There was something almost soothing about drifting through space.
He could have controlled the spin, of course. He could have righted his fighter and repaired the damaged stabilizer easily enough, even without an astromech. He could have, but he chose not to.
That was what made it so liberating. The letting go.
Anakin recognized the irony, but he was far too weary to do more than sigh. His little fighter tumbled through space, unmoored, and he sat back and closed his eyes and let himself drift.
But it was a mistake, closing his eyes. There was too much that lived behind his lids.
He drifted, and in the holocinema of his mind, Alderaan exploded in a million dancing sparks and billions of voices cried out in sudden rending agony and Obi-Wan disappeared beneath the slow swipe of his blade.
A beeping sounded.
Anakin scowled to himself. If his master expected a report now, well, Anakin was just going to be caught in wild space without a signal, and that was that.
But he had to check.
He opened his eyes, visions of sparking dust receding to the back of his mind but not leaving him completely. His console hadn’t lit up. The internal com in his suit, too, was silent. That left only one option.
With a hand that he told himself quite firmly was not trembling, Anakin reached into his pocket and pulled out the tiny, untraceable little com he’d designed himself. It was a plain circle of dark metal, with no markings and no obvious buttons, and there had been only two people in the galaxy who knew the frequency.
Now there was only one.
He drew a breath, and pressed the com.
“Ekkreth?” said Leia’s voice, and even through the scrambling she sounded frantic. “Ekkreth! Come in! Please come in!”
“Ripple,” he said, softly, almost involuntarily, and he heard her quiet sob.
“You’re alive,” she breathed. “Thank the spirits, you’re alive.”
He couldn’t think what to say. He was alive, and her world was dead. He hadn’t stopped it. He thought, if he was her, he would have hated him. He did hate him. But that was nothing new.
“Where are you?” she said. “Can I see you? I just – ” and here there was another hitching sob “ – I just need to know.”
Anakin frowned. This was not a conversation they should be having over comlink, not even on what was certainly the most secure connection in the galaxy.
He glanced out the viewport, and Yavin’s moon loomed in front of him, pale green and shining in the blackness of space.
“I think,” he said slowly, “that I’m going to crash.”
“Ekkreth!” she said, and distorted voice or not, he could feel the fear in her, even so far away. They’d always been strangely attuned in the Force.
“It’s all right,” he said, even though he really shouldn’t have. But she was terrified. Reassuring her was worth the risk.
He righted his fighter, but not too much. Just in case, this had to look right.
“Follow the smoke trail,” he told her, and switched the com off.
There was a fine art to crashing a ship properly. Obi-Wan had never believed him when he said that. Anakin gritted his teeth, pushed the throttle, and didn’t think of Kenobi.
The crash was spectacular, if he said so himself. His TIE was a smoking scrap heap, one wing missing entirely and probably hundreds of kilometers away, the remainder of the fighter twisted and contorted on itself. The flight recorder was damaged beyond all salvage.
Bad luck, that.
Anakin pulled himself from the wreckage gingerly. He’d done pretty well for himself, but he hadn’t escaped unscathed, which was probably for the best. It wouldn’t do to survive a crash like that without some injury.
He was going to need a new left hand, and the hydraulics in his right leg would probably give out in a few hours, but that was easily fixed. His life support was perfectly intact, and that was the important thing.
Around him, the jungle sounds were beginning to return, and he even sensed a few animals, peeking out uneasily at the strange jumble of metal that suddenly occupied their home. He sensed no sentient life anywhere nearby.
With a huff of breath, Anakin perched himself on a large stump and set to work on his leg while he waited. It was a simple enough repair, but more of a hassle than usual, with only one hand to work with, and no tools. His kit had been destroyed in the crash – by far the worst loss of this little charade.
Still, he’d managed a workable temporary fix by the time the sun was beginning to sink towards the horizon. He was just beginning to consider the prospect of camping when he felt her presence, and a moment later there was the sound of an approaching speeder bike.
Leia sped through the trees without slowing and blasted to a sudden halt beside the wreckage. She’d barely parked the speeder when she was off and all but throwing herself on Anakin, her arms around his waist and sobbing into his chestplate.
“You’re alive,” she said, again and again. “You’re alive.”
Anakin stood stiffly, almost frozen by the sudden reality of her. He couldn’t remember the last time anyone had hugged him.
Gingerly, he reached around to pat her back with his one working hand.
She pulled back, wiping fiercely at her eyes, and stepped back to look him over. Her gaze was caught on the mangled remains of his left hand, and she drew in a sharp breath. “Your hand – ”
Anakin felt himself shrug. “It’s all right,” he said. “I can fix it.”
She blinked at him, and then her eyes widened in sudden understanding. “Oh,” she said, her voice very small, and he realized that maybe she hadn’t known.
His own breathing sounded loud and harsh in the clearing made by the wreck. He didn’t know what to say to her. Alderaan was dead, and he’d learned a long time ago that apologies were worthless things.
“Ripple,” he said, helplessly. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so powerless. (But no, that wasn’t true of course. He remembered. He’d been new-born from the operating table, his world cast in shades of red and pain, and Padmé was dead and there’d been nothing, nothing in the entire galaxy that mattered anymore.)
“I was so afraid,” she said. “I – I thought – ” She drew a sharp breath and tried for a smile, but it was wet with tears. “You’re like a second father to me,” she whispered. “I didn’t realize, not consciously, not until – You’re all I have left, now. I lost everyone else, everyone, and I was so afraid I’d lost you too.”
Anakin stared at her. He’d never allowed himself to think it. Padmé –
He’d been so certain their child would be a girl. He remembered that, now, with the same sharp spike of pain the memory always brought. He’d wanted a little girl. A little girl with her mother’s eyes and his mother’s chin. They were going to name her Leia. It was an old name, a strong name from the stories of his childhood. The mighty one. Krayt Dragon, the Elder Sister of the slaves and Ekkreth’s eldest daughter, she who walked in the desert and feared nothing, because nothing could touch her.
Leia was an Alderaanian name, too. He knew that. He’d looked it up once, because – well, he had. It was a traditional name from the mountains surrounding Aldera. It meant “beloved.”
It was a coincidence, and nothing more. He’d never allowed it to mean more.
“Leia,” he said now, and the name burned on his tongue.
“I’m sorry,” she said with a watery laugh. “I know what you’re thinking. Spies aren’t supposed to get attached.”
Anakin’s smile was rueful, even though she couldn’t see it. “Well,” he said. “I’ve never been especially good at detachment.”
She looked up at him, startled, and the smile that wreathed her face now was at least as much joyful as it was pained.
“I don’t blame you,” she said fiercely. “For Alderaan. I want you to know that.”
He didn’t deserve her absolution. But he never would, and there was no point in dwelling on it. So he merely nodded. He could blame himself enough for the both of them.
“What will you do now?” Leia asked.
“Well, I’ve crashed,” he said drily. “And the flight recorder and my com relay were both tragically destroyed in the wreck. It could take me several days to build a new relay from scrap. I might be out of contact with Coruscant for as much as a week.”
He’d hoped she might laugh, but Leia only frowned. “But you’ll make contact after that,” she said. “You’ll go back.”
“Yes,” he said. They both knew he had to. Now more than ever, the Rebellion needed him at his master’s side.
“I wish you didn’t have to,” she said, but she didn’t try to stop him.
“You have a week to clear out the base,” he said. “I can’t realistically wait longer than that.”
Leia bit her lip. “Will you – ” she began, and then began again. “He’s not going to be happy. Will you be all right?”
They both knew who he was. And they both knew the answer to her question was no. The Emperor was not forgiving of failure.
Instead, Anakin said, “It will take a while, for me to work my way back up. I’ll have to be more aggressive.”
She looked unhappy, but she nodded. “Then we’ll just have to be better at hiding,” she said.
“Practice your shielding,” he said, and then hesitated.
The pilot who destroyed the Death Star had been Force sensitive, too. That had been impossible to miss. But Anakin needed to miss it. He needed to know as little as possible, because once his master learned of it, he would never let it go.
He remembered the way the pilot had blazed in the Force, like a sun going nova or the burning dance of binary stars. There was no way he’d be able to go on not noticing, if the pilot didn’t learn.
“And you need to teach the pilot,” he told Leia. “The one who fired the shot. He’s strong in the Force – too strong. And his shields are non-existent.”
Leia blinked. “Luke?” she asked, startled. “General Kenobi was teaching him, but I – ”
“Don’t,” snapped Anakin. He still didn’t want to think about Obi-Wan. “Don’t tell me any more. The less I know, the better.”
Leia flushed lightly, and he could feel her embarrassment even with her shields. She was too open around him, sometimes. He should correct that.
“Won’t they miss you?” he said instead. “Your gallant band of rebels?”
Leia forced a laugh. “Yeah,” she said. “I do have to get back. We’re having a ceremony, you know. To – to celebrate.” Her voice only broke a little.
Anakin fought with himself, and lost. He rested his working hand lightly on her shoulder. “This is a victory, Leia,” he said. “It’s all right to celebrate, and to mourn. You don’t have to be alone.”
She looked up at him with bright eyes. “Neither do you,” she whispered fiercely, and then she was hugging him again.
He responded a little better this time. At least he remembered how to do it. The awkwardness was tolerable, if it helped her.
Anakin had always known he’d do anything for the people he cared about. You’re like a father to me, she’d said, and the words burned in him. It was almost a comfort, to know that after everything, he was still himself.
Leia stepped back. “You still have your com?” she asked, brusque and businesslike, and he nodded. She gave a little twist of a smile. “And you’ll use it, I hope?”
“I will report as expected, Your Highness,” Anakin said, and even sketched a little bow.
She laughed. “See that you do,” she said, and then, more seriously, “Be safe, Ekkreth. Your information is important, but so are you.”
Anakin wasn’t so certain of that, but he didn’t correct her. “And you, Leia,” he said.
She gave him a firm nod and stepped away, moving to her speeder bike without another word. Anakin stood still and watched the bike disappear into the jungle as the light fell.
She would be all right. He’d never doubted that.
And you are like a daughter to me, he thought. And then he turned away, and began the weary process of setting up camp.