this is a disclaimer.
AN: Has notable thematic connections with "just try not to worry"; also something of a prequel to "from a stay on the moon". AU for the EU.
swallows and amazons
"Look, it's not that I'm doubting you or anything," Han says, watching Jacen and Jaina take off into the depths of Luke's Yavin apartments with a slightly worried eye while five-year-old Anakin is busy trying to climb his uncle like a tree.
"Right," Luke says, mouth twitching. "That's why you're looking at me like that."
Han looks indignant and puzzled and righteously offended in that favourite way of his that never fails to drive Leia crazy, even now. "Me? Like what?"
Luke allows himself a real grin now. "Well, there was this one time – not far from here, actually, just along that corridor and down a few flights of stairs –"
Along that corridor and down a few flights of stairs is where the Millienium Falcon is currently sitting in a hangar bay she'd used once before when dropping off a farmboy and a princess and two annoying little droids. Han wants to be irritated, but he finds he can't manage it.
"Anakin," he says instead, "be good for once."
Anakin, settled safely in his uncle's arms by now, sulks at him. "I'm always good," he announces. "It's Jasa and Jaya who mess things up. Make sure you give Mommy that hug from me."
"And one from me," Luke says.
Han glares at him.
Luke raises an eyebrow, and gives the child in his arms a bounce. Anakin giggles.
Han sighs. "May the Force be with you," he says, just as he did that time along the corridor and down a few flights of stairs, and then, with a kiss for Anakin and another hug each for Jacen and Jaina, who mysteriously reappeared just in the nick of time to say goodbye, he's gone, off to meet with Leia and take them both to Mestreya for some election debate or other and finally leaving Luke alone with the three people who have occupied the top positions on his personal "most important people in the galaxy" list since the second they entered it.
Jasa and Jaya look up at him expectantly. Anakin is smiling, wide and bright.
"All right then," Luke says. "Anyone want to go camping?"
The whoops of delight nearly deafen him.
Tionne catches them sneaking out of one of the lesser-used side doors of the old Temple, carrying tents and sleeping bags and groundsheets and a bag full of sweets.
"Shhhh!" Anakin hisses at her, hefting the flask of Dashan tea that is his only burden. "We're rescuing Uncle Luke."
Tionne keeps a perfectly straight face. "Not from me, I hope!"
Anakin shakes his head earnestly. "No. From the evil bureaucry."
"Cracy," Luke says. "Bureaucracy."
"Ah," Tionne says, nodding wisely. "Yes, that sounds like a good idea to me." She smiles at Luke over the heads of the children, and he winks at her.
Maybe "camping" is a bit of an exaggeration, considering how close they are to the Temple; but the little clearing they put up their tents in is well hidden and quiet despite that. It's a hot day, the sunshine pounding down on them, although Luke never notices it (he's had worse, after all). Leia commed him last night and gave him a long list of instructions on How To Deal With The Solo Kids that Luke has every intention of ignoring for the most part, but Item 29 involved the use of sunscreen, and that he will concede is a good idea.
His niece and nephews are unimpressed.
"No, no, never!" Anakin announces flatly.
"It smells," Jaina says.
"What's it made of? I think it's made from human blood," Jacen says.
Luke flips the cap open. It does have a certain reddish tinge.
"I think it's more likely that the red is what keeps the sun off," he hazards.
Anakin scrunches his nose. "Cause it thinks we've already got sunburn?"
Luke grins. "Exactly. And you've had sunburn before, right? You know it's not nice."
This is a consideration which cannot lightly be ignored.
Patience, Luke tells himself.
"What about the smell?" Jaina repeats.
"Well, you know how medicine tastes bad? And how grown-ups always say that it tastes bad to make you get well quicker so you won't have to drink it anymore?"
The analogy is convincing. Jaina sighs a long-suffering sigh, and holds out her (rather grubby) hand. "I'll do Jasa," she says.
"You won't!" Jasa says.
Jaina puts her nose in the air. "I will or I'll tell Mom you're not being good for Uncle Luke. Come here," imperiously.
Jasa glares, but he does as he's told. The twins rub sunscreen into each other's arms and shoulders and faces, holding their noses against the smell. Luke helps Anakin do his, stroking the cream over his cheeks and nose with his left hand. his forehead is attended to by the palm of a hand even grubbier than Jaina's: Luke wipes the excess off with a fingertip and paints a stripe with it along Anakin's nose, which is promptly scrunched again: it seems to be a favourite expression.
"What about you, Uncle Luke?"
"It's several decades too late for me, Anakin."
"How come? You're not sunburnt."
Luke chuckles. "No, but I'm desert-born. I grew up on a big dusty sandy planet that's far hotter than this one. And it has two suns. If I get sunburnt on Yavin, I barely even notice."
"Sand everywhere?" Jacen says.
"Everywhere, but – you do know this already, don't you?"
Jacen grins. "Yeah, but Tatooine is our favourite. It's where you met Ben Kenobi and where Mom rescued Dad from Jabba the Hutt and where Dad and Lando fought the Sarlacc while you and Mom were blowing things up and where –"
"Whoa, whoa!" Luke holds up a hand, laughing. "So that's your favourite story, huh?"
"It's not just a favourite story," Jaina says. "It's the story, Uncle Luke."
"You will tell it, right?" Jacen says anxiously. "Mom tells it scariest, but everything always comes all right in the end. And Dad tells it funniest."
"We want to know how you tell it," Jaina agrees.
Anakin nods earnestly.
Luke hesitates for a minute or two, but then he smiles. "Tell you what," he says. "You've been camping with your Mom and Dad before, right? Last year. I thought so. Well, Jaya and Jasa got real good at building fireplaces on that trip, your Dad said. So I'm going to leave you two in charge of the camp: you can set up a fireplace and unpack the tents, and gather some firewood if you don't go too far from the site. OK?"
Anakin bites his lip. "What about me?"
Luke leans in, grinning. "I have a very special task for you, Anakin Solo. You and I are going to raid the kitchens."
They cook sausages and toast bread over the fire that night. Luke begins at the beginning, where all the best stories start, and tells them of a dreamy farmboy and a beautiful princess who didn't know they were twins, of a smuggler who had forgotten that he was actually a hero, even though his best friend still remembered, of crazy old wizards and evil Criminal Masterminds and enchanted sleeps and a terrible Dark Knight who had forsaken all his old allegiances and joined the Enemy.
"But he'd just forgotten, hadn't he, Uncle Luke?" Jaina says sleepily, snuggling into her sleeping bag. "The dark knight, I mean. He'd forgotten he wasn't dark at all. Like the smuggler forgot he was a hero."
Luke leans in and presses a kiss to her forehead. "He made himself forget, little one. No one knows why; maybe no one ever will. But the dark was never right for him. And the farmboy, who was a pilot and almost a Knight, knew he had to remind him."
He hadn't planned on telling them that story. He hadn't even been sure how much of it they'd already known; it's heavy subject matter for five and seven year olds. Every time he speaks to Leia he thinks she's getting closer to coming (home) to Yavin to complete her training and become a Jedi Knight, but he still hasn't been sure how much of The Story she wanted the kids to know.
All of it, apparently.
Luke sits in front of his own tent for a long time after the children are asleep, watching the flames die down and thinking of another fire in another jungle, long ago and far away.
Breakfast is cold sausages and cheese.
"Awesome," Jacen says happily halfway through.
"I'm glad you think so," Luke says, grinning. "Bathtime next."
"Ah," Luke says. "That's the secret, isn't it? Where. But I can tell you this. My bathtimes are more fun than your Mom's."
He stands up when they're finished, picking up a bag he'd set out before breakfast, and holds out a hand. Jaina grabs hold of it. Anakin takes her other hand, and Jacen takes his: it's obviously a ritual they're long used to. The four of them make their way through the forest in a silly little procession, Luke in front, Anakin skipping and dangling between the twins.
Jacen is humming a song, same few notes over and over. It's almost inaudible over the birdsong and the rustle of the wind in the treetops and the bushes, but Luke thinks he recognises it from somewhere: Rebel bases, cantinas crowded with Alliance pilots.
"It's not far," he promises.
Jaina hmphs. Bathtime is not a concept the Solo kids are particularly fond of. Luke smiles to himself.
Over a fallen tree trunk, down a short slope, slip-sliding in the undergrowth and the damp ground. There's an outcrop of stone and a few trees, tall and dark, and then the ground gives way before them, sloping downwards.
Luke stops. The children gather close, staring.
The river flowing through the gorge before them is wide and shallow, the banks on either side high and steep. To their left is the beginning of a narrow trail that winds its way down the bank at their feet to a stony little beach at the riverside in a natural bay between two jutting arms of the cliffs. It's strewn with boulders for sitting on and the banks on either side are hung with vines and creepers and treeroots that poke out of the soil in elaborate curves and twists before disappearing back into the earth. The sunlight is falling directly onto the river at this time of the morning, bright and beckoning. On the opposite side of the river, the jungle marches down to the water's edge in a riot of green and blue and yellow and brown and red, branches trailing in the water mysteriously.
"Well?" Luke asks. Suddenly, unaccountably, he's nervous, of all things. The moment he first found this place he thought of his niece and nephews, and if they don't like it...
"It's awesome," Jaina breathes.
"It's beautiful," Jacen says softly.
"It's our secret base!" Anakin says. "We can name it Echo Base, can't we, Uncle Luke? Like in the Story."
"Echo Beach!" Jaina says.
Luke feels relieved and delighted and giddy as a kid himself. "You can name it anything you want, kiddo," he promises.
They spend the first week of their vacation playing at Imps and Rebels or Rogue Squadron and Space Pirates; they build a raft for their river and a pier out of rocks that has a rather crooked wooden stick at the end as a mooring pole.
They cook over campfires and bathe in the river and raid the kitchens of the Temple for their food, sneaking in and out as seriously as Luke once led supply runs for the Alliance. Jacen makes friends with dozens of the animals, Anakin learns to recognise the birdsong, and Jaina pilfers a sketchbook and a pencil from the Temple on one supply run and spends a lot of time sketching schematics for their raft that never get used because they're awesome but impractical.
Everyone gets a suntan and calluses on their feet from running around barefoot so much. By the end of the third day, the twins have worked out the best route for climbing the western bank flanking their beach, and they take Anakin half way up but no further because Luke says he doesn't care if he can fly them all to the treetops using the Force, if Leia finds out he had to do it because they fell off a shaky root or snapped a vine he will never be allowed to see them again.
They all know this is nonsense, because Mom loves Uncle Luke more than anything except for Dad and, well, them, but none of them are willing to risk it. Uncle Luke is... Uncle Luke.
To Luke's surprise, he finds something entirely new and unexpected in himself over the course of their time in the woods. He finds he has an imagination: new stories are demanded, invented and told in short order. He finds he can be as silly and inventive as any of them when it comes to games: his own childhood was a long series of sharp contrasts between backbreaking work, school, and then later the uninhibited joy of flying, but he's not sure, in retrospect, that he ever really played. He finds he's good at bandaging bumps and bruises and talking recalcitrant children into doing things they don't want to do.
But he also finds he caves really quickly when any of them pout at him.
He finds he can feel free again, hidden safe in the woods with no one to save and nothing to do but be close to these three most important members of his family.
One morning the twins are standing knee deep in the river balancing the raft between them in the hopes it will finally float while Anakin shouts instructions from the pier when Luke hears a boot on the stones behind him.
He looks up.
Mara Jade blows a strand of hair out of her face. "They told me you'd been kidnapped."
"I prefer to think of it as being rescued," he says. "How've you been, Mara?"
She shrugs. "Not bad."
"Need me for anything?"
"Only for beating on when I get bored."
Luke chuckles. "Then why the visit?"
"I got bored."
This time, he laughs: flings his head back and laughs out loud, the sound ringing across the beach. When he looks up at her, Mara is staring at him in bemusement.
"I do that sometimes."
She purses her lips. "No," she says. "No, Skywalker, you don't. Or if you do, then it's never when I'm around to see it. You're amused. You smile. You chuckle, if it's really good. But you don't laugh. Not like that."
Luke opens his mouth to refute that and finds he can't. Ends up sitting there leaning back on his hands staring at her solemnly like a complete fool without the slightest clue what to say.
Mara shrugs at him, and the corners of her mouth curve upwards a little. (It took her a long time to learn how to smile properly, for joy and nothing else. Luke can still read the old expressions.)
He's about to ask – oh, he doesn't know what, about Karrde, about the business, about her ship, all professional and distant, but thankfully his older nephew has his father's excellent timing and his mother's unerring ability to say the wrong thing in the right situation.
"Mara! Hi, Mara. You didn't come to fetch us back, did you? Our raft's not ready yet."
"Ask her if she knows anything about rafts!" Jaina bellows.
Jacen rolls his eyes. "I think she heard that!" he shouts back.
Mara grins. "Rafts, eh? Well, there's only one way to find out."
And she marches down to the waterside, rolling up her sleeves as she does so.
Mara has to leave again by late afternoon. The twins take it upon themselves to guide her back to the Temple and her ship, crawling through the woods on their bellies ("Skulking!" Jacen calls it proudly) in order to avoid being seen by the Imperial patrols while they scout out the path. Luke and Mara saunter after them. He's relaxed and warm from the sun and barefoot. They've managed to change their clothes regularly, but no one's hair has been washed in a week, which means that having Anakin's head on her shoulder like that is probably not something Mara's enjoying.
"I can take him," Luke offers quietly, not wanting to wake the boy.
Mara sniffs. "I can manage," she says, and they both know she means I want to.
Luke is carrying her boots as well as his own. Her jumpsuit is still damp – is that a tear in the left leg? – and her hair is coming loose from her braid. There are smudges of dirt on her face and scratches on her hands and arms from the wood of the raft.
"Done you good, this time with them," Mara says. "You should make Leia hand 'em off to you more often."
Luke shrugs. "You know, I think she's on the verge of giving up the politics and coming to Yavin. She's said a couple things... and there was that trip we took to Endor two years ago. If that happens, I'll never get away from them."
"You told me," Mara says. "She'd take to it, I think."
"Skywalkers are destined to be Jedi?" Luke asks ruefully.
Mara shakes her head. "No, not necessarily," she says. "But you and Leia..." she trails off, shrugs awkwardly.
It takes her a while to answer. They're almost at the Temple; the twins have taken up sentry positions at either side of the back entrance they've been using.
Then she squares up to him. "Have you and Leia ever truly been happy when you're apart?"
Luke is so surprised he nearly trips over his own feet.
Mara raises an eyebrow at him. "Think about it," she suggests. "Remind me to ask her the same thing. Cause you and Leia and Solo and Chewie and even Calrissian, although to a lesser extent... seems to me the only times you ever felt like you'd found what you were looking for was while you were all gallivanting around the galaxy together righting wrongs and blowing stuff up. Soon as you and Leia get separated, she ends up in a line of work we all know is wearing her down, and you stop laughing."
She leaves him standing there like an idiot (she does that to him a lot, actually), and heads inside. It's a few minutes before Luke gives himself a shake and follows her.
Fortunately, they don't see too many of his students. Master Skywalker running around the Temple in bare feet and unwashed hair? It wouldn't really be scandalous, he supposes. Or inappropriate. Just... a little awkward. Strange.
His time with the kids is his time with the kids.
When he gets to the hangar bay, said kids are whining about wanting to see inside the Fire. Mara shoos them off firmly.
"Kids, if I don't leave right now, I am going to get shot at. Do not test my patience. I am not your Uncle Luke."
Jaina sighs. "Another time?" she asks with a hint of hope.
Mara pulls a face, but finally she nods.
"Hey," Luke says, dumping Mara's boots at her feet and putting his hands on Jacen's shoulders, "why don't you three go raid the kitchens? It's almost dinner time. And I think it's Cake Day."
"Cake Day?" Anakin says doubtfully.
"Cake Day," Luke confirms, and points to the door. "There's the hyperspace corridor, Rogue Squadron."
Jaina, as always, whoops and takes the lead, pausing only for a goodbye hug from Mara and a kiss to her cheek. She sets off at a run, arms outstretched to either side. "Squadron, call in! Assume positions, calculate the jump to lightspeed!"
Jacen bolts after her once he's had his own hug. "Putting in destination coordinates!"
Anakin's hug is longest of all, and Mara kneels down to give it to him, smiling. He kisses her cheek and gives her the Nose Scrunch, and then turns. Catches a hold of Luke's loose pants on his way past.
"I think Aunt Mara's right about you and Mom," he says seriously. "Jasa and Jaya and me couldn't ever be happy apart." And then, remembering he's now Rogue Three on a mission to escape the Imperial fleet and rejoin the rest of the Squadron at the RV point, he adds, "Imperial scum, you'll never catch us!" and sets off at a run.
Mara stands up, boots in hand now. "Did your nephew just call me Aunt?"
"Heatstroke," Luke says promptly. "I'll get him checked out."
She smiles. "Well."
"I hope you get that raft up and running."
"I hope your assignment goes well."
She hesitates for the second time today. It's a theme. It may even be worrying. "You ever think about getting any of your own?"
Before Luke can answer, there's a resounding crash from further down the corridor, and a series of yells, and a noise like a door slamming, and then an ominous silence.
He looks at her. "Never. I like being able to hand them back at the end of a fortnight."
Mara nods, grimacing. "I think I can see why."
She sticks out a hand. "See you round, Skywalker."
Luke looks down at her scratched, callused hand held out to him, and ignores it in favour of a brief, tight hug. Mara stiffens at first but soon relaxes, although she doesn't stoop to hugging him back, and he'll be lucky if he gets away with this completely unscathed. She'll pay him back at some later date.
"Thanks for that, Jade."
Mara hits him with her boots and disappears up the ramp into her ship. Luke waits in the hangar bay until the Fire is out of sight, grinning helplessly and for no good reason whatsoever. Then he takes off after the kids at a run.
"When do we get the end of the Story?" Jacen asks sleepily two nights later.
Luke looks up. "The last night," he says. "The day before your Mom and Dad get back, we'll move back into the Temple so we can wash our hair and pretend we've been so good we haven't had a single adventure. And on the last night, I'll finish the Story."
That seems fair.
"Destiny," Luke tells the fire the night before the Last Night, "is nonsense. Everyone who's ever talked to me about my destiny turned out to be wrong."
The fire snaps and crackles at him, but that doesn't exactly help.
"Leia shouldn't do this," he says more quietly. "She has her life! She has her own life that she built without any ghosts hanging over it. She shouldn't have to come here out of some misplaced sense of duty to me. Or whatever. I'm selfish and egotistical to even think about it. This isn't about me. This is about her, and Han, and the kids; and by extension, about Chewie. And maybe even Winter as well for all I know. But definitely not about me."
Is that what it would be, if Leia came to Yavin?
A namesake, a lightsabre, a family connection acknowledged throughout the galaxy. An anniversary on Endor, a dance on a tree trunk, long long ago.
I know. Somehow, I've always known.
A Force-bond growing that doesn't feel like something new as much as it feels like something... being fixed. Righting itself: a connection severed at the moment of their separation. Who knew how long they'd had together before Obi-Wan and Bail Organa had taken them each to opposite ends of the galaxy?
"It's not right," he says. "Heredity, whatever, it shouldn't do this to her. It's not fair. I chose this!"
The Last Day dawns bright and beautiful as all the others. They race down to the beach, laughing and shouting; they sing old Alliance battle hymns as they launch the raft, Anakin the sole passenger as he's the smallest, and finally, finally, as if to celebrate their Last Day, it floats, their construction of logs and leaves and twigs held together with vines and creepers actually floats all the way out into the centre of the river. The beach and all the woods around them echo with their cheers.
Then Anakin tries standing up, and of course that's the end of that venture.
Dinner is a feast of all the supplies they have left, biscuits and sausages and cheese and bread and cake and apples. Luke produces a bag of his favourite Kyrithian sweetmeats, and the children drag their sleeping bags out into the open for the End of the Story.
He starts with the Criminal Mastermind, of course, and how the princess who became a warrior and the farmboy who was a knight were able to rescue the smuggler who had forgotten he was a hero with the help of the smuggler's oldest and best friend and the merchant-trickster who had almost destroyed them all. He tells of the kiss that woke the smuggler from the enchanted sleep laid upon him by the dark knight. He tells of not one but two terrible monsters, and of a cannon pointed at a deck, and of the chain the princess wielded that killed the Criminal Mastermind.
He tells of a great battle in the trees and the skies of a world far away, a home of little people, unimportant to the Enemy but very powerful in their own right. He tells too of a midnight conversation between the princess and the farmboy, and how she swore she'd always known they were brother and sister.
And, his voice growing hoarse by now, Luke tells of how the farmboy went to see the Dark Knight, and tried to make him remember the truth: that once, long ago, he had been a knight and a hero, and the father of the farmboy and the princess. But he had been in darkness so long that the light still blinded him, and the farmboy was afraid that that meant he would never remember again.
"He did remember," Jaina says fiercely. "He did!"
"He did," Luke says. "It takes time for your eyes to adjust to the light when you've been in the dark, little one. But in the end, when the farmboy had defeated his own darkness and become a knight himself, the dark knight saw, and he remembered, and he destroyed the Enemy in order to protect his children, so that they'd be safe, and never find themselves forgetting the way he did."
"I won't forget, either," Jaina says staunchly. "I won't ever forget!"
"Neither will I!" Anakin pipes up, but the sentence breaks up around a huge yawn, and Luke laughs.
"Bedtime, you lot."
Jacen is the last to leave his side.
"But do they live happily ever after?" he asks, smiling a little.
Luke shrugs. "No," he says. "They don't. But they muddle through –"
"Same as always –"
"Wouldn't miss it."
"Together again, huh."
"What else," Luke asks, "are families for?"
Jacen nods once, decisively. But instead of crawling into the tent with his brother and sister, he says, "Can I stay with you?"
Luke settles more comfortably against his tree trunk, and holds out his arms. Jacen snuggles in happily, and seems to drop off quickly, but Luke can't sleep. He wonders, still, about Leia, about destiny, about his own choices. About his father's choices.
The fire has very nearly died down altogether, Luke's eyes drooping with weariness, when he finally gets go of his tangled thoughts, pushing them aside and resolving to sleep. He glances across at the tent where Jaina and Anakin sleep, and thinks he sees:
a flicker a whisper the merest ghost of an outline of a man blue eyes impish grin –
Luke goes very still, reaching out through the Force. He can't sense his father's presence, not the way he could feel it on Endor during the funeral and after, faint but loving. Certainly not the overwhelming rush of emotions that came when Anakin Skywalker turned back to the light: relief, joy, perhaps a touch of anger still, but for Palpatine more than anything else, and most of all such love.
"You could stay," he says out loud to the woods, just in case. "You know? Talk to me."
"He never does," Jacen says sleepily. "He's not really there, you know."
"You've seen him before?" Luke says quietly.
"Out of the corner of my eye," Jacen says importantly. It's a big expression for a seven year old, Luke supposes. "We all have. We haven't told Mom yet. It's not her secret, but I don't think she'd mind too much."
Luke doesn't think she'd mind at all. Not anymore. "Where do you see him?" he asks. "I mean –"
But Jacen knows what he means. "In the shadows," he says, yawning again. "In the fire, too. S'hard to explain. Most usually, we see him late at night. In the stars."
A tiny breeze ruffles Luke's filthy hair: benediction. He looks up at the stars, and smiles.
Packing up is a sad and silent task. They say goodbye to their beach, and hoist their flag (one of Jacen's shirts, hopelessly filthy and ripped, how Luke has no idea) on the pole at the end of the pier. They agree to leave their fireplace as it is: it doesn't feel right to break up their camp so completely that no trace of it will remain – "Even if that's what the Rebels would do," Jaina says seriously to her uncle, apparently forgetting who told her that in the first place.
The tents go away, the groundsheets are folded, the flasks of tea emptied onto the smoking ashes, shoes not worn in nearly two weeks re-emerging from the wreckage. Luke shoulders his pack and sighs.
"Well, it's back to civilisation for us."
"This is our spot from now on," Jaina says. "No one else comes here. No one else finds out about it." She holds out a hand, and Luke promptly lays his on hers.
"My word as a Jedi."
"My word as a Solo!" Anakin says.
"My word as a Skywalker," Jacen says quietly, meeting Luke's eyes with a smile.
"My word," Jaina says, "as a Rebel and a Rogue."
Sounds to Luke like they've covered everything.
When the Falcon enters Yavin's atmosphere, Han breaks the comfortable silence in the cockpit to say, "Sure about this?"
Leia draws her knees up to her chest like a girl, wedging her heels into the edge of the seat. "If you are," she says.
"Hey," he says. "You know me. I can spend the rest of my life being a stay-at-home Dad who watches over the kids and keeps you and Luke from doing anything... stupid... without my masculinity being damaged."
Leia chuckles. "I don't doubt that."
He's not sure if it's a compliment or not.
"But you better be sure," he says again.
She turns her head and smiles at him. "I am, flyboy," she says. "This is right, you know. For all of us. I can tell."
Han nods. It's not that he's objecting; far from it. She's been needed on Coruscant – in many ways she still is needed. There's no denying that.
But that's not the question here. Rather the question is, what does Leia need? And the answer to that, he's sure, is peace. The kind of calm that Luke has built here on Yavin, simplicity and silence.
He's not quite arrogant enough to think he doesn't need it too. After all, for fifteen years now they've barely stopped, any of them. They've destroyed an Emperor and replaced him with a Republic and forged a new Jedi Order out of the ashes of the old, reshaping the galaxy – not exactly by themselves, but sometimes it can sure as hell feel like it.
They've earned this.
"We'll have to talk Lando into visiting more often. The kids think he's brilliant."
"You know he hates coming to Yavin. Luke can beat him at Sabacc."
There's a slightly disapproving note to her voice, because marrying a scoundrel can't stop Leia being Leia, and Han grins to himself. He isn't sure where she thinks Luke got his Sabacc skills from – the Rogues probably – but he's fairly sure he'd be in trouble if she ever finds out different.
Tionne greets them in the hangar bay, serene and lovely as ever.
"Leia, Han, Chewbacca. Welcome back! Luke's in the gardens with the children."
"Thank you, Tionne," Leia says, smiling at her. "How've they been?"
Tionne looks amused. "You'd have to ask them," she says with a secretive wink. "But I'm sure they've been excellently well behaved."
Han snorts. "I doubt that," he says dryly. "I doubt that very much."
Chewie agrees with him.
Leia smiles faintly. "Tionne, would you mind if Threepio took advantage of the droid maintenance facilities?"
"Of course not. I'll take him."
"Thank you very much."
The three of them make their way through the Temple towards the sunny gardens. Leia's looking around as if she's never been here before, watching every passer-by, examining every nook and cranny but trying not to let on. Han reaches out suddenly and curls his hand around hers; she looks up, surprised.
"There's still time to back out, your Highnessness," he says.
Leia narrows her eyes at him angrily, on the verge of a comment before she catches herself, laughing. "Oh, nice try."
He shrugs and grins.
Out in the gardens, there's a warm breeze blowing, bringing the smell of freshly-baked bread with it, and the founder of the New Jedi Order, the Last of the Jedi, the Hero of Yavin, Rogue Leader Luke Skywalker is stretched out barefoot in the grass on his back, one arm flung behind his head, apparently fast asleep. His other arm is wrapped around a small dark-haired bundle curled up with her back pressed to his side and her head on his shoulder.
Leia squeaks. "Holocam!" she whispers. "Quick, quick, holocam!"
Han has a hand pressed over his mouth to keep in his laughter; Chewie too is chuckling as Leia stands over her brother and her daughter to snap a picture. The click of the cam going off wakes Luke, blue eyes blinking up at her wearily, and he groans.
"Not you again!"
"Nice to see you too, little brother," Leia says evilly, and takes another picture.
"Bah," Luke says, swatting at her with the hand Jaina isn't mostly lying on. She must sense the movement, or maybe it is their quiet voices that wake her, mumbling and twisting round to look at her mother.
"Oh, Force, you're so tanned!" Leia exclaims. "Are you sure - ooof!" staggering under Jaina's weight – "Are you sure she's Jaina? And your hair – Luke, her hair's shorter. What happened?"
"I didn't want to wash it all," Jaina says, squirming out of Leia's grip. "Dad! Chewie!"
"Sorry," Luke says innocently when Leia glares at him. "So how was the election dispute?"
Leia carries right on glaring. "Bothersome," she says. "And irritating. I have no patience with that kind of circus."
"I hope you didn't flay anyone with your tongue."
She looks affronted. "Do I ever?"
"Only all the time. That's why you and Mara get along so well."
Leia nods and grins, holding out a hand to help him up. Luke hugs her tightly. She presses her face into her brother's shoulder, smelling grass and caf and chocolate, for some reason. His Force sense is calm as ever, but for once he seems actually happy as well, and it makes her smile.
She hopes he'll be even happier when he hears her decision.
"So," Han says after he and Chewie have both embraced Luke and Jaina has come back for another hug, winding her thin wiry arms around his neck, "where are the boys?"
"Ah, they headed off with Kyp, some kind of nature trip thing, I think. Anakin decided he wanted to try sketching –"
Luke is interrupted by a blood-curdling yell and a crash; an instant later, Jacen barges out of the bushes at the bottom of the garden with Anakin hot on his heels, whooping. Kyp falls after them, clutching at his left arm and looking caught between anger and amusement.
"You devious little Sith!"
"You're the Sith!" Anakin yells back, dodging through the gate into the herb gardens. "Rogues are never Sith!" his voice floats over the hedge. Kyp barrels after him with a cry.
"Thrusters on full, Rogue Three!" Jaina shrieks, dropping out of Han's arms and breaking into a run. "Evasive manoeuvres! I've got your six!"
There's another crash that sounds like a compost bin being tipped over and an even louder smash that can only be a flowerpot (or possibly two) and then silence.
Han and Leia are both staring at Luke.
"Ah well," he says blandly. "Whatever it was, I'm sure it's fixable."
Family dinner that night is a loud, cheerful, messy affair. Luke laughs louder and more easily than Han can remember him doing in a long time, and there's a tension missing from Leia's shoulders that felt like it had been there since before she was born sometimes. She spends most of the evening cuddling Anakin on her lap while the twins takes turns switching between Han, Luke and Chewie. The events of the last two weeks here at Yavin are mostly wrapped in a mysterious silence and a few conspiratorial looks, although much is made of Mara's visit as if to compensate.
Leia figures a little ignorance is a small price to pay for three happy, nut-brown, contented children as well as her brother's laugh.
As for Han... well, the lines around his eyes seem to have smoothed a little. His gestures are slower, more expansive, like back in the old days, and it's been a long time since he's allowed himself more than one glass of ale, he and Luke toasting each other with a clink.
Irritating as the official part of Mestreya was, the trip did them both good. Her decision even more so.
After the kids have been put to bed in the suspiciously clean-and-tidy-looking second bedroom in Luke's apartments that they have ostensibly been using for two weeks now, the four of them gather round the kitchen table. Luke breaks out a bottle of Corellian whiskey, the same cheap old brand they used to drink back when they were still Rebels and not the actual government.
The sharp smell of it reminds Leia of other smells, unwashed bodies and flight suits, leather and ozone, dirt and engine oil and bad caf and the mess hall slop that Wedge would complain about in long, bitter monologues just to entertain the others in the room and take their minds of the hunger or the cold or the dead comrades.
She's surprised to find she associates the smell with home.
"Luke," she says, tipping her glass to him.
He raises an eyebrow.
"I'm ready," she says quietly.
He smiles, slow and bright, and lifts his glass. "Rogue Squadron," he says, the old toast. "The Rebel Alliance. The Millienium Falcon –"
"And pretty red-headed governor's daughters," Han finishes, laughing.
"Governor's daughters," Luke says. "Yes."
Chewie barks a sly question, but Luke laughs it off as they all toast each other.
(Mara calls two days later to blame him for her sunburn and inform him haughtily that he's morally obligated to wine and dine her the next time they're both on the same planet at the same time. Leia eavesdrops on the conversation like any good sister would and relates the whole thing to Han and Chewie later, feeling smug.
Luke pretends he didn't know she was there.)