“Sit still, please, your Highness, and try to relax while I assess your injuries.”
The medidroid reached for a scanner. Leia leaned stiffly back against a moss-covered log and closed her eyes.
Relax. Hah. Bad idea. If I stop moving now, I may never start again.
She wondered foggily where Han, Chewbacca and the rest of her team had gotten to. They’d split up in an effort to contain the chaos that erupted after the Death Star exploded. When things finally started to calm down, she’d found herself standing guard over a group of cowed and confused Imperial storm troopers, armed only with a blaster that she couldn’t fire accurately one-handed, and a couple of fierce Ewok helpers for back-up. She couldn’t have stood up to a kitten by then, so she fixed her prisoners with a glare that said “Just try it” and prayed they wouldn’t actually take her up on it. Thankfully, the troopers sat sullenly where they were told, looking smaller without their helmets and weapons, and refusing for the most part to meet her eyes. They listened to the sounds of Ewoks and rebels taking stock in the aftermath of battle, herding prisoners and counting the dead and wounded. After a time, Chewbacca had appeared, pushing through the undergrowth. He’d growled gently at her and waved over a detachment of fresh Alliance troops.
*They have landed some shuttles in the clearing over there – all the prisoners are to be transported up to the ships in orbit,* he informed her as she gratefully relinquished her command. *Han says, get someone to see to your arm.* She’d started to object – surely there was something, somewhere, that she should be taking charge of – but she couldn’t seem to finish the thought, and Chewie had bodily turned her around and pushed her in the direction of the hastily-erected medical facilities.
“You have suffered no other injury.” The formal, metallic voice of the medidroid cut into her daze. “No broken ribs, and no concussion from your fall yesterday. The blaster burn is long, but shallow – no sutures will be required. I will apply disinfectant and a sealant, with your permission.”
She nodded absently, and then hissed as Han’s makeshift bandage was pulled away.
“Do you require an injection for the pain?” asked the droid.
“No – no.” She actually welcomed the dull, burning ache in her arm – it seemed to be the only thing tethering her to reality. Without it, she thought she might simply lose hold and drift away completely. Exhaustion, her analytical mind decided. Post-traumatic shock too, probably.
She wanted a number of contradictory things very badly. Idly, she organized them into a list in her head, the way she did with supply run manifests and speaking points and ops strategies. Item: curl up and sleep for a week. Item: hit something – anything – really, really hard. Item: dissolve into hysterical sobs. Item: steal a shuttle and fly far, far away to some galaxy where nobody has ever heard of Empires or Rebellions…or princesses with dubious parentage.
“You are shaking,” observed the droid. “Do you need a blanket?”
“No,” she gritted out, clenching her teeth to keep them from rattling. “I’m fine.”
Come on, Organa. Breathe. You can’t fall apart here. It’d be bad for morale.
“You must stay still for fifteen minutes, while the sealant takes hold.”
She thanked the droid distractedly. She had caught sight of Han across the clearing, scanning the crowd. He looked tense and serious, but when his gaze crossed hers, his face collapsed into a relieved grin. Warmth unfurled somewhere deep inside her at the sight of him, and it occurred to her that she had something else, something much more pleasant than the pain in her arm, to anchor her to earth. To pull her away from the screaming edge of…Breathe, Organa. Just breathe.
“Hey,” she said, trying to smile up at him.
“Hey, yourself.” He stood over her for a moment, serious again, assessing her injuries. Then he joined her on the ground, moving so slowly that she could tell he was as exhausted as she was.
“How’s the arm?” He touched it lightly.
“Fine. No stitches or anything. I have to wait while the sealant takes hold, is all.”
She found herself unable to meet his eyes. He was radiating love and concern, and she knew that if she looked at him straight on for more than a second, she would fall apart, and it would not be pretty.
Silence fell between them, but she could feel him looking at her, figuring it out. Since they rescued him from Tatooine he had been studying her, there was no other word for it. Learning her signals, for gods’ sake, like he would a new set of navigational calculations. It terrified and annoyed and excited her all at once. Right now, though, not having to explain anything was as much of a relief as finally getting to sit still.
“C’mere.” He put his arm carefully around her shoulders and hitched himself closer to her good side. Past caring about who might see, she grabbed a fistful of his camouflage jacket and pulled herself into the shelter of his body. She felt Han’s cheek come to rest on the top of her head, and his ribcage move in a deep, shaky sigh. Belatedly she realized that he might need a hug as much as she did, and that made her smile suddenly into his chest. She focused on the air going in and out of her lungs, letting the solid warmth of his arms calm her trembling and loosen the tight knot in her stomach.
After a long minute he shifted slightly, moving his mouth against her hair.
“They’ve managed to move almost all of the prisoners up to the Deliverance. Lando is helping them – I heard him on the com.”
“Have you seen the Falcon?” She unclenched her fist and smoothed his jacket where her fingers had wrinkled it. Han snorted, his breath ruffling by her ear.
“No. I think Lando's avoiding me on purpose – gods only know what he did to her up there. I’m just glad she’s obviously still flyable.”
“I’m just glad we’re all safe.”
His arm tightened. “Yeah. Me too.” A pause. “Any word from Luke?” he asked, too casually. She tensed, and then sat up reluctantly, still not looking at him.
“No.” Dusk had fallen suddenly across the forest; she shivered, and pulled her knees up against her chest. “He’s all right, though. I’d know if he wasn’t.”
“Yeah, you said.” His voice was carefully neutral, almost diffident. “Is this a good time to ask about the other thing you said?”
He’s my brother. That was the other thing she’d said to Han, right before she kissed him, to forestall the questions she could see in his eyes, and hang on just a little longer to the giddy, joyous relief that had burst through her with the explosion of the Death Star. It seemed days ago already. Gods, I don’t want to talk about this. Not now, not ever.
Beside her, Han stretched out his legs, mock casual. “Come on, Princess, you know I’m not complaining,” he drawled. “It’s a big relief as far as I’m concerned…”
He leered at her, and she had to smile. She reached out and grabbed his hand.
“You needn’t have worried, flyboy.”
“So explain it to me.” He moved his thumb over her knuckles.
He has to know. Lots of people will have to know. Her mind reeled at that thought, and she swallowed hard against panic, rising like bile in her throat. “Okay. Okay, just – give me a second.”
She disentangled her fingers from his and took a deep breath, wishing she could stand up, stand at attention and deliver her explanation like a report, stiff and neutral. But she honestly didn’t know if her legs would hold her up, and anyway Han would probably think she was about to bolt if she tried. And he wouldn’t be far wrong.
“It’s – a long story,” she finally said, fixing unseeing eyes on the troops and medical staff moving about the clearing. “And I don’t even know most of it yet. But…Luke is my brother - my twin brother. We were separated right after we were born. Luke was taken to his aunt and uncle on Tatooine, and my…our mother and I went to Bail Organa on Alderaan.” She stopped.
“Why?” Han was being so gentle, and it only made her more afraid of how he would react when he found out where all this was leading. It’s not fair, she cried inwardly. I’ve only just gotten him back. I can’t lose him again – I can’t.
Her voice trembled. She clenched her fists so hard that a stab of pain shot up her injured arm, and started again.
“General Kenobi told Luke that we were separated and hidden away because it was the only way to protect us from our father - a Jedi Knight who had fallen to the Dark Side. If he had known about us, he would have had us killed, or tried to turn us to Palpatine’s service. We were – dangerous to him, to the Emperor. Luke is strong in the Force…and he says – he says I am, too. I think – it’s how I know he’s alive, now, and how I could find him on Bespin when he was hurt, and…”
Focus, Organa, you’re babbling. Beside her, she heard Han breathe in sharply and knew he was starting to catch up, starting to put the pieces together. She was shaking again, but she hugged her knees to her chest and rushed ahead, needing somehow to say the worst of it before he got there himself, so she wouldn’t have to hear the horror and betrayal in his voice.
“Last night, Luke told me that he had to leave the mission because Darth Vader knew he was on Endor. Vader could sense him, no matter where he was. And the reason – the reason was that Vader was his father. Our father.” She forced the words out, and they tore at her throat like shards of glass.
“I am the daughter of the man who tortured me; who watched while that bastard Tarkin b-blew up Alderaan; who almost killed Luke; who tortured you and froze you in carbonite and handed you over to Jabba’s bounty hunter; who has been responsible for more pain and death - ”
She heard her voice rising hysterically and bit off the rest abruptly, pressing her forehead hard against her pulled-up knees. She had not looked at Han, could feel him frozen with shock beside her. It was hard to breathe, as though a huge weight had settled on her chest and in her throat. I can’t, she thought wildly. It’s too much – I can’t –
“Leia.” Han’s hand was on her shoulder, squeezing hard enough to hurt. She realized she was rocking back and forth, curled in on herself. “Leia, he’s dead. He can’t hurt you anymore.”
She shrugged away from him violently. “What does that have to do with anything? Didn’t you hear me? Darth Vader is. My. Father.”
“Was. Was your father,” he repeated stubbornly.
“Oh, that’s very helpful, Solo,” she spat out. “All my life, people have been lying to me, keeping secrets from me. And now it’s – guess what, you have a twin brother that no one ever told you about. He’s a Jedi, and so are you. Oh, and by the way, your father was a Jedi too, and he went so bad that entire galaxies have suffered for his crimes. But he’s dead, right, so it doesn’t matter!”
She flung the words at him. But instead of shouting back as she expected, giving her the fight she was spoiling for, he looked away.
“You’re right, that was a dumb thing to say.”
She stared at his averted face, at the stiff line of his back, and felt nausea rise in her throat. He was close enough that she could reach out and touch him – except that for the first time since, well, their first time…she wasn’t sure he would let her, and the knowledge made her anger bleed away into cold, bleak despair. She let her head fall back down to her knees, suddenly too weary to stop hot tears from leaking out of the corners of her eyes.
“Forget it. Just leave me alone,” she muttered thickly. At that, he pushed his breath out in an exasperated huff.
“Oh, for – No. No way, Princess. I know that’s your default setting for times like this, but I’m not buying it anymore, understand?”
She hunched her shoulders higher around her ears and didn’t answer.
“Damn it, Leia, would you just –
He stopped, took another breath, and she could hear the effort it was costing him to keep his voice level.
“Listen. This is – pretty damn crazy. I’m sorry if I don’t even know where to start. I don’t have your diplomatic talent for saying the right thing at the right time – you know that.”
He sounded angry and spooked, but it wasn’t the horrified withdrawal she had been dreading. Yet. Please, she thought, without even knowing exactly what it was she was asking for.
“I don’t know where to start either. I don’t know what to do with this,” she heard herself whisper brokenly.
I can’t believe I just said that, she thought.
“I know,” said Han. Then, tentatively, “Okay. Look. If I was you, maybe I’d be pretty freaked out right now about genetics, and whether it’s possible for…darkness, or whatever you want to call it, to be passed down from one generation to another.”
Well, and isn’t that just one hell of an understatement, she thought, more than a little hysterically. She didn't trust her voice, though, so she stayed silent. Han sighed. She could see him in her mind's eye, stubborn and frustrated and so very, very precious to her. After a moment , he continued.
“I can’t speak to that – seems to me Luke’s the one you should be talking to about it. But listen, if you’re going to go down that road, don’t forget that you’ve got parts of your mother in you, too. She must have been…strong, really strong. To give up one child and run away into hiding with the other. To keep that kind of secret from her own husband – from almost everyone, probably.”
His voice softened. “She led a double life, just like you did when you were a senator. Maybe that’s part of why you turned out to be so good at it, huh?”
She couldn’t help it; deep down inside, a small warmth blossomed at that thought. It sounds convincing because it’s what you want to hear, she told herself. That doesn’t make it true.
“If my mother was so strong,” she muttered, “why was she with him in the first place? How could she have loved someone who was – was – There must have been – signs, or something.” Are the same signs in me too?
Han put a hand on her back, warm and steadying. “Ah, sweetheart, I don’t know. People change, and sometimes by the time you realize it you’re too tangled up with them to make a clean getaway.”
There was a note in his voice that suggested he wasn’t just talking about some smuggler’s deal gone wrong, and in spite of herself she felt a spark of curiosity. But he was still talking, slowly, feeling his way.
“Anyway, genetics, biology, whatever – all that stuff is just, I don’t know, building blocks you’re born with. I think the person you become depends on how you’re brought up, and choices you make later when you’re old enough to think for yourself. You know?
His hand was moving up and down her back in slow, soothing strokes. Unbelievably, she could feel herself relaxing a little, falling under the spell of his touch and the sound of his voice. It was one of the things she’d missed most while he was gone from her, although she’d never admit it – the constant flow of talk, stories and jokes and easy laughter.
“So maybe somehow Anakin Skywalker was missing that thing that – keeps you from wanting too much power over other people. And he made a lot of wrong choices.”
He touched her hair, light fingers pushing stray strands back behind her ears. “But you – well, in all the ways that matter I’d say you’re more Bail Organa’s daughter than you were ever Vader’s – or even your mother’s.”
She let out a long, shuddering breath. “Gods, I want to think so. I feel like I just don’t know who or what I am, all of a sudden.”
Han chuckled. “You sound like a character in a bad holovid.”
“Hey!” She aimed a half-hearted cuff at his head, and he caught her hand, pulling her back into the circle of his arm.
“I can’t really blame you though – hell, Leia, this whole situation is straight out of the holovids. I think I’ve even seen the episode already.”
“Well, then I wish you’d tell me how it ends,” she mumbled.
“Okay,” he said, suddenly serious again. “It ends with the beautiful Princess realizing that she’s a separate person from any of her parents – biological or otherwise. Living a life of her own choosing. Come on, sweetheart – what have you been fighting this Rebellion for, except the freedom to make your own choices? Don’t let Vader beat you now, by making you second-guess yourself.”
She was crying silently, tears slipping hot down her cheeks. “I hope you’re right.”
“’Course I am. When have I ever been wrong?”
She lifted her head from his shoulder and raised an eyebrow at him, in a soggy attempt at her most tried-and-true skeptical expression.
“Wait, don’t answer that,” he muttered sheepishly, looking at her sideways. She knew he’d set himself up for that one on purpose to make her laugh, and, unbelievably, she did. The laugh got caught on a sob, though, and she shut her eyes tight again.
“Aw, come on, Princess, don’t cry, you know I can’t stand it...” Now Han sounded like he had something in his throat, and the aching tenderness in his voice undid her completely. She couldn’t speak, so she hooked her arm around his neck and dragged him in close and kissed him, hard and clumsily. For a surprised second he didn’t respond – and then his mouth softened against hers, and his hand came up to cradle her head, and for a long minute the only thing that mattered in the world was the warmth they made between them.
Finally she pulled away, just far enough to breathe. She wiped her eyes and nose on her sleeve, and turned her face into the crook of his neck. She could feel his heart beating, and knew a stab of gratitude so keen that it was painful.
“Don’t you dare try to tell me you never say the right thing at the right time,” she said shakily.
“I guess I have my moments, huh?” he teased. Setting her up again. She knew her line was supposed to be not many, but you have them – but suddenly she didn’t feel like following the usual script of that old joke.
She straightened up and gazed at him, struggling to stay on top of the wave of emotion that threatened to engulf her. It was a losing battle, though: like trying to contain light. It kept spilling out through the cracks, and suddenly she wondered, Did Anakin Skywalker love my mother like this? Beyond fear, beyond pride, just fathomless need and friendship and care given and received?
He can’t have. Surely if he had – if they had – there wouldn’t have been room in his soul for any kind of darkness. Would there?
She touched Han’s cheek, ruefully. Gods help me. Gods help us both. “And you thought I had baggage when you first met me…”
He shrugged. “I can handle it. I’m a smuggler, remember? Used to travelling with sensitive cargo.” He held her gaze. “Anywhere you need to go, we’ll go.”
“Thank you,” she said with difficulty. Then, in a broken rush, “Gods, Han, I love you so much.”
She had said those words to him before, of course, but never quite like this. Never so open and raw and vulnerable…and never before with such a sweet, singing feeling of certainty buried deep down beneath it all, either.
Han made an inarticulate sound and pulled her to him again. He was holding her too tightly and had obviously forgotten about her arm, but she didn’t remind him. She could feel him trembling.
“Love you too.” His voice was rough, muffled in her hair.
They sat together, close and quiet, for a long time. Leia felt her way delicately around the idea of Darth Vader in her mind, as though probing the edges of a wound, and marvelled at the fact that – while it still hurt like hell and threatened to overwhelm her if she thought about it straight on for too long – she seemed to be able to handle it without wanting to run away screaming. For the moment. Well, she’d just have to take it one moment at a time.
“And there’s Luke, too,” said Han suddenly, as though continuing a previous thought.
“What?” She looked up at him, puzzled. It was now fully dark, and she could only just make out his profile in the moonlight. The clearing was empty except for the two of them. She wondered when that had happened.
“You’re not alone in this – there’s me, and there’s Luke,” Han explained. His teeth flashed as he grinned. “He loves you too, although fortunately in a strictly brotherly way, I’m told – ooof!” He doubled over, snickering, as she punched him in the side.
“Would you stop harping on that? For goodness’ sake!” But she was smiling, helplessly.
He got stiffly to his feet, and held out a hand to her. “Come on – I’ve got a speeder over there. We should get back to the village – the Ewoks were lighting the bonfires when I left to come find you. Should be quite the victory party.”
She let him pull her up, feeling shaky and bruised – inside and out. “I'd rather just crawl into a corner and go to sleep.”
“Nope. Can’t allow that. You’ve gotta celebrate.”
“Yeah.” Suddenly he stopped and faced her, hands on her shoulders, bending his head to look her in the eye. “The Alliance won a huge victory today. One that you, Princess, have been working towards for almost your whole life – and you are damned well going to enjoy it in the company of your friends!”
He was so serious and determined, it tugged at her heart. “Is that an order, General?” she asked, trying to keep a straight face. She loved the uncomfortable, vaguely sheepish look he got when anyone addressed him by his new title.
“Yeah, it is,” he said softly. “Your Highness.”
“Okay.” She stood on tiptoe and brought her mouth to his. Lost herself in the kiss for a few delirious seconds. “I can think of other ways to celebrate,” she breathed against his lips.
“Later. Definitely later,” Han said hoarsely. Reluctantly she drew away and let him chivvy her along to the speeder, parked at the edge of the clearing. She clambered on behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist, glad for the excuse to hold onto him. Pressing her cheek against his back, she closed her eyes as they twisted and turned through the dark, silent trees. One moment at a time, she thought. I can do this. I will.
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