When the afterimage of the exploding Death Star fades, Yavin IV is dark and cold.
Luke says, "I don't want to be alone tonight."
That makes it possible for Leia to say, "Me neither."
Han says, "Well, if you're offering."
Three weeks after the Battle of Yavin, Jan, Guardian of the Whills, finds the Rebel Alliance on their new base. They are still resting, recovering, and recruiting. They will be doing all of those things for a long time, until they have another breakthrough as great as what Rogue One brought them. Leia has been almost too busy to mourn.
Guardian Jan's present is no small thing: two of the sacred wolves of her Temple's pack, half the Guardian's wolfsister's litter. "They are nearly weaned," she says, finding Leia among the command staff without having to ask, then picking out a few other people. "We would not normally send them out so late, nor so many, but I have had visions upon visions. They have refused everyone they've met." She bows her head. "If I had understood then, your Highness, if I had known such a thing was possible, I would have brought my sister early from her den to try to prevent it. I do not pretend to understand the depth of your grief, but please know I share it."
Leia stands and bows to her. It is not easy to speak of Alderaan to anyone, and she knows from the chill in her face and the heat in her scalp that she has gone pale. "Thank you, Guardian. Your gift is most kind. I am sure your sister's cubs, if they join our Alliance, will do us honor and bring us strength."
One of the cubs, a round-bellied, soft-furred creature with long-haired gray ears, white-gray fur, and melting brown eyes, looks up at Leia as she speaks, then leaps away from its mother and the Guardian, towards her. They make no move to detain it.
None of the Rebels dare to touch the sacred wolf, though C-3PO exclaims, "I say!" and several people make startled noises.
The wolf, its tongue lolling out, prances up to Leia and licks her hand, then nips very lightly at her thumb. Someone has crushed thyrnin, somewhere nearby. Leia can smell it as suddenly and sharply as if she'd stepped on a tuft in her mother's garden at home, dancing to celebrate the first day of autumn, and there is smoke in the air from the bonfire. There are pluckberry tarts baking. If she reaches out, her father will take her hand and twirl her--
She opens her eyes, and her parents' Rebel Alliance is there, but they are gone. She is on her knees among the rebels, and a wolf pants in her face.
She doesn't weep in front of everyone.
The smell of thyrnin, smoke, and pluckberry tarts comes again, and she closes her eyes against the tears of confusion. "Who has thyrnin?" she asks, knowing her voice betrays her.
General Dodonna gasps, as well he might, for he knows as all Alderaani do that the Alliance has no thyrnin seeds. The rest of the command staff mumbles.
Guardian Jan says, "Excuse me, your Highness, but may I join you? I have an idea it might be Fern."
"Fern?" Leia asks, not sure she is projecting her voice sufficiently and not willing to strain. The Guardian takes whatever she has said as permission in any case, and is beside her a moment later.
It helps to have a confident hand on her shoulder. Guardian Jan touches the wolf, and the smell of thyrnin-smoke-pluckberries comes back, followed by the smell of walking into a shady patch of woods near a stream. Leia can smell cool water, not a smell she knew she could recognize, and mosses, and, perhaps, ferns. Hello, hello, a voice in her head says.
The wolf licks her hand again, and then she knows three things: the wolf is Fern, the wolf has bonded with her, and her name in the wolf's head is the fall festival of Alderaan, which Fern has never experienced.
May I embrace you? Leia thinks, hoping Fern can hear her without much effort. She doesn't know how to think loudly.
Fern licks her hand again. Yes, petting is a good thing. My sister will be jealous. There is a laugh in Fern's voice. She crawls onto Leia's lap with no hesitation.
"Congratulations, your Highness," Guardian Jan says, sounding amused. In her head, she hears a quiet, Welcome, in much the same tone. "You may wish to take her to your quarters, or to a recreation area where I can visit the two of you if there are any other quick bonds."
Leia has not felt anything as soft as Fern's fur in a very long time, nor as comforting as the steady rise and fall of her breathing. "Whatever you think best."
"Pups tire quickly, and they tire us even more. If someone could escort you, that would be best." Guardian Jan finds someone who doesn't seem too upset by the thought of getting close to Fern. They walk ahead of Fern, who barely looks at them, and Leia, who's too busy watching Fern to pay much attention to which way she's going until she arrives at a room with a bed in it and sits down on the edge. Then Fern leaps onto her lap, heavy and warm.
"Is that allowed?" Leia asks Fern.
"Looks like it is now," Han says.
That's when she realizes it's been him walking with them all along, and says, "Oh. Thank you. Didn't you want to--" Fern is sniffing the corner of a pillow and looks as though she may chew it. Leia thinks and says, "Don't," at the same time.
"Chewie's got enough on his plate looking after me," Han says. "I'm not going to push my luck."
He smells interesting, Fern says.
"Yes, he smells very interesting," Leia agrees. She doesn't throw the pillow at Han when he laughs at her, but only because she doesn't want to get up and cross the room for it. "Go away if you're done being civil."
"Sure you don't want me to stick around and smell interesting some more?"
She's bright red, she's sure of it, and the exhaustion that follows her is coming back. "Go find Fern some food. She's my guest and she's much more valuable to the Alliance than you are."
"You got it, your Worshipfulness." He throws her an exceedingly lazy salute and closes the door.
Fern asks, Is he your mate?
No. He works for me. Leia finds herself explaining the Alliance for much longer than she expects. Han only works for her in the loosest sense, and he seems to have forgotten Fern.
In the middle of a yawn, Fern opens her eyes wide. Sister?
"I'm right here," Leia says.
Fern doesn't acknowledge her. She closes her mouth and sniffs the air, then lets her tongue loll out. Leia smells water again, a finer spray, and knows there are different plants soaking their roots in this wolf's scentname. A different fern, smaller, not one she has a name for either. Two wolves named "Damp Fern" will be hard to differentiate--surely Guardian Jan has a different name for the second one.
"Has your sister bonded?" she asks Fern.
A moment later she is nearly deafened in her mind by an enormous shout of HELLO!
She doesn't need the sunshine-grease-lightsaber scent that follows it to say, in as quiet a mental voice as she can, Hello, Luke.
Sorry, I didn't think it would be this easy. Using the Force has never been so simple. It was always "Stretch out your feelings" and "Trust the Force." Now you're right there.
I'm-- She's not sure where she is. Ask Han to bring you to us, please. You and your sister, and some food for Fern and--and--
Yes, food! from the wolves.
We can't call them both Fern, can we? I think my sister looks more like Krayt. A Krayt dragon, that is, from Tatooine. He sends the sound of a huge, terrifying roar over the image of a yawning wolf cub with the same gray ears as the one with Leia.
Fern sends a wolfish laugh across the bond they share. Luke's sister does too.
Leia wonders fondly if he is putting on a good front for the wolf cubs' benefit, or hers, since she lost her composure in front of nearly the entire Alliance. It wouldn't do to allow the first two recruits from the Guardians of the Whills to discover that their bondmates have human flaws, not so soon.
"Do you wish to be known as Fern?" Leia asks.
My scentname won't change, but if it's easier for you to call me something else aloud, it doesn't matter to me. Fern licks her hand. You mean me, just like I mean you. She pushes the smell of the autumn festival at Leia.
Perhaps wolves don't think of tears as weakness. She is still crying when Luke, Krayt, and Han arrive, and Fern is on her lap again, with no sign of disapproval.
"What's the matter?" comes at Leia in chorus, voice and thought until she's sure she's going to go deaf. She has two identical wolves on her lap a moment later, which is quite crowded, and a man on either side of her. She can tell which Fern is hers, though, from the feel of her.
"My scentname," she says, and "Alderaan," Plants that don't grow anywhere else, which is enough for Luke, who hugs her tightly.
"Oh, Leia." Every time Krayt gives me mine, I think my uncle's going to tell me to stop messing with my landspeeder and get back to work.
That must be a terrible jolt. I'm sorry. "Autumn," she says. A festival, one of the highlights of the year. My favorite pies and dancing in the garden with my family. Another wave of tears shakes her.
Han pats her shoulder. "Autumn?"
"Yes," but spoken words feel clumsy. "Fern, can you show him?"
Show him? Not without biting him. Should I?
No, don't. Leia wipes her eyes. "It's complicated, Han."
"It always is." He's drawing out his vowels in sarcasm, concern, or both.
Leia strokes Fern's ears. "She's in my head. And so is Krayt, or Fern, or whoever, and so is Luke."
Han gets off the bed and very nearly stands at attention, his cheeks a dull red that doesn't flatter him. She's glad, suddenly, that she can't read his mind. "Sorry about that. I'll leave you to your bonding and your Force practice and your learning to be a Jedi and your princessing and--everything." He spins on his heel and leaves before Leia has any idea what to say.
"Well," Luke says, when the room is silent but for the wolves breathing, "you'd think he'd had a stranger day than us."
"Do you think Chewbacca will leave?"
"While the Guardian is on base? No."
Leia sighs and breathes in the scent of Fern's fur, which isn't much like her scentname at all. She's traveled too far in a tightly packed ship full of wolves for that. Maybe another name would suit her as well. "Good. What can you tell me about mindspeech?"
That night they dream together--Leia, Luke, and the wolves--of another wolf, a male, and his brother. She doesn't know the man, who is handsome, middle-aged, and smiling at them. He wears tidy cream robes in a style that looks like what Jedi used to wear, and the wolves are nipping at the man's hands, bouncing up against his knees. "Welcome to the pack, little ones." He has a Coruscanti accent.
Luke says, "Ben?" mystified, and then she knows who he is, despite his age, his red hair, and that he dissolved like a holo before she ever met him.
"General Kenobi. It is an honor." She bows to him and he returns it.
"Princess Leia Organa." He looks terribly, terribly tired for a moment, and then he does not. "I have come to tell you to find one of my old masters in the Dagobah system. His name is Yoda, and he does not care for wolves. Pack for sweaty work and swamps." He kneels between the Ferns and they lick his face while he pets their ears. Then they go to pester his wolf and tease at his ruff.
"Ben," Luke says. His eyes shine with tears. "Of course we'll go."
"Why shouldn't we train with the Guardians, General Kenobi?" Leia asks.
"The Jedi--including me--trained Darth Vader. You can't stop him without understanding how he fights."
Leia's breath stops in the dream and she jerks awake. There are tears on her face. She wipes them away before Luke wakes up beside her, before her wolf wakes, before anyone sees how frightened she still is of Darth Vader. "Dagobah," she says to Luke, when his eyes open.
"You dreamed him too." He beams at her.
"Yes." She doesn't have to make herself smile back. There may be a Jedi who can help them against Vader. "It was real."
Luke hugs her. "It was."
Luke had thought, when he was young and innocent of the wider universe, that the worst place he'd ever be was Tatooine. He loathes the way sand gets into everything and ruins fine machinery. Then he goes to Dagobah with Leia and their wolf cubs and discovers that the opposite of sand is not better. It is no place for droids or ships. They barely make it out of their ship before it sinks into a bog, out of their ability to call it back, with R2-D2 aboard.
They link hands and try to lift it with the Force, but the ship is beyond them. R2 rises under his own power and sheds bog water furiously.
All they have are the clothes on their backs and basic tools--a pair of trousers each, a shirt, a jacket, good boots, on Ben's recommendation, but not nearly enough to be comfortable long-term. They pool their resources: two vibroknives, some cable, two emergency blankets, firestarters if they can find anything dry enough to burn on this planet.
At least they're not wearing flight suit orange. They'd stand out for kilometers.
"This place is awful," he says about ten minutes in, whispering to Krayt.
Smells like home, she sends back, but he doesn't believe her. Both she and Arala, her twin, have scentnames with clear running water in them. There is only stagnant water on this part of Dagobah. It smells like everything in the area has been decaying for centuries.
"Why are we in this region?" Leia asks. Arala is picking up her paws and shaking the muddy water off fastidiously. Leia looks like she wants extra legs so she can do the same. "I don't see any dwellings."
"Don't you?" a creaky voice asks from behind them.
They both turn. Leia has her hand on her blaster, Luke his on his father's lightsaber, but the wolves just wag their tails. They're puppies, but they have a sense for danger.
"My apologies," Leia says, and bows shallowly. "I'm not familiar with Dagobah. We aren't accidentally standing on or in your home, are we? If we are, I'm sorry."
"On it, you are," the voice says. The being is short, maybe waist-height, in a shapeless brown robe, and gray-green, about the same color as everything else on the planet.
Luke looks down at his feet, same as Leia is. He can't see anything but mud and rocks. If they're on someone's home, the home needed a lot of help before they found it. "Your house, or the planet?" he asks.
"Hmph," the being says, and waves a walking stick taller than it is. It sounds like it wants to say they've crushed its house, but they haven't yet. "My home, the planet is."
"I've traveled widely, but I've never seen anywhere like this," Leia says with the diplomacy of somebody who was actually in the Imperial Senate. Silently she says, Don't even giggle or Arala will drop you in the bog! which makes it even harder not to laugh.
Luke bites his lower lip and tangles his fingers in Krayt's ruff. She sends him wolf-giggles and he sends her back the kind of sunshine Dagobah probably never gets. "Me neither."
"We were sent here in search of a Master Yoda, citizen," Leia says, and offers a bow that Luke copies clumsily. "Are you he, or do you know of him?"
The being harrumphs. "Sent? Who sent you?"
Krayt huffs and sends Luke the image of herself running away with the being's stick.
Let Leia do the talking, Luke says. He doesn't think "A dead man who taught me about three things and gave me my father's lightsaber, then appeared to me in a dream" is going to count as a reliable source of directions.
Leia stands as straight and tall as the princess she is. "A friend of my father's, whose identity I must guard for his own safety until I can speak to Master Yoda. Please, do you know where I can find him?"
"Your wolves, he will not like," the being says.
"We were warned, thank you." Leia nods regally. Luke wishes he could do that. "But they were a gift, and they are our partners, and only puppies. We can't abandon them."
The being takes a very deep breath and sighs. "Your sister, much trouble she will cause," it says. "Yoda's home, I will show you. Come." It turns away from them and hobbles off at great speed across the uneven ground for something with short legs that uses a stick.
They follow as best they can, sometimes grabbing the cubs, sometimes giving each other a hand over rough patches. R2 lags behind, and it is more than Luke or Leia can do to lift him with the Force. Fortunately Master Yoda's home is not too far distant from the bog where their ship is submerged, or they would lose a cub or their droid completely.
"Here," the being says when they reach an enormous tree with a door in the side. It knocks on the door with its stick.
There is no answer, only a thick breeze that stirs heavy stuff hanging from the trees. Luke doesn't know whether it's plant or animal matter and isn't sure whether he wants to find out.
They wait a while. The being knocks again. There is still no answer.
There is no light inside. Luke sighs. Leia elbows him and he makes his face neutral as best he can.
The being says, "Far from home, Yoda is not," and knocks again. "Sent, were you? Who sent you?"
Leia keeps a mild expression. "I'm afraid I can't say."
The being knocks once more. The sound echoes through the swamp, hollowly. It might echo all the way around the planet for all the good it does. No one comes to the door.
Leia bows to the being, still graceful. Luke imitates her, still clumsy. She says, "Thank you for your guidance. You were most kind and generous with your time, and we appreciate it. Do you have any idea when Master Yoda will return home?"
"Now, young one," the being says, and opens the door with a wave of its hand and the Force. It seems pretty stupid to Luke for a second, breaking into a Jedi Master's home, and then--Krayt and Arala tilt their heads to one side, listening, and wag their tails.
"Your wolves, wait outside they will," the being says, pointing its stick at them. "Only Obi-Wan would send me you, hmm, and your sister, yes. Inside now, yes, come. There is fire, and food. Warm food."
"Thank you, Master Yoda," Luke says, and ducks his head low so he won't brain himself on the doorway.
"Your feet you will wipe, young Skywalker."
That stops him in his tracks on the mat. Of course Master Yoda knows Ben's name, but picking his name out of the air--out of the Force--that's different. Krayt, can you hear Master Yoda?
The packsense is not the Force, Leia and Krayt both remind him firmly, as if he hasn't heard that lesson enough times.
That's not what I asked and you know it.
He smells like bog farts, Krayt says.
"Gossiping puppies," Master Yoda says. "Listen you will, to the Force, yes. To me, yes? Here, you are. Did you come here to talk to each other, hmm?"
"No, Master Yoda," Luke says. He's hanging his head, partially because the ceiling is low and partially because he's had teachers yell at him before and he knows how to react when he's caught misbehaving in class. "Sorry."
"Sorry, you are." Master Yoda hits him with the stick, a serious smack on the leg while he's in the middle of wiping his feet. "Talk to your sister, you will not."
Luke winces. "Okay, okay." Once he's all the way inside, he doesn't have to bend as much. The cavity inside the tree is enormous, and it is lit by a fire and lanterns. It doesn't look anything like any home he's ever been inside, but it definitely looks like a home.
Leia follows him in, wiping her feet carefully. "Would you like me to take my boots off, Master Yoda?"
"No, no." Master Yoda coughs. "Mud, Dagobah is. Mud, your feet would become, and sink you would, like your ship. Boots, you will wear, young Organa."
Luke shivers. I don't like that Yoda knows our names.
We know his, so it's only fair. General Kenobi might have told him we were coming. We should listen to him. Out loud, Leia says, "Thank you, Master Yoda."
"Hungry, you are."
It takes a moment for Luke to realize it's not a question, but between the strange way Master Yoda speaks, the way he feels in the Force, and the way he's shuffling toward the fire, it's increasingly clear that he's offering them food. "Well, our rations went down with our ship," Luke says, and glances at Leia. If they're stranded on Dagobah until the Alliance finds them, they'll have time to learn.
Leia purses her lips. "Thank you for offering us some of your food," she says sweetly while glaring at Luke. He's going to get a princess-class lecture on how to be polite instead of practical tonight, he can hear it coming. It might come in handy, if he's going to be a Jedi Knight and not just a pilot. "We've traveled a long way today without eating. Would it be all right for our wolves to hunt the local wildlife so that they can eat too?"
"Hmph." Master Yoda serves out two bowls of soup before he answers her and hands her the bowls. "A diplomat, your parents raised, not a sister to a beast. What know you of wolves, Lady Organa?"
"I know a wolf's heart beats next to my own in the Force, and that her life is as mine in the books of the Guardians of the Whills, Master Yoda. I know I'm her sister, and she's mine. I know her spirit twines with mine." Leia's voice is as strong, saying the ritual phrases Guardian Jan taught them, as it had been greeting Master Yoda before they knew who he was.
Luke is looking forward to when he can be half as confident as she is. For now, he eats the food, which is bland and tastes, unsurprisingly, like muddy plants.
"A beast it is," Master Yoda says. "What know you of its hunt? Why seek you Jedi studies, not Guardian studies, when Guardian beasts you have?"
"Wolves hunt to feed themselves, no more. The Guardians are strong in the Force, but the Dark Lord of the Sith uses tactics best countered by Jedi training." Leia's tone is dry, and her words are Guardian Jan's.
Luke watches Master Yoda's face. He looks unimpressed. "Gone, the Jedi are. If superior their training was, superior their battles would have been when they were in their strength, hmm? What can puppies do that the Jedi Order could not?"
"We destroyed the Death Star," Luke says, unable to keep his peace any longer. He tells the story of Rogue One's bravery, Leia's strength, Ben's sacrifice, his last-ditch Force-guided shot. "Ben--Obi-Wan felt it when Alderaan was destroyed. You must have felt it, too."
Master Yoda's ears twitch. "Puppies," he says. "And now, puppies have you. Strong, you are, but blind, eyes still closed. Like your sister, you know little of the Force."
"Our sisters know more of the Force than we do, Master Yoda." Luke sets down the empty bowl. "Please train us. Vader is--" he doesn't have the words for the cold, dark presence that struck down Ben, and he won't ask Leia to describe the man who tortured her. "Vader is more than any of us could take on alone, but we won't face him alone. We'll face him together, with everything you can give us."
Master Yoda sighs. He says, "Puppies," again. This time he sounds much sadder about it. "Afraid are you, young Skywalker?"
Careful, Leia sends him.
"He would crush the four of us, then the Alliance, the way he destroyed Alderaan." Luke puts his hand on his father's lightsaber. "I will do anything you ask to prevent that."
"Your wolf. Kill her."
"What?" Luke and Leia ask it in the same appalled voice, their wolves overlapping aloud. "No."
"Anything, he says, hmm?" Yoda taps his finger on his chin. "But not that. A true Jedi has no wolf."
"My father had a wolf. His apprentice had a wolf. Obi-Wan Kenobi had a wolf. His Master had a wolf, and his before him. They were all members of the Jedi Order." Ben couldn't have lied about all of that. There were holos in Guardian Jan's files of Obi-Wan and his wolf, of Luke's father, young, scarred, smiling, so like him it hurt to see. Luke sends Krayt calm he doesn't truly feel. "The Jedi don't hate wolves."
"A true Jedi, a proper Jedi, no wolf have they. Tano, Skywalker, Kenobi, Jinn, Dooku were no heroes. Two fallen Jedi Masters, one padawan learner, all lost to the dark, gone, yes, and their wolves beside them. True Jedi? Ha! Proper Jedi? Ha!"
Leia clears her throat while Luke's head is still spinning from that litany. "Which ones were which, Master?"
"Learn, you will," Master Yoda says, and prods the fire.
"Did Darth Vader have a wolf when he killed my father?" Luke asks Master Yoda's back, half-expecting his question to be ignored. Ben wouldn't talk about the details--they were so rushed--but if Yoda will answer any questions, he may as well start with what he most wants to know.
Yoda pauses in front of the fire. "Vader's wolf died, hmm, with her teeth in Kenobi's wolf's neck."
Leia hisses. "Poor Obi-Wan."
"Suffered, they both did. Gravely injured in the duel, Vader was, and saved he was by the Emperor."
"He would, wouldn't he." Leia sighs.
"But where was my father?" Luke asks. "His wolf was Ben's brother's mate. He should've been there."
Yoda turns in front of the smoky fire. "Kenobi told you not?"
"If he did, why would I be asking?"
Take a breath, Leia sends him. We need him, and Jedi prize calm.
It's my father, Leia.
Yoda sniffs. "Puppies," he says. "Fell, your father did, to the Dark Side. Into the Emperor's arms. Of you he knows nothing. Of love he remembers nothing."
"Vader," Luke says, before Master Yoda has to name him.
Krayt pushes her way through the door and shoves her head into Luke's hand so that when his knees buckle, she catches him as Leia does, as Arala does. He has never had more of his father than a name and a handful of stories, a tall tale of a podracer and a mechanic and a pilot who did things no mere human could have done, deceptively simple things like winning the Boonta Eve podrace and escaping slavery, walking away from his mother, finding a wolfsister and becoming a Jedi.
How fitting that he went on to do more things that no human could have done, for what man could destroy the Jedi Order? What man could abandon his child, sight unseen, on the dustiest, most miserable planet in existence? What man could erase a planet from the galaxy?
No man, no father, no Jedi, no brother to a wolfsister: a Sith Lord whose wolf was torn from him in a battle with his partner, whose lady died however she died because she could not mother the child of such a creature.
"What am I?" Luke asks, looking at his hands. For a moment, he expects them to be slick and black as though he is truly half-Sith without as well as within.
My brother, Krayt sends him fiercely.
My partner, Leia sends.
Pack! in just the same tone from Arala.
"Afraid, young Skywalker, hmm?"
"Yes," Luke admits.
"Strong, Vader is. Strong, his wolf was. She claimed a full battalion as her pack."
"How?" Leia asks. They've done reading on how many people a wolfpack normally grows to: one hundred and fifty at the very outside, counting wolves and their bondmates. "A battalion would drive anyone mad, even in peace time, but in war, constantly losing people and wolves, it would be impossible. Why would he?"
Yoda laughs, and it is not at all a happy laugh. "A wise Organa, a wise one indeed. The Jedi Council asked not 'Why?,' only 'How?' and wanted it again. They fought like nothing else. How, how was a queenwolf and Skywalker, blazing. Strong. Proud. Her pups in the ranks, and her Jedi, pushing to hold onto his men." There is accusation in his voice.
"His men?" Luke asks.
"What was his rank?" Leia asks.
"General Skywalker." Yoda spits the words.
"General!" Luke stares at him. "I thought he worked on a spice freighter." Krayt leans on his knee. Arala leans on his calves. Leia hugs him.
Yoda snorts. "Safe, you had to be. Lies, you were told. General Skywalker, his battalion was his pack. His mates, a Jedi and a Senator. Died, his pack did. Left, his apprentice did. Fell, he did, and lost, he was."
Luke leans against Leia. "I don't want a battalion to be my pack. I want to be a Jedi so I can defeat him, not so I can become him."
"A sister have you. A queenwolf. Power have you, and an army."
Krayt yawns at Yoda. There is an edge of threat in it. Luke doesn't know whether Yoda knows wolves well enough to see it, but if he's known all the wolves that belonged to all the people they've been talking about, he probably does.
"I want to free the galaxy, not rule it." Luke unhooks the lightsaber from his belt and throws it, still holstered, at Yoda's feet. "If you think I'm unfit to be a Jedi because of my father, train Leia. I'll stay and look after Arala for her while you do."
"Think you that you are better than Skywalker, Lady Organa?" Yoda asks.
Leia lets the question hang in the air, answered only by the wolves' breathing, for long moments. "No, Master. I'm not a better person than Luke. I don't know my birth parents' names, so if you're judging him by his genetics, you may wish to use the Force to determine mine."
Oh, Leia, I didn't know.
The records are lost. It can't matter now.
You have a pack, Arala says, pressing warmth around both of them.
"Judge by your potential, I must, lady," Master Yoda says. "Your genes, your Force, your family, your training, your all."
Leia frowns. "I cannot tell you anything of my genes."
"Mm. Your mother, knew her, I did."
Leia's breath catches in her throat. Luke takes her hand and squeezes it. "Does she live, Master?"
The tilt of his head is her answer. Luke feels her sob in the packsense. Arala presses her head against Leia's thigh, sending her warm fires and sweet herbs. Her expression does not change.
"I see. And my father?"
"Lost." There is a sadness in Yoda's voice that was not there when he spoke of Luke's Jedi father. "With the Organas, you have been loved." It is not a question. "Tano you knew."
"Not by that name, Master." Leia straightens her shoulders. "Please, what were my parents' names, since they are gone?"
It is never silent on Dagobah. There are an infinity of tiny creatures in the mud, the water and the trees, and they do not know that Leia's heart is breaking with every second that Master Yoda makes her wait. Luke sends her, I will pick him up and hold him upside down and shake him complete with an illustration.
What if he hears you and sends us away?
For asking the simplest questions?
For threatening him.
"Master Yoda," Leia says, and nothing more.
"Padmé Amidala, Senator of Naboo. Her eyes you have, her voice, her presence. Her dignity."
There is not-really-quiet again. Something breaks a branch in a tree in the distance. R2-D2 trills.
Luke presses warmth into Leia's heart as best he can. "What happened to her partner?" he asks.
"Fell, your father did, to the Dark Side. Into the Emperor's arms."
Krayt growls at Master Yoda, not as low and throbbing as a full-grown wolf's growl, but sufficiently threatening for a puppy who was ordered to stay out of a Master Jedi's home and ignored the instruction. Luke doesn't know whether he wants to tell her to stop or to ask her to try to bite Yoda. The world is spinning strangely. There might be something odd on the fire or in the soup.
He's been sharing a bed with Leia since the Battle of Yavin and dreaming of her since he can remember. He's known her voice like his own, like she's part of him. This isn't what it was supposed to mean. They talked about possible consequences in the quickest way--"No one has time for kids in a war"--and their embraces have been at least as much about proving to each other that after all their losses and successes, they still have hands that touch and skin that feels, as about pleasure. Han's been there for almost all of it, though he begged off from visiting unscenic Dagobah.
Whatever he has to say about the situation's going to wait a while.
You're pack, Krayt says. Pack shares.
Not like that, Luke says, but it feels like a protest he's supposed to make, not one he wants to make.
True and proper Jedi don't have wolves and they don't kiss anyone. We were never going to manage that. Leia sounds like she's trying not to get angry. Obi-Wan knew. He was Anakin Skywalker's queen's mate. He must have known.
And he'd seen the way Luke looked at Leia's holo from the start, and said nothing.
What do they want from us? Luke asks.
Power. Rebellion. Restoration of something of the worlds they knew. Leia sends him a smile that is entirely in her mind. What we want, but in their words. It means nothing to them where we take comfort.
What does it mean to you? Luke asks.
That I am with someone I can trust with my heart. She ignores his blush and says, "I have long admired Senator Amidala, but I am not familiar with General Skywalker's work. Do you have any information on his tactics during the war?"
Master Yoda looks up at her as if he's been expecting her to rage at him for telling her a difficult truth. "Erased, it has been, by the Emperor. What good there was of Skywalker, gone. Amidala's speeches, withheld they are, and her name is spoken not."
Leia strokes Arala's ears. "My parents--the parents of my mind, if not my body, Master--had some of her work and played it for me without telling me of the relationship. She was formidable."
"Mmm. Destroyed, she was, by her love." Yoda closes his eyes.
"Then you have a choice to make, Master, and you have had decades to consider its consequences." Leia's voice rings inside the tree and Luke shivers, in awe of her, proud that she is his partner, his sister's sister and, somehow, his sister as well. "Shall you teach us in our bestial weakness, and hope that we can reach the heights Obi-Wan did, the clarity of thought our mother found," her voice shakes ever so slightly and Luke sends her strength, warmth and love, "and not the overreach and weakness of our father? Or will you send us away to the Guardians of the Whills, who do not know our weaknesses, who know only that we are young, with hearts full of each other and full of hope, and see what they will make of us?"
"Your parents' daughter are you, Organa," Master Yoda says after a long moment. "And you, Skywalker, have learned more of Obi-Wan's art than he claimed. Hmph. Train you." He thumps his staff against the wood of the tree and it resounds like a great drum. "Train you! Train Organa, train Skywalker, train puppies, too old am I, too wise am I, too much have I seen, too long have I lived." His voice trails off to nothing.
Luke feels cold. Leia takes his hand. If they need to find Guardian Jan and take the wolves to her, they can do it, but somehow they're going to have to lever their ship out of the swamp. It's going to be one hell of a rescue mission first.
"Puppies," Yoda says in a whisper. "Too much, too much. Let you go, I cannot. Sit, sit. We begin."
Some days later, Han sends them a message that reads:
"I'm leaving the Alliance tomorrow with Chewie and heading for the Outer Rim. We need the cash and they don't need us. Almost got our tailfeathers clipped on Chandrila, not doing that again. Have fun fighting the Imps. Don't blow up anything I wouldn't blow up. Hope your training is going well. See you around."
Luke writes back:
"Don't leave. They need you. They need us, which is why we're training as hard as we can. Wish we were there but we're learning a lot. The only reason I can write this is we floated our ship out of the bog we sank it in. Just me and L, with a little help from our wolves! Imagine that!
If you leave I'll only know about three people including L plus the wolves. And you know she'll be busier than everyone else put together. Good luck on the Outer Rim. Don't go back to Tatooine, why would you? Stop by sometime and visit. I miss you. - LS"
Leia writes back:
"Our training is progressing efficiently. Best wishes on your covert operations. If you find yourself in need of further employment, you will doubtless be able to contact us. Your help has been invaluable. Do not hesitate to solicit us in future, should occasion arise. - LO"
Han's next message is:
"Didn't leave. I was in a market on Lothal looking for holdout blasters and I thought of you. Can you guys jump ten meters straight up yet? There was a Jedi in one of the holos I watched as a kid who could do that. I don't remember if that was supposed to be realistic."
"Not quite ten meters yet most of the time, but we're working on it. Glad you didn't leave! - LS"
Leia finds Luke huddled in a blanket next to the ship, practicing his shielding, picking at the moss growing on R2-D2, some weeks later. It is only because he is working on his Binary with help from the Force that she finds them at all. R2 says something, and Luke answers, his voice thick and wet as the Dagobah bog. Then R2 says something long and elaborate and Luke laughs, which sounds off. "No, he couldn't have done that."
R2's response is short and sharp, probably a curse, from what Leia knows of the droid.
Luke says, "Really?"
R2 goes on.
"But he's so awful, how could he--"
That gets another berating blatt, this one even cruder, and more argument, then a story Leia can't follow, punctuated with Luke's, "What?" "No way!" "How?" "How many?" "You're kidding!"
Luke sighs and leans against R2. "So what did Ben do?"
A sniggering trill in Binary for the great General Kenobi, before R2 explains.
"I wish I'd known them then." Luke's shoulders slump and he smells like tears in the packsense.
R2 shifts to support him and trills again. Leia checks on the wolves, but they are hunting. She sends Luke, Are you busy?
He sits up straight and brushes at R2's front more diligently, pretending he's been working the whole time and not chatting. Not really. What's up?
Yoda's meditating and I couldn't sit still another minute. Where are you?
Cleaning R2. Did you know he used to belong to our parents?
Leia backs up a few steps and snaps a twig underfoot. Luke looks up and waves. Our parents? Which ones? It's a joke, now they know a little more about how wolf bonding works. The question never means the Organas or the Lars-Whitesuns.
All of them--really all of them, for once. Luke's smile isn't what it usually is, but she'll take what she can get. First Padmé Amidala, then she gave him to Anakin and he ended up in the wars with him and Obi-Wan. Then he went to Alderaan and the Organas, and then to Tatooine and the moisture farm, then Obi-Wan again.
"You're very well-traveled," Leia says, and pats R2. He trills his agreement. "How much memory do you have?"
She can't interpret Binary. Luke frowns at the answer. "I hate puzzling out numbers. Give it to me again, okay?" The second time, his frown clears. "Enough for another two hundred years, easy. Good. I'd hate to wipe you after all that."
R2 makes an unimpressed sound.
"I'd never just wipe you clean, of course not! But there are ships you've been on that nobody uses anymore, and we could figure out what you might not need, if you needed space to learn new things. It's not a problem, anyway." Luke gets up. Under the blanket, he's wearing a sleeveless shirt, grey-brown with mud stains. He's better muscled now than when he joined the Alliance, a little every day. She's stronger, too, but it doesn't show as much. "Did you need something, Leia?"
Close up, she can see that he's been crying for some time and he makes no effort to hide it. She may as well be just as honest. "I was worried about you."
Luke hugs her and loses some of his tension in her arms. "I'm okay. R2's stories help, sometimes, remembering that, you know, he used to be a person before he lost thousands of pack members."
Part of their studies has included learning what it means to have a queenwolf for a sister. All of the Guardians' writings tell them explicitly never to do anything remotely like what Anakin Skywalker did, for fear they will lose themselves to grief and madness as parts of their soul are torn away. But he was not trained by the Guardians, he was trained by Obi-Wan Kenobi, who was also not trained by the Guardians.
Sometimes Leia feels very little regret for the loss of the Jedi Order as an institution. Their deaths were a great tragedy, but they didn't know what they were doing. She doesn't think she could necessarily have done better, but she doesn't have thousands of generations of experience, either.
"He was a person," she agrees. "Now--now he is a monster."
Luke's face crumples. "Is it possible for someone to lose themselves completely?"
Her hands heat up and she crushes him to her so she doesn't Force-push him into a bog. She won't allow her voice to shake. "He let Tarkin destroy Alderaan. He tried to take my mind apart."
"But if he could reach the packsense again, if we could free him from the Emperor, we might be able to help him fix some of what he's done."
Leia makes herself let Luke go, shuddering. His scentname is in her head, sunshine and grease and lightsabers, bright as ever. The wolves come running in from their hunt, thick with mud that will have to be Force-cleaned off of them when her focus is back. "He isn't sane, Luke. He can't be saved."
"We won't know unless we try."
"He was in my mind!" Something takes off in the trees, shrieking more loudly than she had. "He almost broke my shields." She'd built those shields every day as a child with lessons Fulcrum taught her as almost-but-not-a-game.
If she knew where Fulcrum was, she'd beg her for lessons again. Those simple exercises had saved her sanity and saved the Alliance.
She turns away from Luke, her skin crawling with disgust at the thought of Vader. She wants to go home, and there is no such place anymore. The closest thing she has is a blanket shared with Luke and the wolves, and right now she can't stand to be near him, not if he's going to speak of their genetic father with hope.
"Leia," he says.
Arala sends her scentname and the smell of autumn on Alderaan brings tears to her eyes. Leia runs to Yoda's home and goes inside without knocking, without asking, breaking all the rules of courtesy she's been careful to observe since the first day. He is sitting by the fire, apparently still meditating. She sits beside him, her skin still covered in mud and shudders. "Master Yoda, do you know Fulcrum?"
"Balance, you seek, young one."
"No. Yes." She tries to control her breathing for the count of ten and gives up on it. "Fulcrum came to Alderaan and trained me in basic mind shielding techniques when I was young. She is, or was, a Togruta, perhaps fifteen years older than I am. She escaped the Jedi Purge somehow."
"Think of her. Her face, show me." Leia concentrates dutifully and lets Master Yoda take Fulcrum's image from her mind. "Mm. Yes. A Jedi, she was, and a Jedi Knight, she did not become. Ahsoka Tano, Skywalker's apprentice."
Leia shivers again and wraps her arms around herself. "Was she tracking me for him?"
"Mm?" Yoda looks at her and his gaze sharpens. "No, no. Skywalker's apprentice. Never Vader's. Never that, no. Skywalker's apprentice, and Kenobi's. Knew your mother, she did. Fall, she did not."
"Is she alive?"
Yoda closes his eyes for a long moment. "I know not."
That's the closest thing to a reassuring answer there can be. Surely Jedi should know if one of their number is in the Force. "Wait, you said Ahsoka Tano had a wolf. Fulcrum didn't, not that I ever saw."
"A cub of Skywalker's queen, lost in battle." Yoda hisses through his teeth. "Lost, as Tano was lost to the Jedi."
"She helped me." Leia holds on to that.
"Lost to the Jedi, not lost to herself." Yoda lifts the tips of his ears. "Padawan Tano never fell."
Perhaps she'll come to the Alliance when Leia and Luke are leading it properly with Arala and Krayt. "And she became Fulcrum."
Luke's scentname drifts into her thoughts again, over the constant bog-tang of Dagobah, and Leia laughs with an edge of hysteria. "Master, have I met any Force users who are not somehow my family?"
He chuckles. "A bold question, padawan. On Dagobah am I, on Dagobah I have been. Think you I know all Force users you have met?"
"Luke is my twin and my soul's partner even when he won't listen, Fulcrum is practically my sister, by the packbonds General Kenobi is my second father, Darth Vader of all people is, is, is--" she can't say it, but Yoda nods. "If I keep reading the files from the Guardians of the Whills will I discover that Guardian Jan is my aunt? Are you my cousin? Where will this end?"
"All one in the Force are we, young one." There is a laugh in his voice. "But not one family."
Luke says, "Oh, you're done meditating. May I come in, Master Yoda?"
"Do you think it's possible to bring someone back from the Dark Side after they've fallen?" Luke asks while he wipes his feet.
Leia hugs herself again and wishes the wolves were clean enough to be inside. She reaches for Arala's mind and buries herself in the clean water scent of her. Luke's diplomacy skills are exactly what she expects from a farmboy from Tatooine and sometimes she would like to muzzle him. "Someone" indeed.
"The Dark Side, a tempting drug is, a barbed weapon, a devouring meal. Not a destination, young Skywalker, not a journey, not an ocean. There is no 'bring back,' no. There is turning back, yes, but force it on another you cannot. Teach hope, you cannot, when despair wins. Teach love, you cannot, when hatred reigns. Teach calm, you cannot, when rage rules."
"So people can come back."
"If they don't have the Emperor dragging them down and the ghosts of ten thousand clone soldiers cursing their name in their ear and telling them that they are a failure, and the knowledge that their lady is dead and it may be their fault, and that since then they've killed the entire Jedi Order and are at least partially responsible for enslaving billions of people and, recently, if you'll recall, destroying an entire planet." Leia finds herself breathless and furious. She moves toward the door and then her legs won't move at all.
Yoda sighs. "Sit, Organa. Sit, Skywalker. Breathe. Shh."
"It was just a question," Luke says, sitting.
"It wasn't just a question. It was a question about a genocidal maniac you're only concerned with because you've discovered you're genetically related to him."
"And he's in charge of a huge part of the galaxy. If we could get through to him, if he'd listen to us, to our wolves, because of who we are, then maybe we could help him and he could help us."
Leia's whole body is hot and cold at the same time. "He would never help us."
Yoda says, "Outside, Organa." There is enough command in his tone that she does not pause to acknowledge him, only goes.
Once she's there, two muddy wolf snouts in her hands, she feels less like Luke is trying to put on Vader's mask and march after him. The heat of frustration still burns, but it earths itself in the constant marshiness around her without damaging anything. Don't let him leave without me, she tells Krayt.
Krayt sends back the image of the ship under the bog, though it's safely parked on what passes for dry land now. You could sink it again.
Leia sighs and uses some of the residual warmth of her frustration to heat and crack the mud in the wolves' fur. He'd probably lift it and clean it on his own out of spite. He wants to save someone he thinks is his father.
Does he smell like your father? Arala asks.
Leia laughs through her tears and gives them the spicy-dusty scent of a hug from Bail Organa in his Senate robes. Father is woven all through the memory.
Then the smell of the Imperial holding cell, antiseptic, inhuman, and Vader's gloved hand on her face, chill.
Can Luke save antiseptic-cold-glove? Krayt asks.
I don't know if he can be saved, Leia says. Master Yoda doesn't know, not really, or he would have said so when Luke asked him. All he said was that Luke can't save him. She breathes. I am going to clean you up and stack rocks.
We brought dinner, Arala says.
They've killed a long swimming beast by nipping it behind its head and dragged it up onto what passes for the shoreline near Yoda's home. It's one of the species that Yoda has served them before, so Leia is confident they can eat it without getting ill as long as she dresses the meat properly.
She has no training in doing that, and has let Luke handle the distasteful work, but she is angry with him and will not ask him for assistance. There are diagrams and short holos in the Guardians' records explaining how to handle animals of many configurations, so once she has located its mouth and anus, she finds a knife and goes to work.
When she is confused, she pauses, eyeing a jade-green organ. Do you think that is the lung or the liver? The liver is so rich in minerals it would kill all of them if they ate it, even if they split it with the wolves.
Arala sniffs it. One of the lungs, maybe, if it hasn't collapsed yet.
Krayt huffs. A kidney?
Probably not, not so far from the anus. Leia slices further down with her vibroknife. Ah, there is the stomach.
Careful, the wolves say together.
They bring the dressed meat to Yoda and Luke some time later. There are still scales stuck on Leia's hands, and a few on her cheek from where she brushed her hair out of her face.
Luke says, "I'm sorry," even before he says, "Thank you."
Leia says, "There's more meat outside. We should get it in before the insects find it."
A wolf leans against her. She doesn't know which one and doesn't reach to find out.
"Jedi aren't supposed to hate, so I'll never be a good Jedi." She sets the meat down on Yoda's table and brushes at the scales on her cheek. "He destroyed too many things I love." She bites her lip. "If he decides to follow you back toward the light, I won't kill him until he falls again, but I won't like him, and I won't talk to him, and he can't be anywhere near Arala's pups when she has them."
Arala huffs her agreement.
"A Jedi must destroy a Sith," Yoda says. He sounds tired, like talking with Luke is hard on him too. That makes Leia feel very slightly better about how much she doesn't want to talk to Luke about all of this ever again.
"But if a Sith turns, a Sith isn't a Sith anymore." There's no way it's the first time Luke's said that today.
Leia is going to take him outside and bury him in fish guts if she has to hear any more of this. "If you're sorry, let it go."
Luke sighs. "You're not listening."
"Listening, we are. Agreeing, we are not."
"Thank you, Master Yoda. Would you like your meat roasted or fried?"
"Mm. Fried, young Organa."
Han sends another message:
"Chewie and I are leaving the R Alliance next week. I've had enough of the constant back-and-forth about where the next base is going to be. These people are never going to make up their minds about anything. If I wanted to listen to bickering I'd visit you two. Enough bureaucracy! I'm going back to what I'm good at."
Leia writes back:
"Please inform us of your permanent forwarding address if you ever acquire one. We will do the same if, as you say, we ever acquire one, as both we and our fellows are somewhat peripatetic at present and may remain so for some time. However, our peregrinations are of necessity where yours are by choice, as I am sure you understand despite your protestations. May your travels be as safe as possible given your piratical bent. - LO"
Luke writes back:
"I'm sorry they're so frustrating! I don't think you should leave because if you leave, the only people still there will be the ones who can't make up their minds and don't think it's important. If I was there I'd be on your side but we're still busy with training.
I miss you a lot.
As far as I can tell, the people on this planet are the ones we brought and the one we came to see, and L is mad at me. So don't leave the R A, okay? Just write me another note instead and tell me how annoying everyone's being. I don't have a lot to say because all we do is train and sleep, really.
Don't laugh too hard. Just write. Please? - LS"
Han's next message comes in a few hours later:
"Your Highness, this one's not for you. Boring guy stuff, no politics.
I guess we're not leaving. Not because you asked, but because they need everybody they can get. They finally made a decision and it's a big one. I'm not telling you where the next base is--opsec, you know how it goes.
What'd you do to get under her skin in the bad way instead of the good way? Thought you two were inseparable. Can't you apologize? Bring her flowers? Come on, kid, try a little romance.
Told you it was boring guy stuff, princess."
Luke writes back immediately:
"I'm not apologizing. I didn't do anything wrong.
There aren't any flowers here anyway. -LS"
Han's reply after a sleep cycle is:
"Kid, NOT FOR ROYALTY, ROYALTY, STOP READING NOW THANKS--Sometimes it's amazing you've ever gotten anyone into bed once, let alone twice. The point of apologizing to somebody you care about is to make them feel better, not to prove that you're not perfect.
Anyway, are you sure you didn't do something a little wrong? Yeah, that person who's Definitely Not Reading This, Right gets touchy sometimes, but she likes you. She doesn't get mad for no reason, does she?
I've never been where you are. Maybe the flowers are just ugly. Ugly flowers wouldn't help, so forget the flowers."
Luke waits a day before he writes back. He meditates, or anyway he tries. When he writes back, what he sends is:
"Flowers would be a lot easier. I'm pretty sure I'm right. -LS"
"Kid, and definitely not Royalty, just The Other Guy,
Okay, so you're right. I believe you, whatever it is.
Did you mean to hurt her?"
It takes Luke a few days to figure out how to say:
"I'm right, but I didn't mean to hurt her, but I don't know how to be right without hurting her.
What the hell do I do now? -LS"
Han doesn't write back for a few more days. When he does his message reads:
"This is for The Other Guy, not Royalty. I'm fine. Tell her I'm fine. I'm fine. See, I'm writing this and not an official report, obviously I'm fine. You can stop reading now, your Highness. Don't worry about me. It was just a dustup. Nobody got worse than singed.
Anyway. The first thing you should do is an apology. And then flowers, but that's out. Or a present, but not where you are. No cleaning up while she's out, probably. No make-up sex, obviously. No fight-it-out-then-make-up sex, right?
Backrub? Cook her something nice, if there's something nice there? Brush her hair? What will she let you do that's a little better than usual? Not just compliments, that's not good enough. What have you got?"
Luke replies right away:
"We're both glad you're fine. I'm still not sorry so I'm not going to apologize. I can do nice stuff though. -LS"
Han answers just as fast:
"Not-Royalty, Nice stuff only counts as making things up if you apologize first, genius. Otherwise it's just you being a good friend. Don't bother yet."
Luke writes back:
"Fine!" and closes the message program.
The next day, Han sends:
"Not-Royalty, definitely no Highnesses at all, don't be too sure you're right for too long, okay? Sometimes you have to admit you're not perfect, kid. She's worth it. I know you know her better than I do, but you have to see it too.
Or am I completely off target there?"
Han waits two days and sends:
"Kid, and not for any royalty's eyes, sorry, your Highness, are you mad at me now, buddy? Sorry.
See, I can admit when I've made a mistake. I screwed up. You're right. You know her better than me. Maybe she's not worth it. Maybe whatever she's mad at you about is a really big deal and you're right and she's wrong. Okay! Sorry! You're right, kid. She's wrong."
Han waits two more days, then sends:
"Kid and maybe also royalty, are you guys okay?"
Leia writes back a few hours later:
"LO writing. The other guy hasn't touched the message program in days. He's been meditating much more than normal. I don't know whether he's right or wrong. He's definitely stubborn, but then, so am I. Don't bother to hide your astonishment.
Thank you for telling him to consider his opinions' effects on others. It's amazingly difficult to share mental space with someone who's entirely convinced of something I find impossible to contemplate. It's a philosophical difference that has to do with what we're studying; it would be too difficult to explain here, not because of your comprehension but because of certain matters of opsec. We'll tell you when we meet again.
I miss you terribly."
Han responds several hours later:
It is very good to hear from you. I hope you are well. My first mate wishes me to greet you warmly on his behalf. AH sends her best wishes and so does the High Command. I am glad that you and LS are doing well in your training and are actually healthy. I was worried for a while there when I had not heard from you for some time.
I hope that you and LS reconcile soon. It must be difficult to be in training with a friend with whom you are having trouble talking.
I miss you as well.
All the best."
Leia writes back:
"Get that stick out of your ass, have a drink, and write to me like I'm a person you've kriffing met before, you idiot. Love, kisses, and I'd never thought I'd miss the "Your Highnessness" poodoo, LO"
The response she gets takes her some time to read. At least it's clear that Han took her last message to heart.
"your highnessnessnessness your worshipfulnessessity you royal pain in the ass you're a person okay, definitely a person. ANd a princess. A princess all the way through. how much are you going to laugh if i say i ffell for you when i saw you with a blaster in your hands and a death sentence on your head? yeah i complained all the way down. of course i did. so did you.
i'd follow you right into hell all over again. what do you think i'm doing now?
i read youer message where you said you missed me
i am getting a tattoo of that in your handwriting when you get back and write it for me.
I think i died when I read that I couldn't breathe four about five minutes straight at LEAST and definitely you need more breathing than that you know that right? you shouldn't do that to a person
anyway I started breating again eventually
I definitely didn't know what to say
other than I miss you
like I missed breathing for five mintues
and I thhought about taking a holo of my dick and sending it to you because I miss you THAT MUCH but Chewie said maybe I shouldn't and besides you've seen it an you've got Luke's right there not that you're using it right now I did take a holo and Chewie took away the camera and smashed it which was a damn waste of credits stupid wookiee stupid lifedet why do i fly with him anyway stupid stupid hairballs everywhere
Nnyway. Chewie said I should make a list of all the people who miss you if I was going to say how much I miss you so how much I miss you wouldn't show up as much because otherwouse I would look like a hairlesss bufffooon which is to be fair probably what you think I look like a lot and definitely what he calls me ALL THE TIME but that's why I did a srvey of everybody on base including the command and stupd Amilyn
who profread my letter
and put in the whom
so if you likd it thank me for asking her to proofread it because I thought of it
and if you hated it thank her not me cause she idd it not me
I still miss you like not breathing for five minutes traight
and if luke isn't talking to you or apolicgising to you then he is dumb dumb dumb dumb DUMB
and you can tell him so
maaaaybe don't show him this ltter it might be embarrassing for oyou and maybe me?? i don't know.
please write beack i am going to wnat to die of a hngaover and the only thing i am looking forwardto is a letter from you.
"I hope C took as good care of you after you finished that letter as he did when you wrote the awkward one. Thank you for writing to me so honestly. I was wrong before when I said I missed you terribly. I didn't truly know the meaning of the term then and I should have reserved it for later use. Now I miss you horribly, with an ache that digs at my heart and lower areas that I will not take a holo of for you or anyone else, so don't ask. You will be in my thoughts from this moment until we meet again, which will make meditation awkward. - LO"
To Amilyn, she writes:
"If HS consults you on any further matters, please give him honest feedback; I consider him a beloved friend, though his manners are unpolished. I will be out of contact for regular communication until my training ends, but I trust that you are maintaining the highest standards with the R. A. Yours, as ever, LO."
Luke can manage a cairn of stones ten rocks high while walking on his hands and carrying Master Yoda on one foot before he regains his balance with Leia. They've slept together every night, curled in each other's arms in the warmth of wolves and friendship and what might be family, reached by a strange path. He's been learning to clear his mind and shield his thoughts, and he's been thinking hard about the arguments that drew a razor-thin line between them as deep as hyperspace. They still do everything together--they can hardly avoid it--but there is too much separation, and it tugs at him through hours of silent meditation.
He tries to find ways to bridge the gap without bringing it up to Leia because he knows her opinions are immoveable. Master Yoda's aren't going anywhere, either, but eventually Luke makes a kind of peace with their point of view.
I've been thinking about it, and you and Master Yoda are right that I can't save anyone from themselves, he says one night when Master Yoda is snoring in his alcove. It was simple of me to think I could. I'm not going to chase anyone--anyone at all--into the dark to try to save them. I'm sorry.
Leia leans into his embrace with a little more strength. Thank you. I couldn't stand the thought I might lose you, She turns in his arms. Arala half-wakes and burrows in closer, pressing them together. The way you hope--even about him--isn't a failing in you.
I know. Now. Mostly. Luke sighs. I missed you.
I missed you too. She kisses him softly, deeply, and the flutter of her tongue against his chases away all the words for what they are to one another until they are simply together.
I missed this, too. I was afraid we wouldn't be-- he sends the feeling of embracing her, doubling the sensation of his arms around her, then the sense of kissing her, the taste of her pleasure and how much he's ached for her --anymore. Because-- family is a giant tangle of thoughts, even now, Owen and Beru, Ben knowing and not saying, the images of the Organas and Padmé she's sent him, the images of Vader that have no place in the safe warmth of their bed but are there anyway, cold and dark and forbidding.
She stops kissing him, but they are still pressed together, breath to breath, chest to chest, hips to hips, and even without the Force and packsense she would know how much he wants her. Does it bother you? There's no tease in her tone.
There are hundreds of things bothering him. He trusts the Alliance's medical staff with his life and they have assured him that the contraceptive implants are completely effective until deactivated. No. Maybe it should, but no. Luke kisses her, starting gently for all of half a second before they're both tangling their hands in each other's hair.
Yoda stops snoring.
They send each other laughter, hot and embarrassed, and put up shields, going into a den the way the wolves have taught them, until they are in a dry, warm bed in their minds behind walls meters thick, under layers and layers of ray-shields, where no one can reach them but their wolves.
Somewhere far away, Yoda starts snoring again.
Leia kisses his neck, licks a line across his collarbone. I missed the way you taste.
Sharing water is sharing life on Tatooine. Sharing more intimate fluids is the closest thing to a marriage ceremony anybody bothers with until there are kids on the horizon, and since they're not, the complex sweet-salt of her skin is its own sacrament. Luke shows her that and catches the image of a temple from her mind, grander than anything he's ever seen in use in a religious context. It's not how the Jedi worshipped.
Neither is this. She presses her hand over her mouth and licks his nipple, muffling his moan with the meat of her palm. He can feel her smile against his skin and in his mind, both. More?
Everything she does makes him want more. If she keeps going he''ll have no idea where to begin to return the delightful favors. May I do this for you?
Not yet. She sits up, balancing on her knees and making him gasp against her hand with the way her weight shifts. I want your mouth.
Everywhere is her first instinctive answer. Then she draws her tunic up and raises her eyebrows at him. All right?
He'd spend a full planetary revolution between her thighs if he didn't have to learn to use the Force in order to help the Alliance. Maybe once they've won, they can take a vacation and put some of it to good use, as if he could ever convince Leia to leave the seat of power that long, or just let him kneel in front of it. Please, he says, reaching to run his hands up her legs. Anything you want.
You. He needs no light to see her smile, which is just as well, as she is above him, facing down the bed. She sends him his scentname with a sense of laughter the way the wolves do. He sends hers back, overlaid with the way she tastes when she's aroused, and she kneels over his face. For a moment, the scent in his mind and the taste on his tongue blend, and she tastes of sharp smoke, sweet berries, smoke, salt, and pleasure all at once.
Leia laughs in his mind, pressing her thighs wide and leaning down to kiss his belly, to run her hardening hands over his hips and lick him decadently. You don't taste anything like a lightsaber.
He shivers and snickers against her thigh, losing his rhythm for a moment, loving her too much too breathe. Or sunshine, after all this time on Dagobah.
Let me see.
There is a kind of blessing in the way that she knows his secrets, that she knows how few people he's trusted a fraction this much and how little experience he's had, that he has no reason to put up any sort of façade of strength or power, or anything but purest enjoyment when she teases him. In return, he sees her just as clearly when he tries to slow her not by begging for relief but by direct distraction. The way she arches her back is sweet revenge.
Sunshine? Luke asks.
Leia digs her nails into his hips and gives her tongue another luxurious swirl. Not yet.
It takes all his willpower to shout in the space between their minds and not aloud. He pays her back by finding the speed she needs and drawing things out for her long enough, fast enough that she loses track of what she is doing for him, her breathing coming shallowly and her hand insistent on his scalp, keeping him precisely where he is, as if he could stop for anything shy of catastrophe until her muscles and the sense of her all around him go from tensed with yearning to loose with ease. More? he asks as she luxuriates, her breath still quick.
Yes. Race you. There is nothing languid in her thoughts, but he can only laugh and protest how unfair it is, how unfair it will always be to play this game, when all he needs to do is ease his fingers into her slick depths and give her the lightest kisses before she's shuddering above him again, her mouth tightening and pausing around him in the most delicious tease. On the heels of her second orgasm, Leia sends him a wolf-smile on her own face, fragrant as if they'd stopped to kiss each other. You can concede whenever you like.
You can follow through whenever you can focus well enough, young Organa. Luke presses his tongue against her and his fingers into her, relishing the cling and clench of her muscles. He wants to live in this moment, in her mouth, inside her for as long as he can, the sweet suction of her lips and the way her fingers speed him toward orgasm, the way he knows she's laughing at him all through her third orgasm that drags his fingers inside her until he can feel her heart pounding as hard as his is.
Control your impulses or they will control you, Leia says, and holds his hips down with one arm as she takes him in her mouth.
Luke comes, his mind chattering love and desire at her, and she nuzzles his thigh. A little more, just-- she sends him the image of his thumbs opening her, his tongue, and he could never refuse her anything.
Like this? he asks some thirty seconds later.
I thought so, but no. Leia sits up, pushing his hands away. We should clean up so we don't get a lecture on Jedi behavior.
Luke huffs. No proper Jedi has a wolf.
I don't think they let General Kenobi get away with everything his first year out. Let's not tempt fate. Leia kisses him, her mouth just as slick as it had been in the packsense sending. That was lovely, but I don't want to share one second of it with Yoda.
The thought makes Luke wish they had a den as distant as the one they use in the shield vision. All right, no.
"Been busy as hell. Miss you both like air in airlock open on wrong side. See you very soon. Pack up, if you're still allowed possessions and are willing to leave."
"What if we're not done here? Whose idea was this? You and what army are going to command ancient source of wisdom off this rock? I have no authority here no matter what titles you call me."
"See you soon."
R2 trills an alert in the middle of a lightsaber spar. Leia's been working on her Binary enough to know that he means "incoming ship." She has to ask Luke Friendly or foe?
It's the Falcon, Luke sends, his mental voice shaking with excitement. Han's aboard with Chewie. He backflips over her head, evading her. Yoda hisses through his teeth.
"Waste not your energy in display, young Skywalker."
"I'm not, master."
Their blades clash, matched turquoise shafts sending up sparks. Luke didn't want to keep Anakin Skywalker's weapon as it was and Master Yoda had some crystals and parts. It took some fiddling around to get the colors right, but it was worth the trouble. The grips aren't remotely the same, since their hands aren't, but it would take a practiced eye and enough time to spot the differences. Most of their enemies won't have the chance.
Han can't even see you yet, Leia tells Luke.
He snorts and comes back at her with a combination that has her dodging fast. I don't think I'm the only one he came to see.
You're his friend, aren't you? Leia tries a sweep at his feet that gets him jumping again. She can hear Yoda sigh over the crackle of the blade.
I can give you two space if you need it. Luke shields himself so quickly it's like he's gone invisible to her mind and her packsense. Leia stumbles, her lightsaber shutting off in surrender. Arala wakes up with a start on the edge of the practice ground and Krayt is on her feet, growling.
"I'm right here, don't worry," Luke says, and lets himself reappear.
Krayt knocks him down in her relief and huffs in his face. Leia wants to do the same thing, but she won't, not in front of Yoda, and not while she can hear the Falcon's engines as she comes in for a landing.
"Practice that, you must, until calm your wolf is."
You can't leave, Krayt says to both of them, and maybe Yoda too, for all he's not listening to her. Wolves are concerned with the moment, not the future. It didn't feel like you were sleeping, it felt like you were dead.
Luke rubs her ears. Sorry, love, sorry.
Arala nudges Leia's hand. Don't get any ideas.
It might be a useful trick if there are enemies around, but I'll try to warn you first.
What good is it if you tell everyone in the packsense what's going to happen? Luke asks.
Not in so many words. She sends him the scent and sight of a farmhand on Alderaan, though his farm was nothing like those farms. But if we had a word we wouldn't say otherwise, one that meant "shielding, will contact when it's safe," then the others would know not to panic.
Okay, yeah. Maybe "Amidala."
They have her face and the barest recollection of a recording of her voice saying her own name. The lack hurts, but it will do as a passcode that no one else would dare to use. Amidala, yes, Leia sends back to him.
"Puppies," Yoda says, sharply. "Arrived, your friends have."
Leia wishes that Han had sent more precise information about his timing. She's dressed for sparring, not company, in a ragged-edged shirt tied up under her breasts and a pair of short trousers, all the color of the Dagobah mud after months there. She hasn't brushed her hair in at least three days and the wisps are growing dire, now that she puts a hand to the braid to check it.
For his part, Luke is in equally ugly brown-on-brown, but he looks fit and well-fed, and the ragged edges suit him. Being a Jedi padawan is far more his milieu than Leia's. When Han steps off the ship expecting a princess of Alderaan and finds a swamp rat--well, he'll find Luke, and Leia won't begrudge them each other. There is no way anyone, however charming, could be what she is to Luke.
"Race you," Luke says, and takes off toward the Falcon
"Cheater!" She's right on his heels with Arala. No prize for getting there first.
Of course not, Luke agrees easily. We didn't have a three-two-one-go or anything. This was worse than Boonta Eve.
It's hard to run in the swamp, even with practice. It's harder still while navigating through years of Luke's overlapping memories of podraces, overlaid with thoughts of Anakin Skywalker, who looms inconveniently large for having competed once. Humans can't win, you don't understand, Luke says, trying to calm her frustration. Except he did, before he was even an adult or free, so he couldn't afford good training.
I don't need to understand. Leia tries her own shielding, not as complete as Luke's but enough to keep him from distracting her, and puts on another burst of speed, using more than just her muscles. She leaps over him, springing off of his shoulders, and lands in front of the Falcon's door as Han walks down the ramp, Chewbacca next to him.
Han looks trim as ever--no one has ever managed to talk him out of his black vest and into something that makes him look like he will stay with the Rebel Alliance--and Chewbacca seems to have brushed for the trip. They both startle when they see Arala at the foot of the ramp, as if they didn't know she was going to grow up while she was on Dagobah. "Is that one of ours?" Han asks, his hand on his blaster.
"She'd have torn your throat out by now if she wasn't," Leia says. Arala is much bigger than she was when they left the Rebel Alliance, but still, her behavior should have been a clue, and her gray-white coloring hasn't changed.
"Your Worshipfulness," Han says with his usual smirk as he bows. Then he looks up, sees her, and trips over his own feet.
Leia knows she's muddy, but she didn't think it was that bad. "Skylegs, Solo?"
"Han!" Luke says and barrels into his arms, Krayt knocking them both sideways a second later. Leia has to catch them with the Force so they don't fall into the everpresent bog.
"I don't know how you managed to find enough solid ground to land the Falcon," Leia says to Chewbacca while she eases the other two back to their feet. Han's got his hands in all kinds of places. It's a good thing Yoda's playing the old, slow Jedi Master with a stick or they'd be getting an earful already about proper behavior.
Leia says, "I've been working on a Jedi trick that lets me interpret languages I don't know by listening to someone's surface thoughts for their meaning. May I listen to your thoughts?"
Chewbacca nods. He says something, and his thoughts are, "You sank that ship? You must not have let Skywalker pilot it. I don't know what you were thinking, 'cause that kid could pick the wings off a tsuit before it noticed and still land it without spilling his caf. Captain Father of a Thousand Cubs over there has some pontoons if we need them to keep the Falcon's door even opens anymore, the way he's been going through everything slippery." There's a laugh under his words. "But the Rebels want their princess back, and their hero Jedi. Both of you. Most of the High Command wanted to order you back, but we figured a softer sell might work. Han hoped a softer sell would work, anyway. Amilyn wanted to come along, but they almost strangled each other when she said she was going to come with us, so they flipped a coin to decide. We won--Han was going to come by himself, but he's been coming by himself much too much and Amilyn made me promise to drag all three of you back one way or another so you didn't end up on the galaxy's longest honeymoon. Not that you would, but those boys--have they even breathed in the last five minutes?" At least he sounds amused at them. "How's the Jedi training coming along?"
Leia makes a face. "Jedi used to train their whole lives. We don't have that kind of time. If we can't convince Master Yoda to join the Alliance, we may have to leave with what little we know."
"Looks like one of you has the mindtricks down, anyway. Not like he needs them." Chewbacca sniggers. "Have you been practicing on each other?"
It's never taken a mindtrick stronger than "How about it?" to get into Han's pants and Luke's no different. They're twined around each other tighter than the ivy that used to choke her mother's favorite flowers in the autumn if it wasn't pruned back at the right time.
Leia rolls her eyes and tries to back out of Chewbacca's thoughts somewhat without tuning him out entirely. "It doesn't work like that," she tells Chewbacca. "Luke, Master Yoda's coming."
"Mmhm," he says, and then groans. She doesn't need the packsense to know Han's nuzzling his neck, only sense memory.
"Han, anybody caught messing around with a Jedi trainee gets smacked with a big wooden stick."
"Don't see any bruises on you two. Are they under your shirt, buddy?"
"You can check," Luke offers.
Leia says, "We learned to dodge," and jumps high enough that Yoda's swing misses her knees.
It catches Luke and Han in the thighs because they're not paying any attention to anything but each other. They break apart, yelping. "Hey!" Han says, scowling. "I didn't sign up for this camp and you can't knock me around."
"Can't I? Organa, did I?" Yoda asks, amused.
"Yes, Master Yoda."
"Then can I." Yoda pokes his stick at Han, who dodges this time. "This Rebellion, desperate it is for recruits. But Wookiees, strong fighters are." He looks up and considerably farther up at Chewbacca. "An honor it is to receive you."
Chewbacca bows. "The honor is mine, Master Jedi." His other thoughts on the matter have to do with Yoda being incredibly short, but then, everybody's short to Chewbacca.
"Oh, come on," Han says. "This guy is the Jedi Master? What kind of a Jedi Master hangs out in a swamp and hits people with sticks?"
"This one," Leia says in unison with Luke.
"Okay," Han says after a beat. He waves his finger at Yoda. "Don't do that again."
"Master Yoda," Luke says, rubbing his thigh, "let me introduce you to Chewbacca, who has manners, and Han Solo, who doesn't."
"No manners have you, young Skywalker," Yoda says. "Your distance should you keep." Leia suspects a planetary diameter would be enough to keep them out of trouble, and that she's in for at least as much trouble the second she stops mocking Han in her head and actually lets herself be aware of him.
Her manners have deteriorated considerably since she got a wolf and she can't regret a second of it.
She manages to get them all peaceably settled in for muddy tea at Yoda's so they can talk about getting off Dagobah.
The first offer from the Alliance: move to the new base on Hoth, which is in an ice cavern; bring Master Yoda and anything he wants; and leave as soon as is feasible, gets them laughed out of the tree-dwelling. Then Yoda bars the door behind them.
"My home this is!" he shouts out the window with his voice and with the Force. "Leave I will not. Ice! Ha! Think you I wish to die in the cold? Ha! At dawn, talk we will."
The lights go out inside and the scent of smoke disappears. Despite all the time Leia and Luke have spent in that clearing beating down the grass with their booted feet, it looks like any of the natural marshy lowlands in any of the places they've seen.
Arala leans hard on Leia. Shielding, she says. So strong.
Dawn, he said, Leia reminds her and Luke.
"Is he always that much fun?" Han asks.
"At least," Luke says.
"Great." Chewbacca sighs. "Anything edible on this rock?"
Leia offers, "The wolves can identify various species."
"We've got rations," Han says. "Why don't we turn in early?"
"I thought quadrupeds were the leg-humpers until I met the three of you," Chewbacca says, laughing.
Han puts on a completely improbable façade of innocence. "I just want to make sure you're all warm and dry. You know what your fur gets like when you're wet, Chewie."
"I'm going to get a rebreather and sleep in the biggest smuggling compartment," Chewbacca says, with equal parts annoyance and amusement. "If you wake me up through the soundproofing, I'll tear you apart."
"You don't need to do that," Luke says.
Han pats Chewbacca's arm. "We'll keep it down."
Leia tucks some of the flyaway strands of her hair into her braid. They flop back out again into her face by the time she gets to the Falcon. She hasn't had a chance to do anything about her appearance and she doesn't feel fit for any company but Luke's, and his only because he's been right there with her this whole time. He has no reason to expect her to be the clean, pretty, made-up princess of Alderaan, rather than the wild-haired, shaggy-legged, grubby Jedi trainee of Dagobah. Her pants and tunic are so stained with brown mud it's impossible to tell what color they started as, and even though she's at least as clean as Luke and the sonic showers onboard could handle any dirt, it wouldn't be the same. "I'll take the guest compartment," she says, and starts for it.
"Are you okay?" Luke asks her, catching her hand. Krayt, more direct, sniffs her crotch. They're going to have to teach the wolves manners before they get back to the Alliance. Her face goes red again.
You guys go do whatever you want, she tells Luke. Krayt, keep your nose out of there. "I'm fine."
"Your Highness?" Han asks, his voice gentler than the words.
"Where in the name of all the forests in the universe is that damn rebreather?" Chewbacca asks. "Probably the cockpit." He starts singing a song very loudly, something about Wookiee women and their beautiful vulvas, the way their vaginas cling and--Leia tunes him out as fast as she can, so all she can discern is the sound of Wookiee singing without the meaning behind it. It's bad enough that way.
You don't want to be alone, Krayt says. You smell--
What I smell like has nothing to do with what I want.
But you don't really want to be alone, do you? Luke asks, giving her a hopeful look. We can all be together tonight, like we've talked about but better.
"Guys?" Han asks, sounding uncertain. "The Jedi stuff is pretty rude."
I'm not who he thinks I am, Leia tells Luke. Out loud, she says, "I need to get some rest before we go back, that's all."
"You can sleep in hyperspace, your Worshipfulness." Han offers her his hand with what he probably thinks is a courtly flourish, a wave of his hand that goes through more swirls and wobbles than a Senator running away from answering a direct question. "At least let me rub your back before you turn in."
Arala thumps her tail on the decking. He has good ideas.
He has terrible ideas and he just wants to get in my pants.
You don't sleep in your pants. What's the matter?
Leia takes a quick breath and tightens her hands into fists. She'd promised to tell Han the truth about what Luke was wrestling with when they saw him again and there's no time like the present. "We haven't had a genetic test, but Master Yoda knew our father, and--"
"Oh, no," Luke says under his breath, and moves to lean against her without interrupting her. The wolves come, too, adding their weight against her legs.
"--and you should know, before we get any deeper into anything, because Luke's my brother, and Vader's our father, and if you want to kick us off the ship right now I'd understand." She stares at the decking.
Han says nothing. In the cockpit, Chewbacca sings about Wookiee women's genitalia, probably, for the next million years.
"Well," Han says after the heat death of the universe, or maybe a minute or two, "my father was a bastard, but not a planet-destroying bastard. Really, you're siblings? That's not just a wolf thing, or a Jedi thing?"
"That's what Master Yoda said Ben--Obi-Wan said," Luke says, quietly, his fingers in Krayt's ruff. He's sending Leia the feeling of her fur and her heartbeat. "Um. And. We're, um."
"You're still--like you were before?"
There's a wave of embarrassment in Luke's mind. "Yeah."
"Okay. Leia?" Han asks.
"You blown up any planets yet?"
She looks up, ready to destroy him with the Force, except she hasn't learned how yet. He's smirking at her, damn him. "I hate you."
Luke bends over, giggling into Krayt's fur, his face red. "Oh. Oh, I didn't know you couldn't lie anymore."
"Only to you, laserbrain." Leia wants to turn them both upside down with the Force and dunk them in a bog, but that definitely leads to the Dark Side. Arala is breathing on her hand, warm and real. It centers her. "How can you not care, Han?"
He shrugs. "You aren't him. Nothing in the universe is going to make you him. Knowing he is who he is to you isn't going to make you him, is it?"
She shudders. "Never."
Han spreads his hands. "So it doesn't matter. You come from Alderaan, Princess. Everybody knows that. And Luke's a pilot from Tatooine. That's what matters. As for having a brother, as long as you don't have kids without gene-cleaning, that doesn't matter either."
Leia rubs her hands over her face. "I'm not in the slightest bit interested in raising a child in the middle of a war, let alone at my age."
Pups are hard work, Arala agrees.
"I--gah." Luke has his arms crossed hard. "No. We have so many other things to do."
"There's something else," Leia says.
Han looks at her, full on. "I'm not genetically related to you, gorgeous, so don't try that one."
Leia pushes her hair away from her face. She feels about as gorgeous as Master Yoda, but she's not going to argue the point. "It has to do with the wolves, actually. With the packsense, and something we learned about--him." She can't send Han Vader's scentname the way she would send it to Luke.
He seems to get it anyway. "Vader has a weakness for purple tights?"
Luke snorts. "No. Well, maybe. I'd have to ask R2."
"Why would the droid know?"
"R2 used to belong to him. We're going to have to debrief him thoroughly when we can hook him up to a readout. Anyway, go ahead, Leia."
"During the Clone Wars--" Leia hesitates. It feels wrong to use the name Vader for the man he'd been then. "Then-Jedi General Skywalker had a queenwolf, like Krayt and Arala. Her name was Puk," rhymes with luck, not good or bad on its own. "She was one of the strongest queens on record, and he was one of the strongest Jedi on record."
"Sounds like a recipe for trouble," Han says.
"Yes." Leia bites her lip. "He was in charge of a battalion, some 9,000 soldiers at full strength, and through his wolf he drew all of them into the packsense." Han takes a breath and she holds up her hand. "The Guardians say that one person and one wolf should bond with about one hundred and fifty people at most."
He whistles. "So then what?"
"As they died in battle and were replaced, he bonded with their replacements. He lost his mind to grief, and no one drew him back."
"I was going to say, why don't you guys do that so we don't have to share our comm traffic with the Imps, but, no. Let's skip the part where you lose your minds and turn to the Dark Side." Han shakes his head. "Okay. Jedi General Skywalker had a queenwolf, huh? Where is she, holding the Imperial packsense together?"
"Dead," Luke says. "She died in a duel with Obi-Wan. His wolf, who was her mate, died, too."
Arala sticks her nose into Leia's hand, warm and reassuringly alive. "That wasn't my point," Leia says.
Han shakes his head. "Okay. What was it?"
"You hate it when we do 'Jedi stuff,' and that's fair. We can bring you into the packsense if you want. It's not the same as using the Force, but we'd be able to hear each other if we were close, and share thoughts, and feelings, sometimes, if we wanted to." Leia offers her hand, simply.
Please, please, please, Luke says, not to her, exactly. They've had so many conversations on the subject, and all of them started "What if?" and ended "But it's Han, so--"
"If you don't want to, it's okay," Luke says, just barely avoiding sounding sulky. "Three hundred people only sounds like a lot till you start counting up how many people it takes to run the Alliance, and I know you want to leave--"
"I'm in," Han says, and pulls them both into a hug. "You mean it?"
Leia smells like sweat and mud and fear, and her whole body feels like it's lit from the inside. "Yes. Yes, yes, yes."
"But not in the hallway, or Chewie really will tear us to pieces." Han kisses her urgently. "Come on, princess, I washed my sheets for you. I didn't know you guys had been sleeping in a bog the entire time you were here."
"Oh." The light snuffs out. "Let me use the 'fresher."
"Are you kidding? Let's go, sweetheart." Han sweeps her off her feet. She could dodge, of course, fight back, of course, in a dozen ways, but she doesn't want to, not now, not against him. She lets him pick her up, the foolish man, and carry her to his quarters in his arms like he's won some sort of romantic battle.
Luke laughs at them. "If I had a camera. If R2 was here!"
"I wouldn't have let him do it," she tells Luke, and rests her head on Han's shoulder when he turns sideways to get into his bunk.
He did wash his sheets and tidy his bunk. He didn't wolf-proof the place, because Arala and Krayt are there before them, which means the bunk is full when he goes to set her down. "Hey," he says. "My arms are going to get tired, here."
Arala huffs. If he's going to be pack, he should know where he stands.
You can sleep on the floor for once.
Leia hears them both hop off the bunk, and then Han sets her down. The sheets smell like him and only very faintly like wolves. Han's beside her in a second, kissing her. "So how do we do this pack thing?"
Do you mind if we-- she asks Luke.
He'll be ours. It's fine.
She sends him wordless gratitude and warmth and reaches for his hand. "The easiest way is if you relax your mind and Arala makes the contact. Put your hand on her head and look into her eyes, okay?"
Han sits up, trying to look like he's not aroused half out of his mind, and strokes Arala's head. "Hey, Arala. Hey, pretty girl. Is this going to hurt--oh."
Leia? Han asks incredulously, his mouth shaping her name silently.
Yes, just like that.
She says my name is-- he sends a mixture of metal, something ethereal, and alcohol. After a moment, Arala sends images from Han's memory: the decking of the Falcon, a hyperspace drive spinning down, and the floor of a bar.
Leia laughs and puts her face in her hands.
Luke asks, "What?"
"Show him, Han."
Luke snickers after a moment. "Okay, that's about as weird as mine. Here, take my hand. It helps sometimes."
Han says, "Huh. What's yours, Princess?"
Leia sends him her scentname. Han sends back, It suits you, and leans over to kiss her again. Is this any good for sex?
Luke sends them both a pulse of desire that sweeps through them. Leia's muscles shiver. I can get Leia off without touching her. Want to see?
Han snorts. "What kind of stupid question is that, kid? Let me help you out of your shirt, your Highnessness."
"You too. Both of you." She reaches for him so she won't be the only one on display, fuzzy and unkempt as she is. "Luke's not the only one who's learned a few tricks."
"I bet not." Han tosses his shirt to one side and skins his pants off. Leia takes a moment to appreciate him--he hasn't gained any new scars, fortunately, and he's just as handsome as she remembers--before she does the same. By the time she's naked, Luke and Han are tangled up in each other and kissing, running their hands through each other's hair. Luke grinds against him, shivering.
You should let him use his mouth on you, she tells Han, and underscores the thought with a memory of exactly how Luke's tongue feels sliding inside her.
"Fuck." Han breaks the kiss and pushes Luke away, gasping for breath. "Fuck, hang on, not fair, that's definitely cheating."
"Welcome to the packsense." Leia tugs on his hair lightly and kisses his temple. "Want some more?"
"Yes." Han laughs. "One condition."
"Yeah?" Luke bites his lower lip. "You think he's allowed to set conditions?"
"He can try," Leia says.
"Nngh. No making fun of me when you make me come in three seconds."
"Oh, that. No. None of that."
Luke says, "I want to watch you together," maybe out loud, maybe in their heads.
Han's hands shake. "We've got time for whatever you want. Maybe not enough energy for all of it tonight, though. What do you want first?"
You like a plucked chord on a bass quadron, resonant and deep.
And then a pause, because they'd both thought it, and then Leia wants to let Luke elaborate, and Luke wants to let her elaborate, and neither of them says anything at all.
Han says, "You're sure this packsense is good for sex?"
"It's easier when we're not trying to be polite," Leia says.
"Fuck being polite. I've been waiting for both of you for months and I want--" the packsense, under his words, rings with love "--you both. Doesn't matter what happens first. Leia, you're good for more'n one, right?"
"Wonderful. You're still the kind of perfectionist princess who wants to be on top, right?"
She laughs. "With you? Yes."
Han grins at her. "Okay. Show me what you've been working on."
Leia's definitely got more thigh muscles than the last time she was with Han. She's as hungry for this as he is, and they settle into a quick rhythm, his hands on her hips, Luke's fingers teasing at her perfectly, her hands on Han's shoulders. I need-- she sends them, her mouth full of Han's tongue, and she only has to add the impression of teeth before Luke's mouth is on her ear, his teeth nibbling sharply at her earlobe.
Han laughs into the kiss and he twists his hips. Convenient.
Don't mock me when you're getting exactly what you want.
Is this enough? Do you want more? Luke asks, and tucks the tip of one finger inside her next to Han, stretching her open while he strokes her with his other hand.
Leia gives them the thought of both of them inside her, filling her fully and suddenly, too much and not too much because it's only a thought, and arches back against Luke, gasping her way through an orgasm. Han swears and clutches at her. "The hell," he says. "The hell do they teach Jedi? Do that again."
If you could taste her right now, Luke says, and Leia's mouth floods with the remembered flavors of herself. So does Han's, she knows, because he moans and buries his face in her shoulder.
"If your hands weren't both busy, kid, damn--"
"Here," Leia says, and lets Han suck at her fingers. She doesn't have anything in particular on them, but it doesn't matter, the way Luke's sending sense memories. Han's tongue is rough and his mouth is warm, and he feels like he wants to devour her. She wants to let him.
Luke's thoughts shift from the taste of her to the memory of how Han's mouth feels on him, just as wet and hungry as it is on her fingers. He's so careful with the tenderest flesh, so gentle and then fierce. That's enough to send Leia over the edge again. Han shudders and thrusts up into her, going still with a muffled curse as he comes a few moments later.
Luke groans in her ear. I missed him.
It's easy to laugh now she's feeling sated. Me too.
She is an absolute mess when she rolls off Han. He makes a pitiful noise and pats her hair. "Where're you going?"
"There is a real refresher that doesn't run on swamp water right over there. Hand me your shirt, Han." He does her one better and finds her a piece of towel under the pillow. She kisses his shoulder as she sits up. "And then I'm coming back, and if you're not done, well--" I owe you one. That is for Luke, with a warm, but not too teasing, sending of a kiss underscoring it, since she's getting out of bed and stepping over Krayt as she says it.
"I don't think I can move, kid," Han says behind her. "She broke me. You both broke me."
"Already? Okay. You lie down and die and I'll just hump your corpse."
Han splutters. "You've been spending too much time with your wolf."
Leia closes the door to the refresher before she starts snickering and cleans up as fast as possible. Master Yoda would call her out for frivolous use of the Force, but there's frivolity and then there's Luke making that kind of joke. She leaves her hair as the sex-crazed sparring-tousled mess it is and rejoins them in under three minutes.
Han, despite his protestations, has clung on to the spark of life and is kneeling between Luke's thighs, sucking him and stroking him both hands, while Luke pets his hair and tries--and fails--to keep breathing regularly.
Where's your lubricant? Leia asks Han. She gets the location from the image in his head more than the directions he tries to give her and tousles his hair. Be nice with your teeth, he's delicate.
Am not, Luke protests.
I'm not pushing my luck, Han sends back, along with a whole lot more gentle warmth than Leia was expecting from him.
Leia takes Han's left hand and tests his fingernails--cut short. He must have planned, somewhere along the line, for something like this. Maybe he's been dreaming about them as much as they have about him. She slicks two of his fingers. You don't have to be too gentle with these.
At all. Luke spreads his legs further.
Oh, you're going to kill me, Han says delightedly, his mouth full. Luke whimpers and arches off the bed.
Next time we'll really get you ready, Leia promises Luke, sending him the sensation of stretching muscles as she kisses him. She can't remember anymore whose feeling that was to start with, only that they'd agreed it was delicious. You pick the toy and I'll fuck you right into his mouth, into all that heat.
Just like we said, Luke agrees. He sends back a mix of what he's feeling right then and the fantasy they'd spun together.
Maybe that's giving away a little too much of what they'd had that was just for them, but if Han realizes any of it is made up, he doesn't seem to care. He sends them, I want you just like this, I want to give you everything you want and holds on when Luke comes in his mouth.
For that kind of promise, Leia can forgive him a whole lot of posturing.
There's a softness around Han's eyes, too, when he looks at Luke afterward. "All right, there?"
Luke laughs. "Yeah. Yeah, I'll be fine. You're the one who got dragged into the packsense tonight. That usually takes it out of a person. Are you okay?"
Han shrugs and glances at Leia. "I didn't get dragged, I got invited by a queen. And then fucked by a demon princess. I'm fine."
"Demon princess" has never sounded like "I love you" before, but she can hear it now, all through the packsense.
Leia pokes Han in the side. "Go wash your hands."
He sketches a bow with his filthy hands. "Yes, your Highness."
Luke rolls over into Leia's arms and whispers in her ear, "Can we keep him?"
She whispers back, "I hope so."
They leave a small communit with Master Yoda and say goodbye in the morning with lengthy notes on how to meditate, when to meditate, the way to calculate Dagobah's rotational period relative to various other planets and stars so they don't disturb his rest, and most importantly, how to shield their thoughts from other Force users. "Thank you for everything," Luke says.
Master Yoda smacks him on the knee with his stick, then hits Leia, so they both get a souvenir bruise. "Going you are, then gone you should be. Go, go, go."
Arala dances out of the way so he won't be able to reach her.
"You don't want us to stick around here until we're good enough to be knighted and old enough our knees creak," Leia says, and dodges Yoda's stick on the backswing. "You know he'd find us by then." She doesn't send Vader's scentname, since Yoda wouldn't sense it. She doesn't need to.
He sniffs. "Excuses, you make for yourself, not for me. Go, puppies. Go, Wookiee. Go, smuggler."
Han huffs. "I haven't smuggled anything in weeks--months, even. I'm losing my touch. I'm a Rebel, Master Yoda."
"Fine. Go, Rebel. Rebels! Off my planet, go." Yoda shakes his stick at all of them and turns back toward his tree.
"We'll call you tomorrow," Luke says.
Yoda slams his door with the Force. The tree goes dark the way it did the night before, looking like it's not a home.
Krayt sniffs the air. Empty, she says. We need that trick.
Leia shakes her head. It's a good trick. Her braid is tight and neat, wound around her head. Luke's hands are still tingling a little from helping brush her hair out and the sex that happened because of it, and he wonders if Han's are, too. "Let's go," she says.
"May the Force be with you, Master Yoda," Luke says.
There's no answer.
Hoth is exactly as awful as Han says it's going to be, as cold as Tatooine is hot. Everyone hates it there, even Chewbacca. The only good thing about it is that no one blinks at the three of them bunking together, except for Amilyn Hondo.
She comes over, tall and elegant in ways Luke can never hope to be, her bright purple hair perfect, at their first breakfast back and her eyes bright. She's the only pilot in the mess who looks like she hasn't slept in her orange flightsuit for the last year straight. On her it looks like a real uniform, like it was designed for her. She leans over and asks Leia not-quite-quietly enough, while they're all huddled over caf and waiting for food, "Are you sticking with both of them? Luke I understand, with the wolf, but--"
Leia sends them, See you in while, okay? and it's not great, first thing in the morning, but she underscores it with a kiss and it's not like they're going to get into a fight over caf. "Let's eat together," she says, and takes Amilyn's arm. Arala follows after them, tail waving.
Han doesn't breathe deeply until Leia sends a real question. Is one night a week okay? I know we're still finding our feet, and I can tell her no, not this cycle.
"What do you think?" Han asks out loud, like he expects Luke to be the one with a real opinion or any kind of experience to judge on.
All he knows is that wherever Leia goes, whoever she's with, she's coming back to them. "It's fine with me if it's fine with you."
"Yeah? She's your--" Han waves his hand. There are so many words Luke's not going to finish that phrase with, especially not out loud.
"She's her own--" Luke makes the same gesture "--too. You fine with it?"
Han shrugs, relaxing. "Sure, if you are. You know her better than me, kid."
"I'm not going to start telling her what to do." Luke shakes his head. Leia, can you show Han why you want to?
Now? There's embarrassment under her words.
Maybe not right now, Han sends.
Before you commit to anything. Tell her we're thinking, and that's absolutely true, okay?
Thanks. Leia sends them both a kiss on the cheek, a soft, cool press of lips.
Han sips his caf. "So if I got it into my head to chase somebody else, that'd be fine too?" Krayt whimpers and puts her head in Han's lap. He sets down his caf and pets her ears. "I know a 'no' when I hear one, your Majesty. It's okay. I'm not looking for anybody. I was just asking."
Luke sends Krayt, I wasn't going to say it.
I know. Somebody had to. Chewie says he wanders and I don't want him finding a new pack. He's ours. We have to make sure he smells like ours.
He can't help smiling. Doesn't he?
She nuzzles Han's trousers. Whatever manners Leia's been trying to teach her, she hasn't learned yet, and Han's not worried. Yes.
"What're you two whispering about?" Han asks.
"Jedi stuff," Luke says.
Han and Krayt both snort at him. "Whoa, I didn't know her Maj had my back on that one. Thanks, beautiful." Han scratches behind her ears and her mouth drops open in bliss. Maybe he doesn't know she's also shedding all over his black pants, or maybe he doesn't care. Luke's not going to tip him off. "You want to try a Tauntaun today, hotshot? You've got the thighs for it."
Of course it's when he's in the middle of blushing at that comment that General Rieekan comes over with Wedge, the other pilot he remembers from the Death Star, who's half-out of his normal piloting gear. "Commander Solo, Skywalker, good to see you back."
"Morning, General," Han says, nodding without saluting or standing. He hadn't mentioned his promotions. Leia's going to be angry, and then she's going to kiss the hell out of him.
Luke straightens up and nods. "Good morning, sir."
"We'd like to get a report on the strategic use of your training from you and the princess today, Skywalker, after you finish your breakfast."
"Of course, sir." Luke pulls out the studying he'd done for the Imperial entrance exam he'll never sit and brushes off the military vocabulary. Master Yoda had never used any. "But most of what we worked on was tactical level stuff, not strategic."
General Rieekan nods. "Jedi always made good tactical teams. Some of them were damn fine strategists, too, but if you haven't studied that yet, you haven't."
The general smiles. "Yes. If the Empire had our princess, they wouldn't have needed to build a Death Star, would they?"
Is that a compliment or should I bite him? Krayt asks.
He's a general. Don't bite him either way, but I'm pretty sure it's a compliment. Luke laughs with the general. So do Han and Wedge. It's probably a compliment, anyway.
"See you in twenty in the office off the briefing room, Skywalker," the general says, and throws them all a sketchy salute. They nod back, Luke a beat late.
"Welcome back," Wedge says. "Missed you at dinner last night. Wow, Krayt's huge."
"Thanks." Luke shakes his hand over the table and does not project his thoughts about where he was during dinner, specifically Han's quarters on Hoth, trying to get warm via the application of skin and friction on both sides. It had worked. "She's mostly grown."
"No more snubfighters for you, huh?" Wedge looks unaccountably relieved.
Luke hasn't thought about X-wings in months. "Probably not, no."
An alarm cuts through the air. Luke's hand goes to his lightsaber and Krayt leaps off of Han's lap. The chatter in the mess goes silent and the comm system kicks on. "Red alert. All personnel to battle stations. All pilots to snowspeeders. Armed transports approaching the base."
Wedge says, "See you," and takes off, zipping up his orange cover-all as he goes.
The message repeats. People are moving all over the mess, chairs and tables scraping.
I haven't been assigned anywhere. Where are you headed? Luke asks Han.
The Falcon is my standing assignment. If they've got transports, they've got cruisers, and our fleet will need support.
Luke can't help remembering what the general said about Jedi being tactical ops. He hasn't flown anything since he went to Dagobah, but the Force would be a great help against armed transports of any size. Leia, where are you headed?
They'll need someone to stay behind and make sure they get out. Someone with tactical skills. He'd rather throw himself into the front lines, but the command center forces are valuable. Right behind you.
They get out by the skin of their teeth, the Falcon the last ship to lift with Han and Chewbacca complaining all the way. Threepio would be, too, but Leia turns him off after a few minutes because she can't listen to him anymore. "I thought I was the Commander here," Han says when they're in an asteroid and there are no Imperials actively firing on them.
"If you listen when I tell you to do things, it's not my fault." Leia folds her arms.
"You haven't been around for any briefings!" Han yells. "You spent two hours in the command center and we were under heavy fire!"
"I said 'Take off' and you said 'How high?' How is that my fault?"
Chewbacca yells at them.
"You go get fucked," Han yells at him.
"It's not a terrible idea," Luke says. It would defuse some of the tension and give them something to do that wasn't yelling at each other.
"I'm not taking my pants off till I know where we're trying to go next." Leia stares blaster bolts at all of them.
Han collapses into the pilot's chair like this is some unreasonable request.
Something bounces off the viewscreen, shrieking.
"Kriffing mynocks!" Han yells.
It's three hours before they're out of the space worm and the asteroid belt and the Imperial flotilla and on their way to Bespin's mining colony, which is when Leia relents enough to let Chewbacca take the helm and Han and Luke take her to bed.
Maybe they get off the Falcon with a little more swagger than they normally would. Whatever they've got going on, Han's old acquaintance Lando threatens his life, and then says, "Welcome, Leia," like it means, "Come to bed and stay." Then he uses exactly the same tone on Luke, with exactly the same kiss to his knuckles, right where Luke's fingers had been stuffed inside Han half an hour before.
They'd used the refresher and he knows it's not possible for anybody to tell or Chewbacca would yell at them to get better soap.
He still wonders.
Smell it, no. Read it on your face, yeah. You've got tells a kilometer across, Han tells him.
Then Krayt comes down the ramp with Arala. Lando can't figure out whether he wants them more or less when they come with large, carnivorous companions. Krayt can smell his confusion and it makes her laugh a wolfy laugh. He bows to them, sweeping his cape. He's dressed beautifully, Luke can tell that much, and he's very handsome. If Luke were looking at all, he'd look. As it is, he just glances appreciatively.
The wolves yawn back in acknowledgement, which is closer than if they'd bowed.
Threepio comes down the ramp next, and at least Lando acknowledges him, which is better than some people bother with, with droids, especially annoying droids. If he wasn't the closest thing Luke has to a family heirloom, he'd be up for reprogramming. Some day he'll find out what the man who made him was thinking.
"Let me find you quarters bigger than my ship," Lando says.
"Your ship!" It has the feel of an old argument. "I won her off you, fair and square."
"Well, you might've, but you didn't triple her size when you took on new crew." Lando winks at Luke, at Leia. "You've got these lovely people sharing a 'fresher with you and Chewbacca. I'll put them in the presidential suite like they deserve, find you a normal room, let you all get cleaned up, and then we'll have a meal, all right?"
When the dining room's doors open, Arala's ears prick and her ruff stands on end. She sends antiseptic-cold-glove an instant before Leia sees Darth Vader's silhouette at the end of the table and draws her lightsaber. Luke, beside her, does the same, Krayt growling.
There is a moment where no one moves. A squad of stormtroopers stare them down from blank-eyed helmets, their white armor perfect, their blasters poised. Master Yoda threw swarms of rocks at them on Dagobah, but whether that was enough to get them ready for a lineup of soldiers at point-blank range--they'll see. Behind them, Han smells like panic sweat. His blaster is in his hands, but he hasn't had time to fire it.
Vader says, "Leave us." He gestures dismissively and the troopers file out.
"I'm sorry," Lando says.
"Suck tibanna," Han says.
"I had no choice," Lando says.
"Go." Vader puts enough command behind it that Leia's knees tremble.
Lando goes. Chewbacca goes. Han goes.
Vader sits, his hands spread as if that disarms him, as if that makes him any less a monster. "I wish to discuss your wolves. How did you come by them, Skywalker, your Highness?"
"I wish to discuss your death," Leia says. Her blade cuts a pleasing path through the air, the length of the table away from Vader.
Luke deactivates his lightsaber. "They were a gift."
"Ah. A handsome gift. The givers value you most highly." Vader bows his head. "Are they related to each other?"
"Twins," Luke says.
"Shut up," Leia says, and sends it more strongly, shouting, screaming, but he ignores her.
"So are we," he says.
Vader's breathing has been a constant presence in every room he's ever been in until that moment, when it is not. She hadn't been aware he could make it stop.
It begins again.
He rises. "I cannot make amends for Alderaan, your Highness."
Leia knows her cheeks are as white as the walls. "No."
He has the audacity to pause, to breathe in that pause, before he asks, "Would you accept the destruction of the Empire as restitution?"
The deaths of her people are on her conscience and Luke is not crowing in her ears that he was right, because Vader is not by any means turning away from the Dark Side with this little speech. What could be darker than promising to compound his havoc with more atrocities? But this is the chaos she craves.
Things were hard enough when the most complicated facet of her packsense was Han Solo's greed for money.
She turns off her lightsaber. "No. The only possible restitution for the deaths of the people of Alderaan, as well as Senators Bail Organa and Padmé Amidala--" she lets that hit home, though it only shakes his shoulders, not his posture "--is the formation of a representative, democratically elected government."
Yes, Luke says.
"Yes," Vader says. "What would you have me do first?"
"The packsense is not the Force," Luke says aloud. "Would you--"
"No," Leia says, overlapping with Vader.
Krayt is already down the table, her ears pricked, her tail waving as if she's greeting someone who could be a friend.
Arala sends Vader's scentname, overlapping with his actual scent, which is not that far off. It means Danger, enemy, as it always has among them.
Krayt sends the smell of a bed full of sleeping people and wolves, countering with pack.
Not pack, Leia sends, with the memory of the interrogation, of Alderaan, of all of the times she saw Vader in the Senate working against the good of the people, both in person and on the holonews ever since she was a tiny child. Never, never pack. He doesn't want to be pack. That's the one thing he's right about.
Vader holds his hands up, not touching Krayt, not warding her off with the Force, as if he is truly powerless against her. "No, my lady, no. Please, no." He has never sounded so gentle.
"Let us reach you so we can help you against him." For all the terrible gentleness in Vader's voice, Luke's is worse.
Leia wants to leave them to it and swear off both of them entirely. Let them be their own pack, their own family. She is an Organa, Skywalkers be damned. She sends Luke, Do this and there is no us.
You never have to speak to him, Luke says. He's just as soft with her as he is with Vader and she wants to throw him into Bespin's stormy core. I'll take him on. You run the Alliance. I'll work with him on taking down the Empire from within.
You don't know the Empire. You don't know its politics, its politicians, its backrooms--you are going to hold me in the 'fresher while I burn my skin and my soul clean every time I'm done speaking with him.
Every time, he promises.
"If you could resist the Emperor alone you'd have stood against him twenty years ago. You're too weak by yourself and you know it." Leia lets her voice be as harsh as she wants it to be. Across the room, Vader falls on his knees in front of Krayt, and he's ashamed. She's proud of that, and she will not apologize for it now or ever.
"Please," he says, and holds out his hands to Krayt, palm up. She sniffs him thoroughly, hands, arms, chestplate, mask. Whatever she sends, she does not send it to Leia.
Leia feels the death of a million soldiers, their faces all alike and their souls as different as stars, and swims in infinite pain, blasters and knives and the strikes of droids and bombs and crushed limbs. She feels the death of Padmé a million times over, breathless and lost and hopeless. She finds and loses the love of Puk between contractions of her heart, as brilliant and bright as Arala. She knows in every strand of her starstuff why the man weeping behind his mask went mad and she shields, she shields, she shields herself against him.
When she can breathe again, her hands flat on the table, Luke is crying soundlessly, from shared grief and joy mingled. If there were a particle of triumph in him, she would leave his body on the floor and blame Vader.
She says, "A secured comlink would be safer."
Vader's mindspeech is a shout of images, an infant that can't be her or Luke by Yoda's telling, Padmé Amidala's enraged face, Alderaan's destruction, Leia's enraged face. Then it is gone as suddenly as if he has closed a blast door between them. "My apologies," he says. "I haven't had to shield that form of emotion in some time." He stands.
Leia's hand is clenched on the hilt of her lightsaber, but she hasn't lit it. "Your words are worth nothing."
"True. I will report that you escaped me and call off the bounty on your partner's head. You will feel the effects of that immediately."
But you can't stop the Imperial fleet from chasing the Alliance, or they'll know, Luke sends.
"I can lead them astray." He hesitates, him, before them. "Not one of them is truly fit to serve in the 501st."
Be careful, Luke says.
He bows shallowly to them. "I must go before my subordinates suspect something is wrong."
"How can we trust you?" Leia asks.
She braces for another spill of emotions. There is nothing. "Read the news, Princess Organa. May the Force be with you both." He turns and leaves the room.
Krayt sighs in the sudden quiet. Luke picks up a cloth napkin from the table and wipes his face, then blows his nose. "Well," he says.
Where are you? Leia sends to Han. She sits down before the adrenaline goes away, while her heart is still pounding in her chest and her blood is still singing, before she faints.
Locked in Lando's office, guarded by a bunch of fucking stormtroopers with the power off. You're not dead?
She sends him the image of Krayt's soft-furred ruff under Vader's gloves and how careful he'd been with her. Not dead.
Han swears in every language he can think of, then says, Troopers are letting us out. Going to kill us?
Not if their boss ever wants to sleep again. Leia expects Luke to chide her for the threat. She knows he's listening, but he doesn't add anything. Maybe he's still high on being right. You okay?
Wouldn't you know? Han teases her. He still feels afraid underneath his words.
It's nice to hear you say you're fine while I know he's still on the planet, all right?
Keep your hair on. I wouldn't have wanted to join your little club if I knew you were letting people like him in.
Leia knows she sounds as cold as the dark side of a moon. Not my fucking idea.
Hang on, hang on-- the door of the hall opens and Han runs in, sweeps her up into his arms like he's asked permission, and embraces her like that will make her feel any better. Arala crowds against them.
Leia doesn't show emotion in public. She was trained in that from too early an age to lose it now. She buries her face in Han's shoulder and breathes them in, the scent of Han and Arala, pack and family and the closest thing she has to home. She is so angry at Luke she would cry if she let herself. Joining the Rebel Alliance was exciting and frightening. Training to be a Jedi was strange and new. This is new and terrifying on levels she can't think about yet. I thought we were going to die.
I thought you were going to kill him, not adopt him.
I hate Luke.
Han strokes her hair. Should I be sorry he was right?
Yes! Someone should.
Yes. That eases something in her and she can let go enough that her fingers aren't digging into his flesh.
"Luke," Han says. "What was all that?"
Luke is kneeling on the floor, his hand resting on Krayt's head. "Not right now," he says, his voice strained.
"Yes, right now. You can't go around adding people who blow up planets to the voices in my damn head without asking me or even telling me, and then not kriffing talk about it when I want to."
"He's leaving the system in ten minutes." Luke's fingers are shaking. "Please."
Han looks at Leia. "You're not--"
"No. I'm not talking to him." I will, when I have to, because--don't say anything out loud--he's said he'll help us restore the Republic, and Luke doesn't know how to do that.
Han's mouth falls open. You believed him?
Luke and Krayt send a warm Yes that swamps Leia's wan one.
He's afraid of wolves, Arala adds. Afraid of betraying us. Afraid of losing us again. Afraid of betraying Leia, afraid of betraying Luke, afraid of himself. That's why he's so hard to talk to.
Then don't, Leia says.
They need me more right now. Arala's voice fades.
Leia frowns. Han strokes her hair again. Hate to say it, your Highness, but if they're keeping him from running like a mouse droid on fire, she's right.
Let him run.
Now who's scared? Han asks. Leia pushes him away but he follows her, asking it again. Come on, you know better than this. If he's really going to help the Alliance, we need him more than you need to throw a fit. Why am I the one telling you this?
If you ever tell me you're running off to make a quick credit again I'm reminding you of this.
Han throws her the crispest salute she's ever seen from him. Yes, ma'am, Princess Leia, ma'am.
Luke's version of events is considerably more sympathetic than Leia's. He's moved by all the pain Vader went through, never mind how much of it he brought on himself and how much of it he's caused others. Krayt leans on him the whole time. At least Arala noses Leia's hand while Luke explains his side of things to Han.
Partway through, Chewbacca comes in with C-3PO, who's looking a little singed, and interrupts them to explain something to Han at the kind of length he usually reserves for conversations Leia and Luke aren't there for. Han says, "They didn't--oh, that swindler. But you--"
Chewbacca nods and keeps going.
Leia's too tired to figure out what he's saying. The adrenaline crash is fierce enough that her hands and feet are cold. She wishes Lando had really set up a meal for them, not a trap that turned into a double-cross or whatever happened. Her head hurts and Chewbacca's not helping. "Problems with the Falcon?"
"Yes, Mistress Leia," C-3PO says. "The Millennium Falcon has not been refueled or repaired on schedule. Chewbacca is most upset."
"When we find Lando, he's going to be most upset," Han says. "He'll be most missing a dick."
"Is R2 still on board?" Luke asks.
Chewbacca shrugs and says something that C-3PO translates as, "The Falcon's doors were locked when we were there, sir. It was impossible for us to check. I do hope so." They'd left him making minor repairs to the Falcon's circuitry.
Leia doesn't put her head down on the table because if she does, she doesn't know if she'll be able to pick it up again. "Any idea where Lando is?"
Nobody says anything.
"Any idea where we would find some food?"
The wolves support her on that. They're still growing and still hungry all the time.
C-3PO says, "I could inquire of some of the droids," with his normal lack of grace.
"Great. Do that." Han waves him toward the hallway.
"If it's more than a meter away, you might have to carry me," Luke says.
"Carry you?" Han punches his shoulder. "Come on, kid, you've had worse days than this."
Chewbacca laughs at them.
Luke has an inner light that Leia envies, even now, but he also looks like he's been dragged behind a ship on a tether for a parsec or so. "Usually I'd just float and you could push me, but my Force--" he holds his hand straight up "--is fucked." He lets it droop and they laugh harder.
"We'll grab you something. C'mon, Chewie. What d'you want, your Highness?" Han asks.
Leia doesn't say, "A nap and a new brother," because she's not two and she has self-control. "Protein. Sugar. Salt. Thank you."
"Anytime. Let's see what Goldenrod can find." Han pats her shoulder and they go.
Leia collapses onto the table before the door cycles all the way closed. Going to kill you in your sleep.
Yeah. I know. Luke takes her hand. After we restore the Republic?
She squeezes his fingers. Yeah.
Cloud City's mining colony is clearing out as fast as they can go. People run past the door, stripping down everything they can carry, with hoverlifts full of all their household goods. No one is meeting anyone's eyes or seeming to notice the giant wolves just inside the door. Krayt and Arala aren't bothering anyone. Luke's keeping an eye on Leia, who's asleep, and he's trying not to fall asleep, too.
They haven't moved, mostly because they have nothing to carry but themselves and no quarrel with anybody on Bespin but Lando. Han sends, I could really use some Jedi charm to get the Falcon what she needs here, guys, but by that point Leia's snoring with her head on the table.
Luke is, as ever, not about to use the Force to manipulate people just to make their lives a little bit easier. He sends back, You can manage. You've got as much charm as me. There were certainly Jedi who had done it without turning to the Dark Side. However, he's seen what his father had wrought in the few visions Master Yoda was willing to share with him. Mind manipulation is as serious a weapon as a lightsaber.
Master Yoda hadn't shown Leia the fall of the Jedi Temple, and Luke hasn't either. She didn't need to see it to know it happened and guess how it happened, at least in the broader strokes. Now--well, if she saw it now, she'd be furious with him all over again about Vader, and they don't need to restart the argument.
He's still sure they've done the right thing.
Then Lando comes into the dining hall, his hands up like someone's shoving him in at blasterpoint, and Luke pulls out his lightsaber, expecting someone's troops, someone's threat. Krayt and Arala brace for a leap at his feet and Leia, behind them, startles awake and into a defensive position.
No one's threatening Lando except them. "Sorry about all this, Skywalker, your Highness," he says. "You don't say no to the Empire, especially not Vader."
Luke can smell the fear-sweat soaked into his clothes because he'd dared to say not only "No" but also something a great deal more precarious to Vader. "Your people are leaving. Why don't you?"
"They were never my people. They followed easy money, and they're following it somewhere else now." Lando waves away the dozens, hundreds of lives he's complicated. "You're part of the Alliance."
"You already sold us to Vader once today." Leia spits the words. "Go back to him."
"Take me with you."
"So you can turn on us again?" Leia laughs. Arala's growl drops lower.
"So I can earn you money. A princess and a Jedi don't belong in a hunk of junk with a two-bit smuggler unless that's where they want to be."
Luke raises his eyebrows. "It attracts less attention than the Mon Cal cruisers."
"Only from Imperials. From the Hutts--" Lando whistles through his teeth. "Every slug in the galaxy's looking for the Falcon, for Han, and you won't want to be aboard her when they find her."
Every harvest on Tatooine involved paying a certain percentage to the Hutt Syndicate for protection. Every payment day meant Uncle Owen telling the story of his father buying Grandmother Shmi's freedom, and the recitation of the hands her contract had passed through before he placed it in her own. When Luke was old enough to understand that story and not quite old enough to understand what he could and couldn't do about it, Aunt Beru had yelled at him the way she only ever did when he scared her and he'd promised never to say a bad thing about a Hutt out loud, ever again.
So he doesn't, even now. He says, "Her crew's up by two Jedi and two wolves lately. I don't know if you've noticed. Even the Hutts have a little trouble with Jedi, and wolves' teeth can tear through just about anything."
"Is that so?" Lando smiles slowly. "Do you think you might have room for one more?"
Leia sniffs. "I think neither of us is the captain, and you'd better sit down and explain exactly what you'd do for the Alliance if you joined. We don't need any more charming flyboys."
"Yes, ma'am." Lando bows to Arala. "May I pass?" he asks her.
She stays by his side but lets him enter the room.
Han, when he gets back with Chewbacca, doesn't outright murder Lando.
They do threaten his life a lot. Some of the time, Lando's feet aren't touching the ground.
Lando says, "Aren't you the ones with mind-reading powers? Jedi, wolves--" he makes wiggly fingers by his head. "Can't you just know whether I'm telling the truth?"
I could if he really wants me to, Krayt offers. He might not like it much though.
He gave us to Vader, Leia says, using Vader's scentname instead of his real name even now they've met and touched thoughts. Since he's offering, let's take him up on it.
It's not an invasion of privacy if he invites you, Arala agrees.
Their Majesties have a point, Han puts in, like he's spent any time studying the ethics of mind-reading.
"Do you mean that?" Luke asks.
Krayt groans and rests her head on his foot. She is about as dignified now as she was at three weeks old.
"It's that or not walk out of here in one piece, right, Chewie?"
Chewbacca huffs his agreement.
That gives Krayt every reason to pretend she's a creature of self-possession and control. She sits up as regally as Han's nickname for her would imply she always does and fixes Lando with a glare worthy of stars. He says, "Oh," out loud, and then nothing else for a while.
She's going to need the biggest meal Cloud City has to offer, and soon, between this and reaching out to Vader. Whatever she's finding, she doesn't share it directly with Luke.
Instead, Leia laughs, an honest laugh. It's a relief to hear it from her. "No wonder you were so eager to see him, Han."
"I bet you wish I'd met you in a bar on Praxis Five, too."
"Oh. Shh, you'll traumatize Luke."