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Children of the Force

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She found him sitting alone in a clearing just south of the base, turning his lightsaber over and over in his hands.

Maybe it was a strange place to find the celebrated hero of the Rebellion, but Leia wasn’t surprised. In his own way, Luke too had lost everything, and that was something she could understand.

“Hey,” she said softly, but he startled anyway and then gave her a sheepish grin when he saw who she was.

“Hey,” said Luke. “Sorry, I didn’t – ”

“It’s all right,” Leia said. “May I?”

Luke shrugged easily and patted the ground beside him. “Sure. I wouldn’t mind some company.”

Leia gave him a quick grin and plopped down in the moss next to him. It was thick and soft and it sent up a faint but musky wet smell, the kind of smell that, as a child, she’d always thought of as simply green. For one sharp and horrible moment, she was reminded of her mother, laughing as she danced barefoot with Leia through the mountain pastures of her grandparents’ home.

Luke let out a startled laugh, and Leia turned to look at him in surprise. “What?”

“Sorry,” he said, raising one hand in a poor attempt to hide his ongoing laughter. “You’re just…not much like what I expected a Princess to be.”

Leia raised one imperious brow at him. “Well,” she said severely. “You’re not much like any Jedi I ever heard of.”

She’d meant it to tease, but she recognized her mistake even before the words had fully left her mouth. Luke’s face fell, and without thought Leia reached out a hand to him, squeezing his arm in comfort and apology. “I’m so– ”

“It’s all right,” Luke said with a weak smile. “Besides, I’m not much of a Jedi. I didn’t even know about the Force until Ben told me and now he’s – ”

Leia hid a wince. She still didn’t know what to make of that, if she was honest. Why had Ekkreth killed General Kenobi? She’d known him far too long to suspect Ekkreth of treachery, but it didn’t make sense. And she was quite certain she couldn’t ask Ekkreth about it.

“Well,” she said, shaking the thoughts away, “you have that.” And she gestured at the lightsaber Luke still held, resting loosely in his right hand.

“This was my father’s,” Luke said softly, a wistfulness to his voice that seemed too old for his young face. “He was a Jedi Knight, Ben said. And the best pilot in the galaxy.”

“You seem to be taking after him, then,” Leia said warmly, but Luke hardly seemed to hear her.

“Darth Vader killed him,” he whispered. “And now he’s killed Ben too. I hate him.”

Leia froze. Her emotions were a riotous whirl, but she knew better than to let any of them show. That had been one of Ekkreth’s first lessons. Emotion was energy, and it could be either used or released, but first it had to be understood.

She was surprised to realize that the first and most prominent emotion she felt was a surge of protective anger. She wanted to defend Ekkreth. But that was ridiculous. He didn’t need her defense, and she certainly wasn’t about to blow his cover to assuage her own feelings.

But – there was more than that. Under the anger there was a kind of sinking dread, a lurking feeling that she wanted to shy away from. But she knew she couldn’t.

It was entirely possible, even likely, that Vader really had murdered Luke’s father. Leia knew that. Ekkreth was a double agent in a key position, his loyalty to the Emperor unquestioned, and Leia knew intimately that his cover was only possible because once it had not been a cover at all.

She could live with that, could reconcile it to her own beliefs and understanding of the world. She’d been training to do so long before she met Ekkreth, and he was not the only double agent she’d ever worked with in the Rebellion. It was a moral balancing act, and one she’d always known could not be forced.

Even if it were possible for her to tell Luke the truth, she couldn’t expect him to accept the man who’d killed his father, or to forgive him. This was something she’d have to deal with on her own.

Still, Ekkreth hadn’t made it easy for her, she thought wryly. You will need to teach the pilot, he’d said, as if it would be easy for her to even broach the subject, let alone pass on Darth Vader’s teachings to the son of a man he’d murdered.

“I’m sorry, Luke,” she murmured, squeezing his arm again. It wasn’t nearly enough, but she didn’t know what else to say.

But it was apparently sufficient to pull him back into this moment with her. Luke took her hand in his and squeezed back, looking surprisingly rueful. “No, no, I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t be – I mean, after everything you’ve been through – well, I shouldn’t be putting this on you too.”

After everything she’d been through. Leia gritted her teeth and kept the smile frozen on her face. He meant it in the kindest way, and he was perfectly genuine and even a bit awkward about his expression of sympathy. For just an instant, Leia almost hated him.

But no. Of course it wasn’t Luke that she hated. Luke had destroyed the Death Star and saved them all. The man she hated had died with the Death Star.

And it hadn’t been enough.

Nothing would ever be enough. Alderaan was gone. But she didn’t know how to tell Luke that. Though she suspected, all his fumbling attempts at comfort aside, that he already knew. Ben wasn’t the first person he’d lost. She could read that in his eyes.

So instead she said, “What was it like, up there?”

For a moment she thought Luke would press, but then his shoulders eased and he settled back in the moss beside her, his lightsaber resting now across his knees. “I don’t know,” he said slowly. “It was – you’re going to think I’m crazy.”

You turned off your targeting computer and used the Force to make the shot, Leia thought. There’s nothing strange about that. But all she said was, “Try me.”

“Well.” Luke shifted, once again turning his lightsaber over and over in his hands, staring down at it to avoid meeting her eyes. “I thought I heard Ben’s voice. He told me to – to trust the Force, to let it guide me. And Leia – ” He looked up at her suddenly, his eyes piercingly bright. “I know it sounds ridiculous, but I just…I knew somehow. Without using my computer. I knew when to take the shot, and I did.”

Leia thought of Ekkreth sending a crate flying at her head and smiled softly. “It doesn’t sound ridiculous,” she said. “It sounds like you used the Force.”

Luke let out a laughing breath of air. “Yeah,” he said, grinning at her in relief. “I just – I guess I didn’t think anyone would believe me, if I just said it like that.”

“Well, I believe you,” Leia said. She shifted herself, suddenly uncomfortable on the damp ground. How should she –

“Ever since Ben told me, I’ve wanted to be like him,” Luke said abruptly, breaking into her thoughts. “My father, I mean.” He hefted the lightsaber in his hand. “To be a Jedi like him. But now Ben’s dead, and I don’t know – he never had time to teach me much. I don’t know where to go from here.”

He sounded so forlorn, but Leia was struggling to keep the laughter off of her face. It would have been horribly inappropriate. But he couldn’t have given her a better opening if he’d tried.

“Luke,” she said, catching and holding his gaze. “You’re not the only one. You’re not alone.”

He blinked at her in confusion, and then in slow-dawning surprise. “What?”

Even though they were entirely alone, Leia’s voice lowered to a near-whisper. “I’m Force sensitive, too. It’s not something I’m open about, but…I wanted to tell you. Because we’re the same.”

She wasn’t lying, not really, but something like guilt still twisted in her gut. Leia quashed it. She couldn’t tell him about Ekkreth.

So instead she gave him a tentative smile and said, “Maybe we can learn together?”

Luke’s answering grin was almost blinding. “I’d like that,” he said.

*

Leia had hoped that they could begin their training on Yavin IV, where she still had access to Ekkreth, at least for a few more days. But the base was a tumult of activity and she and Luke were both caught up in the moving preparations. Rebel bases were designed to be mobile and temporary, but even so, they couldn’t move in a day. Not without leaving vital equipment behind.

And this time General Dodonna was keen to leave no trace of their presence in the system at all. With other bases the Rebellion had abandoned, Leia knew, it hadn’t mattered so much if things like environmental equipment or miscellaneous spare parts were left behind. There were countless smuggling and mining bases across the galaxy, uncharted settlements that sprang up and disappeared just as quickly, and there would be no way to tell a former Rebel base from any of those.

But Yavin IV was different. The Empire knew, or soon would anyway, that the Rebellion had been there. They would tear the place apart. Dodonna intended to make sure there was nothing for them to find.

So as it turned out, Leia saw very little of Luke over the next several days. He was stationed with the pilots, of course, either prepping the transports for evacuation or else out on one of the continual security patrols Dodonna kept running night and day now.

Leia had experienced a brief moment of panic when she realized how closely Dodonna was sweeping the moon’s surface. Ekkreth’s crash had been small but noticeable – she’d followed the smoke trail herself to find him. But it seemed that Leia should count herself lucky they’d all been more focused on celebrating than on security in the wake of the Death Star’s destruction. A downed TIE fighter had been reported, mangled beyond all recognition, and its pilot was presumed dead. That was the end of it.

(She allowed herself the brief but amusing mental image of Ekkreth further destroying his TIE, creating the perfect site of a deadly crash. She hoped he’d had a bit of fun with it, at least.)

Leia may not have seen much of Luke, but she did spend an unexpected amount of time with Captain Solo.

The smuggler and his Wookiee copilot had returned at the last moment to rescue Luke (as he thought) from Vader and allow him to make the triumphant shot. Leia had been glad to see Solo return, mostly because she was so surprised. It had been a long time, she thought, since someone had proved better than she thought them. It was nice to know that could still happen.

And he was continuing to surprise her. Having decided to come back, it now appeared that Solo had no intention of leaving again. Though she noted he also didn’t appear to have any plans to return the reward money.

“Report from the hangar deck, Your Worshipfulness,” Solo said, appearing smirk-first in front of her.

Leia scowled. Surprising or not, she wished he’d stop calling her that. In its own way, it was even worse than Ekkreth calling her “Your Highness.”

“Thank you, Captain Solo,” she said icily, snatching the datapad out of his hand and turning to address the aide who’d appeared at her other side. She heard Solo laugh wryly, but at least he took the hint. When the aide scurried away a moment later, Leia found herself alone.

In the sudden stillness, she felt something buzz in her pocket.

With a quick, furtive glance to be sure she wouldn’t be missed, Leia slipped out of the stateroom and took the rough, crumbling rock stairs to the top of the old temple two at a time.

The hours had flown faster than she’d realized, and the world outside had turned to night. The bustling sounds of the base were strangely muted up here, less real than the gusting of the wind and the piercing cries of night creatures hunting insects.

Above the tree line, Leia had an uninhibited view of the stars. They shone down on her cold and clear, as bright and close as the shimmering lanterns she’d once set afloat on the palace lake every year for the Festival of Lights. She remembered her mother saying that the lanterns were homes for the star-spirits, who came down each year from the heavens to bless Alderaan and its people with their beauty and light.

“Every spirit chooses a person,” Breha had murmured, her voice soft and her hand warm on Leia’s shoulder as they watched the lights dance over the water. “And they journey beside that person and watch over them throughout the year, until the lights return and the cycle begins again.”

Leia had been a young child still when she’d asked, “How do you know which star chooses you, Mama?”

And Breha had laughed and told Leia to look up at the sky. “It’s the one that sings to you,” she’d said. “The star that knows your name.”

Now, as Leia looked up into the clear and radiant darkness, Alderaan’s sun seemed to shine brightest of all.

Did the spirits still watch over her people? Or had they all died with her parents and Alderaan? Was there any star left to guide her?

The tiny com buzzed again in her pocket, and Leia smiled grimly. One spirit at least remained. Torhu the Destroyer.

It was an old thought, one she’d held secret and unvoiced for years now. Ekkreth’s mask took the shape of a weirdly distorted skull, and she had no doubt that Palpatine had intended only that. It was pure coincidence that the mask also so nearly resembled the traditional depiction of Torhu in Alderaanian drama.

As a child she’d been frightened of Torhu. She remembered going to the theater with her parents once during the Festival of Remembrance, watching the dancers move silently across the stage, their painted masks frozen in unchanging expressions. Torhu had appeared at the climax of the story, and Leia had hidden her face in her father’s chest and refused to look again until he said it was safe.

Breha had tried to explain to her daughter that no spirit was evil, that the destruction Torhu brought was sometimes necessary change, the upheaval of growth. The execution of justice. Leia didn’t think she’d really understood then, although she’d told her mother she did.

But now…

Now Alderaan was dead. There could be no more festivals, no more spirits of bright joy, no more stars descending to earth. There was only memory and dust.

And Torhu the Destroyer. Her guardian angel. The last star to guide her.

Leia drew the com from her pocket and thumbed it on. She kept her eyes fixed on the stars.

“Ripple,” said Ekkreth’s voice, only it wasn’t Ekkreth’s voice. It was the droid who spoke for him. KD-7, she remembered, but Ekkreth called her Kadee.

She’d never met the droid, at least not in person, but Ekkreth spoke of her with surprising fondness. Leia found herself blinking back sudden and unexpected tears. She was glad, so glad, that Kadee had survived.

“Hello, Ekkreth,” she whispered. Her voice disappeared into the stillness of the night like a prayer.

“When?” asked Kadee, but Leia knew what Ekkreth meant. It had been nearly a week since the Death Star’s destruction. They were running out of time.

“Tomorrow,” she breathed.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow their last preparations would be complete, and the base would be ready to move, to disappear and leave no trace of their presence behind. Tomorrow, she would go with them, would travel to the next base, and the next, and the next after that. She would be Leia Organa, symbol of resistance, leader of the Rebellion, Princess of a destroyed world.

She would never again be Senator Organa. Coruscant was closed to her now; she could never go back, not unless Palpatine died and the galaxy was changed.

And tomorrow, Ekkreth would be Darth Vader, loyal servant of the Emperor, sole survivor of the disaster that was the Death Star. He would go back to the Emperor. If he survived (and he would, she told herself fiercely, he would because she would not allow for any other option), then he would hunt them.

She might never see him again. And if she did it might be worse. They would be on opposite sides of a war.

“Tomorrow, then,” Ekkreth said. Kadee’s voice held no inflection. Leia couldn’t guess what he was feeling.

“Ekkreth – ” she blurted, and then stopped. There was nothing else to say.

You’re like a second father to me, she’d said, her relief dragging the words from her before she’d even decided to speak them, and he’d stood still and rooted and replied with only her name.

The last time she’d spoken to her parents, she’d still been on Coruscant. It was the evening before she was due to leave on her “mercy mission,” to receive Ekkreth’s transmission and the plans that could save them all. She remembered her father smiling tightly in the holo, and her mother’s warm eyes. “We’ll see you soon, love,” Mama had said, and Leia had grinned and replied, “Soon, Mama,” and cut the connection.

It was the last thing she’d said to them. The last words she would ever hear from them. We’ll see you soon.

She should tell Ekkreth – she should tell him –

Words welled up in her throat, choking her. The stars above her blurred and faded to haze. She blinked, and realized that she was crying.

“Ripple,” said Ekkreth, and Leia straightened in surprise, because this time it really was Ekkreth. His voice, not Kadee’s. He was taking a shocking risk.

“You are strong and wise and free,” he said. There was something there in his voice, a sharp, almost desperate insistence that left her stunned. She heard him draw a slow breath. And then he said, “Be brave. And don’t look back.”

A thousand words rose clamoring in her, and still she couldn’t speak any of them. “I won’t,” Leia choked out, and cut the connection.

*

They began the evacuation in the early morning, and in a matter of hours all ships were away and prepared to leave Yavin far behind. Ekkreth would make contact with Coruscant today, had perhaps already done so, but there would be nothing for the Empire to find when they arrived on Yavin IV.

Leia had never been a particularly religious person, not…before. And now the spirits were all dead with Alderaan. All but one.

She stood silently on the observation deck, her hands linked behind her back, and stared out at the depthless void between the stars. Maybe there was no justice in the universe. Maybe there was just them.

Torhu, she prayed. Watch over Ekkreth. And watch over us. Let there be a reckoning.

*

This time she found Luke in the mess hall. There was a plate heaped with some fragrant, spicy dish cooling in front of him, and a glass of blue milk. Every now and then he seemed to remember to eat, but mostly he was distracted by the swirling clouds of hyperspace visible through the viewports.

“Hey,” said Leia, sliding into a seat across from him and starting in on her own meal, focusing on her food to avoid noticing how he startled. “You okay?”

Luke gave her a rueful grin. “Sorry,” he said. “It’s just – it’s amazing, isn’t it? Out there. Just last week I’d never even been off planet. I guess I’m still a little amazed by it.”

Something warm opened up in Leia, and she realized it had been a long time since she’d experienced such simple wonder herself. “Thank you,” she said, before she could think better of it.

Luke looked at her with a puzzled smile, and Leia simply shrugged. She didn’t think she could explain.

“Are you off duty?” she asked him instead. “If you’re free I was hoping we could – ”

“Hey kid, you gonna eat that?” someone drawled over her shoulder, and Leia fought to hide a grimace. The man wasn’t so bad, really, though she’d never tell him that. But he had terrible timing.

“Captain Solo,” she said dryly as he pulled out a chair and set his own tray on the table just beside hers. Chewie claimed the spot beside Luke. “How nice of you to join us.”

“No trouble at all, Your Worship,” he said brightly. Leia ground her teeth.

“So,” Solo said, digging into his meatloaf with undue enthusiasm. “Planning a hot date tonight?”

Leia blinked. She replayed the last few moments of her conversation with Luke, and nearly groaned aloud. It had sounded like that, hadn’t it?

Well, so what if it did. She didn’t particularly care what Solo thought, and this made as good a cover story as any.

Luke was opening his mouth, no doubt to deny Solo’s theory, and Leia hurried to cut him off. “That’s right,” she said. “What about it?”

For just a moment, Solo seemed to falter. And that was a surprise. She’d thought he was only teasing them, but he seemed startled by her answer, as though he hadn’t expected it. And then his face closed off entirely.

Luke was looking back and forth between them and doing a poor job of hiding his amusement behind one raised hand. Leia narrowed her eyes at him. She was evidently missing something here, and she hated to be left out of the loop.

“Well,” said Solo, standing abruptly and taking his half-finished tray with him, “you two have fun. Chewie and me have to get back to work. Grav sensor on the Falcon’s been a bit off, ever since we broke out of that tractor beam.”

He set off, but stopped and turned back a moment later when Chewbacca showed no signs of following. The Wookiee let out a growl of displeasure.

“Oh, just bring it with you, you great oaf,” Solo muttered.

Chewie howled mournfully but obeyed, and a moment later, Leia was once more left alone with Luke.

“What was that about?” she grumbled.

Luke only shrugged, but his eyes were still twinkling with amusement. Leia suddenly realized that, while she didn’t particularly care if Solo had the wrong impression about them, she should probably clarify matters for Luke.

“Er,” she began awkwardly. “I wasn’t actually – ”

“I know,” Luke said, waving an easy hand and shooting her a grin. “You were going to ask about, uh, practice, right?”

“Yes,” Leia said, relieved, although that didn’t prevent her from rolling her eyes at his rather obvious coded language. “Are you free?”

“After 1800,” he said, glancing up at the chrono on the wall of the mess. “But right now I have to go.”

“All right,” said Leia. She made a quick decision. “Meet me in my quarters when you come off shift.”

Luke’s grin disappeared, and he gave her a serious nod. Then he picked up his tray and left in the same direction Solo had.

Leia had thought she might stay and enjoy a leisurely lunch in the mess, but the furtive, pitying glances were too much. She hadn’t been assigned a duty rotation yet – Dodonna had promised to put her on the roster, but she knew he wasn’t fond of the idea of the last Princess of Alderaan serving with the common soldiers. He’d been something of an Alderaanian traditionalist even before, and now…

So instead she went back to her empty quarters. She had nearly six hours to wait, and the last thing she wanted to do was think. Not about Alderaan.

Ekkreth told her to practice her shielding. That at least was something she could do.

*

Luke arrived exactly on time, his father’s lightsaber clipped to his belt and carrying a case of training remotes in one hand and a flight helmet complete with blast shield in the other.

“It’s almost the only thing Ben had time to teach me,” he admitted, looking at her shyly. “I’m not very good.”

“Better than me, I’m sure,” Leia said with a smile. “I’ve never used a lightsaber at all.”

Luke looked up at her in surprise, and then before she could so much as blink he’d taken her hand and curled it around the lightsaber.

It was heavier than she’d expected, as though the weight it carried was more than the sum of its parts. The metal was still warm from Luke’s hand, and up close she could see that the casing was pitted and scratched in places with age and use.

It looked remarkably like Ekkreth’s lightsaber. The thought was startling and unexpected, and it left a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach. But after all this was only the second lightsaber Leia had ever seen. Perhaps they all followed a similar design.

“My mother was a Jedi,” she whispered, the confession drawn from her by the weight of the lightsaber in her hands. “I don’t know anything else about her, though. Not even her name.”

She glanced up just in time to see the flash of confusion in Luke’s eyes, and then his moment of realization. He hadn’t known she was adopted.

The thought was strange. Leia had lived all her life with the knowledge that she had four parents, two who raised her and taught her and loved her, and two who were shadows. Her birth mother the Jedi, a hazy figure with a face she knew only from her dreams, but no name. And her birth father, who was nothing at all.

She held the lightsaber out for Luke, and he took it back with a hesitant smile. “I don’t really know anything about my mother, either,” he admitted. “And I didn’t know my father was a Jedi until – ” he laughed suddenly “ – until just last week. He was – ”

“Anakin Skywalker,” Leia said. “I know.”

Luke’s start of surprise was so comical that she laughed out loud. But when his confusion only deepened, she took pity on him.

“He served with General Kenobi and my father in the Clone Wars.” She smirked. “Your last name’s pretty recognizable.”

“Oh,” said Luke. He grimaced, and then shrugged awkwardly. “It’s pretty recognizable on Tatooine, too, but…not because of that. Nobody there knows he was a Jedi.”

She looked at him in question, and Luke favored her with a shockingly bitter smile. It should have looked entirely wrong on his face, and was all the more disturbing because it didn’t.

“I was freeborn,” he said, his eyes slipping away from hers and staring down again at his lightsaber. “But people liked to forget that, sometimes.”

Leia felt as though she’d been caught in a sudden gravity shear. “What?” she asked, more a breath than a question. “What do you mean, freeborn?”

Now Luke did look up again, but there was something guarded in his eyes that she’d never seen there before. “Skywalker’s a slave name,” he said. “Everybody on Tatooine knows that. But my father was freed. I always knew that. And now I know he was a Jedi Knight.”

He said the last fiercely, almost defiantly, but Leia could still see a hint of uncertainty in the set of his shoulders and the shuttered blue of his eyes.

“But…slavery was illegal under the Republic,” she whispered. The words felt like ash in her throat.

You might be surprised, Your Highness, she heard Ekkreth say again, and her memory lent his words a hard, mocking edge.

Some expression flashed across Luke’s face, just briefly, too fast for Leia to identify. It might have been disappointment.

“If it was,” he said, “somebody forgot to tell the Hutts.”

No, she thought. He couldn’t be right. The Republic couldn’t have failed its people so badly. General Skywalker couldn’t have been a slave. She’d have known. Her parents would have told her. They would have fought for –

“I’m sorry,” Luke said with a sudden sigh and a half-hearted smile. “I know it’s not – it’s not your fault. You didn’t know.”

“But I should have,” Leia said. The truth of it settled over her like a crushing weight.

Luke reached out and squeezed her hand. There was apology in his eyes. “Now you do,” he said.

Now she did.

*

It was very difficult to lie to Luke.

He was so genuine himself, so open and friendly, that Leia found herself wanting to respond in kind.

But she knew it was more than that. The Force bound them together; Luke knew a part of her that she’d never shared with anyone other than Ekkreth. It was an unexpected relief, to have someone she could be honest with. She hadn’t realized just how much she feared losing that.

And she knew she would have to be honest with him in turn.

That first time they met, Leia let Luke show her the lightsaber exercises he’d learned from General Kenobi. He kept insisting that he wasn’t very good, but Leia thought that his demonstration was quite impressive, for someone who’d never even heard of the Force before last week. He put the blast shield on his helmet down before activating the remote, and he only got hit twice.

Although she’d never handled a lightsaber before, Leia picked up the technique quickly herself. It wasn’t so very different from the way Ekkreth had taught her to be aware of her surroundings, attentive to all possible threats. She stretched out with her senses, feeling every piece of furniture in her room, every obstacle, mapping the space in her mind, and then narrowing her focus to the remote.

She still got stung, but only a couple of times, and only glancing blows.

When she removed the helmet, Luke was staring at her. Leia felt suddenly self-conscious.

“That was amazing,” he said.

“Well,” she said, not quite meeting his gaze, “I’ve practiced sensing my surroundings, and this isn’t that different.”

Luke looked at her curiously for a moment longer, but he let it go.

*

The second time they met, Leia had decided to tell him the truth. Or as much of it as she could, anyway.

“I have a teacher,” she confessed. They were still traveling through hyperspace – General Dodonna had decided to follow a complex pattern of jumps along a very indirect route, the better to lose any hypothetical pursuit – and Leia had once more volunteered her quarters for their practice. She’d swept the rooms five times for bugs. It was an old habit by now, even here in the heart of a Rebel transport.

Luke’s eyes brightened with a new gleam of hope, but he kept his silence, encouraging her to continue.

Leia looked down and sighed. “I can’t tell you anything about my teacher, Luke. I’m sorry. It’s all classified. But I – well, there are things you’re going to have to know, to learn, and I think it will be easier if you understand how I know them.”

He was sitting across from her, perched on the edge of her small desk, his hands twisting around his lightsaber again. She wished he would say something.

Finally Luke gave her a tentative smile. “Thank you,” he said. “For telling me. It’s – it helps. I won’t ask any questions, I promise. But I’m glad to know there’s somebody else out there. That Ben wasn’t the last.”

Leia remembered how Ekkreth had reacted when she’d asked if he was a Jedi. She bit her tongue.

“So,” said Luke. “You’re supposed to teach me, aren’t you?”

Leia looked up in surprise. But Luke didn’t seem angry, or even troubled. “You’re taking this a lot better than I expected,” she said wryly.

But Luke was perfectly serious as he said, “It’s classified. I understand that, Leia. Sometimes secrets are important.”

There was some weight to that last statement that Leia didn’t fully understand. But it wouldn’t be right to ask. So instead she said, “All right. In that case, we should work on your shielding.”

*

General Kenobi, it seemed, hadn’t had time to teach Luke much beyond the very basics of the Force – what it was and how to sense it. He’d had one lesson with his lightsaber and the remote. And that was it.

Leia taught Luke the simple shield first, just as Ekkreth had taught her. She built up the wall in her own mind, and then brought Luke in, so he could see how it was constructed.

It was strange, hearing Luke’s thoughts inside her own head. She’d expected it to be the same as it was with Ekkreth, but it wasn’t. And yet she couldn’t pinpoint what the difference was. Perhaps it was simply the newness of being on the other side of the teacher-student relationship.

Luke’s mind, like Ekkreth’s, was a desert. Leia wondered about that. She knew Luke came from a desert planet, so it made sense that his mental landscape would match what he knew. Her own mind most often took the form of the high mountains where her grandparents had lived.

Did that mean that Ekkreth, too, came from a desert world? She realized she’d never wondered before. It was so strange to think of him as someone who had an origin: a history and a place and a time, maybe even a family. A person, she thought, and remembered him saying exactly that. I’m a person and my name is – Ekkreth.

So when she showed Luke how to craft a shield from his emotions, she used Ekkreth’s image of the sandstorm. “You aren’t the storm,” she told him, “but you aren’t the bedrock, either. You are the desert.”

Luke looked at her very strangely. Then he smiled. “Terak,” he said. “That’s what we call it, on Tatooine. The desert. But really it means the all. The everything.”

It sounded almost like something Ekkreth might have said. Leia blinked in surprise. “Yes,” she said. “Exactly.”

They both practiced again with Luke’s lightsaber and the remote. Leia briefly wished that they could have had two lightsabers, but with that thought came the image of Ekkreth and General Kenobi, and Luke’s devastated scream, and she was glad, after all, that they only had the one.

*

The process of setting up a Rebel base, Leia found, was even more involved than disassembling it had been. And it was hardly made easier by the biting winds and spitting rain that seemed to be a permanent fixture of life on Panoor.

But she refused to sit back and let others do all the work. The more variations of “Don’t trouble yourself, Princess,” she heard, the more determined she became.

Luke found her buried deep in the bowels of one of the generators, cursing the inadequacies of mechanics everywhere. She didn’t even know he was there until he announced, “I should tell Jorren you said that.”

Leia dragged herself out of the generator to glare at him, but she couldn’t manage to hold it. After all, she wasn’t down on any of the duty rosters and he couldn’t have known to look for her here. So he must have sensed her. She felt a half-ridiculous rush of pride.

Besides, he’d brought food. She could forgive him a lot under those circumstances.

He must have just come off duty himself, because his clothes were liberally stained with grease and there was a patch of dirt smeared across his brow. Leia decided not to tell him about it.

His hands were full with a thermos, two cups, and a small bag full of something that smelled warm and sweet.

“What’s all this?” Leia asked with a smile.

“It’s tzai,” Luke said, setting everything down on a nearby work bench. He looked up and gave her a shy smile. “My family recipe. I was just going to have some myself, and then I thought, well – ” He shrugged and began setting out a handful of round, fragrant cakes. “I promised Milda I’d take a look at her fritzing power converters if she let me into the kitchens.”

“You cook?” Leia blurted in surprise.

Luke laughed. “Yeah, sure. Have since I was little. I used to help Aunt Beru with – ”

His voice cut off sharply, his smile slipping. He turned back to the bench and busied himself with pouring the tzai.

Leia let him have his silence and his space. When the tzai was ready he looked up again, wordlessly offering her a cup and one of the cakes.

Leia took both and breathed in deeply. The tzai was obviously some kind of tea, rich and spicy, filling her senses and conjuring up images of warmth and laughter and old stories told anew. She remembered, as a child, sneaking into the kitchens after hours with her mother, giggling and whispering as if they were on some secret, deadly mission, pilfering scones or fresh bread or once a whole fruit tart and dashing back to the royal suite with their loot. Her father had always looked at them both with fond exasperation, but he’d never been above sampling their ill-gotten gains himself.

Leia closed her eyes and let the memory linger, the sweet along with the bitter. She took a slow sip of the tzai. It tasted as good as it smelled.

“Thank you,” she told Luke. When he favored her with a warm smile, she dared to ask, “You said it was a family recipe?”

“Tzai is ours,” he said, halting and earnest, and she didn’t have to ask who he meant. “My father made it this way, and his mother before him, and her mother and hers, and back and back. It’s a secret. It – connects us.”

“Oh,” said Leia, feeling suddenly out of place, as if she’d unthinkingly taken something that wasn’t hers. “You didn’t have to – ”

“I wanted to,” Luke insisted. “Because you’re like me. We’re in this together.”

“I guess we are,” she said, and took another long sip of tzai.

*

When she returned to her new quarters that night, there was an intelligence report waiting for her.

She ran the decryptions, hardly daring to breathe.

Darth Vader had been given command of a fleet. He’d been ordered to hunt down and destroy the Rebels responsible for the loss of the Death Star.

Leia read the report and erased it. She stared down at the blank screen of her datapad. A wordless prayer formed in her mind, but there was no one to hear it. No star to guide her.

She would find her own way. She had to.

Be brave. And don’t look back.