Renewal: Chapter Twenty-Four Rated PG
Ivy

The cluttered crew cabin slept four, but three of the berths were covered in supplies and the safety webbing was drawn up over them. Luke lay on the only empty bunk holding a dilapidated helmet, staring at the massive monochromatic ceiling to floor lockers across from him and wondering how Han managed to open them without handles. They’d once had handles — he could see the marks where the bindings had held them in place, they simply weren’t there now.

They’d been in hyperspace for just over forty standard hours.

Despite the fact that they had all been invited to the bonding ceremony, he’d insisted they leave Yashuvhu straightaway.

The truth was, he couldn’t bear the thought of it. There was no need to see the Tas’ face roiling with its fleshy gloat. He hadn’t heard her right. Since they’d departed, he’d retreated to the spare bunk and lain still, trying to sleep, but unable to, staring through his lids while Hataj’s face burned like ascorbic acid in his memory. He needed to shake off his blankets, wake up, go back, and hear it all again.

There was a soft rapping outside the quarters.

It didn’t happen, he thought. It wasn’t all real.

"Luke, are you awake?"

Avoiding his sister and her questions had been another reason for secluding himself. So far, he’d managed to acquire enough nourishment on the sly to stave off any gnawing hunger pains. Unfortunately, he could tell by her tone that she was planning to be insistent this time.

Luke tossed the helmet to the foot of the bunk and sat up. "Come in."

The hatch unsealed with a whoosh. Leia was holding a data reader and wearing a determined expression he knew well. "Hi," she said, slowly coming to sit and letting her limbs drift over the edge of the bunk. "How are you?"

"I’m fine."

"You can’t stay locked up in here alone until we reach Coruscant."

"I am fine."

"Far be it for me try and argue with you." Leia sighed heavily. "Look. Maybe I was overstepping my bounds the other morning. I shouldn’t have pushed you — told you to take the chance —"

"I’m not angry at you for encouraging it, if that’s why you’re here," he added. "Whatever went on between us went on because I chose it." He’d chosen it all. He could recall the moist stickiness of their skin in the aftermath without effort, peeled painfully apart. He heard her voice, laughing, saying, "and you’re so cold," over and over, so he could lean down and kiss her again. His imagination replayed the past and the past became more familiar to him in the present. He noticed things he hadn’t. That the tapestry hanging behind her bed was of a planet with twin suns. He’d never asked about that. What he did remember was their first night on Yashuvhu, when the ruler had droned on about his wives and wedding. Now he would have one more about which he could tell tales.

No. You can’t do that.

Looking dubiously aggrieved, Leia replied, "All right," and sank back on one elbow. "Then why are you in a self-imposed exile on a small ship?"

"If you were her would you have done it?"

She was unable to hide her revulsion at the suggestion, though she tried to, sweeping at a spot on her knee. "What kind of question is that?"

"Would you have done it?"

"It was her choice."

The clinging anger that had been precariously balanced inside him for so long tumbled now that someone was there to absorb it. "She did it so that he wouldn’t turn us over to the Imperials. It was blackmail. It wasn’t a choice." He wondered if it had been part of the Tas Mos’ir’s plan all along. That made it all the worse.

"Luke. Respect her decision. She did what she felt she had to do. And she cared for you. I could see it. I know that."

I know that. He cleared his throat. "I asked her to come with us."

"You did?"

"Yes."

"What did she say?"

"She was considering it." Perhaps that was what smarted the most — that escape had not slipped away when she had made her plea and offered herself. It was as though she’d dismissed the possibilities beforehand, and elected to end the battle before it had begun. Elected to stay. The Tas Mos’ir had demanded a vow of commitment before they were released. Her Uncle Harmakh had been there, blaming him for the turn of events, but Hataj had taken the vow solemnly — with a surety that he’d not glimpsed in her silvery eyes in the time he’d known her. They’d only spoken once before they swept her away. It was meant to be, she’d said, the same as he was meant to come to Yashuvhu and uncover her secret. Maybe she’d known more than she’d let on. Maybe even bereft of the ability to control the Force, it had randomly reached for her. "I don’t mean to snap at you. It’s not you."

"I understand. Believe me, I do." Just as she said that, the central heating panel gave a fizzling, dying sputter. She clucked indignantly to herself. "Damn it. I thought I fixed that."

"You fixed it?" Luke forced an apologetic smile. "That explains a lot."

"Hey." Leia went to inspect the vent. She gave it a good slam with her right fist, and the sputtering resolved itself instantly. When she turned around, for a moment she reminded Luke of the woman he’d seen striking at him. The lights behind her were effulgent, made her tunic appear as though it were an aura all its own, and beneath she was made of fragile flesh and bone. All that was missing was a lightsaber. Instead the data reader waved above him like a boxed trinket. "I have something for you." She pressed it into his hand. "Go ahead. Turn it on and check the display screen."

Cautiously, Luke took it and found he was viewing one of the holos she’d printed off on Baskarn. It had been out on the gaming table the day he’d discovered the truth about Niras. Niras was next to Palpatine; children were waiting to offer them flowers. A third man was just to the left of the Emperor’s shoulder.

"I scanned it in," she explained matter-of-factly, "so that we could enlarge it and see him better. You’ve always wondered what he looked like."

See who, Luke thought, but Leia tapped her finger on the corner and the display screen zoomed in on one man. The similarities should have been obvious, the intensity. He should have seen it. Perhaps his own familiarity had blinded him, as though he’d stared at a reflection in a mirror so long the image had blurred over, or he no longer recognized himself. Anakin Skywalker’s eyes were defiant, almost condescending.

"You look like him a little ... but not as ... hard. He looks so hard."

Luke was suddenly trying to picture those fine features, the tanned skin, scarred and burned beyond recognition, the heavy mane of thick sun-dusted hair gone. He shuddered to imagine a person so physically disabled and destroyed that he existed only as a shell within a suit, dependant on life support and ventilators, a technological marvel.

She said, "When I look at him there I know he made his choices long before he became who he was. If he went to Yashuvhu with Palpatine than he knew what he was doing. He was already on that path."

He nodded mutely, too stunned to say anything.

"And I can’t help but wonder what terrible things could have happened to him to make him become the person he did? I wonder if he could have known what he was to become."

"I don’t know," he whispered, feeling sick inside, searching the corners of the crew cabin for a distraction so he didn’t have to look at her directly. For when his imagination wasn’t lodged in the past, it was reliving those moments under the influence of Kadann’s tea. He wasn’t sure if he’d had a waking nightmare, or if his own subconscious had acted in a psychosomatic fashion, creating what he saw by virtue of free association. The Emperor was dead. He’d seen him die. He would never tell her what he’d seen and heard but there was more to it. He stopped looking away. Words came to him, wraithlike, coiling inside his throat, waiting to be set free. "Is it true that he’s responsible for your miscarriage?"

Leia’s expression was plaintively wounded. "Did Han tell you that?"

"No."

"Then who —"

Shame cramped his breathing. He wasn’t sure what had made him say that. It wasn’t any of his business, honestly. He reached for her shoulder. "I’m sorry if I’m intruding. Leia — he knew. Kadann knew. I don’t know how. Han didn’t say anything."

"How could he know that?" Her voice was threadbare.

Then it was true. "The same way he knows everything he does. I’m sorry. You could have told me."

"I would have eventually." She closed her eyes and added, "I still had traces of Xebonica and Loquasin in my system."

"Standard Imperial narco-interrogation drugs."

"They have — or had long-term side effects. I’m okay now." Leia picked up the helmet. Then she began inspecting the inner padding and the broken blast shield. By the time her careful perusal revealed to her that the hinges of the blast shield had been torn off, she looked as though they’d been discussing nothing more than what to eat for dinner. "I came in here to tell you something else, you know."

Luke turned the datapad over. "All right."

"You asked me on our way to Baskarn if I would think about training you. Since then ..." She breathed deeply. "I’ve come to a decision. It’s yes — if you’ll still have me."

"You will?" The skepticism was there. He couldn’t hide it. She’d reluctantly agreed to it down on Baskarn — she’d been pregnant and scared and desperate. "Why the change of heart?"

"I’ve come to see it’s going to have its place in my life." She shrugged casually. "You were right with what you said on the Razion’s Edge. For millennia the Jedi served as diplomats and peacemakers. That is what I am. And there will be those who will seek to exploit my potential. I have to protect myself and those around me."

"Yes, you do."

"Of course, this doesn’t mean full time. My work is most important to me —"

Luke held up his hands. "Agreed." They would work around her schedule, when he was on Coruscant, when they had time together. Still ... there was more too this than she was saying. "I think something else is going on."

"There’s nothing going on."

No, there was something else, and he’d been sensing it since the other night. "You’ve been brimming over with some kind of sugar-juice high for two days. Don’t think I can’t sense that."

Her eyes were widening. "You can’t possibly sense that."

"As you said, we’re confined to a ship — I’d like good news if you have any."

Leia ducked out from beneath the upper bunk, grinning, beaming crazily. "I guess I’m not going to be able to hide it from you. First, you have to promise not to say anything."

He waved at the empty quarters. "We’re in hyperspace. To who?"

"Anyone at all, once we get back. No holo-journalists, not Wedge Antilles or Lando Calrissian ... no one."

"Because the first thing I usually do whenever you tell me anything is run to press?"

"No. But ... Han and I are getting married when he gets back from his next assignment."

"That’s wonderful!" Luke straightened and embraced her tightly. "I knew it! I knew it!" He drew away and clasped her hand between his. Emotions tumbled between words. "He’s good for you, you know. Although ... in the long of it you’re probably better for him."

"Don’t forget to remind him of that."

"I won’t."

"Oh, and I almost forgot. The duuvhal?"

"What about it?"

"Well ..." Leia tugged her hand free and headed for the door. "It’s just that Han thinks he has some sort of magic talent or newly found telepathy with animals and it’s just damn irritating to listen to him go on about it. He keeps saying he was thinking at it, You take the big one, I’ll take the little one, at it. You said it was the Wookiee hairs, right? They rescued it from a Kuati circus?"

For the first time in two days, Luke heard himself laugh. "Oh, he’s delusional all right."

"You’re sure?"

Luke followed her. "As my very first engagement gift, how about I go tell him that myself."


To Chapter Twenty-Three | To the Conclusion

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