Alterations - AU SW timetravel story

Prologue

In the otherworldly mists, where the Dark Side resides....

He knew he had to stop him. He would be his downfall if he failed. He tried before to kill him, but he was too well protected, too well hidden. Still, The Visions would not stop showing him how he'd fail, how the son of Vader would destroy him. No matter which time he traveled to, no matter where he stopped, the Force protected the towheaded boy. It was just so frustrating, so infuriating.

He could see the future so clearly now. Of course, death did that to a person. And he had managed to die a thousand times in his mind, all by the hand of Luke Skywalker.

Destiny. The word was bitter. It could be changed. It had to be changed.

Perhaps he was going about this all wrong. Perhaps the son of Skywalker could be stopped if those around him changed. He looked through his dark portal and stared at the wild sabacc card. So many times during the past, this street urchin had saved the Chosen One's son. An unprotected child, wandering the streets of Corellia, like thousands of other hungry, cold orphans. Killing him would be easy, and there would be no Force to protect this one. No interference from local authorities. No one would care if one small child was found dead in an alley. He would simply be cremated and forgotten before the sun set on another day.

This time his plan to alter the future would not fail. Emperor Palpatine would rise again from the evil mists of his unending hatred, and rule the galaxy once again.

******


It looked like a waterfall, sparkling and cool. But he wasn't too certain that's what it actually was, because it made no noise, only glittered in a bright light. Then, like a curtain parting, the veils parted, inviting him to step inside. Carefully, he made that step, and was no longer seeing the waterfall. No, this was a dark and dirty alley, and evil permeated the rancid air. The Dark Side was here, and it was powerful, out to kill.

The Jedi Master looked around. Somewhere, a child was whimpering in fear. The Jedi reached out with the Force to locate this child and drew back in shock. The Force signature was familiar, but immature. Frightened. How was this possible? He moved in the direction of the soft crying, and rounded a bend. The child was cowering in a corner, and the Evil One stood in front of the boy. Sensing he was no longer alone, the Evil One turned his yellow eyes toward the Jedi and Force lightning shot from his gnarled fingers. The Jedi barely had time to react, to roll away from the bolts of power. He reached inside his robe for his lightsaber, and was shocked to realize it wasn't there.

The Evil One started laughing, and turned his power to the child, who screamed in pain as the Force lightning slammed into his small body. The Jedi leapt to his feet, somersaulting over the boxes and barrels, trying to save this child.... this person he knew so well in a distant future. But he was too late, the child curled up in a fetal position, drawing his ragged, smoking clothes against his charred body, and died. The Evil One laughed harder, and raised his hands up in triumph.

-----------


Luke woke up, soaked with sweat and trembling. The dream had been so real, so powerful.

Mara stirred next to him, and opened her eyes. "What's the matter?'

"I just had a vision," Luke mumbled softly. "I saw the past, and I saw the Emperor kill a child."

"But if it's just the past you saw, you can't change it," Mara reasoned.

"I'm not too sure, Mara. The child I saw murdered was Han."

-----------


The comlink buzzed in Leia's ear, and she reached over and groggily answered it. "Yes?"

"Leia? It's Luke."

"Hmm. It's awfully late," she said, and turned over to look at the chrono. "Or early."

"I know, I'm sorry. Is Han okay?"

She glanced over at the sleeping form of her husband. "He's fine. He's asleep, which means he's more okay than I am at the moment."

"I'm not asleep," Han grumbled, opening one eye. "Not anymore."

"I'm sorry, I just had a - " Luke hesitated. "A bad dream."

Han sat up, and ran his fingers through his messy hair. "A dream? You wake us both up at this god's forsaken hour to tell us you had a bad dream?"

"It was more than a dream," Mara said, her face appearing in the projection. "It was a vision. And it involved you, Solo."

"What kind of vision?" Leia asked, instantly alert and worried.

"I think I'd like to discuss this in person," Luke decided. "Can we come over?"

"Now?" Han muttered under his breath.

"Han will put on some caf," Leia agreed. "We'll be waiting." The comm went dark.

Han looked over at his wife. "I wonder how many other families wake each other up in the middle of the night, and then come over to discuss their bad dreams."

"Go put on the caf."

---------


40 years earlier

Palpatine leaned forward, looking intently at his Force-seer. "My death? You foresee my death?"

"Repeatedly," the female Bith replied through her many layers of veils. "You have tried to stop this, and you always fail. Always."

The Emperor trembled in rage. "I should kill you for this heresy."

"Then you will die. Again and again. In each of our dimensions, like a strand of looped thread."

"You speak in riddles."

"We have had this conversation before. You said the same thing, and then you allowed the future to proceed unhindered, and you die."

"Then tell me, how shall I stop this?"

"You must destroy the Protector."

"Protector?"

"The one that has had his destiny laid out before him. The one whose life is intertwined with your conquerors. The Protector of the untrained Jedi of the Future."

"Riddles. Where is this Protector? Who is this Protector?"

"He is currently a child, living on the streets of Corellia. An orphan."

Palpatine laughed. "I should worry about a street urchin?"

"If you do not, you will die."

"So I should go to Corellia and kill this orphan?"

The Bith nodded. "Yes."

"How will I know which one is the Protector? Is he Force strong?"

"The Force will try and protect him. The Dark Side will guide you to him, and help you to destroy him."

"Then I will go to Corellia," the Emperor said grimly. "If necessary, I will kill every orphan I find."

----------


"Kid, this ain't possible," Han argued with his brother-in-law as he paced the living room. "If Palpatine had killed me, I wouldn't be here, would I?"

"It was a vision," Mara put in tiredly. "The future is always shifting and changing."

"I can see Han's point," Leia said. "He's here, and he's alive. So it couldn't have happened, right?"

Luke shook his head in despair. "I wish I could say that's true, Leia. Except I'm not sure. It felt like I was there, and it was something I was supposed to prevent from happening. Only I didn't prevent it, and I saw you die, Han."

"Well, that's a cheery thought," Han replied as he sipped his caf.

"I still think it was a warning of some kind," Luke insisted.

"I'm going back to bed," Han said with a yawn. "I don't see why Palpatine would have wanted me dead when I was a kid, anyway." He turned to head to the bedroom, when suddenly he gasped in pain, clutching his arms across his torso.

"HAN!" Leia shouted, grabbing her husband's arm. Han sank to his knees, his eyes tightly shut. "Han... what's the matter?"

"Bur..burning," he managed to say. "It feels like..."

"Call the medics," Leia ordered Luke.

"It feels like, what, Han?" Luke questioned gently, kneeling next to Solo.

"The s..scan grid, only, only worse."

Luke looked at his sister. "He's feeling the Force lightning I witnessed. The medics won't be able to help him. Only we can."

"How?" Leia asked, her eyes pleading with Luke.

"I'm not sure."

-------------


40 years earlier

The Force-seer crawled through the underbrush of Yavin, her body twisted and burned by the Emperor's rage. She had been blamed for his latest failure, and she had paid the price. All those years of loyalty, all those times she'd warned him, and this was her reward. She knew, in some time-thread, somewhere, she was still serving him, still giving him advice. But now, this time, she wanted revenge.

Finally it came into sight. Beautiful, so pale blue, it glistened like watergems. It appeared out of nowhere, but the Emperor knew where it was located, because she had told him. The Force-curtain that parted time was her charge, hers to protect and safeguard. She had never used it before, only watched as Palpatine tried, time after time, to alter his destiny with it. The Bith shut her eyes and staggered to her feet. She had betrayed the Force, the Jedi, and now she knew some version of herself had betrayed the Protector.

She might not be able to stop the Protector from dying, but she would use the Force-curtain and try to warn the son of the Chosen One. If the Protector died before his duty was fulfilled, the Jedi would cease to exist.

----------


She had always wondered what it would be like to pass through the Force-curtain. Concentrating on the future, she entered the wall. Now she knew - it was cool and tingled the skin in a verry pleasant manner. The jungle appeared no different on this side. Perhaps she had failed to move through time. Then she felt the living presence of other sentients nearby. Force strong. Jedi. So the Protector still lived. The Bith seer knew the Jedi would not be here if Palpatine had succeeded, so she still had time, but the time was growing short.

Moving slowly due to her injuries, she headed toward the distant stone temples. It was nearly an hour before she stumbled into the clearing, her head spinning, her throat parched. A human male noticed her, and moved in her direction. "What's your name?" he asked when he got near, his face showing concern.

"My name is Talj Wees, and I need to speak to Luke Skywalker." With those words, she fainted.

--------------


When she woke, Jedi and padawans stood around her, offering her water and tending her burns. The same human appeared in her line of vision. "How did you arrive? There haven't been any ships."

"I must speak to Jedi Skywalker," was her reply.

"We have contacted Master Skywalker, but he's on Coruscant. It will take a few days for him to arrive."

"Then I will wait, and hope the delay will not mean the end of all."

The Jedi looked at each other worriedly. "The end of all? Perhaps one of us can help you. My name is Kyp Durron, and I'm a Jedi, also."

"No. You cannot help. Only the children of the Chosen One can help." And nothing the Jedi could say would persuade Seer Talj Wees to change her mind.

------------


Coruscant, the next morning

"Kyp has contacted me," Luke told his sister. "There's a Bith woman, strong in the Force, that's arrived on Yavin. She'll only talk to me."

Leia looked up from her desk. "How did she arrive?"

"It wasn't a ship, and she won't tell anyone."

"That sounds mysterious." When Luke didn't answer, Leia felt the Force nudge at her. "Does this have something to do with your vision about Han?"

"I'm not sure," Luke admitted reluctantly. "How is Han feeling?" After a few moments of agony, the burning sensation that his brother-in-law had experienced disappeared as quickly and completely as it had arrived, but it had left everyone shaken.

"The pain didn't come back, thank the Force. Listen, if this concerns Han, I want to come with you to Yavin. I think Han will want to be involved, too, especially after last night."

"What about the children?"

"Chewie can stay with them." After a moment's consideration, she asked, "Do you suppose Mara would stay with them, too? I'd feel better knowing a Jedi was helping protect them."

"I'll ask her," Luke said, knowing his wife wouldn't be pleased to be left on Coruscant.

"I'll beg her, if that's what it takes," Leia said firmly.

"We should leave right away. I keep getting the feeling I need to hurry, that something evil is trying to change things."

The Millennium Falcon left Coruscant in less than two hours.

-------------


When Luke entered the galley in the morning, he was surprised to find Leia preparing breakfast. "Where's Han?"

"What's the matter? You don't think I can make breakfast?" she replied, her voice a bit too light.

"Leia. What's wrong?"

She turned and looked at Luke, her eyes dark with worry. "He's sick, Luke. He's got a fever, and keeps complaining about being dizzy. I don't remember Han ever being ill."

"We'll be on Yavin in ten hours," Luke tried to reassure her. "Cilghal can help him."

The Princess turned back to the cooking unit, and removed the pan. "This is all connected somehow, isn't it? The dream, the Bith, and now Han's illness."

Luke shut his eyes. During his meditation last night, all he could picture in his mind's eye was the child that he had seen in his 'dream', the child he knew had been Han, surrounded by evil swirls of lightning. The child was being protected by a bright light, but that light was growing dim. They needed to hurry, and Luke was becoming very afraid that even the fastest ship in the galaxy wasn't going to be fast enough.

---------


Corellia, 40 years in the past

The Emperor moved through the streets, searching out his prey. A young child ran out from behind a dumpster, and Palpatine used the Force to jerk the child off his feet, and draw him near. The boy squirmed and struggled. "Let me go..."

Without hesitation, the Emperor crushed the boy to the ground, killing him instantly. He turned to the Bith seer standing behind him. "It wasn't the Protector."

"No, he wasn't," she replied, staring at the dead boy. "Do you truly intend to kill them all? There are thousands more young orphans, just in this capital town."

"If that is what it requires, then I will kill them all. They are nothing more than petty thieves, a drain on Imperial society. I am doing the galaxy a service."

"The Light Side will do everything it can to ensure his survival. That is the reason he's here to begin with, hidden like a speck of sand in a vast desert."

Palpatine seemed amused by this. "So, this Protector is being made to suffer for the purpose of becoming a servant to the future Jedi? Perhaps this proves the Light Side is hardly different than the Dark Side."

"Things will balance for him, this Protector of the Jedi. The Light Side will reward him, eventually."

"Eventually. But in the meantime, he still suffers."

"He is becoming forged. Molded. Made strong by his trials."

"But he is not strong, yet. And the Light Side cannot hide him from me forever."

----------


The Princess glanced up at Han's pale face, and tightened her grip around his waist as they made their way into the stone temple. The last time Leia could recall that Han hadn't landed the Falcon was right after his time in carbonite, but he had not argued when Luke suggested that the Jedi pilot the ship down to the surface.

The three entered the room where the Bith seer lay, covered in blankets. Cilghal sat next to the woman, meditating in the Force. She opened her large, liquid eyes when Luke appeared, and then turned her focus to Solo. "Captain Solo is ill."

Seer Talj Wees turned her head and looked at the new arrivals. "The Protector. He grows ill because he is being hunted by the forces of evil."

Han exchanged a puzzled look with Leia, while Luke questioned, "The Protector?"

"This one is the Protector of the Jedi," she said, waving a tired hand at Han. "The one I have come to help the Chosen One's children save. If you fail, he will die. If he dies, then all Jedi cease."

Luke sat down next to Talj Wees's bed. "Please, explain. How did you arrive on Yavin?"

"By ship, forty years ago."

"You've been hiding on Yavin for forty years?" Leia exclaimed in surprise.

The Bith gave a brittle laugh. "No, my lady. My ship arrived forty years ago, and I came to this time through the Force-curtain. The Force-curtain allows passage through time and space, and it exists on Yavin."

"How do you know that Han is in danger?" Luke continued, wondering how sane this Bith woman was.

"Because I have placed him in that danger."

-----------


Corellia, 40 years earlier

The orphan peeled off the portion of the fruit that was infested with vermin, and then ate the remaining piece. It was the only food he'd had for two days, and his thin body shivered in the cold morning air. The weather was changing, growing colder with each passing week. Soon, it would snow. Somewhere, in the recesses of his memories, he remembered snow. It had been fun, and he'd played in it until he would grow tired, then he'd return home. Home to his mother and father. But those memories were fading, and he couldn't remember exactly what his parents looked like anymore. And he knew he wouldn't like the snow this time when it came. It was too cold.

Another type of cold chilled him to his very soul. This cold was even more dangerous than snow. He knew he had to hide from this cold. A soft voice sometimes would speak to him inside his mind. His mother? It seemed to be female. She would tell him where to sleep, where to find food. And now she was telling him to run and hide. The orphan dropped the fruit and ran, following the voice to safety, leaving the soul-cold behind. By running, he knew he was making this cold angry at him. But he couldn't ignore the voice that prodded him to leave this alley far behind.

------------


Out in the corridor, Han sat down on a long, stone bench and looked up at Luke and Leia. "Protector? Where's she comin' up with that load of bantha dung?"

"She's telling us the truth, Han," Luke returned softly. "She said she'd lead us to this Force-curtain."

"Then what?" Han asked belligerently. "You two risk your lives to try and save me? Personally, I'd rather go myself. I don't want you to take that kind of chance for me."

"Seer Wees already said you can't go back, Han," Luke replied. "It has to be a Force-sensitive that enters the curtain, and you can't go back because you're already there, as a child. It could unbalance the Light Side."

"Not to mention you're ill," Leia pointed out. "She told us if we don't save you, we'll die anyway."

"I don't believe that," Han said stubbornly. "I'm not some mystical Protector, and even if I'd died as a child, you would have survived. Someone else would have taken on your charter that day, kid."

"Would they have?" Luke questioned. "And more importantly, would they have helped rescue Leia, or come back and shot those TIE's off my tail above the Death Star?"

"Probably."

"What would have happened to Chewie?" Leia continued gently. "Or Kyp? Your life has been interwoven with too many people, Han. Things would be different without you."

"That's why the Emperor is trying to kill you," Luke said. "Seer Wees knows he's tried to alter his destiny by destroying me, Leia and our father many times, and he's always failed. So now he's picking on you."

"Thanks to the Bith," Han said, shaking his head in confusion. "If she's tried all those times to help Palpatine before, why is she trying to help us, now? It doesn't make any sense."

"This is the first time he's tried to kill her," Leia replied. "That can change a person's attitude real fast."

Han looked away, his face expressing unhappiness. "I still don't want you to do this."

Leia sat down on the bench and took his hand. "You would do this for me, without hesitation. Why shouldn't I do this for you?"

Looking at the floor, Han played with her slender fingers before whispering, "I... I don't want you to see me like that."

"Like what?"

"Living on the streets, stealing to stay alive. A filthy, uneducated beggar." Han took a shuddering breath. "I remember how people looked at me back then, Leia. With pity and disgust."

The Princess reached over and turned his face to look at her. "I love you, Han Solo. You've been my protector since the day I met you, and I didn't need a Bith seer to tell me that. If those people looked at you that way, a starving child that needed help, then they're the ones that were disgusting, not you." She leaned over and kissed his fevered lips just as the Bith limped out of the room with Kyp and Cilghal's assistance.

"We need to hurry," the seer urged. "Time is growing short."


Corellia, 40 years ago.

"They are coming," Talj Wees said suddenly.

Palpatine turned his evil gaze toward the Bith. "Who?"

"The children of the Chosen One. They have learned of our plan, and they are coming to save the Protector."

"Then they will be just in time to witness their own destruction." He pointed down a busy street. "The child is running away, but I have sensed him. Now it is a matter of time, for he cannot hide from me."

"We need to hurry," the seer urged. "Time is growing short."


--

The group consisting of Luke, Leia, Han, Cilghal and Talj Wees made their way through the thick underbrush until they finally came to a small clearing. The trip took longer than it should have, since Han and the seer were both weak and needed frequent rest stops. It had been pointless to argue with the Corellian - Luke and Leia had both tried. If Han couldn't go with them back in time, he was determined to wait for them near this Force-curtain. There was simply no changing his mind, so Cilghal accompanied them as a precaution.

"I don't see anything," Han grumbled, looking around at the trees and rocks.

"Wait," the seer said. "It will appear when it is called." Moments later, a shining blue light rose up from the ground, reaching up as far as the eye could see.

"It's beautiful," Leia said in awe.

"The curtain will deposit you anytime, anywhere you direct it to. But in order to reenter and return to this time, you must go to Yavin, to this exact spot, and call it up with the power of the Force," the Bith instructed.

Luke nodded in understanding. "So, how do we direct it?"

"Simply reach out with the Force, and imagine a system, and a time. The Force will know." She gave a deep sigh. "You must go now. Already I can see changes."

Leia turned to Han, embracing him tightly. "I'll be back as soon as I can. Don't worry."

"Don't worry? You're kidding, right?" he said with a deep chuckle. "I love you, Princess." Reaching down, he gave her a gentle kiss. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do, sweetheart."

"I love you, nerfherder." She turned and took Luke's hand, and together they stepped through the curtain.

The Bith seer looked at Han. "You know, don't you? You've always known."

"I've known my destiny since I was five," the Corellian said quietly, realizing his hands were trembling. "But it doesn't make it any easier."

"Meeting your final trial is never easy."


Corellia, 40 years in the past.

It was a bit of a shock to leave the humid jungle and step into the cool night air of Corellia. Leia looked at Luke. "Are we in the right time?"

Luke took a breath and shut his eyes. "Yes. The Emperor is here, and so is Han."

"Which way?"

The Jedi pointed to the left and his hand checked to make sure his lightsaber was there. It was a relief when he felt the familiar weight. "This way. And the seer was right, we really do need to hurry."


-----

"Luke!" The Princess tugged on her brother's sleeve as they hurried through the busy streets. The Jedi stopped and looked at her, waiting for her to continue. "I can't sense the Emperor anymore, can you?"

Reaching out with the Force, Luke concentrated. "Barely. He's trying to shield himself from us, which means he knows we're here. We can still locate Han, although he's moving fast."

"He's afraid," she whispered back.

The Jedi nodded, rather perplexed. How was Han afraid, unless ..... "Come on," he ordered, pulling Leia along quickly. A few more turns and bends, and soon they were approaching the Force-signature that was Han Solo as a very young child. The twins rounded one more corner, and realized they were looking down a dead-end alley filled with crates and trash. Han was hiding at the back, so they slowly and carefully made their way toward him.

"Han?" Leia called out very softly as they neared the end of the alley. "Please come out. You don't have to be afraid of us, we're here to help you." She looked at Luke, who nodded his head toward an overturned barrel. Leia walked quietly over, and peered over the top. Huddling down, his face and torn clothing covered in grime and soot, sat a very young boy. His hair hung over his eyes, it hadn't been cut for quite a while, and he'd tried to make some type of covering for his feet with rags and bits of rope. Leia's breath caught in her throat. "Han," she repeated, trying to keep from crying at the sight of her future husband. How in the stars had he survived such a terrible beginning, not only physically but emotionally? Guilt swept through her own emotions as she thought back to when she first met him, thinking he cared only about money. Seeing him now, cold and hungry, it was no surprise he'd put such a high premium on credits, since everyone, even small children, understood credits fed you and kept you warm.

She knelt down next to the barrel, and extended her hand. "Han, trust me. I know I'm asking a lot."

"A bad cold is coming," he said, so quietly she had to strain to hear. "The cold wants me dead."

"We'll get you a warm coat," Leia replied, misunderstanding.

"No," he shook his head, his dark eyes wide with fear. "Not that kind of cold. A mean cold."

"He means the Dark Side," Luke spoke up, suddenly understanding. "That's what we're here to help you with, Han. Keeping that mean cold from hurting you."

Tentatively, Han reached out his small, dirt covered hand to the pretty lady. So few people were nice to him. Ladies like this were usually repelled by his appearance, and hurried away, refusing to look at him. This lady was not only looking, she was offering to touch him. No one ever touched him anymore, except other orphans when they beat him up, or mean adults, when they kicked at him to make him go away. Her hand was soft, and she smelled so sweet. It was a scent his mind remembered, somehow. A flash of memory - a lady sitting at a dresser, dabbing some liquid behind her ear. Then the memory was gone, but the smell lingered. He limped out from behind the barrel. It was really cold tonight, and it made his toes hurt when it was cold.

"We'll get you some warm clothes and some food," the pretty lady told him as she reached down and hugged him. Hugged him! She shouldn't do that, he'd get her nice clothes all bad dirty.

"Isn't this scene sweet?" a mocking voice said from the entrance to the alley. "The future family trying to save the child. The Protector."

Luke spun around, drawing out his saber while Leia pushed Han behind her and reached for her own lightsaber. "Palpatine."

"So we meet again, Skywalker. Once again."


---

Palpatine sneered in contempt at Luke Skywalker. "You always interfere, and I am very tired of having you around, young Skywalker."

"That's too bad," Luke replied. "I'm not letting you hurt this child."

"Only because you need him alive," Palpatine taunted. "If you didn't need him, you wouldn't care. The other orphans certainly don't matter, do they?"

"They matter," Leia shot back, angry. "Most of these children living in the streets are here because of heartless government policies. You murder their parents, destroy their homes, all because they won't bend to your will."

"You forget what year this is, my dear," he cackled. "The Republic is still in charge."

"The Republic is already corrupt because of people like you. It was corruption that allowed you to take control and crush those that are trying to make things better."

"Such idealism, my lovely," the Emperor said, shaking his head. "Too bad you have to die. I would enjoy your company as one of my many willing female subjects."

"I can't imagine they're willing," Leia snapped, feeling the little boy trembling against the back of her legs.

"You are incapable of imagining a great deal," the Emperor replied, raising his hands. A great rumble sounded, and the old brick walls surrounding the alley began to rain down.

Luke and Leia quickly used the Force to deflect the crumbling edifice, but the Emperor wasn't finished. The crates and containers littering the ground rose up, and tried to crash into the Jedi and child. Lightsabers clashed with the debris, but still more came at them, faster and harder.

// Leia... I'm going to attack Palpatine.... when I do, take Han and run.//

// I don't want to leave you to face him alone.//

// If we don't save Han, it won't matter.//

With that, Luke lunged forward, slashing his green blade at the Emperor who refused to die.

The Princess watched in awe at the sheer strength of her brother's Force abilities. He deflected not only the debris, but now the Force-lightning that shot from the Emperor's fingers. Reaching down, she grasped the thin arm of the child and tried to speak confidently. "When I say run, we run, okay? I won't let you go, so you have to try and keep up."

The boy stood transfixed at the sight of the intense battle of Force-lightning and lightsabers. He'd never seen anything in his life as frightening as this battle. He nodded at the pretty lady, and when she started running, he followed as she held his wrist in an iron grip.


Yavin, 40 years in the future.

"Captain Solo?" Cilghal asked gently. "Perhaps you should sit down."

"No." Han shook his head, trying to ignore the dizziness. "He'll be coming through that curtain, and when he does, I have to help stop him."

"Who?"

"Palpatine."

"How can you do that?" she questioned. "He's a powerful Sith."

"And I'm the Protector. If he wants to kill Luke and Leia, he has to kill me, first."


--

Yavin

Cilghal's voice sounded surprised. "I thought you didn't believe you were the Protector."

The Corellian looked uncomfortable. "I've been lying."

"Lying?"

"My entire life, I've been lying. To Chewie, to Luke and to my wife. Smuggling, joining the Imperial Navy, it was all just a waiting game for me, until the Jedi came into my life. I pretended not to believe in the Force, but all this time it was just an act, an act to cover up who, or what, I really am."

"Why would you have joined the Navy if you knew your destiny?" Cilghal asked.

Seer Wees spoke up, "You are being too harsh on yourself, Captain. You had to protect yourself, first, before you could protect others." The Bith looked at Cilghal. "Nothing that happened in Solo's life happened without purpose. If he wouldn't have joined the Navy, Chewie would have died. Even by smuggling, he gained the skills the Force required him to have in order to become the Protector of Jedi. Being a pilot, knowing how to elude the Imperials, those skills were required, so he learned them in some very unconventional ways."

"But I still knew, and I didn't tell them," Han said regretfully. "Even after Endor, when Leia confided in me, I never told her."

"What could you have told her, Captain? That you loved her? That you would spend the rest of your life protecting her, and those she loved? She already knew that, and that was why she loved you."

"And now I have to leave her," Han said, shutting his eyes in grief.

"But you won't leave her alone. She'll have Chewie, Luke, and most importantly, the children of your union. Those children have a great destiny to fulfill, as well."

"I just wish my destiny would allow me to grow old with my wife."

"We seldom get what we desire in life, Captain."


Corellia, 40 years in the past

Leia ran, the child Han struggling to keep up. She used the Force to prevent him from falling. Soon they were far away from the great Battle between the Jedi Master and the Sith.

Deeply worried for Luke, the Princess pulled the little boy into a hotel lobby, and ignoring the odd looks of the staff entered the ladies restroom. It occurred to her the only old Republic credits she had were the ones the Bith seer had given them during the hike to the Force-curtain. It wasn't very much, but it would pay for a hot meal for Han, and perhaps a pair of shoes and a coat in a second hand clothing store. She took a towel and moistened it with water and soap, then turned to the little boy. He looked at her suspiciously.

"I have to clean you up a bit so we can get some food," Leia explained. At least it would be food for Han, since she knew eating wasn't an option for her until she knew Luke was safe.

"You're not gonna take me back to that home, are you?" he asked, backing away from her.

"Home?"

"Some people once grabbed me, an' took me into some buildin'. They called it a home, but it was worsen than the street, so I ran away."

"No, Han," Leia shook her head. "I won't take you back to that building."

"How you know my name, lady?"

Leia carefully reached over and started wiping the filth from Han's face, pleased when he allowed her to clean him. "I told you, we were sent here to help you, so we know your name."

It wasn't a very good explanation, but the child accepted her words. "What's your name?"

Looking into his young eyes, Leia felt her heart break. How was she going to be able to walk away from him? Leave him all alone, to once again try to fend for himself on the cold streets, with no one to love him, no one to care for him? But taking him back was impossible, and changing his past could alter the future. "My name ... is Lara," she lied.

Life was seldom fair.


Luke was becoming exhausted, and the only thing he could hope for was that the Emperor was tiring as well. Their positions had become reversed during the battle, and now Palpatine was at the rear of the alley, with Luke's back toward the street. But if Luke left now, he would only be allowing the Emperor to follow, and find Han again.

"You grow weary, young Skywalker. The Dark Side is so much stronger, you can still turn and serve me, even now. Join me, and together we can kill Solo and rule the galaxy."

"I have to admire your persistence, Palpatine," Luke said, slashing his blade down ever closer. "Even though you lose, time and again, you never give up."

"Why should I? Power is the ultimate ruler in the galaxy. I have the greatest power, the Dark Side, helping me. The Light Side is weak." Palpatine send more crates spinning at Luke, who vaulted over them and continued to press his attack. "Otherwise, why would it need the assistance of some Force-blind street beggar to help it?"

"The Force surrounds everything," Luke replied. "And the Light Side's greatest strengths come from unexpected places, and beings. That's why good wins - because the Dark Side can't see past its own greedy power to realize how much else is out there, waiting to help the Light."

"You spent too much time with Obi-Wan Kenobi."

"No," Luke said, shaking his head sadly. "I didn't spend nearly enough time with him."

"Perhaps I can remedy that by sending you to your death, Skywalker." The Emperor snarled, and speeded up his attack of Force-lightning as Luke drew ever closer.

Then a huge cloud of dust and bricks came raining down as the walls on either side of the alley gave way, burying both the Jedi and Sith.


-------

Leia led Han back out into the lobby, and headed for the restaurant. A host droid stepped in her way at the entrance to the dining area. "We don't allow those kind in her, ma'am," he said, pointing his metal finger down at the child.

"His kind?" Leia asked, her eyes narrowing.

"Management has very clear orders - no allowing vermin into the hotel. You should not have taken this being into the restroom, either."

Taking a deep breath, Leia said very slowly, "How dare you call a child by that name. If you refuse to admit me, I will have this hotel shut down." It was a bluff, of course, but she'd spent her life as a politician bluffing the best.

The droid seemed taken aback. "This is a first class establishment. The .... human is undoubtedly unsanitary and will disgust the other diners."

The Princess felt Han tug at her hand, and she looked down. "Don't worry, Han, we're eating here."

"No... that okay. Ever'one say those things. I not hunrey," he lied quickly, not wanting to get this pretty lady in trouble. "I had some bread today."

A lump formed in Leia's throat, and she turned her attention back to the droid. "Where is this manager?"

The droid swiveled its domed head. "The manager has the day off."

"He'll be upset if you call him into work on his day off, won't he?" Leia asked sweetly. "He might even sell you to a used droid dealer."

The greenish photoreceptor eyes dimmed slightly. "You will follow me and eat in the back corner, where it is dark. Do not make noise, or draw attention to yourself. I will seat the other guests far away, so they will not be offended by the odor."

"You do that," Leia snapped, and firmly led Han into the dining hall.


Luke pushed the last of the rubble from his body, checking himself over for injuries. Other than dust and a few scratches, the Force had protected him. He looked around at the mounds of brick and mortar. Was it possible the Emperor had been killed when he was buried under the massive collapse? No, the Dark Side still lingered, but he was not in this alley.

"You seek Palpatine," a voice from the street said.

"Talj Wees!"

"Ah. You know my name," she replied as Luke made his way over to her. She was uninjured, which surprised Luke, but she ignored his puzzled expression. "Palpatine is not dead. He is on his way to the spaceport."

"He's giving up?"

The Bith laughed. "He is heading to Yavin. Since you defeated him yet again, he now intends to destroy the Jedi of the future. And you are not there to warn them, or help them."

"Han," Luke said softly. "Han is there, and so are you, or some version of you. Why are you telling me this?"

"It amuses me to watch Palpatine being defeated, time after time. Who do you think sends him on these foolish quests? But now he has chosen the last path, for the Protector is waiting for him on Yavin, and that will be his downfall."

"Han is going to defeat Palpatine?"

"The Protector is going to do his final chore, and end Palpatine's resurrections for all time. He will send him to the void, where the Dark Side is forever contained. Unfortunately, if you and your sister are not there when this happens, it will mean his death, as well. The Light Side is his ally, but he cannot control the Force, only the Force can control him. Only with your Force assistance can he survive this last task."

Luke looked around frantically. Where had Leia gone? He needed to find her, and somehow, some way, make it to Yavin before Palpatine. Luke looked back to ask the Bith for her help, but she had disappeared.


-----

Leia watched as young Han ate his food with his fingers. When they had first sat down, he'd studied the silverware, holding it up and staring at it like some puzzle he couldn't figure out. She didn't bother to instruct him on using it, fearing it would make him feel awkward and uneducated. She thought back to the first time she took Han to a formal dinner, shortly after Endor. Although he had behaved correctly, she could tell he was uncomfortable with the formality and the enforced etiquette. It wasn't something he enjoyed, and the High Council knew this, and disapproved of her relationship with the ex-smuggler. They thought Han was awkward and uneducated, and now, watching him as a starving, unhappy child, it made her feel a righteous anger toward all the cruel beings that had hurt him over the years.

He looked up at her as she studied his features. His hazel eyes, so unmistakably his; his nose, still the small nose of a child, unbroken and straight. No scar on his smooth chin. So much pain and suffering lay ahead for him, and Leia wanted to prevent his future suffering very desperately.

"You sure you not hunrey?"

She swallowed hard, not wanting to break down and cry in front of him that would only frighten him. "No. You eat all you want to eat."

He looked down at the plates of food. "I think I pretty full. Do you s'pose I could put this stuff in my pockets, fer later?"

Leia smiled, and wrapped the leftovers in napkins, watching as he hoarded the food for future meals. This was undoubtedly more food than he'd eaten in at least a week. "Why don't we pay for this and find you some warmer clothes? Would you like that?"

"Shoes? You buy me real shoes?" he asked eagerly.

"Shoes and a warm coat."

"Will you take me home? To your home?" he questioned, his eyes suddenly hopeful. Maybe this lady would be his new mommy. More than anything, he'd love to have a mommy.

The question felt like a knife in her heart. Reaching across the table, Leia took his hand. "I wish, more than anything, I could give you a nice home, Han. But I can't do that. I'm sorry." More sorry than he could begin to imagine, she thought, and finally the tears ran down her cheeks. "I'm so very sorry," she repeated, her voice choking.

"Leia?" Luke's voice came from behind.

She turned to look at her dust covered brother, joy mingling with heartache. "You won!"

"Not yet, I haven't. We have to find a way to get to Yavin. That's where he's going, to the future."

Understanding dawned on the Princess. "Oh, Luke. We don't have the credits to buy a charter to Yavin."

Another little tug at her hand. "Maybe I can help, lady."


With only a brief stop to purchase a warm coat and some boots for the child's feet, they continued to follow Han into another alley. Han knew his way around this area, and headed down a stairwell, then pushed at a creaky old door. Inside was an abandoned storage room, and boxes were propped up in a corner with a pile of rags inside one of the larger crates. "This is my bed," Han said, indicating the crate with rags. Again, Leia felt gut-wrenching pain on seeing her future husband's 'home'. Han didn't notice their looks of dismay as he pried up a side board, then reached inside. Carefully, he withdrew a gray rag, and offered it to Leia.

She took it, and noticed there was a weight inside. "What's this?"

"Look."

Unwrapping the package, she gasped in shock. A huge Corscant gem glittered, even in the darkness of the storage room. "Where did you get this?"

He looked down, kicking at the dust. "I stole it," he whispered, ashamed.

Luke knelt down in front of Han. "Stealing is wrong, and you know that. But sometimes things happen for a reason. Right now, we need that stone to get us to Yavin. It's important we leave now, and I hope you understand this. We don't want to leave you, but we have to."

"Tat's okay," Han said, shrugging. "You helped me from the mean cold, and gave me food. I won't forget ya."

The Jedi gave a sad smile, and touched Han's forehead. "You need to sleep now, Han." The child yawned, and Luke helped him over to the rags he called his bed. "In the morning, none of this will be remembered," he continued softly as Han lay down and shut his eyes. "Go to sleep, and be safe."

He stood up and walked over to his sister, who was silently weeping, and together they left the dusty cold room, and headed for the docking bays to find a fast charter.


---

The Jedi and Princess entered the spaceport and took stock of their choices. Most ships looked like new yachts, privately owned by wealthy beings. The more battered ships of the working class stood apart, separated by distance from the rich. Without a word, the twins made their way to the older ships.

"I feel as badly as you do about leaving Han behind," Luke said quietly. "We can't alter his past, Leia."

"I know," she replied tightly, keeping her eyes ahead.

After a moment, Luke continued, "It makes you appreciate what we had growing up, doesn't it?"

"It's not fair."

"No, it's not. I'm seeing Han in a different light, now."

Leia gave a sharp look at her brother. "That's exactly why he didn't want us to see him like that."

Luke shook his head, and put his hand on her shoulder. "No, that's not what I meant. I - "

The Princess cut him off. "I know what you mean. We're going to make it to Yavin, and then we're going to stop Palpatine once and for all. Then I'm going to spend the rest of my life trying to, trying to..."

"He doesn't blame us, Leia," Luke told her. "He doesn't blame anyone."

"Maybe that's why he was chosen as our Protector."

Further discussion was cut off as they approached a battered old transport, an earlier version of what would eventually become the YT-1300. A short, pudgy man worked on the landing struts, and turned around as they approached.

"Can I help you?" he asked, his pock-marked face betraying his suspicions.

"We're looking for a fast ship to charter. We need to go to Yavin."

"Yavin? Never heard of it."

"Actually, it's one of Yavin's moons," Luke explained. "It won't take a long time."

"Do you take charters?" Leia asked.

The man smiled, his missing teeth showing a great deal of gum. The remaining teeth were brown. He leered at her as he walked closer to the Princess. "Sometimes. Depends."

Leia held up the gemstone, trying to ignore his fetid breath. "Will this do as payment?"

The pilot pushed a strand of oily hair back from his eyes, and greedily reached for the stone, but Leia pulled it back from his reach. "It's quite genuine," she told him. "We're in a hurry, so if you're not interested we'll find someone who is."

"Just you and this," he looked at Luke in his brown robes. "Jedi? I ain't never had nothin' to do with a Jedi before."

"We're not here to cheat you, sir," Luke said politely.

"Never said ya was." He waved toward the ramp. "Ya said you're in a hurry, so let's get going."

"What's your name?" Leia asked the pilot.

"Captain Murry Antilles at your service, pretty one." He started up the ramp. "And your names would be...?"

"Lara Horn," Leia lied easily. "And this is my brother, Corran Horn."

"Horn, huh? I hear those Horn's are nuthin' but trouble."


Han woke up in his rag covered crate, and knew someone was in the room with him. He jumped to his feet, and tried to run for the exit, but a hand caught him by his arm. He squirmed, trying to free himself, heart pounding in terror.

"Stop," an alien voice hissed out. "You must hear what I am about to tell you."

The child blinked, his eyes adjusting to the gloom. A Bith woman, covered in veils stood before him. Still terrified, the child stopped struggling and listened.

"Those people that were just here.."

"What people?" Han interrupted, his voice shaking.

The Bith shook her veils, and reached for Han's forehead, which made the boy fight her once again. "Stay still!" she ordered, pressing her cold fingers against his temples. The memories of the pretty lady and the nice man returned. "Now, do you remember?"

"Yeah."

"They are your future. You will listen to what I tell you, and you will never forget my words, young Solo."

"Who?"

"Solo. It means alone. It means you."

And so, for the next two hours, a five year old boy listened in fear and fascination to the words of a Bith Seer.


Yavin, 40 years in the future.

"They succeeded," Han said, sitting on a log. He had not taken his eyes of the Force-curtain.

"How do you know?" Cilghal asked. It had only been less than five minutes since Luke and Leia had disappeared through the curtain.

"I'm not sick anymore," Han answered, his voice growing soft. "The fever's gone. Completely."

"I've sent him here, to this time," Talj Wees said. "I cannot help you, Solo. If your Jedi family does not return in time to help you, no one else can."

"I know. You've already told me this."

"It's been so long, I thought maybe you'd forgotten."

"I've never forgotten. Never."


--

The refresher inside the ship, dubbed the Rabid Mynock by its owner, matched the rest of the vessel. The toilet bowl was literally green with mold, and the tiny sink was clogged with long black hairs. Trying not to touch anything, Leia turned on the faucet, only to see a brown trickle ooze out. She sighed, thinking back on the past day spent inside this disgusting ship. Luke had not left her side, except when she needed to use this refresher, and Leia knew her brother didn't like, or trust, the ship's pilot.

A rap sounded on the door. "Yer needin' any help in there, missy?"

Frowning, Leia opened the door and glared at the pilot. He was almost eye level to her, but outweighed her three times. "This place is disgusting, and smells like rotting fish. Don't you ever clean?"

"Nah, it's my filth, darlin'. But if you wanna, I'll hire ya on full time to be my co-pilot and assistant," he said, spittle dribbling down his chin. "We can have a real good time together, you an' me." His eyes drifted down to her chest, and his grin got wider.

"You are as disgusting as your ship," Leia said, trying to keep her temper in check. "Get out of my way."

His grubby hand went up, almost reaching his goal of groping her when he was slammed back against the opposite side of the hallway, gasping as the air left his lungs. "My brother isn't the only Force-sensitive on this ship, Antilles," Leia spat out. "If you try to touch me again, I'll break your bones." She turned and stomped away from the surprised pilot, glad it was only a few more hours until they reached Yavin. She didn't think she could stand spending another night on this horrible ship with this terrible little man.


Yavin

The Emperor's personal transport, a sleek Naboo freighter, set down in the moist jungle of Yavin. It was the only clearing close to the Force-curtain, but still it would be a hike to get to it. Walking did not please Palpatine. He turned to his guards and the pilot. "If another ship sets down, you will not allow those inside to live. Fail me, and you will die."

"Yes, Master," the guard replied, bowing.

The Emperor left the ship, breathing in the earthy smells of the jungle. Then he made his way to the Force-curtain. The Jedi and their Protector on the other side would soon know his wrath, and the children of Skywalker would find friends and family dead when they stepped back into their own time.


Yavin, 40 years in the future.

Han stood up. "You need to go back to the temples, Cilghal. Warn the other Jedi, but stay away from here. They can't help me."

"Captain Solo..."

"No, please," Han turned to her, pleading. "You have to believe me, and trust me."

"I do trust you, Captain. But I don't believe we can't help you with this."

Talj Wees shut her eyes. "Solo is correct. Only his family can help, and they are not here. Go, and warn the others."

Reluctantly, the Jedi Healer left. The Bith seer looked at Han. "The void is a terrible place, Solo. You will go mad."

"Are you trying to talk me out of this? It might work, you know."

"No, it won't. You have been prepared for this possibility for a very long time. Your death will be the ultimate sacrifice, and you will have protected the Jedi, and ensured their survival."

"I'm the Protector," Han said, almost to himself, clenching his fists as he stared at the curtain, waiting.

"You are the Protector," she agreed.


----

Yavin, 40 years earlier

The Rabid Mynock entered the atmosphere of Yavin's moon, and Luke instructed the pilot to set down in the nearest clearing to their goal. Unfortunately, the Emperor's ship was already there, and the guards were less than friendly as they fired their transport's lasers at the old freighter.

"I didn't sign on to get fired at," Captain Antilles barked out. "We're leavin'."

"No, we're not," Luke said firmly. "Land us in that clearing."

"We'll get blasted to pieces! My ship is valuable, not to mention my life," he argued, moving to turn his ship back to space.

A lightsaber handle pressed against his neck. "Land this ship, or we will," Leia said, her tone brooking no arguments.

Murry Antilles glared over at Luke. "I thought you Jedi were peaceful sorts."

Luke shrugged. "What can I say? My sister hasn't been too well trained."

The small ship shuddered and bucked against the fire power coming from below. Still they managed to land, smoke billowing out of the side of the ship.

Luke and Leia jumped up and ran for the exit, while the Captain screamed at them, "I ain't waitin' fer ya to get back!"

Ignoring him, they ran down the ramp, deflecting the blaster shots coming from the Imperial guards. "Quick, into the jungle," Luke yelled covering his sister as they ran into the thick underbrush. The Rabid Mynock lifted off seconds later, staggering into the sky above their heads.

"We don't have much time," Leia panted. "Palpatine is ahead of us."

Using their lightsabers to clear the way, they made their way as quickly as they could through the jungle, and to the Force-curtain.


The Emperor stared at the Force-curtain. Every time he saw it, a feeling of complete power would sweep over his body. Soon, he finally would win. The Protector would die, and the Jedi on Yavin would die as well. He tilted his head, sensing the children of Skywalker as they came closer. He had no time to waste, and concentrating on entering the future, he stepped through the curtain to the other side.


40 years in the future.

Han could feel his heart hammering in his ears. He cleared his mind of all thoughts, except the upcoming challenge. His final challenge. He moved down into a fighting stance, arms outstretched, his eyes never leaving the curtain.

Then the curtain parted, and he saw the face of Evil start to step through.

Palpatine didn't know what hit him, as Han launched himself at the Sith, throwing both himself and the Evil One back into the Force-curtain. Han heard the Emperor scream in frustration as they hurdled backwards, into nothingness.

Into the void.


----

The void. Han knew this was his fate, he'd been prepared for this since the Bith seer told him how his life would end when he was five years old. Still, the sheer nothingness of the void took his breath away. And yes, he was aware he was still breathing, at least for the moment.

Swirling gray fog, interrupted only by flashes of blinding white lightning. The Emperor stood in front of him, a few feet away. Any further and Han would not have been able to see him. Palpatine looked furious, and raised his fingers toward the Corellian. Force-lightning shot from the Sith's fingertips - a few inches. Shocked, the Sith tried again, only this time there was no lightning at all.

It was just like the Bith had said. Nothingness. The Force could not exist in the void, neither the Light Side nor the Dark Side. He could see Palpatine trying to talk to him, screaming as the veins on his temples stood out like purple rivers. No sound carried. Then another flash of white lightning occurred from the gray fog, forcing Han to shut his eyes against the brightness. When he opened them again, the Sith was gone.

It's sort of like carbonite, Han thought, looking around. A big, wide awake nothing. But unlike carbonite, here he could move, even if there was nowhere to go, he could look around, even if there was nothing to see, he could hear the beating of his own heart, but all else was absolute silence. The Bith was right. Eventually, he would go mad. Han thought about Leia and his children. He'd never see them again, but they were safe now from Palpatine. Knowing it was pointless to try and find his way out, he sat down, allowing the memories of his wife and children to sweep over him, comforting him.

He wondered how long he could cling to sanity, and if it even mattered if he tried.


Yavin, 40 years in the past

"There it is!" Leia yelled, pulling at Luke's wrist and pointing at the Force-curtain.

"Don't forget, we need to concentrate on where we're going," Luke reminded her. "And Palpatine is on the other side, so we have to be ready for him."

Leia nodded and shut her eyes, concentrating on Yavin in the future. The Jedi Academy, Cilghal, Kyp. And Han. Han would be there. He had to be.

They stepped through the curtain.


The badly injured Bith seer was the only one waiting for them on the other side. She nodded at them when they returned. "You were successful in saving the child."

"Where's Han?" Leia panted, holding her side from the dash through the forest.

"He stopped Palpatine, but you were not here to help him."

"Stopped him?" Luke questioned sharply. "How?"

"He pushed him back into the curtain, and took him down into the void."

"Void?" Leia asked. This didn't sound good.

"The void is where evil must go, for the Dark Side cannot exist in the void. The Force cannot exist in the void." Her face took on a faraway look. "Solo knew his destiny, and he was prepared for this." Wees looked at Leia. "He would want you to be happy, and find another love."

"I don't want another love," Leia managed to whisper. "I want Han."

"The possibility of retrieving him from the void is remote and very dangerous. I would not recommend you try."

"But there is a possibility?" Luke prodded.

"If you act quickly, before he wanders too far, it is possible. Still, it may already be too late. If you had arrived first, before Palpatine, the chances would be far greater."

"Just tell us how! I don't care about the risks," Leia yelled at the seer. She wanted Han back, and was willing to take any risk. She wanted to be able to hold him, sense him, comfort him and take comfort from him. She wanted the chance to make his life happy, to make up for all the pain he suffered during his terrible childhood.

"One of his loved ones must go into the void, and try to find him before the anchor fails. Once the anchor fails, both will be forever trapped, and not together. The void does not allow togetherness."

"Anchor?"

The Bith took a deep breath. "One of you must go into the void, while the other acts as an anchor to this life. But the Force, even the Light Side of the Force, cannot exist in the void. The anchor to this life will fail fast, as the void will quickly sever the link. If you find Solo within minutes, you will have a chance to both return, but once the Force-link to your anchor fails...."

"So I'll go in after Han, and Luke will be my anchor," Leia quickly surmised.

"No," Luke argued. "I'll go in."

"He's my husband."

"And your children need at least one of their parents."

"Time grows short," the Bith interrupted. "This arguing wastes the precious seconds you have, and they are seconds."

"I'll go," Leia said, crossing her arms.

Luke knew he wouldn't change her mind. He looked to the Bith. "How?"

"Use the Force, and join your souls. It must be a tight link. Then she will enter the void, and attempt to find her mate." The Bith shook her head sadly. "This is foolish, for now you both will wander the void for all time."

Luke and Leia joined hands, and shut their eyes, using the Force to make their already strong connection even stronger. Then Leia let go, and faced the Force-curtain. "I'm coming, Han," she said, stepping back into the curtain.


-----

The sudden nothingness inside the void stunned Leia. This place was awful, frightening, a true nightmare. For a second she was afraid to take another step, but then felt the gentle comfort of her brother through the Force. / Hurry,/ Luke told her, and she went forward, stepping into the gray mists.

"Han?" she called out. Her voice echoed back in her mind, mocking her attempts to find her soulmate by merely calling his name. How am I going to find him in here if I can't even be heard? For the first time, Leia thought perhaps the Bith was right - this was foolhardy.

A flash of lightning, and she raised up her hand to shield her eyes. In that brief second, she saw other beings, wandering, lost, in this fog. She hurried toward them, desperately hoping Han was among them. The lightning flashed again, and Leia jumped back in horror. A human, of sorts, stood inches from her face, staring at her. Insane yellow eyes, a deep red and black face, horns.... his clawed fingers reached for her - then he was gone. She spun around, heart pounding in terror. Another flash, more images of beings, some human, some so alien she didn't recognize their species, walked around waving their hands, their mouths open as if they were screaming. Now she ran toward the apparitions, only to watch them dissolve before she arrived. Panic started to set in. / LUKE!/ she mentally screamed.

/ Leia, / he answered, his Force-signature already dimming. / Come back, this isn't working. Han wouldn't want you to die for him. I know he wouldn't. /

She was losing her anchor, her way out. She screamed Han's name again, and knew she couldn't be heard. If I don't leave now, I'm dead, she thought in despair. I've lost him in this terrible place, a place he doesn't deserve to be. She turned toward her fading anchor, her brother's presence, and stumbled toward his Force-sense. The last time Leia had felt such defeat was on Bespin, watching the man she loved being lowered to his possible death.

But this was even worse - this was his death.


"She can't find him," Luke whispered, panic in his voice. Reaching out, he felt his grip on her weaken. It was like trying to cling to someone you loved as they hung over a cliff, feeling the sweat running down your fingers as they pulled away. / Leia, come back! / he called out. A moment later, he felt her drawing closer, her mind in a panic, her soul in turmoil. She hadn't located Han, but she was leaving the void.

Grief washed over Luke's senses. They'd failed. Han was gone.


-------

Someone pushed past Luke, jumping into the Force-curtain. It was the Bith seer, probably going back to the past she'd come from, or perhaps some distant future. Luke didn't have the luxury to wonder, he needed all of his concentration to pull his sister back from the void. He connection to her was growing weaker, and he was scared he was losing her, as well.


Talj Wees appeared so suddenly, so unexpectedly, that Leia jumped back in surprise. "Seer?" she asked before remembering she couldn't be heard.

The Bith woman pointed down and over, and Leia turned her head, following her finger. More lightning. This time Leia saw a person sitting on the fog covered ground, arms drawn around legs, forehead resting on knees. Han.

Before he could fade away, Leia rushed over, pulling at his arms. His head raised up, and he looked up, shock coming over his features. "Leia?" his mouth formed her name.

"Hurry," Leia yelled, knowing he couldn't hear, but she helped him to his feet, then dragged him behind her while trying to grasp Luke's 'anchor'. Now the connection was flickering in and out of existence. Leia knew she had only seconds to find her way out. Her mind was in a whirl as she held Han's wrist, her fingers gripping him so tightly she'd leave bruises if they survived - it reminded her of the escape two days aggo from the alley, with the child Han in her tow. Two days ago, yet it seemed like a lifetime. Leia realized with a start that for Han, it was a lifetime ago.

The Bith had disappeared into the gray fog. Had she escaped from the void, or had the void simply swallowed the seer into the unending reaches? Leia suspected she'd never know.

/ LEIA! / Luke mentally screamed.

The Princess latched onto the direction, and ran toward her brother. Then something besides gray fog and lightning glimmered before her eyes. The blue Force-curtain! With a final surge of adrenalin and the Force, she jumped, pulling her husband along.

Together, they stumbled out of the Force-curtain, into the sticky jungle heat of Yavin, and Leia fell into Luke's grasp.

"Luke!" the Princess gasped, sobbing in her brother's arms. "I didn't think we'd make it."

Tears were streaming down Luke's cheeks as well. "I thought I'd lost you, sister," he replied, trying to keep his voice steady. He looked over her shoulder at a stunned Han Solo. "I don't know whether to hug you or slug you, brother. Don't you ever put us through something like that again!"

Leia spun around and threw her arms around her husband. "I second that," she mumbled into his chest.

The Corellian tightened his hold to keep from shaking. "You shouldn't have gone into the void," he finally managed to say. "It was too dangerous... the odds of finding me - "

"Never tell me the odds, flyboy," Leia interrupted, pulling his face down and kissing him.

A disembodied voice spoke through the Force-curtain. "Things are as they were." Then the curtain dropped down, and was gone.

"Was that Seer Wees?" Leia asked Luke.

"I think so, but I'm not too sure."

"She entered the void, Luke," Leia told her brother, still not letting go of Han. "She's the one that pointed out to me where Han was."

"When I was five years old, she told me I'd enter the void and never leave," Han said slowly. "I wonder why she was wrong?"

"Always in motion is the future," Luke replied, staring at the spot where the curtain had been. "I don't think we'll ever be seeing the Force-curtain again."

"Good," Han muttered. "Once was plenty enough for me."

"Hey, Protector," Leia said, smiling up at Han. "Does this mean your job is done?"

"With you two, it's never done," Han said, trying to sound gruff and not quite pulling it off.

Luke slapped Han on his back as they headed back for the Jedi academy. "I don't know about you, Leia, but I'm going to have a lot of fun for the next, oh say, few years teasing your husband about not believing in this 'hokey' religion. I wonder how much else he hasn't told us about himself, don't you?"

"Stop it," Han warned, glaring at Luke to no avail.

"I agree," Leia said cheerfully. "And now that we know this much, don't you think a little Force interrogation session might be interesting? Between the two of us - "

"I said, STOP!" Han yelled. "This isn't funny."

"Are you sure you're not Force-sensitive, Han?" Luke questioned. He looked at Leia. "Maybe he's been hiding that from us this entire time, too."

"Things are as they were?" Han muttered, shaking his head. "I don't think things will be as they were, ever again."

"No," Leia replied, smiling. "Things are much better, thanks to the Protector of the Jedi."

"Just doin' my job, sweetheart... just doin' my job."

THE END