From orbit, the moon was green and cool and untouched, the scars and smoke invisible at this distance. The debris of the Death Star was already settling into a faint silver ring looping its equator. Luke stood in the viewport, silently watching the world turn, carrying his father’s pyre into night, into dark, away.
The cruiser was full of activity, repair crews moving to and from the maintenance bay behind him, making the final patches before the jump to hyperspace: in five hours’ time they were leaving for the shipyard world of Djerna, in the Core Worlds, where the local planetary armada had risen up almost the moment the news went out. If they could deal with the three Imperial cruisers patrolling the system, the world would be liberated, and the shipyards would be theirs.
Everyone was still celebrating even as they began on the new work. Their joy was a shining light and their voices ringing, people pausing in the corridors to clap shoulders and clasp hands and call out congratulations to each other.
They didn’t speak to him. No one put a hand on his arm, or came over to hug him. Even Wedge—Wedge had come past, paused and looked at him, and then he’d walked onward. Luke had known he was there, felt his warmth and his care—it wasn’t a lack of love, from Wedge or anyone else. They just understood instinctively what he’d only just begun to grasp with his conscious mind: the distance he’d crossed over. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.
Palpatine and Vader both telling him he didn’t understand the true power of the dark side. They’d been right, but he hadn’t understood the true power of the light, either. The way that all the vast surrounding energy of love and connection, courage and clear minds had begun to bend in towards him like light bending into a black hole, moving through him and radiating back out as purpose, a harmonizing effect working through the whole ship. Through the whole fleet, even, more distantly. The cruiser had taken severe damage in the battle, but it would be ready to leave on time. Three dozen other ships of the Fleet were also departing for other systems to rejoin the larger fight, repairs completed ahead of schedule, efficiencies that only looked miraculous when you took them as a whole. The universe doled out loaded dice to Jedi.
Luke felt them weighting down his pockets, and wondered a little if the boy on Tatooine would have had the heart to set out on this path, if he’d known where it would lead. If he’d understood just how far he’d have to go.
Han was coming down the corridor with a small crew who had been working on the Falcon’s deflector array. He paused, too, and looked—and then he scowled and came right over. Luke was smiling helplessly before Han even made it to his side.
“You’ve got to quit doing this,” Han said.
Luke glanced at him. “What?”
Han made a wide impatient sweep of his arm. “This. Standing in the bay staring out into the void. It’s creepy, kid. Come on, it’s dinnertime. The fleet can make it into hyperspace without your personal supervision.”
Luke huffed a laugh. “You’d be surprised,” he said, smiling wryly to himself, but it could, now. He let Han tow him away, back to Leia’s quarters in the passenger section of the ship.
After dinner, Luke said he needed to go meditate. “Knock yourself out, kid,” Han said, steering him into Leia’s bedroom with a hand on his shoulder. He didn’t feel like having to go wander the halls in three hours and fish Luke out of whatever bay he’d picked on this time. People were starting to get creeped out by him sitting in corners doing nothing for hours. Or maybe it was just Han, but that was enough, far as he was concerned.
He shut the door on his safely penned-up Jedi Knight and turned to Leia. “What the hell’s going on with Luke?” he said bluntly.
She was frowning over the main terminal, intelligence and strategic analysis on a dozen planetary systems scrolling past. Her arm was still bandaged up a little: she’d refused bacta treatment when there were so many other people hurt worse. But it hadn’t stopped her diving back into ten times more work than any normal person could do. Sometimes Han had no idea how he’d ended up stuck with the two of them.
She sat back rubbing her eyes and looked over at the door, frowning a little, that weird far-away shine coming into her eyes. “I’m not sure. I think—I think he’s been doing something to the fleet. He’s…speeding up the repairs.”
“Luke’s speeding up the repairs,” Han repeated pointedly, in case she’d missed the fact that didn’t make anything close to sense. “By staring out a window.”
“The Force is with him,” Leia said, but before Han could roll his eyes, she looked back at him, her face drawn, and he realized she hadn’t meant it like fortuneteller pap.
She said, after a moment, “The Jedi used to take Force-sensitive children from their families very young. I always thought it was cruel. But—it meant you didn’t know who they were, before the training.”
“He’s still Luke,” Han said sharply, but Leia only looked back at her screens, silent and sad, and he was starting to get a bad feeling about this.
They made the jump to Djerna, took out one Imperial cruiser and chased the other two out of town. Han weaved the Falcon around and through the battlefield, his gunners mopping up TIE fighters. He didn’t have to work at it to pick out Luke’s X-wing from the crowd. He’d never had to work hard at it before, either: Luke had one hell of a distinctive flying style, but it was different this time. It was harder to look away than follow him.
On an impulse, he called up the shooting stats after they landed back in the bay. The gunners had both made in the high thirties, in percent of shots landing, which was about as good as you could get with humanoid reflexes. And it wasn’t just them: it was everybody, the whole fleet. Han scowled at the numbers and shut down the terminal.
Luke was waiting for him at the exit from the bay, a small island of black with the river of flight suits and maintenance crew uniforms flowing around him. He fell silently into step with Han and they walked to Leia’s quarters together.
“It’s okay, you know,” Luke said to him, after dinner: Leia had slipped away to the terminal again.
“What’s okay?” Han said, grouchily.
“I’m not sorry,” Luke said. “The galaxy’s free again. My father is free. It was worth it,” and Han wanted to grab him by the arms and shake him until the goddamn Force fell out of him for good.
“Somebody’s gotta do something about the kid,” Han said.
“You mean about the Jedi Knight?” Leia said pointedly.
“No, I mean about Luke,” Han said, and it wasn’t that Leia disagreed with him, but she didn’t know what there was to do.
She didn’t know exactly what had happened to Luke, up there on the Death Star, but she’d felt the movement of it brushing at the edges of her senses, a vast underwater monster swimming past her deep below, a shadow without a shape. “I was right about him,” he’d told her, softly, late in the night by the dying fires in the Ewok village. “The light side was still with him. He hadn’t gone over, not completely,” and Leia understood he’d been asking her to care. She couldn’t, not the way Luke somehow, impossibly, could. Darth Vader’s hand had been brutally heavy on her shoulder as she’d watched Alderaan destroyed, billions blasted into death, and there was nothing soft enough in her to forgive that.
“It’s not that I don’t believe you,” she’d said.
“I know,” Luke said. “But you don’t…” He smiled to himself a little, sad. “You don’t understand the power of the dark side. Or the light.” He was silent a moment. “A Jedi must be open to the Force,” he said finally. “It has to flow through us. But once the Force is flowing—once the way is open—sometimes you can’t close it again. It stops being a choice you can make. He couldn’t turn away from the dark side, Leia. Not until I gave him the chance. And as soon as I gave him the chance—he turned back.”
She understood, but she understood something different: Anakin Skywalker had given himself to the dark, had opened that door once and once only, and because of that one moment, Alderaan was gone, the Republic fallen, and her mother dead—that private grief she carried in her like a tiny seed somewhere too deep for memory. A vast dark tide rolling over the whole galaxy, from a single earthquake choice.
And now there had been another earthquake. She’d never stood in the Emperor’s throne room, but she knew what it looked like. Luke had walked into that crucible, and he’d made his own choice: he’d opened his own door, and now the Force was flowing again, a clear and shining tide rolling out over the stars in the other direction. She couldn’t want to unmake that choice. Han did, she knew, and she helplessly, fiercely loved him for it, even though she knew it was appalling: that he’d have chosen Luke above all the countless lives around all the wheeling stars. But she was the daughter of Bail Organa of Alderaan, not of Darth Vader, and that wasn’t a choice she could ever have made.
She still ached for Luke, for the distance he stood across, looking back at them. She half wanted to go to him, to join him on that distant satellite. She could, she knew. But she wasn’t going to. Darth Vader’s blood was in her veins, and she couldn’t take the chance of doing that to the galaxy, not even for Luke. If Luke had fallen, if there hadn’t been any other hope, she would have tried. But not now. She just half wished that it had been her, instead. Because the distance was further, for Luke. He’d come to Bespin for her and for Han. He’d have made Han’s choice, too. Just not for himself.
Han put up with it for another two damn systems, and then Ackbar had ship’s maintenance make Luke a private room in the side of the ship, with one of the main viewports, and he’d had enough. Luke didn’t even put so much as a cot in the place, he just sat there in the bare room looking out at the goddamn stars turning like he figured they couldn’t handle their jobs without his help, either.
Meanwhile Leia was still just giving him the straight princess line back: a lot of nonsense about the greater good and saving the galaxy. Well, it looked to him like they’d just finished saving the galaxy once already, and Luke hadn’t had to turn himself into a battery for the whole goddamn Alliance to do it then. They could manage the cleanup without him, too. Anyway, the galaxy would be better off if everyone just left it the hell alone and minded their own business.
Thank God Chewie was with him, at least. Han had taken a shot at looping Lando in, too, but no dice there. “I don’t know, Chewie,” Han said. “It’s like anybody who wasn’t in carbon freeze at the time forgot Luke’s still just a snot-nosed kid from some godforsaken rock on the edge of the galaxy.”
Chewie barked disapprovingly that Luke was a Jedi Knight now and Han needed to have a little respect, proving him right, but at least that wasn’t going to stop Chewie from helping him.
Han went to Luke’s new personal jail cell. “Hey, Skywalker, I can see you’re really busy with all this nothing you’re doing in here, but you think you could spare me an hour? There’s something wrong with the Falcon’s ventral targeting system, I need someone to take some test shots while Chewie flies her and I run the diagnostics.”
He’d figured the best way to lie to a Jedi was to tell the truth, so he’d taken a hydrospanner to the ventral targeting system himself. There was plenty wrong with it now. Luke turned away from the window and smiled at him, that gentle serene smile that made Han just want to throw things at it until Luke got pissy again. “Sure, Han.”
Leia was already on the Falcon—that hadn’t been nearly as hard, Han had just picked a fight with her an hour ago, thrown in a couple of Your Worships, and then he’d stormed out, yelling over his shoulder he’d be on the Falcon when she got tired of pretending to be a droid, before she could get in a comeback. Leia hadn’t been brainwashed by the Emperor and that old kook from Tatooine.
She stormed out of the corridor as they came aboard. “Listen, Solo, just because I take my responsibilities seriously—” and then she noticed Luke was there. Han shut the gangway and yelled, “Punch it, Chewie,” and ran past her to the control room as the Falcon’s engines fired up.
“General Solo?” Launch Control squawked at him from the communicator array. “General Solo, is that you? You are not cleared for launch, please deactivate your engines.”
“Yeah, no kidding? I must have gotten left off the schedule,” Han said. “Hang on, you’re breaking up,” and he twisted the modulator up and sent a loud screeching whine over the line. Chewie howled in protest. “Sorry, pal. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
“What are you doing?” Leia said, bursting in from behind them just as the Falcon lifted. The comm array was flashing wildly now, two dozen channels all lit up. “Han, put this ship down right now. I can’t—that’s the command line!” She leaned over his shoulder and hit the main red button.
“General Solo!” It was Admiral Ackbar himself. “What is going on down there?”
“Sorry, Admiral, I’m stealing your Jedi and your princess,” Han said, and closed the channel. “Chewie, jam the comlinks and put all power to the front deflector shields.”
“Excuse me?” Leia said.
“Sit down, this is going to get bumpy,” Han said. He was pretty sure they weren’t going to lower the hangar bay shields for him now.
“Han,” Luke said quietly, behind him.
“Don’t even think about it, kid,” Han said. “I’m not falling for one of those mind tricks.”
Luke sighed heavily.
“Let’s go,” Han said to Chewie, and they were shooting down the hangar towards the entrance, picking up speed, and then there was a sudden horrible lurch and the Falcon just—stopped. Han was thrown out of his chair. Chewie went over, too, and just managed to catch Leia as she toppled onto him. Luke was the only one still on his feet, his eyes closed, his face blank as a piece of paper somebody else was going to write on. The Falcon’s impulse engines were whining helplessly, at full power, and they weren’t going anywhere. Luke put out a hand, pointing at the console, and the landing controls lit up.
“Screw it,” Han muttered. “The Force is with us, right?”
Luke opened his eyes and blinked at him, and Han reached up and punched the throttle to go straight to hyperspace, the nav coordinates empty, and the galaxy blurred into infinity as the Falcon shot forward past lightspeed.
“I don’t believe you!” Leia shouted.
“Hey, don’t look at me, sweetheart, I didn’t pick the destination!” Han yelled back, trying to keep the Falcon steady as they went thumping through the roaring, seething gale of the outer atmosphere of the monster gas giant, the gravitational pull trying to drag them down into the furious green pit of the moon-sized hurricane. “Take it up with the Jedi!”
“I’m not talking about where we came out!” Leia snapped, then windmilled and nearly went over as Han had to drop the Falcon sideways to dodge between two towering cyclone pillars. She threw herself into the passenger seat and strapped in.
“Han!” Luke said. “There, that red line half a mile down the side—go through it!”
“You want me to go down?” Han yelled, but he did it anyway, and shooting through the red cloud plowed into a massive boiling updraft of gas and steam, two miles wide, that blasted them all the way through the atmosphere and back out into space on a plume of ejecta.
Chewie howled his gratitude for having made it out of Han’s stupid plan alive, and then barked his violent opinion of Han’s flying skills and likely sanity. “Hey, I’d like to see anybody else do better getting out of a gas giant storm,” Han said, wounded. “Where is there around here we can put down for repairs?”
There were three planets, twenty-nine moons, and four hundred and six sizable asteroids in the system, and none of them inhabited by so much as a microbe. The nav computer couldn’t even tell them where they were: it had lost all points of reference and was going to need three days scanning and processing the starfield before it could determine their position.
Luke was frowning out the cockpit window. “Try that one,” he said, pointing at the fourth moon of the second gas giant. Han was tempted to go for another one, just to mess with the Force, but the Falcon had been through a lot already, he wasn’t going to do that to her.
The moon was just on the edge of survivable: its massive parent was throwing off faint ripples of gas through space that gave it something like an atmosphere. But it got colder than Hoth at night and hotter than the underbelly of Bespin during the day, and the hyperdrive needed about three solid weeks of full-time repair work on the outside, all of which actually could only be done in the twenty minute time slots of endurable temperatures at sunrise and sunset. The nav computer had finally told them they were in an uninhabited, unexploitable, and unnamed system in the Galriki sector, which was under iron-clad Imperial control, so they couldn’t even risk sending out a distress signal.
They were going to be there a while.
On the upside, Luke seemed pretty baffled by the whole thing. He kept looking around frowning. “I don’t understand why we’re here,” he finally said, after Han asked him what he was worried about: not even mynocks could’ve made it on this rock.
“Because you couldn’t stand to take a vacation,” Han said.
“The Force brought us here,” Luke said. “There has to be a reason.”
“Hey, kid, maybe the Force wants a vacation,” Han said. “It’s probably tired of all of you Jedi and Sith bugging it all the time,” which netted him the victory of an exasperated look.
They spent the nights huddled together in a big pile nestled in every movable piece of insulating material the Falcon had, and the days stripped all but naked and spraying themselves with recycled water. Han had spent years in significantly less fun ways, even if Leia still wasn’t speaking to him—well, she was speaking to him, but it was still a hundred percent pissed-off—and Luke was still pretending he’d never met a human emotion stronger than mild dismay. Neither of them had ever spent more than a couple of weeks in deep space travel, though, so Han was betting on it getting them before too much longer. The rule he’d been raised with was, if you didn’t get a six-month stretch in sometime before you turned thirteen and made it out again somewhere between sane and a little bit not, you weren’t going to make a spacer.
Chewie was pissed-off and sulking, though, and when Han prodded he got yelled at for behaving dishonorably and trying to take advantage of Luke and Leia’s situation to win himself high-status mates because they didn’t have any alternatives.
“Hey!” Han said, gesturing to himself. “General? Hero of the Rebellion?”
Chewie made a comment so deeply rude Han couldn’t even understand all of it.
The fourth week in, a plasteel harmonizer slipped in Leia’s sweaty hand when she pushed it a few minutes too far past sunrise. It sliced her across the palm, deep. Han heard her gasp, and Luke jerked like he’d been cut. He whirled around and grabbed her hand between both of his, his face twisted under the breathing mask. She had her teeth clenched, her other hand gripping hard around her wrist: blood was dripping slowly to the ground.
“Chewie, get the first aid kit!” Han yelled, running over. “Come on, let’s get her inside—” He stopped, because Leia had gasped, staring down at her palm. Luke’s eyes were closed, his forehead furrowed up, and there was a sudden glowing between his hands, light shining out through the flesh and lighting up bones and tendons—bones and tendons that had been carved through, in Leia’s hand, as bad a cut as you could get without cutting the top of the hand off.
And then the slices started to close. He stared, watching one tendon after another fuse back together, bones knitting whole, flesh closing up, until Luke relaxed, and lifted his top hand away, and underneath it Leia’s palm was whole and unscarred, still smeared with wet blood. Luke opened his eyes and looked at her, and Leia looked back at him, and Han had one of those annoying moments of well, damn jealousy before he remembered wait, he didn’t have to be jealous, and then he saw Luke and Leia remember it just a little bit too late to keep both of them from leaning in a little, and noticing the other leaning in a little, and oh, great.
At lunchtime, which was just the two of them, Chewie conveyed at length exactly what he thought of Han and his big ideas. For once, Han wasn’t up to arguing. Luke and Leia had gone to opposite ends of the ship and were doing their best to pretend they didn’t know the other one was on board. That was bad enough, but Luke had gone into the cockpit, and even though the sun had to be pounding down on it like hammer and anvil, when Han tried to go down the corridor to talk to him, his breath misted in the air, and the walls were cold to the touch. He couldn’t make it all the way.
“Don’t,” Leia said tightly, without looking up from the chessboard, when he tried to talk to her. Han ran an irritated hand through his sweating hair and went and dumped an entire bucket over his head. Damn all of it, anyway. Screw that crazy old man, anyway. He’d known, he probably hadn’t told Luke on purpose. Why not—let the kid tie himself up in a knot, then drop it on him, and boom, instant Jedi Knight, pretending he didn’t feel anything because he couldn’t let himself feel it anymore. “You’ve got a lot to answer for, Kenobi,” he muttered to the wall.
He was probably being unfair, but that was okay with Han. Luke came out for the sunset repair shift, but he went silently over to the far side of the ship away from the rest of them, and when they were done, he went back inside and headed for the cockpit again, even as the temperature had already started to drop. Han sprang forward and got Luke’s arm, and then he had to fight to keep hold of it, a staticky crackle like electricity running under the skin, noise that crawled inside his ears. Luke turned a stare on him, cold blue like the light of his old saber. “Let go.”
Han held on hard to the memory of the farmboy grinning at him, wide and warm, on Yavin after the fight. “Look, kid, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said, through a tight throat.
Luke didn’t move, standing rigid under his hand. Then he said, raw and terrible, “You don’t understand. I can’t get angry.”
Han’s hand was almost numb, prickling going up his whole arm, starting at the base of his skull. It didn’t feel like anything good. “That the only way to the dark side?” Luke went tense, almost trembling. “You’re the Jedi, you tell me,” Han managed to force out of his dry throat. “This feel any better, to you?” He jerked his head down the corridor.
Luke stood shivering another moment, and then his voice cracked, whispering, “I don’t know—another way.”
“So let me think up a few,” Han said. He let his hand slide down Luke’s arm, until he got his hand. Luke’s face was crumpling, out of that inhuman mask, and he stared down at their clasped hands. The cold prickling was starting to go out of Han’s hand. He laced their fingers together, and he pulled Luke back over to the nest they’d made in the smuggling compartment.
Leia was standing on the edge of it with her arms wrapped around herself, shivering: the temperature had already dropped twenty degrees since the sun had slid off the hull. But she hadn’t got into the nest; she was watching them, her face also crumpled, tears sliding down her cheeks. As they got to the other edge, across from her, she wiped them away and looked at him and said firmly, “This is all your fault.”
Chewie made a few snorts of agreement and blame as he settled himself into the medical bunk and cranked up the heat on the mattress, pulling the blanket over himself.
“Yeah, yeah, you can all take it out on me later,” Han said. “Come on, princess, let’s get you both warmed up. We’ll figure the rest out as we go along.”