"This is the last time I run errands for Luke," Leia told Threepio.
Leia gazed tiredly around at what little of Dagobah she could see through the mist and dropped the only box of emergency supplies she'd managed to rescue from her sinking shuttle. She sighed dejectedly at the quiet communications link in C-3PO's hand. All of her attempts to contact the Alliance cruiser currently in orbit had been met with only static or silence.
Leia shook her head and looked miserably back at her half-submerged shuttle. Freeing it would be impossible.
"How did Luke talk me into this anyway?"
"If I may say, your Highness," Threepio began, "he argued that as a starfighter pilot, he needed to help protect the transports fleeing Hoth. Then you said it would be not be inconvenient for you to find this Jedi Master for him."
Leia sighed again as the droid babbled on in reply to her rhetorical question.
She knew that Threepio might need to translate for her and she could tolerate him for now. It could be worse; she could have come on the Falcon. Han would have hated this.
Leia suddenly sat up straight and her eyes scanned the dim swamp carefully.
"Princess? I say, are you well?"
"Yes, I feel..."
"You feel what?" a gravelly voice asked.
"Oh goodness!" Threepio threw up his golden arms in surprise and teetered back and forth on the rough ground.
Leia contained her startled reaction as she had been trained to do as a diplomat and slowly turned around. A wizened creature with wide eyes looked up at her from his perch on a root just out of arm's reach. Leia took this to be a good sign that the stranger did not feel threatened by her nor was he inclined to be aggressive that she had invaded the swamp.
"Greetings," she said pleasantly, "My name is Leia. I'm pleased to meet you."
The creature nodded his head slightly, but did not give his name. Leia was not offended. In many places across the galaxy it was the custom of people not to give their name until the stranger had proven worthy, friendly, or acceptable.
"I am wondering, why are you here?" he asked.
Leia was ready for that question and glad of a chance to present herself. "I am searching for a wise person, someone who may have come here a long time ago." She carefully tried to describe the Jedi Master she'd never seen. However, she didn't say she was searching for a Jedi; he was certainly in hiding here and the natives would not necessarily know what he was.
As she spoke, the small creature hobbled over to her supply cases and began to rummage through them. Leia ignored his behavior. Diplomacy called for tolerance of your host's actions. Threepio moaned about the mess the stranger made.
He took a small lamp. "This is mine!"
"You are welcome to it with my compliments." Leia graciously acted as though she'd offered it as a gift to him.
"Help you I can. Wise one you seek? Yoda perhaps?"
"Yes! That is his name!" Leia smiled.
"Ahaha. Take you to him I can, but first - eat. Come, good food. Come!"
He darted away rather quickly considering he used a cane and Leia silently rose to follow. Threepio whined from the camp. "Mistress, don't leave me!"
"You will be fine Threepio, I'll see you again soon."
The creature's miniature house was a little uncomfortable for Leia to crawl into, but she merely reminded herself of her childhood playhouses. He brought her a steaming bowl of a stew that smelled revolting and tasted worse, but Leia ate it without a single grimace. He never spoke of Yoda while they ate, so Leia did not either.
"Thank you for inviting me to your home and offering such a generous meal." Leia bowed her head slightly.
Her host smiled graciously. Now that the meal was done, Leia knew it was proper to discuss her purpose for being here. She waited for him to begin first sensing that it was likely a local custom for the host to initiate the discussion. To find a recognizable form of protocol in the middle of this dank swamp made Leia feel oddly comfortable.
"Why you seek Yoda?"
"My friend is looking for him. But, he needs to help some people right now and asked me to come find Yoda for him."
He amended his question, "Why does your friend seek Yoda?"
Leia began to realize that this person not only knew Yoda, but knew that Yoda was in hiding - and was protecting him from her. Leia's estimation of this little person went up. "He would like to be Yoda's student."
"Ah! Learn to be a Jedi he wishes! Come himself, he should have! Rather teach you, I would."
Leia was speechless and her eyebrows went up in shock. Here was the great Jedi
Master Luke had spoken of, right in front of her. It took another second before the rest of what he said sunk in.
"Teach me? No, my friend is the one who needs your instruction." Leia tried to explain. "I have a ship in orbit, I can take you to -"
"Come to me he must."
Leia's face was rather stony, but she couldn't quite bring herself to be rude to a Jedi Master or argue with him. As a child, Leia had heard little about the Jedi, but her father had always spoken of them with awe and a little fear. "Very well, I'll tell him. Thank you again for your hospitality, Yoda."
Leia crawled outside of the hut and irritably brushed the dirt off her trousers.
Yoda followed her.
"Be a Jedi you could," he insisted.
Leia paused, "I have responsibilities. I simply cannot."
"Do you always quit before you begin?"
Leia grit her teeth and vowed to tell Luke exactly how she felt about this mess he'd dumped on her as loudly as she could. Not trusting herself to reply civilly, she stomped back to her camp.
"Threepio!" she called out when she saw lights. It was beginning to grow darker in the swamp.
"Oh, your Highness, I'm so glad you have returned safely. I -"
"Is the Com working now?" she interrupted.
"Intermittently," the droid answered. "The interference is lessening. I estimate another half an hour until we have a clear channel."
"Good." Leia turned to reach for one of the lamps Threepio had set up and almost stepped on Yoda.
"Will you just leave me alone?" Leia finally snapped.
Yoda was unperturbed that he had nearly been squashed, "Not even know what a Jedi is, do you?"
He was right, but Leia wasn't about to admit it. "I've seen what Luke can do, and although I never met General Kenobi, I've heard much about him from Luke," she evaded. "If I could do those things, I'm sure I'd know it already."
"So sure you are always right. Arrogant, stubborn, prideful you are!"
"I didn't ask for your opinion." Leia glared down at him.
Yoda cocked his head, "Control your emotions you can. But not well enough."
"I can very well when I need to, and right now I don't!" Leia crossed her arms and briefly toyed with the idea of shoving him out of her way. However, common sense prevailed. From the few times she'd seen Luke move objects or jump impossibly high with the Force, she knew she had no chance of getting rid of a master. Leia checked her chrono and reminded herself that she just had to tolerate this for a little while longer.
"Good, good," Yoda suddenly murmured in a pleased tone.
Leia blinked in confusion, "What?"
"Angry and insulted you were. Useless such feelings are, you knew, so calmer you became."
Sighing, Leia rubbed her temples. "Yes, well, my father always said that staying angry doesn't solve anything and just gives you a headache."
"Sensible, but not easy." Yoda sat on a tree root. "Humph."
Leia nodded, "It's vital when dealing with sand brained senators and annoying
Jedi Masters, it would seem."
Yoda smiled at her for a moment and then grew serious. "Only a Jedi can defeat
Vader and the Emperor."
"Mistress Leia!" Threepio exclaimed. "I have a clear signal the captain now."
He stumbled on the swamp floor trying to bring her the comlink.
Leia looked at Yoda gravely, and then glanced back at the droid. "Tell the captain to wait for a moment."
"Oh dear," Threepio moaned, and began chattering into the link.
Leia's mouth formed a thin line as she thought. "Yoda," she began. "The Alliance needs my leadership. I have an obligation to them. I can't just..." Leia sighed in exasperation.
Yoda sighed as well. Gone was the energetic act he'd put on before she knew who he was. He looked tired and so very old. Leia couldn't help noticing the way he winced as he stood back up. His small hands were so gnarled and stiff that even with both hands he was hardly holding his cane.
Luke had told her that he suspected Yoda was the last Jedi in the galaxy.
"Threepio, tell the captain to send down another shuttle." Leia rubbed her eyes.
"Splendid! I will be so glad to leave this swamp."
"No, Threepio." Leia looked back at Yoda again. "Tell him to send extra rations. I'm going to investigate another method of fighting the Empire."
Luke rolled his X-Wing sharply as he covered the transports fleeing Hoth. He and his squad were keeping the Imperials off as best they could, but he knew they'd have to leave soon. Those Star Destroyers were getting closer.
Luke was glad that at least he knew Leia was safe. Her transport had successfully escaped shortly after he'd hit space. He'd seen to it personally.
The fighting was getting worse and Luke frowned when the call came for everyone left to jump to lightspeed. He hadn't seen the Millennium Falcon yet and he couldn't leave if Han and Chewie were still down on Hoth.
The last ships were just beginning to jump when Artoo whistled excitedly. The screen in front of Luke displayed the droid's message that Artoo had picked up the Millennium Falcon. Luke sighed in relief, but then stared.
"What does he -" Luke murmured, but then stopped, speechless as he watched the Falcon fly insanely between the Star Destroyers. Darting and twisting to avoid a herd of TIE-fighters, the Falcon began to skim one of the Star Destroyers.
"Han, what's wrong?" Luke hoped that the Imperials hadn't yet cracked the
comlink frequency he chose. Instead of following the Alliance transports into hyperspace, he moved in to pick the fighters off the Millennium Falcon.
"Hyperdrive," came Han's terse voice. "Chewie's working on it."
Relieved that they just needed a little time, he turned to give them more cover. Then, to Luke's astonishment, the Destroyers ceased firing and the TIEs began to ignore the Falcon. Luke swerved and dived crazily as they came after his X-Wing. At least a dozen TIEs were in range, yet half of them were not even firing. They were herding him towards the underside of the nearest Destroyer.
"Kid," Han spoke again. "I think they are -"
"I know," Luke answered, "get ready to run, Artoo!" The TIEs were only aiming to disable his X-Wing. They were trying to force him in the Destroyer's tractor beam range. "Get going, Han! The other side of Hoth or something! I'll lead them away."
Han and Chewbacca sped into a nearby asteroid field unnoticed while Luke drew the Imperials in the opposite direction. Artoo gave Luke the all clear signal and once he was sure the TIEs were intent only on him, Luke made a short hyperspace hop and hoped the Star Destroyers would try to follow his general direction.
Waiting for the computer to calculate a return jump was nerve racking. After he couldn't stand to remain any longer, Luke jumped back into the Hoth system. He knew that if the Imperials didn't fall for the trick, they'd still be there ready to grab him --or worse, with the Millennium Falcon either caught or destroyed.
However, the space was clear and Luke smiled. Han's ship was limping out from hiding in the asteroids.
"That's one I owe you, Kid."
Luke smiled and shook his head as Han's voice and Chewbacca's gleeful howls came scratchily over the Com. Since destroying the Death Star, Luke had become somewhat accustomed to being hailed a hero even when he didn't feel he had done anything heroic himself. However, coming from Han it was different. His best friend rarely gave out praise of any kind.
"You and Chewie would have found a way to escape those Star Destroyers without-"
Han interrupted Luke's protest. "Maybe, maybe not. At the very best, my ship would have been smashed up badly. You saved our necks out there. I mean it,
Luke didn't often hear Han say his name. Usually, he was called the Kid or something equally juvenile. Much like the way Luke had imagined an older brother would be like. Han only called him Luke when something was very serious and it took a lot to qualify as serious for Han.
"Chewie says the hyperdrive is a mess," Han continued.
"Can you fix it?" Luke asked.
More howls came over the Com. "No," Han translated. "Some parts melted in a small fire."
Han and Luke listened as Chewie loudly began to explain in detail what was wrong with the hyperdrive and just how he felt about it.
"Okay, okay!" Han tried to calm the Wookiee down.
"Should I run ahead and buy some parts for you?" Luke offered.
"No, no," Han said grumpily, not liking that idea. "Hey!" he exclaimed suddenly. "Lando."
Chewie began to yell again, drowning out Luke's question of who or what Lando was.
"I've got an ol' buddy, over in the Bespin system," Han said. "Lando Calrissian.
A gambler, con artist, scoundrel -"
"A lot like you." Luke couldn't help pointing out.
"Yeah," Han actually agreed. "Except he's really flashy about it whereas I -"
"A mining colony," Luke noted absently, interrupting Han while looking at the information Han was sending him, "It is rather far without lightspeed."
"Nah, we can make it," Han said confidently. "Lando and I go way back," he reassured Luke.
Chewbacca began bellowing again, but this time Luke caught what he was saying before Han could interrupt. Luke didn't like what he was hearing about Han and Lando's last meeting.
"Han, if Chewie thinks this is a bad idea, then it probably is."
"No," Han argued. "Chewie's exaggerating. Lando wasn't that angry."
"If Lando still feels like you betrayed him-" Luke began and then winced as Chewbacca howled even louder.
Han sighed. "Fine! I'll talk to Lando before we get there and I'll even apologize if I have to. Get a coded transmission ready, Chewie."
"Can you trust Lando?" Luke asked.
"No. But I know he hates the Empire," Han said. He then addressed his co-pilot.
"Lay in the course."
Luke sighed; the discussion was over.
Leia collapsed to the slimy swamp floor in a heap. She'd thought that she was in good physical shape, but not by Yoda's standards it would seem. She gulped water from her canteen greedily.
Yoda had taken to lecturing during her daily obstacle course run through the swamp. To Leia, his words all blurred together and she hardly remembered what he said. It was not a good way for her to learn.
Leaning her head against a tree, Leia wished she had an audio recorder to preserve everything that Yoda told her. It was one of the many things Leia wished she'd told the captain to leave with her. Like a portable shower. She didn't even bother to pluck the bits of leaves and roots out of her hair bun.
As her shuttle was half submerged in the swamp, the captain had decided to return in three weeks to check on her. Yoda hadn't liked that, but it was the best he could get. The captain hadn't wanted to leave at all, but rather stay in orbit where he could help the princess with anything she wanted.
Leia groaned as her leg muscles protested when she shifted them ever so slightly. She reached into her trouser pocket for a small package of painkillers.
"No!" Yoda ordered.
Leia froze with the pain medicine halfway to her mouth and stared at him.
"With the Force you will control the pain."
Leia's jaw dropped, but she recovered herself. "Though it sounds like a very useful skill, I haven't managed to use the Force once yet. I need this medicine right now."
"No," Yoda insisted.
"It has been three days!" Leia argued. "I won't be able to do anything for the rest of the day without this."
She continued bringing the medicine to her mouth when Yoda snatched it from her with the Force. He crushed the little thing to powder in his fingers. Leia's eyes went wide and she grasped the remaining package tightly.
It became a tug of war. Leia strained to hold the pain medication, while Yoda used the Force to pull it from her. Slowly, he removed each of her fingers away from it until she finally lost it. Leia lurched to grab it back, but missed as Yoda levitated it out of her reach.
For half a second Leia thought she'd lost it. Her whole body was in agony from her mad grab at the package. She wanted, needed some relief so badly. She knew that she had already badly strained herself and that she'd be completely unable to train long before learning to use the Force.
The package stopped moving.
It hovered in mid air between Yoda and Leia's outstretched hands. She held her breath and stared hard at the medicine. It twitched toward her slightly. Leia grinned in triumph as she realized that she was holding it in the air with the
That moment of delight broke her concentration and the package swiftly flew to
Yoda. Leia's pleased expression became a glare.
"That was completely unnecessary!" Leia argued in exasperation.
"Always so sure you know best! Wrong you are!"
"Master Yoda, please be reasonable." Leia eyed the as yet, undamaged medication. "You've said that Jedi can learn to levitate. Yet, there is nothing wrong with flying a ship or just walking as well!"
Yoda humphed and looked ready to crush the little box.
"Surely, this is the same." Leia argued quickly. "Even if I do learn to use the
Force for controlling pain, wouldn't using conventional medicine also be permitted?"
For a moment Yoda looked as if he would argue with her, so Leia continued quickly:
"I'm not refusing to learn to use the Force for this. I just know that currently
I'm not ready, and won't be for some time. Time that could be spent learning other skills, but I'd need that." She pointed at the box.
Yoda looked contemplative and narrowed his eyes at her. Then his expression took on the lecturing look and Leia knew that her cajoling had failed.
"Focus completely on this you did." Yoda held up the medicine. "So, the Force you used. Use it again you can to control your pain."
The little box disintegrated and Leia choked on a snarl of fury.
Yoda began to amble back towards his little hut. "When calm you are, the lesson for controlling pain will begin."
A few days later
"No, no, no!"
Leia gritted her teeth in indignation and refused to look at her teacher. Yoda sighed very loudly. The lessons on how to use a lightsaber weren't going well. They were going so badly that Leia wasn't allowed to even use one.
"Pick it up," he told her.
Wiping sweat from her brow, Leia bent down to retrieve her wooden stick that had been knocked from her hands by the small stone Yoda had told her to hit.
"No!" Yoda exclaimed again. "With the Force."
Leia was too tired to think of a retort, but not enough to prevent her from growling under her breath. However, she knew that getting angry would only cause more trouble. Calming herself, she held out one hand.
She'd discovered that closing her eyes seemed to help when emotions like anger or fear were threatening to overwhelm her. Somehow, shutting out the mass of noise and chaos around her became easier if she couldn't see.
It would be absolutely foolhardy in battle, but Yoda had assured her that in time she would be able to concentrate on the Force at will. Breathing deeply,
Leia finally felt the cool sensation of the Force, as if everything around her had gone very still. Then the piece of wood came into focus.
It leapt to her hand at once and Leia turned slightly so that Yoda wouldn't be able to see her smile. Levitating anything was still a novelty to her and she didn't want her annoying teacher to spoil the only thing she could do right.
"Hold it up! No time for daydreaming!" Yoda banged his cane on a log to get her attention.
Leia looked down at him suspiciously. "You do have a lightsaber for me to train with later, don't you?"
Yoda frowned at her, "Use a real one you will when ready you are."
"That's what you said yesterday. I want a real answer." Leia raised one eyebrow.
Yoda squinted his eyes at her. "Do not see one, so think none exists, do you, eh?"
Leia cleared her throat and crossed her arms, letting the stick dangle from one hand. Leia had not seen a single machine in his hut or anywhere else she had gone in the swamp. The only machines on the planet appeared to be the ones she had brought with her.
"If you had given me a straight answer the first time I would not be arguing with you now." She raised both eyebrows and gave him her best stare of authority.
Yoda suddenly looked very amused. It was the only warning Leia had as several large clods of mud rose into the air. She wrenched her crossed arms apart and spun. Ducking under the first blob, Leia smashed the second with the stick. It splattered all over her, but she didn't let that distract her. Darting to one side, Leia successfully dodged two more mud clods and swung hard to strike them from behind after they passed her.
The last ball of mud came straight at her face. Leia sensed it before she saw it. Flinging the stick up to block it would do no good; instead Leia pushed it back with the Force and sent the mud careening into Yoda.
At first, Leia just blinked in surprise as mud dribbled down Yoda's face. Yoda should have easily stopped it, but instead he looked rather startled. Eyes widening, Leia couldn't contain a shriek of laughter. After the frustration and near constant failure through out the entire day, Leia couldn't help collapsing to the swamp floor giggling madly.
Yoda wiped the slimy mess from his face in disgust. Leia wheezed as she finally managed to reduce her laughter to an occasional unladylike snicker.
"Enough for today," Yoda decided. "Come, time to eat."
Leia's smile vanished and she suddenly pointed her muddy stick straight at Yoda.
"Oh, no you don't! You still haven't answered my question!"
Leia shook her stick at him like a mother would shake her finger, "Do you have a lightsaber or not?"
"What lightsaber?" Yoda answered.
"Don't you give me that!" Leia was getting angry again. "I want a yes or no answer."
Leia thought about that for a moment, "'Yes, there is' or 'yes but I'll never get to use it'?"
Leia bit back a scream and was tempted to hurl her stick at him. But that wouldn't do any good; he'd just catch it this time. Finally, Leia let her anger drain away and gave him a very cold look.
"Luke told me that General Kenobi had him practice with a lightsaber immediately," Leia said stiffly. "Now, I am aware that swordsmanship is not one of my strong points. I discovered that years ago during my self-defense lessons. However, - "
"Have you swing sticks for a reason I do," Yoda interrupted her.
Leia silently agreed that this did make sense. He wouldn't teach her how to deflect objects like this unless he intended her to eventually do the same with a real lightsaber. However, it irked her that he was still being so evasive. "I have more important things to do than play word games."
Yoda sighed, "A lightsaber I will give you when you are ready."
He turned and began to amble away through the trees, and Leia knew that this was the best answer she would get.
Cloud City, Bespin
"Hey there you old pirate, so good to see you!"
Luke grinned in relief at the warm welcome they were getting. Or rather, Han and Chewie were getting. Luke didn't know what Han and Chewie had said in their message to Lando, but it appeared to have worked. Lando Calrissian was genuinely pleased to see his old friends again. He clapped Chewie on the back and the Wookiee growled back happily.
Rounding on Han again, Lando gave him a light punch in the shoulder. "Are you going to just love the casinos or what? My favorite is just like the one we were thrown out of on -"
Luke cleared his throat loudly.
Finally, Lando noticed him. "Ah, teaching the fine art of smuggling, Han?" He grinned broadly at Luke.
Luke tried not to bristle when Han laughed, "Nah, this kid's only got a nose for trouble. Though he does have a knack for breaking and entering."
"I'm Luke Skywalker. I only came to make sure these two arrived in one piece. Leia would be furious if I'd let Han get vaporized."
"Only because she didn't get to vaporize me herself," Han shot back grumpily.
Lando didn't appear to hear them. His eyebrows were raised in surprise and silently repeated Luke's words 'make sure these two arrived in one piece' before turning back to Han.
"What have you done to my ship?!" he accused.
"Your ship?! Ha, you wish!" Han scoffed. "Its nothing. The hyperdrive is wrecked, that's all."
Chewbacca began to loudly tell Lando what was wrong with the Millennium Falcon. Lando waved it away as nothing. They turned around to walk to the door into Cloud City, but Luke didn't follow them.
"See you at the rendezvous, Chewie and Han," Luke called to them and began to head back to his ship and Artoo.
"Sure, see you there," Han answered, while Chewie waved.
Lando spun around and looked at the X-wing sitting on the platform and at Luke in his bedraggled flight suit. "No, no! You must stay." Lando persisted. "I owe you for escorting my ship safely here!"
Han snorted behind him, but Lando ignored Han. Luke looked uncertain.
"And I always pay my debts. I insist." Lando gave another large smile.
Chewie was now bellowing for him to stay and Han said, "Ah, come on, Kid."
Luke looked at his cramped X-wing and then turned back to the gleaming city. It wasn't a difficult decision and besides it would only be for a few days. The Alliance would manage just fine without him for a little while.
"I suppose I could stay." Luke tried not to sound too happy to be invited. "Come on, Artoo," he said as a couple of deck hands began to lower the droid from the X-wing.
"That's the spirit!" Lando exclaimed. "I'll give you a grand tour and, I'm not boasting when I say this -"
"Yeah, right," Han muttered.
" - my city has the best casinos and dancing girls that you will ever see in the galaxy!" Lando finished in a conspiratorial whisper.
Leia gasped for air as she jogged through the thick vines. She hadn't thought it possible, but Yoda had managed to put her through an even more grueling run today than ever before. His weight in the backpack, which had seemed so light when they started, had become a rib-crushing load that threatened to send her to the ground.
Suddenly, a flash of something in the air caught her eye. At once, Leia withdrew her lightsaber from her belt, activated it, and sliced a small bar in half. She stopped and panted heavily as the two pieces of the bar hit the dirt.
Elation coursed through Leia. It was the first time she'd managed to hit it.
Leia had hoped that her speed and precise aim would help, but her years of training to hone her marksmanship to an instinctive response caused her only trouble. For more than a week, Leia had been able to sense or see an object coming in plenty of time, but would automatically raise her arm to shoot it. She always remembered too late that she was holding a lightsaber and was too slow in changing her position to strike the object in time.
"Seven pieces it would be, if fully trained you were," Yoda informed her. He looked down at the remains of the stick he had thrown.
Leia's delight at finally succeeding evaporated and she thumbed the yellow saber off. In agony, she sat down and wrenched the backpack off. Yoda jumped away before she could topple him out of it.
"Finished we are not," Yoda said.
Finally catching her breath enough to speak Leia looked at him. "Yes, we are finished."
Yoda humphed at her indignantly.
"And you can stop nagging me about the bars! I know a Jedi could slice it in seven pieces, you've told me enough times already!"
Leia looked down at the old and battered lightsaber in her hand. She didn't know who it had belonged to, it wasn't Yoda's weapon because of the five finger grooves, and she had sensed that it would be better not to ask. After the first day, Leia had silently agreed with Yoda's assessment of her lightsaber skills. She could use a blaster better than Luke even despite his Force enhanced speed she now understood he had, but a lightsaber would be more use to Leia as a club.
Yoda had finally given it to her four days ago, declaring that he didn't feel she was truly ready for a lightsaber, but she ought to start as soon as possible. Yoda had refused to explain his sudden change of mind. Leia didn't understand why she felt sure that her attempts to persuade him were not the cause or why she felt certain something was wrong. The feeling was growing worse.
"What is bothering you?" Leia asked Yoda.
"Calm I am," he stated serenely and closed his eyes.
"No, you aren't."
Yoda looked at her suspiciously and then relaxed into a meditative repose projecting absolute serenity. Leia concentrated hard on him. Yoda's expression gave nothing away.
"You aren't calm," Leia repeated. "You are concerned about something and trying to hide it."
"Good!" Yoda grinned widely. "Blocking you, yet see through it you did."
Leia beamed at the praise and the wave of delight she sensed from Yoda. "I sensed you. I've been sensing you for days!" Leia said in awe.
"I don't think failure has ever irritated me so much as since I came here and I haven't been able to understand why. I've been feeling your frustration in combination with my own, haven't I?"
Yoda nodded. "Unusually perceptive, you are. Reach out. Feel."
An awful chill suddenly coursed through Leia's body. It seemed to seep into her very bones and flow through her veins. She shivered as her tongue went momentarily numb and wrapped her arms around herself.
Yoda began to poke at the dirt with his gimer stick, not looking at her. Leia gazed around for the source of the strange feeling. The mist parted to reveal in the distance a huge, tangled tree, its blackened bark oddly dry and crumbling despite the heavy fog. Walking closer, Leia the gigantic roots had grown around the opening to a cave.
"What is that?" she asked hoarsely to Yoda, who had followed her.
"The Dark Side of the Force, you feel. Into the cave you must go."
Leia gazed apprehensively at the mouth of the cave. It looked even more damp and slimy than the swamp around her. "Why do I need to go in there?"
"To know yourself."
Leia was startled and a bit insulted. Was Yoda suggesting she didn't know who she was? Or perhaps that she had lost her mind and somehow climbing down in that hole would return her to sanity?
"Could we do this another time? I'm exhausted and I doubt I'd be able to climb back out of there."
Yoda gave a grunt of displeasure. "Argue no more! Do this you must."
Leia walked closer to the tree. She wrinkled her nose as a dank smell of decay reached her. It wasn't the worst stench she'd experienced, that was the garbage compactor on the Death Star, but it was barely tolerable just the same.
Pinching her nose, she looked back at Yoda and said nasally, "It's disgusting."
Yoda glared at her and stamped his cane on the ground a few times in frustration.
"Fine, fine," Leia grumbled. She took only two paces when Yoda spoke again.
"Your weapon, you will not need it."
For a moment, Leia just blinked at him. Then she remembered that she still had the old lightsaber in her other hand. Shrugging, she tossed it to Yoda. At this point Leia knew that she'd be more likely to slice off her own leg than successfully defend herself with a lightsaber.
Leia was certain that Yoda wouldn't send her into real danger without a weapon, so the cave must have some other purpose. Turning around, she missed seeing Yoda's shocked face when she actually didn't argue with him, but had obeyed this time.
Taking a deep breath and holding her nose firmly, Leia cautiously climbed into the hole. It was extremely dark and the poor light from the entrance seemed to be absorbed at once. The air was thick with moisture and Leia choked on it. It was like trying to breath water.
Splashing through puddles, she continued forward with her arm outstretched and hoped she wouldn't have to touch too many slimy things. Leia's eyes adjusted slowly and she ducked to avoid roots and creatures hanging in them.
"This is stupid," Leia grumbled and plucked out a large spider she could feel crawling through her hair.
A dim light suddenly appeared ahead of her and Leia scrambled toward it. Sounds reached her now, footsteps, and yelling. Odd clashing noises and weird sparks as well. As she came around the corner, she saw two battling figures.
Both were cloaked in black. In the dim light Leia couldn't see their faces at all. Their lightsabers crashed against each other, one blue and the other red, sparking and screeching. She watched, mesmerized for a moment before she realized that the figure holding the blue saber was losing. With a great shove from the other opponent, the blue saber flew away and landed at her feet.
For a second, Leia stared in shock as the figure holding the red lightsaber began to swing it down on the loser prone on the floor. He was about to murder the other person. Outraged and not thinking, she snatched up the lightsaber on the floor and flung herself forward. Before the red saber could strike, Leia had cleaved the victor in half.
Leia gasped for breath and was momentarily grateful that the darkness hid the grotesque halves. She turned around to see who she had saved and only just ducked in time. The loser was attempting to cut off her head with the red lightsaber he had retrieved from the dead body.
Horrified, Leia stumbled back. Had she killed the wrong person? She had assumed that the one holding the red saber was evil. After all, he had nearly killed the other. Why would the person she'd saved want to kill her?
Her opponent slashed at her again and Leia barely blocked it. She didn't know how to duel properly yet and could only continue to retreat. However, she'd forgotten about the body and tripped over it. Sprawled on the wet ground, Leia stared up at her attacker in terror. She didn't have any useful weapons, no blaster, no vibro-knife, nothing but a fancy glowing blade.
Then Leia didn't have the lightsaber anymore, either. Her opponent swung hard and knocked it out of her hand. It skidded across the floor and vanished into the dark. The figure pointed his blade at her throat.
A feeling of absurdity washed over Leia. This was ridiculous, cowering like this just because she wasn't good at using a lightsaber. She'd always managed to win without one before and a few times had escaped danger even without a blaster. Leia began to wonder why she'd bothered to try to duel with the saber at all.
Leia's courage returned and the fear vanished. She closed her eyes and envisioned her attacker floating high in the air pushing outward with the Force with all her might. If she could just move him back so he could not reach her, she would be safe. If he was foolish enough to throw his lightsaber at her... well, she would just catch it with the Force. When Leia opened her eyes again it was dark. Both figures were gone and so were the lightsabers.
Leia sat in the mud for a long time before leaving the cave.
Lando had been true to his word and had treated Han, Chewbacca, and Luke to the best Cloud City had to offer. The evening had been spectacular, during dinner they had been forced to listen through dinner while Lando had described in excruciating detail how difficult and irritating city administration was. But he more than made up for it at the casinos.
Lando had even given them the three best suites in the city, but they hardly noticed. It was dawn by the time they crashed into their beds. Even Chewie was exhausted, despite Han and Lando's claims that Chewie had once partied for two days straight without sleeping.
They had needed a chance to have some fun. The stress of hiding and then fleeing from Hoth had been terrible. A chance to forget about it all for a little while had been wonderful.
It wasn't to last.
The door to Han Solo's rooms opened and booted feet clunked across the floor. A loud bang startled Han causing him to fall out of bed. He grabbed his blaster from under his pillow and rolled into a crouch.
Han tensed as he finally began to wake up. Blearily, the door came into focus and he spared a quick look at the draped windows that shut out the mid-day sun.
The banging repeated loudly outside his bedroom door and finally stopped when it the intruders managed to force the lock and slide the door open.
Instantly, Han opened fire. He got off five shots before realizing he was wasting power. No one was in the doorway.
"Hey, Han!" Lando's voice bellowed.
"Yeah?" Han called back warily.
Lando's face peeked around the corner and then glanced behind himself at the blaster burns on the floor and far wall. "Good thing I remembered to stand back."
Han blinked at him and slowly lowered his weapon, but he didn't put it down.
"What are -" he began to mumble irritably.
Lando strode quickly into the room and interrupted, "There has been a problem.
Imperial ships are here."
"They haven't landed yet, but they'll get here soon," Lando said hurriedly. "I know that there is a price on your head -"
"The one on the Kid is even higher," Han said as he began to snatch up his belt and pull his boots on. "Have you woken Chewie?"
"No, I'm not suicidal." Lando gave him an askance look. "You can wake him, I'll get Luke."
Lando ran out of the room as Han finished collecting the few things he had bothered to take off the Falcon. Hastily pulling on his vest, he hurried next door to pull Chewbacca out of bed.
Minutes later, the four of them were racing down the corridors and arguing.
"We are going in the Falcon and that is final!" Han insisted fiercely as Lando began to lead them down a corridor away from the landing pads.
Han ground to a halt and hefted his blaster. Luke and Chewie slowed down to avoid running into him. With a roll of his eyes, Lando walked back to them.
"You'll never get past those Star Destroyers," Lando argued.
Chewbacca growled menacingly and Han scoffed, insulted. "We can get past anything in that ship and we out ran a pack of Star Destroyers only a few days ago. Without even a hyperdrive!"
Luke suddenly spoke up, "The hyperdrive is fixed, isn't it?" he said suspiciously.
"Of course it is! I had my people start on it at once, top priority."
"Then let's go." Han turned around.
Lando shook his head. "You just need to lie low until they leave."
"They won't leave," Luke told him. A distant look came over his grim face, "They are here for us. I can feel it."
Han gave him a disapproving look. "You don't need to get all mystical about it,
"If they are after you three, then they will know to grab the Falcon and the X-Wing!" Lando practically hissed and looked around the corner carefully.
"That's why we need to get there first!" Han turned and sped down the opposite hallway. Chewie followed at once, and after an apologetic look to his host,
Luke ran as well. Lando threw up his hands in exasperation before chasing after them.
"This isn't going to work," Lando grumbled as he caught up with the rebels.
Chewbacca was first to reach the doors leading to the Millennium Falcon. His long legs carried him much faster and further than the humans and droid behind him. He burst open the door with one shot from a huge blaster rifle he had earlier borrowed from one of Lando's guards. The instant the doors had begun to slide open blaster fire had come streaking through. Chewie spun and jumped back behind the corner just in time.
Storm troopers were already on the platform and had set up an ambush. Chewie held up one hairy arm and howled at his companions. Han skidded to a stop and
Luke threw himself against the wall to avoid a collision. Artoo and Lando brought up the rear.
Chewie returned fire around the corner and snarled. Han knelt on the floor and helped him carefully shooting only at the troopers lest a stray shot hit their ship. With his blaster ready, Luke watched the corridor ahead and behind them.
"I told you so." Lando's voice was barely audible over the battle.
Han completely ignored him and Lando shook his head in exasperation. Artoo was busy plugging himself into a nearby wall socket. Feeling useless and very angry, Lando did the only thing he could and called for reinforcements on his comlink.
The droid gave a high trill and squealed. He spun his domed head around to look at Luke.
"What is it?" Luke backed over to him to see the readout. "Han! They've already impounded our ships."
Han cursed loudly, "Then we'll just un-impound them!"
Chewie began howling viciously and firing even more at the storm troopers without trying to be careful anymore.
Lando turned to Luke, "This is taking too long. We'll never get the ships unlocked in time. The Imperials will just blast us on the platform. You must use a different ship!"
"You just want to keep my ship!" Han bellowed.
Han's scathing accusation was too much. Lando's eyes narrowed dangerously, "I don't know why I'm bothering -"
"Let's try something else." Luke interrupted. Han looked furiously at him, but
Luke held up a hand.
"No, I'm not completely agreeing with Lando, but he does have a point. When
Lando's guards get here, Chewie and I can go with them and cause a ruckus the next platform over.
Luke glanced around for a moment. "Artoo, pull up this floor's map, I'm sure there is a maintenance closet somewhere near here." he instructed the droid. "When those troops are called to deal with us," he gestured to Lando and to himself, "you and Artoo can get the Falcon unlocked."
Lando liked this idea and grinned broadly. "I can 'carelessly' inform my people on a less secure channel that we are trying a different route. That's certain to draw the Imperials to follow us."
"We'll slip back when Artoo signals us," Luke told him.
"Freeing the X-wing would take too much time." Lando looked at Luke apologetically.
"I know. I can leave it."
"I'll ask my people to try to keep it here if they can, so the Rebellion can retrieve it later," Lando promised.
He then looked back at Han. His old friend's face was stony. Abruptly, Han went back to shooting around the corner and for a moment it seemed like that was the only answer they'd get. However, he started talking quietly to Chewbacca.
Chewie growled lowly to Han for a moment and Han listened in between firing.
Han's voice was nearly drowned out by the noise. "We're at a stand off anyway." they heard him mutter to his co-pilot.
Finally, Han turned back to them, "Okay, where's this closet?"
Luke glanced ahead as another storm trooper dropped to the floor. The diversion and ambush Lando had set up worked brilliantly. One team of his guards along with Chewie were more than enough to distract them and a second team coming up from behind the storm troopers had neatly guaranteed victory.
"Hey, Lando," Luke yelled at him. "Have you ever considered joining the Rebellion?"
Lando gave him a half pleased, half incredulous look. "Is this how you conned
Han into it?"
"No." Luke laughed. The last trooper was down now and Lando's people began stationing themselves along the corridor.
"You'll have to ask Han how we recruited him." Luke hefted his blaster in a ready, but relaxed position. Glancing at the other man, Luke nodded when he noticed that Lando hadn't holstered his blaster either, but stayed alert.
"We need leaders like you, Lando. You are cool under fire, cautious after battle, you organized this ambush and directed your troops with excellent precision."
Lando appeared to be thinking about that. The guards ahead gave the all-clear signal and they carefully began retracing their path down the hallway to the ships. Just before they reached the last turn, they stopped to wait.
Lando's expression was of intense concentration. "I have a duty to this city-"
He was interrupted by Chewie's impatient growl. The huge Wookiee waved his massive arms in the direction of the platform doors between them and the ships.
"Yes, it is taking a while, but Han and Artoo will come through." Lando tried to placate him.
Chewbacca wasn't satisfied. He rumbled his agitation deep in his throat.
"We have to wait for Han's call," Luke insisted. "Going out now would only attract their attention too soon, and... finally!"
The comlink's light was flashing at last. Grinning with relief, Luke thumbed the activation switch. "Han, you sure took long enough."
"Greetings, young Skywalker."
Everyone became still and silent. Even Lando's guards knew that voice and that harsh breathing. Darth Vader.
Luke's throat constricted in horror and he stared at the small comlink. For a moment, Lando made to say something, but Chewie put up one hairy paw in warning. Vader didn't need to know who or how many people were with Luke.
Luke couldn't answer, but it seemed Vader wasn't really expecting a reply.
"A smuggler with a large price on his head has recently come into my possession.
Shall we discuss Solo's release in a better location?" Vader's question sounded more like a disturbingly polite demand.
The channel closed as Vader shut the connection. A tiny green light on Luke's comlink began to flash indicating that additional information had been transferred.
Chewie began to moan. Without a word, Luke walked past him to the nearest terminal and downloaded the file Vader had sent. It was a map with directions to the place where he wanted Luke to meet him. Lando was talking quietly with the guard captain, when Luke turned around.
"Find Artoo. He should have finished working on the Falcon by now," Luke instructed. The Imperials wouldn't have bothered to take a droid when they captured Han. "We'll need him."
Lando nodded to two of his guards and they sprinted off to the platform. "This is a trap," he said simply. "Vader will be ready for us to rescue Han."
"I know." Luke's knuckles went white as he griped his blaster tightly and stared down the corridor with a glare of absolute fury.
A nagging feeling began to bother Leia the moment she woke that morning. Yoda was gone elsewhere, no doubt planning something exhausting and possibly humiliating that he'd claim was more training. However, Leia was used to this and was just grateful that today she'd been allowed to wake up herself and prepare one of the new packaged meals the last Alliance ship had dropped off for her. Leia decided to blame the odd feeling on simply not being used to a relaxing morning anymore.
"OH!" Threepio wailed from nearby. He toddled into the clearing waving his arms. "Mistress Leia, I cannot go into swamp alone again! The monsters are too horrible!"
Leia sighed. Threepio whined about the creatures every day without fail and she was running out of ways to calm him down. A few of them actually had mistaken him for food and he became more frantic with every dent in his plating caused by their attacks.
"I want you to carry my blaster then," she told him.
"Oh, no! I couldn't possibly!"
"Here!" Leia stuck it in his hand. "I don't need it."
Disdainfully, Threepio held the weapon away from himself and groaned.
Leia ignored him and returned to her breakfast. The sense that something was very wrong was still there. Oddly, the feeling had nothing to do with the swamp itself. It seemed distant and too unfocused for Leia to determine what it was.
A low growl and sniff made her jerk to attention. Irritated that she'd let herself become distracted, Leia sprang backward.
"Oh, my! Oh, my!" Threepio covered his eyes in horror, completely forgetting about the blaster in his hand.
A large, lumbering animal covered in thick fur was scooting toward Leia. Or more precisely, toward her breakfast. Leia recognized it as one of the relatively harmless creatures. Using the Force, she levitated a bit of her food into the air up to the animal's head. Once she had its attention, she flung the food far into the swamp and the animal instantly chased after it.
"It's gone, Threepio," Leia reassured her droid.
Threepio was reluctant to uncover his eyes and lost his balance. Pitching backwards and wailing, the droid fell to the swamp floor and the blaster went off - firing directly at Leia.
"I have looked forward to meeting you, young Skywalker," Darth Vader said from above.
In the chamber Vader had chosen for their meeting, Luke spun around, slightly startled. He had not heard the dark lord approaching and had counted on Vader's mechanical breathing to warn him. Taking two steps back, Luke glared up the stairs.
For a minute, they each simply gazed at one another, each accessing his opponent. The carbon chamber was otherwise deserted. Luke was a little surprised; he'd expected to have to draw Vader away from a troop of guards. However, this would only make it easier to buy the time Lando and Chewie needed to get Han.
"The Force is with you," Darth Vader called down, "but you are not a Jedi yet."
His words had a chilling effect. Luke was unwillingly reminded of the duel between Ben and Vader two years ago on the Death Star. When Ben saw they were so close to escaping and more troops were ready to stop them, he had deliberately chosen to sacrifice himself to save them. Ever since, Luke had felt both hurt and honored.
With a jolt of fear, Luke suddenly realized that Ben had never truly had a choice at all. If he'd been capable of defeating Vader, he would have done so and lived to leave the Death Star with them.
If Ben, a Jedi, couldn't win against Vader, what chance did he have?
Vader's gloved hands were at his side, weaponless. It was very tempting to just shoot Vader down immediately. Luke knew he'd never get another opportunity like this. Gripping his blaster with both hands, Luke fired three shots in succession at Vader's torso and another two at his helmet.
With one hand, Vader smoothly deflected the blaster fire. Luke stared and half expected him to cackle in triumph like he'd heard bounty hunters do or taunt him with smug superiority as Imperial officers did. But Vader was silent and that somehow scared Luke more.
Vader's other hand suddenly reached out and Luke felt the blaster jerk in his grasp. Luke held onto it with all of his might and barely managed to prevent the blaster from flying away from him.
"Interesting," was Vader's only comment when the Force didn't disarm Luke of his blaster.
His other weapon was not so lucky. Unlike Luke, Vader had not forgotten about
Luke's lightsaber and swiftly used the Force to take it. Luke glared at Vader and backed up another step.
Luke gripped the handle of his blaster even tighter in his sweaty palms. This wasn't like battling in space where your ship was well-armed and great skill in flying guaranteed victory. Luke knew how and what to do out in a starfighter, but here, he was at a loss. The Alliance had never trained him to fight an opponent who was impervious to blaster fire and stalked menacingly toward you unconcerned.
"Your future lies with me, Skywalker," Vader said as he reached the bottom of the stairs.
Luke continued to back up and even considered running, but the need to buy time for his friends made him hesitate.
"No, you're wrong," Luke answered in a hoarse voice.
"There is much Obi-Wan did not tell you," Vader continued. "Come with me and I will complete your training."
"I'll die first."
"That won't be necessary." Vader suddenly ignited his lightsaber and lunged at
Luke stumbled back several paces and lost his balance. He tumbled backwards into a gaping opening in the floor and landed with a painful thud in the bottom of the pit. He scrambled to his feet at once. Lando had told him that this room was used for carbon freezing and warned him to watch his step.
Vader turned away from the carbon-freezing pit and casually deactivated his lightsaber. "All too easy," he murmured. "Perhaps you are not as strong as the
Molten metal began to pour into the chamber and billows of steam rose. Vader used the Force to activate his comlink.
"Tell the bounty hunter he is now free to take Solo," Vader instructed. "Fett has earned his payment."
A loud screech echoed in the chamber and a block of carbonite began to rise out of the pit. Luke Skywalker was frozen with his hands raised high and looking up as he had attempted to climb out of the pit.
"Pull out your troops, Captain. We will leave immediately."
Leia's first instinct was to dodge the blaster shot, quickly followed by the realization that she couldn't. Not even with the Force. She knew she wasn't ready to pull on the Force and use it to move herself in time. The only thing she could think of was making the blaster shot stop.
Leia threw out her hands into path of the bolt. She squeezed her eyes shut, not wanting to see it strike. A burning agony jolted through the palms of her hands and Leia shuddered. Yet, the pain stayed only there. Leia had expected the shot to be full power and pierce right through her.
With a surge of relief, Leia opened her eyes. But there wasn't a hazy blue aftermath of a stun shot as she expected. Suspended in the air and brushing her palms was the churning red ball of a full power blaster bolt. At once, Leia poured all of her strength in the Force at it.
The result was instantaneous. With a loud crack, half of the shot ricocheted away into the trees above. Meanwhile, the remainder dispersed across Leia's hands and up her arms. She fell flat on her back, knocking the wind out of her lungs.
For a few seconds, she could only pant to catch her breath. A numbness crept over her as the Force quietly drained down to the normal level to which she had become accustomed. As if from a distance, she heard Threepio wailing.
She rolled over on her side and awkwardly used her elbows to prop herself enough to sit. Only then did she look at her hands. She gasped. Her palms and the underside of her fingers were merely covered in merely a mild sunburn-like scald with a few small blisters.
"Being foolish, are you?"
Leia jerked her head up at the voice. Yoda was perched on a nearby tree branch.
Still in a daze, she fumbled to respond. "Master Yoda, I-"
But Yoda held up a hand and righted the panicking droid. Once back on his feet,
Threepio immediately stumbled to her. "Please, don't let me be terminated! Mistress Leia, I am so sorry!"
"Threepio," Leia said weakly.
"I'm nothing but a useless scrap heap and I should never -"
"Threepio! I am fine." Leia staunchly ignored her protesting muscles and stinging hands. "I don't blame you."
Yoda jumped down from the tree and ambled past the droid, who was now thanking
Leia profusely. "Hmmm." He looked down at Leia's hands, which she held out carefully.
Leia waited quietly as he took a good look. She knew he was concentrating and hoped that he wouldn't poke the burns. Threepio continued to loudly wallow in guilt.
"Hmm," Yoda repeated. "Absorbed some of it. Hmmm... unexpected." He was nearly whispering. Leia had never seen Yoda surprised like this. "A rare talent, absorbing energy is. Difficult to learn, even more difficult to teach. Deflect energy, can I, but not absorb."
Leia was shocked. "But it wasn't difficult." She half choked on her words. "I didn't do very well," Leia admitted glancing down at her hands. "But I've never thought to try before coming here."
Yoda turned to sit on a root and began to chew his gimer stick in thought. Leia knew he wouldn't explain why after such a short time of training, she could do such a difficult skill she had never known about.
If only she had known before. Impervious to blaster fire, she could have saved so many lives in the past. Before Yoda began teaching her about the Force, Leia knew she would have found the idea too ludicrous to consider and would have thought herself insane to try it.
Leia sighed and tried to move her sore arms. It wasn't easy to stand up without using her hands for support, but she managed.
"No," Yoda told her. Leia stifled a groan. He always seemed to know when she was about to get out the medical kit.
"Practice healing?" Leia asked in a raspy voice.
Yoda nodded sternly and Leia could only sit back down with another sigh. The feeling that something was wrong began to bother her again as she set to work.
Using the Force to heal even minor cuts and bruises was a very tedious process for her.
The storm troopers never knew what hit them.
Lando's team took out most of the Imperials. Artoo used the city's system to successfully jam the Imperials' comlinks to prevent them from calling for reinforcements. The difficult and most time consuming part was getting down into the cellblock; the few troopers down there had more cover.
At last, the only guards remaining were the two storm troopers directly outside of Han's cell. Quietly, the thick, reinforced door of the corridor slid open.
The two troopers turned to look and held up their blasters as Lando entered with his best, bored expression on his face. He was followed by a couple of his own city guards and Chewbacca, in manacles.
"Just a new prisoner." Lando waved one hand lazily. "As you were."
The troopers were wary, but returned to holding their weapons across their chests. Just as Lando walked past them, Chewie flung off the unlocked cuffs and swung his huge arms at the storm troopers. His fist connected with the left one's helmet creating a large dent and knocking him to the deck.
The one on Chewie's right had more time to react and had ducked. However, it was no use. The two guards easily subdued the trooper.
"Unlock the door," Lando ordered. "Or the Wookiee will tear your arm off."
The storm trooper looked up at Chewie, and then down at his unmoving companion and punched in the code to open the cell.
The cell was so tiny that Han was half sprawling on the single bench with his boots propped up on the opposite wall. He looked half asleep and very bored. He jumped to his feet the moment the door opened.
"What took you so long?" Han stepped out of the cell and stretched a little.
While Lando's guards dragged the troopers into the cell, Chewbacca began to fuss over Han.
"I'm fine!" Han said as he pushed away one of Chewie's paws. "I only saw Vader once in the corridor when he told the troopers to lock me up. No questions and no torture, nothing. Lucky for me he was in a hurry."
Chewbacca moaned at him again and began to fill Han in on what he'd missed.
"Really?" Han said, noticing the binders on the floor. "That prisoner trick worked again? You'd think the Imps would wise up for once."
"Hurry up," Lando hissed. "Boba Fett was spotted two levels down only an hour ago. My people think Vader might have been planning to sell you to him."
He didn't need to say more. As quickly as possible, they rejoined Lando's troops and Artoo. The moment they arrived, Artoo sent a signal to Luke's comlink. Using restricted passages, they began to make their way back to the Millennium Falcon.
They reached the Falcon's platform without incident and the guards Lando had left behind were still protecting it. The moment they began to walk outside one of the guards called out.
"Sir! A report has just come in." The entire group came to a halt as he listened to his headset. "Lord Vader's ship is leaving."
"What about Fett?" Lando asked.
The guard relayed the message, "Still here, his ship hasn't moved. Darth Vader left very quickly; he didn't even leave a garrison."
"Luke?" Han said quietly half to himself. Artoo gave a strangled whistle and wheeled toward the Falcon scanning madly.
Lando was furious and Chewie began to howl.
"But Luke said he was only going to distract Vader!" Lando said.
"Mistress Leia! Oh, Mistress Leia!" Threepio called out suddenly. He waved his arms in excitement. "We have a transmission."
"What? Oh." Leia tried to not be irritated with him for interrupting her concentration. She frowned. "We aren't supposed to be contacted again for another week."
"Oh, my," Threepio said very primly as he listened to the comlink. "Captain Solo is on his way to visit. He should arrive tomorrow."
Leia was torn between excitement and dread. Whatever was that pirate doing?
The last she'd heard, Han was planning to leave the Alliance and they hadn't parted on good terms. But the prospect of seeing another human again cheered
Leia up. Until she remembered how grubby she looked despite her efforts to get clean in the clearest bit of swamp water she could find that morning.
The foreboding feeling was now much worse.
"You call this a vacation spot?" Lando asked half to himself.
Han Solo looked warily at the murky planet outside their shuttle. When he'd contacted the Alliance and said that he needed to talk to Leia, this was not how he'd planned it. To find that Leia had never gone to the rendezvous point at all and that getting a message to her would be difficult had been even more irritating.
The busy bodies in charge had at first told Han and Chewie that they would have to travel on board a cruiser that delivered Leia's supplies. Leia had left strict instructions that her exact location was not to be given out and that all transmissions were to be brief and encoded. Han and Chewie had complained loudly, while Lando tried to be persuasive. Despite the emergency, it was finally decided for the cruiser escort the Millennium Falcon.
And this was the remote planet where Leia was supposedly taking a break from her duties. Even Chewbacca didn't like the look of it.
Though he would never admit it, Han was grateful that the cruiser was out there.
The cruiser had supplied the small shuttle they were using and there was no way Han would ever take his Millennium Falcon down on his ball of mud.
The landing was rough, but the beacon Leia had set up led them to a relatively firm bit of dirt wide enough for a ship. Only half of the landing struts sank in the mud. There was little daylight and it was drizzling mournfully outside the windows.
"I thought they were crazy when they said Leia didn't have a shuttle down here."
Han grimaced as the cockpit's windows began to fog up. "Now I understand why."
Lando nodded. "Hopefully, the princess will be ready to leave quickly, or they'll have to send another ship after us." Lando flattened himself against the wall as Chewie squeezed past him.
Han suddenly stopped by the hatch and turned back around. "Lando, I want you to understand that acting smooth and suave isn't going to impress Leia. She's a princess, not some floozy who can be flattered by a few fancy words."
"I understand perfectly," Lando answered and looked up when Chewie growled that he wasn't going out there in the rain with them.
Han took a deep breath and keyed open the hatch. The two of them stepped out into the muck and their feet vanished into the mist clinging to the ground.
They had nothing to protect them from the rain. They could see a light under the nearest substantial tree.
Once under its meager protection, Han stared at Leia in shock. "You look like a drowned sqwee."
Leia rolled her eyes, "I already know that, Han."
"Han, you scum!" Lando admonished him and quickly took Leia's hand. "Your Highness, I am Lando Calrissian. It is an honor to make your acquaintance."
Lando bowed to her with a roguish smile and would have kissed her hand if Han hadn't hauled him back.
Though irritating, the two men's comments to her didn't make Leia truly angry.
She had to struggle not to laugh at his friend's attempts to keep the mud off his fine clothes. Leia had actually expected worse from Han, yet was also surprised at her own lack of a scathing reaction. So was Han, judging by his expression. Perhaps Yoda's lessons about controlling her anger better were working.
"What are you doing here?" Leia asked in mild exasperation.
Han sobered. "We need you to come back, now." Then Han's voice and expression became softer than Leia had ever seen it. "Luke was captured by Vader-"
"-three weeks ago." Leia finished for him.
Han and Lando stared at her. Leia didn't notice. An awful coldness swept through her and memories of her own capture by Vader began to unwillingly replay in her mind. She couldn't breathe and she couldn't think. With a shudder, Leia regained control of herself.
This was the feeling that had been plaguing her for weeks. She'd felt that Luke was in danger and hadn't comprehended what it was she was sensing.
Leia looked up at Han. "Most of my camp in still packed up. We can be in space within an hour."
Leia turned briskly around and stopped short. Yoda was sitting on a low branch directly behind her.
Yoda's eyes were half closed as he looked at her. "You must not go."
"Master Yoda." Leia began to try to placate him. "He is my friend and I am one of the few members of the Alliance who knows how to-"
"No!" Yoda smacked his stick against the branch. "Complete your training, you must! Not your place to decide Luke's destiny."
"You knew." Leia accused in a half whisper.
"Leia," Han interrupted. "What-"
"Quiet Han," she said and then glared at Yoda. "You knew, didn't you?
Somehow, you knew that Luke was in danger and you didn't tell me? Darth Vader will kill Luke!"
"No." Yoda shook his head. "Wants his abilities, wants to train Luke in the Dark Side."
"Even more reason to go." Leia's mind was made up. With her head held high, she marched back towards her camp. Han and Lando followed her uncertainly and Han kept looking suspiciously at the odd creature.
"If you go now, you will fail!" Yoda yelled at her. "Fully trained, you are not!"
Leia's shoulders stiffened, but she kept walking. Yoda followed, still arguing, but Leia was determined.
"Are you happy I decided to stay in the Alliance?" Han smirked at Leia.
She was sitting at the game table in the Falcon's common room. Scattered over the table was a stack of data cards that had brought her up to date on what had occurred in the weeks she was on Dagobah. This was the first opportunity that Han had to talk to her since she'd come onboard. She'd spent an hour showering in the ship's 'fresher. Han leaned against the bulkhead and waited for her to answer.
Leia didn't bother to look up from her reading. "I'm sure Luke is grateful, not to mention General Rieekan -"
Han rolled his eyes. "I asked you," he said pointedly.
"I haven't decided if it's worth the trouble, yet." Leia pushed her long hair back over one shoulder. After weeks of having no choice but to keep it in a bun, she'd gladly let down.
Han was flabbergasted. "Not that again! We already argued about this back on
Hoth, Your Worship!"
"I have no reason to believe you will actually stay. You can't seem to make up your mind and I'm tired of worr-"
Leia shut her mouth instantly, cutting off her last word. But it was too late. A huge, self-satisfied grin was spreading across Han's face. He stopped leaning against the wall and took two lanky steps toward her. Leia stared determinedly at her data pad.
"Why don't you give me a reason?" he said quietly.
Leia resolutely ignored him and her hands clenched her data pad tightly. He walked closer until he was standing over her. Leia visibly stiffened as she anticipated his next move. Before he could place a hand on her shoulder, Leia slid along the seat out of reach.
"I have a lot of work to do, if you don't mind," she told him in her coldest and most princess-like voice.
Leia instantly regretted it. Han reacted as if stung and out of the corner of her eye she saw his face flush. Leia turned her head slightly to let a strand of her hair fall back in front of her face. She didn't want Han to see her fight to control her expression.
"Well, so long, Your Holiness!" Han snapped.
Before he could turn to leave, Leia answered in an almost defeated tone, "Could you please not call me that?"
Han seemed to consider this for a moment before agreeing, "Sure, if you'd answer my question."
Leia sighed and put one hand to her temple. Han took a chance and slid into the curved bench seat beside her.
"Come on, admit it, sometimes you think I'm all right."
"Sometimes," she said with a little smile.
Leia gave him a searching look and out of habit more than anything else, began probing him with the Force as she'd become accustomed to doing to everything over the past few weeks. Her relief at sensing that Han was genuinely concerned and truly serious was almost overshadowed at once when she realized what she was doing. It didn't seem fair to Han to use the Force on him, even in such a minor way.
She broke eye contact with him and looked down. Leia jumped when she saw that he had taken her hand. Leia had been concentrating so hard she hadn't noticed, but she noticed now and felt her face grow hot.
To her dismay, Han pushed a lock of her hair back over her ear so he could see her now very pink face.
"What are you frightened of?" Han asked in a hoarse whisper.
One of Yoda's many lectures came back to her. Fear is of the Dark side.
"If," Leia began, forcing herself to look at him. "If I gave you a reason, I'm afraid you would still leave."
An expression of relieved comprehension spread across Han's face. He gave Leia a real smile this time instead of his usual array of smirks. Slowly, so as not to startle her Han bent close to her face. Leia briefly considered fleeing, but decided she would rather find out if Han was really going to kiss her. Besides, he still had her hand trapped in his own.
"We've reached the... oh, excuse me," Lando said with a very fake look of apology from the doorway.
If looks could kill, Lando would be dead. Both Han and Leia glared at him absolute fury. Then Leia sighed and pushed the anger away. Blaming Lando for irritating them was pointless.
"What is it?" she asked.
Lando was still fighting not to grin, "We've reached the rendezvous and received a message from the Rebellion that Darth Vader has not taken Luke to the Imperial City. One of your generals would like to speak with you, Your Highness."
"Thank you, Lando," Leia said kindly and left for the bridge quickly.
Lando was smiling broadly after her, "Did you hear that? She called me by my first name already!"
Lando's smile faded somewhat when he saw that Han was still glaring silently at him. Lando cleared his throat. "Yes, well. I truly apologize for bursting in like that. I assure you it wasn't intentional, Han old buddy."
"You do know how to use the ship intercom, don't you?" Han nearly growled at him.
"Ah," Lando said cautiously and began to back into the corridor. "I'll be sure to remember that next time." And with that, Lando darted back to the bridge.
Outside the Executor
The frontal assault was already under way when the Millennium Falcon dropped out of hyperspace. Taking on a Super Star Destroyer, and in particular, the Executor, was suicidal. However, Luke had plenty of daring friends.
"Are you sure no one will notice?" Leia gave Han a very skeptical look.
"Yes! Will you stop asking me?" Han nearly growled.
Leia crossed her arms, but didn't reply as the Millennium Falcon drew closer to the Destroyer. It shocked her to sense that Han was very nervous. He was acting as always when they were in danger - gruff and fearless. It had always irritated Leia that Han was never scared of anything. Now, it startled her to sense that he wasn't blindly arrogant like she had always assumed, but merely good at hiding his fear under a cover of flippancy.
Outside, the smaller ship carrying Team Three was already attaching itself to the rear hull of the Destroyer. None of the massive guns on the ship had turned their way and the TIE-Fighters were much too busy with Team One's diversion of ragtag ships at the front.
"See!" Han pointed and gave her a smug look. "Its working, sweetheart."
But Leia wasn't about to congratulate Han, especially since they still hadn't managed to dock, yet. "It is amazing how much absolute contempt you can cram into, of all words, an endearment," she said in a low sarcastic voice so that only Han could hear. "You should have taken up politics."
Han looked revolted at the idea and half turned in his seat, but seemed to think better of it when he caught Lando's eye. If Chewie had been the only other person in the cockpit, Han would have thrown another scathing remark at her for that insult. In front of Lando, however, he wasn't about to fight - and Leia knew it.
Chewie barked at them to be silent and to pay attention. The Falcon needed all of their efforts to smoothly latch onto the Destroyer. Han gave Leia a triumphant grin when they had finished.
But if he was expecting praise, she wasn't going to give it to him. "Let's see if the others can burn a hole first, Captain."
She rose quickly and left the three of them in the cockpit. Lando started to laugh, but Chewie had enough sense not to. At Han's glare, Lando hushed quickly, deciding to smirk instead.
"Not a word," Han growled at him.
Within minutes of entering the ship, Leia felt it. A cold, stinging sensation that pounded in her head and made her want to run.
"What?" Han asked looking back at her.
At first, Leia didn't understand what Han was asking before realizing she'd spoken aloud. "Nothing," she told him.
She tried to concentrate on their mission, but couldn't. Leia could only follow while the rest of the team led them stealthily through the corridors. They stopped at a terminal so that a couple of techs could begin hacking into it. In a daze, she watched Han and Chewie take point positions at the front and Lando began guarding their back with a few others.
Leia jumped and nearly dropped her blaster. Lando was looking at her in concern.
"Your Highness, are you all right?" Lando asked her as quietly as he could.
"Yes, yes." Leia was almost panting. The strain was getting worse and she felt lost in a sea of cold. The blood drained from her face.
Lando was frowning at her now. "Come sit by the wall." He gestured to the wall beside the terminal the techs were working on. When Leia didn't answer, he reached out to take her elbow.
"I'm fine," Leia insisted and suddenly, she was fine. With a horrible lurch, the corridor and the people around her came back into focus and her head cleared. She hefted her blaster and felt her face flush with embarrassment. "Thank you for your concern, Lando. I am quite all right now."
That seemed to satisfy him and he turned away to guard the corner. An absolute fury began to burn through Leia at herself - and at Vader.
She had expected to sense Darth Vader, just as over time, she had learned to sense Yoda. So far, the new ability to feel the people she knew was a curious and enlightening experience. Leia had not expected to nearly faint within minutes of arriving on Vader's ship.
All of her plans to disguise herself with the Force were now useless. Disgusted at herself for losing control, Leia hastily began reconstructing her shields. But it was too late, and she knew it. Vader had sensed her and would know she was there to get Luke. The whole mission, already dangerous and very unlikely to succeed, was now going to be impossible because of her blunder.
"I shouldn't have come," Leia growled at herself.
Leia gave a longing look at Han. She wanted to speak to him, to tell him that she loved- but there was no time. Thankfully, his back was to her so he wouldn't see the expression on her face. He knew her too well and would guess at once what she was planning if he saw her. Every second counted and Leia was certain Vader would be heading for them at that very moment - by homing in on her.
The techs finished at their station and began to lead the way to where Luke was being held. With the aid of the Force, it was easy for Leia to hang back and slip away.
Leia raced along the passages. Up this one, down those steps, putting as much distance as possible between her and Han's team. She briefly considered using a turbolift, but doubted she could find one empty. Making the troops not notice as she quickly passed them in the corridors was one thing, but doing that to a crowd for the length of time it took to enter and exit a turbolift was far beyond her abilities.
After reaching the deck of the ship, Leia stopped concealing her presence with the Force. It was possible that it hadn't hidden her from Vader anyway and Leia knew she needed to conserve her strength. A rough plan began to form in her mind.
Luring Vader away from Luke and the others wasn't enough, Leia needed to distract him. Stopping at a general map of the ship's decks, Leia chose her ground to fight from - a small hanger bay. It held ships being moved into and out of deep storage. Preparing a means of escape and cover had been one of the longest lectures Yoda ever gave her.
And the plan wouldn't work unless Vader came to her.
"Take that side," Lando hissed.
Two rebels ducked low and scurried across the passage from Lando. Using a tiny electronic scope, he peeked around the corner. The corridor ahead was filled with heavily armed stormtroopers guarding the only door to the guest quarters where Luke was being kept.
Lando handed the scope to Chewbacca and backed up. "This is ridiculous," he told Han. "It is strange enough that Luke isn't in a cell, but what type of prisoner needs squads of troops?"
Han hesitated and then told him, "Luke can do some of that Force stuff like
Lando's mouth dropped open silently and his eyes widened. "Good. That will make this easier."
"Not if he's knocked out. It looks like Vader's taking no chances."
A tech came out of a nearby storage closet and gave them the all clear signal.
The two men hurried into it and saw that a neat hole had been cut out of the back and into a low horizontal shaft. Two people were now cutting into what looked like a very fancy bathing 'fresher. The rest of the rebels filed into the closet and Chewbacca shut the door.
It was only in the extremely cramped space that Han noticed who was missing.
Darth Vader's cold, lethal presence in the Force was fierce and made Leia shiver. It was becoming almost painful as she sensed him coming closer to her location. Shaking her head in frustration, Leia focused on the door far below her.
The door slid open quietly, and the awful feeling became much worse now that Leia could see Vader. He took three long strides into the hanger bay and turned his helmet to look straight at her hiding place.
"Come out, Jedi," Vader ordered.
For a moment, Leia almost obeyed, but caught herself. Vader's mind trick had been simple, but very strong. Leia crouched lower behind an exhaust vent on the top of an old ship. She needed to buy as much time as possible, and to avoid fighting Vader as long as she could. Sacrificing herself to save the others was a very likely result no matter what she did, but Leia hoped to not resort to that.
Darth Vader seemed to understand she wasn't going to move. He began to pace, his black cloak billowing behind him before finally deciding to walk around one side of the decrepit ship. Leia scooted around to keep the bulky vent between herself and him.
"It is pointless to hide."
Still Leia did nothing. It took all of her patience to wait when she longed to blast Vader apart. She listened to Vader's heavy breathing echo in the hanger and shoved away the memory of the last time she'd met him. Now, would be the worst time to have a flashback of her interrogation on the Death Star.
A handful of tools came soaring at her. Leia ducked and barely created a Force shield in time. Behind her, an antenna from the ship was ripped from its base and flew at her back. She ignited her lightsaber and sliced it apart, wincing as a few of the pieces struck her.
Leia tried to focus on the starships' nearest laser gun, but was nearly hit by a pipe. She would never manage to use the Force on that gun and stop Vader from driving her off the ship. Turning off her lightsaber, she leapt and flipped to the large turret, sliding behind it just in time as a metal crate pelted after her. With one hand, she grabbed the wiring she had prepared earlier and fired at Vader.
He deflected the blast. Leia frowned and continued firing. Though she'd heard rumors that Vader could ward off blaster shots, she'd hoped he wouldn't fare so well against a ship's laser. Her fingers began to grow stiff from pinching the wires together, but still Vader wasn't going down. So intent was she on watching him, she didn't feel the crate return for another shot.
It slammed against her left arm and side, and she slid halfway down the opposite side of the ship's hull. Gathering her feet under her, she re-ignited her saber to cut apart the crate in its third attack. She realized that her delay tactic had outlived its usefulness and she stood up.
"I am Leia Organa, Jedi Knight."
Technically, she wasn't a Jedi, but Vader already appeared to think she was. Leia decided that Vader didn't need to know she wasn't fully trained. She held her saber before her, ready in case more objects were sent to knock her off the ship. But Vader didn't move them and he didn't speak. He just stood there, looking up at her.
"I have never sensed the Force with you before, Your Highness. How have you disguised yourself all these years?" Vader's voice sounded both shocked and irritated.
Leia felt a small surge of pride. "It's a gift."
She wasn't about to admit that she'd had no knowledge of the Force then. Let him think she'd been well trained to hide her presence in the Force when he had interrogated her on the Death Star.
"Who was your teacher?" Vader began to pace again and finally activated his red lightsaber. "Obi-Wan?"
Leia didn't reply. It wouldn't matter if he thought Obi-Wan had taught her. He couldn't hurt the old general now, but he could hurt Yoda.
However, Vader didn't seem to expect an answer. "Come down and face me. Jedi do not cower."
Leia ignored the jibe and didn't move. The waiting was intense, but necessary, and her throbbing shoulder and arm would make the upcoming fight even more dangerous.
Vader was getting noticeably exasperated and angry now. "Is Luke your apprentice?"
Leia almost laughed at the notion. A teacher? Her? In her surprise at the question, Leia almost missed sensing a wave of jealousy beginning to surge from
Vader. She backed up, alarmed.
In one huge leap, Vader vaulted onto the ship's hull. Shocked, Leia stumbled back several paces. Briefly, she wondered why he hadn't done so before. This wasn't the best place for a duel.
He advanced on her and Leia warily prepared herself for battle. Vader attacked first, as if he knew she wouldn't. Leia did her best to hold her ground, blocking his strikes and trying to remember what else was attached to the hull that she might back into or trip over.
Inevitably, she had no choice but to begin retreating. Lightsaber dueling was clearly one of Vader's talents and Leia sincerely hoped he wasn't toying with her. She knew she wouldn't survive a real fight if he was only playing now.
"Answer me!" Vader roared at her.
Leia jumped at the fury she'd never seen Vader display before and nearly missed parrying his next swing.
"Luke isn't my student," she yelled back before she could stop herself. "He is my friend!"
At once, Darth Vader ceased fighting. Leia wasn't sure which of her statements had stopped him, or perhaps both. His anger and jealousy seemed to fade a little.
"Then, you have no right to interfere," Vader said very calmly.
Leia frowned in confusion and indignation. "You've kidnapped my friend! Of course, I have the right -" she sputtered to a halt.
"I have not harmed Luke," Vader explained slowly. "I have merely retrieved my son."
Leia stared at him, at a loss at what to do as his words began to register. Frozen on the spot as she was, Vader could have killed her had he chosen. After a moment of silence, Leia realized she was holding her breath and gasped for air.
This explained everything - the bounty on all of their heads and how Han had been captured on Cloud City. It hadn't been to interrogate Luke for information about the Rebellion, but rather, to trap him.
An image of the two battling figures from the cave on Dagobah flashed in Leia's mind. She saw the terrible peril Luke was in, not from death, but from the Dark Side. Yoda had lectured her many times on the subject, and the little training Luke had from Obi-Wan wouldn't be enough to protect him from Vader.
"Luke's feelings for you are strong." Vader's tone had changed again, this time to curiosity.
Leia could feel him appraising her in a calculating way, and she didn't like it.
It began to make her feel sick. She took a half step backward and raised her lightsaber in a defensive posture.
But Vader didn't react. "That smuggler, the Wookiee, and you are very important to him."
"It won't work," Leia told him boldly, wishing she felt as sure as she sounded.
"Threatening his friends won't make Luke turn."
"Letting you go would."
Leia didn't think she could feel any more tense, but she did. She stared up at
Vader, trying to think of a response, but all of her skills at diplomacy and debate failed her.
Vader let his lightsaber drop casually to his side. "Luke will cooperate in exchange for your freedom and safety."
Her throat going dry, Leia couldn't speak and began to back up again. At her belt, her comlink began to blink silently. It was the worst time for Han to realize she was gone and to try to contact her. She tried to block the tiny light with her arm, but Vader saw it. With a flick of his wrist, he used the Force to turn on her comlink before she could stop him and Han's frustrated voice came loud and clear.
"Leia! Where are you? We've got Luke, he's pretty drugged up, but not injur-"
Leia hit the switch off in a panic, but the damage was done. Not waiting to see what Vader would do, Leia turned and ran.
However, Vader made no move to attack her, nor did he reach for his own comlink to call for troops. Vader simply stood immersing himself with the Force. There was a burst of light and he threw a small ball of energy.
It hit Leia in the small of her back, and she went down in a heap.
"What was she thinking?!" Han growled for what was at least the fifth time since he'd noticed Leia was missing.
"Are you sure she wasn't captured?" Lando had been very concerned at Leia's disappearance.
Han scowled at Lando for even considering the idea. "Some stuffy officer would have answered her comlink to gloat if she had." He turned to Luke and began gently slapping his face. "Come on, Kid. You've got to wake up."
Breaking Luke out had been quite easy once they'd finished burning through the walls. Keeping Luke in VIP quarters was a serious mistake on the Imperials' part, despite the ridiculous number of troops in the corridor and inside the front room.
Yet, there were no guards inside the bedroom where Luke lay sprawled unconscious on the bed. Smuggling him out took no time at all. It was getting him to wake up that was the problem. The rebels had brought stimulants, but they didn't seem to be working.
At last, Luke's eyes began to open and he stared blurrily at the assembled rebels crouched around him. "Are you really here?" he slurred. "Or is this another trick?"
"Well, I can't think of a way to prove we're real," Lando said cheerfully. "But it can't hurt to walk with us, can it?"
Luke blinked at him and tried to focus on Han's scowling face and the worried looks of the other rebels. "Sure, anything's better than here."
Someone sniggered quietly, but hushed when Han glared behind him. Chewbacca hauled Luke to his feet. Luke swayed unsteadily, but Chewie kept a firm hold on him. As quickly as possible, the team began to make their way out back towards their respective ships. The crowd of Alliance ships distracting the Star Destroyer couldn't keep it up much longer. They were running out of time.
Immediately, Leia began to regain her feet and stand back up. Horrified, she looked around for her lightsaber. The sudden blast of energy had been difficult to absorb and had dazed her slightly. She cursed herself for hitting Vader with the gun lasers so much. Instead of deflecting all of the energy, Vader had absorbed some of it himself and used it against her.
"Impressive," Vader commented mildly, and Leia saw her saber already resting in his other hand. "My son and I have the same goal, to bring peace and order to the galaxy. You could join us and the Emperor will fall under our combined strength."
Awkwardly, Leia continued backing up. The edge of the ship was nearby and she wanted to get off it soon.
"Your skill is especially rare. I have met few who could and never so well in one so inexperienced." Vader's tone became suspicious. "Extraordinary. How... no, you can't be-"
Vader stopped in mid-sentence and Leia sensed a feeling of stunned surprise overflow from him. Vader stood very still.
Leia couldn't sense any physical reason why Vader would feel so shocked. There was no one approaching or any danger from the machine nearby. Leia didn't waste time probing Vader to discover the answer. Taking the opportunity, she spun around and jumped off the edge of the starship. She flipped and landed smoothly on the deck of the hanger bay far below and looked up just in time to see the Millennium Falcon soar through the space barrier. Nearly crying with joy, she sprinted for the underside of the ship using all the Force she could muster to speed up.
The Falcon opened fire at once at the sight of Darth Vader perched on top of another ship. With both his own lightsaber and Leia's, Vader deflected the blasts back at the ship.
Vader managed to take out one of the Falcon's forward gunners by the time Leia reached the hatchway. Without bothering to wait for it to finish opening or even for the ship to land, she vaulted upward. Her hands closed over the edge and she swung herself through the small gap inside.
Panting heavily from the effort, Leia lay on the cool floor where she'd slid.
Leia could barely pick her head off the deck to look at him. "Thanks for the rescue, again."
Han put one arm around her and helped her up. The ship bucked under their feet and Leia clutched Han tightly. Leia was both pleased and surprised that Han had come to meet her - leaving Lando and Chewie to pilot his beloved ship out of danger. The Falcon jerked again, and Han put out one hand to grab the bulkhead, but kept the other around her waist.
"Are you hurt?"
"Just a bruised shoulder." Leia wet her lips out of nervousness. It felt very nice to be held by Han, but rather frightening, too. "Did the mission go well?"
"No problems, except for you running off."
"You aren't mad, are you?"
Han raised his eyebrows, "Sure, I'm furious, but that's never stopped you before." He held her tighter and his voice choked up. "I love you."
"I know." Leia smiled. "I can feel it."
Han rolled his eyes, "More of that Force nonse-"
But Leia silenced him with a deep, longing kiss and for several minutes nothing else mattered. They didn't even notice when the Falcon jumped safely into hyperspace.
"I love you, too," Leia said, her voice shaking. "And I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner."
Han gave her one of his smirks, "Are you going back to that swamp?" he asked with a note of dread in his voice.
"Yes." Leia sighed. "But only until I finish training, and Luke will need to complete his as well. How is Luke?"
"Recovering, but he's tough." Han reassured her. "He's how we found you. Did some of that Force stuff even though he could barely walk from being drugged."
Leia frowned in confusion. How could Luke have possibly sensed her at all? However, Leia didn't have time to think more about it as Han led her into the Falcon's main room. Luke was slumped in the game booth with his eyes half shut and a pained expression on his face.
Han gave Leia a quick kiss on the cheek, before heading off down the passage to the cockpit. Concerned, Leia went to sit across from Luke. He didn't say anything at all, just looked at her through dim eyes.
"I found Master Yoda," Leia said, breaking the silence. "I'm sure he will be glad to finish your training. He's begun teaching me as well."
"I know," Luke mumbled. "Han told me."
Leia wondered what she could do to help Luke. Anger, pain, and confusion were rolling off him in waves.
"You didn't kill him," Luke accused. "Why didn't you kill Vader?" His face was taut and strained.
"I couldn't," Leia said quietly.
"Couldn't or wouldn't?" Luke asked hoarsely and tried to sit up a little. "Jedi are supposed to- "
"I know just as much about Jedi as you do, if not a little more at the moment."
That silenced Luke, but he was still looking at her suspiciously. "What did he tell you?"
Leia sighed, "He tried to bargain and to convince me to join him and you."
"I never even considered joining him!"
"I know that," Leia said calmly.
Luke's vehemence on the subject was making her wonder. Had Darth Vader told Luke he was his father or not? For one second, she debated not telling Luke. But then she remembered how angry she had been with Yoda for withholding important information.
"What else?" Luke pressed.
"He... he tried to tell me I had no right to rescue you." She watched Luke's face intently for any sign of recognition or worry - but instead there was only mounting fury.
"Did he feed you that 'I'm your father' line, too?"
"No, but he did say you were his son-"
"I'm not!" Luke's denial was forced and unrealistic, as though he was trying to convince himself more than her.
Leia shook her head and tried to think of a gentle way to break it to him. "I could feel it was true, Luke. Once I knew to look for it, I could see the family bond was there."
Luke's head was bowed and he didn't speak. Tenderly, Leia wrapped her arms around him and let his head rest on her shoulder. He sagged against her, hiding his pain in silence.
"We'll go to Dagobah, and Yoda will finish training both of us," she said in his ear. "I'm sure he knows about Vader and he'll have to answer your questions. He has no right to hide something like this."
Luke looked up at her and at last began to grow calmer and his anger lessened.
"Thanks for coming after me."
"You did the same for me." Leia smiled. "I can't wait to see the look Master Yoda's face. He told me I'd fail."
Luke cocked his head at her, curious. "Are you sure he won't mind a second student?"
"Positive," Leia said breezily. "Master Yoda will be delighted to have another apprentice tormenting him."
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