A Single Thread

Part I: A New Hope

Act X


A tense silence had fallen over the room.

From her position standing before the flickering display screen showing the planet Yavin and its four moons, Leia watched as a red dot moved closer and closer towards the fourth satellite, even as tiny blips began to cluster around the speck representing the jungle moon of Yavin Four.

The Death Star had just dropped out of hyperspace.

She had felt its approach through the Force, a tickle on the back of her neck, a glimmer of some menace drawing near, but she had been careful not to react until the sensors reported its arrival.

Now, though, she was free to display the anxiety and worry churning within her.

Beside her, General Dodanna was also watching the display screen, jaw clenched and hands clutching the console in front of them, but his fears were for the Rebellion, knowing all depended on this desperate mission.

For Leia, it was much more personal.

Luke was one of those tiny blips, flying an X-wing in the fighter strike against the Death Star.

From the ground, there was nothing that Leia could do to keep him safe, nothing she could do to offer him protection or strength, but there was someone who could.

In the distance, a familiar and powerful shadow burned like a flame in the Force.

A dark shadow fell over her as she played among the flowers, and she turned her head, blinking up at the towering black form that loomed over her, blocking out the sun.

Dark eyes widened as they stared up at the malevolent mask.

For a long moment, the demon and the princess stared at one another, equally transfixed, and it seemed to her as if the entire galaxy had suddenly come to a halt, all things standing still and frozen in place and time. Under the dark man's fathomless gaze, a shiver began at the base of her spine, crawling all the way up her back, but she did not look away.

There was something familiar about this scary shadow.

"Princess," the dark man spoke at last, in a low and rumbling voice that did something funny to her stomach. "I have been looking for you."

"You have?" she asked in surprise, forgetting her fear. "No one ever looks for me here."

This was her secret place, her very own little hideaway where she could escape from her handmaidens and play in the gardens without anyone knowing. Not even Papa or Mama knew about it, when Papa's work kept him from playing with her or Mama's tea galas meant she was underfoot, she would sneak away to her secret place because no one could ever find her here.

But this dark man had found her.

He must have special powers, she decided, because no one else could find her when she didn't want to be found.

"You and I have a special connection," the dark man told her. "That is why I was able to find you."

"A special connection?" she echoed.

"Yes," the dark man replied. "A very special connection."

To her surprise he knelt down, lowering himself to her level in one fluid movement, as graceful as one of the tikit cats that would sometimes slink around the gardens. Leia hedged back slightly, and she thought that she saw him wince, but that was silly because he had a mask on so she couldn't see him in the first place.

Still, something about moving away from him had made him sad.

Leia knew what that was like, sometimes people looked at her funny, as if she was something they didn't quite know what to do with. Even Mama and Papa sometimes got that funny look on their faces when she said or did something they thought was strange.

Taking a little breath, she took a brave step closer to the dark man.

"Do you remember your mother, Leia?" the dark man asked her softly, his eyes boring into hers, through the mask and all. "Your real mother?"

Warm wetness fell against her forehead... loving fingers brushed a tuft of hair from her eyes... a weak, shaking voice speaking to her, growing fainter as the words echoed in the most secret corner of her mind...

"She died," Leia announced, although she had no idea how she had come to that conclusion.

"Yes," the dark man agreed, sounding strange, as if he'd eaten his honeycrust too fast and gotten some of it caught in his throat, the way she sometimes did when she forgot to chew slowly like her handmaidens told her to. "She did, but not before she brought you into the world. Her last gift to one who loved her..."

The dark man trailed off, head bowing slightly, and she wondered if his helmet was heavy, because it looked like it was hard to keep his head up with it on.

"Did you..." Leia paused, swallowing hard. "Did you know Mama? My real Mama?"

"I knew her," the dark man replied, and he suddenly seemed very sad, as if it hurt to look at her for too long. "She was very beautiful, you look like her."

"I do?" she asked eagerly.

"Yes," the dark man said. "You're as much of an angel as she was."

One of his gloved hands came up, as if to touch her cheek the way her Papa sometimes did or to brush her hair, but he must have changed his mind for some reason at the last minute because his hand fell back down like it was too heavy to lift again.

"Did you know my Papa?" Leia asked breathlessly, searching his mask hopefully. "My real Papa?"

"I knew him, yes," the dark man answered after a sad pause.

"Mama was sad," Leia divulged quietly, even though she wasn't supposed to talk about her real mother. No one had ever given her that order, at least not that she could remember, but somehow she knew she wasn't supposed to share things she shouldn't know.

But it was okay to tell the dark man, wasn't it?

He missed Mama, the Mama who had to go away, just like she did, so it was okay to tell him.

"Yes," the dark man murmured, and his voice seemed funny, like it was hard to talk. "She was very sad, because she missed your Papa."

"Where did he go?" Leia wondered with a frown.

"He didn't really go anywhere," the dark man replied heavily, sighing the way adults did when they were thinking about things that little princesses weren't supposed to worry about. "He was standing there where he always was, in her doorway, but she couldn't see him there."

"Why not?"

"I do not know the answer to that question, little one."

Leia scrunched up her forehead, trying to find an answer on her own. Sometimes she could do that, and it unsettled Papa because she shouldn't know things she hadn't been told or taught, but she couldn't help it.

"Mama said," she began, then bit her lip.

What was it that her mother had told her? It was important, her mother's last words before she'd been whisked from her arms, and the parting message had lingered in Leia's heart all her life, for four very long years, a source of warmth and comfort in the dark.

"She said that Papa loved us," Leia grasped the distant strand of memory and held it tight. "That he didn't want to go."

"She was right," the dark man whispered, and it seemed to her that he wasn't really speaking to her now, but to himself, or perhaps to her mother, long gone and vanished from his reach. "I never wanted to go."

The words nearly slid past Leia's mind, but something struck her hard in the chest, sinking its hooks into her heart, and that last bit echoed in her head, reverberating from one chord within her to the next. The dark man, for his part, did not seem aware of what he'd just revealed until he felt her incredulous stare.

Dark slits for eyes focused on her once more, and Leia felt transparent, as if he could see through her to her very core.

The dark man did not speak, though, he seemed to be almost waiting, displaying a patience that she somehow knew was not a usual occurrence for him as he watched her silently.

Leia's mind was spinning much too fast for her to keep up, and she suddenly found she wanted to sit down, right there in the middle of the gardens, but her legs weren't responding correctly. The dark man wasn't lying, she knew that the same way she always knew when someone was telling her the truth, it was something her handmaidens called an intuition, whatever that was, but it was never wrong.

But if the dark man wasn't lying, then that meant that...

Before she knew what she was doing, Leia was reaching out a small hand towards the scary mask gazing down at her.

The dark man did not draw back or chastise her, as she half-expected him to do, he merely sat there, deathly still, the deep rumbling of his creepy breathing coming to an unnatural halt as he stared back at her from behind the mask.

It struck Leia then, that he was just as scared as she was.

Feeling suddenly braver, she swallowed and touched her little, trembling fingers to the sleek, sharp angles of the black mask. It was cool to the touch, and sent a chill through her hand, but she didn't pull away, her fingertips dancing over the surface of their own accord, fascinated with every curve and line that made up this strange face the dark man had to wear over his own.

He wasn't scary anymore, he was just lonely.

"I see you," Leia whispered, drinking in his face with her eyes, and with the second sight that she didn't know how to explain. "Mama couldn't see you, but I can."

For a long moment, the dark man stared down at her, and she had the strange feeling that his eyes were wet, which wasn't good, because what if the water filled up his mask on the inside? Unless he could breathe in the water, maybe that's what his mask and suit were for?

"That is all I could hope for, Leia," the dark man said, sounding as if the water inside his mask was strangling him.

Maybe he needed to adjust the controls, there were an awful lot of buttons on his chest- one of them had to do the trick, right?

"Are you gonna go away again?" Leia asked anxiously, and she wondered if she could throw herself onto his legs the way she did with Papa when she didn't want him to go off on 'duty' trips. It never kept him from leaving, Papa always told her that he had to go, but he always promised to come back that way.

"No one can know about us, Leia," the dark man told her evenly. "So you must tell no one, not even Bail Organa. It must be a complete secret, one that we keep to ourselves. Can you do this, Leia?"

She wasn't supposed to keep secrets from Papa- from Papa Bail, that was- but he kept secrets from her. He knew things about her that he wouldn't let her know, and he'd told her that her father was dead.

If he could have secrets, so could she.

Leia nodded seriously.

"I must return to my Master, and you must remain here," the dark man explained, and she looked down. "It is for the best, and you will be safe here. But you will see me often, I will make certain of it. Now that I have found you, Leia, I will not let you go."

"Promise?" Leia demanded tearfully.

The dark man shifted. "You have my word," he rumbled lowly. "I will teach you how to reach me, using our special connection, and you may contact me whenever you wish, once I ensure that my Master is made blind to your Force signature."

Leia frowned, confused by that, and was about to ask what a Force was and why it had a signature, when the dark man suddenly tilted his head, as if listening to something.

Mimicking his movement, Leia strained her ears, but heard nothing.

"Your handmaidens are looking for you," the dark man told her, rising to his full, towering stature once more. "If you do not wish for your secret place to be discovered, Princess, then you should return to the palace."

"Not really a princess," Leia pointed out.

Though the mask concealed his face, she had the strange feeling that the dark man was smiling now, and it was not a very nice smile, but that was okay, because it was directed at something far away, something that she knew was okay to be mean to.

"You are royalty of the Force, Leia," the dark man vowed softly, placing his gloved hands on her small shoulders. "And one day the entire galaxy will be at your feet."

Then he swept away, and Leia watched as her real Papa disappeared into the morning mist that rolled across the gardens.

Closing her eyes, Leia reached out with the Force, sending her presence soaring out across space in search of the grim, shadowy signature that hummed so closely in tune with her own.

Luke would unwittingly put the next step of their plan into motion by destroying the abomination that was the Death Star, with Tarkin and his vile supporters conveniently aboard, eliminating another of the Emperor's powerful weapons and disposing of a handful of opposition at the same time.

In order for Luke to do so, though, Leia needed to ensure that her father was not only off of the battlestation when it happened, but that he was aware of who the Force-strong Rebel pilot destroying the Death Star truly was.

She had to tell her father that he had a son, a son who was flying among the enemy fighters he would soon be facing.

Before it was too late.