Bright hazel eyes stared up at him; in them, he saw such potential, a more hopeful future that he never thought possible when he was on Tatooine. Those eyes belonged to his newly born daughter, a little bundle that fit so perfectly in his arms he wondered why he had waited so long to have a child in the first place. He was a little saddened that she did not have his eyes, but he took comfort in the fact that she looked like his sister and mother, a possible indicator that she would be a strong and fierce woman when she grew up.
"Luke!" came a booming voice from the front room that could only belong to one man. "Kid quit hogging the baby and let me see my niece. I even brought the good stuff to celebrate, so get down here already."
"Han, keep your voice down," scolded Leia, her voice carrying just as much as her husband's. "Ben, stop dragging your feet and get in here."
Luke rolled his eyes as he looked over at his recovering wife. "Would you be upset if I went and showed off our daughter to my family?"
"Not at all," said his wife, Evaan Verlaine, exhaustion evident in her voice. "I'd rather Han didn't barge in here and see me looking like this; I would never hear the end of it."
"I think you look beautiful," said Luke lovingly as he leaned over and kissed her forehead. "Now, you rest as the medic said, and I'll be back in a little while."
She nodded before lying down in their bed, and Luke pulled up the blanket to cover her adequately before kissing her forehead once again. The baby in his arms squirmed, and he looked down at her, caressing her soft cheek with his human hand, his mechanical one holding her safely against his chest.
"I love you," he whispered as he kissed her nose. "And I'll always be there to protect you."
"You said the same thing to me when we married," whispered Evaan, her amber eyes glowing with love for her husband. "She's lucky to have such a wonderful protector."
"Not as lucky as I am to have two people so wonderful to protect," said Luke with a grin. He could practically hear Ben retching and Han complaining about how sappy he was being, but he hardly cared about that, he and Evaan had earned the right to be a little sentimental.
Luke then headed out of the bedroom and into the front living room, where Han and Leia were sitting on the couch with eager smiles on their faces. C-3P0 and R2-D2 were moving about in the place, likely to distract themselves and his ten-year-old nephew was sitting close to his parents, but he seemed more sullen than usual. 'I wonder what's wrong?' thought Luke as he glanced at the young boy.
"Master Luke!" cried C-3P0, the golden droid raced as fast as his legs could carry him to his former master's side. R2-D2 was trailing behind, making sharp beeping noises, and sounding more like a guardmech than an astromech. "It's so good to see you; I was beginning to worry that something had gone wrong. And Artoo, I'm not going to break Master Luke's progeny, quit saying you're going to arrest me for assault. You don't even have that power."
Luke laughed loudly; it was so lovely having the droids back together. "No, Threepio, nothing went wrong," he said, looking down at his daughter. "I can safely say that everything went perfectly."
The droid nodded as he looked at the baby. "I would say so, sir. She is a lovely little creature, much like Mistress Leia was when she was a baby."
Leia, taking advantage of the situation, took the baby from Luke's arms, tears already rolling down her cheeks as if she were holding her child. "Luke, she's beautiful," she gushed as she carefully touched her niece's hand. "What's her name?"
"Rey Organa Skywalker," replied Luke and his sister's tears doubled.
"You named her after me," said Leia, choking a little on the words. "I'm honored."
Han came over and put an arm around his wife as he gazed at his little niece's angelic face. "A good name, Luke, a perfect name. Hey there cutie, I'm your Uncle Han." He then tried to pull Ben closer, but the boy resisted. "And if he would stop being so stubborn, I'd like to introduce your cousin Ben; he's going to be like a big brother to you."
"Don't be shy, Ben," said Luke encouragingly and Ben stopped resisting, a little reluctantly.
Ben made it a point to stand beside his mother rather than his father and looked at Rey as if she were some new species he had never seen before. "She's tiny."
"So were you at one point in your life," said Han, rolling his eyes a little. "Although, compared to you, she is even smaller."
"Was I a big baby, Mom?" asked Ben as he tentatively reached out and touched Rey's tiny fingers.
"You were a very healthy baby," replied Leia with a fond smile before reaching out and ruffling her son's dark brown curls. "Rosy cheeks, dark hair, and the loveliest eyes. I swear most of the midwives came in to admire you rather than to take care of me, you were always being held by someone."
Ben seemed to relax a little. "Did you hold me too, Uncle Luke?"
Luke nodded. "I was the first in there, after your father of course. Chewie even had to wait before he could see you."
"The fuzz ball sends his congratulations, by the way," said Han as he stroked Rey's silky brown hair. "Wow, kid, I didn't think you'd make such an attractive tyke; I thought Leia and I were the only ones that could do that."
Leia looked ready to smack Han over the head, and Ben looked annoyed, but all Luke could do was smile, not even Han's off-colored remarks could ruin this day. Rey started to fuss, and he took her back, rocking her gently as she began to settle down again, he was amazed at how quickly he loved her already, and they had just really met; at least physically. He was so overjoyed that he was already thinking of asking Evaan for another baby.
"Has Evaan recovered yet?" asked Leia, her concern for her sister-in-law and best friend evident.
"Somewhat," replied Luke as he gave Rey his finger to hold. "She's exhausted, and I believe she's sleeping right now, maybe you can see her in a few hours."
Leia nodded. "I'll see her when she's ready to see me; I don't want her to feel obligated to receive visitors when she's not up to it."
Han snorted. "The considerate politician as always."
"Just because you weren't raised with manners doesn't mean you can criticize those with them," snapped Leia and Ben winced.
"Why don't we get a drink?" suggested Luke, sensing a possible fight between his sister and her husband. "Han, I think you mentioned that you brought some good alcohol."
"Right," said Han as he hurried over to a bag on the table. He reached in and pulled out a bottle full of bright green liquid. "Get over here and have a drink with me, Skywalker."
Leia gave her brother an affectionate look as she took Rey from his arms once again and then gestured to Ben to sit down while Luke joined Han for a drink. Han brought out two shot glasses and poured both of them full, handing one carefully to Luke before raising his own.
"To Rey Skywalker!" toasted Han.
"To Rey Skywalker," echoed Luke as he looked over fondly at his daughter and they both downed their drink.
'I never thought the Force would be used like this,' thought Luke wryly as he raised his hand and summoned a clean diaper. It had been a week since Rey came into their lives and he was learning that fatherhood meant almost constant feedings and sleepless nights. Not that he minded. When he was finished changing Rey's diaper, he redressed her in the pajamas Leia had given her and held her in his left arm against his bare chest; she seemed to enjoy being held this way and he was all too happy to indulge her.
When he got back to bed, he saw Evaan's eyes shining in the dim light of the moon, and she was smiling.
"What are you doing up?" asked Luke as he eased back in bed, making sure not to bounce Rey around too much.
"I've been up," replied Evaan as she reached over and caressed Rey's cheek before her hand dropped to Luke's forearm, gently caressing his skin. "I have to say, that was one Force trick I've never seen before."
Luke smirked. "I didn't see any harm in trying; I'm just glad it worked, otherwise I would have had to do trickier maneuvering than I've ever done with a ship."
Evaan smirked as she pulled away, Luke followed suit and laid down beside her with Rey resting on her pillow between them, his arm wrapped protectively around both his wife and daughter.
"Will you train her when she's old enough, right?" she asked, brushing his blonde hair out of his eyes. "You said before she was born that she was a Force-sensitive."
Luke nodded, holding her just a little tighter. "She is a very powerful one at that. I think she's even more powerful than me." His eyes went to the little sleeping bundle between them. "We'll have our hands full with her when the time comes."
"Well, she is half Alderaanian," said Evaan with a sleepy chuckle as she settled in closer to Luke, craving to be closer to him. "Luke, I want you to promise me something."
"Anything," said Luke, his eyes heavy with sleep as he nestled down, his arm still holding his wife and daughter.
"Promise that if something happens to me, you'll raise Rey and both be happy," she said just as she fell asleep.
"I promise, Evaan," swore Luke before joining her.
"How did I let you convince me to do this?" asked Evaan as she finished pinning her hair up with her green amber pins, a Name Day gift from Luke when they were still with the Rebel Alliance. "I don't even like the opera."
Luke shook his head and smiled as he finished adjusting his robes, ensuring that not a single fold was out of place. Today was their eleven-year wedding anniversary, and he had managed to procure tickets for Evaan's favorite opera along with convincing Han to babysit Rey for the night while they were out. He thought this would do them some good, considering they had rarely spent a moment alone since she was born and Evaan seemed to become increasingly fatigued after having Rey. Luke knew his wife was nervous, this was their first evening without Rey in a little over three months, and like any good mother, she did not believe anyone could take care of her child except her.
Han had explained to him that this was normal and to just keep pressing forward with the night, even if he had to pin her to her chair forcefully; apparently, he did the same with Leia when Ben was almost a year and Chewbacca watched him for an evening. Luke could understand his sister's position, especially when they came home and found Ben sleeping in a cage. Evidently, that was how Wookiee babies slept.
"Evaan, you love this opera," said Luke patiently as he looked at himself in the mirror. "And don't worry about Rey, Han isn't watching her the entire night and the droids will be there."
"Oh yes, that makes me feel loads better," said Evaan sarcastically. "Why couldn't we have just stayed on Gatalenta? Coruscant isn't any better."
"You can't see this opera on Gatalenta for one," chuckled Luke. "Please give it a chance, Evaan, if you're still feeling anxious during the intermission, we'll leave."
There was silence from the fresher and Luke knew that he won the battle, although the war was far from over.
"Fine," said Evaan and moments later she stepped out. "How do I look?"
Luke was floored by his wife's appearance. She was wearing a strapless pale spring green shirt, one that was tight in all the right places, and showed off just enough of her creamy skin to tax Luke's self-restraint. She was wearing a pair of ivory dress pants that showed off her long legs and hugged tight to her well-rounded hips. Her blonde hair, the deep color of gold or a sunset, was pinned up masterfully with swirls and braids. Luke would have a fun time undoing her hair later that night.
"Is something wrong?" asked Evaan, looking down at herself self-consciously. She knew she had not exactly bounced back from having Rey, but she thought she looked better than most, although now she was not so sure.
"No, no," said Luke as he hurried to her side, sensing her unease. He kissed her softly and put an arm around her bare shoulders, and he turned them, so they were facing the full-length mirror in their room. "You look incredible, Evaan."
Evaan looked at herself in the mirror and then at Luke, if either of them looked good, it was Luke. His black robes framed his body well, simultaneously masking and enhancing his muscular physique in such a way Evaan wanted to unwrap him and remind herself precisely of what he looked like without them. She knew perfectly well, but it never hurt to have a reminder. His blonde hair, the color of sunshine, was well combed and neatly styled; she preferred it when his hair was wet from sweat and curled, but that was hardly appropriate for an evening in Coruscant. She was glad that she had opted to wear flat shoes rather than the heels Leia sent over, this way she was not towering over her husband.
"You don't tower over me," said Luke, reading her thoughts and she scowled at him. "What? You don't. You're only an inch taller than me as it is, wearing heels only puts you a couple of inches higher."
Evaan sighed. "I really should know better than to think I have a private thought."
"You do," he said firmly. "I just . . . I wanted to make sure you knew how beautiful you look and I peaked. I'm sorry."
"Don't be, it was well-intentioned," said Evaan, kissing him on the cheek before resting her head on his shoulder. "Can you believe we've been married for eleven years?"
Luke shook his head. "No, it still feels like we've only been married for a couple of years." He flexed his gloved left hand, feeling the metal band that showed the entire galaxy that he was married to Evaan Verlaine. "Do you think we were crazy to wait so long to have a child?"
Evaan shook her head. "No, I think it was perfect for us. We haven't exactly been idle this past decade, we've been a little busy trying to rebuild the Jedi Order and helping those affected by the Civil War we sort of initiated."
"I guess you have a point," he conceded, briefly wondering if his young Jedi would be all right for a few days without him. He knew they would be, the few surviving priests were watching over them, but he could not help feeling slightly apprehensive. They were still so young.
"No more talk of children or Jedi or war," declared Evaan as she lifted her head. "This is our evening, and we deserve to have it free from responsibilities."
Luke grinned cheekily. "If we don't talk about any of that, then what will we say to each other?"
Evaan returned his grin with one of her own and a devilish light in her eyes. "Well for starters, we could talk about how striking you look in your robes, Grand Master Skywalker."
"And what about you, Commander Skywalker?" he asked, holding her tighter. "You look ravishing this evening."
"Well thank you, Luke," said Han as he leaned against the doorframe to their bedroom. "I thought I looked good, but it's always nice to hear it."
Luke turned a few different shades of red while Evaan giggled.
Han smirked. "If you two lovebirds are done with your pillow talk, your cab is waiting outside." He held up a wrap for Evaan that matched the color of her shirt. "Leia sent this over too, Verlaine, she wants to make sure you're decent for the opera."
Evaan huffed indignantly. "And why is she so worried? I've seen her out in public in far less."
"It's more to make sure Luke behaves himself than anything to do with your appearance," replied Han smoothly, effectively making Luke turn another shade of red. "Now, I don't start getting paid until the two of you leave, so hurry up and get gone!"
"Thank the Force Leia is going to be coming by later," muttered Evaan as she went over to Han and snatched the piece of fabric from his hand and wrapped it around her shoulders. "Come on, Luke, we really should get going. The overture starts in thirty minutes. I'm just going to say goodbye to Rey before we leave."
Luke smiled as he followed his wife out of the bedroom, only to be stopped by Han.
"Remember, pin her to her seat," whispered Han and Luke nodded. "Did you give her an out, like I suggested?"
"Yeah, I told her we'd see how she was doing at intermission," replied Luke softly, making sure that his wife could not hear them, given she was only a few feet away in the living room. "Any more advice?"
"Yeah," said Han, his lips quirking at the corners. "Don't come home at intermission."
Luke was going to say something, but he decided against it, doing so would only serve to encourage Han further, and he did not want his face to become the color of a red sun. He instead hugged his brother-in-law and headed into the living room where he found Evaan holding Rey, whispering a song as she swayed her. It was a shame they would have to leave; this moment looked so perfect that he could have happily canceled the evening and felt accomplished. Still, they did need a night out, so he went over to his wife and daughter, took his daughter from his wife's arms and kissed her forehead before setting her back down in her rocker. He then took his wife's hand and pulled her towards the door, nodding to the droids as he escorted her out of the apartment.
"Remember," he said to Evaan as they got into the cab, "we can leave at the intermission, we don't have to stay for the second act."
Evaan nodded as she shot a nervous glance back at the building. "Alright, I know I can make it to intermission."
Luke closed the door, and they relaxed in the back seat as best as they could during the ride to the opera house. Evaan would, in fact, make it to the intermission but she and Luke would not stick around to see the second act. Their disappearance had nothing at all to do with missing Rey.
The meeting with the Senate had gone as well as could be expected; they agreed to send more scouts out to find the Jedi archives while at the same time acknowledging the rumors about former Empire loyalists joining forces but determining they were untrue. Luke wished he could say something about the remaining faction of the Empire; they seemed to be rising in power, and he was growing concerned at some of the rumors he was hearing; but he was just a Jedi and as a Jedi he was expected to remain neutral in galactic affairs. He hoped that someday his sister would be powerful enough in the New Republic Senate to make some of the necessary changes to the policies that would ensure the Empire never came into power again.
When he arrived home, R2-D2 greeted him in the kitchen with a worn beep and Luke patted his dome, the astromech was going to wear out his circuits from all the work he was doing for Evaan of late. Luke headed into the living room where he found his wife napping in her chair with Rey at her side in her bassinet; he was concerned to see that even in sleep Evaan looked exhausted. "I'm back, Evaan," he said quietly as he approached the chair.
Evaan awoke, her eyes fluttering for a few moments before focusing on him. "Oh Luke, I'm sorry, I was just dozing. How was the meeting?"
Luke smiled. "It was alright; I'm just glad to be home now."
She smiled warmly just as Rey began fussing, she reached over and picked up the infant then sighed, she was far too tired to hold her right now. "Would you mind taking Rey?" she asked as she handed Rey to him, and he noticed her hands were shaking slightly as she did. "I seem to be feeling under the weather, and I don't want her to get sick."
"Darling, she's almost five months old," said Luke with a slight smile as he took the fussy bundle. "I'm sure it's normal for her to get a cold."
Evaan shrugged. "Maybe but I still don't want to risk it. She's already rejecting my breast milk, so she must taste something wrong with it. I've called for a medic to come and check on me so don't worry."
Luke smiled as he leaned down to kiss his wife's forehead, feeling the above average warmth of her skin, indicating a possible fever. "I'm not worried, I know you have a handle on things here; I'm glad you had the foresight to have your milk replicated in case something like this happened."
"Yes, my mother did that for me when I was born, and it came in handy she said," remarked Evaan with a slight smile. "Anyway, enough about my woes. I'll get dinner started."
She went to sit up, but Luke put a hand on her shoulder, pushing her back against the chair.
"You need your rest," he said sternly. "I can cook dinner one night at least; you've been doing it almost longer than we've been married."
Evaan smiled brightly. "I wonder what I did to deserve a man like you, Luke Skywalker."
"What are you talking about?" asked Luke with a boyish grin. "I'm the one that should have built a shrine to you, considering a goddess like you chose a lowly Jedi like me to spend the rest of her life with."
"A lowly Jedi who saved the galaxy," said Evaan as she reached up and cupped his cheek. "You could have had your choice of any woman, so why did you pick me?"
"Because I fell in love with you," he replied simply as he leaned in and kissed her palm. "There's no other way of explaining it, my beloved."
Evaan smirked. "Didn't you once tell me that you married me because I was the only pilot ever to outsmart you?"
Luke rolled his eyes playfully. "Of course you'd remember that. And if I recall correctly, I said that's when I fell in love with you, and I married you because I fell in love with you."
"So, therefore, you married me because I outsmarted you," said Evaan happily as Luke leaned in to kiss her softly. "You know, if you keep doing that, we'll end up with another baby before Rey's even one."
"I wouldn't mind that," said Luke sweetly as he cuddled Rey and headed to the kitchen. "A house full of kids would be a great change of pace."
Evaan sighed. "You have a temple full of kids already, Luke; you don't need a house full on top of that. Besides, they'll all either look like you or Leia; Rey already looks more like her than she'll ever look like me."
"Well, we can stop having kids once we get one that looks like you," replied Luke as he began cooking a simple dinner of cooked meat and bread. "How does that sound?"
"Perfect," said Evaan before sleep claimed her.
Luke could not keep himself from running home that evening once he was finished training his younglings for the day, he was eager to see Evaan and Rey after almost three days without them. His younglings had entered the phase of building their lightsabers, and that had taken more time than he thought possible, then again when he had done it, he had been an adult and these were children. The Padawans had been of some assistance, but they had their studies to attend so they could only be present some of the time.
He hoped that Evaan had managed without him; she seemed to be getting better, although there were those days when she could hardly move. The medics had said she had likely contracted an infection after giving birth to Rey and she was just struggling to fight it but should be better soon. Luke had no choice but to have faith that his wife would recover just like the medics said; until then he would make life as easy as possible for her from now on.
Entering his house, he immediately felt that something was wrong. R2-D2 was not there to greet him, and he did not hear Evaan or Rey. Keeping the panic down, he searched through the various rooms looking for a sign of his family, but he found no indication that they were even in the house. His heart started racing as he headed to the backyard expecting it to be empty. Relief washed over him when he saw his wife's lying in the grass with Rey in her playpen nearby, and only the picturesque scene was ruined by Rey's cries. In all six months of her young life, Rey had just cried maybe three times, the rest of the time she made noises to indicate her displeasure or needs. R2-D2 was beside the playpen, apparently trying to calm Rey down but to no avail. Luke was terrified as he ran to Evaan's side.
"Evaan," he said as he went to his knees beside her. "Evaan, are you alright?"
He gathered up his wife in his arms, and when he saw her glassy eyes and slightly blue lips, he knew she was gone. Luke held her close, tears running down his face as he tried to make sense of her death, of when it could have been and why he had not felt her join the Force. Could he have been so busy, so distracted, that he missed the feeling of his wife leaving this world? Stars, it sounded so cruel. If he had known that she was getting worse, if he had been paying more attention, things might be different. Instead, he was left holding the body of the one person who had meant everything to him.
"I'm sorry, Evaan," he sobbed as he smoothed out her blonde hair. "I should have been here; I should have taken care of you. I'm so sorry, my love."
He almost expected her eyes to resume their usual sparkle, that his apology and tears would be enough to bring his love back to him, but he was met with a stillness and quiet only broken by the cries of his daughter. Luke looked over at Rey, her face streaked with small tears and eyes rimmed red from all her crying. The promise he made Evaan a little over half a year ago came to the front of his mind, he promised to take care of Rey should something happen to her; he would never have thought that he would have to fulfill that promise so soon. He had hoped never to accomplish it. Now, he had no choice.
Luke watched in silence as his Padawans brought his wife's glass top casket up the stairs of the temple, they were all dressed in formal Jedi robes, looking every inch the Knights they were sure to become in a few months. Part of him wished that he had just listened to Leia and buried Evaan on New Alderaan, but the more selfish part of him he listened to did not want to be parted from his wife, even if she was now dead. This place had been their home for so long, and where they built their new life, it felt wrong to take her away from all of this.
The rain outside the temple was the only music that played as Evaan's casket was brought to the center of the room where it would rest for two days before being placed within the depths of the temple itself. She would be the first wife of a Jedi ever to be buried here, and he was glad the priests had permitted it. When her casket was placed on the stone slab, the Padawans stepped back to the outside perimeter and activated their lightsabers, then held them high as they angled them, so all pointed towards the casket. It was both a Jedi and Alderaanian practice for honoring the fallen.
The Padawans, his first in the new Order, were all holding back tears as they paid respects to the woman who treated them like they were her children. She had been the first face they saw when they arrived, the one who encouraged them during a difficult period in their studies, and who held them when they missed their families. Even those with families found comfort from her when the days between visits and letters from home seemed to drag on for eons.
Rey watched the proceedings just as intently as her father, her hazel eyes locked on the casket like it was the most fascinating thing. Luke held her snuggly as he looked on, he had been trying since that morning to keep himself from crying, but the closer he got to say his final goodbye to Evaan, the more difficult it became. He tried to distract himself by focusing on the many mourners that had turned up to send Evaan off, some of them he knew from the Rebel Alliance, others he had met on New Alderaan, while many were those she had befriended here on Gatalenta. Luke was hardly surprised that many people treasured his wife; her kind heart and strong spirit had been what drew him to her initially, so he could only guess that these people were drawn in similarly.
"It's almost time, Luke," said Leia softly, and he nodded in response, not trusting his voice not to crack if he spoke. "Are you sure you want me to deliver the eulogy? You can still do it if you'd prefer."
"I don't think I could get through it," he replied, his voice cracked just as he thought it would.
Leia understood and walked over to Evaan's casket, her dark blue dress flaring out around her like a waterfall. Her long brown hair was braided intricately with a golden crown nestled within, making her look every bit the princess that she was. Luke easily found Han's position and saw him looking directly at Leia, his expression reminiscent of the one he wore when Leia fired a blaster during their rescue mission. Ben was standing with Han, a somber rather than sullen expression on his face today. Both of them were wearing dark blue suits, the color of mourning for the Alderaanian people; Luke was wearing a set of dark blue robes that Leia bought him and Rey was wearing a simple dress of the same color. They were united in their grief.
"Today we say farewell to an extraordinary woman," started Leia, holding herself with dignity and grace Luke knew he could not muster today. "Evaan Verlaine Skywalker was a devoted mother, a loving wife, and a treasured friend. We grew up together on Alderaan, and when I reached the age of maturity, she was the natural choice to be my bodyguard and pilot. She took that position incredibly seriously, even when I took advantage and used her as a means of escaping court." She smiled slightly and let out a shaky breath. "I was incredibly lucky to have a friend like her at my side during our people's darkest hour, and it was because of her that part of our culture was saved. Evaan was always very stubborn about protocol towards the royal family, and she refused to speak to me as an equal, and instead addressed me as my title demanded; it was not until she married my brother that she called me by my given name.
"She fought alongside many of you here during the war against the Empire, lending her skills in firefights and raids to aid the Rebels in reaching victory. Evaan was never one to leave a man behind, feeling that a mission was a failure if even one person was lost, which is why she often was the last to the leave a battle. She wanted to make sure everyone made it home." Leia then looked directly at Luke as she spoke. "But being a fantastic pilot and loyal Alderaanian was only a small part of the woman she was. Evaan's love for my brother and my family went above and beyond the call of duty. She once told me that like most of the galaxy, she fell in love with my brother after he destroyed the Death Star, but it was not because he was a hero. It had more to do with how he flew his fighter; she said she had never seen someone fly like he did and that's what brought him to her attention. She was an excellent judge of character, almost always dead accurate but even she could be wrong. Evaan said on many occasions that Han wasn't good enough for me, and then she changed her mind when she assisted in his rescue. I believe she said that he must be worthy of my heart if I was willing to risk capture by Jabba the Hutt to save his life."
Luke gave a faint smile, and he saw Han do the same; Evaan and Han had, over the course of the last decade, become great friends and he knew her death hurt Han almost as profoundly as it hurt him.
"I know I speak for everyone who knew her when I say that the galaxy has lost a bright star with Evaan's passing," continued Leia. "She will be greatly missed, but her legacy will live on with the Alderaanian people, with the Rebel Alliance veterans, and with her family. Before her death, she gave birth to a beautiful baby daughter, and I will make it my mission to ensure that her only child will know Evaan, her story will be told so many times that it will be as if she were with us still." Leia turned to the casket and placed a hand on top of the glass. "Farewell, my sister, we will see each other again someday."
She then looked at Luke who immediately began walking towards the casket, his legs felt like lead with each step he took. When he managed to make it, he looked down and saw Evaan lying peacefully beneath the glass: her blonde hair was fanned out like a sun's rays, sky blue Alderaanian flowers surrounded her body, and a crown of them adorned her head, she was wearing a pale gold dress and Luke almost laughed. The only time his wife wore a dress was when they married, and after that, she swore she would never wear another one; she told him that she would be buried in her fighter pilot's uniform. He regretted that he did not instruct Leia to do so, but she had made a concession, and Evaan's many medals were placed among the flowers that lined her casket. Luke glanced at his wife's hands and felt a little guilty for taking her wedding band for his own; her hand looked so bare even with the replacement Han provided.
"I'm sorry, Evaan," he whispered as he put his hand on the glass, making sure to put his above hers. "I'll keep my promise to you and take care of Rey." He glanced at his little daughter who was looking at her mother. "I'll always love you, and miss you until the day I join you. Goodbye, my love."
"Go talk to him," said Leia as she cooked dinner. "He hasn't been out of that room since the funeral."
Han, who was playing cards with Ben and bouncing Rey on his knee, looked up skeptically at his wife. "Why should I? I'm a nerf herder remember? I don't know how to deal with emotions properly."
Leia tried her best not to lose her temper. "You're his best friend, and he needs you."
"Princess, you're his sister, you should be the one to talk with him," argued Han as he took a card from Rey and put it on the table. "Or send in the droid, he'd do a better job than me at comforting the kid."
"He isn't wrong, Your Highness," said C-3P0 from his station in the kitchen. "Artoo and I would be more than happy to try and bring Master Luke out of his room."
"Thank you, Threepio," said Leia, smiling pleasantly at the droid, "but that's unnecessary. Han and I are more than capable of consoling Luke on our own."
C-3P0 nodded and returned to slicing bread, R2-D2 chirped bitterly beside him.
"Mom, are you still going to give Threepio to Uncle Luke?" asked Ben as he put down his hand and took the credit chits from the middle of the table.
Leia shrugged as she put a lid on the pot of stew. "That all depends on your uncle, darling, he may think Artoo is enough to help. Although Threepio would certainly come in handy now that he has to care for Rey on his own."
"I would be more than happy to assist in Miss Rey's care," chimed in C-3P0 as R2-D2 beeped in an annoyed tone.
"I know," said Leia as she gathered some dishes. "Ben, could you go tell your uncle that dinner's almost ready?"
Ben sighed as he stood up. "You know he won't join us, so why have me tell him?"
"Ben's got a point," said Han as he went to peek at Ben's cards, only to have his son snatch them out of his reach.
Leia was annoyed now. "Fine, I'll go tell him myself. You two continue gambling."
Han smiled as Ben sat back down and Leia left the room.
"You did that on purpose, didn't you Dad?" asked Ben softly as he tossed a chit on the table.
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Han with a wink.
'That scruffy nerf herder!' thought Leia as she approached Luke's bedroom. She knew her husband set it up so she would speak to her brother, she was not angry at him about that but more at the fact she had let herself walk straight into his trap. "Luke, it's Leia," said Leia as she knocked on the door. "Luke, can I come in?"
The door slid open then, and she stepped inside, her heart breaking as she took in the sight of her brother sitting on the end of his bed, his head lowered to hide his face. She noticed that he was holding something in his hands and recognized it as the shawl she gave Evaan to wear when they went out on their anniversary. It pained her deeply to see her brother hurting so badly. Slowly she crossed the room and sat down beside him, putting a hand on his shoulder, and he moved to rest his head against her shoulder, the two of them sitting like that for a few moments before Leia found the right words.
"You can't blame yourself," she said gently as she smoothed out his disheveled hair. "She was sick; there was nothing you could have done."
"I know," whispered Luke, his throat dry from crying, his bare fingers caressing the fabric in his hands. "Logically I know I shouldn't blame myself, but I feel like I let her down. I should have done more to try and make her well again. The fact she died of an illness . . . makes me feel so powerless, Leia. I swore to her when we married that I would always protect her and I promised Rey the same thing when she was born, but I realize now that it's a hollow promise. In the end, I couldn't protect Evaan, and now I feel like I'll never be able to protect Rey."
Leia quietly listened to his ramblings, this had been on his mind for a while she could tell, and she was not about to interrupt just to inform him what an idiot he was being. He would have to work through that himself.
"You still have Rey," she said slowly. "And she needs you, Luke. She's already lost her mother, don't let her lose her father, too." She took a deep breath as she continued to fix his hair, an act of comfort rather than necessity. "I worry about the same things with Ben. I do everything I can to protect him, but I always feel like somehow he's going to get hurt no matter what I do. That's what parents do, we worry and protect them as best we can. Evaan wouldn't want you to worry about the possibility of losing Rey; she would want you to be there for her when she needs you."
Luke nodded. "You're right, Leia, you're right."
Leia smiled. "You know, if Han would just agree with you on that, it would save us quite a few headaches."
"True," said Luke with a slight laugh. "Hey, Leia? Thanks."
"You're welcome, Luke," said Leia as she kissed the top of his head.
"Well done, Tyren," said Luke encouragingly as he watched the Padawan use the Force to push a large stone a couple of inches. "You seem to be getting the hang of it, but you're still forcing yourself, remember to allow yourself to be filled with the Force; you are a vessel, the Force uses you to carry out its will. You can direct it, but in the end, you are being directed."
Tyren nodded. "Yes, Master. Perhaps I should meditate? My mind feels clouded today."
"You may," said Luke, patting the boy on the shoulder. "Return when you are ready, and not a moment before."
The Padawan again nodded before running out of the courtyard for the temple. Luke returned his attention to his other students, his focus going to Ben almost immediately. His nephew, now nearly sixteen, had recently joined his academy at Leia's behest citing that he was starting to show an inclination for the Dark side of the Force. He knew his nephew had always been troubled and if he was beginning to drift from the Light, he was all too happy to assist in bringing him back. The boy did not have the same darkness in him that Luke had sensed in his father; Ben was merely misguided.
"Ben, why don't you try moving the stone?" suggested Luke and Ben nodded, moving to the spot vacated by Tyren. "Now, don't force anything. Channel the Force, allow it to become one with you, then direct it at the stone."
Ben gave a slight grunt in agreement, taking up a pose before clearing his mind, his hands outstretched towards the stone, and in a matter of seconds, he moved the rock almost two feet. Luke immediately clapped his nephew on the shoulder, smiling brightly at him and Ben was proud of himself, that was the furthest anyone moved the stone since they started the lesson.
"Ben, that was fantastic!" said Luke with pride. "In a few days, you should be able to lift it around the courtyard."
"Thank you, Uncle," said Ben, trying to sound humble. "It's all because of your guidance."
"Wow, Ben!" exclaimed Rey as she ran up to her cousin. "You were amazing!"
Ben gave his almost five-year-old cousin a small smile. "Thanks, Rey. Maybe someday you'll be able to move a stone that big."
Rey was beaming as she pulled a rock out of her pocket. "I can already make this rock fly."
Luke knelt down beside Rey and kissed her cheek. "And what makes you think that rock can fly, huh? Why don't you show Daddy?"
"Okay!" said Rey excitedly as she held the rock in her hands. She exhaled slowly, and as she did, the rock began to lift away from her palms, floating almost a foot in the air and staying aloft. "See? I can make the rock fly."
"Rey," breathed Luke as he watched his daughter execute a Force technique that most Padawans did not learn until at least their second year. "Rey, this is incredible."
Everyone stopped practicing their lesson to watch their honorary little sister; all eyes were locked on the floating stone. Rey had become a permanent fixture in their lessons since she was a baby, coming in with her father when he taught. At first, she was kept in a small pouch on their Master's back, but as she grew older, the Padawans and Knights on break or waiting for their lesson would watch her while their Master was teaching. They always hoped that she would join the Academy someday, and now that she was demonstrating her power with the Force, they were all almost as proud as their Master.
"She's a youngling now!" shouted a Knight named Nyrissa as she came and scooped up Rey, causing the rock to fall back to the ground. "We always knew you had it in you, Rey, especially since your dad is the greatest Jedi in the galaxy."
The others rushed forward and surrounded Nyrissa and Rey, all of them offering their sincerest joy at the fact she was now one of them. The little girl was smiling shyly as she accepted their praise, her eyes then sought out her cousin, the one person she wanted to be proud of her, but she saw him looking at the floor, and he seemed angry. She wondered what could have upset him; after all, she was always happy when he accomplished something challenging.
"All right everyone, that's enough," said Luke as he pushed through the crowd to retrieve his daughter. He took her from Nyrissa and held her in his arms. "Back to your lessons, all of you."
The Padawans and Knights reluctantly returned to their respective lessons, some of them staying a little longer to congratulate Rey on her achievement before rushing off to practice. Now that their Master's daughter was to join their ranks, they were more determined than ever to perform well. Otherwise, a five-year-old would become the most advanced student.
"Did I do good, Daddy?" asked Rey, looking timidly at her father.
Luke nodded and kissed her cheek again. "You did wonderfully, Rey. I'm so proud of you."
Rey beamed again. "Now I'm just like you and Ben!"
"Yes you are," said Luke as he turned back to address his nephew, only to find him gone.
There was a massive disturbance in the Force. Luke heard the screams of Jedi, and immediately he felt sick to his core, he knew something had happened at the Academy, something horrible.
"Speed up," he said to the pilot.
"What?" asked the pilot incredulously. "We have to take things slow, Master Skywalker, there's a storm forming where we're to land."
"Something's happened on Gatalenta, and we need to hurry," said Luke, barely keeping the panic out of his voice as he attempted to reach out to his students through the Force. There was no response, only silence and that worried him more; he tried to find Rey, her presence in the Force was always strong, one he could feel without really trying, but this time there was darkness. Whatever happened affected her as well. R2-D2 beeped nervously beside Luke, and he reached out to pat the droid on the dome, trying to assuage his worries as well as his own.
The pilot did as he was told and increased the ship's speed. The pilot was right to be concerned; a massive tempest was beginning, creating rather harrowing conditions for the small transport ship. Despite the storm, Luke was ready to leap from the ship the moment it broke through the clouds but managed to restrain himself long enough for it to land. When it was on solid ground, he jumped out and sprinted as fast as his legs could move towards the temple, the tempest was hardly an obstacle as he hurried to his students. He arrived what felt like hours later at the temple, and he fell to his knees when he saw what was waiting for him.
The temple was burning, and many parts of it were now nothing but rubble. His students' bodies littered the courtyard; the lightning from the storm and the blaze of fire illuminated their corpses. Luke was devastated, his new Jedi Order and his students lay in ruins all around him, and all of his hopes for the future of the Jedi seemed dashed. Still, there was one dominant, prominent thought that raced through his mind as he stared at the destruction.
With the thought of his daughter, possibly injured or in danger, giving him the needed courage to move he began to walk towards the temple. He forced himself to keep moving, even as he neared his students' bodies, and he resolved to identify everyone. The first body he came across just at the edge of the courtyard was Nyrissa, his daughter's most eager babysitter, and as he turned her over he gasped at the injury, he found: she was run through the heart with a lightsaber.
With as much care as he could manage, he rolled her over entirely and pushed her flaming red hair out of her face, her final expression one of shock and fear. Her death cut him deeply; she had been his first youngling and then his first Knight, she had requested to have Rey as her apprentice, she was his first real indication that his Jedi Order was flourishing. "I'm sorry, Nyrissa," he said quietly. "May you find peace in the Force."
With a heavy heart, he continued identifying his students, all of them having sustained injuries similar to Nyrissa's; all the while he was keeping a sharp eye out for his daughter and nephew. Given his instructions, he knew that Ben would be nearer the back and Rey would likely be in the temple for her safety. He felt a little guilty for prioritizing his family over his students, but they understood when he told them; the only two that did not, were Ben and Rey, of course. They did not want special treatment because of their family, he could understand that, but that still did not mean he was not going to look out for them first. They were both so young and new to the Force.
Luke slowly made his way up the courtyard, mentally keeping track of those he found and those he still needed to find. His gut told him that he would not find a single survivor and his heart argued loudly that some of them must be alive. When he neared the burning temple, he was almost sick when he found his younglings; their tiny bodies were in a heap behind a line of Padawans, who seemed to have tried to protect the youngest of the students from whatever horror transpired here.
"So you've returned, Uncle," said a menacing voice and Luke turned around to see a man in black standing behind him, a helmet in one hand and a lightsaber in the other.
"Ben?" asked Luke disbelievingly as he took a step forward to his nephew. The Force told him that this was his nephew, but his eyes were telling him that this man could not possibly be him. "Ben, what happened here? What happened to you?"
"I am awakened," said Ben, smirking slightly. "Lord Snoke realized what you overlooked, that I am the true successor to the Skywalker line. Grandfather would have been proud of what I've done here today."
Luke was rendered nearly speechless. His nephew, his blood, was responsible for the death of all the students and the destruction of the temple. The same boy, who was reluctant even to touch a blaster, murdered almost a hundred people with a lightsaber.
"You're with the Sith now?" asked Luke, the question hardly the one he wanted to ask, but it was the only one he could give a voice.
Ben scoffed. "I am above even the Sith of Old, Uncle. Lord Snoke sees my potential and has given me everything I need to rise above all other Jedi. I have crushed the Jedi Order, and now only the First Order remains."
The implication rang in Luke's head. "Where's Rey? What have you done with my daughter?"
"She is no longer a concern," replied Ben vaguely. "Your star pupil has been dealt with accordingly."
Luke's heart was breaking, his daughter was gone, and her cousin was responsible. "Ben, where is her body? Where is Rey?"
"I am Kylo, Uncle," said Ben, his voice unbelievably calm. "Ben Solo is dead, along with your students."
"Where is my daughter!?" screamed Luke, his anger, and grief overwhelming his soul. "What have you done with her?"
Ben said nothing. Instead, he turned around and headed into the darkness, leaving Luke alone with the ruins of his life's work. He thought about chasing after his nephew, forcing the answers out of him, but he found himself unable to move. Luke knew it was not the Jedi way to seek revenge, to kill others out of rage; and it was that thought, that very lesson he taught his students, that kept him in place. If he were to find out why this tragedy happened, he would need to keep a calm head and clean heart.
"I will go into exile," he said as he surveyed the devastation. "I would be doing my students and family a disservice by fighting now, as it would be from a place of anger rather than out of a sense of duty."
Luke knew there was much he had to do before he went into exile, first and foremost he would have to give his students a proper burial, then he would have to ensure that he was not found while in exile. He would not give up on creating a new Jedi Order. The Jedi were necessary if the galaxy was to continue living in peace and if a new Empire was on the horizon, they would be needed once again. Instead, he would focus on rebuilding the culture of the Jedi, making sure the new Order had a strong foundation that he could build on; he created this one from the ruins of the old, and they ended similarly.
"Rey," he said as he looked to the sky. "Wherever you are, I will find you, and I will bring you home. I made a promise that I would always protect you, and I have failed you, but I will not fail in this. May the Force be with you."