A/N: Hello again and thank you for the reviews, comments, questions and private messages. They are always the best thing I find in my inbox, and I take each one very seriously. Life has been hectic of late, so I haven't had time to respond to all the reviews yet. :( I figured you would rather have more story that answers those comments, so I put my focus there. I will catch up, though! Just as soon as life hands me a breather.
This chapter is for Nanobot5770, Mirani, and Audibrowncoat. Thank you all for being patient. The content in this chapter was a long time in coming as answers to some of your questions. I hope it doesn't dissapoint.
Disclaimer: I own nothing but my OCs. Please do not sue. This is purely for fun.
I hated it when Leia was right. One glance at the agenda for tomorrow's total snooze-fest disguised as a council meeting was all I needed to see. More arguing over what credits needed to be allocated where, and who was the most responsible or qualified to lead a mission to some place for some reason because it was bla, blah, and blah. No matter how many times I told them that I hadn't the foggiest idea how to do anything related to leading a rebellion, they still thought my input was necessary. It seriously made me wonder how in the world these people found that one tiny hole on that mammoth Death Star that made the thing go all explody when you shot a laser into it.
Oh, excuse me. Not a laser ray (cus the port was ray-shielded), but a proton torpedo.
Still, someone please explain to me how the brilliant minds that found a weakness TWO METERS wide on a battle station ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY KILOMETERS in diameter were the same brilliant minds that believed an out-of-work bartender knew a thing or two about running an underground resistance. It was like asking a convenience store clerk to help Stephen Hawking figure out the black hole theory! The kid wouldn't even be qualified to get Professor Hawking a cup of coffee, nevertheless kick it with one of the most intelligent men on planet Earth.
Just like I wasn't qualified in the slightest to even open the door to the conference room for these heroes of the galaxy.
That was until my already half-asleep eyes scanned the last item up for conversation. Then I knew it wasn't going to turn into a meeting at all. It was going to turn into a veritable Epic Rap Battle between Ackbar the Awesome and Fey'lya the Failure.
Maaaaaaybeeeeee those titles were slightly skewed by the fact that I thought Ackbar was da bomb diggity. Even Thrawn paused during Heir to the Empire and realized he wasn't going to win so much as a parsec back for the Empire with Ackbar running around loose. When the man that single-handedly brought Coruscant to its proverbial knees stops and says 'hey, we best do something about this dude before he spanks us hard,' you take it for the sincere and honest complement that it is.
As for Fey'lya… well, there was a reason I called him 'Councilor Failure' through pretty much all the novels. The dude was a pit stain, pure and simple. And even knowing that it was standard bothan culture to claim the top spot regardless of if he had the brain power to run it, the fact that he nearly single-handedly destroyed the New Republic in the future had a way of souring me towards him. He was like the political Anti-Thrawn.
Hrm. I wonder if Zahn did that on purpose when he created the character. He'd gone through and picked the best aspects of folks like Robert E. Lee, Alexander the Great, and Sherlock Holmes to create Thrawn (something of which I thought was fantastic when I read the novels, but now I wanted nothing more than to punch him the nose for it! How would you feel if you had to face an amalgamation of those people?!). So did that mean he picked the worst parts of Loki (Avengers' version), Captain Hook, and Jafar to create Fey'lya?
Heh. If the imaginary shoe fits…
Regardless, I sighed in disgust, tomorrow's council meeting was going to be as productive as all the others. Which was to say not at all. Not with Failure trying to disparage Ackbar, and Ackbar not having the diplomacy that god gave a dead gnat (seriously, much love for my fave Mon Cal, but the only place he fit in was when organizing and running a battle). The proverbial fur—and quite possibly the literal if I lost my mind and attacked Failure to get him to shut the freak up—was going to fly. It was going to be a long day of nothing doing. No wonder these parts of running the rebellion never made it into the movies. It was like watching C-SPAN all day long. Bor-ring!
"I think it would have been nicer to let me blow up on the Death Star," I said by way of greeting, walking into the lounge area of the Drunkin' Princess. Yes, I'd lost that fight. Such a stupid name!
Luke gave a start, the orange colored ball that had been floating in the air between him and Nova bouncing when it hit the floor. Oh, I forgot to mention that the two of them had this new training game that was pretty much the Jedi equivalent of hot potato. Meaning one would pick up the ball with the Force and float it to the other. Then the other would take control of it and float it back. They dropped it more times than succeeded, sorta like two year olds trying to develop coordination skills. But they were getting better at it.
"That bad?" Wedge asked. He glanced up from the dejarik game (you know, the one Chewie and R2 were playing in ANH that looked line animated Dungeons and Dragons or something?) he was playing with Vill Dance.
"Worse," I whined, flopping face first onto the sofa. "We're going to sit there and argue about my suggestion of pulling off this rock before the bad things get here. Ackbar is all for it; Fey'lya not so much."
"That's because Ackbar hated the idea of coming to Teardrop in the first place," Vill put in, moving his creature across the board to attack Wedge's. "Too many civilians to endanger with our presence here. He liked your idea of going to Hoth, Your Highness."
Oh, if he only knew… Five months from now a Star Destroyer was going to come into orbit and let loose a bunch of Stormtroopers. Most of those troopers were going to massacre all the civilians on this continent for being Rebel Sympathizers—even those that weren't. And five of those Stormtroopers, which would soon be called the Hand of Judgment, would go rogue rather than kill innocent people. But that was in the novel Allegiance. And I really hoped to be far from this place before I screwed up the lives of any more noble-minded stormtroopers.
I slanted a pointed look at Nova. I had my hands full with just the one already.
"Which is probably why Fey'lya hated the idea of leaving," I muttered into the pillow and then had to sit up and say it again when I realized no one had understood me.
"That and it's impossible to keep ice crystals from forming in his royal fur," Nova deadpanned.
I snorted out a snicker. Yeah, I liked Nova. Aside from knowing the real me, he got my humor.
"I'm certain you and Princess Leia can sort it out," Luke put in, trying to be helpful. "You two can work the impossible together."
Vill and Wedge wisely hid their grins, hunkering down over their game. Apparently it wasn't a secret that Luke had a thing for me. Nova wasn't having that much of an easy time hiding his grin. And so swooped down to pick up the oompa loopa egg and toss it into the air. It paused halfway in its descent to the deck, hovering in tiny jerks towards Luke. Luke picked up with the game, the easy smile on his lips melting into lines of intense concentration. Reminding me of the time he had tried to pull his X-wing out of the swamp on Dagobah…
"We have to leave," I blurted, causing Nova to drop the ball—literally—this time.
"So you keep saying," Wedge replied, eyes still on the dejarik board before him. "I'm sure it's just a matter of time until you convince Mon Mothma to—"
"No," Nova cut in softly, staring at me with an unreadable expression. "No, she doesn't mean the Alliance. She means just her and me."
Luke turned to stare at me, too. "Is that… is that true?"
I couldn't meet that gaze, the crestfallen look in his crystal blue eyes. We'd become a sort of extended family in the past month. Me, him, Nova, Wedge, Vill… even Morvane and Laurent to some extent. And if Han, Leia and Chewie were his new core family, at the very least we were his Brat Pack. We were the ones he'd run around with for all sorts of insane stupid adventures. And now I was taking Nova and pulling up anchor, ripping away another part of his family.
And I couldn't even tell him why. Something else Hater was going to pay for when I got my hands on his robotic ass.
"Something happened today, didn't it?" Nova asked quietly, interrupting my wonderful daydream of forcing Vader onto the stage of Dancing with the Stars, paring him up with Roseanne Bar for a sexy tango. "You saw something."
Saw something… it was our code for the fact that I knew the future... sort of. Who knew what was going to happen the way it should now. But at least I had a bit of an insight into things, even if they were no longer going according to plan. While we couldn't explain the truth of what I knew about them all, we'd made up some sort of story that I was a Force Dreamer. That I had visions that came true.
Just give me an 800 number and call me "Miss Cleo." I was the new personal psychic to the Rebel Alliance.
I nodded miserably, letting Nova take a seat beside me. Unable to tell him in front of the others that I had to get the hell away from Leia before we reduced each other to mental vegetables.
"Okay," Nova replied. "If you say it's time for us to go, then we'll break atmo as soon as we refuel. We've got enough credits to get us to where we need to go. We'll exchange the rest of your medallions somewhere, somehow."
Don't look at me like that. Yes, I'd only given the Alliance two-thirds of my money belt. I'd kept the other one-third, but it wasn't for selfish reasons. I was now unemployed, stuck in a universe with no references, no prospects, and now had a ship to fuel and a bodyguard that I had to pay. I really did feel like Captain Mal from Firefly, wondering how I was going to keep my boat in the air and if I could afford to feed my crew (of one) this month.
And speaking of said crew-of-one, Nova didn't have to ask where we were headed. Dagobah. It was the only place aside from the Alliance that the two of us had in common.
"Then I'm in, too," Luke said firmly.
Uh, he's wha… Maybe I didn't hear that right. "You can't. I mean, not that I wouldn't appreciate the company. Somebody has to keep Nova here entertained. But… don't you want to continue to fight the Empire?"
"Isn't that what you are going to continue to do?"
"Well, yeah. Just…"
"Just what?" he shrugged. "I'm not sure what I want to do right now, other than become a Jedi. Nova has the same goal, and we've made progress together. Besides, Han keeps asking me if I'll join up with his smuggling crew. I was considering the offer, now that the Death Star has been destroyed. If only because I feel… " He trailed off, frowning and glancing at something only he could see in the distance of his future. "I know I can't stay with the Alliance forever. I have to go. But I'd rather continue to fight the Empire instead of smuggle."
Not to steal Han's line, but I was really beginning to get a baaaaadddd feeling about this.
"If you're going to continue fighting the Empire, I suppose you could use a good crew," Vill piped up. "Someone with experience and knowledge of Imperial tactics."
I gaped at him, too, wondering what Yoda would think of a ship full of people crashing his hiding place. Dumb, you all are. Screwed up my house, you have! Gone, you shall be before your asses, I shall kick! So didn't want that little dude leaping around me like Kermit on crack with a lightsaber, thanks!
"What about your wife, Vill?" I tried, somehow picturing him as the Jayne Cobb of my crew. "Teela can't be onboard for a plan like this. And besides, you and Luke here are needed to help flesh out Rogue Squadron."
Wedge groaned in frustration, eyes rolling skyward. "For the last time, Your Highnes, its Red Squadron. "You've called me Rogue Two ever since we met on the Admonitor. It's Red Two, of Red Squadron."
"Although," Vill said, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "Rogue Squadron wouldn't be a bad name for a team if we decide to go with Her Highness. It kind of has a kick to it."
Wedge fell silent, thinking on that. And I groaned heavily this time, shoving my face into my hands and leaning heavily against Nova. Great. Now I was screwing up the naming of Rogue Squadron. Worse, I was taking Luke from it. Luke and Wedge were supposed to form the bloody unit. How did that work if they weren't together to do it?
"I like it," I heard Luke say. "If we are going to go with Princess Aurora and fight on our own, we should definitely have a different name. We don't want to confuse or infringe on Alliance operations with two separate Red Squadrons. What do you think, Wedge?"
"It could work," Wedge agreed slowly, begrudgingly. "If we convince Morvane and Laurent to join us that would give us five members. Six, actually. Dack won't stay if the rest of us leave."
I groaned again, visions of tiny Yodas throwing rocks the size of small moons at my ship before we ever entered Dagobah's atmosphere. I could so see the guy using the Force to form words in the clouds like 'Land, and toast you shall be.' I mean, Luke landing in a single X-wing was one thing. Especially given that Yoda had had warning from a meddling Obi-Wan that a house guest was coming. A freighter escorted by six fighters was more than infringing on his hospitality.
It was one Star Destroyer short of a freaking invasion.
"Woah. Woah. Woah. Let's everyone calm the freak down," I said, glaring at all of them. "I'm not taking you all with me. I can't. You need to be here, to guide the Re—the Alliance. I can't stress the importance of how much Rogu—I mean Red squadron means to the future of this galaxy. You are all meant to fly together, true, but under the command of someone like Ackbar. Not flying escort duty on a runaway Princess!"
"You're forgetting about Teela and Uli," Nova the less-than-helpful put in, shifting his arm down from my shoulder to my elbow. Effectively stopping my flailing before I accidently took someone's nose off or something. "If we are going to do this, we're going to need a competent engineer and an equally competent doctor."
I thought of me and Uli confined to the same ship for more than a ten minute time period. "Oh good grief, it would have been kinder to let me die on the Death Star."
"Stop saying that," Luke snapped, a mixture of worry and sternness in his tone. "Nothing good would have come from your death, Your Highness. And nothing good will come from you dying in an Imperial trap or worse out there. You're going to need more than just one ship to do whatever it is you are planning."
"So Rogue Squadron it is," Wedge said with finality. "I'll agree to this on one condition: after we go to wherever it is and do whatever it is that Princess Aurora needs to do, we return to the Alliance. With your help, Your Highness, we can convince Admiral Ackbar to send us on a so-called 'escort/training exercise' to break in the new squadron. You are a Councilor, after all, and it would make sense to send an escort with you. It'll cover our leave of absence for a time."
"Then we are agreed," Nova rose to his feet, crossing over to Vill and Wedge. "We should probably…"
I let the conversation fall away and turned to Luke, searching his eyes with my own. "Why? Why leave? You've wanted to be a fighter pilot your whole life. Why turn your back on that now?"
For once he didn't look away. For once I couldn't call him the 'kid' or 'slick' or the 'nice boy.' His eyes were doing that too-old-for-him thing, and his posture wasn't the slightly nervous farmboy stance he normally wore. The man before me was grim and determined, a shadow of the man he would be when he became a full Jedi. An echo of the man his father had been before his great fall…
And Luke the Man put his hands on my shoulders, drawing me close. "Do you really have to ask?"
And then he kissed me, put all the reasons for going and all the reasons for staying, into that one pressing of our lips. And heaven help me, I opened for him. I let that little sniggering doubt that Leia had placed in me out of its lockbox, that tiny trace of curiosity about being Mrs. Skywalker free to explore my imagination. His arms wove around my waist, mine around his neck. And I didn't think about Praji at all. Or Thrawn. Or Thrass.
How could I? I was kissing Luke Skywalker, the son of my Master. And if I served well, I could be his bride. I had already moved up from slave to servant on the Sith Hierachy. If I was passionate enough, determined enough, I could become a Sith Noble. I could take my place beside Leia, as the wife of her brother. I could—
The kiss broke, and he smiled down at me. A small smile, an expression that I had seen on Anakin's face when looking at his Padme.
And I realized the thoughts that went through my head at that kiss weren't my thoughts at all.
Was I… was I going to be the Padme to Luke's Anakin? Was Vader setting this whole thing up so Luke would love me and I would die and Luke would be devastated and fall to the Dark Side, perpetuating the cycle of hatred? And when did I ever want to marry Luke? When did I ever want to rule the universe beside an…
Oh double triple shit! That was his plan, that had to be it! Hear me out now, because I think I just pieced his Unholy Mind Tampering Douchiness's plan together. Get this: Vader wanted the Death Star destroyed to weaken Palpatine politically, to keep his master so wrapped up in his (the Emperor) own red tape so that he (Vader) could make moves to control the entire Imperial Navy. Then he (again Vader) could overthrow the Emperor and rule the universe! With him (Luke) at his side!
Wait. That sounded like a more mind-blowing revelation in my head. In reality, that was the entire plot from ESB. Every Star Wars nut knew that.
But this time it was different. The stakes were higher, and larger players were involved in this Game of Space Thrones. This time Vader knew the future, knew the mistakes he would make thanks to my stupid giving him the knowledge. Now he had taken steps to correct those errors, put additional pawns in play to make up for those little snafus. Now he had his daughter working for him, using her to keep the Rebellion right where he wanted them. Now he had me to act like as a lure to pull his son in tighter, had that hidden personality in me that would pop up at his command. No wonder he'd taken Praji from me. He'd removed the competition for his son!
Vader was going to kill the Emperor, not to redeem himself, but to park his own mechanical ass on the Big Seat!
Sitting there on my ship, listening to good men lay the foundation of what would become Rogue Squadron, I felt myself lean into Luke. Resting my head against his shoulder. And because he had his head pressed to the crown of mine, smiling in joy that I apparently returned the feelings he thought he had for me, he couldn't see the dark smile that curved my lips.
The smile, I might add, that wasn't of my own volition.
Thrawn's eyes narrowed dangerously, and even knowing he was half the galaxy away, that his image was coming to me via the communications console in my room, I flinched hard. "You will tell me what happened," he said softly, calmly, sincerely.
My head snapped up of its own accord from where it had been pillowed on my knees. My arms wrapped around those knees, trying to hold my body together. I was shaking, hurting inside with not a mark on the outside to show for it.
"Lord Vader is displeased," I managed out, my voice shaking so badly I was surprised my words were intelligible. "He punished me."
"I'm reliving my interrogation," I had to bite my lip as a fresh wave of remembered pain lanced out over me, swallowing the screams I wanted to give with all my heart. "The… the robisardic injection. He had a mental trigger in my head, I think, so he could punish me from afar with just a word. I—"
"I am aware of what that particular drug does," he cut in. "Just as I am aware of what he has done to your mind. What I'm waiting for is the why. Why is he punishing you?"
Out it came. The plans to go to Dagobah, and who I was taking with me. How I was disobeying Vader's orders to stay with Leia and force the move to Hoth. And all my realizations of just what Vader was up to. When I was finished, I was hoping his features would have smoothed, that he would have some sort of reassuring thing to say to me. I received neither.
"I will have a team meet you at Dagobah," he said, his tone brooking no argument. "Be ready to leave the Rebels and return to Empire where you belong."
I couldn't believe I was going to do this, but I shook my head. "Please, don't do this. Let me… let me stay."
"I said no, Mary," he said sharply, the fact that he was using my real name letting me know something more than Vader's plans of mutiny was going on. There was a… fatigue to him, tightness around his eyes that let me know he wasn't sleeping any easier than I was. "You have served your purpose. You have discovered what Vader has planned, or nearly enough to allow me to make my plans accordingly. I will not waste your life on a fruitless endeavor. You have done well and earned your reward. Come home."
"The Empire isn't my home."
"Nor was Alderaan. Nor was Abregado-Rae. Nor was any other little world you have claimed. You left enough clues in the things you said to make that abundantly clear. While I am not particularly pleased that you lied to me, I have observed you enough to know that you had your reasons. Reasons we will discuss when you are safely onboard the Admonitor."
"If Vader finds out that you've taken me—"
"Lord Vader will have his hands full with other problems," the coldness came back into his tone, hurting me more than the activated memories of my torture. "I will make certain of that. And if he overcomes those issues, I will have Luke Skywalker to hand to him. Yes, it is my desire to capture you all alive. And you will assist with this."
"I will? Was that another command from Lorana?"
"No," he replied, arching an eyebrow. "Simple deductive reasoning. I have told you I wish everyone taken alive. If there are those in your party that you wish destroyed, name them now. I will see it done."
"Then we are in agreement. Plans will be made available to you at the right time. Follow them and no one has to die."