These characters, settings, and other such props do not belong to me. They are, by right, the property of George Lucas and Lucasfilm, Ltd. I will certainly not be receiving any monetary remuneration for this little romp in his back yard. This is just one way I want to say "thanks for sharing the myth, George"...

Special thanks to Leah for her thoughts and suggestions.

This is set shortly after The Empire Strikes Back.



by Michelle Lunsford (10/97)

With a practiced, almost rhythmic familiarity, the final pair of X-wings in the four-ship patrol eased from the hanger bay and into the blackness beyond. The lone spectator, standing at a viewport out of the way, allowed his gaze to follow the sleek figures until the pinprick of their exhaust seemed to blend among the rest of the stars. Then he merely continued to stare, his eyes falling upon nothing, and yet everything in the same instant.

Absently the man rubbed with his left hand against his right, until suddenly the act caught him in a blinding flash, as so many other insignificant acts had done in the days previous. His right hand. His artificial hand. His constant reminder of everything that had happened. And now, a reminder of precisely who he was.

<I wish I'd known him.> The phrase echoed in his mind. His own words, expressed with a longing that at times seemed to consume him, and spoken to his mentor in the comfort of that simple home so long ago.

"May the Force help me," he whispered to the stars. "Even now, I long to know him still."

A flicker in the outermost reaches of his vision broke the painful reverie for a moment; one of the X-wings, as it passed by. The bystander pilot released a sigh. He was grateful to have been released from the medical facilities, but it would still be a while before Onebee acknowledged clearance for him to return to active duty. As he continued staring at the patrolling ships, a thought came to him. By the Force? Perhaps. Yet somehow the man knew, although he would often fly in his beloved X-wing again, he would never lead from it in battle as he had done before.

"Hey, you awake? Because if you're phasing out while just standing around I'm going to order them to put you back in the medcenter."

Luke, so lost in his own musings, was somewhat surprised that his visitor had arrived completely unnoticed to his senses. But the familiar, and slightly teasing, voice was a welcome sound to his ears.

"Hi, Leia."

The newcomer, posed in a casual stance with arms crossed in a comfortable manner across her chest, said nothing. But her expectant gaze continued to reach out to him.

Luke shuffled his feet and finally admitted, "I was just thinking."

A pair of eyebrows raised slightly, her recognition that he was skirting the issue with the obvious. Leia and he had grown to be rather open with one another, and the knowledge that now weighed upon Luke felt like a wall between them. He studied her countenance. Due to the experience of one from a royal court, as well as one accustomed to diplomatic endeavors, that lovely visage gave little information to him. But Luke was beginning to see things that the eyes could not discern, like a sensation of thoughts half whispered in the wind. Without a doubt Luke knew that Leia realized the confrontation with Vader had deeply affected him. But, he wondered, did she suspect beyond what her logic and observation told her. Could she sense that there was something else? Something even he couldn't quite place a finger on. Something that had caused an irrevocable change in him. And whether that change was for good or naught, remained to be seen. All these thoughts passed in an instant as Luke remained silent.

"Well, unbelievable as it seems, I have a bit of time on my hands," Leia commented, resigned that she would get no more from him on the matter. "I thought I'd take a little walk. Care to join me?"

Luke shrugged, then managed a slight smile. Perhaps her company would help. "Sure."

The pair easily fell into conversation, traveling the corridors in a casual manner and discussing the current state of affairs regarding the Rebellion as simply as one would the weather on a fair day. Rounding a corner, they found themselves at one of the smaller recreation areas on the ship.

"I feel like some tea," Leia announced suddenly. Without another word she was through the door, eyes searching for an empty table. She didn't have to look long. There was only a handful of other customers taking refuge in the area. Motioning Luke to follow, the princess made her way across the room to one of the back tables and sat down. Orders were placed and filled without preamble, and the pair drank for a moment in silence, each seemingly lost in his and her own thoughts.

"Luke, can I ask you something?" Leia said softly.

"Of course."

"It's-- well, it's rather personal." She dropped her eyes to stare at the now cooling brew in her mug.

Luke considered that with a slight pause. Although he had known, had felt, of Leia's excessive worry for him where his recent incident was concerned, she had not questioned him too deeply about it. Would she now? Would she seek to know everything that had transpired between he and Vader? And would he refuse her, in a vain effort to protect her from the horrid truth? Or would he simply fall to pieces at her feet, somehow hoping she might be able to construct those pieces again.

"Well, you can still ask," Luke replied at last. His voice held the slightest hint of uncertainty.

Leia looked up from her mug. "Have you-- have you ever been in love?"

The unexpectedness and blatancy of the question threw the young man for a loop. A melange of emotions played across his features in the brief instant before he was able to gain some semblance of balance.

"Oh stars, that didn't come out at all like I wanted it to," Leia apologized. A frown etched itself across her lips.

"No, it's alright," Luke said, none too convincingly. "It's just that... I mean, I didn't..."

Leia was still looking at him, earnest and sincere, and Luke wished he didn't feel like such a floundering idiot. Then the would-be Jedi's instincts managed to kick in, and he took a steadying breath. He could feel the Force working its way into his perception and suddenly a new perspective of understanding displayed itself vividly in his mind.

"The answer to your question is no." The voice sounded strange, unfamiliar to his own ears. Luke licked across parched lips and began again. "At least, I've never been in love the way I think you mean."

The pairs of eyes held for a moment, deep pools of brown locked with a vivid, icy blue. A sensation of unspoken communication crept upon them both, and he noticed that Leia shifted uncomfortably, as one might to suppress a shiver.

"But I like to think I'll recognize it when it happens," Luke went on as the gratifyingly peculiar moment passed. Then he pressed to the purpose he knew lay behind her question. "Just like I think I can now recognize it in you."

A flush of crimson burned in Leia's cheeks and she pulled her eyes away as one rightly sentenced.

"You love Han?" It was a question, but something about Luke's tone made it sound more like a statement.

The rebel princess managed to raise her eyes again, the tears brimming there the only answer she could give.

Luke took the small hands across the table into his own and spoke with a calming certainty. "And Han loves you too, Leia."

A smile began to blossom as Leia echoed words from a recent memory. "I know."

"And Han is going to be able to tell you that, himself. I promise."

Bringing the subject around to the present misery that constantly played upon her senses caused Leia's tears to finally break free. She squeezed at Luke's hands as though they were a life line.

"I can't tell you how much I appreciate your helping us to find Han."

"As if a herd of banthas could stop me," Luke said jokingly. Then his expression grew more serious. "Han is my friend. And as many times as he's been there for me, there is nothing that's going to keep me from finding him. I'll bring him back to you, Leia. Or I'll die trying."

Leia simply nodded, not trusting her voice just yet. A quiet eternity passed before she pulled away, wiping the tears from her face.

"I've lost so much in this cursed war," she began, matter of fact. "And yet I find I've been so blessed at the same time, to find Han and you. I don't know what I've done to deserve your friendship, but I'm thankful for it." Her gaze turned away again, almost as if in an act of guilt. "We've always been so close, Luke, you and I. And even now, with my feelings toward Han, you're here, helping me." With an inner strength the young woman forced herself to meet that steel blue stare. "I'm sorry if I've ever done anything to disappoint you, or mislead you."

"Sorry?" The man's brows knitted in a genuine expression of puzzlement. "Honestly, Leia--." Then in a flash of insight, Luke understood. "Oh," his voice fumbled. Now it was his turn to look away.

"Maybe I shouldn't have said anything," Leia prompted.

"No, no," came the reassuring response. With a shrug and a 'caught in the act' smile, Luke continued. "I was an impetuous farmboy, you were a beautiful princess - of course I'd want to run off and rescue you." Taking the petite hands again, Luke's countenance altered once more to the matured, sobered man of recent days. "Leia, you're still a beautiful princess, and still more precious to me than I even know how to say. But any romantic feelings I may have had passed away a long time ago. And I could never have wished a more deserving man of your love than Han."

The woman's features lit up with the radiance of her smile. She responded with a warm squeeze to Luke's hand, a simple sign of her gratitude.

"I only wish Father could still be alive to meet him. I know he would have liked Han." Then, as the smile gave way to a more playful grin, she amended, "Well, at least he would have once he got to know him."

But Luke never heard his companion's latter statement, his mind having abruptly halted. Luke's smile vanished completely, and all the color drained from his face. His eyes, though still locked with Leia's, held a definite distant cast, as though he were staring right through and past her. It was as if a fog had simply rolled in and covered him.

"Luke, what is it?" Leia's voice was laced with a sense of apprehension.

The young man blinked several times, as if coming from a daze. Slowly, he pulled away. "I'm sorry, Leia. I guess--." With a hesitant pause he sought for some reliable excuse. "I guess I must be feeling more tired than I thought. Onebee said I should still be taking it easy."

Luke's explanation seemed reasonable enough, but Leia appeared hesitant to accept it fully. "Is the prosthetic causing you trouble," she asked a bit too slowly.

Only then did Luke realize he'd been absently flexing and relaxing the fingers of his right hand. If Leia needed further indication that Luke was more than merely tired, then she was rewarded when Luke suddenly froze, and looked away. It was a small act of denial, but thoroughly condemning.

"This is about Vader and your confrontation," Leia said. It wasn't a question.

Luke continued to avoid her gaze, fighting against the plethora of emotions that welled up inside him.

"Oh Luke, what has he done to you?

Her spoken thought was barely audible as it came whispered from soft lips. But the implications of the question rang through Luke's senses with a deafening thunder. His eyes fell upon her then, and for a moment he no longer wanted to fight what lay hidden. Despair, fear, and such pain as he hardly knew words for, blazed like an all consuming flame. And still, there was something else there. Luke could not quite place the emotion that it stirred within him, yet the only word that came to mind was 'hope'. As quickly as it had opened, the window was again closed. Luke's face was a mask once more.

"Please understand, I can't talk about this," Luke said calmly. His voice was almost too calm, and it left Leia, for an instant, visibly shaken. "And please, don't ask me about it again."

The princess held her resolve for just a while longer, before finally acquiescing with a curt nod. However, before she would let the battle die completely, her desire to help him called out in one last effort. "Is there nothing I can do?"

A weary sigh escaped his lips. But then the hint of a smile began to work its way there. "Just continue being you," he said softly. "Your friendship is more help to me than you'll ever know."

Leia placed a reassuring touch on his arm. "And you'll always have my friendship, Luke. Just as you'll always have my love."

It was the first time Luke had heard her express their relationship with that word, and somehow it offered him a comfort that no other words or actions could have afforded. In that instant Luke knew that come what may, here was his anchor. He touched her hand gently, where it rested upon his arm, and spoke with a depth of feeling that he hoped she would understand. "I love you too, Leia."

There was a silent pause between them, as they relished what had just been shared.

A soft but insistent beep suddenly sounded from Leia's waist. She quickly pulled her comlink, and answered the hail. Luke waited, listening to the one side conversation, until she switched the comlink off and returned it to her belt.

"Looks like my free time is up. I've got to go."

Luke nodded, and rose to bid her farewell.

"Thanks for walking with me," she added. They stood, a bit awkward for a moment, before Leia suddenly flung her arms around him in a tight embrace. "Just promise me that if you need to talk, you'll come find me."

Luke returned the display of affection until by mutual consent they pulled away. "So long as you agree to do the same."

Leia favored him with a smile. "Deal." Then with a final kiss on the cheek, she turned and was gone.

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