She is nine years old and her father is a beacon of light in a world that is surrounded by dust and sand and heat and desolation.
She sits on the edge of the table as he shows her how to repair the broken controls of their old speeder, marvelling at how fast his hands maneuver around the wires and little crevices, his set of mechanical fingers hidden under their leather wrapping.
“Tell me about Mom again,” she says, and Dad’s face lights up with that wistful, slightly-goofy grin just like it has every other time, his eyes a little sad and his mouth a little crooked.
“She was an angel,” he starts, but she interrupts.
“You’ve told me that a thousand times, Daddy.”
“Well, she was.”
She does not ask further.
(She wants to).
She is nine years old and she’s watching Dad in deep conversation with a man dressed in long dusty robes, words like “Emperor” and “council” and “space station” and “Rebel Alliance” floating up from where they’re standing and imprinting themselves into her brain.
She wonders if those words are the reason she lives in a little hut in a dry planet in a corner of the galaxy farthest away from any kind of warm and happy center, with a (sometimes enigmatic, though she doesn’t know what that means) father whose eyes fluctuate between sad and angry and a (supposedly angelic) mother who Dad says is dead and a list of things she is not allowed to ask longer than her Dad’s arm, because her own arms are too short to cover that length.
Dad teaches her how to read and write and hotwire speeders in the mornings; he teaches her how to fire a blaster straight in the afternoons. He teaches her to control her errant emotions and feel her surroundings without using her eyes, her little fingers stretching out into thin air as she concentrates, his low voice at her side, encouraging and firm. She tries to learn how to fly Dad’s old cruiser on weekends, but for some reason the controls don’t like to respond to her fingers the same way they do for Dad.
She tells herself it’s no big deal, because by now she’s read more books than anyone else on the outer rim of the desert city and when she shoots, she almost always hits the target.
She is nine years old and her father’s face is white as a sheet, and he’s acting even stranger than he usually does. Normal Dad has a laugh that doesn’t quite reach his eyes and sometimes gets really quiet and stares out into space and leaves on short trips some days to go talk to people she’s never met, but Normal Dad is still teasing and goofy and super embarrassing all the time, and also her best friend. Strange Dad is silent and pale and has frantic eyes, which are very different from their usual shade of brooding. And he’s not half as goofy as he usually is.
“I need you to go stay with Old Ben for a couple days.”
“That’s a load of kriffing –”
“Language, young lady.”
“I learned that from you.”
“Please, Leia. I don’t have time to explain.”
“Can I come with you?”
“Does this have something to do with the Imps?”
“Yes it does.”
“I’m taking you to stay with Ben.”
She doesn’t say much more because Dad looks like he’s about to cry (Dad never cries) or have a panic attack (she doesn’t even know what a panic attack would look like) or do something decidedly un-dad-like, and she kind of likes Old Ben anyway, so she sits quietly in the back of the speeder with a little bag of things and Dad leaves without telling her why.
She is nine years old and there is a rusty, dirty, near-broken-down droid in the doorway to Old Ben’s house, and she is almost ninety percent sure that it’s trying to communicate with her.
“Sorry,” she tells the droid. “Dad never taught me how to speak binary.”
Beep boop beep, says the droid, and she thinks it’s kind of cute, maybe. She’s never talked to a droid like this before.
She lets the droid in and Old Ben looks at it strangely for half a moment, and then asks her where she found it.
“I just showed up,” she says. The droid makes a funny noise.
“Indeed,” mutters Ben, and she is very confused.
“Maybe I should try cleaning it up?” she suggests, and the greying man in front of her looks up with a start, as though he had forgotten she was standing there.
“Yes,” he agrees after a moment. “Maybe you should.”
She is nine years old and the boy in the recording is about the same age, his mop of untidy blond hair only a little shorter than Dad’s and his blue eyes wide and scared.
“… they took my mother somewhere three days ago,” he’s saying. “I think they’ve arrested her, because she has information for something called the Rebel Alliance … I – I’m not sure. She told me to send Artoo to someone called General Obi Wan Kenobi; a message from Senator Padmé Amidala.” His voice wavers, and she feels a tug of sympathy somewhere low in her chest. “Mom said we can trust you. If you’re listening to this, whoever you are, please help us – I don’t know much, but I do know that Coruscant is really tense right now and there are rumours of dissolving the senate. I think they might be coming to take me too, so that I’ll keep quiet about my mother’s disappearance. Please help us, General Kenobi – you’re our only hope.”
She stares at the little boy’s flickering face as the message replays, and Ben’s face is very grave.
“Leia,” he says. “Did you father tell you when he was returning?”
She shakes her head no, and the look on Ben’s face is almost as disturbing as the boy’s message. Almost.
She is nine years old and Mos Eisley space port is the most revolting, fascinating place she has ever stepped foot in. Ben tells her to stay close to him and focus on staying aware of her surroundings, and she places a hand on the little R2 droid at her side to make sure she does not fall behind. She has to remove her hand, though, when they enter the cantina, and Ben tells her quietly to stand by the door and not move while he finds them a fast ticket to Coruscant.
She does not want to get involved, per say, but since the flying body nearly misses her head and lands right beside her with a groan, she can’t help but step in front of it and cross her arms.
“Move, little girl,” growls the guy with the green skin in front of her in a language she just barely understands. The body behind her swears loudly, and she’s pretty sure it sounds Corellian.
“Sorry,” she tells the guy facing her, “but my, uh, uncle told me not to move from this spot. I’ll get in a lot of trouble if I do.”
“You’ll get in more trouble if you don’t move,” snarls the guy, pointing his blaster at her face.
She should be marginally more scared, she thinks, a second before there’s a loud firing sound and something hot and bright just barely misses her ear.
The boy behind her (well, more man than boy, really, long arms and legs at that point in teenage-hood where they’re just beginning to become properly proportioned with the rest of the body, his hair light brown and untidy and his look decidedly scruffy) holding the blaster brushes off his worn clothing and glares at her.
“What the hell was that for, kid? I had it under control.”
She is speechless for a solid three seconds.
“Look, just get out of my way, okay? I gotta be places.”
“I just saved your butt,” she points out, her voice as dignified as she can manage, looking up at him angrily and wishing she weren’t nine years old and maybe a lot taller.
“Uh, no you didn’t,” scoffs the boy, sticking the blaster back in the holster at his side. He tries to push past her, but she puts her hands on her hips and stands in his way.
“At least you could apologize for nearly hitting me with that shot.”
“Firstly, I did not nearly hit you, and second, I ‘aint having this conversation with a six year old –”
“Says the dirty shrimp.”
“I am not dirty, you – you laser brain!”
The arrival of Ben saves the boy from having to come up with a clever response (kriff, he realizes, he’s arguing with a nine year old), and the old man looks at the boy, then at her, and raises an eyebrow.
“Unfortunately,” he says, still looking at her, “I was not able to find a suitable means of transportation. You don’t think that this charming young man might be able to help us?”
“No,” she declares vehemently, at the same time as the boy says, “what kind of transportation?”
“Fast,” says Ben. “Nothing that attracts attention.”
I have a bad feeling about this, she thinks, but the boy grins, lopsided and certainly not charming. Ben looks at him with inquisitive grey eyes.
“Is that a yes?”
“I don’t have one,” he says, sticking his hands in his pockets. “But I know where you can win one.”
She is nine years old and the sabacc den is crowed and smelly and a little scary, and she pretends that she isn’t gripping the hem of Ben’s robe in her fist like her life depends on it. The players all look experienced and well along in years, not like the scruffy teenager who boasted of his gambling skill in the dingy atmosphere of the Mos Eisley cantina, inhaling a sandwich as though he hadn’t eaten for a week. She tells Ben that she doesn’t think that the guy – Han, or whatever his name is – could actually win them the ship; a rusty old freighter that looks like it’ll fall apart at any given moment.
“I don’t trust him,” she insists.
Ben just smiles in that weird, serene way of his.
She misses her dad. She’s frightened for the boy in the recording. And she hates how the saabac den is filled with pipe smoke.
The only other teenager in the den – a boy with dark skin and curly hair and clever eyes – sits across from their new companion and starts dealing the cards.
“Think you’re actually gonna win this time?” he goads, his voice laughing but not cruel.
“You bet I am,” retorts the other, grinning his lopsided grin.
She is nine years old and she thinks that Han Solo is the stupidest, most annoying, stupid, frustrating, stupid, arrogant, stupid, stupid person she has ever met. Except that he is the only one out of the three of them – four if she counts Artoo – who can actually fly the bucket of bolts he won (and also claimed as his own, whether they liked it or not), and so she can’t hate him too much. She still wishes her dad was there to show her how to eject him out of an airlock, though, as they make their way through the crowed, smelly streets of Mos Eisley towards the docking station.
She wishes it less when they get stopped by a road block in the form of a couple of poachers and a slave trader and he risks his own neck to release the young wookiee they’ve got chained up to the caravan. She is caught between an ugly man with an eyepatch waving a crooked knife and Ben’s raised hand and firm voice, and Laser Brain is standing in front of the wookiee holding his blaster and looking like he’s trying very hard not to kill all three of the men with his bare hands.
Later, she asks him what that was all about.
“None of your business, kid.”
(She doesn’t speak Shyriiwook, but Laser Brain says the wookiee’s name is Chewbacca.
“He told you that?”
“You speak Shyriiwook?”
“Can I call him Chewie?”)
She is nine years old and she’s lying down in a cot on the flying scrap of junk that is apparently called the Millenium Falcon, and she really misses her dad and his silly bedtime stories and long messy hair and cool bionic hand and cheesy jokes and the way he would show her how to use the Force as a channel to calm herself when she was particularly agitated or upset.
She remembers sitting on the porch with Dad and looking up at the stars, wondering if her mother is up there and not daring to ask, watching the scar on Dad’s face ripple slightly with suppressed emotions – nostalgia? Wistfulness? She doesn’t know, but doesn’t care to ask either, because at that moment it’s not important. What’s important is that they’re sitting together and they’re safe and mostly happy and her Dad is her best friend in the entire world.
Now, she doesn’t know where Dad is.
Ben is sitting across the room meditating, and Laser Brain and Chewie are somehow managing to keep the ship on course in the cockpit.
She keeps thinking of the little boy in the recording, his messy hair and round face and scared eyes, and she feels like she knows him. She wonders what his mother – Senator something or other, he had said – has done to aggravate the Imps so much, and she hopes that she’s okay, wherever she is. She sounded nice. Not that she really knows anything about her, but she knows. Just like she knows that she and the boy could be close friends if she ever finds him.
She is nine years old and struggling to remember Dad’s lessons on how to stay calm.
(“What did you just call me?”
“Kriff, shrimp, calm down. You act so high and mighty all the time I thought you might think you’re some kinda princess or something.”
“I’m not a princess!”
“Sorry, your Royal Shortness, it was a joke.”)
She caves, and kicks him in the shin. Really hard.
Later, it becomes more than a joke; ever-present, ever-annoying, and something familiar in her world of persistently changing destinies – like some kind of lame universal constant, she thinks with a half-scowl, half smile.
She is nine years old, and Ben Kenobi is teaching her how to levitate Chewie’s blaster. It’s frustrating, and tiring, and Laser Brain keeps making idiotic comments from the corner (stupid, she thinks), but it reminds her of Dad’s old lessons and she doubles her efforts because they have to find Dad, and maybe in some strange way getting better at Dad-like things will help.
She is nine years old, and the Falcon docks in Coruscant space port, landing with less of a crash than she expected (and she did expect a crash).
Except that in the next half-second there are storm troopers performing full-body searches and she’s being pushed around more than she feels comfortable with. Chewie gives a disgruntled roar, and it reflects her own sentiments exactly.
“Do you have anything to declare?” asks the first trooper, and she snorts and thinks that if anyone were really hiding anything from the Imps, they wouldn’t willingly give it up, would they?
Anyone like her dad – like the Rebels, like the stately lady she saw named Mon Mothma, or her Dad’s old friend Ashoka Tanho, or even sometimes, she thinks, like Ben, even though with Ben you can never be one hundred percent sure.
Like myself, says a little voice in the back of her head.
But she’s nine, and that’s ridiculous.
She is nine years old and Ben has disappeared somewhere deep into the stately Senate Building – to hack into the computer main-frame and discover the location of Senator Amidala, he says, with a twinkle in his eye and a soft squeeze of her shoulder.
He tells her to stay hidden in the doorway of the building just opposite to the Senate, with Laser Brain and Chewie, because apparently the Imps won’t care much if a little girl and a lanky teenager are hanging out across one of the most (least) influential buildings in the galaxy with their wookie friend.
“Stay close to him,” Ben whispers to her when the other two aren’t paying attention. “And stay safe.”
“I can take care of myself,” she whispers solemnly back, wishing that Ben didn’t have to leave them. She wishes a lot of things, actually.
“Indeed,” laughs her friend. “But I do not believe your father would ever forgive me if something happened to you; your friend has a blaster, and you do not.”
“I can hold the blaster.”
A sigh. “Okay. But I might kick him in the shin again.”
“A Jedi controls her emotions.”
A beat of silence.
“We’ll find Dad, right?”
Ben’s eyes are unreadable.
“I don’t know.”
(She watches as the only family she has left is swallowed up by the Coruscant traffic in a swirl of robes, and she tries not to cry).
She is nine years old, and she knows that she has to rescue the boy in the recording.
(It would be unthinkable not to.)
“Please,” she pleads, because at this point she is not above pleading, even if it’s with Laser Brain. “They said he’s in there! We have to go and help him, you heard the guy – the Imps might be hurting him –”
“And then the Imps’ll hurt us too,” snaps Han, grip tightening on his blaster. “The crazy old man told us to stay put, so that’s what we’re doing, Princess Shrimp.”
She glares at him, ferociously.
“A minute ago you were complaining that you didn’t like just standing around and waiting to get caught, idiot.”
“Yeah, but that’s better than charging head on into a building full of troopers.”
“He’s in danger!”
“How in kriffing hell do you know?”
“Look, your worship –”
“Would you stop calling me that!”
“You are literally the most annoying nine year old I have ever met.”
“Not you too – oh, gods, do I hate you both.”
“So can we sneak in?”
“We better get some kinda hot reward for this, kid, or I’ll abandon you right here in the middle of Coruscant.”
“At least I won’t have to be with you anymore.”
Chewie growls again, louder this time.
Han (Laser Brain, she corrects herself) scowls.
“This is a bad idea.”
She is nine years old and not one storm trooper, building attendant, or person of import thinks to stand in the way of a little girl and an R2 unit stepping quietly through the grand halls of the Senate Building.
They’re more occupied with the lanky nineteen year old with the scruffy haircut and the half-grown wookie with the matted fur charging towards them and hollering, loudly, the single blaster in their possession firing at everything and nothing.
Han might be annoying, infuriating, anxiety-inducing, maddening, stupid, and all of the above, but he is brave, she confides in Artoo as they sneak around a corner, their companions’ yelling becoming slightly muffled.
Artoo beeps back in agreement.
They turn another corner, and she feels a little sigh of relief (she thinks) escape through her lips; the door to the holding room is devoid of guards, and her heart flutters in anticipation.
“You think you can open the door, Artoo?”
When she pokes her head in through the open doorway, she realizes that the boy is a lot smaller than she thought, looks unnervingly familiar, and probably hasn’t been fed properly in two days.
“Who are you?” he whispers nervously, pressing himself against the back wall.
It’s his eyes, she thinks. I know those eyes.
“I’m Leia Skywalker,” she says, and there is something unfathomably life-changing about that little declaration. “We’re here to rescue you!”
She is nine years old, and she’s running for her life.
(“What do you mean, we’re going to have trouble?”
“I mean they’re right behind me, your tiny worshipfulness, so I’d suggest we run!”
“Stop calling me that!”
“I ‘aint having this conversation here!”
“Um, excuse me –”
“Shut up, Chewie!”
“Where are we running to?”
“Hell if I know!”
“This is all your fault!”
A beat of stunned silence.
“You know the way?”
“Um … yes?”
“Huh. Well, I guess you ‘aint so bad, kid.”
Luke seems kind of nice, though.
She is nine years old, and she nearly jumped down the garbage chute.
“It’s okay,” Luke tells her a few minutes later, as they’re sitting with their backs pressed up against a shiny white wall, the luxuriously carpeted floor under her feet soiled by her dust-caked boots. His feet are clad in what could only be referred to as slippers, and his robe and tunic are made of some soft, fancy material. Han is sitting on her other side with Chewie, trying to peak around the corner in the most inconspicuous manner possible. “This building can be complicated if you’re not familiar with it. I nearly jumped down the garbage chute too, once.”
She scoffs, because the idea of even entertaining the notion of going through that tiny door in the wall when you’re not being chased by a horde of angry Storm Troopers is ridiculous, but Luke says it so sincerely that she controls herself from covering her lingering embarrassment with a sharp retort.
Ben is nowhere to be found. Her father is nowhere to be found.
“Do you know where they took your mom?” she asks Luke (her friend, says a small voice in her head, except that she’s only just met him, so it would be silly to call him her friend) in a whisper.
He stares straight ahead and looks like he’s trying very hard not to cry.
She is nine years old and neither she nor Luke have any idea what a “Death Star” is; only that is sounds bad and dangerous and something crazy enough that only the Imps could have thought up.
(Han doesn’t know what it is either, but he pretends he does.)
“I’m sorry,” says the stern-looking lady at the entrance to Space Port, “but I’m afraid that you are required to provide identification for minor citizens.” She scuffs her heel against the worn ground tries to limit her pointed glaring at Han’s back to a minimum. Rather than finding Ben – General Kenobi, Luke insists on calling him, but then Luke has a lot of funny mannerisms – they found a mainframe datapad open and covered in schematics and blue prints for something that looking sort of like a moon and sort of like a too-round asteroid.
Han shoves his hands in his vest pocket and puts on his most confident face.
“It’s okay, they’re relatives – the kid’s my brother, and she’s our cousin.”
Luke looks like he wants desperately to curl up into a ball and ignore his troubles, and she’s glaring at Han’s back again. Chewie makes a weak sound of reassurance.
The lady raises an eyebrow.
“Your brother. And cousin.”
“That’s what I said, isn’t it?”
“I’m going to need some further identification.”
“Look, lady, we lost our identification on our stay here. Some bastard son of a bantha mugged me, and I was carrying all our personal items. You really think we’re some kinda threat to the Empire?”
The lady scowled.
“I did not say that. And, I’m sorry young man, but I’m just not authorized to make that decision. Besides, they don’t even look like you.”
Han clenches his fists (a bad sign) and crosses his arms (a worse sign) and Luke rocks back and forth on the balls of his feet nervously.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” he whispers in her ear.
“Yeah, well, you don’t look much like a Gungun, but that doesn’t mean you’re not still related to ‘em.”
Later, as they’re sitting behind a dumpster in one of Coruscant’s dimmer alleyways, slightly out of breath and wishing that they actually had some kind of plan to get out of the Godforsaken place, she can’t help but giggle a little bit.
“What?” demands Han, irritable.
“Nothing,” she says. “You just have a real way with people, is all.”
“Whatever, princess shrimp.”
(The corner of his crooked mouth still tugs up in a grin, though).
She is nine years old and Luke Amidala is trying to persuade her to hack into a government facility.
“Are you kidding! We’ll get caught!”
“Look,” says the other nine-year-old, his round face possessing a sort of graveness only manifested in children. “You and I both know that whatever that Death Star thing is, they’re going to use it for something badder than usual. I’m ready to bet my life Mom knew about it.”
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t do anything about it,” she says defensively, crossing her arms over her chest. “My Dad’s in the Alliance, silly. Of course we’re doing something about it.”
“You’re Dad’s in the Rebel Alliance?” asks Luke, his eyes widening in awe.
“Sure,” she says, “but didn’t you hear what I said? We’ll do something about it, but I can’t do that kind of funky stuff with computers to save my life. I bet you’d be better with them than me.”
“Oh,” says Luke, his face falling slightly. He suddenly brightens again. “I know! Your friend Han –”
“He’s not my friend,” she says immediately (out of habit).
“Then what is he?”
(And kind of her friend).
In the end, they – and they is referring to a collective that does not involve Han Solo, because he firmly denounces his younger companions as completely crazy in rather vulgar terms – decide on taking the much simpler route and blowing the datapad to bits.
She considers, briefly, that this is ridiculous, because they are only children. Children do not go on vigilante missions to restore order to the galaxy.
But Dad would do it, she thinks.
“You’re my friend, too,” she tells Luke.
“So he is your friend.”
“You used the word ‘too’.”
“Oh. Right.” A pause. “I guess.”
Luke smiles, his blue eyes crinkling with sincerity as they crouch under their shared sleeping back in the street corner outside one of the towering Coruscant apartments.
She is nine years old, and she does not understand why she is so bothered.
“But you can’t leave!”
“C’mon, kid, you really expected me to risk my neck and go along with your crazy plan? Not me – I’ve gotta get outta here. I’ve got people after my ass –”
“But we need you!” Luke’s (naive, hopefully, optimistic, over-bright) blue eyes are pleading, and he looks like his hero has just proved himself a villain. Han (stupid stupid stupid, her thoughts yell angrily) grimaces, caught in the uncomfortable twist of conscience that resides between guilt and frustration.
“No one needs me, kid.”
“You can’t leave,” repeats Luke, whispered, almost broken, and she pointedly ignores what Han just said, because she can’t think of any reason why keeping those words in mind would help her feel any better.
She watches as her (source of infinite annoyance, possible mortal enemy, snarking asshole, scruffy constant in her nine-year-old life) maybe-sort-of friend leaves them, taking with him a mournful-looking wookie and none of their shared possessions.
“Well you can’t change his mind for him,” she tells Luke as he turns to her expectantly, feeling wise and knowledgeable, but also like there’s a giant hole in her small chest. “Laser Brain can do his own thing, for all I care. We’ve totally got this.” She grins, weakly, like they actually have a chance.
Luke smiles back.
She is nine years old and desperately misses her father.
(“Do you have any idea where he is?”
“When did he go missing, then?”
“He didn’t go missing.”
“Sorry, Leia. I didn’t mean –”
Quietly: “It’s okay. He left three days before we found you.”
“That’s when my Mom got arrested!”
“That’s great, Luke.”
“Maybe your Dad is connected to that.”
“What are you saying, that Dad had something to do with your mom’s arrest? Kriffing hell, Luke –”
“Calm down, that’s not what I meant.” Hasty, desperate. “But didn’t you say your dad was part of the Alliance? Maybe he and Mom were sharing important information against the Imps.”
“That’s ridiculous.” It isn’t. Not really.
“What’s your dad’s name?”
“Anakin Skywalker.” A pause. “Luke? Are you okay?”
“The Anakin Skywalker?”
“What? There’s more than one?”
“No, he’s – famous Rebel Jedi Knight, the Hero With No Fear –”
“What are you talking about, Luke?”
“He’s like the coolest guy in the entire galaxy! I thought he was just a legend!”
“He’s just my dad.” He was. Goofy and sort of sad and really good at fixing droids. And absent for long periods of time, fighting the Galactic Empire.
“Anakin Skywalker is your dad.”
“That is so cool.”)
Luke misses his mother, too.
She wonders if Ben is alive. She would wonder if Dad is alive, too, except that she can’t afford to think like that.
She is nine years old, and the wiring in the back of the massive main frame datapad that she just tore apart is sparking dangerously. If she’s not careful, the whole thing might explode.
Which is what they’re aiming for, essentially.
Her fingers are burning, and somewhere to her left Luke’s childlike voice (childlike as hers, but more refined) yells that there are troopers coming down the hall.
Faster, Leia, faster.
The wires spark again, and the hem of her tunic smokes. She tries to take a deep breath, but the smoke goes up into her lungs and she starts coughing instead. She tugs at another wire.
She can barely breathe.
(“So, my young padwan, what have we learned today?”
“Dad, you should really stop using your lame ‘old wise man’ voice when you call me your padwan. It makes you sound silly.”
“Maybe I am silly, Leyley. You ever thought of that?”
She giggles. “Nope. Not ever.”
“You still haven’t told me what we learned.”
“You mean what I learned.”
“Technically, I learned it with you. Teaching is a form of learning.”
“Now you’re really being silly.”
“Nuh uh. I had this really wise master once, and he told me the same thing. So it’s totally true.”
“Is that the same master who you saved the galaxy with?”
“We never saved the galaxy. Look at the shambles it’s in now.”
“You didn’t answer the question, Daddy.”
“Neither did you, Ley.” His eyes are twinkling. She sighs.
“I shouldn’t take on more than I can handle.”
“And why is this most astute observation so important?”
“Because then I can get hurt.”
“Right. And what would your dear old dad do if you got hurt, huh?”
“Probably live off protein bars for the rest of your life.”
“Oh, no way. You are not a better cook than me.”
“This is unacceptable! No one insults my cooking – beware the wrath of the terrible Anakin Skywalker as he tickles his daughter to death –”
“Dad! No fair, you have long arms!”
“Surrender, fair maiden!”
She can’t breathe properly, but there is no way she is leaving the room without taking those schematics with her. They could find Dad, a small, mostly-irrational part of her brain manages to think. Somewhere Luke’s voice is echoing frantically, but she it doesn’t register in her muddled, panic-scrambled mind.
Surrender, fair maiden!
She starts crying, curls up against the data console and clutches her knees to her chest.
She is only nine years old.
The hand that grabs her shoulder and the scared voice accompanying it are nineteen, however, and achingly familiar.
They stumble out of the building and the datapad screen cracks, and the explosion sounds from across the street where Han has each of them by the collar, his hands trembling slightly and his expression somewhere between relief and annoyance and incredible frustration.
Luke coughs, wipes the grime off his face. The datapad is gone, incinerated, short wired, burned out – but he only has eyes for the two people beside him.
“You came back!”
“I knew you’d come back!”
A weak grin; a lame attempt at carelessness, she thinks, but so painfully familiar that she forgives him for it.
“Guess I’m as crazy as you two, huh?”
“Don’t worry,” Luke reassures him. “We’re not that crazy.”
Her father is still missing, as is Luke’s mother. They have no credits to speak of between them, and the Falcon is still at the docking bay, with troopers swarming the place. Ben could be captured, could be dead, could have simply disappeared – and the Imps are probably going to start a galaxy-wide manhunt for a couple of kids and a teenager.
She looks at Luke yanking excitedly on Han’s hand and chattering about how Leia’s the one who messed with the wires, it was so cool, and Chewie standing behind the two of them, tall and comforting, R2 beeping happily from Luke’s other side – and she smiles.
She is nine years old, and yet the idea of rebellion does not sound as ridiculous as it once did.
(“Here,” she says, handing each of them the shiny metal disk, broken off from the side of an Imperial cruiser parked at the side of the road.
“What’s that for, your worship?” It’s the canned reply, but Luke’s eyes widen in wonder beside Han. Chewie growls.
“Medals of bravery.”
“Are you guys really starting this again?”
“Will you just take the medals?”
“You know,” says Luke, letting her tie the string holding the disk around his skinny neck, “maybe if we went back to hide at my place, no one would suspect to look there.”
“You mean that fancy senatorial palace thing?”
“It’s my mom’s house.”
“That sounds nice.”
“Do they have food?”
“Great!” says Luke, looking something between relieved and proud to have actually thought of something. “Threepio’ll let us in, probably.”
“My mom’s protocol droid. He’s nice, but sometimes he talks too much – you’d like him, Han.”