SPOILERS: PT, OT
DISCLAIMER: Characters and universe respectfully borrowed from George Lucas. No profit is gained from this work.
CHARACTERS: Han, Leia, Luke, Anakin, Padme, Obi-Wan, Shmi, Qui-Gon, OCs
TIMELINE: Post ROTJ – set after EU novel Truce at Bakura
SUMMARY: Luke, Leia and Han from the OT are pulled into a parallel universe where the events of the PT did not play out the same way
There but for the grace of God go I
Han's expression was soft and concerned and it should have made Leia feel better, but it didn't. His hand was gently clasped around her upper arm but she ignored it. Turning her head, her eyes locked across the small room with Luke's and she looked away. She and Luke always shared a connection. She wasn't in the mood to be connected to anyone.
"We need to stop worrying about my mental health and start worrying about how we're going to get home," she said pointedly.
Han sighed in a way she knew should make her heart ache, but instead irritated her more. He was disappointed. He thought she was working too hard, expecting too much of herself and she knew he wished she could relax for five seconds. She wouldn't. They both knew that.
Across the room, Luke didn't do anything. He sat there on the hard stone floor, dressed all in black and looking for all the galaxy like the stifling heat didn't bother him. Maybe it didn't. After all, he grew up here. But he had been away for years. Surely his body was more acclimated to the cold of deep space than the sweltering heat of this forsaken planet on the Outer Rim.
Or maybe Tatooine – the real Tatooine, in the real universe, their universe – wasn't this hot. Though Leia doubted it.
"You can't come up with any explanation for this?" she demanded, staring at Luke. She usually was a much better diplomat than this, but she couldn't muster the strength to bring all her emotions in check. Not even for Luke.
His calm, on the other hand, was unflappable. "It's the – "
"Don't say it!" She held up her hand, warding off his words. "I don't want to hear one more thing about the Force."
He shrugged. "That doesn't make it any less true."
Her glare could have frozen ice, even in Tatooine's oppressive heat.
The trio glanced up as the young woman once again entered the small room. "I've arranged transport," she said. "We'll have to wait for nightfall. It's not safe during the day."
"Thank you," Luke replied warmly.
The young woman regarded him warily, inclining her head in acknowledgement. She obviously wasn't thrilled with this turn of events. Leia thought in that small fact lay some great eternal truth.
The woman's hair was shorn nearly to the skull. Leia figured with all the sand and wind on this planet it was the only prudent choice to be made. By the readout lights on the dash, Leia watched the woman's hands as she piloted the speeder over harsh terrain. Her nails were clipped ruthlessly short, her hands callus roughened and marred by scars.
Leia fixated on those points because in every other respect, she and this woman were mirror images of one another.
Leia, Luke and Han were returning from Bakura when they stumbled upon … something. Luke offered a few unsatisfactory explanations about the Force and the Multi-verse, but Leia knew he was winging it. He may have had the vaguest ideas such things could exist, but it was definitely outside his area of expertise.
They spun out of control, their sensors fried, flying blind. Only Han's considerable skills as a pilot allowed them to set down in one piece. The same couldn't be said for the Falcon. It needed extensive repairs. How those repairs were going to be made, no one knew. Currently the Falcon was holed up in Mos Espa, guarded by Chewie, Artoo and Threepio.
Luke knew immediately the gist – if not the specifics – of what happened to them and the Falcon. Leia tried to deny it. But when confronted with her doppelganger, she had no choice but to believe.
They were no longer in their own dimension.
They wandered into the little junk shop searching for parts, but the Toydarian proprietor immediately ushered them out of sight and into the cramped back room. Addressing both Luke and Leia by name was enough to encourage them to humor him. It was several hours before the other alt-Leia appeared to inspect them. Neither the Toydarian, Watto, nor the alt-Leia offered much information. They didn't have to. It was obvious enough from their manner that this universe's Leia needed to keep a low profile. It was also very obvious the appearance of the three inter-dimensional interlopers was very unwelcome.
In the backseat of the speeder, Leia leaned closer to Luke. His eyes were fixated on the terrain, straining to see in the near dark. "You know where we are?" she asked.
He nodded slowly. They traveled for hours, first on a small transport to Mos Eisley and then by landspeeder. They skirted two large settlements, but at the moment, they seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. "I believe we're headed to the Lars homestead," he said quietly. "Anchorhead was the last settlement we passed."
Leia sat back in her seat, taking a deep breath. A churning mass of emotions had lived in her heart for weeks. This side trip only exacerbated her sense of groundlessness, of loss and confusion.
Weeks earlier, Leia took Luke's revelation in stride. They were siblings. She relished her connection to her brother. After so much loss, having a sibling, a twin, grounded her in a way nothing else could have. But that connection came at a very great cost. It was devastating to learn Vader was her biological father. Thankfully her duties on Endor and to the New Republic made it easy to push it from her mind.
Bakura was ... harder. She thought she was handling everything so well, but the glimpse of a swirling cape was enough to set her nerves on edge. The appearance of Vader's – Skywalker's, whoever he was - ghost asking for forgiveness was far more than she could bear. She shut it out, all of it, replacing her fear and grief with anger and aggression. She didn't want to be a monster's daughter. She couldn't. It was an affront to everything her parents – her real parents –fought and died for. Bail Organa was her father, not Darth Vader.
Leia felt unsure of herself in a way heretofore unknown. She didn't know who she was. She didn't know what she was. It was a great comfort, however, to know Luke was struggling with many of the same questions.
Leia forced herself to quiet, to reach out to Luke not physically, but through the Force. It wasn't easy. Despite Luke's assertions that she would one day be a Jedi like him, she was very doubtful.
The moon provided enough light that she could watch the corners of Luke's mouth curl up in a small smile. He reached out his hand and placed it over hers, squeezing gently. Leia maintained the connection through the Force. It was a heady sensation, like the universe itself was kaleidoscoping before her.
As much as Leia didn't wish to discover what this brave new world held for her, she knew she needed to be here for Luke. She lost an entire planet when Tarkin ordered Alderaan's destruction. But she wasn't the only one to pay great dues. Luke was far from unscathed by the Empire. Owen and Beru Lars were the only parents Luke knew and they too were viciously murdered by the Empire.
Given alt-Leia's current heading, it was entirely possible she was taking them to the Lars family homestead. It was possible they would meet an Owen and Beru who still lived, who had yet to be discovered and murdered by Vader. Leia wasn't sure if the tight sensation in the pit of her stomach belonged to her or Luke.
The speeder slowed and eventually came to a stop near an unassuming domed entrance that rose from the barren landscape. Leia knew the thick stone shelter housed a stairway leading to a larger, underground complex. Tatooine's surface was far too harsh, especially this far from any sizeable settlement, to allow surface buildings. Any such structures would be scoured out of existence by the season's first sandstorm.
"Wait here," alt-Leia instructed them in her terse, biting fashion. All of Han and Luke's attempts to engage her in conversation during their trek were a spectacular failure.
Leia accepted Han's arm as support as she hopped from the speeder.
They all watched as alt-Leia piloted the speeder from sight, no doubt to be parked in the safety of an underground garage. There were several farm droids milling around. Light shone from the doorway, providing dim illumination. Strobe lights blinked in the distance, marking the farm's perimeter.
"Tuskens must be a problem, eh kid?" Han asked, nodding toward the flashing lights.
Luke shrugged. "The perimeter is designed to keep them out," he agreed. "Any moisture farmer who wanted to stay alive more than a fortnight would need one." Luke took a deep breath and squinted into the dark horizon. He shook his head. "But I don't think they're a problem around here."
Luke's manner immediately put Leia on edge. "Something bad?" she asked.
His face pinched into a bit of a grimace and he shook his head. "Not bad," he said. "At least not for us." He seemed to be searching for words. "But strong. Very strong."
Han stepped closer. "You worried?" he asked under his breath.
Luke shook his head again, looking around, scanning the immediate area. "I don't think they want us here," he said. "But it's not necessarily hostile."
"Not necessarily hostile?" Han parroted. "What does that mean? Because I'mnot necessarily keeping one hand on the trigger."
"Weapons won't be necessary."
Han, Leia and Luke immediately turned to look at the speaker, all of them shocked her approach escaped their notice. She was standing less than five meters away, just inside the dome's lone doorway, her feet planted on the first step. There was enough illumination from below that they could easily make out her features. She was an old woman, her kind face heavily lined with wrinkles. Her white hair was pulled back from her face.
She looked at Han first, her eyes traveled to the blaster in his hand. Her gentle, yet disapproving expression was more than sufficient reprimand for him to quickly holster it. Her eyes then found Leia. The trio could easily hear the sharp intake of breath. The woman's gaze immediately fixated on Luke. They watched the tears well in her eyes, ignorant as to their cause.
"I see Watto didn't exaggerate," she finally said. Her voice was soft and melodic with a hint of an accent Leia could not place.
No one was certain how long they stood looking at one another, nor of how long it might have continued had they not been interrupted. Shadows played against the whitewashed wall behind the woman's head before the newcomer moved into sight.
"Nana Shmi," the woman said, placing her hand on the older woman's arm and searching her face before she turned toward Han, Leia and Luke. Leia estimated the younger woman was between fifty and sixty standard years in age. Her hair was dark and short. She was thin without seeming frail. Her face seemed unaccustomed to the scowl that pinched her brow, as if her heart was usually much lighter. But there was no light to be found at this moment. Unlike Nana Shmi's welcoming smile, there was nothing fond in her gaze. "You're not supposed to be up here," she said, trying to draw Nana Shmi down the stairs.
Leia kept her eyes on the two women, but she turned her face in Luke's direction and reached out to him through the Force. The sense of grief she felt from him was so sharp she grasped his arm, needing to offer physical comfort. They were far enough from the light sources she couldn't easily make out his features, but she could see a single tear tracing down his cheek.
"It's okay, Beru," Nana Shmi said, patting Beru's hand.
Beru was obviously unconvinced. The glare she gave Han was downright warm in comparison to the violent mixture of emotions – primarily suspicion and anger – pouring off her as she looked at Luke and Leia. Her resolve strengthened, she said, "They'll be angry, Nana Shmi."
Nana Shmi stopped her short, though not unkindly. "The boys are worried," Nana Shmi said softly. "They're such good boys. They only want to keep us safe."
Nana Shmi took a step. For a moment they wondered if Beru would try to physically restrain her, but in the end Beru did nothing. Nana Shmi ventured ever closer and Leia could see she was even older than Leia initially thought - though living on Tatooine for any length of time undoubtedly prematurely aged one.
Despite the open hostility displayed by Beru, Leia felt nothing but welcoming warmth from Nana Shmi. Leia knew she had never before seen this woman, but there was an undeniable sense of recognition and familiarity. Nana Shmi held out her hands and Leia immediately took them, as shocked by how warm they felt as she was by the coldness of her own hands. Nana Shmi smiled at Leia.
"We don't have anything to fear from these visitors," Nana Shmi assured Beru.
Nana Shmi turned to Luke and her smile was blinding even as tears streamed down her face. She released Leia's grasp and gently placed one weathered hand against Luke's face. Luke allowed it, watching her with wide, curious eyes.
There was such wonder and grief in her expression which echoed in her presence in the Force. "My dear boy," she whispered.
"That's not Luke."
Leia's attention snapped to the man. He was standing only a few feet away, halfway between the dome and where they stood. Beru was nowhere to be seen. With the light from the doorway behind him, it was nearly impossible to discern any of his features. Again, Leia was both shocked and appalled she hadn't noticed a stranger's approach. She glanced at Han and knew while she and Luke had were distracted by Nana Shmi, Han kept his attention firmly fixated on the man.
Leia looked back to Nana Shmi. Her smile was gone, but she still used one hand to grasp Leia and the other, Luke. She and Luke continued to study one another.
Nana Shmi sighed. Her head bowed as she released Luke and Leia. "I know, Ani," she said softly. "I know this isn't your boy."