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The Imperial Menace

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One moment, Han Solo had been watching out for Jabba’s goons in Mos Eisley. The next he’d gotten caught up with interstellar politics, religious gobbledygook, and a pair of prickly teenage girls.

Now--somehow--he’d ended up in the middle of a Rebel base. Not a scratch on him. Not on Chewie, either. They’d rescued a princess. They’d gotten a reward big enough to cover all their debts with plenty left over. Even the Falcon had been repaired at no cost to them.

Apparently, all the good luck had gone to his head. Han had promptly turned around and invited Lucy Skywalker to join their smuggling operation. Lucy!

It wasn’t that he didn’t like her personally. He did. But--Lucy, who’d convinced him to go haring off after the princess. Sure, that had turned out all right, but they could just as easily have all died. He knew perfectly well she’d try the same trick again. It wasn’t like he and Chewie needed another partner, anyway--and if they had, they could have done better than a little blonde with a hero complex.

But they could have done worse, too. A lot worse. Lucy might be a kid with no real idea of how the galaxy actually worked, but at least she was smart and loyal. She had plenty of nerve, too, she shot what she aimed at, and she knew her way around a starship.

Not much of a surprise, if she really was Anakin Skywalker’s daughter. Sure, the Jedi stuff was just children’s stories and an old hermit’s imagination, but the Clone Wars sure as hell weren’t. Han remembered the wars. He remembered Skywalker and Kenobi. Mostly Skywalker--he’d been the best starpilot living, everyone said. The old man hadn’t needed to make up stories about that.

Han glanced at Lucy. He hadn’t been sure at first, for all that she looked like a tiny, girlish version of Skywalker. The more he thought about it, though, the more he couldn’t believe that anybody could be so staggeringly stupid as to use the names of two Jedi heroes as pseudonyms. But the old man might be just dim enough to use his real name and let Lucy run around with hers.

Besides, he’d dueled with Vader himself. Lost, but it wasn’t like Vader got into swordfights with just anyone. Yeah, between one thing and another, Han figured that Kenobi really was the Negotiator, if prematurely aged and senile, and Lucy probably was Skywalker’s daughter. After the TIE fighter attack, he didn’t have much doubt. If that was her first fight in zero-grav--

Well. A little experience and they might be damn lucky to have her onboard.

Now thoroughly satisfied with himself, Han’s attention reverted to the base. Pilots were either running this way and that, or climbing into their ships, while dozens of astrodroids beeped and wailed, and officers oversaw the whole mess. Hardly any of the latter wore flight suits--they wouldn’t be fighting with the troops. Another shocker.

“Lucy?” one of the pilots called out.

Han stopped in his tracks. Lucy, her face lighting up, had already spun around to peer upwards.

“Biggs?”

The pilot—Biggs?—sprang down. He was tall and dark, with a lovingly trimmed moustache and an almost Imperial swagger in his step. Twenty-five or thirty, Han thought, his eyes narrowing as Biggs grabbed Lucy's arm, but the man didn't push his luck, just looked thrilled. Lucy and Biggs beamed at each other.

“Lucy! I don't believe it!” Biggs threw her a look of soppy adoration, and Han mentally downgraded his age to twentyish. “How'd you get here? Are you going up with us?”

Lucy, oblivious to her friend's blatant infatuation, scowled at the ground. “No.”

“They don't let women and children in,” Han said. “Lucy here's unlucky enough to get disqualified on both counts.”

Lucy's head snapped up. “I'm not—” She caught his grin, and smiled, a little reluctantly, in return. “Oh, right: Biggs, these are my friends, Han Solo and Chewbacca. Han, Chewie, this is Biggs Darklighter, my best friend back home. He jumped ship from the Imperial Academy!”

The other man—boy, really—eyed Han. “Nice to meet you,” he said. His polite tone just fell short of outright hostility.

“Same,” said Han, amused.

Biggs returned his attention to Lucy. “I can't believe they didn't let you in! You're the best bush pilot in the Outer Rim territories!”

She turned red, either flattered or angry. After a moment's consideration, Han decided on the latter; Lucy was many things, but overburdened by humility was not one of them.

“Well--”

“The entire Outer Rim, huh?” Han slanted a half-laughing, half-impressed look at her. “I guess you really do take after your old man.”

Her flush faded. “Everyone says so,” she replied simply.

“You knew Mr Skywalker?” Biggs asked, eyes wide. “That's how you met?”

“Kid, everyone knew Anakin Skywalker. Except on Tatooine, apparently.”

“Actually, we met when stormtroopers chased us out of Mos Eisley,” Lucy told him. “Han's the captain of the Millenium Falcon—it looks like junk but it's an amazing ship—and he and Chewie got us out of there and then out of the Death Star. He's invited me to join the crew.”

Biggs blinked several times. Then, recovering with a speed that Han could only assume came from years of knowing Lucy, he said, “Well, that's—congratulations, I mean. You'll get to fly after all!” His voice cooled. “I'm sure Captain Solo appreciates how lucky he is to have you on his ship.”

“Yeah, he does,” said Han.

The other pilots began to clamber into their ships.

“I've got to get aboard. Maybe you can come back after the Death Star gets destroyed and tell me the whole story,” Biggs said, fearlessly confident as only a very stupid or very young man could be.

Lucy smiled at her friend, her expression as bright his own. “That'd be great, Biggs.” She darted forward and hugged him tightly, then kissed his cheek. “Good luck.”

“You too.” Biggs reluctantly stepped back and began climbing up the ladder to his X-Wing. He looked back down at her. “I'm sure we'll be fine. We're a couple of shooting stars that'll never be stopped!”

At any other time, Han would have snickered. Instead, he just glanced away. You'll be dead by tomorrow, kid.

Biggs waved his last goodbye, which Lucy cheerfully returned. Then she, Han, and Chewie walked the rest of the way to the Falcon.

#

Han’s hand was tight on the controls as he watched Yavin IV and its moon fade into oblivion. There was no point in dying for some pointless revolution, he reminded himself. No point in dying for anything. When it came down to it, not much else mattered, except life: his and Chewie's and now Lucy's. She was better off, anyway. If they'd let her fight she'd have gladly dashed herself to pieces against the Empire. This way she might live, and live well—not the soft, soul-crushing existence that the rest of the galaxy had chosen for her.

I want to fly, she'd said, with a restless, hungry look that he perfectly understood. He could give her that. He felt almost heroic.

Han glanced around. Chewie, still complaining—he was almost as senselessly romantic as the Rebels themselves—had seated himself on Han's right, manning the computers. Lucy stood behind him, her fingers tight on the back of his chair and her eyes fixed on the viewing window. She reminded him strongly of the princess, somehow, and not only because she wore a white dress almost exactly like Leia's. It was something about her stiff, straight posture, her wide eyes, her face pale beneath her tan, almost as pale as Leia's had been.

He tried to put the princess out of his mind. There had been nothing he could do for her. Even Han had known better than to bother inviting Leia onboard. She had a place in the Rebellion, and wouldn't be moved by a million stormtroopers—or one planet-destroying superweapon.

Chewie informed him that nothing would be helped by damaging the controls. Han relaxed his grip, exhaling a quick, angry burst of air.

“Lucy,” he said, “I'll give you an advance. You'll need a few more things than the clothes on your back.”

“It's not mine, I borrowed it from Leia,” Lucy said, her tone low and flat. She even sounded like the princess. Then her voice lifted a little. “I mean, thanks. It'd be nice to have some belongings.”

The last few glimmers faded to black. Then Han said, “I've got everything under control. Chewie, why don't you and Lucy move her to her own quarters?”

Chewie grumbled, but agreed, and Lucy seemed almost glad to turn away from the viewscreen. Han, left alone with his thoughts, regretted their absence almost the moment they left. This was the only choice he could reasonably have made, but that didn't mean he had to like it. He thought of the princess again, flouncing around the Death Star and shooting stormtroopers, her stern expression turning to fury almost every time he spoke to her. Not the last, though. Her eyes had gone wide and stricken when he led Lucy away from her, and the one time he'd glanced back, she'd been staring after them in something very like dread.

He didn't want her to die. Not that wanting would do anything about it. But she—she had a lot of spirit, as he'd laughingly told Lucy. Princess Leia, whatever else she might be, was very alive. And very young. Seventeen. Yet they might as well have left her to die in her cell, for all the difference it'd make in the end.

Han's mind skittered away from Leia, to the pilots he'd talked to. He'd only caught a few names. Wedge Antilles, he remembered, a dark-haired man a little younger than himself. Not stupid-young, though; he'd been cheerful enough, but knew what he was getting into. Plenty of them did. The grizzled officers around Leia certainly did. Half of them had defected from the Empire proper. And then there were the kids, the kids who knew they'd win because the power of justice was on their side—damn idiots like that would-be lover of Lucy's. They didn't deserve to die, either.

Han directed a furious gaze at the door. What were Chewie and Lucy doing back there? It shouldn't take this long to take the blaster he'd given her and the stormtrooper belt to the spare quarters. He just hoped Chewie'd had the sense to hide any signs of Kenobi's occupancy. Shouldn't be hard, the old man had been as fanatically neat as he was about everything else.

Lucy and Chewbacca returned a few minutes later, Lucy's face a little pink. Apparently she'd taken advantage of the opportunity to scrub herself down, or . . . something. Han ignored the patch of slightly damp fur in the middle of Chewie's chest.

“Took you long enough,” Han snarled at his friend. Chewie told him he was being foolish enough without this nonsense.

Lucy perched herself in the chair by his side, and asked a few strained questions about Jabba the Hutt. Han tried to describe him, aided by Chewie, but figured it wasn't really possible. Probably for the best.

“I never thought I'd be going back to Tatooine,” said Lucy. She managed a chuckle. “Or that I'd miss Threepio and Artoo.”

Han only vaguely remembered her two droids: the prissy protocol droid and the beeping little astromech. Leia's droids, she'd said on the Death Star—he definitely remembered that conversation.

For all the talk of missing someone else's pair of droids, she hadn't mentioned Kenobi since his death. Han didn't think for a moment that she'd forgotten, but he wasn't about to bring the old man up if she didn't. Didn't she have other relatives, too? He didn't know what'd happened to them, but he couldn't imagine it was good.

Han cleared his throat. “They're probably helping the princess,” he said.

Lucy flinched. She didn't say anything, just stared ahead, her face white and blank. After a moment, she lifted one shaking hand to push a tendril of hair behind her ear. She still didn't blink.

The princess, he remembered, had all but adopted Lucy from the moment they fled the Death Star. He hadn't figured Leia had a tender bone in her body until he'd found her wrapping a blanket around the other girl's shoulders and stroking her hair. But he hadn't been sure if Lucy had simply accepted the princess' affection, too flattered and overwhelmed to do anything else, or returned it. Stupid of him. Lucy would attach herself to a metal can, were it programmed to speak kindly to her. Hell, wasn't that exactly what she'd done with the droids?

Chewie said that while Han seemed to be absolutely determined to abandon the princess to her death, at the very least he could avoid mentioning her to Lucy.

Han stared at the control panel, feeling almost like the walls of the compactor were pressing in on him again—Lucy pale and strung tight as a vella on his left, Chewie reproachful and disapproving on his right.

Damn it, Han thought.

“Fine,” he said. “I'm not putting up with this all the way to Tatooine. Lucy, stop moping and go take over the starboard guns. I've outfitted the ship with some torpedoes, just in case, but we can't afford to waste any—you'll see the controls. Chewie, you'll have to do the flying. We've got a princess to rescue.” He paused. “Again.”

Chewie said he knew Han had it in him. Lucy jumped up and gave him a starry-eyed look that reminded him alarmingly of Biggs Darklighter.

“Look, it's not that I've had some huge change of heart about those idiot Rebels,” Han protested. “I just don't want you two pestering me about it for the rest of my life. We'll do what we can and make it out somehow. I always do.”

“Mm-hmm,” said Lucy. She ran out of the cockpit before he could reply.

They knew perfectly well what it was, Chewie said, and pulled him out of the captain's chair. Han muttered to himself, grabbing the wall as the ship swerved around, then followed Lucy up the ladder, to the gunports.

He threw himself into the chair and quickly snatched up his headset, sliding it over his head just in time to hear Lucy mumbling something. He couldn't quite catch it.

“Everything working?” Han asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “Just some weird feedback for a moment there. It's fine now.”

#

The Death Star was already closing in on the base by the time the Falcon approached. It couldn't be more than a few minutes from vaporizing the entire moon. It must have followed Han's trail. Point for you, sweetheart, he thought at the princess. Maybe he'd even tell her so, if—when, when they survived.

“Faster, Chewie,” he snapped.

The Falcon dove into the narrow trench that led to the exhaust port, and hurtled forwards, easily avoiding the Death Star's turbolasers. Apart from the lasers, the trench seemed empty. Han fought the sinking feeling in his stomach. It hadn't taken out the base yet.

He heard Lucy draw a quick breath.

“See anything?”

“No—no,” she said. Her voice sounded a little hoarse.

“Don't lose your nerve now,” Han told her.

Lucy laughed. “No, sir!”

Then he caught sight of a faint twinkle, far beneath them. The further in they flew, the more of them he saw: burning hunks of metal, spiraling downwards to the surface of the Death Star.

“They can't all—” Lucy began.

Chewie howled a warning, but Han had already seen them: three TIE fighter pilots chasing after a single, wildly careening X-Wing. TIE fighters were usually a joke, but the Empire churned them out like Jabba did counterfeit credits; they didn't need power or maneuverability when they usually outnumbered their opponents ten or twenty to one. Even three to one was pretty decent odds—but one glance told Han that the middle fighter, the leader, was a custom job.

“Up ahead,” Han said.

“I see them,” Lucy said tightly.

“You take the wingmen. I'll go for the leader. Wait for me to fire. We better take 'em by surprise.”

“All right.”

As soon as they were within range, Han set his computer, waited for it to target the leader, and fired. Lucy vaporized his left wingman, but somehow the lead pilot seemed to have noticed the attack the instant before Han fired; the customized TIE swerved, the Falcon's fire barely clipping its wing. Lucy fired at the other wingman, who darted out of the way only to strike the leader's ship. The wingman crashed into the wall of the trench, bursting into flames; the leader spiraled up into deep space.

“What the—Solo?” cried a vaguely familiar voice. Wedge Antilles.

“Wedge! You're all right!” Lucy said, even as the damaged X-Wing veered dangerously near the wall. Han spared a moment to wonder how she even knew the other pilot, then shrugged.

“Get clear! You can't do any more good in this shape,” he said. “We can take it from here.”

“Sorry,” said Antilles. “And thanks!”

The crippled X-Wing lurched around and flew up, back to the base. Lucy was mumbling to herself again. Han caught one word this time: Force.

“Come on, girl,” he said, trying to sound more confident than he felt. “Let's blow this thing and go home before any more Imps catch up with us!”

They rushed towards the exhaust port. Han adjusted his computer, unsure if even the Falcon could pinpoint such a small target at this speed. Well, nothing to do but try—

Chewie shouted through the intercom. Lucy's targeting computer had turned off.

“Lucy, what are you doing? What's wrong?” Han demanded.

“Nothing. I'm all right,” she said breathlessly, and fired.

He watched, stunned, as two torpedoes darted straight into the exhaust port, not even brushing the sides, just heading right for the reactor. She'd made the shot. Without a computer, without anything. Her gasp of relief echoed across the intercom.

Chewie swerved the ship up, following Antilles' path towards the Rebel base. Han threw off his headset and hurried towards the cockpit, accepting Chewie's smug congratulations and suffocating embrace about as gracefully as he could. Lucy ran in a moment later and flung herself straight at him, her hands tight on his shoulders and her face flushed and beaming.

“I knew you'd go back!” she said. “I just knew it!”

Han just laughed and returned her hug, easily lifting her off her feet. Behind them, the Death Star began to rumble. Han set her down, keeping one arm around her shoulder, and turning them both towards the viewscreen. A few flashes burst up on the Death Star's surface. Han and Lucy held their breath. Then the entire fortress exploded into a massive, multicoloured ball of flame.

He could feel Lucy's body relax beneath his arm. Chewie cheered.

“Great shot, little girl,” said Han, grinning warmly enough to strip away any insult. “That was one in a million.”

She glanced up and around the cockpit, then smiled back.

“Thanks,” said Lucy.

Chapter Text

In the war room, Princess Leia listened incredulously as Han and Lucy's voices came out of nowhere. She felt a burst of undignified glee—they came back, they came back! Then Wedge Antilles turned around, his flight path none too steady, and only the Falcon remained. The fate of the entire Rebellion (and, less significantly, her own life) rested, yet again, in Han and Lucy's hands.

The last few seconds ticked down. Leia braced herself as well as she could, determined to face death unflinchingly.

The Death Star went supernova.

Leia's bones seemed to melt, her lungs emptying themselves of air. She sagged for a moment—just a moment. It was all right. Three of her generals had collapsed into chairs and two were weeping out right. Leia straightened, breathed again, smiled. They'd survived. More than that. They'd won. They'd won! They'd defeated the Empire's greatest weapon, proved once and for all that they were a force to be reckoned with. All thanks to Han and Lucy.

She wanted to laugh for sheer joy, felt it building in her chest.

“Excuse me,” Leia said abruptly, hardly hearing Willard's jaunty command to go celebrate, or Threepio dutifully clinking behind her. She turned on her heel and walked towards the hangar, where soldiers were screaming in relief and triumph. Men who normally didn't dare to meet her eyes clapped her on the shoulder.

“A great day for the Rebellion—eh, Princess?”

“It is,” said Leia, smiling as she tried to thread her way through the cheering crowd. She saw Wedge Antilles' X-Wing make its shaky landing. An excellent pilot, she thought, to fly that well, with that amount of damage. She'd suggest a promotion if one hadn't already been planned. Leia made sure to shake his hand and congratulate him, only vaguely aware of the pilot's stunned expression; the Millennium Falcon had just soared into the hangar.

Leia hurried towards it, her smile widening until the corners of her mouth ached. She didn't care. The ramp lowered, the doors slid open, and then Lucy was there, picking up the skirts of her borrowed, stained white gown and racing down the ramp.

“Lucy! Lucy!” Leia shouted, and with a total lack of interest in her dignity, closed the remaining distance between them at a run. They both laughed and screamed, every bit as unrestrained as the men, Leia's arms wrapped around Lucy's neck, Lucy's tight around her waist, both of them half-hugging, half-dancing in a circle. Even when they stepped back, Leia seized Lucy's hands in hers.

“You're not hurt?” she said, looking into Lucy's bright face, just as Lucy gave a nervous squeeze of her hands and said,

“You're all right?”

They burst out laughing again, then heard Han and the Wookiee clattering down the ramp. They both turned and rushed forward to hug Han, first Lucy and then Leia, who burst out, “I knew there was more to you than money!”

She could feel him start, then throw back his head and chuckle. Both girls reached for each other, and Han tried to keep an arm around both, and they were mostly a tangle of arms, all three of them laughing their heads off. Somebody whistled and they just laughed more.

Impromptu celebrations seemed to be breaking out in every direction. Han said something about a drink and Lucy clearly needed another change of clothes, so Leia directed them back to her apartments, supremely indifferent to what anyone thought of it. They ran off together, Han's arms still around Lucy's and Leia's shoulders, and Chewbacca and Threepio trailing behind them.

In her chambers, they finally disentangled themselves, still laughing. Leia ordered Threepio to get Han and Chewbacca their drinks, and dragged a bemused Lucy off to the opposite side of the room, throwing open her wardrobe.

“I don't really need—” Lucy glanced down at herself. “Oh. I'm sorry.”

Leia's lips twitched. “Lucy, you helped destroy the Death Star. I don't care if you shred every article of clothing I own.”

“Well, thanks.”

Leia only shook her head. Pushing aside several senatorial gowns and a white pantsuit, her mind started to drift to everything that would have to be done. It might take some time for the Empire to track the path of the Death Star, but not long, especially not if that last Imperial pilot, the one Han and Lucy had sent flying into deep space, managed to survive. Still, it wouldn't happen in the next day—

Her closet whistled. Leia, despite herself, jumped; Lucy gasped. Then they heard the distinctive whirring of an activating astromech droid, and Artoo wheeled out from behind Leia's clothes, sensors blinking at Leia and then spinning around to take in Lucy. He barrelled straight at her.

“Artoo!” Lucy cried, and stooping, did her best to wrap her arms around the little droid. His inquisitive beeps turned ecstatic.

Leia smiled. “He's been sulking ever since you left,” she told Lucy, who got to her feet, her hand still resting on his dome. “Though I didn't know he was hiding in the back of my closet.”

“I was afraid I'd never see you again,” Lucy told the droid. He rocked back and forth, almost cooing.

“You really shouldn't leave him behind,” Leia said, doing her best to make it sound more like a duty than a gift. She thought of the vague plan she'd formed earlier that day, of maintaining the instinctive friendship they'd struck up, keeping Lucy with her and looking after her—half in some small recompense for what they'd lost, and half because she wanted to. She didn't have to give it up, after all. At least not with the same finality as before. Her new-old sense of foreboding and loss seemed to slip away.

Leia took a deep breath, the first since Lucy and Han's departure that didn't hurt on its way down.

“—aking your droid,” Lucy was saying, looking and sounding shocked.

Leia shrugged. “Artoo's an astrodroid. He's supposed to be a pilot's companion, not a politician's; he belongs on a ship.” She pulled out a calf-length tunic and grey-and-red leggings, and tossed them at Lucy, then pushed her towards the bathroom. The droid in question, his clamp attached to Lucy's stained skirts, followed after her.

Lucy, with a valiant effort, managed to resist giggling.

No, Artoo,” said Leia. She led him to the other side of the room while Lucy dressed. Artoo wheeled over to beep at Threepio, while Han slouched by her cabinet, apparently deep in conversation with Chewie. He just lifted his eyebrows as she approached. Leia didn't have the heart to snap at him just now; her mood was still leaning very much towards the celebratory.

“She didn't help,” Han said abruptly.

Leia, pouring herself a glance of wine, started. “What?”

He jerked his head towards the other side of the room. “You said something to Lucy about her helping blow up the Death Star. She didn't.”

“Are you trying to tell me she just went to sleep while you saved the Rebellion?” Leia asked, raising a skeptical brow.

Chewbacca chortled. Han ignored him.

“No,” he said, “I'm telling you she saved your hides, not me. No helping about it, Lucy blew the damn thing up all by herself. I was going to try, but—” He shrugged and took a gulp of ale. “She did it without a computer, too.”

“Without a computer,” Leia repeated.

“Yeah. She'd turned it off for some reason. Hell of a shot.” Han gave her a sly look, which Leia met directly.

“You'll need to tell them.” She didn't bother to specify who she meant, and Han didn't pretend to misunderstand.

“I wasn't planning on stealing the credit for it, Highness,” he said, eyes narrowed. He seemed more genuinely angry than he'd been at any of her criticisms of his ship, moral fiber, or basic competence.

“I didn't say—”

Lucy stepped out, fiddling with the belt to the tunic. Threepio greeted her, Artoo whistled cheerfully, and Han and Leia both calmed down.

“Hey,” said Han. “I was just telling the princess, here, that the Rebels should be thanking you, not me.”

Lucy blushed, but only said, “All of us, really.”

Leia's lips gave a small, involuntary twitch. She had half-expected her to reject any praise—but then, when she thought back to their escape from the Death Star, Lucy had been sheepish at times, but not hesitant, and certainly never overcome by humility. Her manner could be a little self-effacing, but when it came down to it, Lucy seemed to have a reasonably accurate idea of her own worth. Well, good for her.

Han, bypassing Threepio, poured a glass of the weakest wine in the cabinet for Lucy. She wrinkled her nose behind his back, but accepted it cheerfully enough. Leia lifted her own.

“To victory,” she said, smiling at Lucy.

“And survival,” muttered Han. When Leia frowned, he winked at her, and then, as if driven by some bizarre sense of equality, gave Lucy a careless, conspiratorial grin. Leia shook her head.

Lucy's eyes went from Leia, to Han, to Chewie and the droids. “I'm for both,” she said, and laughing, raised her glass. “To life and victory.”

#

Duty inevitably called, and for Leia, sooner rather than later. She and the other leaders had to reorganize the squadrons, plan tomorrow's victory celebration and then the evacuation of Yavin, and receive more detailed reports from the handful of survivors. It was dull, but necessary, work, and nothing much surprised her except for Han's presence. He stayed through all the reports, lounging next to Wedge Antilles while Lucy went looking for some friend of hers.

Antilles had favourably impressed the generals as well as Leia, and he got his promotion without any prodding from her. In fact, the success of this small, targeted attack led them to create a new squadron that would specialize in operations of that kind, and they unanimously agreed to place Wedge Antilles in command of it. He would hand-pick the rest of the squadron himself. Antilles looked stunned, but accepted his position with only a slight stammer, smiling weakly when Han said something to him.

Leia was uncomfortable, though she couldn't have said why. She felt distant, disconnected—almost dizzy for a few seconds, Han's face a pale blur. She pressed her fingers against her temples and the feeling passed.

When it came time for Han to report, he delivered a quick and concise account of the Falcon's part in the attack. When he revealed Lucy's actions, Leia bit back a smile at the gasps, dropped jaws, and assorted expressions of astonishment that went around the room. It was, she supposed, very petty to enjoy it, but she didn't much care.

“She turned off her computer,” General Dodonna said again. “You're quite sure, Captain Solo?”

“Yeah,” said Han. “I thought she must have gone crazy. When I asked her about it, Lucy just said she was all right.”

Dodonna frowned. “I've never heard of anything like it.”

“I have,” said Commander Willard, a long time friend of Leia's father. “Back in the Clone Wars, some of the Jedi generals preferred to fly blind. They said it helped them stay in touch with the Force.”

The younger officers looked uncomfortable, the elder thoughtful.

“The most successful pilot in the war was one of them,” Willard added. “I knew him slightly—General Skywalker. It was well-known that he didn't bother with his computer above half the time. Either they were right, or he was just that fine a pilot.”

General Dodonna slanted a sideways look at Han. “Any relation?”

“Probably,” said Han. “When I met her, she was travelling with an o—with a man who called himself Ben Kenobi. About sixty. He said she was his niece. They talked about the Force and the Jedi pretty much all the way to the Death Star.”

“General Skywalker was actually raised by one of the other generals,” Willard said helpfully, looking at Leia and the other young people. “Obi-Wan Kenobi. He was pretty well-known in his own right. They usually served together. I remember hearing Kenobi refer to Skywalker as his little brother a few times.” He scratched his chin. “Funny, though. Jedi were monks, took all kinds of vows. They weren't allowed property or families. I never heard that Skywalker . . . though, hmm.” His eyes went distant.

“Can't say I care whether a dead man broke his vows,” said Dodonna, “but it seems plain enough that she's his daughter and some kind of Jedi. We could use her. Solo, do you think you can convince her to join up?”

Han choked.

A young commander cleared his throat. “As it happens, sir, Miss Skywalker expressed, ah, an interest in joining the Rebellion already—but only as a pilot.”

The generals' and commanders' faces brightened.

“I think,” said General Rieekan dryly, “that we can make an exception for the woman who destroyed the Death Star.”

Leia, who had expected nothing else, simply gazed at the table, trying to ignore the sullen trickle of resentment in her belly. Her hands tightened beneath the table, nails digging into her hands. Yes, of course. An exception. A reward.

General Dodonna snorted. “Well, we'd better eat if we're going to stomach any more reports. Someone can go tell Skywalker the good news.”

They all got to their feet. Han and Antilles, with identical looks of relief, were already on their way out. Leia managed to smile at Dodonna.

“I'll tell her,” she said.

It took longer than she expected to find her friend. Lucy had talked to several survivors of the assault on the Death Star. Leia couldn't find any of them, but she had a strong suspicion Lucy's friend had been up there. Most likely he had not returned. Perhaps Lucy had simply gone somewhere to grieve. If so, Leia didn't want to intrude on her—but it was best, she thought, to keep their spirits up until they left. She'd try the most likely places, she decided, then leave Lucy to herself if she couldn't find her there.

It was easier decided than done; Leia almost immediately realized that she didn't know which places would be most likely for Lucy. She paused, then asked herself where she would go.

Five minutes later, she found Lucy at the shooting range.

At a glance, Leia could see that Lucy's friend hadn't made it. Lucy was dead white, her jaw clenched, lips pressed tightly together, and her brows lowered over her eyes. Her hand shook as she aimed—just a little, but Lucy's aim hadn't wavered when facing down stormtroopers. She didn't shoot quite as well as Leia, but she had good nerves.

Leia walked up to her, careful to make as much noise as she could get away with. Lucy lowered her blaster and turned to look at her. Her smile was painfully artificial.

“How was your meeting?”

“Dull but necessary,” said Leia. “I'm surprised Han sat through all of it.”

Lucy's smile warmed. “Han's pretty surprising.”

Leia thought of asking after the friend, or at least after Lucy's own welfare, but immediately discarded the impulse. Lucy clearly had no more desire to speak of her losses than Leia did. She'd scarcely even alluded to the existence of her uncle and aunt, much less their terrible deaths. Instead Leia picked up one of the available blasters.

“Do you mind if I join you?” she said.

“Of course not!”

They practiced for fifteen minutes, exchanging a few words here and there. Leia helped Lucy adjust her grip, doing her best not to be officious about it.

“It's a new model,” Leia explained. She was on the point of launching into a full, technical explanation, stopped herself, then at Lucy's fascinated look went ahead with it anyway. Lucy, though unfamiliar with the particulars, seemed to understand her reasonably well.

“I've always been more into ships than blasters, but—I mean, I had to know the basics,” Lucy said. She seemed, if not a remotely masculine girl, not a prissy one either.

With Leia's help, Lucy's shots narrowed to the target area. She still wasn't as good as Leia, but very nearly. Lucy scowled at the targets.

“You could try whatever you did to make the Death Star shot,” Leia suggested.

“I guess,” said Lucy, doubtfully. She lowered her blaster. After a few seconds, the grief and anger seemed to drain out of her expression, her face smoothing over. She let out a small sigh. Then her eyes flew open, she raised the blaster, and shot a volley at the target. It rolled towards them; the two girls blinked at the smooth, neat hole at the center.

“Damn,” said an impressed male voice behind them. It couldn't possibly be Han, Leia thought, and they spun around.

Han was there, along with Wedge Antilles, and two young men that Leia didn't recognize, one of whom had presumably just spoken. Antilles seemed nervous, and the unfamiliar men stared wide-eyed at Lucy. Han just grinned.

“Oh, Wedge. Hi,” said Lucy. Leia wondered how Lucy even knew him, then shrugged it off. Who knew, with Lucy.

“Uh, hey,” Antilles replied. There was a certain rigidity to his posture; he bowed slightly to Leia. Another former Imperial. “Princess. I, um, we don't mean to interrupt—”

“Well, actually, you kind of do,” said Han.

Leia shook her head at him and turned to Lucy, her eyes dancing. “I think Commander Antilles is here to ask you something, Lucy.”

A smile crept over Lucy's lips. “Commander?”

“Uh, yeah.” He mumbled a brief description of the new squadron, and gestured at the men with him. “I've been ordered to personally pick the pilots to fill the rest of the squadron, and I want the best.”

He looked earnestly at her. Lucy just blinked.

“Well, that's wonderful,” she said. “Congratulations.”

One of the pilots clapped a hand over his forehead. The other shifted uncomfortably; Antilles sighed.

“We'd be honoured if you'd accept a commission in Rogue Squadron, Lucy.”

“What?” She stared incredulously at him, then turned to scowl at Han. “That's impossible! Women don't fly in the Rebellion.”

Antilles, seeming more comfortable, quickly explained the decision made at the meeting. “I mean, you saved all of us, Lucy, and you're a Jedi. They can break a few rules for you.”

Lucy didn't seem to share any of the offense that Leia had felt on her behalf. “That's great! I'm not a Jedi yet, though. Maybe never.”

“Enough of one to make that shot, anyway,” said the man who'd slapped his forehead. “We don't care if you don't have a lightsaber.”

“I do have a lightsaber. Ben gave me my father's,” Lucy said, dazed, “but—”

“Well, there you are then.”

Han was laughing openly. Lucy shot an agonized look at him. “I promised to join your crew!”

“I think we can manage without you,” he drawled. “But stay by all means if you'd rather smuggle than fight the Empire.”

Her eyes went back to Antilles. “You really don't care about having me in your squadron?”

“I care about how well you can fly and shoot,” he said. “And, okay, you might need some accommodations in terms of living space, and please don't get pregnant. Otherwise? No.” He shrugged, glancing at the targets, and then at Leia. “I'd ask you, too, your Highness, if I thought you'd accept.”

Leia laughed. “I'm a diplomat, not a soldier, Commander. But I can handle her living arrangements.”

“Well?” said one of the young men, grinning at Lucy.

“Sure,” she said. Realization only seemed to be dawning on her. Her smile widened and her eyes brightened. “I mean, yes! I'd be thrilled! Thank you so much!”

“Thank you,” said Antilles, every bit as earnest. “Well, we'll let you go—you and Solo probably need to get ready for tonight's ceremony.”

Leia was still smiling to herself as Lucy watched them go, still dazed. His parting remark only seemed to catch up with her once they'd disappeared from sight. She turned an alarmed gaze to Han and Leia.

“What ceremony?”

#

Leia left Han to explain the existence and rationale for an elaborate award ceremony, while she helped oversee the preparations. Afterwards, remembering that Lucy still had no clothes, she—yet again—dragged her friend back to her wardrobe.

“I guess I should wear a uniform.”

"Well,” said Leia doubtfully, “I might have something sort of military--"

Lucy looked down, her brows drawing together. She fiddled with her belt. "I--the awards and everything, they're for us blowing up the Death Star, right?"

"Of course."

Lucy sat down. "Then a dress is fine."

Her voice was odd. Stiff, and distant--almost more like Leia's than her own. Leia looked thoughtfully at her, and Lucy lifted her eyes.

"I wasn't in uniform when I destroyed the Death Star," Lucy said. She shrugged, trying to seem indifferent and miserably failing. "I was wearing your dress."

"I see," said Leia.

Lucy sat down. "I really am honoured by . . . everything--" the wave of her hand took in her acceptance, instant promotion into Rogue Squadron, and the forthcoming ceremony--"but I want, I want it to be for what really happened. For who I really am."

"No, I understand," Leia told her, smiling. "Really. I know what it's like to be--exceptional."

Lucy returned the smile, still a bit awkward. "Yeah, I guess you would. You're not exactly one of the boys."

"Definitely not," said Leia. She turned back to the closet. "Well, I can just--hmm. That'd be ... something."

"What?"

"I have one of my senatorial outfits--it's a bit more elaborate than what I usually wear, and the colour looked terrible on me. I bet you could carry it off, though--" She dug through her closet, tossing a sleeveless black blouse, dark brown skirt, and black-jeweled brown belt at Lucy. More carefully, she pulled out a vibrantly yellow overgown, beruffled, high-collared, and trimmed with black, which she held up to Lucy's face. She'd been right; it was vivid but not actively repellent on Lucy, and with her tanned skin and light hair, she managed to avoid looking as if she'd contracted some fatal disease.

"Uh," said Lucy. "I like fancy stuff and dresses and things, but I hadn't quite thought ... are you sure it's all right?"

"I'll never wear it again," Leia said, suppressing a shudder. "And I'm not sure it's possible to remind everyone you're a woman any more loudly."

"Well--" Hesitantly, Lucy reached out, and stroked the rich fabric. "It's very pretty."

Leia helped her into the rest of the outfit, then lifted the gown over her head, straightening the sleeves and layers of skirts, and adjusting the belt.

"What do you think?"

"Whoa," said Lucy.

"I'll send for a replica droid to do our hair." Leia unpinned hers, combing a few tangles out with her fingers. Lucy was still staring, dumbfounded, at her reflection; Leia pulled the ribbon off the other girl's braid, rapidly unplaited it, and twisted the heavy blonde hair up on her head, leaving a few tendrils to curl around her face. "Maybe something like that."

Lucy blushed. "That'd be nice." Her gaze shifted, finally, from the bright yellow gown to Leia's reflected eyes. "Thanks, Leia. For everything. Seriously, I will buy my own things as soon as I get paid."

"And wear boring uniforms all the time," said Leia, laughing. "Live while you can." She pulled her own dress--white, of course--over her head, and held up an elaborately woven gold belt and a angular silver one. "Now you can help me decide. Gold or silver?"

Lucy gave her a hesitant smile, then said decidedly, "Silver."

#

When they met Han outside, he looked first stunned, then entertained. He contented himself, however, with an almost inoffensive greeting.

“Hey, Lucy. Hey, Princess.”

He always called them that. It would have just just been respectful from anyone else, but he managed to make her title sound like an insult. She didn't even want to know how he'd say “Senator.” As for “Leia”—well. No.

“Good afternoon, Captain,” Leia said. She'd give him princess. “I assume you've been briefed on your role?”

“March up the aisle in time with the music, smile a lot, pretend I'm a hero,” said Han, face tight. “Yeah.”

“But you are a hero,” Lucy said earnestly.

Han stared at her, then laughed.

“Don't you start thinki—”

Her expression turned stubborn. “I made the shot, but if you hadn't turned back, everyone would be dead except us. You risked all our lives to save the Rebellion.” Lucy smiled, tentatively. “You risked the Falcon, even.”

Han winced.

Leia softened, a little. “Yes, that's why you're all being honoured, not just Lucy. Chewbacca, too, if I could reach high enough. Just—” She shook her head. “I have to go meet the generals. I'll see you both at the ceremony. Good luck.”

When the time came, though, everything went off with a hitch. The march, composed months beforehand (“just in case . . .” the composer said wistfully) trumpeted through the hall. Soldiers lined the aisle, following instructions as precisely as any stormtrooper. Generals, admirals, and commanders stood at her back, and her droids rattled excitedly, but Threepio didn't feel the need to add any commentary. Leia took a deep breath.

The doors flung open, and Han and Lucy strode in. Leia caught some startled expressions, but no more; mostly the soldiers just looked admiring. Han, thankfully faithful to his instructions, was smiling—but it was a laughing, eminently Han-like smile, and she thought it might even be genuine. She didn't imagine he'd spent much of his life being thanked at all, much less lauded for heroics.

Lucy seemed divided between severity and awe; Leia suspected the former was merely preoccupation with the skirt trailing behind her and, it had turned out, slightly undersized boots. Once they approached the dais, Lucy bowed to her, and Leia lowered the medal around her neck, Lucy's eyes finally rising to meet hers. Lucy's entire face lit up, and Leia couldn't help but beam back at her, all residual anxiety melting away. There were plenty of things to worry about, to prepare, to have nightmares over, for both of them. But not now. Not today.

When she turned to Han, he had the effrontery to wink at her, here, now. Leia couldn't bring herself to respond with anything other than a slightly repressive glance before smiling again. She dropped the medal over his head.

Then they both turned, exactly on cue, Leia between them and above them, still smiling. The Rebellion burst into applause.

Chapter Text

Six weeks later, Darth Vader landed on Imperial Center. The first two of those weeks had been deeply unpleasant, and it was only thanks to his suit that he'd survived at all. He'd eventually reached an Imperial station, spent another three weeks in recovery, then commandeered a hardier vessel. The advanced TIE fighter had served him well, but it had never been intended to survive the blow it had—somehow—taken, and certainly not deep space.

He spent the journey contacting his admirals to assure them of his continued survival, receiving preliminary reports, and preparing for the inevitable interview with the Emperor. It was, however, surprisingly painless; Palpatine had received the same reports Vader had, and concluded that Vader's conduct in the matter had been irreproachable. Presumably he'd inflicted his initial rage on someone else, and was now in a calmer frame of mind.

“You are certain that this pilot was sensitive to the Force?” Palpatine said.

“Yes, my master,” said Vader, for once grateful for his artificial knees. He, or what was left of him, was in excellent condition by any standards, much less those that would ordinarily apply to a forty-year-old human male—but the obeisance that Palpatine very amiably required would have grown painful. He didn't dare raise his eyes.

Palpatine mulled it over. They both knew that nearly all possible Force-sensitives within the Empire had been killed at birth, and the only exceptions made had been for Palpatine's own servants.

“You will discover his identity and destroy him.”

Vader bowed his head.

As it happened, his own intentions coincided with Palpatine's. Intrigued as he was by the possibility of a remotely challenging foe, he was not about to risk the Empire's welfare, or his own, over it. It was enough that his distaste for Tarkin's monstrosity was now seen to be entirely justified. The pilot had served his purpose and now, for the good of the galaxy, he must die.

Between his other duties, Vader meditated fiercely, furious but unsurprised when nothing but unwelcome fragments of memory appeared before him. The Force had been unclear of late, as it had not been since the last days of the Republic.

That must be the reason, or perhaps some remote Naboo involvement—there could be no actual connection to Padmé. In a sort of twisted penance, he'd always kept a close watch on her relations, simultaneously sheltering his oblivious in-laws from danger and remaining alert to any treason from the always political Naberries. Rather to his relief, the latter had never materialized. Even Padmé's younger niece, a former member of the Imperial Senate, had no association with the Rebellion beyond a distant friendship with Leia Organa. Whatever Pooja's private sympathies, she was far too sensible to act on them.

He approved. He approved of both sisters, in fact; he'd diverted what opportunities he could in their direction, and in their different ways, both had taken full advantage of them. Even now, Pooja was considering an offer from Naboo's regional governor. Ryoo lived in Theed, an acclaimed architect and, as far as he knew, competent mother to his twin great-niece and great-nephew. Something nudged at him there; he reached for the Force, and simply saw-heard his wife again, this time pointing to one of the few non-political pictures hanging about her room.

Anakin obediently looked at the picture, where a young Padmé, younger even than Amidala, hugged a slim, dark-eyed boy. He might have been jealous if the boy had not resembled her quite so closely.

“I didn't know you had a brother.”

Padmé grinned. “I don't. That's my cousin Tainu. We used to do everything together—we're almost exactly the same age. His older sister is Sola's age, too. It's like Mom and Aunt Sairé can't help but do everything in sync. My grandmother always said so, anyway, even though they're only fraternal.”

Anakin was puzzled for a moment. “Oh, they're twins?”

“Mm-hmm.” Padmé straightened the picture. “They run in our family.”

Vader shook himself out of it. Yara and Tainu Naberrie had already been accounted for—they were both lawyers here in Imperial City. The memory was irrelevant. Vader firmly forgot about it.

Sola had scarcely left Varykino since her husband's death. Ruwee and Jobal lived quietly in Theed, not far from their elder daughter. No, there could be no possible connection to the Naberries. Neither the Force nor his agents brought up any suspicious activity on Naboo itself, either. No surprise there; Palpatine kept a tight grip on his homeworld.

The Rebellion's grip on their internal affairs was, if anything, even more absolute. All the efforts of the Empire only unearthed the identity of the occasional prominent member. Nobody knew the extent of their resources, their membership, or their secret allies. Spies were almost never successful, and the few Rebels that allowed themselves to be caught rarely had any valuable information. Had Tarkin not been so foolish, Princess Leia would have been worth considerably more than her weight in any currency.

It was six months before they managed to capture a live Rebel. Vader considered the sweating, struggling man before him. An unimpressive specimen, to be sure, and unlikely to carry what the Rebels would consider vital secrets. Fortunately, Vader was nearly certain that the pilot who destroyed the Death Star would be acclaimed as a hero within the Rebellion. To the Rebels, his identity was unlikely to be a secret at all.

The man evinced very little resistance to the mind probe—nothing like Princess Leia. At least it was not some trick the Rebels had developed, but simply the princess' own capacities. Vader had suspected for years that she was slightly Force-sensitive, if not enough to have been euthanized as an infant.

“Who is he?” Vader demanded, growing impatient. He focused his attention on the Rebel's mind again, altering the phantom agonies he'd already instilled there.

The man screamed again, his body arching. He gasped something, his voice too indistinct for Vader's sensors to pick up.

One of the officers standing behind their prisoner cleared his throat. “I think he said she, sir.”

“The pilot is a woman?” Vader asked swiftly. He was mildly startled; as far as he knew, there were even fewer women in the Rebellion's ranks than in the Imperial Starfleet's. Still, he was no more than startled; he had fought beside hundreds of female Jedi, and personally killed at least a dozen of them. He had no reason to believe that the Force distinguished by humanoid genders—that was Palpatine's foolishness.

The Rebel moaned. His eyes closed.

“Wake him up,” Vader ordered the interrogation droid. The drugs were about the only use the droid had for him, beyond simple fear. Once the Rebel jerked back into alertness, he repeated the question.

“Y-yes,” he stammered, cringing away from Vader.

“What is her name and rank?”

The Rebel gulped, his gaze darting between Vader and the droid. His mind pulsed with terror. “I—I don't . . . I'm not . . . I don't know her. I don't know anything!”

Vader didn't even need the Force to sense the lie. The officers eyed the Rebel skeptically.

“Every Rebel alive must know her name. Who is she?

The Rebel stared blindly at the droid. When one of the officers shifted, Vader held up his hand, waiting. Their prisoner slumped back in his chair.

“Skywalker,” he mumbled. “Lieutenant Skywalker. That's all I know.”

His neck snapped.

In that first instant, Vader scarcely noticed the jerk of his hand, or even the stunned expressions of his subordinates. It was only with a conscious effort that he dropped his hand and ordered them to remove the body in as disinterested a tone as his vocoder could produce.

Lieutenant Skywalker.

Skywalker.

It was possible, of course, that there could be other Skywalkers in the galaxy, even now. His mother had rarely spoken of her years with the Hutts, but he knew she'd had siblings, cousins. He supposed some of those could have survived to adulthood. Had that been the meaning in his visions? The Force had not been prodding him to search among Padmé's relations, but his own? Some distant cousin would mean nothing, and there was no reason to assume a nearer connection. No reason except the pilot blazing in the Force as he—she—spun through the trench.

She, she—that was important, he had seen something important, seen—her? When could he have—the Death Star, something about the Death Star. The Rebel agent's “prisoners” had been a Wookiee and a girl. The Wookiee had been identified as the criminal Chewbacca, a known associate of the equally-criminal Han Solo, who was himself the last known owner of the ship that had fled to the Rebellion. No information on the girl, however, had been forthcoming: not even a name.

So that was the pilot. Vader had scarcely noticed her at the time. The girl had screamed when he killed Obi-Wan, he remembered that. He'd caught a glimpse of the Rebels before one of her wild shots blew out the control panel. Princess Leia. A man perhaps ten years younger than himself—Solo, presumably. The Wookiee. Two droids, an astromech and protocol. And yes, a girl in white. He thought she'd been fair-haired; the Force offered nothing else.

Had Obi-Wan been teaching her? How had he even discovered her? Even Vader had sensed nothing until she reached for the Force—unless—she'd been surprisingly strong in the Force, raw, but stronger than most fully-trained Jedi—was it possible . . . ?

He felt panic building in his chest, straining his machinery. No, he told himself. No. Padmé had been pregnant when she died. He'd seen her body. He had killed her. Killed her and the child. It was impossible, except if—it was impossible. The Force must have been strong in his family already. His mother had never said it wasn't. This girl could only be a remote relation who had slipped under the Empire's radar in some distant corner of the galaxy. Perhaps even Tatooine. It was the only explanation.

But now he had a name. That, with her rank and general description, was enough to narrow the search. He sent his agents to gather every possible scrap of information, and within a few months, the best of them had compiled their findings and personally delivered the file. Vader dismissed him, pausing over the datapad in his hands. He felt neither anticipation nor dread but a curious mixture of both, which he promptly disregarded as sentimental weakness.

This girl was nothing more than a Rebel terrorist. Vader's interest in her sprang solely from the fact that she was a threat—a small threat—to the Empire's stability. It was his duty to find her and his duty to destroy her. He flipped open the datapad, and looked at the name at the top of the file.

Skywalker, Lucy Amidala.

Vader's respirator hitched, then returned to its regular cycles, already compensating for his accelerated pulse and breath. He read the name again, and then another time, his fingers gripping the datapad hard enough to dent it.

Lucy Amidala. Padmé's daughter? No, no, it must be coincidence. Padmé had been famous around the galaxy, a hero, an icon. There was nothing to prevent another woman from giving her daughter Padmé's name. And his? Well, they'd always been linked in the public eye. Perhaps it would be natural to associate the names together—or perhaps Obi-Wan had inflicted it upon her for some inexplicable reason of his own.

I killed my wife. That knowledge had driven his final steps into despair, prodded him to Palpatine's side and kept him there for eighteen years. Palpatine himself had told him what he'd done. Padmé had died and the child had died and though it mattered less, the Republic had died, and Vader and the Empire had risen out of their deaths. That was the truth. If it were not, the Force would have shown him—something would have shown him. He would have known.

He finally managed to read beyond the name, to Lucy Skywalker's date of birth. Empire Day, eighteen years ago. The first Empire Day: this powerfully Force-sensitive girl with his name and his wife's name and his master's shadow over her had been born with the Empire. A last coincidence, and too much for any of it to be.

Padmé had died that day; he still had no doubt about that. But she had not died there, on Mustafar. She had not died then. She must have been alive when Vader was screaming through surgery. She must have died as he'd foreseen—not by his hand at all. And she had lived to bear her child. This child. This girl who had shown the supremacy of the Force in the most spectacular fashion possible.

He had not, after all, been proven right by some Force-sensitive pilot out of nowhere, but his own offspring. Skywalker. That was the name by which the Rebel prisoner had known her, by which they all must know her. She bore his name and lived as his daughter.

His daughter.

So. His wife was dead, but not murdered, and his daughter was alive, if estranged by eighteen years and very evidently misguided. He saw Obi-Wan's hand in that, but she was young enough to be educated into a proper way of thinking.

And Palpatine had betrayed him, even more deeply than Vader had ever imagined. Whatever lingering loyalty he might have felt was gone. Vader's previous plots against his master were mere trifles; now he would be satisfied with nothing less than Palpatine's complete overthrow, and now that had become possible. He had only to find Lucy and turn her, and then—

Then, they would rule the galaxy as father and daughter.

Chapter Text

Han hated Hoth. He hated the ice and the cold, he hated the smell of the tauntauns, and mostly he hated hiding for months on end, tied down to this one miserable place.

As he passed the north doors, he glanced out and scowled. The off-duty Rogues were outside, throwing snowballs. Hobbie sent one whizzing past Wes Janson's ear; Janson swiftly retaliated, bombarding him until he surrendered. The squadron was shouting and laughing, unconcerned by any of the numerous threats that might end their lives at any moment. Han walked quickly past, determined to finish his errand before Lucy showed up and roped him into some contest.

He took a deep breath. He didn't know how these people put up with it, just waiting for the Empire to hunt them down. At least they only had the Empire after them. He'd gladly accepted the mission to Ord Mantell, eager for any chance to get out, and nearly got himself killed by one of Jabba's goons. He should have known that would catch up with him eventually. It'd been over a year and a half, and Jabba wasn't exactly known for his patience.

Really, he told himself, he'd helped the Rebels for almost two years—he'd done his part. More than he'd ever intended to do, even when he'd helped abandon the base at Yavin after the ceremony. He'd been stupid to have stayed so long, suicidally stupid. And it wasn't like he cared all that much about their cause. Maybe they'd win and probably they wouldn't and it wouldn't much change a smuggler's life either way. It was just that Lucy and Leia were there, and it was . . .

Complicated. Yeah, complicated. Lucy would tell him over drinks about her latest death-defying mission and Leia would snap at him when she passed in the hall, and he'd figure he could stay just a little longer. Well, he couldn't afford it any more. And it wasn't like there was much to stay for at this point, was there?

They'd both more than proven that they could take care of themselves. Besides, Leia was resolutely unfriendly and Lucy had become . . . well, resolutely friendly. She seemed not to notice anyone's flirtation with either her or her friend; Leia, though obviously interested in him, just seemed outraged. Han wasn't entirely sure what he wanted, but he was pretty sure it wasn't that, from either of them.

Leia's hypocrisy actively annoyed him, though, so he made sure she was there when he offered his resignation.

“A death mark's not an easy thing to live with,” said General Rieekan, surprisingly understanding about a situation Han was pretty sure he'd never face. “You're a good fighter, Solo. I hate to lose you.”

Han shook his hand. “Thank you, General.”

Leia, apart from one icy glance, paid no attention to the interchange. Han clenched his jaw; then he forced his usual smile back on his face, strolling over to her.

“Well, your Highness, I guess this is it.”

“That's right,” said Leia indifferently.

Han's eyes narrowed. “Well, don't get all mushy on me. So long, Princess.”

He stalked away, down one of the corridors, not quite sure if she'd follow. If not . . . he could go talk to Chewie, or have a last drink with Lucy. He should tell her, and Lucy, at least, would admit that she was sorry to see him go.

“Han!”

He smiled to himself and halted. “Yes, your Highnessness?” he said, turning to face her.

“I thought you decided to stay,” said Leia.

“Well, the bounty hunter we ran into on Ord Mantell changed my mind.”

She was very pale. “Han, we need you!”

“We?” She sure as hell didn't mean her and Lucy. Did she really think he was going to stay for the cause, forever?

“Yes,” Leia said forcefully, and she looked as if she might be gearing up for a speech. Han headed her off.

“Oh, what about what you need?”

Leia gave him the same blank look he usually provoked from Lucy. Great. “I need? I don't know what you're talking about.”

Han just shook his head and kept walking. “You probably don't.”

“And what precisely am I supposed to know?” she demanded.

Han shot her a furious glance, ignoring the people weaving their way around the two of them. “Come on! You want me to stay because of the way you feel about me!”

“Yes . . .? You're a great help to us,” said Leia, still uncomprehending. “You're a natural leader—”

“No,” Han snapped. “That's not it. Come on. Ah—”

Leia stared up at him, finally understanding. She flushed, then gave a scornful laugh.

“One woman isn't enough for you? Well, you're imagining things.”

“Am I?” Han smirked. “Then why are you following me? Afraid I was going to leave without giving you a goodbye kiss?”

Leia's eyes blazed. “I'd just as soon kiss a Wookiee!”

“I can arrange that,” he said, walking away, then shouted over his shoulder, “You could use a good kiss!”

He ducked away, leaving Leia staring after him. After a moment's consideration, he decided to go find Chewie and get ready to leave. He didn't think he could deal with Lucy just now. To make matters worse, Chewie had dismantled the central lifter.

“Why did you take this apart now?” Han said. “I'm trying to get us out of here and you pull both of these.”

Chewie muttered something Han chose not to hear.

Below them, the prissy voice of Leia's protocol droid called out, “Excuse me, sir?”

“Put them back together right now!” Han ordered, and turned towards the droids.

“Might I have a word with you, sir?”

Han sighed. “What do you want?”

“Well, it's Princess Leia, sir. She's been trying to get you on the communicator.”

Han couldn't even summon up any satisfaction at that. “I turned it off. I don’t want to talk to her.”

“Oh,” said Threepio. “Well, Princess Leia is wondering about Mistress Lucy. She doesn’t know where she is.”

“I don’t know where she is, either,” said Han disinterestedly.

Nobody knows where she is,” the droid said.

Han’s head snapped up, his brows lowering. “What do you mean, nobody knows? She wasn’t even on patrol. She should be with Wedge or Leia.”

“Commander Antilles hasn’t come back yet,” Threepio told him. “Mistress Lucy left to find him.”

Han’s eyes widened and he glanced towards the nearby gate. The sky was already darkening; the wastelands of Hoth, inhospitable at the best of times, would turn into an icy death trap within minutes. Nobody could survive—

Han leapt off the lift, looking around wildly. “Desk Officer—Desk Officer!”

“Excuse me, sir,” said Threepio. “Might I enquire—”

Han covered the droid’s mouthpiece with his hand as the desk officer approached. The man wore a smarmy, bored smile that did nothing for Han’s already strained nerves.

“Yes, sir?”

“Do you know where Lieutenant Skywalker is?”

“I haven’t seen her. It’s possible she came in through the south entrance.” The desk officer’s expression didn’t waver and Han’s teeth ground together. He took a threatening step forward.

“It’s possible?” he snarled, trying to ignore the panic building in his gut. “Why don’t you go find out? It’s getting dark out there!”

The officer, now alarmed, mumbled his assent and ran off. Han dropped his hand from Threepio’s mouthpiece.

“Excuse me, sir. Might I enquire on what’s going on?”

“No,” snapped Han, gaze returning to the entrance.

Threepio, somehow, managed to sniff. “Impossible man!” he informed Artoo. “Come along, Artoo, let’s find Princess Leia. Between ourselves, I think Mistress Lucy is in considerable danger!”

Han’s hands clenched into fists.

The officer, trailed by an anxious assistant, returned a few minutes later. “Sir, neither Commander Antilles nor Lieutenant Skywalker have come through the south entrance. They might have forgotten to check in.”

Wedge might. He forgot now and then, but Lucy followed regulations religiously when she wasn’t defying them altogether.

“Not likely,” said Han. “Are the speeders ready?”

They weren’t. Han, undeterred, turned towards the tauntauns.

“Sir, the temperature’s dropping too rapidly!” the desk officer cried.

Han didn’t hesitate. “That’s right. And my friend’s out in it.”

Lucy, he told himself, hadn’t survived a dozen inevitable deaths to get killed by the weather. Not if he had anything to say about it. Still, he couldn’t quite keep himself from imagining finding her stiff body, and forced the images out of his head. He mounted a fresh-looking tauntaun.

“Your tauntaun’ll freeze before you reach the first marker,” the officer said darkly.

Han didn’t even look at him, just thought of Lucy freezing to death out in the tundra. He yanked on the reins.

“Then I’ll see you in hell!”

He couldn’t have spent much more than ten minutes searching for Lucy, narrowing his eyes against the snow and doing his best to ignore the encroaching cold. It felt longer, the light dying by inches, his tauntaun’s steps growing more laboured. He knew perfectly well that if he didn’t find her soon, all three of them would be icy husks be morning.

Han liked Wedge Antilles; still, there wasn’t much he valued above his own life. He certainly wouldn’t have risked it for Antilles. But Lucy—

He clenched his teeth and dug his heels into his mount’s heaving flanks. The tauntaun had only taken a few stumbling steps forward, though, when something stirred—a brownish shape, crumpled on the snow. A Rebel soldier. He sprang down and slogged towards it.

The shape, as he approached, resolved into a small, lean figure, weakly trying to leverage itself up on its arms. The soldier’s fur-lined hood had fallen down; the hair only glinted white, but he hadn't seen braids wrapped around the head on anyone except Leia and then Lucy. Han couldn’t help a burst of relief, and couldn’t feel any guilt over it, either.

“Lucy!” He staggered the last few feet and lifted her up, holding her upright as she collapsed against him, hands limp on his shoulders, eyes drifting shut. Han shook her. “Lucy—Lucy! Don’t do this, Lucy! Come on, give me a sign—”

She mumbled something. Han rubbed her face, apparently to no effect. He was on the point of lifting her into his arms, only hoping he could get her to the base in time, when her fingers tightened on him.

“What—?” she muttered, her unfocused gaze turning alert, colour rushing back into her cheeks and lips. Lucy’s eyes widened and she stepped backwards. “Han? What are you doing here?”

“Rescuing you,” he said. “Can you walk to my tauntaun?”

She looked outraged. “Of course I can! But I’m not going anywhere.”

Han’s mouth dropped open. “Have you gone crazy?” he demanded. Lucy ignored him, instead glancing around, eyes narrowed against the fading light. She pulled her hood up over her snow-caked hair and lifted the sodden strip of cloth that usually protected her face. Frowning, she tried to wring the water out.

“I lost my tauntaun that way,” she said, pointing north. “I kept going until . . . I think I must have fallen asleep. I’ll be fine now.”

“Fine?” Han said, incredulous. “You would have died if I hadn’t come looking for you! And you still will—we both will—if we don’t head back right now! What—”

“I don’t have time for this,” Lucy cut him off, fastening her cloth. She glared at him over it, looking for all the world like a blue-eyed version of Leia. “Wedge is out there and closer to dying every moment that I waste. If you don’t have the guts to help me, go back to base. I’m going to find my commander.” She jerked around, heading northeast.

Sometimes, Han thought irrelevantly, it was real easy to see why she and Leia got on so well.

“Lucy! Wait!”

He caught up easily, grabbing her arm. “Damn it, Lucy, listen to me. You’ll never survive by yourself! What good will it do the Rogues if you and Antilles both get killed? I won’t let you—”

She jerked her arm away. “Go back, Han.”

“Fine,” said Han. By now he was shouting over the howling wind. “I’m coming with you. Just let me get my tauntaun.”

She didn’t even look surprised.

A few minutes later, they set off together, Lucy riding the tauntaun while Han walked alongside it. It was a small victory, but between Lucy and Leia, Han counted them where he could get them. The beast wouldn’t last much longer anyway.

“You sure this is the right away?” he asked, for the sixth time.

“I’m sure.”

“But there aren’t any signs. How—”

Lucy cast a sideways glance at him. “It’s a gut feeling,” she said.

Han supposed he should be grateful she hadn’t mentioned the Force. She still did, now and then, and he couldn’t help but scoff. Sure, she was a hell of a pilot, even by Rogue standards, but that didn’t prove anything except that she was naturally gifted and trained constantly. Han could never see why she’d rather attribute her success to some cosmic power than her own talent and hard work.

Antilles did. He didn’t imagine he had it, but he was a believer nonetheless. He’d said more than once that he thought Lucy should be commander, not him—and not because she filled out his reports half the time, or flew (slightly) better, or gave more inspiring speeches or anything like that. She was a Jedi. She should be in charge. Even Lucy didn’t go that far—

They stumbled over another snowdrift, the wheezing tauntaun barely remaining upright. Lucy dismounted.

“He’ll last longer if we walk,” she said briefly, dropping her hand to the animal’s neck.

Han scowled. “What’s the point if we have to walk?”

Lucy ignored him. Again. Instead, she walked a few steps forward, her brows furrowed, and kicked at the drift.

“Han, there’s something here,” said Lucy, not quite panicked. She began digging through the snow. “Help me out!”

Between the two of them, it only took a few minutes to clear the drift. Han tried not to think too hard about the lost time, or what they might find. It was going to be fine. The burst of exercise was good for them, anyway. Got the blood flowing—Lucy’d been looking sleepy again.

Han, heaving a pile of snow aside, stared down at the frozen head of a tauntaun. Their own was whimpering.

“We’re back where you started, then,” said Han. “But where’d the rest of it go?”

Lucy shielded her eyes and peered upwards at the sky, and then down again. “It’s not my tauntaun,” she said, her voice shivering. “It hasn’t been long enough for mine to be buried this deep. And the shape isn’t exactly right, anyway. It’s Wedge’s.”

They stared at the head for a moment, their tauntaun wailing behind them. With a quick, indrawn breath, Lucy stepped back towards the distressed beast, talking in indistinct but soothing tones. Han knelt and examined the marks where Antilles’ tauntaun had been decapitated.

“Claws. Big ones, by the look of ’em,” he reported.

Lucy’s eyes were enormous above the half-mask. However, she only paused for a few seconds, then said, “So we’re on the right path.”

Almost of its own accord, Han’s hand fell to his blaster. “Better keep going, then.”

They plowed on, shielding their eyes more from the thick snowflakes than the reflected light. Neither of them mentioned it. Lucy spoke only to adjust their path; either luck or her gut were in their favour. They kept finding abandoned, half-chewed bones, more and more shallowly buried. The creature, apparently, had eaten on the run.

Han studied the fifth bone.

“Still not human,” he said. Lucy just nodded, her eyes heavy. Her wiry frame wasn’t doing her any favours out here, but even Han had almost drifted off a few times.

Some ten minutes later, the tauntaun finally collapsed. Han grabbed the heaviest of the packs before Lucy could, and felt a little reassured by the dirty look she shot him.

“We’re going to have to make camp soon,” he told her, almost staggering beneath the additional weight. There was no point in admitting that they wouldn’t likely survive the night out in the open, camp or no camp.

Lucy marched a little forward, peering into the featureless white blur. “There’s something ahead,” she said.

Han walked up to her and stared at the blur. “I don’t see anything,” he said.

“Your eyesight isn’t as good as mine,” Lucy told him, a distinct tremor in her voice. She didn’t say anything about his advanced years, but Han felt certain that she was grinning behind her mask. She cleared her throat. “Try your electrobinoculars.”

Even with the binoculars, he didn’t see anything for a minute. Then, as the layers of snow shifted, he thought he caught sight of a darker glimmer. He adjusted the binoculars, and sure enough: an entrance of some kind.

“I think it’s a cave,” he said.

She raised her goggles and lifted her own binoculars to her eyes. “Definitely a cave,” said Lucy. “If Wedge is still alive, I bet he’s in there.”

Well, Han reflected, he’d rather die fighting a tauntaun-eating monster than go quietly to sleep out here. And Lucy would go first in the cold—selfish or not, he’d really rather not see that.

He drew his blaster. Lucy pulled out her own—with her left hand, he noticed. The right, which she favoured slightly, rested on her lightsaber. He’d take a blaster over the ancient sword any day, or even Chewie’s bowcaster, but still, a sword that could cut through anything might come in useful somehow. He didn’t say anything.

They crept, as unobtrusively as possible, up to the cave, crouching beneath the ledge. The temptation to fall asleep had vanished altogether. Behind her goggles, Lucy’s eyes were alert again. Thank the gods for adrenaline.

They lifted their heads slightly, just high enough to see into the cave. Even without the binoculars, Han clearly made out the man hanging from the roof of the cave, body limp but not dead. Lucy gave a low, shuddering sigh of relief, then caught her breath, an instant before Han’s gaze shifted to the creature behind him—an immense, grotesque white thing with long arms, black claws, and a luckless creature’s leg (the tauntaun’s?) in its paws. It gnawed on the leg, its occasional snarls clearly nonsentient.

Han raised his blaster.

“I’m not sure—” Lucy began, but he’d already pressed the trigger. Blasterfire struck the monster in the shoulder, but didn’t seem to penetrate its thick hide. Its answering howl was plainly one of rage rather than pain.

“Shit!”

“Why do you always have to shoot first?” Lucy shouted, throwing herself to the side as the monster barreled towards them.

Han shot again, to no more effect than the first time—the fire didn’t seem to do much more than annoy the creature, drawing its attention to him. He scrambled back, and desperately aimed for the monster’s eyes, the only vulnerable spot that he could see. His shivering hand didn’t cooperate; he hit the snout instead, and the monster only roared again, lumbering straight for him. Han hit its chest, this time.

He was barely aware of the small clink of Lucy’s blaster hitting the cave wall, but even in his panic he couldn’t miss the sharp buzz of her lightsaber igniting. Neither, it seemed, could the monster; it turned just as Lucy brought the lightsaber down on its immense shoulder, slicing off one of its massive arms. It wailed and raised the other; she ducked just in time to avoid getting tossed into the wall and swung again; this time she missed, and darted out of reach. At some point she’d pushed up her goggles and dropped her mask to the floor; she was panting in clouds of steam.

Her hands were even less steady than Han’s; she looked as if she might lose her grip on the weapon at any moment.

Han took a deep breath, praying to every power he knew of—none of which he believed in—that she’d manage to hold out more than a few minutes. He’d seen her training with the lightsaber; he knew perfectly well that it had never been about killing people with it. Even old Ben hadn’t done much more than slice off an arm. But they’d never survive if they didn’t manage to kill this thing. He staggered to his feet.

“Lucy! Get out of the way!”

The moment of distraction nearly killed her; Lucy glanced at him and the monster’s claws just missed her face. She ducked and swivelled away, then stumbled over a pile of rocks and with a cry of pain, fell to the ground. Her lightsaber’s blade vanished. Han didn’t even bother aiming as he shot again, only hoping he’d be able to distract the monster once more. It swung in his direction and then back at Lucy, who tried to get up and then collapsed back, turning her head to stare wide-eyed at her weapon. The monster seemed to dismiss her as a threat and snarled at Han.

Han took a deep breath, steadying his grip on his blaster, and aimed precisely for the eyes. This time, he hit his target; the monster screamed, covering its eyes with its remaining paw and lurching to the side. He had a clear view of Lucy, and couldn’t possibly miss what happened next.

Lucy was still gazing at the lightsaber. Then she closed her eyes, her face going slack, and stretched out her hand, even though she couldn’t hope to reach it. The lightsaber twitched, rattling against the floor, and flew straight into Lucy’s hand. She curled her fingers around the hint, ignited it one more time, and narrowing her eyes in fierce concentration, threw it straight at the monster’s back.

The creature shrieked, the glowing blue tip of the lightsaber poking through the front of his chest. Han backed up and tightened his grip on his blaster, even as the monster gave a gurgling moan. It took one faltering step forward, then another, slower one—Han raised his blaster—and the monster fell to the ground in a loud crash.

“Did I—”

Han approached cautiously. The monster didn’t stir—and surely nothing could survive a laser blade to the chest. But he’d seen a lot of strange things in the galaxy; better to be sure. He yanked the lightsaber out of its body and sliced the monster’s head from its shoulders.

“So much for him,” Lucy said, struggling to her feet again. This time she just managed it, leaning heavily against the wall. “Let’s hope he doesn’t have friends. How’s Wedge?”

Han, lightsaber in one hand and blaster in the other, walked over to the unconscious man hanging from the ceiling. Dropping his blaster, he reached for Antilles’ neck and felt for his pulse—thready but even. His skin was cold, lips blue.

“He’s alive, but he’s pretty badly-off,” said Han. “I’m not sure he’ll survive the night. Hell, I’m not sure we will. There’s not much we can do—”

“We can get him down, anyway.” Tentatively, she put some weight on her injured foot and winced, but managed to hobble in his direction. Han was half-tempted to order her to stay where she was, but he could only imagine how well that’d go over. Besides, it—might be better if she aimed the lightsaber.

He handed it to her, and she bit down on her lip, hard, drawing a few drops of blood. Her body was shaking; Han steadied her and she set her jaw.

“You’ll need to catch him,” she said, then flung the lightsaber at the ice gripping her commander’s feet. Han staggered as the other man’s weight hit him; he just managed to keep Antilles’ shoulder and head from further injury -- the creature had slashed one side of his face open. His legs hit the floor with a disconcerting clunk, and Han lowered him the rest of way.

Antilles groaned, blinking rapidly, and Lucy limped to his side.

“Wedge? Wedge, can you hear me?” She slid to the floor with an audible sigh of relief, folding her uninjured leg in and leaning on it.

“Lu-ucy?” Antilles tried to focus his eyes, and failed. “That you, Lucy? I can’t . . . feel anything . . . that creature—”

“We’ve taken care of everything. It’ll be all right,” Lucy assured him. Antilles’ eyelids slid closed and his murmurings turned incoherent. She looked anxiously at Han.

“He needs to get warm,” said Han, and mouthed silently, Fast. She nodded and pointed deeper into the cave. Good idea. It might not be any warmer in there, but at least it’d be away from the wind and snow.

Han half-helped, half-carried Antilles to the very back of the cave, leaning him against the wall. He could just hear Lucy crying out.

“Lalia?” said Antilles.

“I’m getting her,” Han said, and hurried back. Lucy was on her feet again, but teetering back and forth, even with her weight on her good foot and one hand against the cave walls. Her teeth chattered.

“Could you help me walk? I think I’d better conserve my strength for more important things,” she said. Her half-apologetic tone, when she hadn’t shown a trace of remorse for everything else she’d put him through, was the last straw. He stalked over to her and picked her up.

Lucy squeaked. “I didn’t mean—put me down! What are you doing?”

“Conserving your strength.”

She scowled up at him. “What about yours?”

“I’ll manage,” said Han, and set her down beside the mumbling Antilles. She looked as if she might move out of sheer perversity. “Listen. There isn’t any way to build a fire and your precious commander’s already halfway to freezing to death. I’d rather this whole thing weren’t completely pointless.

“Fine,” said Lucy, scooting closer to Antilles.

Han walked to the delirious officer’s other side and slid down. They sat in shivering silence for a few minutes; then Han, himself drifting into a daze, heard her breathing deepen. He jerked upright.

“Don’t go to sleep,” he said sharply.

“Oh, right.” Lucy’s voice was exhausted. “Thanks.”

He couldn’t even dignify that with an answer.

Chapter Text

Han could hear Lucy shifting around slightly—probably finding a more comfortable position for her foot. Between them, Antilles seemed to be breathing a little more deeply, but his skin was still colourless and chilled.

“Han,” Lucy murmured. She sounded almost dazed. “Can you talk to me?”

He looked at her over Antilles’ head, but couldn’t make out anything except her sodden braids. She must be leaning forward.

“Sure,” said Han, forcing energy into his voice. “What do you think’s going to happen when we get back? Another hero’s welcome?”

“Probably.” The back of her head tilted to the left; she was leaning on Antilles’ shoulder. At any other time, Han would have resented the gesture. He’d never been jealous of his friends’ lovers or his lovers’ friends (he still didn’t know which was the more accurate description of his and Lucy’s relationship). But though he liked Antilles, something about his apparently endless perfections bothered Han. Even as a friend, he thought Lucy could use someone more … interesting. Some guy with a few blemishes on his soul might be good for her. Hell, even a woman. Just not Antilles.

Right now, though, it was impossible to resent anything about the poor bastard. Those feet would have to be amputated for sure.

Han cleared his throat. “There might even be a ceremony. You can wear another frilly dress.”

“I only did that as a … thing.” She waved her hand, and Antilles muttered to himself.

“A slap in the face, yeah. Believe me, everyone knew what you meant.”

“Well, good,” said Lucy. “’Sides, I’d have to borrow another from Leia. Though that’s okay. She has great taste.” Han prudently kept his opinion to himself. “Okay, too much white. I like black better. But she won’t.”

“Huh?”

“Treat us like heroes. Bet you anything she’s furious with both of us.”

“Nah,” said Han. “Just me. She likes you, she’ll probably just pat your head and tell you to wear thicker clothes next time.”

“She likes you too,” Lucy said seriously. “She just doesn’t fuss like she does with me. You’d think she was my aunt or something. We’re actually the same age, you know.”

“Yeah, I know,” said Han. “You told me she was seventeen too. At the Death Star.”

He’d never quite managed to believe it. Lucy had been so … adolescent. Leia’d never seemed like a kid. But then, he wasn’t sure Leia had ever been a kid.

“No, the exact same age. She was born on Empire Day too.” Lucy paused. “And it’s been almost two years. We’re not seventeen any more.”

Han coughed. “I’ve noticed.”

“I don’t feel that different, though. I mean, I guess I am, but that’s . . . the war and everything. Not turning nineteen. And I still—I can’t even believe it half the time. Lieutenant Skywalker.” She gave a shaky laugh. “Camie would never believe it.”

“Should be Commander Skywalker. Who’s Camie?” said Han, not terribly interested, but determined to keep her talking.

“She was one of my friends back home. Well, not a friend, really. She didn’t like me. And honestly, I didn’t like her either.” Han stifled a chuckle. “But we were part of the same group. Tank and the Fixer and Camie and me and . . . the rest. Camie and I were the only girls. But she was more of a tomboy than me. Except when it came to machines.”

“This other girl wasn’t any good at flying, I guess?”

“No, she was,” Lucy said, and added frankly, “I was just better. It didn’t make her like me any more.”

Han laughed out loud that time. “Usually doesn’t.”

“She wasn’t terrible or anything, though, just—tough. One of the boys. I was more like . . . Leia, I suppose. Braids and blasters.” Lucy chuckled, then sobered. “Camie was happy enough with her parents’ farm and the station. I—I knew I shouldn’t, but I always wanted more. Bigger causes, faster speeders. Poor Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru had to put up with an awful lot.”

“I can believe it. But Leia’s pretty tough,” said Han, considering. “In her way.”

“That’s what I mean. It’s not Camie’s way. She’d never sit through boring political meetings or stay back and give orders. Not much for calming anyone down, either. She just looked out for herself and the people she liked. She was a good friend, if you were her friend.” Lucy leaned forward to look at him, a faint smile curving her lips. “I bet she’d have liked you. But not me. She was sure I’d never amount to anything. She didn’t even believe me when I said my father had been a pilot.”

“Huh. Haven’t been many places they don’t know who Anakin Skywalker was,” said Han.

“Really?” Her eyes lit up.

Han searched through the bags for a stim shot. They all carried them for emergencies; Lucy had undoubtedly already used hers, but Antilles wouldn’t make it much longer without one. “Yeah. I mean, where I grew up, our parents weren’t exactly sitting down to a nice cup of tea and the HoloNet. I never saw a Jedi, even before the Empire. But we were still all playing Clone Wars. My friends and me, we used to fight over who was going to be Skywalker and Kenobi, and who had to be Separatist droids.”

Lucy pressed her hands against the floor and pushed herself forward, just far enough that Han could see her without either of them craning their necks. Tilting her head to the side, she asked, “Who were you?”

Han laughed. “Skywalker.”

“Best starpilot in the galaxy?”

“That’s right.”

They smiled at each other, then glanced away.

“It’s funny,” Lucy said, “that it’d be his home planet where they don’t know what he became.”

Skywalker became a martyr, Han thought. Just like all the rest. Like you’re gonna be, and Leia—

Lucy pulled her glove off. Shivering, she pressed her hand against her commander’s cheek and then his forehead. Her brows drew together.

“But I wanna be Kenobi,” mumbled Antilles.

Han glanced at her. “Sounds like he’s still with us.”

“For the moment. I think he’s getting worse, though. Our body warmth isn’t enough to get him through the night.” Lucy bit her lip. “We’ll be lucky if it’s enough to get us through.”

Han held up the syringe he’d dug out of his packs. “He’ll need this, but even with it—” He peered into Antilles’ glazed eyes. The other man didn’t seem to even register his presence.

“I’ll give it to him.”

She stripped Antilles’ arm to the skin, talking in the same soft voice she’d used with the tauntaun—now that, he thought idly, was nothing like Leia’s, except every now and then when she addressed Lucy herself.

Antilles scarcely stirred. Without a word, Han handed the syringe to Lucy and got to his feet, walking towards the forefront of the chamber and leaning his arm against the wall. They might very well die out here, lucky even if their corpses got found. Antilles almost certainly wouldn’t make it. Even after killing that monster, their chances—

The monster. Han stared at the animal’s vast corpse. Something of that size would retain heat for awhile. A long while.

He turned on his heel and jogged back to the rear of the cave, where Lucy was rolling Antilles’ sleeve back down and replacing his gloves. His head did little more than roll to the side, but he managed to track their movements.

“Lucy. Shouldn’t . . . you shouldn’t have . . .” Antilles squeezed his eyes shut, then with a visible effort, said, “You shouldn’t have come after me.”

“Nonsense,” said Lucy crisply. She was blinking rapidly enough that Han suspected she could do with another shot herself.

“Need . . . the squadron.”

She managed a reassuring smile. “I arranged everything. I've put Hobbie in command until we get back.”

“Hobbie?” Antilles shut his eyes again. “Aw, shit.”

“I don’t think he’ll get the Rogues decommissioned in twelve hours,” said Lucy. “And you know he’s readier than Wes. It’ll be fine.”

“When you base . . . to m’sister,” said Antilles. His gaze was already unfocusing again.

“I’ll tell her anything you want her to know,” Lucy promised.

“Imps never know what hit them. That right? Skywalker, Janson, you’re with me. All set?”

“Yes, sir,” said Lucy, resting her fingers against his forehead again, then withdrawing them before Antilles could swat her hand away. She glanced over her shoulder at Han, her eyes wide and frightened. Fever, she mouthed.

“I’ve got an idea. Give me your lightsaber.”

She frowned, but tossed it up at him. If it’d been lit, she would have sliced his head off; as it was, he barely managed to catch it. She was getting worse, too.

Han ignited the lightsaber and walked forward, towards the dead monster. He thought of trying to drag it back towards them, but admitted to himself that he didn’t have the strength—probably not even if he weren’t cold, wet, and thoroughly weary. Instead he walked around the back, towards the creature’s belly, and grimaced.

“Smells bad enough on the outside,” he muttered, and sliced it open with an awkward swipe of the lightsaber. “Lucy, can he stand?”

Belatedly, he remembered the man’s clinking feet.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “I can, if you need help—”

“No!” Han hurried back, just able to make his way by the blue-white glow of the blade. Only a few minutes left until full night, now. He tried to think of a way he could both illuminate his path and drag the delirious Antilles, and came up with nothing. “Fine. Yeah. I’ll need light. Just hang on to the wall, okay?”

He helped her up and returned the lightsaber to her. Over the next few minutes, he dragged Antilles towards the monster’s corpse, while Lucy staggered along the cave wall, the pale gleam of the lightsaber shivering.

“What—what are you going to do?” she said.

“That thing’s still warm—on the inside, anyway. And we’re just losing heat to him. We’ll all have a better chance this way.” He stopped by the beast, taking a few deep breaths. The air seemed to burn its way down his throat.

“You’re going to put Wedge inside the monster’s body,” Lucy said. A note of disgust crept into her flat voice. “With the organs and . . . things.”

Han hoisted the barely-conscious man up by his armpits and stuffed him inside, tucking his legs in after him. “He can thank me later.”

“Right,” said Lucy dazedly.

He pushed Antilles deeper into the animal’s body, pulling the flaps of skin down over everything but his face. Then Han turned and made his way over to the wobbling Lucy. He didn’t even try to pick her up this time; as small and light as she was, he doubted he had the strength left to carry her, and she might very well take off his head with her sword. Instead he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, she leaned against his side, and they staggered back to the rear of the cave.

He didn’t release his grip on her when they slid down to the floor. Lucy extinguished her lightsaber.

“Han,” she said, then paused. “You’re warmer.”

I’m not dying, thought Han. Yet. “So are you. We didn’t get captured by a snow monster and left hanging in its cave for hours on end, even if you did take a nap out there.”

“It was stupid, I know. I was just—” She yawned— “so tired.”

Han cleared his throat. “You don’t have to feel too bad for Antilles, you know. The Rebellion has the best prosthetics in the galaxy. And I’m sure he’ll have a blast telling stories about the night he spent between Solo and Skywalker.”

She elbowed him, weakly enough that he could scarcely tell she had. Han managed to chuckle.

“Threesomes not your thing?” he drawled.

“Not with my commanding officer,” said Lucy primly. Then she yawned again, a sudden weight pressing against his shoulder, something soft, cold and damp brushing against his cheek. Her hair, half-soaked, half still caked with snow. She shouldn’t let her head drop, he thought, his own stiffly upright: but even he, with his much larger bulk, was growing drowsier by the minute, and it didn’t seem too important. If she were to sleep, she would do so whether she forced her head upright or let herself lean on him. She might not even be drifting off, just seeking—if only by instinct—his greater warmth. He shifted closer to her, muttering something that struck him as immensely witty.

Lucy didn’t reply. He heard her slow, deep breaths, and felt a flicker of arm. He had to wake her up—in just a moment—he closed his eyes.

When he opened them again, she was gone.

Clearly the sleep itself had not taken her, and they couldn’t have slept long: it was still dark, if not the utter black of before. The rest seemed to have done him little harm; when he reached out and felt nothing but the frosty night air, he sprang to his feet, instantly alert. Surely if she’d been dragged off by some other beast, it wouldn’t have left Han so entirely unmolested? He’d woken in the exact same position he’d gone to sleep—and why would an animal have chosen Lucy over Han, anyway?

“Lucy? Lucy!” Han shouted, running forward. The first time he walked into a wall, he slowed down enough to look for their telltale glimmers before he abused his body further. He all but stumbled into the snow monster, though, which incongruously gave a small grunt. Right, Antilles; Han re-oriented himself towards the cave entrance.

As he approached, his vision cleared further. Hoth’s moon had risen high in the sky. He could just make out the figure sprawled out in the entrance, her injured leg bent at an awkward, unnatural angle.

“Lucy!”

Running the rest of the way, Han knelt beside Lucy’s prone body. She wasn’t dead; he could see her breath on the air, the slight motion of her lips. Still, he ripped off his glove and checked her skin and her pulse, just as she had done with Wedge. Her pulse was still strong and her flesh only a little chilled. He breathed a sigh of relief and, thankful for the burst of energy that rest and adrenaline had given him, lifted her up again. This time Lucy didn’t protest.

“Ben,” she mumbled into his shoulder. “Dagobah system. Ben. Yoda . . .”

She sounded as delirious as her commander. There were no drugs left to give her; Han just carried Lucy back to the rear of the cave, sat down without releasing his grip on her, and poked and prodded her when she looked like she might be falling asleep again. They could do nothing but wait for morning.

Those last three or four hours were some of the longest he ever passed, with nothing to occupy his mind beyond the deathly cold, and no conversation possible with Lucy, whose incoherent rambles had long since given way to silence. Inevitably, however, the sky continued to lighten and the sun rose on Hoth. Morning had arrived.

Lucy seemed lucid enough, so Han walked just outside the cave, hoping to catch any signals from the inevitable search party. Within twenty minutes, his transmitter buzzed.

“This is Rogue Two. This is Rogue Two. Captain Solo, do you copy? Commander Antilles, do you copy? Lieutenant Skywalker, do you copy? This is Rogue Two.”

Han could just make out a snowspeeder in the distance. He waved one arm back and forth, raising the transmitter to his mouth with his free hand.

“Good morning,” he replied, and laughed out loud. “Nice of you to drop by!”

Chapter Text

Leia didn't sleep that night. She rarely slept well, anyway, and with Commander Antilles, Lucy, and Han all missing, there was no point.

When they arrived in Hoth, she'd insisted on placing Lucy's quarters next to hers, away from the men. Lucy, after a few token protests about not wanting special treatment—while Han and the squadron just laughed at her—had cheerfully agreed. Over the last few months, Leia had grown used to hearing Lucy rattling around at night. With Lucy gone, the silence seemed to beat against her eardrums.

The following morning, Leia sent out the search parties as soon as possible, and paced back and forth, ignoring Threepio's babble and Artoo's soft whirrs. She froze when Zev Senesca's voice crackled through the transmitter.

“Echo Base, I've got something. Not much, but it could be a life form.”

Leia didn't move, her eyes fixed on the machinery. A few minutes dragged by. Then:

“Echo Base, this is Rogue Two. I found them. Repeat, I found them!”

The control room erupted into cheers. General Rieekan briefly dropped his hand on Leia's shoulder, offering a vaguely paternal smile. She nodded, then ran out to order preparations for their care. It was impossible to know their condition, but it couldn't be good.

She was standing at the gate when Wedge, Lucy, and Han were brought in. Wedge and Lucy were both on stretchers—he seemed by far the worse-off, and the medics rushed him to the medical bay. Lucy was at least lucid, if dazed, weakly complaining that she could walk, really. And Han, trailing behind—

“Disgustingly healthy,” he announced. “Were you worrying about me, sweetheart?”

Leia just gave an exasperated shake of her head and went to receive a proper report from the medical droids. Wedge might or might not survive, but would certainly lose both his legs; they could replace them, of course, but it was still a terrible loss for him, and he'd be out of commission for a few weeks. Lucy, she was relieved to hear, hadn't suffered anything worse than mild hypothermia and a sprained ankle, and should recover quickly.

Leia was there when Lucy woke up.

“What's going on?” Lucy sat up, glancing around in confusion. She ran her fingers through her loose hair, pushing it out of her face, and her eyes landed on her friend. “Leia!”

“Good morning to you too,” said Leia. She rose from the chair where she'd been waiting. “You're looking better already. There's a bacta patch on your ankle. It should be completely healed in an hour or so.”

“Thanks,” said Lucy, still dazed. “Wedge?”

“He's going to make it. We're preparing the best possible prosthetics for him. Han's fine, too.”

Lucy nodded, her expression growing more alert. She looked up and flinched, her eyes narrowing against the bright medical lights. Leia smiled sympathetically down at her.

“Does it still hurt?” she asked, brushing her fingers against Lucy's temples.

Lucy's answering smile was almost wry. “No, I'm fine.”

But she could easily have died. They could all have died, and it'd have been just like—Leia didn't want to think about it. Lucy's skin was warm and alive under her fingertips. It was fine, it was all fine. Her eyes finally began to burn (but that was because she hadn't slept, she was tired); Leia distracted herself with stroking Lucy's untidy blonde hair, trying to tidy it. It was pointless, but soothed her a bit; taking care of Lucy always did.

“Leia?”

Leia gave an encouraging murmur, still fussing over Lucy's hair.

When I was out there in that storm, I . . .” Lucy's voice trailed off and she lowered her gaze.

“I was really worried,” Leia admitted, tucking a few wayward strands behind Lucy's ear.

Lucy's eyes danced. “You were worried!”

They grinned at each other, then Lucy sobered.

“But . . . it got me thinking, you know.” She darted an almost timid glance up at Leia. “I might never get the chance to say—” Lucy closed her eyes and sighed.

“What?”

Lucy just shook her head.

“Tell me,” Leia ordered.

Lucy met her eyes. “You've . . . I want . . . you've always been a good friend to me, Leia. You've done so much.”

“You were worried you wouldn't get to tell me that?” said Leia, not quite hiding her incredulity. “You've said so dozens of times. It's nothing.”

“I know, but I—” Lucy twisted her blanket between her fingers. “It's hard to explain. And I don't want to—to say anything I shouldn't.”

“Oh, spit it out,” said Leia.

“Well,” Lucy said, “I'm sure you know—you're my best friend. You're the best friend I've ever had. I care . . . I care more about you than anything.”

“Oh!” Leia's face softened. “I was expecting something a bit more offensive, Lucy. You're my closest friend, too. Didn't you know?”

Lucy's smile was a bit brighter this time. “It's just—things are complicated sometimes, but I—ever since I saw you in the hologram, I've—before, I always felt like I wasn't quite whole. Like some part of me was missing.”

“Not just missing,” said Leia. “Ripped out, right?”

“Well, yes.” Lucy stared at her. “You too?”

This time, it was Leia who glanced away. “As long as I can remember.”

“And—I was always—I wasn't a good niece. I could never—” Lucy twisted her fingers again. “I couldn't live like that. But it all changed when I met you.”

“I know,” Leia said gently.

“I can leave,” Lucy forged on—Leia frowned—“but I can't sacrifice your friendship for anything, okay? I'd rather give up anything else than that. And if something happens to me, I want . . . I want you to be happy. I'd much rather you were happy than me!”

And then Leia understood. She took Lucy's hands between hers. “You're talking about Han?”

“Mm,” said Lucy.

“He is an arrogant, uncivilized, self-absorbed—” Leia cut herself off. “I'm sorry. I know you care for him.”

“I do,” Lucy said. “He's a good friend. He risked his life to find me. I care a lot about him. But I'd rather be your friend than his lover.”

“Well, I don't like him anyway,” said Leia. “But even if I did, you wouldn't magically become my enemy instead of my friend. I like men plenty, believe me, but not enough to fight you for one. I won't be your rival, Lucy—no matter what he thinks.”

Lucy relaxed. “I don't want to be yours either,” she said, squeezing her fingers about Leia's.

With a beep and a clattered, Artoo and Threepio bustled into the room.

“Oh, Mistress Lucy,” burbled Threepio, “I'm so glad to see that you're fully functional again!”

Leia hugged Lucy, then headed out. “Get some rest now. I'll be back later.”

“Leia!” Lucy called after her. She looked even more nervous than she had before. “I have to go away for awhile.”

Leia stiffened.

“What?” she snapped, feeling absurdly betrayed. Han was like everyone else, here today and gone tomorrow, but Lucy? “Where are you going?”

Lucy hesitated. “To . . . another system. It's not far from here.”

“Great,” Leia said, tapping her foot. What had she even been going on about if she was just going to leave? “That's just great. Why doesn't everybody just take off?”

Lucy's expression turned alarmed. “What are you talking about?”

“First Han, now you—” Leia dropped her clenched hand on the doorjamb. “When am I going to learn not to count on anyone but myself?”

“I didn't know he was leaving,” Lucy said helplessly. “Calm—” She coughed. “Tell me about Han.”

“Oh, he's got to pay off that criminal he's in debt to,” said Leia.

“Jabba the Hutt?”

As if she kept track of Han's various unsavoury associates. Leia scowled. “You know—”

“Hey, girl!” Han 's voice, obnoxiously cheerful, preceded him into the room. He and Chewbacca strolled in and examined Lucy. “How are you feeling? You look fine to me. Strong enough to pull the ears off a Gundark.”

“Thanks to you,” Lucy said, in her usual friendly tone.

“That's two you owe me, sister.” He caught sight of Leia and grinned. “Well, your Worship, looks like you managed to keep me around for a little while longer.”

“I had nothing to do with it,” said Leia coolly. “General Rieekan thinks it's dangerous for any ships to leave the system until we've activated the energy shield.”

“That's a good story,” he said, still laughing. “I think you just can't bear to let a gorgeous guy like me out of your sight.”
Leia rolled her eyes. “I don't know where you get your delusions, laserbrain.”

Chewie chortled.

“Laugh it up, fuzzball,” Han retorted. “You didn't see us alone in the south passage.” He draped an arm over Leia's shoulders.

Leia didn't know what he was playing at—it was bad enough when it was just the two of them, but with Lucy right here? In a hospital bed? She was almost certain she saw a flicker of dismay cross Lucy's face; it was enough to erase all her previous annoyance. Leia jerked away, glaring at him.

“She expressed her true feelings for me,” Han informed Lucy, watching her narrowly even as he smirked.

Did he even know what he was after?

“My—! Why, you—” cried Leia, too outraged to string a coherent sentence together. “You stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerfherder!

“Who's scruffy-looking?” Han said, pretending to be offended before turning back to Lucy. “Help me out here, Lucy. I must have hit her pretty close to the mark to get her all riled up like that, right?”

Leia wasn't—they weren't—it wasn't a game, they were friends, more to each other than Han Solo could ever be to anyone, and she'd rejected him as many ways as she knew how, and Lucy still had that awful blank look she kept getting these days. Leia wanted nothing so much as to wipe that smirk right off his face.

Fine.

“Well, I guess you don't know everything about women yet,” Leia told him haughtily.

Then she strode back over to the bed and pressed her lips against Lucy's. Leia could feel Lucy's gasp of astonishment against her mouth, but nothing else; she certainly didn't pull away.

Leia had never kissed another woman before. She'd never even imagined what it might be like. Lucy's lips were softer than any of the men Leia had kissed, and so was the skin beneath Leia's fingers, of course, and the long hair catching in Leia's hands. Leia's arms brushed against Lucy's breasts as she bent over her—all right, that was different—and none of their frequent hugs had ever brought them quite so near before. Leia's eyes closed and she felt an odd, confused rush of familiarity.

The two of them in darkness, eyes unseeing and bodies close. Lucy's heart, thudding against her—like when they'd swung over the abyss in the Death Star, or—or something else. They'd been like this before, but also not like this, it shouldn't be like this. They'd only known each other for twenty months but it all seemed so long ago—long ago and far away, her mother used to sing—and then, for some reason, she was seeing her other mother's face again, the natural mother she knew only in cloudy memories.

Leia stepped back, relieved that her cheeks weren't even warm. Lucy was blinking, but she didn't seem angry. Lucy was safe, after all. Her best friend, and—

Han was gaping at them. Leia couldn't resist grinning at Lucy, who smiled right back, her eyes dancing. With one smug glance at Han, Leia sailed off.

#

Han joined her on her way to the control room, where the transmitters had picked up an anomalous reading in zone twelve. When Han and Chewie went to investigate, however, they found only a droid that instantly deconstructed.

“An Imperial probe droid,” Leia said.

Han's voice was somber. “It's a good bet the Empire knows we're here.”

“We better start the evacuation,” said Rieekan.

The next hour passed in organized chaos. Everyone worked to move the most salvageable supplies into the transport ships, the soldiers readied their speeders and central control raised the shields. Leia saw Han a few times, working frantically on the Falcon. She only passed Lucy once.

“You're all right?” she asked.

Lucy nodded. “I have to lead the Rogues against whatever the Empire throws at us. They don't know yet if Wedge'll even fly again.”

“You're staying?” said Leia, surprised.

“No. He—and General Rieekan—offered me his position, but . . . no.” Lucy took a deep breath. “I've got other duties. But I'll help with the evacuation.”

“Good luck,” said Leia, hugging her. Then she froze. “Oh, I just remembered—about earlier—”

“It's fine. You should have seen the look on his face!” Lucy kissed her cheek. “May the Force be with you.”

“And you,” Leia echoed, and they ran in opposite directions, Lucy to finish preparing for the ground assault, and Leia to return to the command center. She stood next to General Rieekan, refusing to show any fear as they listened to the first deployment. The cannons took out one Imperial Destroyer and the first transport escaped into hyperspace. One down.

The walkers released onto the planet, however, seemed to be utterly impregnable. Leia listened as speeder after speeder was destroyed, her fists clenched tight. They could grieve later. Today, they just had to survive.

Lucy and some of her Rogues managed to take out two more, just as the icy walls of the base began to crumble. Leia and Rieekan studied the computer screens.

“I don't think we can protect to two transports at the same time,” said Rieekan.

Leia's lips thinned. “It's risky, but we can't hold out much longer. We have no choice.”

They gave their orders into their comlinks, sending away as many people as they could afford. Rieekan finally left; Leia stayed where she was, determined to hold the command together as long as she could.

Han rushed in. “You all right?”

“Why are you still here?” Leia snapped.

“I heard the command center had been hit.”

“You got your clearance to leave,” said Leia, returning her attention to the faltering computer.

Han glowered at her. “Don't worry, I'll leave. First I'm going to take you to your ship.”

Leia ignored him, continuing to deliver orders.

“Imperial troops have entered the base!” an announcer shouted.

“Come on,” urged Han. “That's it!”

Leia swallowed and turned to the head controller. “Give the evacuation code signal. And get to your transports!”

She'd barely finished speaking before Han grabbed her wrist. They raced through the corridors, but not before an explosion caved in the path before them. Han promptly ordered her transport to leave, dragging her towards the Falcon instead. For all Han's boasts, it seemed even less functional than usual.

“How's this?” Han called out, throwing a switch.

Chewie howled something less than encouraging at him.

Leia, feeling the beginnings of panic, folded her arms. “Would it help if I got out and pushed?” she asked acidly.

“It might,” snarled Han.

By some miracle of machinery—or, as Leia half-expected, the intervention of the Force—the Falcon finally took to the skies, Han and Chewie evading a field full of Imperial starships only for the hyperdrive to fail. Han rushed off to try repairing it—and then the ship careened, buffeted by what looked like hundreds of asteroids.

Han rushed into the cockpit.

“Asteroids!” Leia said, jumping out of the captain's chair.

“Chewie,” said Han, “set two-seven-one.”

She watched incredulously. “What are you doing? You're not actually going into an asteroid field?”

Han just laughed. “They'd be crazy to follow us, wouldn't they?”

Chapter Text

Artoo took Lucy's X-Wing into hyperspace, leaving the battle far behind them. She sank back, adrenaline still surging through her blood, and looked at the course Artoo had charted. No.

She reached forward and corrected it.

“There's nothing wrong, Artoo,” she assured him. “I'm just setting a new course—what? No, we're not going to regroup with the others. We're going to the Dagobah system.”

She read out the translation of his whistling shriek, and laughed.

“That's all right. I'd like to keep it on manual control for awhile.”

Lucy wasn't entirely certain how she'd narrow her search from “Dagobah” to one man. Was he a man? Well, one being, anyway. The planet, however, made the choice for her. They inexplicably crashed into a swamp, nearly got killed by some local fauna, and made it to what passed for dry land in a dirty, soggy mess. Lucy plugged the exhausted Artoo into her fusion furnace.

“There you go,” said Lucy, and looking at her condensed, processed, imperishable meal, sighed. “Now, all I have to do is find this Yoda. If he even exists.” Her shoulder blades twitched. “Still, there's something familiar about this place. I feel like . . . I don't know . . .”

“Like what?” screeched an unfamiliar voice.

Lucy whirled around, her blaster out. The creature—person—before her was a small, wrinkled, green, only vaguely humanoid being, standing perhaps two feet tall.

“Like we're being watched!”

“Away with your weapon,” the stranger croaked—he seemed incapable of simply speaking. “I mean you no harm.”

Lucy eyed him suspiciously, and lowered her weapon, though she stayed alert, ready to reach for it at a moment's notice. The stranger, however, seemed not to be threatening, merely mad. Within the course of five minutes, he had tossed Lucy's supplies in every direction, tried and spat out Lucy's food, stolen her power lamp, gotten into a fight with Artoo, and then declared his intention of leading her to Yoda. And feeding her.

Lucy paused, but something strange was going on here, and she had no other leads. She followed him through the swamp until they reached a low hut, plain but oddly comfortable—or as comfortable as might be expected when even a short human female was taller than the ceiling. The strange being promptly threw himself about his little kitchen in a frenzy, placing dishes in front of her. It was odd; she hadn't been served by someone else since . . . ever, actually.

“Look,” she said, trying to pull back her impatience, “I'm sure it's delicious. I just don't understand why we can't see Yoda now.”

“Patience!” cried the stranger. “For the Jedi it is time to eat as well. Eat, eat. Hot. Good food, hm? Good, hmm?”

Lucy sighed and helped herself to the strange soup; it was surprisingly good. She offered a tentative smile.

“How far away is Yoda? Will it take us long to get there?”

“Not far. Yoda not far. Patience. Soon you will be with him.” He cackled to himself, and swallowed a spoonful. “Rootleaf, I cook! Why wish you become Jedi? Hm?”

She remembered sitting across from Obi-Wan, listening wide-eyed as he offered every chance she'd ever dreamed of.

“But you will learn about the Force.”

“Yes.” Lucy's fingers curled around Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber. “I want to learn its ways and become a Jedi, like my father.”

“Mostly because of my father, I guess,” she said, waiting for him to demand an explanation.

“Ah, your father,” he said. “Powerful Jedi, was he, powerful Jedi. Mm.”

Lucy stared at him. All right, this creature was mad. It was all just some kind of trick.

“Oh, come on. How could you know my father?” she demanded. “You don't even know who I am! Oh, I don't know what I'm doing here. We're wasting our time!”

He turned away with an annoyed sound, addressing nothing in particular. “I cannot teach her. The girl lacks patience.”

“She will learn patience,” another voice said. Lucy jumped—but she knew that voice! Ben? Obi-Wan was here? Then—this must be—

“Hmm,” said Yoda. “Must anger in her, like her father.”

Lucy bristled, though she didn't dare interrupt. Her father was a hero. Everyone who'd known who he was, even Han, had said so. But this—Yoda, Obi-Wan's own master, had spoken of Anakin's power with ambivalence and now sounded as if he disapproved of him?

“Was I any different when you taught me?” Obi-Wan asked evenly.

“Hm!” said Yoda. “She is not ready!”

Lucy looked around, trying to trace the voice. Obi-Wan, however, was nowhere to be seen.

“Yoda,” she said urgently, “I am ready. I . . . Ben! I can be a Jedi. Ben, tell him I'm ready!” Agitated, she started to rise, and smacked her head on the ceiling.

“Ready, are you?” said Yoda, and eyed her with what, even on his alien features, was evident disapproval. “What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained! A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind.” He turned back to the invisible Obi-Wan. “This one a long time have I watched.”

Lucy's eyes widened. He'd been watching her? But—then why—how—

“Never her mind on where she was, hm, what she was doing. Hm. Adventure, hmph! Excitement, hmph! A Jedi craves not these things.” He whirled on Lucy. “You are reckless!”

Memories crowded her mind, ending with her own careless words to Han. I always wanted more. Bigger causes, faster speeders. Poor Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru had to put up with an awful lot. She flushed and lowered her eyes. It was impossible to deny.

Particularly since he'd been watching her. Ugh.

“So was I, if you'll remember,” said Obi-Wan. At least he was on her side, and not quite as bizarre. Just . . . a disembodied voice? All right, pretty odd.

“She is too old,” Yoda said, and now he definitely sounded as if he were just looking for excuses. Lucy brightened. “Yes, too old to begin the training!”

“But I've learned so much,” Lucy pleaded.

Yoda stared at her, as if he could see right into her mind—he probably could. She felt weighed on some kind of cosmic scale. The little Jedi Master sighed.

“Will she finish what she begins?”

“I won't fail you,” she assured him. “I'm not afraid!”

“Oh,” said Yoda, his voice lowering, “you will be. You will be.”

Lucy gulped.

Yoda's training was, in fact, absolutely nothing like Obi-Wan's. There was no technology involved, not even her lightsaber. Yoda seemed to be doing his best to pretend it didn't even exist. Instead, she ran, climbed, flipped, and jumped, training harder than she ever had in her life. Her time as a soldier was nothing to it. She'd never been so fit, but she wasn't sure how it'd help her become a Jedi until she started to feel the Force, not just in fits and snatches as she had with Obi-Wan, but all around her.

“Run!” commanded Yoda. “Yes. A Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger...fear...aggression. The dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny—consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan's apprentice.”

“Vader?” Lucy caught her breath, fighting back the burst of anger she always felt at the name. She wouldn't let him win. She would be a Jedi. She released the breath on a sigh. “Is the dark side stronger?”

“No, no, no. Quicker,” Yoda said. “Easier. More seductive.”

Lucy blinked. “But how am I to know the good side from the bad?”

“You will know. When you are calm, at peace. Passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”

Lucy frowned, remembering her few weeks with Obi-Wan. She supposed chopping off an alien's arm in a bar had been a sort of self-defense, but . . .

“Tell me why I can't—”

“No, no, there is no why!” said Yoda. “Nothing more will I teach you today. Clear your mind of questions. Mm.”

Lucy carefully lowered the Jedi to the ground, then pulled her jacket over her sweaty shoulders. Something tugged at her mind—something come from a dark, dripping cave not far away. Lucy stared at it.

“Something's not right here,” she said. “I feel . . . cold, death.”

Yoda sank onto a small boulder. He studied the ground. “That place is strong with the Dark Side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.”

“What's in there?” she asked, eyeing it.

Yoda didn't lift his eyes. “Only what you take with you.”

Lucy glanced between the cave and her master. It wasn't exactly an appealing description, but if this was what it took . . . all right. She picked up her weapon belt.

Yoda's head jerked up at that. “Your weapons—you will not need them.”

Lucy stared at the domain of evil. She'd go in, but she wasn't doing it without her lightsaber. She strapped the belt on anyway, and headed into the cave.

#

Lucy had nightmares almost every night after she left the cave. Yoda, however, didn't seem particularly concerned with her failure, but just continued her training, pushing her to further and further extremes, until she was not only moving beyond her own capacities, but—she was almost certain—beyond the human. After that, he had her lifting nearby stones without touching them; it took weeks, but eventually she managed it, if not with the focus that Yoda demanded.

And then he wanted her to lift her entire ship with her mind, as if that were no different than lifting a few rocks. Size matters not—how was that even possible? Discouraged, she wandered off, throwing herself to the ground, only to see the tiny Jedi lifting her X-Wing with one withered hand.

Lucy caught her breath and ran forward to see it.

“I don't—I don't believe it,” she stammered.

Yoda looked at her soberly. “And that,” he said, “is why you fail.”

After that, she tried to ignore what she thought she knew—including basic laws of physics. Anything is possible with the Force, she chanted at herself daily. Anything is possible. Anything.

Her exercises became easier. Even Yoda hinted, now and then, that she might be improving. She lifted just about everything in sight.

“Concentrate,” Yoda murmured. “feel the Force flow. Yes. Good. Calm, yes. Through the Force, things you will see. Other places. The future...the past. Old friends long gone—”

A city hung in the sky—

Han was screaming, sparks flying over his chest while a group of Imperials watched—

Strange men punched him in the stomach until another man in purple ordered them back—

Leia bent over him, her face strained—

Leia paced back and forth, and Lucy could feel her fear: Leia, who faced down Imperials without flinching—

Leia watched, horror-struck, while Han was lowered into a pit—

Lucy's eyes flew open.

“Han! Leia!” she cried. Everything tumbled to the ground, including Lucy herself.

Yoda just shook his head. “Control,” he said, stabbing his stick into the ground. “You must learn control!”

“I saw,” said Lucy, frowning, “I saw a city in the clouds.”

“Friends you have there,” Yoda told her.

She dropped her head onto her hands. “They were in pain.”

“It is the future you see,” he said, while Artoo, grumbling, righted himself. Lucy looked over at him.

“The future? Will they die?” Her voice cracked. No. Not Han and Leia. And a weaker part of her thought, anyone but Han and Leia.

Yoda lowered his head, concentrating. His right ear twitched.

“Difficult to see,” he said finally. “Always in motion, the future is.”

“I've got to go to them,” she declared.

He tried to argue her out of it, of course. It didn't matter. Someone was hurting Han and Leia and Chewie. The Empire—the Empire had them. She wasn't a Jedi yet, but she was more than she had ever been. She could help! She had to try.

“You must not go!”

“But Han and Leia will die if I don't,” returned Lucy, and kept loading her gear into the X-Wing.

“You don't know that,” said Obi-Wan.

Lucy turned around, half-expecting to see nothing—but he stood there in person, slightly transparent, slightly shimmering, but indisputably present.

“Even Yoda cannot see their fate,” Obi-Wan added.

“But I can help them! I feel the Force!” said Lucy. Her hands were tight by her sides. How could even Obi-Wan expect her to just sit and do nothing? Stopping things like this were the whole reason she'd become a Jedi!

“But you cannot control it,” Obi-Wan reminded her. “This is a dangerous time for you, when you will be tempted by the dark side of the Force.”

“Yes, yes,” said Yoda. “To Obi-Wan you listen!—the cave, remember your failure at the cave!”

“But I've learned so much since then.” Lucy crouched down to look her master in the eye. “Master Yoda, I promise to return and finish what I've begun. You have my word.”

“It is you and your abilities the Emperor wants. That is why your friends are made to suffer,” said Obi-Wan.

She'd figured as much. Did he think that would keep her from risking herself for them? When Han was being tortured and Leia in agony because of her?

“And that is why I have to go,” said Lucy.

Obi-Wan's voice dropped, turning sorrowful. “Lucy, I don't want to lose you to the Emperor the way I lost Vader.”

“You won't,” Lucy said confidently. Vader had fallen, but he was evil. Whatever the meaning of her vision in the cave, she wasn't anything like Vader. She couldn't be. She'd never do half the things he had.

“Only a fully trained Jedi Knight with the Force as his ally will conquer Vader and his Emperor. If you end your training now, if you choose the quick and easy path, as Vader did, you will become an agent of evil,” said Yoda.

I won't. Never.

“Patience,” urged Obi-Wan.

Lucy closed her eyes. “And sacrifice Han and Leia?”

“If you honour what they fight for,” said Yoda, “yes!”

Lucy stopped. Leia, she thought, might urge her to this. A sacrifice today for a victory later. Han—Han never would. But in the end, it didn't matter what they would do. She had to do what she thought was right. And that wasn't some cold balance of risks and opportunities.

“If you choose to Vader, you will do it alone,” Obi-Wan told her. “I cannot interfere.”

Lucy's mouth firmed. “I understand.” She walked back over to the X-Wing. “Artoo, fire up the converters.”

Artoo beeped happily.

“Lucy!” Obi-Wan called after her, and Lucy tiredly turned back. “Don't give in to hate. That leads to the Dark Side.”

She contented herself with a nod, and clambered into the ship.

“Strong is Vader. Mind what you have learned,” said Yoda, even more somber than usual. “Save you it can.”

“I will,” Lucy said. She forced herself to smile and waved down at them. “And I'll return, I promise!”

The roof of the X-Wing closed over her. Lucy buckled herself in, then lifted her comlink.

“Artoo,” she said, “set the course for Cloud City.”

Chapter Text

Palpatine, though he would undoubtedly have preferred it if Vader had produced a son and not a daughter, was not fool enough to turn away a loyal and compliant servant with Lucy's now-unparalleled power. His tolerance would run short, however, at any weakness, any defiance. Lucy must be wholly turned before she came before the Emperor. For the benefit of any spies, Vader had called her the Emperor's prize, but he had no intention of taking her to Imperial Center.

Vader's first priority was taking her captive and turning her to the Dark Side. That, he suspected, would require considerable isolation, and considerable attention on his part. Anything else must take second place. It was almost a pity; he would have liked to test her skills before pinning all his hopes on her. Never mind; he had felt her strength in the Force, as great as his own had once been. All else could be taught.

As he waited for his daughter, he thought back to the information he had received on her. Her strong attachments would be the greatest obstacle, when it came time to turn her, but for now they gave Vader an enormous advantage. They made her vulnerable, as they had once made Anakin Skywalker vulnerable.

He kept his mind alert, attuned to everything that went on around him. This last stage of his plan, he could tell, was proceeding according to schedule. The princess' rage and panic thrummed against his mind, standing out, crisp and sharp, from the others all around her. Vader was convinced anew that the Force was with her. Only slightly, in all probability, but enough to explain the strength of her mind—both now and when she had resisted his mind probe two years ago.

Vader's sensors caught the soft thud of boots before his ears did. His daughter was here. With a thought, he sent the doors slamming shut behind her, and then closed off any other avenue of escape. There were a few more soft footsteps. Then a platform rose, just below him, and a small, lean girl emerged out of the steam. Strands of fair hair curled around her pale face; though kept impractically long, the rest was braided back, and unlikely to cause her any serious disadvantage.

She had her mother's slight build; he didn't know if he were disappointed by it or—not. His height had often been a great advantage to him, but Padmé, he distantly remembered, had been well-served by her speed and maneuverability on several occasions.

Lucy took a few quick, light steps towards him. Yes: that was Padmé. And now he could make out her expression—a flicker of fear, replaced with fury. Excellent.

His features and his wife's mingled in her face: more of his, he thought impartially. She lifted burning blue eyes up—yes, those certainly had come straight from him—and holstered her blaster, pulling out her lightsaber.

Or rather, his lightsaber.

Vader smiled behind his mask. She carried the weapon with tolerable ease, but she could not possibly know it as well as he did. Even as she walked up the steps, her breath almost as audible as his own, he could see a number of weaknesses in her form. And her grasp on the handle was far too tight for that particular weapon; it had been designed for a looser grip from a larger hand.

“The Force is with you, young Skywalker,” he told her, “but you are not a Jedi yet.”

She lit the lightsaber. Vader instantly ignited his own and repelled her first attack—solid, he thought, though the angle was slightly off. She swung at him again, then to his amusement, took a distinctly aggressive position, raining reasonably well-placed blows on him. Vader decided he could afford this small test, as long as it took them towards the carbon-freezer.

“You have learned much, young one,” he said.

Lucy glared at him from under lowered brows. Another familiar expression.

“You'll find I'm full of surprises,” she told him. It was the first time he had heard her speak, he thought idly—her voice was clear, a little lower and much sharper than Padmé's. In response, Vader lunged at her, and with a twist of his sword, sent Lucy's flying. He permitted his lightsaber to slash near her feet; she sprang back, rolling down the platform.

“Your destiny lies with me,” Vader said persuasively. It would really be much better if she came of her own volition. “Obi-Wan knew this to be true.”

She was already shaking her head. “No!”

Force it would have to be, then. He mentally lifted the elevator cover behind her and pressed forward, forcing her to step back. Vader ventured another bold attack towards her, as close as he dared, and she sprang backwards, falling into the carbon-freezer. Well, that had been easy enough. He was almost disappointed.

“Perhaps you are not as strong as the Emperor thought,” he said aloud. He sent the materials pouring into the freezer—and Lucy leapt upwards, fifteen feet in the air, climbing up a swinging cable. Vader smiled, pleased.

“Impressive,” he said. “Most impressive. Unfortunately, it will do you no good.”

Lucy jumped down, to the other side of the carbonite pit, and summoned the blue lightsaber to her hand.

“I have all your friends held captive,” he informed her. “Captain Solo has already been handed over to an agent of Jabba the Hutt.” He took care to keep any distaste out of his voice. “Princess Leia, the Wookiee, and the droids are being held on my ship. They are of little interest to me, except as hostages for your good behaviour.”

Lucy, little more than an outline through the blue smoke, froze. “My good behaviour,” she repeated.

“If you allow yourself to be frozen in carbonite,” he said, “they will not be harmed further, provided that their own behaviour does not provoke any unfortunate responses. You cannot possibly kill me, and if you escape, they will be executed. You have proven your value. Now their fate is in your hands, Lucy.”

Some of the fog cleared away. Lucy's face was sickly in the blue light of the lightsaber; if she had noticed his lapse into her given name, she did not show it. But then, Vader allowed, she had rather greater concerns at the moment.

“You'll just execute them anyway,” she said, the blade shaking slightly.

“No—not when their lives can assure your continued compliance,” said Vader. It was true enough, though he sensed some vague disturbance beyond them. “Your feelings would tell you if they were dead.” He allowed her another few seconds, then said, the menace in his voice deepening, “Choose quickly, Skywalker.”

Lucy gave a bleak laugh. “What choice?” she said, and turned off her lightsaber.

Vader allowed his voice to gentle, very slightly. “There may be pain, but it will not kill you. The process has already been tested on a human subject.”

“Han,” said Lucy, shuddering. She took a few more steps forward. He could see her clearly now; she looked very small and very young. She licked her lip and glanced down. “You promise you won't kill them?”

“Yes,” said Vader.

She crouched down, setting her weapon aside—sensible; he had not tested the carbonite's effect on lightsabers, after all—then jumped down in one graceful leap. He could see her shivering in the pit.

Vader felt another flicker of discomfort, which he ignored. He activated a new burst of carbonite; it flooded the chamber, obscuring Lucy from sight. He heard one high scream.

When the smoke cleared, his daughter was a slab of carbonite.