Author's Note: So much for my hope to update by the end of April. Oh well. It's here now. And it's short – sorry about that, but it's only a transitional chapter. Sorry for the wait, too, and here's to hoping the next chapter comes quicker! Thanks for being patient.

Chapter Twenty-Two: Aftereffects

I stared out the window of the cruiser, every now and then glancing over at Luke and the medi-droid attending to his hand – or wrist – or whatever. Honestly, the whole thing made me squeamish. I'd never thought I was bothered by gore before – it was kind of hard to be when people get hurt as often as members of the Alliance do – but there was something inherently disturbing about lightsaber wounds that just turned my stomach. Maybe it was the distinct lack of gore.

Or maybe it was just the person responsible for Luke's maiming that made it so much worse.

I had been far too forgiving of Vader up until now. Foolishly, I had assumed that because we had a deal, he was on my side.

But it had never been about that. He was an Imperial to the core, and I had overlooked that in favour of the power he could bring to the table. And therein lay the fatal flaw of my reasoning: If he had all this power, he wouldn't need my help in the first place.

Not that I had done much up until now, but Vader believed our deal was pivotal to the destruction of the Emperor. And that belief of his gave me power.

And it was time for me to use it.

My deal with Vader had gotten me out of some tight situations, but it was time for those situations to stop occurring in the first place. It was my turn to call the shots, and to find out if there really was honour among thieves.

Oh, Vader would kick up a fuss, to be sure, but he had been unwilling to let me out of the deal when I wanted out, and I sure wasn't about to let him off the hook when the going got tough. He'd just have to put up with it.

"Luke, we're ready for takeoff." Lando's voice crackled through Luke's comlink like a whip, jarring the stillness of the medbay.

Lando and Chewie were headed to Tatooine, trying to keep up with Boba Fett and carbonite-Han. Once they had a solid lead on him, Luke and I would follow to help with the rescue.

Until then, I had some business to take care of.

"Good luck, Lando," Luke replied as I glanced over at him, relieved to see that the prosthetic was in place. In fact, the operation looked nearly complete.

"When we find Jabba the Hutt and that bounty hunter, we'll contact you," Lando reaffirmed.

"I'll meet you at the rendezvous point on Tatooine," Luke replied with assurance. I smiled fondly at how much he had grown as a person since I'd met him. No longer a naive farmboy, but a blooded warrior. However, in my opinion, the price had been far too high.

"Princess," Lando said, jerking me from my thoughts at the sound of my title, "we'll find Han. I promise."

Luke looked over at me, silently asking if I wanted to reply. I smiled and shook my head slightly.

"Chewie, I'll be waiting for your signal," Luke informed the Wookiee, turning his attention to the comlink again.

Chewie's barks came through sharply over the comlink.

Luke smiled. "Take care, you two. May the Force be with you." He shut the comlink off as the droid began poking his artificial hand. "Ow! Ow!" he hissed.

The next thing I knew, he was at my side. I glanced at the hand, but it looked completely normal – Not like Vader's, a traitorous voice whispered in my mind.

I shoved the thought aside as I leaned into Luke. His arm came around my shoulders, and together we watched the Millennium Falcon detach and soar away from us – leaving me with nothing but Luke and my fury.

It was strange, not having Han around. I had gotten so used to his presence without noticing.

Would he ever forgive me, once he found out that I had known he would be frozen in carbonite? I didn't know, and I tossed and turned for hours, agonizing over what I would do if he didn't . . . .

I stared at myself in the mirror.

I never thought I would wear this dress, at least not for a long time yet. And now I'd donned the wedding dress that was once my mother's – that I had always planned to wear one day in the far, far future – and was about to step outside to greet my secret groom, a Jedi Padawan whom I had no right to love.

But I did love him, with all my being, despite the fact that he was five years younger than me and barely out of childhood; despite the fact that he had sworn himself to the Jedi Order as I had done to the people of Naboo and neither of us were free to make any more vows; despite the fact that we were in a war and there was no time to nurture a relationship; despite the fact that he was rash and arrogant and obstinate and –

And I loved him.

He had been given two weeks leave to recuperate from the loss of his hand, a loss that stung me almost as much as it hurt him. He was coping admirably, though, and was already pushing himself back into top condition.

I don't know what I had been thinking, inviting him to spend his leave here on Naboo with me. Maybe I had actually been hoping for this to happen – though I certainly felt stunned when, less than a day after our arrival, he had enticed me into a walk at dusk and proposed in the deserted Thebes Square Garden.

I knew he was still shaken from the loss of his arm, and feeling his own mortality. At barely twenty, his own death wasn't something he liked to dwell on, and it was a possibility he had been forced to face a mere three days ago. I should have said no and told him to ask again when his emotions weren't running so high.

But my emotions – the fear of losing him without ever having him – were just as high, and I said yes.

And now here I stood, willing my nerves into submission as I stared into the mirror.

The bed behind me caught my eye, and the butterflies I had been working so hard to quell started fluttering again with a vengeance. Not for the first time, I wondered if things might have been easier if I had been raised to be accepting of premarital relations.

Somehow I doubted it. Anakin preferred to go all out, no mattered the difficulties. He wouldn't have been satisfied with such an arrangement, either. If he had been, he would have propositioned rather than proposed.

One more deep breath, and I walked out onto the veranda.

Anakin was standing at the far end, where so long ago – had it only been days? – we had stood looking out over the lake. His entire face lit up in joy and awe as he watched me walk toward him.

We did n't speak or touch as the holy man recited marital blessings, but the air between us was charged. We both murmured our acceptance of our vows in the appropriate places, but neither one of us was paying much attention.

Something cool and hard brushed against my hand; Anakin held my fingers delicately in his artificial hand. He eyed me with wariness, silently making sure I was alright with the cool metal touch.

I tightened my grip on his fingers and lifted my face to welcome his kiss.

"There is still good in him . . . ."

"Where are we going?" Luke asked as he watched me lace up my boots with determination, my stuffed pack on the ground beside me.

"First, we have to make contact with the Alliance," I said with authority. I had this all planned out, and damn if I wasn't going through with it. "We may not have been working as closely with them lately, but we're still part of it and they need to be brought up to date."

"And then?" Luke persisted, obviously as antsy to rescue Han as I was.

But first things first. "We go to Coruscant."

Luke frowned, puzzled. The Alliance usually stayed as far away from Coruscant as possible, given that it was the Imperial headquarters, as the ever-creative new name of Imperial Center implied. "What's on Coruscant?"

I smiled tightly. "Assets."