Mon Mothma trudged wearily down the corridor, feeling as if she was going to drop any second. I’m too old for all this, she thought, looking up at Piett’s back as she followed him. She had felt honour bound to come with him to get his friend to the hospital quarters, so had spent the entire journey back contacting people and dictating to her secretaries. Her mind buzzed with the statements that she had made, the questions that so very desperately needed answering about all the things that had gone wrong today.
It was, she mused, really a miracle that they had won. She had been informed that it had been the efforts of one particular pilot, a young woman whose name escaped her now, which had single-handedly turned the battle to their advantage. She had heard that the girl’s colleagues were hailing her as a new Luke, and her heart ached to think that the boy had been so quickly burnt out and usurped, for that was what had appeared to happen.
She shook her head, and tried to get her thoughts back to the matter in hand. There was no point in dwelling on other people’s problems at this point in time. She wondered, in a short moment of panic, what had happened to Thrawn; his ship, she had heard, had gone into hyperspace, but no one seemed to know what had actually happened there. Rumours were spinning around about the bounty hunters, but neither of them had reported back to anybody.
Please, gods, tell me they didn’t turn, she thought.
“Hmm?” said Piett, turning back to her.
“What?” she said, staring puzzledly back at him.
“You said something.” he stated, frowning worriedly back at her.
“I - I must be tired. I didn’t realise I had spoken aloud.” She smiled at him, to reassure the man. Why did he look so worried all the time, she wondered; then thought about the man who he had worked for, and nodded to herself.
But he was speaking, concern all over his face.
“Madam, if you are tired, then please go to your rest - even if only for a short time. Send someone else to accompany me, although God knows I’ve been in the Imperial - I mean the Coruscanti morgues enough times for this exact same reason. I can find my own way there. And -”
A small group of medics rushed passed them, with a floating barque cushioning and enclosing a badly burnt female. They, and the guards with them, stepped out of the way until the medics had passed. They heard a couple of doors open further down the corridor.
“Admiral,” said Mothma, when the group had gone past, “I am quite happy to accompany you. I just remembered that I have heard nothing from the bounty hunters that rescued you, and I was hoping that they hadn’t gone over to Thrawn.”
The Admiral actually laughed, and Mothma stared at him as if he had gone mad.
“Admiral?” she began, but he was shaking his head, and urging her to look down the corridor where the medics had gone.
She did so, and boggled at the figure standing, her hands on her knees, leaning against the wall further down the corridor.
“Unbelievable,” she said, amusement almost touching her own voice, “this place is just too full of coincidences for my comfort.” She hurried down the corridor to speak to the woman.
Arla heard voices, but paid them no heed; her mind was a complete fog of exhaustion and misery. Then footsteps began to come towards her, and a familiar, though not immediately identifiable, voice called her name.
“Arla! Arla Gen!” called Mon Mothma, as she approached, her excitement dispelling her usual composure. The woman looked up, and Mon Mothma stopped at the sight of her. Arla’s face was drawn, exhausted and stained with dirt and tears. Her eyes were puffy and red, as if she had been crying for hours. Even the usually immaculate hair was mussed and collapsing out of her habitual plait. There was, Mothma realised with a jolt, blood staining the woman’s jerkin.
“Mon Mothma,” stated Arla, her voice sounding as tired as she looked, “what brings you here?”
The Mon actually quirked her mouth into a smile.
“Believe it or not, we were just passing.” Then the smile dropped from her face. “Are you alright? You look -”
“Like I’ve been dragged through the Firelord’s fire-pits six times, no doubt. But no, I’m fine.” She flopped down against the wall again, and groaned.
Mothma looked at her with growing unease. “Where is your partner?” she asked.
Arla looked up again, her expression flat; she jerked her head towards the door beside her.
“In there.” She sighed, and peeled herself away from the wall, “Now, if you wouldn’t mind . .” and she turned to go back into the room. Mon Mothma held out her hand to stop her, clutching at the girl’s wrist.
Arla sighed, and said, “yes?”
“Is he - is he alright?”
“He’ll be fine, the doctors say. Only surface burns.” Her head nodded, slightly, and she had to jerk it upright again at the Mon’s next question.
“And Thrawn? What about him?”
Arla shook herself, and looked a little bit more awake,
“Oh, I’m sorry, of course, you wouldn’t know - how could you? I don’t know much, he does. But he told me that Thrawn was dead. That’s - ah!” she gasped, and collapsed against the wall again, panting.
“What? What’s wrong?” asked Mon Mothma, as Piett stepped over to hold the woman up to stop her falling over.
“I - I don’t - ah - know. Felt - pain - something - someone - the Force - I -” she whooped a deep breath. “I think someone just used the Force, and there was so much pain - oh, ninety gods, I’ve got to check that Fett is alright, he must have felt that.” and with that she rushed back inside the room.
At that instant, the security alarms began to wail.
For a moment Mon Mothma and Piett stood stupidly listening as the alarms wailed. A thousand possibilities raced through Mothma’s mind in that instant as she tried to think what might have caused them to go off. Had more Imperials arrived? Had there been a contingent of the army that breached the palace even though she knew that all had been accounted for - could they have missed an active group? She flicked a suspicious glance at Piett, who was listening to the alarms with a similarly confused expression as she assumed hers to be; could it be all a ruse, she wondered, a sick feeling in her stomach. He seemed trustworthy, but was he really? Was there anything he could have done - or any of the Imperials being treated in the makeshift hospital that had been set up this afternoon?
She took a deep breath, then jumped in surprise as another beeping joined the alarms. But it was just her comm-link.
Clicking her tongue with impatience at herself she said, “yes, Mon Mothma receiving.”
“Ma’am!” It was a male voice she did not recognise, although it was not difficult to identify the urgency if his tone. “Ma’am - please could make your way to sector five of the hospital area - there’s - ah - there’s been an incident.”
Her stomach turned over at his tone. There was obviously something going on beyond what he had said as the man sounded highly disquieted and, well, upset.
She must have paused too long as the man said, “ma’am, are you still there?”
“Yes, of course. I’m on my way.”
She flipped the comm off and turned to face Piett, who was gazing at her curiously. She must have been glaring at him, as he visibly winced as she met his gaze.
“Right.” she said, both to Piett and to the guards still hanging anxiously back from them, and was annoyed at herself at sounding angrier than she should have, which only made her seem even more crabbed than before. “Sector Five, medical compound. There has been an incident and my presence is requested. Everyone follow me.”
She started down the corridor, but was stopped as she heard Piett clear his throat.
“Erm, if there has been an incident, should I be present?” He sounded highly apologetic, which only served to make her feel even angrier. And the stupid alarm was driving her mad.
“Yes,” she snapped, “yes, you should. I’m not letting you out of my sight now.” and kept walking. Footsteps behind her told her that, at least, the guards were following, but the alarm was confusing her. Then the footsteps got closer, and Piett was walking beside .
“Madam - you cannot think I am the cause of this - this incident, can you?” he said, almost having to shout as they passed directly under one of the speakers.
She took a deep breath to give him a piece of her mind, but just then the alert abruptly stopped and, “thank the gods,” she heard him mutter.
With the reintroduction of silence, her equilibrium was restored and she was able to answer him civilly.
“Admiral, I cannot rule out that possibility, however remote you may wish me to think it. I will not let you out of my sight.” She was even able to smile slightly as she concluded, “and, of course, you might be useful.”
He just nodded.
When they reached the problem sector, Mothma was surprised to see Leia standing with the guard, in a tense waiting pose. The young woman sprang into life as soon as she saw the Mon approach.
“Mothma! Thank god you’re here!” she cried, and started towards her, but stopped as Piett turned the corner as well. He gave her an apologetic smile, and looked uncomfortable, so there was nothing unusual there. Mon Mothma breathed an internal sigh of relief to just see puzzlement on Leia’s face as she regarded Piett; but Leia was more cautious, and sufficiently disturbed by whatever had happened to be very abrupt.
“What’s he doing here?” she blurted, a worry frown creasing her forehead.
Mothma smiled soothingly, and said in a low, gentle voice, as the girl was obviously very distressed, “don’t worry. He was with me when I received the message. I was taking him to the morgue to identify any more of the high ranking Imperials there.”
Leia frowned even more deeply, but said only, “oh,” then moved swiftly on to what was on her mind. “Mothma, something terrible has happened. And it’s not Imperials that have done it, but Luke.”
Mothma was not sure what she had been expecting, but to find Luke involved was simply something she would never even have contemplated, despite his strange behaviour of the last few days.
This was presumably mirrored in her face, as Leia said, “I know, I know - but you’d better come with me and meet the doctor, while I tell you what happened.” She glanced at Piett again, who was striving to seem inconspicuous, despite the Imperial uniform. “Leave him there, though. The less people that know right now, the better.”
The doctor, who Mon Mothma was introduced to as Dr. Hunterson, a burns specialist, was sitting on a chair in a small office with a blanket loosely draped around her, and was impatiently sipping - and grimacing at - a cup of something hot. Mothma assumed it to be a sweet tea, and sympathised with her expressions of distaste. The woman was very pale, and her hands shook just a little as she raised the cup to her mouth. Nevertheless, her voice was firm, and she pulled no punches.
“You are going to catch the little bastard?” was the first question she asked, before even the introductions were complete.
Leia had answered, her voice uncharacteristically grim, “it is not a matter of catching him. We know where he is - he’s locked himself in his suite, and there is a guard outside. The question is -”
“The question is, your Highness,” snapped Dr. Hunterson, “what you will do with him. The boy is a danger to all of us on this facility. You think I look bad, well, my patients - who will not be receiving any more outside assistance, thank you very much - are far, far worse. Some might die. It is a miracle that none did die. I suppose I should be thanking him for his restraint in that matter. He should be locked up for a very long time.”
Leia rubbed at her forehead, as if she had a headache.
“He has been very unhappy, I think.” she said quietly, then shook her head, “Even so, I can’t excuse this -”
Mon Mothma felt at a loss. Luke was such a gentle boy most of the time, although sometimes a little, well, morose these last few months. But a little depression shouldn’t have produced these - these unspeakable actions. She wondered, briefly, if his interaction with the bounty hunters had warped him somehow; but instantly felt guilty for the thought, after all, they had proved to be good for the Republic. And Leia’s - interaction - with a smuggler had changed the girl so much for the better it was unbelievable. The thought of smugglers reminded her of her planetsib, locked up in her suite, and she shook her head.
Luke’s irrational behaviour was disturbingly like Mon Silva’s, but the woman had, it seemed to Mothma, lost herself since her brother’s death.
Luke couldn’t be like that, she reasoned, but still, “I can’t believe this of Luke - what exactly did he say?”
The doctor began to laugh, but soon cut it off.
“He was your golden boy, wasn’t he? War is very bad for people, you know - no one can stay exactly sane if they are fighting all the time. What your young friend said was - and I quote - ‘I don’t give a shit whether these people live or die. I really couldn’t care less.’ Then he did - whatever he did to us.”
She slumped suddenly, and muttered, “I had aggravated him - he was being obdurate and childish, qualities which are not acceptable in hospital surroundings, I am afraid - but there was no excuse. If he had just touched me, but he, well, you know the rest.” she sat up and fixed them with an intense glare, "What are you going to do?”
Seeing that Leia was agitating to speak, Mothma nodded to her.
“We have to talk to him first, something must have been troubling him - the death of Wedge, I don’t know.” She winced and rubbed her head again, “I know that it can’t happen again, and we will lock him up if he won’t co-operate. But -” she caught herself about to say, he’s very young, then realised with an unhappy pang, that she was, in fact, the same age as him. She closed her eyes, and tried to think around the headache that had been the effect of Luke’s abuse of the Force, “but we’ve got to find out what’s troubling him,” she finished lamely, and looked towards Mon Mothma.
The Mon was having difficulty as well, though for very different reasons. Although they had appeared to have won this battle - even destroyed the instigator, if Arla’s story was correct - the last few days had really been a disaster. Her mind roved over the horrors that they had seen while checking on Coruscant that afternoon, and she thought of the people in the transports waiting to come home to buildings that no longer existed. There had been a number of key Republic losses, of which Wedge Antilles was not the most inconsiderable, and morale was low. This would rock her already fragile Republic, and to have Luke - her “golden boy”, the doctor was not wrong about that - going off the rails would quite possibly be disastrous.
She cleared her throat.
“At this moment, without further evidence, nothing can be done, Dr. Hunterson. Leia is right, we do have to talk to Luke. He will receive counselling - as will any of the people involved in the incident. No one died. If that had not been the case, the issue would be very different, but for now I am going to have to ask you, and all involved, not to speak of this to anyone, until a decision has been made. We will keep you posted, and I want regular reports on the status of the patients affected, but, in the present climate, I think it would be best if this was not common knowledge.”
Dr. Hunterson fixed her with a level stare, and opened her mouth to speak, but Mothma stopped her before she could start.
“I think we understand each other perfectly.” she said, “and I think that you realise that it is the only way, for the greater good of the New Republic at this time.”
The doctor nodded.
“Oh yes,” she said, “I think I understand only too well,” and returned her interest to her tea.
“Then we will trouble you no further; thank you, Doctor.”
She and Leia left the room, and even though Leia’s confusion was almost palpable, Mothma chose to ignore it.
“Right,” she said, “let’s go and talk to that stupid boy.”
Leia tried desperately to curb her fear. Before, she had just been angry, but she hadn’t really thought it through until now, when it was beginning to sink in what her little brother had done. She remembered making excuses for him earlier in the day, and knew that those excuses still held, Wedge was still dead, and she suspected that he felt that loss more keenly than anyone knew. She still did not really know what had gone on between the two of them, only that very recently they had not seemed to be getting on so well, and she remembered wondering why that was.
She sighed, and glanced up at the retreating backs of her superior and her guard, and tried to pick up her pace to catch up with the Mon. The only thing that eased her presence was that the Admiral had been taken off to go and view the bodies in the morgue as Mothma had originally planned. Feeling slightly evil herself, Leia allowed herself to hope that they had lost a good number of high ranking officers - officers who would no longer be a threat to their fragile republic.
Thrawn was gone now, although it had almost seemed too easy to her, and she still did not entirely trust the bounty hunters, even Arla. She knew she would never really be able to get it out of her head that the two of them had worked for the Imperials, particularly, she realised with a bitter pang, for her father. Whatever Thrawn had done, she could not ever put him in the same category in her mind as Vader and his Emperor.
Her throat constricted again in fear as she thought of Vader. She wished she knew more about her family, and what had gone before. They had always meant to find out, Luke had often spoken of it, but something in her had rebelled every time he had suggested it, and now she wished that she hadn’t been so stupid.
Luke had hurt those people, Luke who’d never hurt anyone in his life, never done a vicious thing. Except, a traitorous voice inside her whispered, destroy a million or more lives in the Death Star, and that was only the beginning. She clutched a hand to the neck of her gown as if it were too tight, what if, she thought, what if this has warped him somehow, what if all this incessant combat has caused something to - snap? Is that what happened to Va - my - our father? Then, another, more heartstopping thought, and if we are losing Luke to this Dark Side he always talks about, who is going to bring him back, who is going to stop him? And that was the question really; there was no one strong enough to stop him.
The Jedi were dead if Luke was lost. There were his trainees, she supposed, but that was what they were, and how could a trainee defeat his master. She wondered, feeling sicker every minute, how long this had been building up. It hadn’t sounded planned, not really, but maybe he was cleverer than that - maybe it was all part of something else. Thus, she reasoned, no one who had worked with him could be trusted, however earnest they seemed, he could have taught in such a way that they could not act against him. As for Fett and Arla, well, she doubted whether they would even want to stop him, despite their heroics of the day, she dared not trust them at all. And as for herself, she knew that her powers where in no way the same league as her brothers, and she had not had any training. She cursed herself for her stupidity, and pride at not taking up Luke’s continuous offers and pleas for her to start training.
She started, cricking her neck as she turned to face the speaker.
“Are you alright?” asked Mon Mothma.
Leia frowned. “Mm. Just cricked my neck,” she murmured, her mind still concentrating on Luke. She heard Mothma click her tongue.
“That’s not what I meant. You seemed - distracted . .” her voice petered out as she took in Leia’s expression.
“Of course I’m distracted, Mothma. My brother has been trying to murder people; what do you expect?” she snapped.
A stab of pain in her head reminded her that the amount of energy Luke commanded was very strong indeed. She wondered whether everyone else with the Force had a similar headache, or whether it was just because of some ‘twin-bond’ she supposed that she and Luke must have, despite all their years apart. She rubbed her head, and smiled apologetically at Mothma, even though the older woman’s expression had not changed.
“I’m sorry,” she said, keeping the smile firmly intact, although the urge to break down and wail was very strong, “I’m just so afraid,” she continued, her voice dropping to a whisper as they approached the guard outside Luke’s door, “what if he’s been planning this, Mothma? How can we stop him if he’s turned? What if he’s become like his - our - father? What can we do?”
The urgency in her tone was rewarded by the sudden flash of unease that flared in Mothma’s eyes. It was swiftly quelled, and her features resumed their usual calm dignity, but Leia knew she had seen it, and guessed that Mothma had entertained similar worries as they had walked to his rooms.
The leader of the guard, a short, thickset man in his early thirties with an unfortunate moustache, stepped forward to meet them. He was frowning, and to Leia, at least, he exuded nervousness. Her stomach lurched, as various scenarios sped through her mind, and she opened her mouth to speak, but the guard beat her to it.
“Your Highness,” he began in a surprisingly strong baritone, “Your Excellency, thank goodness you are here. We were concerned. No one has told us why we are here.” He frowned harder, and whuffled his moustache, saying, “why has Commander Skywalker been confined to quarters? Has someone made an attempt on his life?”
The other guardsmen clustered round as he said that, and Leia felt their concern radiating around the corridor. She shook her head, disbelieving; did no one think any ill of Luke? Bitterly, she thought that if it had been Han everyone would have believed him guilty of some crime, but here these men were only concerned for Luke’s safety. Silently, though, she thanked all the gods that they did not know about the truth. Mothma was right, morale would be shaken if this came out. So, again, she forced herself to smile.
“No, nothing like that.” She heard a slight edge of hysteria in her voice, and hoped no one would notice, “We’ve assigned guards to all of the dignitaries in case of that, of course, but we have the all clear now, so you are dismissed. Report back to the command centre to collect your next duties, and - thank you very much.” That must have sounded very stupid, she thought, wishing she knew how to do Luke’s little suggestion thing. Here she was just lying through her teeth.
The guard went, however, and Mothma said nothing.
As soon as the guard turned the corner, Leia sagged against the wall. Mothma patted her arm.
“Well done, Leia,” and she smiled, the movement lifting her tired face for a moment. It didn’t last long, as Leia’s stricken expression did not change, and after a quick flick of her eyes so that she did not - quite - meet the other’s, Leia turned from her friend and pressed the door-comm.
“Luke,” she said, then stopped, not knowing how to begin. She closed her eyes a moment, and saw in her mind’s eye the Luke she had first known, trying to break her out of the first Death Star. She saw a puppyish face, earnest and, well, basically nice. A boy, as much a child as she had been then, when she had been an arrogant, though she hoped, well intentioned princess.
She sighed, thinking now how much had changed, then leaned closer to the small grey mesh and spoke in a low whisper to him.
“Luke, it’s Leia. I was just thinking, and I remembered being in that prison on the Death Star you remember? When you - and Han and Chewie - came to rescue me?” There was no response, she leaned back, so that he couldn’t hear her, and took a deep breath. “I remember how scared I was with the guards patrolling outside all the time. I could hear them talking sometimes, and I can remember thinking that it was amazing that they could just get on with their lives as if there was no one behind the doors of the cells. Well, I thought you might be a little, um, worried, so I’ve told the guard to go away. There’s just me and Mon Mothma out here now - and I can tell her to go away if you want - so there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
She glanced back at the Mon, who gave her an encouraging smile, but said nothing.
“So, if you want to come out now, we - I mean - I would really like to talk to you.” She leaned even closer to the grille so that her lips brushed against it, and she carefully let some of her despair into her voice, “Luke, I love you; please talk to me -” a tear trickled down her cheek, and to her horror, her breathe sobbed slightly.
She tried to compose herself to try again in the silence, “Luke, I know you can hear me - Ow!”.
A sharp crackle of light ran over the grille, and Leia jumped back, holding her face.
“Leia!” Mothma was beside her, “What happened? Are you alright?”
Sucking her sore lip, Leia leaned back and looked around rather wildly. The lights shone a constant white, giving no indication of any mishap. She blinked.
“I - I don’t know. Um, got a shock, I think. Must have been an overload on the system. Did the lights go?”
Face suddenly stony, Mothma shook her head.
“No, Leia. There was nothing. I saw that spark of light, but nothing else was affected. I’m sorry Leia, but I think that that was your brother.”
Leia blinked again, stared for a moment at her hands, and realised that they were shaking. Then it seemed to hit her.
“No! Oh no. Luke would never - he wouldn’t hurt me . . would he?” She licked her lips, and her right hand brushed unconsciously over her stomach. She tried to speak again, but her mouth was too dry and nothing came out but a croak. She cleared her throat, “I mean,” she tried, then, finding her voice rising as she spoke, forgetting the comm was still open, “I mean - Mothma, I’m pregnant, for God’s sake! With his nephew and niece. His kin - he who talks so much about our family!”
She started to cry in earnest, and Mothma put an arm about her shoulder. Leia leant into the embrace.
“I’ll never trust him again,” she sobbed.
In his room, now his cell, Luke stared, wide-eyed, at the slightly blackened comm as the tears rolled down his cheeks unheeded, so that they splashed onto his shirt, producing two small pools of dampness just below his collar bone. As her words died away and all her heard was her sobbing, he dug the nails of his artificial hand deeper into the palm of the flesh one, so that the blood welled up around his mechanical fingers, and his nails clogged up with skin.
“Um, Miss Gen?” The young orderly looked nervous, “We’ll be taking Mr. Boba to the Bacta tanks now, so if you could -?”
Arla slid off the bed where she had been sitting watching Fett sleep, wincing at what the sudden movement did to her head, and with a last kiss for the sleeping man, she let the young woman and her assistants wheel the bed out of the little room. She went to the door and watched the little troop progress down the corridor and out of sight around the first corner. She stared a moment at the empty space where they had been, then ducked back into the room again. It seemed much larger since they had taken Fett away, leaving only the little white cup from which he had drunk down the sedatives to make him sleep as a reminder that he had been there.
Arla snatched at the cup, and threw it across the room, watching the thick, sickly pink contents splatter themselves across the walls in a graceful fan shaped arc. The vessel dropped and rolled noisily around the floor in a small, neat circle, then rocked back before coming to a stop. She strode across the room in three short paces, and crushed the cup under her boot, grinding it into the floor.
“Luke,” she said through gritted teeth.
When she had gone back into the chamber to check on Fett after the stabbing mental assault she had felt, she had found him unconscious, and although he had revived a little while after, he too had been wracked with the same severe headache that she had. And both of them had known exactly from whence it had come. From Luke Skywalker. It had his energy patterns written right across it, although there were other people involved. And they knew that those people had suffered far greater pain than they had. When the medic had arrived, clutching their bottles of sedative, Arla had refused, even though Fett had accepted them readily enough and had soon slipped into a seemingly restful sleep.
Arla did not feel restful at all, and she imagined Luke’s head under her foot as she crushed the cup. However, from his teachings, she knew that this rush of emotions was not at all helpful, and she tried to swallow them, and to a certain point she succeeded. There was still a seething anger bubbling away at the lowest level of her consciousness, but she reached out with her mind and searched, using the faintest stab of her anger to drive her along, for the object of her wrath.
He was not difficult to find. Once she knew what to look for, she cruised over the buzz of minds out there in the palace, and soon was almost caught by the loud, anguished swirl that was laced through with Luke’s presence. Her lips tightened, and she clutched her hands into balled fists.
“Right.” she said, and turned to go out of the room.
She soon reached the corridor that contained Luke’s rooms, one of the more spacious in the palace complex, with intricate carved reliefs depicting Coruscanti mythology decorating the walls. These were gently lit from above and below at intervals so that they seemed almost lifelike. She barely noticed them until she saw a white figure leaning out from the wall, and she had the disorientating sensation that one of the characters she had learned so much about in school had stepped down from the frieze into life. She gasped, and took an involuntary step backwards, causing the figure to look up.
Breathing a small sigh of relief, Arla recognised Leia. Another look made her hurry towards the white clad woman, as she no longer looked her immaculate, calm self, with her hair all snarled out of her buns, and that was cause enough for alarm.
Her anger momentarily forgotten, she caught Leia’s wrists in her hands and, studying the puffy-eyed, tear-streaked face, asked, “Leia? What’s wrong?” Concern softened her tone, then following Leia’s quick glance towards the door opposite, her voice hardened and she felt all of her anger flooding back, to see Luke’s sister reduced to such a state, the sister who he had, to her eyes, plainly adored above all others.
When Arla spoke again, her voice came out almost as rough as her lover’s.
“What has he done to you?”
“Arla?” gasped Leia, it seemed to be taking her too long to grasp what was going on. “Arla - he - ah -” she tried to take a deep breath, coughed, then stared at Arla in sudden shock; her mouth worked, but for a time nothing happened. “You - you know?” she blurted, then in a whisper, “you know what he did?”
“I can see what he has done to you, if that’s what you mean. And I know that he has hurt me, and Fett, and -” her voice faltered, “many others, but -”
Leia shook her head.
“Then you don’t know,” she said, and, still in such a low voice that Arla could barely hear her, she explained exactly what Luke had done. “ And he wouldn’t let me in,” she concluded, “I’ve tried and tried, pleaded with him, begged, and - nothing -”
Arla looked closely at her, aware that there was more, that Leia was still - unbelievably - protecting him; she tightened her grip on Leia’s wrists.
“No - that’s not all. What are you not telling me?”
And Leia began to cry again, tears trickling slowly and painfully down her raw cheeks.
“He -” she began, her speech almost broken by her tears, “he - when I touch the door, he - I don’t know - he sends shocks through it. Not to damage, I - I think–, just to stop. I tried to prove that I didn’t care about that, and tried to stop it by throwing myself at the door, but, as you see, he - he pushed me back.” Leia twisted her wrists in Arla’s now slack grip, to show her palms. Arla gasped, and dropped her arms as if it had been her, not Leia, that had been burnt. For Leia’s hands were red, and blistering. Not seriously, but enough to hurt like hell.
Arla felt sick, then sicker still as she remembered something,
“But Leia - you’re pregnant! You shouldn’t be doing this, no matter if he is your brother -”
“I know, Arla, I know - but, if he can try to hurt us - then, then, oh God, Arla, he must be stopped, he must be . .” and Leia dissolved into tears again.
Arla turned her attention away from the weeping woman, and snarled at the door,
“damn bloody right he should be stopped.”
As if in response, a spike of energy shot, brighter than white, across the door and out into the passageway. It ran up into the lights, fizzed in and out down the corridor as they watched, then all the lights snapped out. There was a moment of total darkness, then the sickly red glow of the emergency lighting flicked on.
“Well,” said Arla, “that was childish.”
Leia, who had slid down the wall when the lights had gone, and now sat hunched on the floor, thought that Arla’s words were somewhat prosaic considering how she looked. The sudden lack of light had changed both hair and suit to black, and the darkness had honed and sculpted her face into something although more unnerving than the tired woman in the crumpled and stained green suit who had stood there a minute beforehand. But even as she looked up at Arla, Leia realised that the woman no longer saw her; and a moment later Arla turned to the door, flicked her hair back, and pressed her hands onto the door.
“Luke,” she thought at the miserable mass of consciousness that she sensed in the room beyond. “You little bastard - let me in now as I’m sure as hell not going to be stopped by your stupid childish tantrums.”
And the door exploded in light.
Whiteness spat from every opening out into the corridor then sprang back, and swam round to envelop Arla as she stood, her hands pressed still against the door. The light, in tiny energy bolts, spread over her hands, up her arms and around her body, with a sickening crackle.
From where Leia sat, huddled up against the wall as best she could, she saw Arla’s body start, then buckle, her hands dragging down the door, leaving streaks of dampness. In the half light, Leia could not tell whether they were blood or just sweat. But Arla did not let go.
Leia felt horror overtake her as she remembered the few brusque words she had dragged out of Luke of his experiences on the second Death Star. Hadn’t, she thought, Palpatine held Luke just like that? Panic spiralled through her as she wondered what else he learnt from the Emperor.
But Arla held her ground against the tendrils that dove about trying to smother her own life-force.
“Luke,” she thought, through gritted teeth, “Luke, don’t be silly, you don’t want to kill me - I’m your friend, remember? We all are -”
She felt him falter, and, just for one moment, the pain dimmed. She seized her chance, and instead of letting herself be attacked by his anger, she pulled down her immediate defences, and took the anger into herself. She smiled, feeling Luke’s white hot fear transmute into something golden around her.
Behind her, she heard Leia gasp, and grinned a little harder.
“Match that, you little shit!” she cried exultantly, as the gold bit and snapped around the white. “There’s no way you can touch me,” she taunted, baiting him closer and closer, “you taught me too well - I’m not like your sister - do you enjoy trying to kill her unborn children Uncle Luke - your own kin, by the gods. You disgust me - she’s sobbing her heart out here, while you just sit and sulk. Can’t you feel her pain?”
She felt Luke’s anger rise again, and a stab of energy, more honed than before, shot out at her, jack-knifing her away from the door and smashing her into the wall, the gold light surrounding her dissipating as quickly as it had come, as the breath rushed out of her.
She slid to the floor, and was just whooping her breath back again as the door sprang open, and a black clad figure, silhouetted in his own light, appeared in the entrance and growled in a barely human voice, “I would never hurt my sister, never.”
And before he could move, Arla sprang up and darted straight at him, slamming herself into him before he could react, and sending them both crashing to the ground. There was a scuffle, and Leia had to look away as the light around them grew too bright, then, almost immediately, snapped out. She blinked, as light danced inside her eyes a moment, then opened her eyes to see that Luke lay flat out on his back on the floor, with Arla kneeling on him in such a way that he couldn’t move. Her right hand was locked about his neck, and her left contained his free arm.
Luke seemed strangely frozen, and, with a shock, Leia realised that Arla was holding him with the Force as well. So well, in fact, that the physical restraint was unnecessary.
“Put the lights back on.” snarled Arla, squeezing his neck a little more. Nothing happened. “Do it now, scumbag. I want you to see.” The lights flickered hesitantly on, but Arla did not release her grip for one second.
“Now,” she said, voice black with rage, “look at her - go on, look!”
A small, strangled noise escaped Luke’s mouth, and in strange, jerking movements, his head turned to stare wide-eyed, at her.
The apparition the saw could not have be more different from his usually immaculate sister. Her dark hair hung in snarls around her face, and one thick coil, still plaited, actually hung over her features. That didn’t mean that he couldn’t see her face, though. Her cheeks were raw and puffy from crying, and her eyes red and desolate. She stared back at him soullessly, and in the blankness of her stare, he read her accusations, and his own guilt. He whimpered.
“Not a pretty sight is it?” snapped Arla, wrenching him back to look at her again, “What do you think of your handiwork now?”
Luke’s chest heaved up and down for a moment, then, “I - I never meant to hurt her,” he gasped around Arla’s grip, voice rising as he spoke, “I just wanted her to go away -” his words spiralled into a wail at the end, and new tears sprang from his eyes; he choked a little, then cried, “I just wanted to be left alone -”
Leia pulled herself to her feet, “left alone?” she exclaimed.
Arla cried, “I just wanted - you stupid, petulant little brat.”
They looked at each other, then Arla looked away.
Leia continued, “you couldn’t seriously think you’d be left alone, after what you did.” she reproved, then her sudden calm left her, and she cried, “Luke, what’s happening - it’s like you’re turning into our fathher -”
“No,” wailed Luke, writhing away from Arla’s grip. She let him go. He hauled himself to his feet, and whispered “no,” again in a cracked and broken voice.
He took a step towards Leia, one hand held out, unconsciously beseeching, and she took a step back. His face crumpled, and his arm dropped down by his side again.
Arla said, her voice betraying her weariness, “Leia, I think you had better go now, your presence is too upsetting for him. I’ll deal with him. I think the danger is over now.”
Leia opened her mouth to protest, then nodded. She turned away, not knowing what to say, and plodded away down the corridor without looking back. She heard Luke calling her name, but closed her ears to it, even as her own tears began again.
Leia gasped as she took in Luke’s face. It wasn’t just his expression of utter desolation and pain, but his eyes were puffed up into little slits and still slick with tears. His cheeks were raw from crying, and burned bright red, she thought, then started as she realised that the red was in fact blood. Her gaze travelled down and she saw that his sleeves were ripped, and his arms clogged with dried blood. Blood from the long scratches up his arms and pitted into his human palm.
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