A/N: If you think you've seen this fic before, your eyes aren't kidding you and your brain isn't playing tricks. I started writing This Time Around four years ago. I was fourteen and didn't really know what I was doing. I had an idea, but didn't bother to plan it out fully. It got started on an interesting foot, sailed along for a few chapters and then faded out. I wanted to keep writing, but I didn't have the energy. That was about two years ago. Since then, I've revised my original ideas, planned out the fic in full and started again, keeping much of the original work with a few revisions here and there. This is the second time I've re-posted TTA here; the first time was to introduce the re-worked version. A few months ago, I got upset with the system and deleted it. Whoops. Anyways, it's back now and it's staying this time.
Just a quick note: I won't be doing author replies at the end of each chapter. I find it disrupts the reading; if you guys ever get any really pressing questions, PM me and I'll get back to you. :)
Disclaimer: I do not own Star Wars. At all. This is written for fun. Also, some parts of this fanfic heavily rely on the dialogue of certain scenes from Matthew Stover's novelization of Revenge of the Sith.
This is an Alternate Universe story. For the record, it starts at two years post-NJO. Therefore, the events of Dark Nest and Legacy of the Force (including Jacen's transformation into the Sith Lord Darth Caedus) will have no impact whatsoever on this storyline.
Reviews and comments are much appreciated. Feedback is very important for an author -- I would love to hear from you!
And now, without further ado...
In a long-forgotten glade, a single flower blooms. From afar, it looks to be a small, delicate thing, its petals easily crushed by a mislaid footstep. Yet, it is far from unprotected. Guarded by a sea of thorns, it grows steadily upwards, searching for the sunlight that will sustain its deep red beauty. But the forest around it is so dense, so thick that it will never feel its soft, healing power.
Worlds away, a Star Dragon sleeps, his deep red scales shimmering in the moonlight. The Galaxy has been brutally shaken by a power far beyond the understanding of any sentient being. Sacred knowledge has been desecrated. The Duinuogwuin waits in eternal slumber for the universe to heal itself.
Another place. Another time.
A woman waits.
She had never known that it would come to this. She would never have guessed that her life would have taken this course. After all, who would have believed that the concept of time travel was a reality? She certainly had not, until it had been forced upon her.
She had never chosen to travel through time. That was the truth of it. She had been ordered, and she had obeyed. For the good of the Galaxy, she had obeyed. Her love for her duty, her love for the Force and her love for her family had inspired her to take her chosen course. At the time, it had seemed as though she had made a conscious decision.
Upon reflection, she realizes she never had any choice to begin with. Every action she took, every decision she made had been contrived, and she never knew it.
She stands alone, facing the dark abyss before her. She cannot change the past. Time may be altered, events erased, but there must always be an eliminator. She had been an eliminator once. And she had paid the price.
As they all had. Every last one of them, from her friends and comrades, to their enemies and rivals.
Where did they go from here?
A long, long time ago.
A man waits, but there is nothing to wait for. He knows this, but still he cannot stop waiting. For every decision made in life, there is a consequence. He has paid dearly for his.
Had it been a mistake, his journey? He had gained so much, but he had lost more than he could ever possibly imagine.
If anything, one lesson had been taught. One rule had been made.
Never play with the power of time.
The dragon slumbers, undisturbed. The flower searches for the sunlight, but the shadows cast by the trees are too strong. And so, the flower wilts. The dragon waits.
Such is the passage of time.
THIS TIME AROUND
Jaina Solo's X-Wing rocked viciously as it exited hyperspace. She glanced around the cockpit's window, and saw her fellow ships follow. Nearby, the Millennium Falcon circled. Jaina gritted her teeth. Never before had she had a mission like this. Someone with a strong Force-signature inhabited the planet below and she had a strong sense of apprehension about the place. There was someone down there that should probably be left alone, but they – being typical Jedi – were going to confront it anyway.
It had been two years since the end of the Yuuzhan Vong war. For two years there had been relative peace in the Galaxy; relative peace because more often than not it was marred by warring factions disputing over what remained on planets destroyed or maimed by the Vong invasion. Up until now, Jaina's missions had been concentrating on sorting out various incidents and stopping various greedy warlords from decimating entire regions.
Now, something of interest had arrived; it was new and different. She had joined the mission to confront the person partially out of curiosity and partially out of disgust and fear. Already several of her uncle's students had been sent to fiery Mustafar and none of them had returned from their assignments. No one knew what happened to them as they had disappeared without a trace.
Uncle Luke wasn't fond of mysterious disappearances. He was determined to find out what was happening on the small, volcano-covered planet. Unfortunately, there hadn't been many Jedi available for the task force as many were already on assignments. Jaina and her brother had volunteered at once and their parents had joined them as well. Before the Skywalker-Solo family had left, they had also received two more volunteers – Kyp Durron and Corran Horn, who both obviously missed the "good old days" before the Vong war that had been filled with missions like this one.
Jaina couldn't help but feel slightly edgy about the mission; there was a sense at the back of her mind that was flashing 'alert'. She decided that it had good reason – Jedi, especially experienced ones, generally did not disappear off the face of any planet.
Perfectly in time with her fellows, Jaina steered her craft towards Mustafar's smoky atmosphere. All the while, the presence was throbbing through the Force like a rescue signal. It wouldn't be hard to find this person.
Jaina frowned when she saw the surface of the planet. Bubbling lava flowed down the sides of the volcanoes, consuming everything in its path. How anyone could live here, she didn't know. Finding somewhere safe to land would be nearly impossible.
She reached out with the Force and connected with her twin. Though Jacen wasn't fond of the idea of this particular mission, he had agreed to go with her merely because he – like Jaina – was curious to see who this person was. His reassurance flowed through the Force and embraced her, making her feel more confident as they swooped towards the planet.
"Everyone, I think I've found a landing platform!" Kyp Durron's voice crackled through the intercom.
Jaina veered to the left, swinging by a volcano that chose to erupt as soon as she had passed it, nearly spraying her X-Wing with flying fragments of lava and rock. She leaned forwards and saw the metal platform sitting on a rocky island that hadn't yet been swallowed by molten lava. A large, sturdily built metal fortress towered over the island. She frowned as she swooped towards the cracked platform.
"Durron, that thing is tiny, how are we going to get six X-Wings plus the Falcon on a piece of junk like that?" she demanded.
"She has a point, Kyp," Jacen commented.
"There might be another platform around the other side of the fortress," Leia Organa Solo suggested through the comm. "We can check for you."
The Falcon swerved around the island and out of sight.
"I'm going to follow," Corran Horn's voice said as Jaina flew slowly towards the platform. "There definitely isn't enough room for all of us here."
"Mara and I'll come with you," Luke's voice said. "Jacen and Kyp, stay with Jaina." With that, his, Corran and Mara's X-Wings whooshed past the landing platform, following the Millennium Falcon around to the other side of the giant fortress.
Jaina settled her X-Wing on the landing platform and jumped out as her brother and Kyp landed next to her, squishing their X-Wings together. Kyp removed his helmet and looked around, his eyes narrowing as he quickly examined the place.
"This is one hell of a weird place to live," he muttered.
"At least the variety of choices of where to look for the guy is fairly small," Jacen said grimly, nodding towards the massive fortress looming above them.
Jaina felt a shiver go down her spine as she stared up at it. The Force-signature seemed to be shrouding the entire building, pulsing through the Force like a heartbeat.
"Well, we might as well go check it out," she said, tossing her helmet back into her X-Wing and taking off at a brisk pace. Jacen and Kyp followed her up the path that led to the fortress. They hadn't gone too far when Jaina's comm buzzed.
"We've found a spot round the other side of the island." It was her father. "We'll be there soon." Han's voice was short and clipped, as if something was interfering with the connection.
"All right," Jaina said. "We're going to go on ahead and see what we can find."
"No, Jaina," Han replied firmly, "I'd prefer that you three wait for the rest of us. We need to stick together on this one."
Jaina rolled her eyes and glanced at her brother and Kyp. "I hate it when he does that," she muttered.
Jacen chuckled at her remark. "Don't be so sour – we'll get there. Anyways, we didn't have to wait long," he added, pointing up the path. Luke, Mara, and Corran, followed by Han and Leia, were walking briskly towards them.
As Jaina watched them approach, she pursed her lips. She wasn't sure why her mother had wanted to come on this mission. After all, she wasn't a true Jedi. Maybe it had been out of pure curiosity, or her concern for her children. Whatever it was, Leia was here with them and wherever Leia was, Han would be too.
"The droids are all back with the ships," Corran informed them as they arrived. "Have you found a way into the place yet?"
Jaina shook her head. "We only just got here. I'm guessing we'd just follow the path – there should be a door somewhere near by."
As she spoke, she noticed that Luke was frowning as he stared up at the giant fortress.
"Now that we're here," he said slowly, "that Force-signature seems—"
"A little familiar," Mara finished for him. There was a perplexed look on her face. "I'm sure that I've felt this person's presence before, but I can't quite put a finger on it." She exhaled deeply and rolled her eyes. "Or maybe I'm just going crazy. Let's go."
Mara led the way up towards the fortress and along a long balcony that bordered the river of lava that bubbled beneath them. Ash swirled thickly in the air, making it difficult to breath. The heat was almost unbearable.
It didn't take them long to find a door. When Mara pushed against it, they found that it was locked, but she opened it easily using the Force. The door retracted, forming an archway that revealed a long, dark corridor.
Han lifted his blaster out of its holster. "I have a bad feeling about this," he muttered darkly.
Six lightsabers ignited, sending a wave of multi-coloured light down the hall.
"All the light you'll ever need," Leia murmured, raising her own lightsaber and activating it, adding a ruby glow to the mix.
"I guess Jedi come prepared for anything," Han commented, grinning.
They moved down the hall, the Force guiding the Jedi, the Jedi guiding Han. The Force-signature was pulsing, growing stronger as they walked hurriedly down the twisting corridors. Kyp, who was in the lead, halted at one point and turned abruptly down a new corridor, which was as dark as the first. Light danced along the walls from his lightsaber, revealing a door. Kyp approached it and paused.
"He's in there," he said quietly.
"Yes," Luke murmured. "I sense him."
As do we all, Jaina thought. A familiar sense of impatience rushed through her. "Well, what are we waiting for?" she demanded. She reached forwards and palmed the button on the wall. The door slid open. The group filed in slowly, looking around cautiously for any sign of movement.
There was none, and as far as they could tell, there was no one in the room apart from themselves.
The room was damaged and in complete disrepair. A table was split in half and there were scorched markings on the walls. Jaina deactivated her lightsaber and ran down the steps from the door. She kneeled to have a closer look at the table.
"This must be old," she said. "I don't recognize the build."
Leia glanced at her daughter and approached the table, examining it. "It must be pre-Empire style."
"Pre-Empire?" Jaina repeated, surprised. "But that's ancient! How could something like that last this long on a planet that's made out of lava?"
Luke was examining the marks on the walls. "These have to have been made by a lightsaber," he murmured. "I wonder who did this."
"I know who did," a cold voice said.
The door snapped closed.
Luke spun around as Jaina and their companions looked up at the person standing by the exit. He was wearing a long black robe, his head covered by its hood. In his hand, he gripped a lightsaber.