman looked back at her companion, who was nervously looking around to see if anyone was watching them. The two women's eyes met, and something passed between them.

“Two coins,” she demanded when she turned back to Leia.

Leia nodded and pulled out a second coin. The woman put the basket down, and quickly withdrew a long piece of cloth. Whatever it was, it was heavily embroidered. A table runner, or maybe a rug? Probably the most expensive thing in the basket. It was reasonable, for the amount of money Leia was throwing at her, for the woman to think that was what she wanted.

The woman held it out to her, and Leia shook her head and pointed to the basket again.

The woman looked puzzled. “You want a different one?”

Leia nodded.

“But nothing else in here is worth anything,” the woman protested.

“Kelish,” her companion hissed. “Hurry up.”

A bit rude, but the woman was right. Leia pointed to the grey scrap she could see peeking out of the corner of the basket. The woman, no Kelish, her name was Kelish, her eyes intently followed where Leia was pointing to.

She hastily pulled out something else, a white cloth, and Leia shook her head again. Kelish paused, and then swallowed, pulling out the grey dress.

She looked at Leia, and her hands were shaking. “You want this dress?” she asked.

Leia nodded.

Kelish looked at the dress and then looked at Leia. She seemed to be thinking, and beside her, Leia could feel Chewie hiss through his teeth, as he finally caught on to what she was planning to do.

Kelish’s eyes went to the coins, still held out in Leia’s hands, then she met Leia’s gaze. “You?” she repeated, eyes tracking up and down Leia’s form. Leia nodded and tried to stretch her hand out as far as it could, showing the woman the coins again.

Kelish’s eyes flicker to the coins, and then she seemed to come to some decision and put the dress back into the basket. Before Leia could voice a protest, the woman reached further into the basket and pulled out an identical dress to the one she had before. Standing up, she tossed it towards the fence. It landed in the dirt at Leia’s feet.

“The other one was too big for someone of your size,” she explained.

Leia nodded her thanks, and tossed the coins into the basket, and went down to pull the dress through the small gap in the slats of the fence.

When she got to her feet, she was surprised to see that Kelish was still there. “What ever you are up to,” she said, “you get caught, you didn’t get this from me.”

Leia nodded.

“Promise?” and there was the slightest quiver of fear in her voice. Leia wondered, what the woman wanted the coins for, if she was this desperate to have them. She nodded again, and Kelish sighed. Then the woman straightened her shoulders, scooped up the basket, with its coins hidden inside, and turned around to make a beeline for the door her companion had already gone through.

<Le-> Chewie started to say, but Leia cut him off before he could get her name out.

{Not here,} she hissed and moved as fast as she could down the street. She wouldn’t run, running would draw attention to her, but that didn’t mean she was taking it slow either. She needed to get away from this small clump of houses. There were too many security cams around them. If she remembered the trip over here correctly, there was a place not far from Caleno’s that would work nicely.

Her memory hadn’t betrayed her, not three blocks away from the bar, she spotted what she needed. There was a small alley in between two commercial buildings, and miracles of miracles, a large dumpster container within that alley. Perfect, she could use that to hide while she changed her clothes.

<Are you insane?> Chewie whispered as she ducked behind the dumpster, hiding herself from easy view of anyone walking down the street. <Are you really going to walk into that house?>

Leia took off the helmet and dropped it to the ground. She took in a long deep breath, glad to be free of the stifling thing. “Sana said only humans allowed,” she said. “And look, now I’m human.”

Chewie just stared at her.

“There is no other option Chewie,” she said firmly, as she reached down to remove her boots. She wasn’t wearing the ones she preferred, the knee-high ones. These only came to her ankles, offering less protection. But the one advantage they had over her regular footwear was that they were much easier to get off. “R2 needs to get into that house.”

R2 gave a low whistle. [I didn’t know-]

“Too late now,” Leia said, cutting the droid off. “And you won’t get into that house by yourself.” She turned to Chewie. “Now turn around.”

Chewie’s eyes narrowed. <Why?>

Exasperated, Leia spat, “I consider you a good friend, but not that good of a friend. Now turn around.”

<Leia…> he growled, but he turned around.

“It’ll be fine,” Leia said quickly shucking the outfit and pulling on the dress she had bought. “Nobody really looks at servants.” She ran her fingers over her hair, frowning. It was probably a sight after being in that hot helmet all day, but there wasn’t much she could do about it.

<Leia,> and Chewie’s voice was soft and low, like he was afraid he might frighten her. <They aren’t servants in there.>

Leia’s fingers paused for a moment, fingers just about to pull out the pins holding her hair in the loop around her head. She took a deep breath in and let it out slowly. “Wouldn’t be the first time I pretended to be a slave,” she said lightly, fingers plucking the pins out. Her looped braid fell to her back. “I’m done. You can turn around.

Chewie huffed as he turned, arms crossing across his chest. <This is why Han didn’t want you going alone, isn’t it?>

Leia waved a hand. “He’s just worried that if I get hurt, Papa is going to kill him or some such nonsense,”

<Bail wouldn’t,> Chewie said flatly.

Leia knelt and placed the pins in one of the pouches on the belt of her bounty hunter outfit. She was going to need to get back into it, and she needed those pins to redo her hair. She looked at the boots and sighed. They weren’t the type of footwear a slave would have, but Leia didn’t have a choice. It was that or go barefoot. The dress was a bit long, they would hide them, but she would have to be aware not to move too fast, so they didn’t peek through.

“I know that, can you convince Han?”

Chewie shook his head. <No, Bail wouldn’t because Rex would beat him to it.>

Leia rolled her eyes as she came to her feet. “No, he won’t. Rex talks a good game, but he is too reasonable not to understand we are fighting a war, and in wars, people get hurt.”

Chewie just stared at her for a very long moment. <You might be right about Rex,> he said slowly. <But he is not the only person Han has to worry about.>

Leia rolled her eyes. “You think Luke is going to blame Han? Or maybe Obi-Wan will let loose of that control of his and go on a rampage on my behalf?” She snorted in derision, “Hardly.”

<I rather think Han is more concerned with the other person who is vested in your welfare. The one who is not nearly as reasonable as everyone else in your life, and how he will react if you are hurt again.>

“What other person?” Leia asked, hands coming to her hips.

Chewie just stared at her, flabbergasted.

[Leia,] R2 warbled softly. [His code hasn’t been corrupted that much.]

Leia blinked, and then who they were talking about, snapped into place. She closed her eyes. Dammit, that was a foolish oversight on her part. They were right. There was no telling what Vader would do if she was hurt, or killed. She wasn’t hiding behind the lie he didn’t care about her anymore. That didn’t mean that his reactions were something she automatically took into consideration either.

“I can’t-“ she started to say, and Chewie grabbed her by her shoulders.

<You damn well are going to start,> he snarled into her face. <No matter how uncomfortable it makes you. You are far too old to hide from this Leia.>

Oh, he thought it was so easy, did he? “I’m not hiding from anything, Chewie,” she snarled right back and gave him a shove. He went back with an oomph and almost lost his balance. “I was going to say I can’t live my life according to what Va-he wants. I can’t control what he does or does not do. No one can. All I can do is live my life, the way I see fit.”

Chewie’s face twisted in frustration. <And if the galaxy suffers for it?> he asked.

Leia snorted. “He was doing that before he ever knew of my existence.”

R2 gave a sad warble.

Chewie nodded. <You’re right, he was. But his rage and anger would be worse now if you were harmed.>

Leia put her hands out in a helpless gesture. “What do you want me to do, Chewie?” she asked. “If he had his way, I would probably be in some cage, protected from everything.”

<You can’t know that.>

“Chewie, he sent a Jedi, a Jedi, to the Rebel Alliance, for the sole purpose of protecting me.”

<Ahsoka is not a Jedi,> Chewie said reasonably.

Leia glared at him. “Are you really going to play word games with that?”

<Yes,> Chewie said. <Because you require that I play them as well.>

Leia stiffened. “I am not a Jedi.”

Chewie’s gaze was filled with pity and sympathy, but his voice brooked no argument. <You didn’t just shove me with only your arms a moment ago Leia,> Chewie said softly.

Leia felt her internal control wobble, for just a moment. Then she shook her head. “We don’t have time for this,” she said. “I need to get in there, with R2, and get the data.”

<And I’m supposed to wait here, am I?> Chewie snarled.

“Yes.” Before he could voice another protest, Leia shoved her armor and helmet into his arms. “And watch this,” she said.

<Leia,> Chewie growled threateningly, but Leia dodged around him.

“I’ll be back here, in about an hour,” she called over her shoulder. Chewie was too smart to go chasing after her on the street, drawing attention to them. Which was something Leia used ruthlessly to her advantage. She didn’t want to talk about Vader, especially right now, when she needed to focus.

She heard R2 come up behind her, and she took to the street, heading back to Kertha’s house.

 

 

Getting through the gate was surprisingly easy. Neither man looked at her, not really. Or R2. All they saw was the grey outfit of a slave and a droid. Leia and R2 had been reduced to background patterns in their life. Which was what she had been counting on, but it still made her furious that these men could treat anyone that way. 

Leia walked up the main path to the front door, until her eyes spotted the fainter trail through the grass that led to the side door. The one she had seen Kelish and the other woman exit through. Given that the women had been carrying laundry baskets, Leia had assumed that this was an entrance to a hallway, or a small mudroom.

Leia had been wrong. She walked into complete chaos. All told there about a dozen people in the room. And, from what she could see, they were all women. Women of a variety of different species, Leia caught sight of a blue Twi’lek, a short Tortuga, and a very thin and sickly looking Nautolan. There was one other human woman, as far as Leia could tell. And everyone was wearing the same drab dress as Leia.

If the heat and smells were anything to go by, she had just walked right into the kitchen. While they were preparing food for a party. The only way this could have been a worse spot to enter this house was if she somehow entered into the main hall.

Leia blinked, trying to make sense of this whirling dance around her. There was no way she could walk through the room, without being spotted and put to work.

She frantically scanned the area, looking for anything, any chore that would get her out of this room, when a small gap appeared in the whirling mess, and her eyes caught the color black, instead of grey.

It was a human male, pale, with black hair. He disappeared from her sight again, as the Nautolan got in between Leia and him, but she could hear his voice bellowing.

“Is that soup ready yet?”

One of the Twi’leks, that was near the stoves, shoulders hunched, and Leia heard a mumbled, “Not yet.”

So, this man was the overseer of all this. Probably not a slave, but if he was, then Leia was screwed. A fellow slave would recognize a stranger in their midst. Leia hadn’t seen a weapon on him, but the lack of it didn’t mean much. There wasn’t much call for shooting people in kitchens trying to escape.

Hell, even if he wasn’t a slave, it was best to avoid his attention. He wasn’t like those guards at the front gate. He was the overseer, his whole job was to watch every slave in this room. She needed to get through this mess, and out the door without him really noticing her. Or, if he saw her, dismissing her from his mind.

Leia looked around again, and her eyes fell on a set of tools by the door. She blinked in surprise. She had never even seen a broom before, outside of holos and plays. Why would there be one here?

Leia felt herself stiffen as she realized that was the point. Only the poorest couldn’t afford to buy a mouse droid to handle such things as vacuuming sweeps. But Kertha was only bereft of taste, not money. He didn’t need droids to do menial tasks. He had slaves, and making them handle such chores was the point. That he had a house this large, and he was flaunting his wealth by showing he could keep enough slaves to keep it clean.

Leia’s jaw tightened in anger, but she reached over and grabbed the broom and the accompanying dustbin. Whatever she thought about Kertha, these tools were the perfect excuse to walk through this room. With it in her hand, it would be clear she was heading somewhere else, to handle a different problem. 

“Spilt up,” Leia hissed at R2.

He started to give a warble of protest, and Leia hurriedly shushed him. “We need to get through this crowd, R2. Better odds if we aren’t together. I’ll meet you at the south exit to the room.”

Understanding that they needed discretion, he gave an angry chortle, and went his own way through, staying to the far wall, away from the people who might not see him with the trays of food in their hands.

Leia waited for a beat, then headed in the opposite direction. The room was hot and stuffy, and she could feel the sweat starting to trickle down her face, as she weaved her way through the servants and cooks.

It couldn’t have taken her more than a minute for her to cross the room, but by the time Leia had gotten to the edge of the crowd, she felt like she had just been dancing straight for four hours at a royal function. But the large arch exit to the room was not ten feet from her. She was home free.

The hairs on Leia’s arms stood straight up, and she felt a cold breeze brush up against her neck. “Danger,” the Force whispered.

Then there was a hand clapped hard on her arm, and she was yanked backwards.

“And where do you think you are going?” a loud voice demanded in her ear.

Leia flailed for a moment, almost taken off her feet by the force of that grip. She righted herself, just in time, so that she didn’t sprawl out onto the floor.

She turned to face her attacker and caught the sight of the black uniform out of the corner of her eye. For one moment, the heat of the kitchen faded away, and she was standing in that ice-cold cell, Vader’s breathing mechanism filling the space with its eerie noise.

“Well?” a voice demanded.

Leia froze. For a moment, she was in both places at once. Then her fear dissolved, and resolve took its place. She called the Force to her, as she turned to that voice, ready to lash out. Ready to kill. He wouldn’t hurt her, ever again.

The arm fell away, and Leia was bringing her hand up to shove him away when her gaze met a pair of pale blue eyes.

Leia blinked, where was the mask?

“What do you have to say for yourself?” that sneering voice demanded.

That voice didn’t sound right. And where was the whoosh whoosh of his breathing apparatus that even now should be spilling into the silence?

Leia shivered, but that wasn’t right either. The room she was standing in was hot. It was cold a moment ago, wasn’t it? Leia’s eyes flickered, and instead of the black walls, she met the sideways glances of the slaves in this room, trying to covertly watch what was going on.

Leia shuddered, and like that, she was back in the moment. Her eyes moved up to meet the angry hard gaze of the overseer, and this time she saw his face, instead of that death head’s mask superimposed on it.

He was young, was Leia’s first thought, as unhelpful as that was. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-five. But his blue eyes were hard, and his mouth was in an uncompressing line. How did someone so young be so hard and heartless? But there was a face there, not the unreadable blank mask.

Through sheer force of will, she battened down on the instinct to punch the man who was even now gripping her arm hard enough to leave bruises.

Not Vader,” she tried to tell herself. “This is not Vader.”

Her hindbrain wasn’t all that convinced and continued to chatter away at her that she needed to do something.

Leia closed her eyes, and immediately bowed her head down, grabbing onto the Force, and pulling hard. Immediately her heart rate slowed, and she could feel the edges of her panic melt away, allowing her to think.

She kept her head down, as she held out the broom in her hand towards the body in front of her. It had been a mistake to look directly at him. Slaves didn’t look at their masters, or the agents of their masters.

“Kelish said that someone dropped a glass in the library,” she said in a quiet voice. That wasn’t a hard guess on her part. This house was Coruscantii design down to every detail. And every large house on Coruscant had a library, if only for the status it brought to have a room in a house that wasn’t a necessity on a planet where every square inch was at a premium. “I need to clean it up.”

There was a hiss of anger, and then she was shoved towards the door. “Then what are you dawdling here for?” that voice demanded. “Get moving before one of the guests hurts themselves on it.”

 “Of course,” Leia babbled, making sure she kept her eyes on R2, who was waiting in the hallway for her. The droid was a reminder of why she was here, and couldn’t lash out. “I’m sorry.”

That hand was back on her shoulder, and Leia was swung around before she could even catch her breath. She kept her face down, until another hand grabbed her chin, forcing her to look up.

He looked her up and down, and Leia fought not to jerk her head out of his hands. Then his fingers squeezed her chin, and she let out a grunt of pain. She didn’t feel any shame about it either. Given the delighted gleam in his eyes, that was precisely the noise he wanted to hear anyway. It helped focus her in on who actually was standing in front of her.

This man wasn’t as tall as Vader, but he was taller than Han. She could feel the edges of her control start to fray, but that sadistic gleam in his eyes helped keep her in this moment. For all his faults, Vader didn’t actually enjoy hurting people. He did it because they were in his way, or it was a faster way to get to the truth, but he didn’t delight in it.

Leia’s neck was beginning to hurt from being forced into such an awkward angle. Behind her, she could hear R2 extending his third leg. He was about to intervene, and that was something she couldn’t let him do.

Behind her back, Leia frantically waved the droid off, hoping that this one time, he would listen to her. This man wasn’t an Imperial, that was the only saving grace in this situation. He was studying her so closely that if he had been one, he would have recognized her by now. A droid coming to the defense of a slave would prompt too many questions. And Leia needed to get out of this house, with as few people noticing her as possible.

“You are sorry, what?” the man in front of her prompted, a leer in his voice.

That helped anchor her too. Vader wanted many things from her, in both timelines, but that had never been one of them. That still didn’t explain what the hell this man wanted from her now. She again let her emotions go into the Force, trying to make herself think.

When the answer came to her, Leia wasn’t sure how she managed not to spit in the man’s face. Hell, it was a battle to keep the anger off her face. She doubted she succeeded all the way, if the interested gleam in his eyes was any indication. It would be so easy to kill this arrogant fool standing in front of her. She didn’t even need the Force to do it. One quick blow to the solar plexus and he would be hunched over in shock, and then snapping his neck would be but a moment. Then he would never be able to harm anyone again.

But that would draw attention to her, and everything they were here for. So, Leia did allow a quiver of fear in her voice, along with her resentment. “I’m sorry, Master.”

He studied her for a moment, then a satisfied smirk crossed his face. He shoved her away, but this time Leia was expecting it and braced herself. “Get moving,” he smirked. “And the second you are done, I want you back here.”

If there was any way to kill this man before she left this planet, Leia was going to find it. She wasn’t like the other women here, she could fight back. She could make sure that this man never laid a finger on any of them ever again. 

She gave him a nod and quickly scuttled her way to the hallway. She walked past R2, who was hiding out of the line of sight for most of the occupants of the kitchen. It wasn’t until she was a good ten feet in front of him, that the droid started to follow her.

There were several long moments, where Leia could practically feel the little droids’ internal motors whirling away. There weren’t many people in this hallway, and they were mostly harried-looking slaves, carrying trays of food to the main house, or empty ones back to the kitchen, but R2 was too wise to make a rookie mistake as talking to her where others might hear.

When they had a brief second of solitude, Leia said in a voice just above a whisper.  “Any chance you know where we can find a data port for you?”

The droid gave a sad whistle. [No.]

Leia sighed. A foolish thought, but it didn’t hurt to check. “Then we go into each room, until we find one.”

R2 said nothing, waiting for a too thin Devaronian to pass them. [Leia,] he whistled, [are you alright?]

“I’m fine,” Leia said briskly.

[Your hands are shaking,] R2 observed.

Leia kept moving, balling her hands into fists, trying to control them. “Adrenaline rush,” she said.

[Leia-] the droid whined, in a tone far more suited to Threepio.

“Not now,” she said, tone brisk. This was ridiculous. She had been threatened and stood up to some of the vilest and most dangerous people in the galaxy. Tarkin. Jabba. Snoke. One tiny little flunky in another flunky’s employ wasn’t anything compared to those men.

“But you didn’t see some flunky. You saw him.”

Not helpful. And irrelevant. Hell, that Vader was dead. And the second time she had ended up in that cell, she had almost killed the current one.

That little fact should have helped calm her. It did not. Leia clenched her jaw, trying to keep her teeth from chattering. What was wrong with her? Even accounting for the fact that she had for a brief moment seen the wrong man, it wasn’t like she wasn’t used to people threatening her.

Yes,” a voice that sounded like Mama whispered, “but Leia, it’s been decades since you have been put into a situation where you haven’t been able to fight back.

True, it had been. Apparently, this was a skill she had lost and given her current situation, something she was going to need to work on.

R2, bless him, didn’t press her any further on the subject. He merely stayed behind her, as they checked room after room, seeking what they needed. Along the way, they had to dodge drunk party goers and other slaves, but those encounters were far and few in between. And none of them were dressed in Imperial uniforms.

Most of the revelry seemed to be happening on the other side of the house. When Leia did finally find a port, ironies of ironies, it was in the library. She quickly waved R2 in, and he wheeled up to it, extending his scomp link, and Leia watched on the corresponding viewscreen as data whizzed by, too fast for her to read.

She knew they had found what they were looking for when R2 gave an excited squeal. “Was Sana, right?” she asked. “Was he really stupid enough to put all the data on his server?”

R2 made a warbling bleep. [He is,] the droid confirmed. [Some complex algorithms around the data to protect it, but nothing I can’t handle.]

“How long?”

[Two minutes.]

Leia left him to his work, and went to the other side of the room, broom in hand, and begin sweeping, beginning a countdown in her head. If anyone came in here, she couldn’t be seen hovering over the droid like an anxious mother. 

She had gotten to two minutes in her head, but R2 was still connected to the port. At four, Leia began to worry and risked crying out, “Is there a problem?”

[No problem,] R2 said, electronic voice satisfied, as he disengaged. [But it took me longer than expected to erase the security footage of all of us outside by the fence, and to find Jocan’s name.]

Erasing that footage was smart, but that didn’t explain the last half of that sentence. “Whose Jocan?” she asked, coming to the droid.

His top dome swiveled, and his visual sensor light turned purple as he answered her. [The man in the kitchen,] he said. [The one who threatened you.]

Leia paused. While it was nice to know the name, so she could find him later, she knew R2 too well to think the droid at left it at that.

“What did you do, R2?” she asked.

[Framed him for the theft of the data,] he said simply, and put his third wheel down, intending to leave the room.

“R2!” Leia hissed. “Why did you do that?”

[His operating program needs correcting,] R2 beeped primly. [And this way, he will get it.]

“The Hutts will torture him to death over this, R2,” Leia protested.

The droid let out a rude noise. [So? You were planning on terminating him yourself. Now you don’t have to.]

Leia closed her eyes. Not organic. His logic was not an organic’s, and it would do her well to remember that. “Yes,” she said, trying to keep her voice patient. “I was thinking along those lines. But that is very different than turning someone over to the Hutts.”

[Someone needs to be blamed for this,] R2 said practically. [Would you rather it be one of the organics here, the ones that are slaves?]

He made a good point.

[Leia, it is my mission to protect you,] he said. [And this does it, and fulfills the parameters of our current mission.]

She sighed, there wasn’t enough time to undo what he had done, and besides, he was right. She wasn’t comfortable with turning someone over to the justice that the Hutts practiced, but she couldn’t deny that it was better that it was Jocan, than some poor unfortunate slave Kertha would inevitably blame for this.

“I don’t know how I keep forgetting how bloodthirsty you are,” she said ruefully.

R2 regarded her seriously, and when he answered her, there was no lightness in his tone. [You are the variant,] he said. [It is in my code to protect you.]

Leia swallowed hard. There was a lot packed into those sharp little beeps. “Who changed your code?” she asked.

[I did,] R2 said. He spun around, so that he was facing the door, and started heading towards it. [And you should be thankful that I am not as vengeful as you think I am.]

Leia blinked. “Beg your pardon? You're turning him over to the Hutts. What could possibly be worse than that?”

R2’s primary visual sensor swiveled up, so he was looking her directly in the face. [It’s possible that the trail I created to lead to him won’t be found,] he allowed. [I don’t always understand how organics think and might have miscalculated.]

Leia snorted, “Unlikely.”

[And if he is blamed, there is always the hope that he would escape them before they correct his programming.] R2 started heading towards the door. Leia fell in behind him, still wondering how any of this was considered mercy. Even using a droid’s logic. 

[But there would be no escape for Jocan, if I used the communication array in this house, and contacted Vader to tell him what he did to you.]

Leia stopped dead in her tracks. “You almost did what?” she whispered, horrified. If Vader executed his own men, because they shot a fleeing Rebel, what would he do to someone who laid hands on her?

R2 stopped and turned around. [It would have been a delayed feed,] he said reproachfully. [I would in no way endanger you, or the mission.]

It said something about her trust in R2, and his ability to get things done, that hadn’t even occurred to her. Leia swallowed, hard. “R2,” she said, coming up to the droid, and kneeling in front of him so that he had to stop moving. “You cannot sic him on people who make you angry.”

R2’s dome shook in the negative. [You are the variant,] he insisted. [I will protect you.]

“R2,” Leia whispered helplessly, overwhelmed by the strength of his love. “What happened, in the kitchen, that was not your fault.”

R2 gave a long sad whistle. [I failed Padme. I will not fail you.]

“You didn’t fail her,” Leia protested. “And you didn’t fail me.” She leaned forward and rested her head against his dome. “I don’t want you to sell your soul in an effort to avenge me.”

R2 let out a startled beep. [Most organics would say I don’t have one.]

Leia felt a tear track down her face at his matter of fact tone. “Most people are idiots,” she said dismissively. “In my long life, you have been one of my truest companions and friends.”

R2 gave a small humming sound at that. [Padme thought that too. And because she thought that, and you think that, that is why I choose to protect you in any way I can.] He backed up slightly, so Leia was forced to raise her head and look at him. R2’s normally confident tones were replaced by something much more hesitant. [Unless you wish to reprogram me otherwise?]

Leia closed her eyes in defeat. No, that was something she would never do, any more then she would consign any organic to brainwashing to make them ‘better.’

“No,” she said hoarsely. “No, that will never happen, not if I have anything to say about it.”

 [Then we will have to disagree about my methods.]

“Yes,” she whispered. “I understand.” Whole heartily disagreed with him, and the methods he was choosing but understood. She was playing with time itself to save her loved ones. Could she honestly be surprised that R2 wouldn’t resort to equally drastic measures to do the same?

[Can we go now?] R2 asked, after Leia’s silence stretched on.

“Yeah,” she said hoarsely and stood up.

[I found another exit you can use,] R2 said primly, spinning on his wheels. [So, you are not forced to encounter Jocan again.]

“Of course, you did,” Leia murmured, but she followed the little droid out of the house.

 

 

Chewie was right where they had left him, looking disgruntled and angry. <Did you get it?> he asked Leia as he shoved Leia’s bounty hunter outfit into her arms.

“Yes,” she said, keeping her tone even.

R2 gave an affirmative sounding whistle. [I can’t decode all the data here though. Leia, I’m going to need those mathematicians’ algorithms.]

Chewie looked at Leia questioningly. “He says we can’t find out everything that is on it until we get back to base,” she explained as she walked behind the dumpster.

“Why don’t you carry Drusil’s programs on your processors?” she called out to the little droid.

[They’re too big,] R2 informed her. [She is a good mathematician, but her work is not elegant, or sparse.]

“Don’t see you writing a program that is able to crack those encryption files in hours,” Leia pointed out, taking her boots off so she could pull her pants on.

[I could write such a program,] R2’s beeps were clipped. [If I didn’t have to spend all my time watching out for you, your brother, and Threepio.]

Leia pulled her shirt on. “Be honest, it’s mostly Threepio.”

R2 made a rude noise. [He is merely needy. You are unpredictable.]

“That’s not a bad thing, R2,” Leia told him, as she started to wrap her braid around her head, pinning it in place.

Chewie’s voice cut in. <Is he complaining that you started a revolt while you were in there?>

Leia scowled and slipped her helmet on her head. {I did no such thing,} she informed Chewie primly as she stepped out from behind the dumpster. She opened the trash receptacle and threw the dress in.

R2’s beeps no longer held that sly amusement. [No, she did not.]

Chewie noticed the droid’s change in tone, and his eyes immediately narrowed in on Leia. <What happened?> he demanded.

{Nothing,} Leia said. {Let’s go}

<You tell me now Leia, or I will tell your parents, Han, Luke, Obi-Wan and Rex something happened to you in that house.>

Leia hissed, {That’s blackmail!}

Chewie nodded. <It is. But I’m a smuggler. What did you expect?>

Leia huffed. ”Nothing happened, Chewie. Really.”

He crossed his arms over his chest. <Now I know you’re lying.>

Leia shook her head. “Oh, really? How?”

His gaze was steady as he said softly, <You started talking in Basic.>

{Nothing happened,} she repeated, making sure that her words were coming out in the correct language. {I was unexpectedly grabbed by a tall man, who was wearing all black. I was…confused, for a second, to where I was.}

Chewie’s expression softened. <Oh.>

Leia huffed, {Now that we have that out of the way, can we go?} She rubbed her hands up and down her arms. {This outfit is hot, and I don’t want to be in it longer then I have to be.}

<Of course.> Chewie dropped his arms and awkwardly offered, <My apologies Leia, I didn’t mean to push.>

Leia snorted. {Yes, you did.}

<Yes, I did,> he admitted. <But I know you tend to downplay all injuries to yourself. I was concerned that you had endured another wound in there.>

Liar. {You would have been able to smell blood if I was physically hurt Chewie,} Leia snapped.

<Not all wounds are of the body Leia,> he said softly, as he pulled out his comlink. Before she could even begin to formulate a response to that, he spoke into it. <Han, she’s out.>

Leia vaguely heard the sounds of shouting in the distance over the speaker. “Oh good,” Han said back. “Because this part just got a little too interesting for my tastes.”

“SOLO!” a voice that Leia didn’t recognize screamed.

“Might take us a while to leave,” Sana’s voice came over the channel.

“How did you get this frequency?” Han demanded. He sounded vaguely out of breath, like he was on the move very quickly. “And where the hell are you? Your boyfriend is about to pound my face in.”

“Swiped your com and cloned all the frequencies on it when you were busy flirting with that Twi’lek,” Sana said. “And I’m in the fresher room off the dining hall.”

There were more grunts and muted shouting on the com for a second. “Oh, by the Black God,” Sana said into the com, voice full of scorn. “I told you to make him jealous, not homicidal.”

There was the sound of flesh hitting flesh, and something going thump. There was a beat of silence, then Han spat. “This is not my fault!”

Sana didn’t answer him, simply switched gears. “Did I hear you right, Chewbacca? Shiok’s out of the house?”

<Yes,> Chewie said. <And R2 has the data.>

“My, my, my,” Sana purred. “Shiok, darling, you weren’t kidding when you said you were good.’

Leia leaned in so Chewie’s com could catch her voice. {I don’t understand the point of jokes,} she said flatly. {And I am not some randy male, I see no need to inflate my worth.}

“Oh,” Sana was cooing, “you are adorable. Han, where in the galaxy did you find her?”

“Will you stop flirting and come talk your boyfriend down?” Han’s voice was exasperated.

<Should we wait for you outside the gate?> Chewie asked.

Something crashed in the background, and Leia could practically feel Han’s sheepishness. “No,” he said. “It’s too hot in here. Waiting outside the gates will just make the guard jumpy. Get to the Falcon. I’ll meet you there.”

Leia’s eyes narrowed. If Han thought for one moment, she was going to leave him in there, with only Sana as back up, he had another thing coming.

{I am not leaving you in there,} she hissed. Aware of their audience, she added. {If you die, I don’t get paid.}

“You have done enough,” and Han’s voice was all durasteel now. “Coming into this house was risk enough.”

Leia felt the slightest flicker of guilt, but dammit, she had been put into a corner by Sana and R2. What was she supposed to do? Sit outside and twiddle her thumbs? She had a way into the house, and she took it.

Sana’s voice was all business now. “I would like to remind you, I still haven’t been paid either.”

After I give this data to Jabba, remember?” Han hissed back. “And that won’t happen if your boyfriend kills me.”

Leia relaxed fractionally. Sana was damn good at what she did. And she had to admit, the fact that Han owed her money, and more importantly, was promising to pay it, greatly increased the odds she would get Han out of that house.

“Don’t be so dramatic, husband of mine,” Sana said. “At most Kertha would bash that pretty face of yours. He has people to do the dirty work of killing you.”

“I AM NOT YOUR HUSBAND!” Han howled.

Leia looked at Chewie, and Chewie looked back at her. <I’m going to leave you two to it,> Chewie said after a moment. <Sana, do try to remember that no Han, means no money. I don’t owe you anything.>

She sighed. “Fine,” there was the sound of her walking. “I’ll get him out.”

{We will go to the Falcon,} Leia said, judging perhaps, that this was the better of two options. She didn’t like leaving Han here, but if he knew she was on the relative safety of the Falcon, he could focus and get out with Sana’s help. The only way Leia would be able to get into that house with a weapon was if she stormed it. And that would only make the situation worse. So, it was with great reluctance, she followed Chewie and R2 back to the hanger bay.

 

 

Once they were on the Falcon, Leia sat at the dejarik table.

Chewie gave her an odd look. <Aren’t you going to remove that helmet?> he asked her.

Leia shook her head. {Not until we are in the air,}

He contemplated her for a long moment. <And I thought I was paranoid.>

{Better safe than sorry.}

He shrugged. <Suit yourself. I’ll be in the cockpit, in case we need to get out of here in a hurry,> and he ambled away in that direction.

Leia looked at R2 and gestured at the table. {Want to play?}

R2 looked at the holographic board, then her. [Alright,] he said, as he wheeled over.

 

 

They were on their third game when the sounds of Han’s boots stomping up the gangplank hit Leia’s ears. She looked over to him and was alarmed to see that his eyes were wide, and his face was slightly flushed, like he ran the entire way here. Leia came to her feet in an instant as he ignored her, and shouted into the direction of the cockpit. “Chewie, get us out of here!”

Chewie roared back. <Anyone chasing us?>

“No,” Han said. “And I’d like to keep it that way.”

That was unusual. Unless they were being chased, or he was bleeding to death, Han would usually go to the cockpit, and fly them off-world himself. Instead, Han was in here, in the living area, muttering to himself.

R2’s domed head moved from Leia to Han. [I am no good at fixing organics,] he announced, as he shut down their game, and started making his way to the sleeping quarters. [I’ll leave that to you.]

Wasn’t it nice that he had such faith in her? Especially since Leia didn’t have the first clue as to what could possibly be bothering Han. They had come to Nimban, gotten what they needed in a day, and no one was bleeding. All and all, a very successful mission.

Beneath her feet, Leia could feel the Falcon’s engines roar to life. Now that they had taken off, and no unexpected guests could show up, she removed the helmet off her head. Wisps of her hair flew everywhere, and she used her gloved hand to irritably push them out of her eyes as she looked at Han.

“What’s wrong?” she asked him.

Han stopped his pacing and gave her a weak version of his ‘trust me’ smile. “Who said anything was wrong?”

Leia scowled and dropped her helmet at her feet. Han started at the noise. She put her hands on her hips. “No, seriously,” she said. “What is going on with you?”

Han looked at her for a moment, and Leia took note of his pale face and shaking hands.  “I know what this looks like,” he said, the words coming out in one long rush.

Leia, now even more worried by his worry, walked towards him intending to take his hand in reassurance. Han immediately backed away from her.

Leia’s first instinct was to keep going. To march up to him and demand that he tell her what was going on. What stopped her was the look on Han’s face. He looked like he would shatter into a million pieces if she touched him. The only other time she could remember him being this openly devastated, was when she had come to him, to tell them that Luke’s school had been destroyed, and who had done it.

“Han,” she asked, heart in her throat. “What happened?” He had said no one was chasing them, but had Sana done something? Blown his cover somehow? Refused payment in the hopes of a bigger score?

Han put his hands out in front of him, pleading in every inch of his frame. “This looks bad,” he repeated. “I know this does, and you have no reason to trust me.”

“Han, I have no idea what you are talking about. What, what looks like?” Leia wished she could have been a little less blunt, in the evidence of his obvious distress, but she knew this mood. If she let him, he would babble at her for the whole trip, and she still would have no answers.

“She isn’t my wife.”

Leia blinked. That wasn’t the answer she was expecting. “Sana?” she asked him.

“Yes. Sana.” Han threw his hands in the air. “It was a con we pulled on Stenness. We were going to rob this spice dealer because…” His voice trailed off, and he gave a disgusted little huff. “Well, it doesn’t matter why. Only that we were. But for the plan to work we needed a big event to explain why there was so many of us there-“

“Han,” Leia said, gently cutting him off, before he ran out of air. “I know this.”

Han stopped ranting, his arms falling back to his side. “You do?”

“Of course.”

Han shook his head. “You know about Sana?”

“I just said I did.” Leia looked at him, puzzled. Han usually wasn’t this slow on the uptake.

“He told you?” Han asked, flabbergasted. “Voluntarily?”

‘Well,” Leia admitted, “that’s going a bit too far. We, I mean him and I, we ran into her unexpectedly. She introduced herself as your wife.”

Han’s face darkened. “I knew it,” he spat. Then he ran his hands through his hair again, scuffing it up, so it looked like he had stuck his finger in an electric socket. Leia so badly wanted to go over there, and smooth it down for him. Han loved to have his hair played with, and it had the bonus effect of helping him calm down. But he still looked like a nervous eopie, so Leia ordered her feet to stay where they were.

Han let out a bitter chuckle. “And let me guess, you didn’t leave me, I mean him, because of Ben?”

Leia was really getting tired of Han jumping to conclusions she couldn’t follow. “Ben?” she asked, voice sounding confused even to her own ears. “What does Ben have to do with Sana?”

“Because he’s the reason you stayed,” Han said, pointing a finger at her. “We were married, with a kid, and then you found out I had a previous wife, and that’s why-”

“She isn’t your wife,” Leia cut in, anger frosting her tone. Did he really think she was that stupid? Or lovestruck? That she would stay married to someone who failed to mention his first wife. Added to the fact that he spent the entire day denying Sana was his wife, only to say it now, just to get under her skin, really pushed her beyond the limits of her control.

“But-“ Han protested.

“The documents were never filed with the Stenness’ authorities,” she informed him, taking a pleased delight at the stupid look on his face. “The marriage wasn’t considered legal under that planet’s laws, or the Empires. All you really had was a big party.”

Han’s mouth dropped open. “I’m sorry, what?”

Oh, now he chooses to think. Well, Leia was too pissed to care. All she wanted to do was ram some much-needed truths into that thick mass he called a head. 

“You would know that,” Leia said snottily, “if you ever bothered to learn how marriages are actually done on most planets.”

“I never thought I would get married!” Han protested.

What kind of an excuse was that? A Han Solo one, that’s what. “Oh no, but it was perfectly alright to think you were married,” she snapped

“She isn’t my wife,” he shouted back. “You just said so.”

Leia’s hands fell to her hips. “You didn’t know that. Not until I pointed it out to you. This is so typical of you. You just rush into action without thinking about the consequences!”

Han’s face twisted, and fury replaced confusion. He stomped up to her and leaned forward so he was almost nose to nose with her. “I think you might be confusing me for you,” he growled. “I’m not the one who is willing to trade my life for every sob story in the galaxy.”

Leia’s chin came up as she shifted her head so she could stare him directly in the face. “I always do my research,” she snarled. “Unlike you. Hell, you didn’t even bother to read the paperwork when we got married. For all you knew, I was robbing you blind.”

Han’s face remained furious for one more second, then it contorted into an expression Leia didn’t understand. He shook his head and took a step back from her. Hell no, he wasn’t backing away from this. He started this argument, and he was damn well going to finish it.

Han’s voice was very gentle and calm. “Not me.” 

Leia’s mind blanked for a second, the non sequitur making no sense to her twisting rage. What?” she spat.

Han was still looking at her, and it was with a mix of pity and wariness. “That wasn’t me,” he repeated.

Leia gritted her teeth, of course it was him, who else could it possibly be? Leia wasn’t the one who had trouble figuring out if she was married or not. By all the gods, he had been there for their marriage ceremony. The one she damn well made sure he understood was a marriage because he had pulled this crap with Sana. And he had given her that stupid smirk of his, and told her…

No, he hadn’t said anything, because it hadn’t been this Han that had been there.

Leia felt all the blood drain out of her face, and she closed her eyes. For a moment, she was afraid she was going to pass out, as too many emotions and feelings clawed at her heart. Dammit. This was all so damn familiar, that for one horrible second she had forgotten. How could she forget something like that?

She opened her eyes and looked at Han, aghast. “I’m so sorry-“ she started to say.

Han gave her a rueful smile, cutting her off. “Don’t worry about it.”

“But-“ Leia said.

“Leia, seriously,” Han shrugged. “I told you. Me. Him. I don’t see the difference.”

That was a lie. “If that was true, then why bring it up?”

He looked at her, worried. “I wanted to make sure you knew when you were, Leia.”

Leia hissed through her teeth and moved to rub her hands over her face, only to stop when she saw the gloves that were still on her hands. She gave an aggravated huff and pulled them off, throwing them with as much force as she could into the helmet that was still on the floor.

“Leia,” Han said gently. “It’s okay.”

“It’s really not.”

Han gave a small reassuring smile. “Also, It’s not like I wouldn’t sign any paperwork you put in front of me without reading it.”

Leia looked at him helplessly, loving him for giving her this out, even when she had to have hurt him by confusing him for someone else. “You shouldn’t,” she said.

Han shrugged. “No version of me would have married you if I didn’t trust you.”

Leia bit her lip. “I am sorry, Han.”

He scowled and moved forward so he could put a finger over her lips. Leia resisted the urge to bite it, to make him withdrawal. He knew she hated it when he did that.

“I know you don’t really listen to anyone when your mind's made up,” he said, eyes serious. “But for once, can you save us both from a fight, and believe me when I tell you I don’t care.”

Leia wanted to argue, but he looked so sure. She raised her hand to push his finger off her lips. “Alright,” she agreed. “But only if you agree to read paperwork before you sign it. That is a horrible habit to keep.”

Han laughed and shook his head. “Yes, because the people I do business with, they are so fond of contracts.” He gave her a warm smile. “Besides, anything you give me to sign doesn’t count. I know you aren’t out to screw me.” He looked so inviting right that second, and he was close enough that Leia could catch his scent.

Leia gave him a wide, sassy smile. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that.”

Han looked hurt for a moment, then his eyes widened in shock as her meaning sank in. He turned bright red and sputtered, “Leia!”

Leia bounced on her toes, delighted with herself. It was rare that she could make him blush in embarrassment. Which was a shame, because in her opinion, he was always so adorable when he did.

“We are keeping to your pace Han, and I mean that. But I am long past the age of playing coy with what I want.”

He gaped at her. “Do Princesses talk like that?”

Leia grinned. “This one does. Lucky for you, because it also means I’m a Princess who wanted to marry a smuggler.”

Han’s face darkened in defeat, and he suddenly slipped back into that strange mood he had been in all day. “Yeah,” he muttered. 

Leia’s worry intensified. Instead of looking pleased with himself that she had all but served herself up to him, he looked like she had punched him in the face.

“Han,” she said patiently. “What is going on in that head of yours? And don’t tell me it’s nothing. It’s clearly something.”

He looked away from her, and she could see him drumming his fingers on his leg. “When did you learn about Sana?”

Leia sighed and rubbed her forehead. Between wearing a helmet for most of the day, and this nonsensical argument they had somehow found themselves in, she was developing a massive headache.

“We ended up at your hidey-hole on Monsua Nebula.”

Han frowned. “Why?”

Leia glared at him. “We were hiding from Imperial scouts, because someone shot at them, even after I told you that they had bought our cover story.”

“Hey,” he protested half-heartedly. “I did no such thing.” He gave her comically wide eyes as he laid both of his hands on his chest. “I’m innocent here.”

Leia scowled. “One day, that excuse is not going to work anymore.”

Han grinned. “Going to savor it till it does. I don’t often have the upper hand with you.”

He had all the advantages over her, but love wasn’t a competition. It had taken her a long time to really internalize that, but she had gotten there. Mostly.

“As I was saying,” she said with a pointed glare. “We were on Monsua Nebula, and Sana had remote droids looking for you. When we entered the system, they let her know you were there.” Leia shrugged. “We’d been there for about two hours, before she landed and introduced herself.”

Han’s face had lost its gleeful playfulness, and now he looked worried. “Oh,” he sat down heavily in the booth. “That’s why it was involuntary, me telling you who she was.”

Leia looked at him, fond amusement rising in her chest, despite everything. “Yes. Although I admit, I was pretty pissed the first time I met her.”

Something like amusement sparked in his eyes. “Did you shoot her?”

“No,” Leia huffed. “Almost shot you, though.”

A pleased look crossed Han’s face. “Why was that?”

Leia glared at him. “You know why.”

“Still like to hear it,” Han had a look of pure satisfaction to him now.

Leia rolled her eyes. “I was jealous. Happy?”

“Insanely.” And how did he manage to put a swagger into one simple word? That particular skill of his was infuriating as hell, not for the least bit, that much confidence was very attractive.

Leia sniffed. “Not that I would have given you the satisfaction of letting you know that at the time.”

“Oh, of course,” Han said mockingly. “Because you are so subtle when you are in a snit.”

“I do not have snits,” Leia informed him in the haughtiest tone she could muster. 

Han didn’t look convinced, but he wisely didn’t try to argue with her. It was unfounded, anyway, she was a Princess of Alderaan. And the royalty of Alderaan would never do anything as undignified as have a ‘snit’.

“So, when did this all happen for you?” Han was drumming his leg. “The actual first time you met Sana?”

“Hmmm,” Leia closed her eyes, thinking, trying to line up the various timelines in her head.  “About six months after the battle of Yavin, or thereabouts.”

“Six months after Yavin?” Han yelped.

Leia opened her eyes. “Yes?”

Han sputtered, “That means six months after the Battle of Alderaan in this timeline!” His voice became very high pitched. “Now, right now? That is when you met Sana?”

Leia felt irritation rise in her chest, but she tried to keep a reign on it. “Congratulations, you know how to read a calendar.” Alright, that might have been unnecessarily harsh.

Han’s mouth open and closed several times, and his face scrunched up in total bewilderment. It wasn’t an attractive look on him. “But that means you knew about Sana before you married me.”

“I just said I did, didn’t I?”

“No,” Han corrected. His words were coming out in a slow, thoughtful drawl. “You only said that we ran into her. You never said when.”

Alright, he was right about that. Not about anything else, but he was right about that.

“You married me, knowing about her?” And look, there went all the goodwill she had been building towards him.

Leia, teeth grinding, said slowly. “As I have stated. Several times.”

Han didn’t say anything. Just stood there looking at her, total incomprehension on his face. There was no teasing or satisfied smirk anywhere to be seen. He really didn’t understand this.

Maybe he wasn’t being slow, Leia realized. It had only been months since she had entered into his life. Han had been such an integral part of her life for so long, it was hard to remember who she had been without him. But for him…

< He couldn’t have designed a woman he was more likely to fall in love with.> Chewie’s words from their conversation on the tarmac came floating up into her mind. Han believed in luck, and he had to be wondering how he, from his perspective, could have had enough good fortune to have someone come out of nowhere. and profess to love him.  He rolled with it, seemed to delight in it, but could she blame him for being wary of it too? Of having something you always wanted, a family, dropped into your lap, with seemingly no effort on your part? Leia would be poking it too, trying to figure out what the catch was.

And now that she had a moment to think, Leia could somewhat see his point. He hadn’t known nineteen-year-old Leia. He was having a hard time believing Leia, especially a young Leia, would want anything to do with him after meeting Sana. The woman had her useful qualities, but she was a lot to take in.

“Han,” she said softly, trying to make this as clear as possible, as she approached the table cautiously, worried he was going to bolt if she moved to fast on him. “I found out about her before I even admitted I liked you. Never mind that I was attracted to you.”

Han’s mouth opened and shut several times, no words coming out. He finally managed to sputter, “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Leia took another cautious step towards him. Now they were getting somewhere. “Why?”

“Because I’m me!” Han looked at her, like she was stupid for not getting this. “I know who I am, Leia.”

“I do too,” Leia said quietly.

“How can you?” Han looked desperate now.

Leia’s marriage to Han was older than the version in front of her. He had no way of knowing what knowledge of another person thirty years of marriage would bring. But she had to admit, he might have a point. She would never have thought, at no time while she knew him, he would have this low of an opinion of himself.

She wondered if the older Han had too during this time. All she had seen was the cocky arrogance and unbelievable attitude. But maybe he had this streak of vulnerability then too. It was only after three years he had built enough confidence in his own worth to really push the issue with her. Or he had been driven desperate by lust. That was a possibility too. One Leia was in complete sympathy with now. When she didn’t want to strangle him, for his sheer stubbornness. Then again, she spent half of her marriage thinking that, so it wasn’t a new feeling for her to have around Han.

Some of her thoughts must have been showing on her face, because Han hastily added, “Look, I’m not saying I’m space garbage or anything.”

“Then what’s the problem?” Leia demanded.

He looked at her baffled. “You are you,” he waved in her general direction. “Even if you weren’t the Princess of Alderaan, men would be falling all over themselves to have you.”

Leia put up a finger. “Stop right there. That, that is one of the reasons, right there.”

Han only looked more confused.

“You don’t want to “have” me,” Leia explained. “You aren’t looking for a pretty thing to cart about on your arm. You actually care what I think, feel, and believe.

Han blinked. “You aren’t exactly subtle about any of those things.”

Leia nodded. “Exactly. Which makes it doubly frustrating when it’s dismissed.” She took a deep breath. “I can’t be separated from being Princess of Alderaan, Han, it’s shaped too much of who I am, even if for the longest time, it was an empty title.” And then not even that, but now was not the time to remind him of that painful fact of her life.

Han shook his head. “So, what’s the problem? Princess or no Princess, you are still Leia.”

Leia gave him a bitter smile. “You would be surprised how many of those men were terribly interested in the Princess, but had very little use for Leia.”

Han’s face twisted. “I think you are underestimating your appeal.”

Leia shook her head. “I’m really not.”

“But I’m just…me. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Leia was trying to be understanding, but if he didn’t stop saying the same thing over and over again, she was going to have to start beating her head against a wall. At least then, the pounding in her head would have a physical source.

What doesn’t make any sense?” she asked.

“You should be with someone…. extraordinary.” Han looked so earnest, that it stilled her immediate reply that Han was extraordinary. He wouldn’t hear her right now, not really.

“I don’t want extraordinary,” she said quietly.

Han threw his hands up in the air. “Then, someone powerful. Or rich.”

Leia shook her head. “I am powerful already,” she said, tapping her chest. “And rich.”

Han’s voice became harsh. “Then how about a good man?”

Now that, Leia was not going to let stand. “You are a good man!”

Han’s face for a moment took on a fleeting look of joy, then despair took its place. “You’re deluding yourself. It makes no sense that you love me.”

Leia felt her face flush. She had practically thrown herself at him, and he doubted the sincerity of her emotions? “You don’t believe me when I say I love you,” she stated in a tight voice.

“No,” Han answered without hesitation. Leia wasn’t sure what her face was doing, but Han’s face grew horrified. “I mean, yes! I do believe you.”

Trying to cover her hurt, Leia asked in a stiff voice. “Then what’s the problem?”

“I’m me,” Han said.

“Yes,” Leia said. “That has been established several times today. You are Han. I am Leia, and I love you. You drive me crazy, especially right this second on your insistence that I’m lying, or delusional about how I feel, but I do love you.”

“That!” Han said, pointing a finger at her in emphasis. “You could do so much better than a nameless Corellian pilot who only has one friend in the galaxy. You should be with some mild-mannered political type.”

Leia took an involuntary step back, shredded at what he had just inadvertently revealed.  “We aren’t friends?”

Han looked at her, frowning. Then he paled, and his finger dropped. “No,” he said hoarsely, taking a step towards her. “We are.

Leia wanted to believe him, but she wasn’t sure she could trust anything right this moment. This wasn’t her Han. He was a Han, but not her Han. Leia blinked rapidly, trying to keep the tears from falling. Han, any Han, never dealt well when she cried.

Han looked at her face and swore. “Stupid,” he muttered, running a hand through his hair in agitation. He looked at her pleadingly. “I am sorry I said that. I wasn’t thinking. It’s just,” Han waved a hand in the air. “Chewie has been the only one I could trust for the longest time. I forget that I have you.” His face grew wondering. “And the Kid too.”

Leia put her hands on her face and took a deep breath in, trying to bring her mind to some semblance of order. Trying to listen to what was being said, instead of reacting.

She still woke up some mornings, thinking her parents were dead, and Alderaan was gone. Some days she was still startled by the feather-light feeling of Luke brushing across her mind in the Force, because it had been so long since she had heard from him. There were times when she saw the X-Wing pilots horsing around in the mess, that she told herself that she needed to remember to tell Poe about it, because he would think it was hilarious. Then her heart would sink, as she realized he hadn’t even been born yet.

Then there were the really bad days, especially in the beginning, when she woke up, remembered Han was dead, that she was technically a widow, and then she would run into him in the hallways of Yavin. She had run so hot and cold with Han, in the beginning, it was amazing he had stayed around at all.

So maybe she should give him, and herself, some slack. Habits were formed over time, and she had been in this timeline for less than six months. It felt like she had lived a lifetime in those short months, but it was still, relatively speaking, a rather short amount of time. She could forgive him for falling back into old attitudes.

She dropped her hands and said, “Okay, I believe you.”

Han looked suspicious. “Just like that?”

Leia nodded. “I, of all people, understand that sometimes your past is more real than your present.”

Han’s face broke out into a relieved smile.

“But I need to clear one thing up,” Leia said, bringing the conversation back to their original argument. “I don’t want what you think is better. I want you.” Han didn’t look that convinced.Besides,” she stated firmly, “a mild-mannered husband would drive me mad.

Han gave her a long look. “Okay,” he admitted. “That part I can see.” He sighed and rubbed his face. “But that’s about the only part.” Han looked so tired, and that wasn’t fair. Here he was being stupid, and Leia wanted nothing more than to go over to him and comfort him. 

“But just because there is love, that doesn’t make it a good match. I don’t know much about marriage-“

“Including how you get one,” Leia pointed out snottily, unable to help herself.

Instead of rising to the bait, Han gave her a rueful smile. “You aren’t going to let that one go, are you?”

Leia sniffed haughtily. “No,” she said. “I didn’t for thirty years, and look, here I am again, with a whole new lifetime in front of me, to mock you for it.”

“A lifetime, huh?” Han asked.

Leia almost snapped back, at the way he was going, his lifetime was going to be very short indeed, because she was going to kill him herself.

The hint of vulnerability she could see in his eyes, stilled her tongue. It was a look he didn’t often give, either Han. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t see it when it was right in front of her. Maybe Han wasn’t the only one in this conversation falling back into old habits and attitudes. She had been about to snap back at him, and do what she had always done with Han, deflect when things got too intimate.

He knew her too well to take it personally. Even this Han knew that. But a cutting remark right this moment wouldn’t exactly promote trust, or encourage Han to be this vulnerable with her ever again. Would it be so terrible to answer his question honestly? To give him the reassurance she could see that he so desperately needed, instead of assuming he understood her underlying meaning.

“Sometimes, I need actual words, not things thought at me really hard.”

And that had been the crack in their relationship the last time hadn’t it? Her fear of vulnerability and his worry that he wasn’t good enough for her. They would have been fine if Ben hadn’t fallen. If Ben hadn’t turned into an echo of the nightmare that haunted both of them for different reasons, their marriage would have been fine.

Well, a lot of things would have been different if Ben hadn’t fallen, her marriage was the smallest of the casualties in that decision. It was useless to wish otherwise now. He had fallen, and that had led to a blow falling onto a weak crack in the foundation of their relationship.

Leia didn’t have to go the way she had. She had a second chance to build something with Han. And she could damn well make sure that she didn’t create the exact same mistakes she had before. It wouldn’t necessarily be better than what was before. Just different. Like the people she now considered hers, that she had never met before. They weren’t a replacement for the loved ones who had come before, but they weren’t in any way inferior to them either.

She swallowed hard and fought to keep her eyes locked on Han. She allowed everything she was feeling to actually show on her face. “I will take as long as you will give me,” her voice was shaking, despite her efforts to keep it even.

His face twisted into sheer surprise, and then it morphed into something complicated. Han dropped his eyes away from hers. Leia would have been more worried about that avoidance of her gaze if it wasn’t for the fact that his fingers started moving along the dejarik board. When Han was truly nervous, he was incapable of keeping still. 

“I don’t know much about marriage,” he repeated, eyes still not meeting hers. “Apparently, including on how to even get one.” Then his fingers stopped moving, and he took in a deep breath and lifted his head to meet her gaze. “But I do know love isn’t enough to keep one together.”

Leia nodded. “That’s true,” she said. “And we had our rough patches.” No need to bring up their roughest patch. “But before you were my husband, you were my friend, Han.”

He gave out a disbelieving snort.

“No, really,” she said. “You were the massive pain in my ass friend, who kept annoying me and would never leave me alone. But you were my friend.”

“Wow,” Han said, “what a stunning description. That sounds like a wonderful start.”

Leia shook her head. “You don’t understand,” she said, trying to find the words. Why was it, when it came to political enemies who had been feuding for generations, she could find the right phrase or tone to convey every thought and feeling easily? Yet she stood in front of this man, and her legendary tongue deserted her, except for quips and sarcasm?”

“You made me feel,” she blurted out, feeling stupid for the inadequacy of that statement.

Han guffawed. “Yeah, that’s hard. You are, without a doubt, the most passionate person I have ever met. You have opinions on everything.”

“Not everything,” she corrected. “And not always.”

Han looked at her. “Don’t lie to me to make me feel better,” he said, voice becoming irritated. “There is no way you ever were the ice queen you sometimes act like.”

“I did, Han,” she said, her voice clouding with her frustration and anger at herself. She was losing him, she was losing him because she couldn’t find the right thing to say.

Or maybe it was because she knew what to say, but that she had confused who was standing in front of her again. He hadn’t been there. This Han hadn’t seen her two days after the destruction of Alderaan, sobbing in Luke’s arms, as she realized that everyone she loved was gone. He hadn’t watched her retreat into her work for the Rebellion, shutting out anyone who had known her from before. Hadn’t watched her almost trade her life, time and time again, in an effort to get the Empire to burn.

“It was after Alderaan,” despite her best efforts, her voice hitched. Han looked at her confused, then his face paled as he got what event she was referencing.

“After that happened,” Leia could feel her hands ball into fists at her side. “I didn’t want to feel anything, ever again. It hurt too much.”

She gestured at Han, who was staring at her with his mouth open. “You made that impossible. You wouldn’t let me retreat into my rage, wouldn’t let me live with everything frozen. You became one of my anchors, tethering me to the world.”

Leia had to wonder, if Han had disappeared from her life then, if he had been the mercenary smuggler he convinced almost everyone he was, and left the Rebellion, who would she have become? Would she have allowed herself to become so swallowed in her rage and grief, that she would have stopped taking into account the lives that were being spent to bring the Empire down? Would she have started looking at stormtroopers as pawns that needed to be destroyed, not remembering that they were people too?

And most horrible of all, would she have sacrificed Luke, even though she cared so deeply for him, even then, on Vorgas Vas, to kill Vader?

Han swallowed hard. “All that, huh?”

Leia nodded. “Granted, you did it in the most childish way possible, but I’m not sure any other way was capable of reaching me at that point.”

Han’s voice was disbelieving, “There is no way you and the Kid didn’t click immediately. I don’t care that you didn’t know you were related.”

“That’s true,” she admitted. “But with Luke, it was different.” She closed her eyes, trying to think of the words she needed to explain this, without going into the messy lusting after her own brother parts. “He was like finding a close friend from long ago, we just hadn’t seen each other in a while. But he was complicated too, because he felt like home, and there was a part of me that considered that a betrayal of everyone I lost.”

Han’s snort brought her out of her past. “Oh, of course, you take a good thing and make it hard.”

Leia opened her eyes and shrugged. “It’s who I am. But even outside of our closeness Han, Luke was too wrapped up in his own grief to pull me out of mine. It was when all three of us were together we balanced each other out.”

Han shook his head. “I think you are deluding yourself. I am no one important.”

Leia let out a small laugh. “You really don’t see what I see in you, do you?” She didn’t let him answer. Anything he had to say would only piss her off.

“I see a man of incredible loyalty. A man that would follow me into whatever battle I led him into, as easily as he would follow me into a party. Someone who isn’t afraid to take me head-on. And nobody, nobody, has ever made me laugh as much as you do.”  She cupped his cheek. “What else do I need?”

Han looked a little stunned at this impromptu confession. “Someone who won’t insult everyone he meets?” he offered.

Leia shrugged. “It’s a good test for people I’m unfamiliar with. To see how they react to you.”

“Someone who has an inkling of the political plays you are always running through your head?”

“You understand politics,” Leia countered gently. “You wouldn’t have survived in Jabba’s court as long as you did, if you didn’t.”

“Someone who can be your King?” he asked. “Because older me certainly never dealt with that.”

Leia shook her head. “Prince Consort,” she corrected. “And I hate to burst your bubble, but yes, he had the title.”

Han’s mouth dropped open. “He did not!”

Leia arched an eyebrow at him. “He was my husband Han, what else did you expect him to be?”

“See,” Han said garbled, “I didn’t even know that.”

“You’re a fast learner,” Leia said gently. “Han, I know you. And that includes every flaw.” He didn’t look like he believed her, so she tapped him lightly on the nose, trying to lighten the mood. “If it helps, I rather liked how you looked in the traditional uniform of the Alderaanian Prince Consort.”

Han went pale, and she laughed. “Yeah, that was the look on his face every time he had to wear it too.”

“It has tassels, doesn’t it?” Han asked in a very high-pitched voice. Leia was laughing too hard to answer him. His face grew even more horrified. “Or is it tights?”

Leia shook her head, still laughing too hard to answer him with words. Han let out a loud groan. “It’s some ridiculous hat, isn’t it?”

Leia clapped a hand over her mouth, but the giggles still spilled out. “No,” she finally managed to get out in a wheezing breath. “Alderaan is very staid and boring. No tassels.”

Han didn’t look reassured. “There is a hat, isn’t there?”

Leia nodded, and Han let out a distressed noise as his head fell into his hands. “I look stupid in hats,” he complained into them.

“No, you don’t,” Leia said fondly.

Han raised his head to look at her, and Leia’s laughter died. There was real panic there now, not the semi-embarrassed kind brought about at the thought of wearing fancy outfits. “Being Prince Consort to a few thousand survivors of a genocide is very different than being one to two billion people Leia,” he said in a hoarse voice.

Leia nodded. “I know,” she said softly. “I don’t care.”

Han shook his head. “You say that now.”

“I don’t need a prince, Han. Or some ambitious politician, who is a polished consort. I need someone who sees me.” Leia could feel her fists clench by her sides. “Who actually likes me.”

Han got an indignant look on his face. “You are very likable,” he insisted.

Leia snorted. “I’m really not.”

Han crossed his hands over his chest. “I like you, and I don’t like people.”

Or did you send people away before they could hurt you? But Leia wasn’t going to voice that thought, for all that it was true.

“I lived for seven years without being the Princess of Alderaan. Hell, I lived twenty-seven years with it being an empty title.” Leia felt her chin go up. “I will not live without you, not again. If it comes to a choice between the two, I choose you.”

Han swayed in his seat. “You can’t mean that,” he whispered.

“I don’t say things I don’t mean,” Leia retorted. “I owe my people a lot, but I do not owe them divided loyalties. I can deal without being Queen, but I don’t deal well without you.”

“You can’t give that up,” Han’s words were garbled in his panic. “Not for me.”

Leia crossed her arms over her chest. “Watch me.”

He got up and came over to her side of the table, kneeling in front of her. “No,” he said. “Be reasonable. This isn’t some holo drama, Leia, where the princess gives it all up for love. You don’t run. From anything.”

“I’m not running,” Leia said. “You presented me with a choice, my throne, or you. I choose you.”

Han’s face filled with deep frustration. He ran his hands through his hair. “You don’t understand,” he gritted out.

“Then explain it to me,” Leia shot back. “I’m fairly bright, I’m sure I can follow whatever logic you have.”

“There is no way you would make that choice if you knew everything,” Han looked into her eyes, pleading. It wasn’t often he had to look up at her, and she was entranced by the light dancing across his eyes.

“Know what?” Leia said, leaning forward, and only half paying attention to what he was saying.

“You don’t know what I’ve done,” Han looked desperate. “If you did, there is no way you would want to be anywhere near me, never mind touch me-“

Leia clapped a hand over his mouth as a horrible suspicion bloomed in the back of her mind. Han glared at her. She dropped her hand, although it did serve him right for all the times he had done the same to her.

“Is this why you pulled away from our kiss the other day? You think that somehow your alternate pulled a fast one on me?”

Han turned bright red, but he didn’t say anything.

“Han?” she demanded, when the silence became a little too pointed.

“No,” Han muttered.

Leia rolled her eyes. “You are a horrible liar. I don’t care what Sana says.”

He looked a little indignant as he got back to his feet. “I’m a great liar.”

“Keep your delusions, laser brain,” she told him as he sat down across from her again.

He flashed her a smile, then his face grew serious. “Yes,” he said, swallowing hard. “I thought-“ He broke eye contact from Leia and rubbed the back of his neck. “I thought, he tricked you. Or lied to you.”

“Lied to me about what?” Leia asked, trying to tread gently, and not scoff at Han’s obvious fear and apprehension. Hearts were fragile things, and he was risking his to a woman who had one hell of an insane story. He believed her, Leia had no doubt about that, but sometimes the enormity of when she was, struck her out of nowhere too. Was it any wonder that Han was going through periodic bouts of disbelief?

“About everything,” Han hissed. “Where he was from. What he had done. What kind of people called him friend.”

“You don’t call them friend,” Leia pointed out.

Han slapped the table in frustration. “That’s not the point, Leia. I am around them enough that they think that. He had to have lied to you. There is no way a girl like you, ends up with a guy like me.”

“Where did you get the idea that I don’t know anyone from your past?” Leia was past angry and was now sitting at confused. “I knew about Maz. Hell, I knew about Lando,” she pointed out.

Han looked at her sadly. “But, you had no idea about Caleno.”

“You led a life before I got involved with you, Han,” Leia pointed out. “Stands to reason that you know a lot of people I have never met.”

“Don’t play dumb,” Han said. “It doesn’t suit you.” Then he snorted, “And yeah, you knew about Lando. But he is tame. And, as much as I hate to admit it,” and his face twisted in disgusted envy, “he’s charming. He has nothing on Sana.”

“Sana isn’t that bad,” Leia pointed out. Han gave her a horrified look. “No, really,” Leia said. “Once you get past the obnoxious flirt persona that she presents, she is a good operative. The Alliance hired her on several occasions. She never gave us to the Empire, and she does good work.”

Han’s mouth dropped open. “How the hell did you pull that off?”

“It started when I saved her life,” Leia said. “After that, I think she felt she owed me. There is also the fact she liked the money.”

“She always did,” Han said tiredly, slumping a bit in his seat.

Leia needed to correct this misapprehension Han was operating under, thinking there was no way that she didn’t know him. “Han,” she said gently, reaching for his hand. “You were a smuggler when I met you. You never hid that from me. And even when I was nineteen, I wasn’t as naive and pampered as you seem to think I was. I was well aware of the seedier side of the galaxy.”

Han shook his head. “Knowing it and living it are two different things.”

“I told you I walked into Jabba’s palace to rescue you. You don’t think I didn’t get a good look at the life you were leading?”

Han’s mouth tightened at the reminder. “There is no way-“

“Your mother died when you were young, and your father abandoned you when you were about ten years old,” Leia said firmly. She had quite enough of this dancing around. Time to tell him facts. “After he left, you joined the White Worms gang to survive.”

Han’s face was pale, and he looked away from her. “Bail had his people look into me,” he mumbled, still fighting her. “He could have told you all of this.”

Papa had done what? Not the point now, but she would be having a little chat with him about that.  Leia took a deep breath in and tried to keep her voice gentle. This was a very soft spot of Han’s she was about to tread on. “Did they also find out you joined the Empire because you were trying to find a way to free Qi’ra?”

Han’s head shot up, face pale. “You know about Qi’ra?” he asked her hoarsely.

Leia nodded. “And I know you tell everyone that crap story that you joined so you could learn how to fly.” She felt a fond smile grace her lips. “I know why you do it to. It wouldn’t do for everyone to know you have a soft underbelly and are sentimental to boot.”

“I’m not-“

“Han,” she said gently, “a few hours after you met me and Luke, you were willing to fly against a planet killer in order to help us.”

Han’s eyes were wide and frightened. “Because I wanted you,” he protested. “Nothing more than that. And the Kid had nothing to do with it. Didn’t even like him.”

Leia wrinkled her nose, now he was being crass on purpose. “Really?” she drawled. “Try another one. I was there, when you offered him a job.”

Han shifted in his seat. “Because I knew he had talent. I work with a lot of people I don’t like.”

He was running scared now. Leia wondered when their positions had become reversed. Last time, she had been the one running, and Han pushing. Gods, had she been as transparent as this Han was in denying what she so clearly wanted? Surely, she hadn’t been that delusional?

She had a lot more sympathy for that other Han right now. He had been a lot more patient then she was willing to be.

“You forget,” she said mockingly. “I’ve seen you make that insane choice, twice. Two different circumstances, same choice.”

Han shut his mouth with an audible click. “I’m not like you. Either of you. I am not a good man,” he insisted. “I didn’t do it because it was the right thing to do.”

Leia let out a loud laugh at the sheer ludicrousness of that thought. “Of course not,” she said. “You did it because Luke and I would be there.”  She leaned forward. “Because you will follow those you love to hell and back.”

Han looked flabbergasted, “I-“ he started to say. He cleared his throat and tried again. “I temporarily lost my mind?”

Leia just looked at him.

“Yeah, fine,” Han grumbled. “Just don’t go spreading that around.” He looked at her critically. “And you are okay with that? That I won’t do the right thing automatically? That it will always be about my self-interest?”

No, not always, but she wasn’t going to contradict him directly on that. That was a realization that he would have to come to on his own.

Leia cocked her head. “Well, I can be just as selfish in my love too, or haven’t you noticed?”

“What are you talking about?”

“If I was truly selfless, I would have let you go,” she said softly. “I would have gently encouraged you to go about your way because I am nothing but complications.”

“What complications?” Han demanded.

“My family for starters,” Leia reminded him.

Han chewed on his lip. “I like Luke,” he said weakly.

“But Papa scares you. More than Vader, and that is something I will never understand.”

“I know what to do with Vader,” Han said. “Run away, as fast as I can. Bail…” he spread his arms wide, “not a clue. But your scary ass fathers aside, I’m not seeing your point.”

Leia smiled ruefully. “I hurt you.”

Han sat up straighter. “You have not!“

“And telling you that your son killed you didn’t play into some of the worst fears about yourself?”

Han had nothing to say to that.

Leia sighed. “I’m not sure where you got the idea that I’m this noble, self-sacrificing martyr, Han.”

“When you jumped in front of a blaster bolt meant for me,” Han shot back.

“To save you,” Leia hissed right back, slapping her hands on the table. “Because I couldn’t bear the thought of you dying. Again. Do you understand that?”

Han leaned back, startled.

“It was only a few hours, and I don’t know how I kept standing,” Leia said, mortified at the tears that were forming in the corners of her eyes. “And then you were right in front of me, looking…” she trailed off. No need to go into how gutted she had been that Han hadn’t looked at her like she was anything.

“I am a tired, bitter old lady,” she said, voice a little bit more under control. “Who is old enough to be your mother. It’s easy to forget that because of this,” she waved her hands around her face. “But that doesn’t make it any less true.”

Han’s jaw tightened in anger. “You think I’m that shallow? That I only care about your looks?”

Leia snorted. “Of course, you care. Just like I care. I forgot how tempting you were, at this age.”

Han preened at that a little bit, and Leia rolled her eyes. “Don’t pretend you aren’t aware of how attractive you are. But I keep bringing up my age because it isn’t just about my looks. I have traumas you have no clue about, and enough issues to keep a fleet of mind healers busy. And let’s not forget that I am the biological daughter of one of the galaxies’ worse walking nightmares.”

Han’s jaw tightened. “I don’t care about that. He is not you.”

Leia gave him a bitter smile. “I’m more like him, then you realize. But you’re right, at the end of the day, I’m me. But what I am, and what Luke is…” she sighed and rubbed the back of her neck.  “I hate the fact that Obi-Wan separated us. That I spent a good part of my life missing something that I couldn’t name. But the reasons he did it, those I can’t argue with.”

Han frowned. “To keep you safe from Vader, not disagreeing with that.”

Leia shook her head. “No, not Vader. He thought Vader was dead. Given what he told me about what happened between the two of them on Mustafar, I can’t say I blame him.”

“Then why split you two up?” Han asked, puzzled.

“To protect us from Palpatine.”

Han paled at that name.

“The Empire isn’t just him.” Leia thought of the months-long struggle with the remnants of the Imperial Navy and Army after Endor. “Trust me on that. But he is the one holding it together. There is no way to take it down, without killing him. And as far as most people who understand what is going on, Luke is the best shot at that.”

Han leaned back in the booth. “What about you?”

Leia gave him a tight smile. “Like I said, ‘what most people understand.’”

“And people don’t know you’re a Skywalker.”

Leia blinked. It was rare that she heard that name in relation to herself. For most of her life, she, and those around her had referred to her connection to Vader as being his daughter. She wasn’t often called a Skywalker. That name, that didn’t bother her. That was Luke’s name, and she would rather cut off her own arm, then deny her brother.

“Yes,” she said. “But everyone who does know I’m a Skywalker, they are aware that I could, in theory, kill the Emperor.”

Han whistled, then shook his head. “But Luke didn’t kill him. Vader did.”

“Vader doesn’t know that,” Leia said softly. “And until very recently, nobody else, except Luke, did either.”

“Huh,” Han looked thoughtful. “While this is all interesting as hell, I still don’t see what this has to do with you being a bad bet for me?”

Leia gave him a grim grin. “You are so busy running future scenarios in your head on how you are going to be a failure for me, you haven’t come up with the most obvious one.”

“Which is?”

“Palpatine figures out exactly why Vader is so obsessed with me.”

Han sat bolt upright in his seat. “Leia…” he whispered, fear in his eyes.

She shrugged. “One of the few bits of luck I have had so far in this time, is that as far as I can tell, he hasn’t put it together. But once he does…” She looked Han straight in the eye. “I’m someone who can hurt him. He’ll try to convert me. If that fails-“

If?” Han asked, voice incredulous.

Leia gave him a grim smile. “You have no idea how tempting and seductive the Dark Side can be Han. I rather be honest about it, then be arrogant, and confidently walk my way into damnation.”

Han said nothing to that.

“If he can’t use me, he’ll see me dead.” Leia let out a bitter laugh. “Vader is operating in his own reality at this point, but he isn’t wrong about Palpatine. He is a threat to me. I’m a rather important piece in this little game he’s playing.”

She looked away from Han, and took in a long breath, smoothing away all thoughts and feelings from showing on her face. She looked back up at him. “You said I deserved someone extraordinary, don’t you think you would prefer someone who was ordinary?”

Han said nothing, eyes very wide. Leia watched as he worked through everything she just told him. The longer the silence stretched, the more her heart sank. The other Han, he had been in too deep to walk away by the time all of this came to light. And the stakes had been much lower by then, both Palpatine and Vader had been dead. Han valued his own skin, and this was one hell of a situation he would be putting himself into if he stayed. Hell, if Leia had a choice, she would run too.

Then Han cleared his throat. “Well, I suppose we are both selfish assholes,” he told her, eyes finally meeting hers again. “Because you haven’t said anything that is going to cause me to go running.”

At those words, Leia felt her heart fill with a joy that bordered on incandescent. Then her mind, much like Han’s, had to go running for the trick or trap here. Her heart sank as she realized his loyalty was outweighing his brain. She appreciated his support. But he wasn’t thinking about what she said, only reacting. “Han, be serious.”

Han stood up from the booth. “I am,” he insisted as he came over to her.

“Really?” Leia drawled, tilting her head up, so she could watch his face carefully as he ambled his way to her side of the booth. “I just told you that if you stay here, with me, you are going to be in the crossfire of the most dangerous man in the galaxy, and your only reaction is, so?”

“Yep,” Han said, and put his hand down, offering to help her out of her seat.

Leia took it without hesitation, and she was pulled to her feet. “Han,” she sighed, mentally preparing herself to list every reason he should run as far away from her as he could.

Han didn’t let her talk, only leaned down and kissed her softly on the mouth.

Leia froze for a second. Then she found herself wrapping her arms around him, pushing herself up on her toes to fully return the embrace. Han made a pleased noise in the back of his throat, and Leia could feel his hands come down to rest lightly on her waist as he deepened the kiss.

Leia indulged herself in the feel of him for one long moment. It was foolish, and thanks to this very young body, the danger of becoming completely subsumed in the desire licking its way up her body was very real. That last kiss they had shared a few days ago on the Falcon had only whetted her appetite for Han.

But she knew him too well, to think it was only desire that was prompting this. She summoned all the will she could gather, and put her hands on Han’s chest, to push him away.

“What?” Han asked, as he was forced back. His hands didn’t leave her waist though.

“No,” she said, attempting to keep her voice firm. It came out in a high-pitched squeak instead. She cleared her throat and said more steadily. “No. You are not going to use sex to distract me.”

Han blinked, and then a goofy grin crossed his face. “That means you are susceptible to being distracted with sex,” he said happily.

Leia’s eyes narrowed. “You don’t know any of my weak spots, and I know all of yours. Who do you think is going to win that battle?”

“Both of us, hopefully,” he said, with a lascivious twinkle in his eyes.

“HAN!” she growled, caught between her own frustrated desire, and frustration with him for not listening to her.

His goofy smile disappeared. “Look, I don’t mean to be that guy, but I’m getting really mixed signals from you here.”

Mixed signals?” Leia demanded. “Have you heard anything I’ve said over the last few minutes?”

Han had the audacity to look hurt. “I heard you.”

Leia snorted. “With your ears? Or was your ‘mini blaster’ doing the listening for you?”

Han blinked, and then a sneaky grin crossed his face. “The more frustrated you are, the cruder your language gets.”

Leia crossed her arms over her chest. “I am not frustrated,” she lied.

Han smirked and leaned forward to whisper softly in her ear, “Liar.” Leia shivered at the feel of air on her too sensitive skin.

“You are trying to change the subject,” she tried to say in a commanding tone. Instead, she sounded like one of those brainless heroines in Evaan’s holo dramas.

“Am not,” he said, trailing kisses down her neck. “I listened to what you said. Promise.”

“You aren’t acting like it,” Leia stomped her foot on his.

Han gave a yelp and pulled back. Leia gave him as serious look as she could manage, with her skin so flushed she could feel it. “I did,” he said, some of that lust fading, to be replaced by resolve. “And you are right. This is all bad, you are very complicated, and I should run for the hills.”

Leia stiffened. “So, what?” she demanded. “One last tumble for old time’s sake?”

“We haven’t had our first tumble,” Han grumbled.

Your pace,” she snarked back.

“I am very stupid,” he said, grabbing her hand and placing a light kiss on her palm. Then he turned those light blue eyes on her, sincerity pouring off him. “You know that.”

Oh, that was not fair. There was no way he knew how appealing she found him when he was like this. Leia scrambled for something to say, before she jumped into his arms, and they started down a path that she knew would end in something weaker than what she wanted. “You just said you didn’t believe that I loved you.”

“I didn’t then.” He gave her a triumphant look. “But after listening to you, and what you had to say about the realities of your situation, I do now.”

Leia’s mouth dropped open. “That is what it took to convince you I’m sincere? That I’m going to be one of the most wanted people in the galaxy?”

Han grinned. “You are perfect,” he said.

Leia blinked, then her mouth twisted into unhappy lines. “That is not an answer to my question.”

Han leaned forward, leaning his forehead against her. “That was my problem. You are perfect.”

Leia blinked at the open love and sincerity in Han’s voice, not sure how to understand this, given what he just said, not even ten minutes ago.

Then a knowing smirk crossed his face. “And before your ego gets even bigger, you are also short-tempered, bossy, and you do have one hell of a martyr complex.”

Even by the standards of Han’s version of courtship, this was strange. “Love you too?”

Han brought those large warm hands of his up and cupped her face. “What I mean, is that you are perfect for me. And that Leia, that was what I was having a hard time accepting.”

Leia frowned. “I don’t understand.”

He gave a chuckle. “You came out of nowhere. I was only trying to get enough money to pay my debts to Jabba, and I thought, hey, these two desperate idiots are perfect. One quick trip to Alderaan, and I am home free.”

His thumbs started stroking Leia’s cheeks. “And then you walked into that huge room in the palace of Alderaan, taking control and giving orders. And you treated me like I could be trusted.”

His eyes grew intent. “I thought, maybe she’s desperate, I’m here, and have a ship the Empire won’t be looking for. Royalty are supposed to be good liars, right? But you kept doing it. Talking to me like I was somebody.”

“So, I stayed on Yavin, because I was intrigued despite myself. There had to be some catch. Some flaw I wasn’t seeing. But the more time I spent with you, the more I could see you were exactly who I thought you were. You’re smart, have a cool head in battle, and you are one hell of a shot. Then I learned that this woman I was already half mad for, a princess, who by all rights I shouldn’t even be allowed in the same room with, already loved me.”

Leia could only listen as the words soothed an ache that she had been carrying around since Han left her.

“It had to be a trick. Or somehow, this other Han fooled you into loving him. Either way, there was no way I could trust this. But just now, as you were sitting there talking, and laying out in your own logical way about how you are a danger to everyone around you-”

“I am!” Leia protested, and Han only gave her an indulgent smile.

“Yeah, you are. You are absolutely right. I should be running for the furthest corner of the galaxy. “

Leia was confused. Han’s words were saying one thing, but his face said he was right where he wanted to be. ”Okay?”

Han bounced a bit on his heels. “Don’t you see?” he asked her, the look on his face the same one he wore just after he pulled some insane flying maneuver. “You’re right, this is as far from perfect as you can get.”

Leia blinked and then asked, “Because it’s not perfect, it’s real?”

“Yes!”

Huh, that was actually a good point. Leia stared at Han for a long moment, she was trying to understand his logic, but her lust addled mind was just this side of slow. “And the fact that I’m a time traveler, didn’t make it very clear this wasn’t ideal?”

Han shook his head. “Oh, that is weird and impossible. But compared to you loving me back, not the oddest thing in my life.”

Leia looked up at that happy grin and realized what he had just admitted to. There was really only one answer to that statement.

Han gave out a surprised noise, as she jumped up, but his hands came up to grab her butt as she wrapped her legs around his waist. At this height, she could look into that beloved face straight on.

“Uhh,” he said smoothly.

She gave him a cheeky grin. “You offered. Or are you just teasing an old woman?”

His confusion cleared, and he let out a low laugh. “Oh, I keep my promises,” he said in a husky voice.

Leia shivered and leaned forward, capturing his mouth with hers. “Prove it,” she muttered in between kisses.

She felt him start to walk towards his quarters. “Your worship,” he said, “it will be my pleasure.”