A man walks into a hangar bay.
Typical joke, right? This man walks into a hangar bay, and it all goes on from there. Maybe involves some Mon Calamari musicians and the odd Twi’lek in a clown getup.
But the thing about this joke, see, is that it’s not actually a joke.
Not for the reasons one might expect, anyway; the hangar bay is no different from any other hangar bay, crowded and bustling and filled with oil-smeared pilots and gentlebeings toting varying types of flight gear and supplies across the durasteel floor.
No different at all, really.
(Save, perhaps, the notable absence of storm troopers parading through.)
If, however, one is paying this hangar bay particular attention, they would notice the small figure ducking and weaving through the crowd; the tangled brown head that disappears behind two burly pilots and flits through the crowd at what the gangly teenager and small gap-toothed boy stumbling after her in confusion would later firmly declare were Near Light Speeds.
(Moments before, the figure had been leaning up against the ramp of a rusty-looking freighter on the other side of the hangar, midway through making a face at the taller of the two pursuers when it went absolutely still – stark contrast to the break-neck pace of the present, certainly – and even more unnerving, if the sudden flash drainage of blood from its face or the loud gasp of shocksurpriseelation that escaped from the small figure’s lips are anything to go by.)
If one were to continue watching, he or she would see the figure slip under the arm of a surprised-looking woman all in white, see it stumble, once, hands splaying on the floor in front of it momentarily before picking itself up again and steam-rolling forward. One would see the taller companion throw up his hands in frustration and the smaller call out her (because by this point, the observer has noticed that it is a just-barely-ten-year-old girl) name in concern –
(“Leia! Where are you going?”)
– and yet, the girl doesn’t stop, doesn’t even pause, and it is only when she opens her mouth, cheeks flushed rosy where they were pale a half-second before and small lips stretched into a wide, excited smile, her tiny hands fisted at her sides and her hair (which may have once been done up in two bunched braids and is decidedly in need of a wash) flying into her face, that the observer would realize what is going on.
And then – only then – do we get back to our joke-which-is-actually-not-a-joke.
Because the truly hysterical thing of it is that the man who walks into the hangar bay has not seen his daughter in nearly three months.
(Had not seen his wife in over six years.)
That the tired, seemingly-innocuous man who walks into the hangar bay is a wanted criminal on nearly all the Inner Core planets, has just gotten back from blowing a government-owned star destroyer to tiny little bits of stardust and attempting to rescue the woman behind him – if asked later, he will firmly state that it was actually she who did most of the rescuing, he was just there for intimidation purposes – and has a rather substantial bounty placed on his head by the Galactic Empire on charges of high treason.
Of course, the man himself is not particularly strange, as with the hangar bay he walks into. Tall, broad-shouldered; nothing unusual there. The over-long sandy hair can be overlooked easily. Even the black leather glove that covers his right hand can be ignored.
(But it’s the scar, running jagged over his right eye; the long-since dried blood on his lip and the bags under his eyes, the way he is gripping the woman’s small hand in his own, like a lifeline; the bruise on his cheek and his posture, leaning slightly to the left and favoring one leg over the other –)
Perhaps the most striking thing about him is the lightsaber hanging from his belt, brushing against his singed tunic.
And yet, no one notices these things at all, because at that particular moment, the little girl seen earlier has been swung up in the man’s arms, and she is laughing as she hasn’t done in nearly three months, her brown eyes shining and her legs swinging out as he spins her around, his own laugh – deep and hoarse from hours in a small deep-space cruiser – harmonizing with hers in the crowded hangar bay air.
And she presses her nose into her father’s neck and breathes in the familiar scent, of ozone and engine oil and leather and dust-and-sand, that funny cinnamon-y tang that seems to be ever present and the (new) coppery smell of blood, fingers curling into his collar and ribs and back being crushed in the tightest hug she’s ever felt.
“My darling, darling girl,” whispered and half-croaked and spoken (with tears leaking from the corners of his eyes and tracking trails down his smudged cheeks) into the dirty, tangled rat’s nest of her hair. “My little Leia. You’re alright. Of course you’re alright.”
She pulls her face away, then, eyes drinking in every little detail of the man’s face, from the slope of his nose to his singed eyebrows to the cleft in his chin, all so wonderfully, achingly familiar.
(The light glittering in his eyes, the quirk of his eyebrows and the way his smile lights up his whole face, she thinks briefly, is new.)
And she opens her mouth to speak, when from somewhere behind them –
(Because Luke and Han and caught up with her now, have elbowed their way through the crowd and stumbled to the edge where her reunion is taking place, and her eyes widen fractionally as a female voice says, “LUKE!”, nearly choked with relief, and she turns to see her friend – her brother – run wide-eyed and laugh-crying to the spot on the floor where a dark-haired woman she is only just noticing has fallen to her knees, tattered blue dress trailing over the durasteel floor behind her, the slashes in the sleeves and the stains on the hem each telling a story of their own.)
(It’s The Woman from the Recording, privately capitalized for importance, and Leia feels her breath catch.)
“Did she just –” A cough, which is really more of a gasp: “Force. What did she just say?”
She turns back, undone braids swinging, and her father’s eyes, pale blue and bloodshot from nights of sleeplessness, are saucers.
So she puts her hands on her hips, braces her legs against his stomach and tries to look as menacing as she can without breaking out into the huge smile that is threatening to split her face in half:
“You,” she says, chin raised slightly in that way that makes Laser Brain stubbornly refuse to call her anything other than “princess”, “are in big trouble, mister.”
A shocked pause. And then:
“Oh, gods,” breathes Dad in a half-strangled voice, syllables strained with wonder and something that might be called “joy”, only she has never actually heard her father be joyful and so, honestly, she wouldn’t know. But she gives in and grins the biggest grin she’s ever grinned, her tongue peeping out between her teeth, just barely –
(And later, there are bordering-on-hesitant introductions. There are accusations, spoken with childish condemnation and tremulous voices, there are hugs tighter than thought possible, ever, and awkward adjustments because having another parent can be strange, sometimes. There are stories told and hair brushed back and hurts that are healed, kisses on foreheads and uncomfortable silences. There are stolen half-glances across the three-legged table that is dragged out from a store room somewhere, and Luke’s eyes, just as wide and blue as Dad’s, blinking furiously in an attempt to keep it together. There is The Woman’s voice, soft and gentle as she asks politely if she can give Leia a hug, please, because she would very much like to and would that be okay? And Leia finds that she would very much like that hug, too, and so hugs are in abundance, along with muffled giggles and tongues stuck out in Han’s direction and Luke jumping up and down with excitement so much he looks like he’s been strapped to a pogo stick and tears streaking down faces –
There are many, many tears.)
But for now, she scrunches up her nose, grins at her not-exactly-long-lost father, and her tongue peeps out of her teeth, just barely, like it always does when she’s really, truly happy.
(And that’s the best punchline there is.)