Title: This Family Just Keeps On Getting Bigger

Author: marcicat

Characters: Han Solo, Kylo Ren, General Hux, Captain Phasma, Maz Kanata, Knights of Ren, Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, Padme Amidala, Anakin Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi, Leia Organa

Fandom: Star Wars, Star Wars TFA

Summary: Han shows up as a ghost, and starts to realize he missed a lot more than he thought in those fifteen years he was rattling around the galaxy.

Note: Title is from ‘Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas,’ which shows how long ago I started writing it (Christmas, not 1977).  Snoke is still the bad guy, Leia’s still the best at everything, and everyone else is somewhere in the middle.  In a much nicer AU, a lot more things turned out to be not quite what they seemed.

Warning: Past Force-based mental manipulation is a key plot point in this story. More details after the cut.



[Warning Details:
Snoke caused Han and Leia to forget they had a second child (Rey), along with forgetting another child they were fostering for a short time. Both of them are able to regain the memories.]



- 1 -

Being dead wasn't all that bad.  The ache in his right shoulder was finally gone; that was a plus.  So far, he'd give it a solid five out of ten.  There were maybe a few aspects of it he was trying not to think about it.

"Do you even have a rank?” he said, waving his hands through the table, mostly just to see what would happen. ”Because it doesn’t seem like you do. I hope you have a contract, at least. Are they paying you?”  

“Would. You.  Shut. Up.”  

"Ha.  Should've thought of that before you killed me."

Ben was apparently too good for medical, or maybe they just didn't want him there.  The First Order seemed worryingly less organized from the inside than it had from the outside.  Bunch of kids running around like they hadn't learned anything from the last two wars.  

He wasn't real clear on how the whole ghost thing worked, but he couldn't seem to get anywhere out of Ben's general vicinity.  And no one else could see or hear him.  And -- possibly the highlight of the experience -- it wasn't like he could get killed again, right?

Ben didn’t move, except to twitch his eyes around the room — every corner except the one Han was perched in — and he finally said, “Why are you here.” It didn’t sound like a question.

"Unfinished business?"  Probably Leia, actually.  Her influence with the Force was touch-and-go, or so she said, but it seemed like something she might do.  Probably not on purpose. He remembered her saying ‘if you see our son, bring him home,’ and since he’d done the first, it didn’t seem out of the question that he was sticking around to see the second through as well.

"There is nothing I want from you."

"Maybe there's something I want from you."  

"Revenge."  

He rolled his eyes.  The drama was strong with this one.  "Yeah, that's not really my thing.  Come on, a little father-son bonding time, what's not to like?  You've got my undivided attention."  

No answer.  Hard to say whether he was being ignored or if Ben had just passed out again.  He'd lost some time between the dying and the ghosting, but someone had done a number on the kid.  He wondered if it was Rey.  He wondered if she'd survived.  Based on the chatter he'd overheard, they'd actually succeeded in blowing up the base, but the whole planet had gone up around it.  

He sighed. "I'll just sit here, then.  By myself.  Talking to the wall."


- 2 - 

”Well, this is creepy.” He poked at the helmet; couldn’t quite bring himself to get close enough to actually touch it even though he knew his finger wouldn’t connect.

Ben had recovered enough to wander around the ship, but he still spent the majority of his time in his rooms.

”First off, grave robbing — not classy. Sometimes necessary, I’ll grant you that. But you know Vader was redeemed in the end, right?  He saved Luke's life.  Palpatine might have been an evil SOB politician right up to his last gasp, but Vader turned out okay. Luke didn’t drag him off the Death Star and give him a Jedi’s pyre just because they were family.”

Honestly, he thought Luke probably would have done it anyway, given a choice. He’d always had mixed feelings about it himself. Did changing your mind at the last second really make up for decades of devotion to the Dark Side? Apparently in the eyes of the Force, it did. Or maybe just in the eyes of family? He was bad at the whole morality gig; ask anyone.

There was no reply. It had been nothing but silence from Ben for more than two days, but the cracks were starting to show.  And it had only highlighted the fact that no one else even came near him.  As much as he didn't want to, he actually felt bad for the kid.  Almost.  The creepy helmet didn't help.

He heard a series of quiet clicks, which got Ben’s attention like nothing else. It sounded like a secure-comm, which didn’t make any sense, but that was what it looked like, too, when he pulled it out and clicked back. ”Who are you—“

Ben turned and faced him head on for the first time, and it surprised him so much he stopped talking. They stared at each other for a few seconds. “You don’t want to follow me,” Ben said.

”Definitely not going to work,” he replied, even though he hadn’t actually been sure of that till it happened. ”You’re stuck with me.”

Ben sighed, but he didn’t try again. Instead, he stepped sideways and dropped through the floor. Han blinked, and found himself in a room he hadn’t seen before. It looked like it was below the meditation space, although the ceiling sealed over fast enough so he couldn’t be completely sure. It also wasn’t empty.

“Sit down before you fall down,” someone said, and he spun around. He had noticed that things generally seemed less surprising now that he was dead, but this was still pretty out there. He looked back and forth a few times, but the view stayed the same. Tiny room, table, couple of couches. General Hux, Captain Phasma. His son. What.

“You look awful.” That was Hux, with an expression that looked almost like concern. “Even your hair is sort of — flat.”

“Han Solo is here,” Ben said, and the others had weapons in their hands in seconds, their exclamations overlapped each other as they both moved into cover positions.

“Where?”

“I thought he was dead!”

“He is dead.” Ben sighed, but didn’t actually stand up from his crouch. Instead, he waved a hand towards where Han was standing. “He’s haunting me. Apparently.”

Han was reluctantly impressed that no one questioned the statement. Phasma just nodded, and said, “Just you? Do you know if he can communicate with anyone else?”

“It’s possible. Probably only a Force-sensitive, if anyone.”

Hux frowned. “It can wait, then. Are you still over there because of him, or because you can’t stand up right now? Medical reported your injuries as severe.”

Ben glared at him, and pushed himself to his feet through what appeared to be sheer irritation-powered grit. As soon as he made it to the couch, he was down again, and Han watched in silent surprise as the three of them arranged themselves in a comfortable pile.

“We have time?”

It was Phasma who nodded. “I’ll take first watch. Get some rest.”

- 3 -

The kid needed sleep, and Han wasn’t going to be the one who kept him awake by yapping. But Phasma was seriously freaking him out. She kept looking at him. Not directly, but she would scan the room, and no matter where he was, her eyes would end up focusing on him. Every time.

He tried waving, along with a few other less family friendly gestures, but he was relatively sure she couldn’t actually see him. So, lesson of the day: someone was hiding a certain amount of Force sensitivity, and their name rhymed with ‘plasma.’ (Also, he could be more certain than he’d been before that he didn’t exist entirely in Ben’s head.) Good news? Bad news? A little of both?

He had no idea what he was doing. It was a thought that was equal parts terrifying and comforting, because he never really had, and at least that was one thing that hadn’t changed with death.

So he waited.

- 4 -

Another day, another secret meeting. At least they were doing something more interesting than sleeping in this one.

“We’re a day out from the station,” Hux said. “Command is prepared to post the patrol schedule.”

Phasma looked unimpressed. “I’ve done my part. The rumor mill’s been non-stop. Trooper reconditioning list is ready, but there needs to be a legitimate reason to postpone it once the list is public.”

They both looked at Ben. “Again?” he said. “Fine. What have you got?”

Hux shrugged. “Report from a spy on the station? What are the odds they’ve found Skywalker by now? We could go with that.”

“They better have found him, after all the trouble we went to,” Phasma said, frowning. “Better question — where can you manage lurking long enough to have someone find you? You’re never on the reconditioning deck.”

Ben leaned in towards the screen on the table, and pointed. “This conduit powers the deck. It’s close enough to the training rooms.”

Han leaned through Hux to get a better look at the screen. It was a part of the ship he hadn’t been to yet, which didn’t really narrow it down much. Hux twitched noticeably. “He’s doing it again, isn’t he,” he said.

“Ignore him,” Ben said. He tapped the screen again. “I’ll be there for the end of first shift. And Hux? Send the one who tried to run.”

There were a few long seconds of silence while they stared at each other. Finally, Phasma said, “He questioned your loyalty in front of the entire weapon command team.”

Hux sighed. “Fine. Try not to kill him. He’s half-decent at his job.”

And for the life of him (afterlife?), Han couldn’t figure out whether that was supposed to be a compliment or an insult.

- 5 -

Watching Ben’s tantrum with the lightsaber was — eye-opening. It would have been terrifying if he hadn’t heard the whole thing being orchestrated less than a day before. The sheer rage spilling out was frightening enough, without it being spontaneous too.

And it was familiar. Once it was over, and they were back in the (still creepy) meditation room, he put himself in Ben’s line of sight and waved. ”So. That was something.”

No response. Well, he’d wear him down eventually. It looked like it was meditation time. Again. He couldn’t remember Luke ever doing so much meditating. And was the kid really meditating, or was he just sitting around sulking in the dark? It looked pretty much the same from his perspective.

”I’ve got no idea what you’re up to here, but I’d say I owe you an apology.” The words were easier, somehow, now that he was dead. ”That temper’s definitely from the Solo side of the family. I hoped it had skipped you; it certainly got me into trouble enough times. Sorry, kid.”

“One apology?” Ben muttered. Then he glowered, and snapped his mouth shut.

”Hey, if you want to have a conversation, say the word. Not like I’ve got anywhere to be.”

The secure-comm clicked — not the pattern he’d heard before, but it was familiar. ”You’re using Resistance codes? Do the others know where that came from?”

Ben actually looked bored, which was by far the least hostile expression he’d had since Han had showed up. “It’s clicks. There are a limited amount of patterns that are short enough and easy enough to recognize to be effective for passing information.”

Then he spun around and stalked towards the bridge. Han trailed along behind. Spy reports would be more interesting than meditating, at least.

- 6 -

Well, one of them was more interesting. ”She was on Takonda,” Han said. Not one he’d guessed was a First Order spy, either.

Ben didn’t even blink at the interruption, but he did lean forward. “You were on Takonda.”

She looked surprised. So did Hux, although he covered it quickly. “Yes,” she said. “A few transports were willing to evacuate those who survived. This station is neutral territory.”

Hux said, “Anyone of note?”

“One. Maz Kanata — currently on the station. Says she’s waiting for someone.”

“Who?”

The spy shrugged. “No idea. Everyone waits.”

Hux frowned. “We don’t pay you to be philosophical. Find out.”

But Ben held up his hand. “No need. I’ll find her.”

There was silence as the spy left the room, and then Hux said quietly, “You can’t be serious.”

“It’s neutral territory. I won’t kill anyone, and no one will kill me.”

“Snoke will hear about this.”

“Snoke will hear about it either way.” Ben folded his hands on the table. “She had the lightsaber. It will be more suspicious if I don’t go.”

(And Han wasn’t one to jump to conclusions — okay, he was, but he was working on it — but it was looking more and more like these kids were up to some seriously cloak and dagger double dealing. Triple dealing? How were they keeping it all straight?)

The words got a reluctant nod. “At least take Phasma with you. She needs a reason to be off the ship anyway.”

- 7 -

He’d been relatively sure Maz would be able to — if not see him, then sense him, at least. But he hadn’t been expecting to walk into the room and have her eyes go straight to him. “Han Solo!” she exclaimed, just like the old days. “And guest,” she added, frowning at Ben. “And guest of guest,” she said finally, switching her gaze to Phasma. “You, I think, have better things to do. You can go.”

Phasma was wearing full armor, so he had no idea what her expression was, but she exchanged a quick look with Ben and spun on her heel. She was back out the door without a word, and he looked back at Maz. She cackled. “So, a ghost, eh? I should have known you wouldn’t go quietly.”

He shrugged. It wasn’t like he’d done it on purpose. “Hey Maz. How’s things?”

She waved her hand. “Things are things; you know this. It was time for a move anyway; I can’t stand it when they start building statues.” She looked at Ben. “Not that anyone appreciates having their home blown up around them.”

“You knew we were coming,” Ben said flatly, and Maz sighed.

“You break your mother’s heart, you know.” Then she gestured him closer. “Come on then, helmet off.”

And Ben — much to his surprise — removed his helmet and knelt down in front of her without a word. They stared at each other, unblinking.

Finally, Maz reached out and patted his cheek. “Don’t let your choices blind you to the choices of others. Also, you rely too much on the same trick — one of these days it’s not going to work, and then where will you be?”

Ben said nothing, and Maz switched her gaze to Han. He raised his eyebrows, and she shrugged. “Youth,” she said, like that explained everything. “They’ll figure it out.” She paused. “Or not.”

Ben’s cough sounded suspiciously like a laugh, and he could feel his eyebrows going even higher. What in the world? Maz just shooed them back towards the door. “Off you go, then. We’ll meet again. Bring Chewbacca next time; I miss him.”

- 8 -

The corridor was suspiciously empty as they walked back through the station.  Or rather, it was empty until a woman ducked out of an alcove and fell into step with Ben.  "Interesting honor guard," she said.  "Was that planned?"

He startled when he realized she was talking about him. Apparently people being able to see him was the theme of the day.

"Not by me,” Ben said, and the woman looked intrigued.

"Do you think it was your -- the General?"

Ben gave a long-suffering sigh that Han was pretty sure he'd perfected at five years old, when Leia was trying to get him to eat more greens.  "Probably," he said.  "What are you doing here?"

"She's fine, by the way. They're moving bases.”

“Finally.”

His vague sense that he recognized her exploded into the realization that he'd met her before.  At Leia's side, no less.  "You're a spy?" he said, not quite able to believe it.  He looked back at Ben.  "She's a spy?"

Ben ignored him.  That, at least, was unsurprising.  

"R2D2 woke up, and I had a hard enough time staying out of its way before it left on the Skywalker mission.  I don't have nearly enough confidence in the wipe to count on not being recognized.  I'm no good to anyone in a holding cell."

“Cover story?”

“I pulled a scouting run -- as far as anyone knows, my ship had an unfortunate run-in with the First Order and was destroyed trying to enter hyperspace.  Figured I’d check in before anything else.”

Ben nodded. “Did you really blow up the ship?”

“Of course not. I pulled the trackers and swapped it out a drop point. It’s full of snacks and flight sims, as requested.”

There was a pause, like they were both very deliberately not saying something, and finally Ben said, “I’m sure they’ll appreciate it. Phasma’s on the station; she’ll want to see you. Catch up.”

The woman nodded, and ghosted back down the corridor. Han sighed. ”Cryptic. Why does it always have to be so cryptic?”

- 9 -

Ben stopped mid-stride, just as the back of his neck prickled with that sense that something was about to go wrong.  It was hard to mistake the sound of something exploding not nearly far enough away.  Something big.

Ben spun around and headed in the opposite direction, back towards the central hub of the station, and pulled out his comm.  "Report.  Hara, where are you?"

"Safe. I’m with the Captain.  You?"

"Same.  Stay with Phasma; I’m coming to you.”

”Hux?”

“I’ll find him.”

The comm clicked, and it was Hux who broke into the line. ”There’s no need to collect me as if I’m a piece of errant cargo, Ren. Plan B, I assume?”

“Skip it.  Plan B just blew up and took a quarter of the docking ring with it."

Hux's sigh was audible even over the comm.  "Well, they're not subtle."

"Hara has a ship," Ben said.  "Qu'ara is here as well.  That will be enough."

"It will have to be, won't it?  I'm on my way; rendezvous in ten."

Ben clicked the comm off, and there was a beat of silence while Han weighed the questions he was most curious about against what he thought Ben might actually answer.

"How does he know where he's going?"  

Ben turned his head, somehow giving the impression of frowning despite the helmet hiding his expression.  "We're using a Force link."

Han frowned right back.  "The Force doesn't work that way."

"And you would know?"

It was a decent point.  Still.  "And Hux isn't Force sensitive."

Ben shrugged, like that wasn't even a consideration.  Han wasn't sure whether to be more hung up on that, or the fact that they were actually having a conversation.

He went with the second.  He'd gotten used to being ignored.  "Why are we talking?" he asked.

The pause was long enough that he thought Ben might have changed his mind about the whole thing.  But finally he said, "Between the disruption of the explosion, and the presence of the Knights, we should be shielded well enough. Even Snoke's powers are not limitless."

"Wait, Knights?  As in the Knights of Ren?"

A woman dropped out of the ceiling in front of them.  "You called?" she said. She looked Han up and down. “I always assumed that our first meeting would include you being more corporeal.”

She looked disappointed, and somehow he didn’t think she she’d been planning give him a hearty handshake. ”Why am I the bad guy here?” he asked, mostly rhetorically. He was still trying to match up Leia’s aide and the Knights of Ren and coming up short all around.

“You haven’t told him,” the woman said, and Ben shook his head, sharp.

”Told me what?”

- 10 -

The ship was small enough that he was glad he didn't need any literal breathing room.  It could fit six people easily enough; it was fitting six people all in one room that was a challenge. He wasn’t so caught up in the novelty of having multiple people able to see and hear him (and actually willing to converse with him) that he couldn’t tell what they were doing, though.

On the other hand, if they were willing to answer questions to keep him distracted from whatever Ben was talking about with Phasma and Hux on the other side of the room…

”What was it you were talking about when you said he hadn’t told me?”

Qu’ara shook her head. Well, it had been worth a shot. ”All right. What’s with the helmet, then?” Maybe random questions would have a better chance of actually getting answered.

Both women brightened. “It’s clever, isn’t it?”

(That wasn’t the first word that came to mind, but he tried to look appropriately enthused. Or at least not skeptical and dismissive. He had asked, after all.)

Hara leaned forward. “There’s a heads-up display — that’s a lot of the benefit right there. Sensor readings, status reports, communications, almost everything can be accessed through the helmet. And the tech makes it more difficult for anyone to get a read on him through the Force, which gives his shields a break.”

“It’s also makes visual deception relatively simple,” Qu’ara added. “See the helmet and cloak, see Kylo Ren. Regardless of who’s actually wearing it.” She shrugged. “Plus, it’s symbolic. He insisted.”

”How many times have you done that?”

“Why do you sound like you’re collecting intel? Who are you going to tell?”

Han sighed. It felt like he’d been doing that a lot lately. ”I’m just making conversation.” He was tired of guessing and second-guessing everything around him. Either he’d figure it out or he wouldn’t, and Hara was right — who would he tell? ”Talk about something else if you want.”

“Or don’t,” Ben said, striding over. Apparently secret conference time was finished. “We’re heading out.”

“Plan C?” Hara asked.

“Plan C.”

- 11 -

Plan C turned out to be ‘run away.’ (Technically, they hadn’t actually gone anywhere — that part of the plan came later. The station was locked down after the explosion, and Phasma — virtually unrecognizable in civilian garb — had gone with Qu’ara to sort out supplies.)

“It’s a strategic regrouping,” Ben muttered, staring at the pilot’s control panel and poking at a few readouts.

”Are you reading my mind?”

“Believe me, I’d prefer not to.”

Ben was supposed to be coming up with an explanation for Snoke. From what Han had been able to piece together, Phasma and Hux had been — actively or passively — encouraging a little rebellion among the stormtroopers. (He’d wondered, when Finn recognized the name Han Solo and paired it with “war hero.” That wasn’t exactly the First Order party line, not by a long shot.)

They were running a skeleton crew anyway, after the destruction of Starkiller. If a few troopers slipped away at the station, it wouldn’t be too hard to write them off as killed in battle just by filing a few late reports.

What they hadn’t been expecting was for their troops to defect en masse, and blow up the Finalizer behind them.

He had questions. Lots of questions. But apparently he wasn’t going to get any answers until Ben came up with a story for Snoke about their sudden lack of a ship. ”You should just blame Rey,” he said.

“What?”

”Rey.” He frowned. ”She’s still alive, right?”

Ben looked confused. “Of course.”

”So, pin it on her. Say there was a sighting, or she sabotaged the ship back when she was a prisoner, or something.”

“Except she didn’t. That makes no sense.”

Han threw his hands up in the air. ”Come on, we used to do it with Luke all the time. It’s not like she can get more wanted.”

“And that worked?” The tone was about 95% skepticism, 5% dismissal. Probably an improvement, realistically speaking.

“Every time. Look, people who get power through deceit and treachery are typically pretty paranoid, especially when it comes to potentially powerful rivals. It’s not usually a hard sell.”

Ben narrowed his eyes, like he was trying to figure out if there was an insult in there somewhere. Then he switched tracks entirely. “You’ll have to stay out of sight. If Hara and Qu’ara can see you, Snoke will as well.”

”Yeah, can we talk about that?” He waved a hand back towards the rest of the ship. They moved like Luke — like Jedi. And they could see him. ”I thought—“

“No.” Ben cut him off, then sighed. “You should ask them. Not me.”

- 12 -

He got his chance later that night. Ben was passed out cold after talking with Snoke, and the ship was small enough that he didn’t have to do his usual nighttime stalker routine. Instead he was on the other side of the wall, watching Hara and Qu’ara watch him.

”So,” he said. He pointed between them. ”Siblings?”

Hara nodded. “Twins.”

”And—?” He waved towards the cockpit, where he could still hear the faint sounds of Phasma and Hux bickering about flight paths and hyperspace jumps. Without the trooper armor, the family resemblance was hard to miss.

”The Captain’s the oldest,” Hara confirmed. “Then there’s us, and then TK; she’s with—“ Qu’ara shook her head, and Hara gave her an apologetic look.

“TK’s the youngest,” Qu’ara said, which was definitely not what Hara had been about to say.

He put on his best ‘aw, shucks’ expression and tried for a charming smile. ”Since we’ve established that I’m not going to be telling anyone anything, can I ask how you infiltrated the Resistance?”

They exchanged a long look. “Go ahead,” Qu’ara said.

“You’re not going to believe me,” Hara told him.

”I’m a ghost. Try me.”

She took a deep breath. “When I was nine, I was picked up by a Resistance patrol. We were on our own by then, and I wasn’t going to let on about the others, so the pilot took me with them. You and the General fostered me for three seasons, until Luke showed up and gave away that not all the Force tricks were coming from Ben. By that time the General was —“ Qu’ara kicked her.

“—busy,” Hara said carefully. “And I went to train with Luke. But I knew all the Resistance comm codes by then, because you taught them to me. Later on, it came in handy. We needed to keep an eye on things.”

Han stared at her. None of what she was saying made any sense. “That’s impossible. None of that happened.”

“It did. And then you forgot.”

Han shook his head, but Qu’ara leaned forward. “It’s true. You remember when Ben was born?”

(Of course he did. He’d been terrified.) ”Yeah. Of course.”

“What about his fifth birthday? Maybe you had a party, some presents?”

Five had been fun. Tiny laser blaster and bowcaster from Chewie — he’d thought Leia was going to kill them both. He wasn’t sure where she was going with all of it, but he nodded.

“What about eight? Camping, right? Eight days?” He nodded again. “And you promised you’d go again the next year, for nine days — do you remember that?”

”How do you know all of that?”

Qu’ara rolled her eyes. “We talk. Do you remember?”

He did. It had rained half the trip. “Yeah.”

“So what about when he was nine? What happened on his ninth birthday?”

”We—“ He frowned. He remembered eight days of camping. (He remembered the sunburn Ben had managed to pick up on their single day of actual sunshine.) He remembered all of them going to Luke on Ben’s tenth birthday, and he remembered wondering if they were making the right choice. There was no corresponding memory for nine. It was like it had never happened; his brain just — skipped right over it.

”I can’t remember.” He shook his head. ”You said we were busy?” That didn’t make sense; when had they ever been too busy to celebrate a birthday?

Hara just nodded. “Snoke’s using something — mind trick, artifact, we don’t know. He can make people forget things. Important things, usually. People, sometimes. Sometimes you can get it back, if you remember enough of the unimportant things around it.”

”I don’t—“ The Force didn’t work that way. But something was definitely missing from his memory, and he could think of at least seven explanations that would be easier to sell than what they were going with. Which meant they must have picked that one for a reason.

Finally, he shook his head. ”I’m not saying I believe you. But I’ll think about it.“

- 13 -

“They’re going to want to search the ship.”

“They are not going to want to search the ship.”

There was a pause.

“Well, they should want to search the ship.”

“A heartfelt dedication to security isn’t really the draw of places like this. We’ll be fine.”

Han was listening with half an ear to the conversation going on in the cockpit, but most of his attention was on the scene unfolding in front of him. Ben looked half-asleep, slouched down on one of the benches. Next to him was Hux, leaning sideways against him and reading out loud off a datapad, too quietly for Han to overhear.

“They’re always like this during downtime,” Qu’ara said, startling him out of his observation. “Ever since he found us, all indignation and zero concept of personal space. He was shorter then — late growth spurt.”

It took him a second to realize she was talking about Hux, and not Ben. “What’s he reading?” he asked, because it seemed like a better choice than dwelling on the fact that he had no idea what she was talking about. He’d spent too long trying not to think about what Ben might have been doing the last fifteen years for it to be anything but weird to get a glimpse of it.

“The letters, probably. They couldn’t take calls on the Finalizer, so everyone wrote things down for them.”

She was being deliberately vague; he was sure of it. Before he could say anything, though, there was a whoop from the cockpit. “We’re cleared for launch,” Hara called back. “Brace yourselves.”

”What does she—“

The ship lurched sideways, then down, and then seemed to stabilize as they moved away from the station, although he’d swear they were listing a little to one side. Qu’ara laughed at his expression. “We’ll get it fixed up on the way. Hara’s got a soft spot for the ones that need work.”

‘Needs work,’ wasn’t the phrase he would have used. Death trap, maybe. Probably best not to say that out loud, though. ”Right,” he said instead.

“Come on. Now that we’ve separated from the station grid, we can get a real course planned.”

Because the one they’d planned before was fake. Of course it was. Why would he have ever thought differently? Everything was plots within plots with these kids. Qu’ara moved to stand up, but stopped when he waved her back. ”Wait,” he said. She looked at him expectantly. There was too much, though — what were they doing, why were they doing it, how was she using the Force, who was ‘everyone,’ and where were they going, and — he shook his head. ”Never mind.”

He’d just have to figure it out as they went along. Luckily, he had plenty of practice at that.

- 14 -

They left him a space for him at the table, or maybe it was just a big enough table that a space naturally occurred.

Everyone was looking at Ben. “Snoke expects me to show up to complete my training. In person.”

“And?” Hara asked. Her voice was tense.

“It’s not going to happen,” Ben said, and everyone seemed to relax just the tiniest bit.

Hux chimed in with, “Losing the Finalizer has bought us some time. We can work the secret investigation of a traitor in the ranks angle for weeks, at least.” He looked at Phasma, who nodded.

“Minimum,” she agreed. “We can drag it out if we need to, but eventually we’ll run out of bridges to burn. The troopers are a wildcard. What about Skywalker?”

Hara and Qu’ara exchanged a look, and Ben carefully ignored them. Qu’ara said, “They found him, I think. He’s not dead.”

Wait, what? ”That was a possibility?”

“Not one with a high probability,” Hara said, like that was supposed to be reassuring. “I don’t think we can count on him helping, but I think we’d know if he was dead.”

“We would know if he was dead,” Ben confirmed.

”Can we please stop talking about Luke being dead?”

“He’d probably be here if he was,” Hux muttered, and Han smirked when Phasma kicked him under the table.

“We need information before we go to ground. We just need to be here—“ Ben pointed at a planet on the edges of the display. “In ten days. And we’ll get it.”

“What happens in ten days?” Phasma asked, and the same time Qu’ara said, “What did you do?”

Ben tapped on the planet in question. “In ten days, Rey will be there, because she saw in my mind that I’ll be there. The bigger question is who she’ll bring.”

Qu’ara straight up scowled at him. “She’d better not come alone. That’s not a safe planet.”

“Oh, and Jakku was an oasis of peace, I suppose.”

“We didn’t have a lot of options! It kept her safe!”

Ben slammed his hand on the table. “Not safe enough!”

The air seemed to crackle between them. It was Phasma who who held up a hand and said, “Stop. Take a walk, both of you.”

Somewhat to his surprise, they listened to her. They couldn’t go far; the ship wasn’t that big, but they stalked off to opposite corners of the room without a single protest. Phasma turned to Hara. “What are we looking at for likely accompaniment? Are we walking into an ambush?”

Hara shook her head. “The General wants Snoke, not us. And it’s far enough out that they can’t risk an obvious Resistance presence without drawing more attention than they’d like. Most likely scenario is she comes on her own, or she tries to come on her own and someone follows her.”

“Let’s get a plan going for the less likely scenarios, then.” Phasma turned to Hux. “Do you know anyone on this planet?”

“Not anyone who’s going to be happy to see me.” He sighed at Phasma’s expression. “I’ll make a list.”

“Do that,” she said. Then she raised her voice a little, making it clear that she was addressing Ben and Qu’ara. “We’re leaving you to it. Sort it out.”

- 15 -

He expected them to fight. With words, maybe; sniping and shouting until everything was out in the open. They were both still angry; that much was obvious. But they gravitated back to the bench by the table until they were sitting shoulder to shoulder, not looking at each other.

Qu’ara pulled her knees up to her chest. “Does she remember us?” she asked quietly.

“She remembers you, I think. Maybe one or two of the others. She remembers — feeling safe.” Ben hesitated, and then added, “She never stopped believing her family would come back for her.”

They were both quiet for a few minutes. Ben flicked his fingers to turn the table back on, and manipulated the light into a single circle. Then two circles, linked. Qu’ara leaned into him, and waved her own circles into existence. Han blinked, because that was a game Luke had played with Ben; a focus game for children. They built circles on circles without another word, until the whole table was glowing.

And then — “I think you should tell him,” Qu’ara said.

The circles rippled and flared, but ultimately held. He heard Ben take a deep breath. “I know.”

“Do you want me to stay?”

“You don’t have to. It’s not an easy story for you.”

“For any of us,” Qu’ara said, sitting up straight again. “I’ll stay. I know the parts you weren’t there for.”

Ben took another breath, and then looked him in the eye. “Don’t interrupt.”

It wasn’t a question, but Han nodded anyway. He wasn’t at all sure he wanted to hear what they were going to say, because he could take a guess what it was, and they were either wrong or they were right, and he didn’t know which would be worse.

“Snoke’s been in and out of my head my whole life,” Ben started. “Mom knew,” he added, in response to Han’s unspoken question. “She worried about telling you. He told me things — about the Republic, the Empire, what was happening out there. Things I didn’t believe until Hara stayed with us.”

He paused, and Han stayed silent. “Mom wasn’t busy when I was nine.” So he’d heard about that conversation. “She was pregnant.”

(Han almost fell out of his chair. Obviously he wasn’t as prepared as he’d thought.) “Rey was born, and Snoke made you forget Hara to prove a point. He threatened to do it with Rey next. I went to Luke because he told me to, and it bought us five years. We formed the Knights. We had a plan.”

“It was a bad plan,” Qu’ara said, when Ben’s pause went on a little too long. “In hindsight.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Ben said. It was Qu’ara’s turn to be silent, and after a few seconds Ben sighed. “It could have gone better.”

“Yes. So there we were, half of us on the run with a five-year old, in the middle of an interplanetary crisis and the rest of us otherwise occupied,” Qu’ara said, and Han blinked. He felt like he’d missed a significant portion of the story, which apparently was supposed to have been covered by ‘it could have gone better.’ “Jakku was the closest planet on the list, and we barely made it that far. We crashed, we got Rey as safe as possible, and we did our absolute best to make it look like none of us made it out alive.”

Han frowned. The *closest* planet? Jakku wasn’t close to anything.

“That was fifteen years ago,” Ben said, more to Qu’ara than to him, Han thought. “We can do better this time.”

- 16 -

Better at what? It was a question he had plenty of time to think about — ten days in a small space was making all of them a little stir crazy, which meant a lot more silent avoidance and a lot less group meeting time. Ben spent a lot of time holed up in one of the rooms, meditating. Or saying he was meditating, because he kept dragging Hux and/or Phasma in with him. (Han didn’t want to know. He really, really didn’t.)

Which meant he was lurking in the common area when Hara and Qu’ara came back from making more modifications in the engine room. Hara looked from him to the closed door, and raised her eyebrows. “All three of them?” she said.

He held up his hands. ”I don’t want to know.”

“They’re not sleeping together,” Qu’ara said, making a face. “They’ve gone visiting. It’s just a lot of effort to take two passengers. He’s showing off for someone — probably you.”

Just when he thought he was starting to figure things out. “Visiting who? How?”

“It’s a Force projection,” Qu’ara said, which told him absolutely nothing. He’d never heard of a Force projection — was that even a real thing?

Hara looked like she knew what he was thinking. “The Force does a lot of things Luke didn’t tell you about. He didn’t tell us either. I’m not sure he even knows.”

”Did Snoke show you?” He wasn’t prepared to trust anything from that — whatever Snoke was.

Both of them shook their heads, and Qu’ara said, “Don’t be stupid. If Snoke could use Force projection, we’d all be dead.” Then she narrowed her eyes at him. “What is it you think we’re doing here?”

Han threw up his hands. “How should I know? No one ever tells me anything!”

“All we’ve done since you got here is explain ourselves to you!”

(There was a small part of him that appreciated the yelling. He’d never been good at the soft approach.) ”I don’t mean your life story! You had a crappy childhood; I’m sorry. Lots of people do. Not all of them murder their classmates and grow up to destroy up a solar system’s worth of planets!”

“We warned them!” Qu’ara snapped back. “Plans were leaked to the New Republic months ago, and they did nothing!”

Hara put a hand on her arm. “Wait. Murdered our classmates? Is that really what you think happened?”

”Are you saying it’s not?”

She shook her head slowly. “How many students do you think Luke had?”

He tried to think back. He had known, at one point; he was sure of it. ”Six? Ten?” It had been a long time.

“And how many Knights are there?”

No. No way. ”Luke said all of his students were gone. Leia felt it in the Force.”

Hara grimaced. “I didn’t say it was a picnic. You can feel like you’re dying without actually doing it, turns out. And not all of them are Knights. Some of them were too young. But that’s what this side of the propaganda war says — Snoke’s influence turned the last Jedi’s students against him and led them to victory. I knew the Resistance was going with a different story, but I didn’t think you actually believed it.”

“Also, Luke is a liar,” Qu’ara said.

“Qu’ara…”

Han felt his anger resurfacing. “Hey! Watch what you say about him. Luke is a friend.”

“Really? Where’s he been, then? He’s not trapped on that island, you know; he could have left at any time. With friends like that —“

Han interrupted her. ”What island? You know where Luke is?”

Qu’ara snapped her mouth shut and looked away. Hara sighed. “We don’t know where Luke is, exactly. Not in terms of coordinates; we couldn’t take you there. But anyone who’s Force sensitive enough knows he’s been on an island. We dreamed of the ocean for years, until Rey got the map.”

“And now?”

Hara and Qu’ara exchanged a look. “And now we’re not. Everyone thinks that means she found him.”

He waited, but it didn’t seem like they were going to elaborate on that. ”You don’t sound convinced,” he said finally.

“It’s — a bigger question than just the finding,” Hara said. “A longer discussion than we have time for right now.”

It was a deflection, but she was right. They had nearly arrived, which probably meant they were about to have bigger problems.

- 17 -

”Oh, this is going great.” It wasn’t, but none of the others were talking, so he could complain as much as he wanted. ”Was this part of the plan?”

As soon as the ship had landed, they’d been met by armed guards who’d “escorted” them to a holding cell. All in one group, though, which was the only thing that made him think they hadn’t been recognized. Anyone who knew who they were would have — well, it was probably a toss-up given the location, but it wouldn’t have been putting them in a group holding cell.

A bored-looking security officer stopped at the door, eyes on his datapad. “Which one of you is Tarkin?” he said. Han could feel his eyebrows going up. It had been — a long time, since he’d heard that name.

Hara and Qu’ara stood up, followed a split second later by Phasma. The security officer checked the screen again. “Hara Tarkin,” he clarified.

Hara took a step forward. “That’s me.”

The security officer barely glanced at her before reading off the screen, “You are in violation of New Republic sanctions, code 19.76.03.21. Specifically, individuals affiliated with or related to one or more of the named parties are disallowed from owning any vehicle larger than skimmer-class that contains offensive weaponry. You may submit immediate payment of the penalty or surrender your vehicle. Non-compliance will not be tolerated.”

Hara rolled her eyes. “It’s barely offensive. Those are for asteroids.”

“Take it up with the New Republic; I don’t make the rules. Penalty or surrender of vehicle?” His finger hovered over the screen.

“Neither,” Hara said. “It’s not my ship. Check the record; it’s a temporary registration. I’m holding it for a friend. She’s meeting us here.”

The security officer sighed. He looked like he’d heard it all before, and hadn’t believed it any of the other times either. “You have one standard day,” he said. “After one standard day both penalties will be enforced. Name? Of your ‘friend’?”

“Rey Organa Solo,” Hara said.

If anything, the security officer looked even more skeptical, but he input the name and left without any further commentary.

”Are you crazy?” He had a lot of problems with what was, apparently, the plan, but the crazy factor was a good starting point.

“She’ll be here,” Hara said.

And then nothing. Just hour after hour of silence. Theoretically, he understood that they had to assume they were being recorded, or at least observed, and that anything they said could potentially be used against them. It was just that no one he’d ever been locked up with had been able to keep quiet that long. He wasn’t used to it.

Finally, somewhere after he lost track of the time, but before he gave in to the temptation to just start heckling the kids until one of them reacted, Hara nudged Qu’ara. “Help me up,” she said. “I need to stretch my legs.”

They both stood up, and Hara wandered around the cell for a few laps. When they settled back down, they were flanking Phasma, facing the door. Ben and Hux were behind them, at least partially blocked from view. ”Expecting itchy trigger fingers?” He didn’t think Rey would shoot first without a good reason, but he also had no idea what had happened to her on Starkiller. Maybe she had one.

There was a commotion in the hallway, and everyone tensed. But Hara was right, and it was Rey who came around the corner with the security officer, looking like bailing enemies out of jail was an everyday occurrence. (Hara was possibly also right about the trigger fingers, because Dameron was right behind her, and he definitely looked ready to shoot something.)

Finn was with them too, bringing up the rear. There was no way it was an official Resistance mission with that group. He could just imagine trying to sell that to Leia — ‘we’d like to send the baby Jedi and the former stormtrooper out to parlay with the First Order, but don’t worry, we’ll send a pilot with a personal vendetta with them; what could possibly go wrong?’

Rey looked over the group, and then met his eyes — without any obvious surprise, which made him wonder where she was getting her information. He shrugged, and she turned to the security officer. “This is them,” she said. “We’ll take it from here.”

The officer looked like he was thinking about objecting — probably going to try to wring a few more penalties and fees out of them — but decided against it. “Of course,” he said. A few codes and a palm print scan later, they were out, shuffling their way into a wary sort of stand-off outside the port security complex.

“Well?” Rey said finally. “Where’s my ship?”

- 18 -

Of course it couldn’t be that simple. Hux had obviously been underselling it with ‘no one who would be happy to see me.’ ‘A bunch of people who want to murder me’ would have been significantly more accurate.

“You took something that belongs to us!” one of them yelled, easily audible even over the sound of blaster fire. “Your life is forfeit!”

“Someone give me a weapon, so I can shoot him for all of us,” Phasma said.

“Not a chance.” Dameron ducked back down behind the overturned vehicle they were using for cover. (Crappy cover, but the best they could come up with for the moment.) “Who are these guys?”

Hux shook his head. “If anyone gets to shoot him, it should be me.” He flinched as sparks from a too-close shot showered down on them. “Clearly I should have done it years ago.”

It was going to be a tough fight with only three of them shooting back. They were outnumbered, with terrible cover and nowhere to retreat. He was pretty sure that when whoever was yelling got tired of hearing his own voice, the big guns would come out, and then they’d be in real trouble.

Qu’ara said, “This is ridiculous. We’re on the same side.”

“Not from where I’m sitting,” Dameron replied.

“Come on, If we wanted to kill you, we could do it without blasters. Close range, lots of distractions — and we haven’t.” She pulled him down just in time to avoid getting hit by a stray shot. “See?”

“Rey,” Dameron said, loud enough to get her attention over the noise. “Your call.”

Rey crouched down, and he stood back up to cover for her. She narrowed her eyes at Hux. “What did you take from them?” she said.

He glared right back. “My brother.”

She handed him her blaster without another word, and then pulled another pair of them of her tunic and passed them to Qu’ara and Hara. “Finn,” she started, but he was already sliding a miniature blaster out of each of his boots. “Thank you.” The first one she kept; the second one went to Phasma. “What about him?” she said finally, nodding at Ben.

“He’s busy,” Phasma said shortly, and then added, “Don’t shoot him.”

With seven of them shooting, things turned around quickly. Hux got the ringleader in the shoulder, and the group finally pulled back. The street filled up again with people as fast as it had emptied out; they didn’t even get a second glance.

“I’m officially objecting to this,” Dameron said, while they were all stood around looking at each other.

Rey nodded, but she said, “Poe —“

Whatever she was going to follow up with was cut off by Ben dramatically passing out — Phasma managed to catch him on the way down, and Hara grabbed his other side.

“What’s wrong with him?” Finn asked.

“Is he still shielding?” Phasma said, ignoring Finn entirely.

Hara nodded, then shrugged. “Mostly? We should get back to the ship.”

He watched them try to figure out who would go first, all angling around each other and no one willing to admit they didn’t want the others at their back. He tried not to sigh. Yeah, this was going to be a disaster.

- 19 -

To his surprise, they actually made it to the ship without anything worse going wrong. Then Rey took two steps inside and froze, tilting her head to one side. “What is that?” she said. She reached out towards the hull, but stopped short of actually touching it.

Hara and Qu’ara exchanged a look. “It’s a long story,” Qu’ara said. And they were all in a very small space. “We could —“

Rey took a step back and crossed her arms. Finn and Dameron both shifted closer to her. (Personally, he thought they looked confused, but that didn’t mean they weren’t willing to start a fight if things got nasty.) “Shorten it.”

He watched Qu’ara take a deep breath. (He watched Phasma surreptitiously take on more of Ben’s weight, which freed Hara up to edge sideways into a semi-open space.) Qu’ara said, “It’s kyber crystals.”

Rey looked at Dameron and Finn, who both shook their heads. Then she looked at him, and he should have seen that coming. Kyber crystals — sounded vaguely familiar? ”Jedi thing?” he offered. ”They can see me too, by the way.” He pointed out the three he was sure of, hesitated over Phasma, and finally just shrugged again.

She seemed to take that in stride. “Poe?”

“If any of us start shooting in here we’re all dead,” Dameron said, which wasn’t as comforting as he seemed to think. He was checking something on a datapad. “But comm chatter is quiet; no one’s looking for us that I can see. Or them.”

Rey turned back to Qu’ara. “A little longer than that.” She hesitated, then tacked on, “Please.”

Qu’ara said, “Maybe we could —“ She waved a hand around in a sort of ‘it’s very crowded and if we’ve all agreed we’re not going to shoot each other we could spread out and be more comfortable’ gesture. Rey had obviously already gotten distracted by the ship again, but she nodded.

“Be careful.” Ben coughed, and winced a little when he opened his eyes, but he was awake.

“Oh, now he wakes up,” Phasma muttered. She steadied him when he swayed towards the wall, though.

Rey snatched her hand back. “Is it a weapon?” she asked. “Kyber crystals — they feel like the lightsaber.”

He missed the answer watching Ben, trying to figure out if he was actually injured somehow or if he was faking it to get out of the room. He was pretty sure it was the second, and he was (reluctantly) impressed at how Phasma extracted both of them without making everyone more suspicious. Qu’ara and Hara were busy explaining — something — about the crystals to Rey, and as he followed Ben out he heard Hux say, “They could be at it for ages; I’ll show you the comms setup we’re using, if you need to check in with anyone. It’ll have better range than you can get with that.”

It was a start.

- 20 -

“We can’t hide in here forever.”

“We’re not hiding,” Phasma said, not even looking up from her datapad. “Not all of us faked our own deaths. Reports don’t write themselves.”

He'd been reading over her shoulder while she fabricated an entire set of progress reports on the investigation into the supposedly "unexplained" destruction of the Finalizer.  (Ben was working on reports for the Knights, which was significantly more interesting, but he kept glaring whenever Han got close enough to see the screen.)

"It feels like hiding," Hara said.

"That's because that's what you're doing," Phasma replied.  "Don't let them intimidate you."

“Easy for you to say.” Hara made a face at her when Phasma just shrugged. He had a sudden memory of her making the same face when he’d told her she would have fun training with Luke, and his stomach dropped. She’d been there. He’d known her. They hadn’t been lying about that.

If he could have gone pale, he would have. ”Crap, kid,” he blurted out. ”I’m so sorry.” He remembered meeting her, suddenly — bits and pieces, enough to start filling in the blanks. She’d showed up skinny and angry and Leia had loved her immediately. And then they’d sent her away and promised not to forget about her. At the time it hadn’t felt like a lie.

He heard Ben take a sharp breath, and Hara grabbed for Phasma’s hand. “You remember me?” she said.

He nodded. ”Sort of. Yeah.” he said. Then he frowned. ”Why didn’t you tell us there were more of you?”

Hara said, “You hated the Empire,” before he could apologize again, and it took him a second to realize she was answering his question. “One Empire brat was already pushing it, we thought.”

“We never hated children,” he objected.

Hara raised her eyebrows. “You voted for the New Republic sanctions. Who did you think those would hurt? You can’t sanction the dead.” She waved a hand towards the door, or possibly just at the universe in general. “You can hardly turn around on a Republic planet without an ID card, but none of us carry them, because the only thing worse than no ID is one that has a sanctions band on it.”

Yeah, this was why he never got involved in politics. He reminded himself that just because he didn't physically need to worry about his blood pressure, losing his temper wasn't going to help anything.  Probably. "And so the First Order seemed like a good choice?"

"They asked.  And the Knights aren't part of the First Order."

He threw his hands up in the air. "Oh, well, that's an argument that'll hold up in court."

Ben made a sound like he was trying not to laugh, although he looked plenty serious when he started talking. “Snoke recruited me to the First Order. Hara and Qu’ara came up with the Knights, and Hara helped me convince Snoke they should act independently. They’re not what you think.”

”So they’re not scouring the galaxy and murdering Force-sensitive children?” No one really seemed to know exactly who the Knights were or what they did, but that was the most common rumor.

Ben shook his head. “Of course not. Why would they do that?”

”Because they’re the bad guys?” He looked at Hara. ”No offense.”

She shrugged. “Used to it.”

Someone banged on the door. Ben waved a hand, and it opened.  Hux didn't bother stepping inside.  "You're going to want to hear this," he said.

- 21 -

'This' turned out to be a ghost. Pretty sure it was a ghost, anyway. There were other options -- transparent alien species, unusually shaded long-range visual communication, hallucination -- but given the circumstances, ghost was probably the most likely.  (And — really? How was this his reality?)

The ghost was having an animated conversation with Rey and the others, but broke off when Hux led Ben and Phasma into the room.  “There you are,” she said.

“Grandmother,” Ben said carefully, and Han stared. What?

“Don’t ‘grandmother’ me, Ben. We talked about this.” She put her hands on her hips.

Ben looked away first. “I know,” he muttered.

He was still trying to wrap his head around the idea that apparently Padme Amidala -- *the* Padme Amidala -- was there, when she turned to look at him. She didn’t look surprised to see him, and she didn’t ask for introductions.  ”So this is the man who walked away from my daughter,” she said.  

”Hey,” he said, stung.  ”There was mutual walking, okay?”

She stared at him for a long minute, and just before he said something he would probably regret, she sighed. “True enough,” she said. “And here you are now, anyway. We’ll talk later, I’m sure.”

And that was it. She turned to Phasma and said, “I was just telling the others, TK is very excited for your next visit.”

Han edged closer to Hara. ”How come everyone can see her?” he asked.

“I’m not sure why everyone can’t see you,” Hara said. “It probably just takes practice.”

Qu'ara maneuvered over while the others were talking.  "She wants us to rescue a kid.  Says she's got Force potential and her family's in a bad situation."

"What, all of us?" Hara said quietly.  

Qu'ara nodded.  "Says it's an 'opportunity.'  We stage a fight, blow something up. Explains away the disappearance of the kid and gives us a reasonable excuse for all being in the same place all at the same time."

She didn’t sound happy about it, and Hara nudged her shoulder. “So?  You love blowing things up."

“Sure.” Qu’ara nodded again, but she was frowning at the rest of the group. Not the whole group, he realized. Just Finn. “I don’t trust him,” she said.

”Finn?” Han said. He looked at Finn, and then back at Qu’ara. ”That Finn?”

Qu’ara just frowned harder. “You know what they did before,” she said.

“That was clones,” Hara told her, and Han was officially lost.

“Snoke gave in too easily on clone troopers. There has to be something else.”

Hara hesitated, like she agreed but didn’t want to say it out loud. “You don’t worry about the Captain, though,” she said instead.

Qu’ara lowered her voice even more. “She’s family. And she wasn’t snatched, she volunteered. And she’s got the Force links.”

“We have no idea if those would even work. They’re supposed to keep us from forgetting each other, not override implanted triggers.”

“Better than nothing. Or are you saying you’d feel completely relaxed if Finn was standing next to Leia right now?”

Hara tensed immediately, and Qu’ara said, “See?”

Hara nodded. “We’ll ask —“ She suddenly seemed to realize Han had been listening to their conversation, and cut off whatever she was about to say. “—One of the others,” she substituted. “They might know more.”

- 22 -

“I still don’t understand why the three of you would show up,” Dameron said. “Us, fine, that makes sense. But tracking down Force-sensitive children doesn’t seem like a top priority for the figureheads of the First Order.”

Phasma looked like she was about two seconds away from slamming her hand down on the table, and then probably leaping over it to attack Dameron head on.

Hux interrupted whatever mayhem she was planning by saying, “Oh please, your face is literally on posters. Besides, I’m the only figurehead here. Phasma’s strategy, Ren is here for Snoke. Don’t imagine that us not shooting each other for a day has given you some great insight into the opposition.”

Dameron started to respond, but Ben said, “We’re supposed to be investigating the destruction of the Finalizer. That’s why we would be there.”

Rey just frowned. “And you think this child was involved?”

Ben shook his head. “No, we blamed it on you.”

“What? Why?” Rey looked confused. “I had nothing to do with it.” (She didn’t seem surprised to hear it was gone, though. Not for the first time, he wondered where they were getting their information.)

Ben gave him a sideways look. “Apparently it’s considered an effective strategy.”

”Hey, it worked, didn’t it?”

Qu’ara’s voice came over the comms before anyone could reply. ”We’re done on this end. Family’s clear.” There was a pause, and then she added, ”We could use Jamie’s help, if you can spare him.”

Ben looked at Hux and raised his eyebrows. “Fine,” Hux said. “Am I meeting you, or are you coming here?”

”We’ll come to you. Twenty minutes.”

“Your name is Jamie?” Finn blurted out. (To be fair, Han was pretty sure they were all thinking it.)

“No.”

“Then why—?”

“It’s a long story.”

“And one we don’t have time for right now,” Phasma said. She looked at Rey, apparently taking up the mantle of ‘worrying about Rey’ since neither Hara or Qu’ara was there to do it. “Can you do this? He hasn’t just been shot this time.”

Rey’s smile was fierce. “Can he? It won’t be my first time using a lightsaber this time.”

Han only realized Qu’ara was still listening to the conversation when she started yelling. ”It was her first lightsaber fight? Are you crazy? She could have been killed!”

“I’d been shot!” Ben protested. “She was fine!”

Phasma just shook her head. She looked back and forth between Ben and Rey, and then turned to Finn. “Well?”

He didn’t hesitate. “We’ve got this.” Dameron looked almost unbearably smug, but he kept his mouth shut.

“Right.” Phasma stood up. “Let’s go.”

- 23 -

Finn was right. Dameron and Phasma actually seemed to enjoy taking potshots at each other and driving off any locals who looked like they wanted to get involved. There was a tense minute or two — Ben almost tripped over a railing when he recognized Finn’s lightsaber as Leia’s; Rey focused too little on everyone else fighting, and Finn focused on them too much — but they got through it without any major damage.

Afterwards, it was Ben who said, “The General—“

And it was Phasma who cut him off. “We need to have this conversation somewhere else,” she said. Since she followed up the comment by throwing what looked like an incendiary device towards the center of the building, no one argued.

(Of course, “somewhere else” meant going back to the ship, and if he’d thought it was crowded with six people, that was nothing compared to twelve.)

Ben ignored the lack of space with the casual disregard of someone who was used to people getting out of their way. “The General’s been training you.”

“Yes,” Rey said. She shot a brief look at Han that he had no idea how to interpret. “I asked; she agreed.”

Wait, what? He’d tried to stay out of the way while they were fighting, but now he stepped between them. Partially to avoid standing in Finn. One of the new kids kept looking at him funny when he did that. ”Wait, what? What about Luke? I thought you found him.”

“Yes,” Rey said again, and then looked away. “We did. Luke — doesn’t feel he should be training anyone at this time. He’s back; he’s with Leia. But he’s —” She hesitated, like she was searching for the right word, and finally she said, “quiet.”

“That’s one word for it,” Hara muttered.

“Chewie says he’s like Obi-Wan, when he was on Tatooine.” It was clear the comparison didn’t make much sense to Rey, but the others nodded.

Qu’ara said, “Well, that’s probably a good sign. Obi-Wan’s with us.”

”How many ghosts do you have, exactly?”

Everyone ignored him. Qu’ara cleared her throat before addressing the group. “Look, this is as good a time to go over everything as any. We put off explanations until you got back so we’d only have to do it once.”

“She means so she wouldn’t have to do it,” Hara said.

To his surprise, Phasma stepped forward. “I’ll do it,” she said, shaking her head. More quietly, she said, “What do you do when I’m not around?” she asked.

Qu’ara shrugged. “I have a recording of you, actually. Then I usually do some Force tricks, and go from there.”

Phasma’s unimpressed expression spoke volumes, but she didn’t actually reply. Instead she focused on the three newcomers — two children and an adult, all of whom looked less alarmed than he would have expected, given the company. “You know who we are?” Phasma asked.

“You, yes. Not all of you.”

Phasma indicted each group in turn. “First Order, Knights of Ren, Resistance. Ghost,” she added, gesturing in his general direction. “If you can see him.”

He waved. Only one of the kids waved back, which he guessed answered that question. Phasma spoke like she was repeating by rote, but it did sound official. “Both of my sisters are strong in the Force, which is how I know this is true. Being attuned to the Force makes you visible to anyone who’s looking, whether you want to be or not. There are ways to take that choice back; we’d like to show them to you. What you do from there is up to you.”

She stopped there, and the kid who’d waved looked back and forth between Phasma and Qu’ara. “I want to see the trick.” Phasma raised her eyebrows at Qu’ara.

“Well?”

Qu’ara stepped forward, into the only clear-ish space in the room, and promptly sat down. (He couldn’t see her at all, and he felt indignant until he remembered he could just walk right through anyone in his way.)

“Sometimes,” Qu’ara was saying, “you want to be subtle.” Her hands were on her knees, and the bracers from her forearms were hovering in the air in front of her, disassembling themselves and then re-forming as a pair of knives. He thought they had very different definitions of subtle. “Other times you might as well put on a show.” The knives disassembled and the components shifted. A crystal joined them, and there was a noise of surprise from somewhere behind him.

Qu’ara smiled. The components snapped together and the assembled lightsaber dropped into her hand, active. She waved it in an abbreviated arc to accommodate the space. “Good enough?” she asked the kid, who nodded, eyes wide. “Good enough.”

- 24 -

"So what's the end game here?"  He waved a hand in the general direction of the rest of the ship.  He didn't think anyone was actually sleeping, but they'd dimmed the lights in an approximation of night, so he kept his voice quiet.

Padme was back -- she'd done some kind of ghost trickery that extended his range, and they'd retreated to the cockpit to talk. "The same as it's always been.  To bring balance to the Force."

He looked at her.  ”You’re joking.”

She laughed. ”I assure you, I’m quite serious. I’m not the one who usually does this explanation, but I’ve certainly heard it enough times.”

And since he hated not knowing what was going on even more than he hated vague discussions of quasi-mystical forces, he kept his sigh as internal as possible, and said, ”All right, lay it on me.”

Padme looked like she wanted to laugh again, but she said, ”The Force itself is neither light or dark, it merely is. The choices we make influence our perception of it — we give it names to try to understand it, to make into a shape we can comprehend. Nearly everyone has some sense of the Force, though we call it different things.”

He shook his head, and Padme added, ”Yes, even you. You’ve never made a shot that should have been impossible? Never had a bad feeling about something, only to be proven right? Luck, instinct — just more names for the same thing. The Force is in you, just as it is in me. In all of us.”

”I’m dead,” he told her.

She waved a hand. ”It’s a gray area. The point is, unless we want our children’s great-grandchildren to be fighting the same battles we died for, we need to stop making the balancing of the Force an external war and instead own it as an internal responsibility.”

He tried to make that make sense. Twice. Finally he said, ”You lost me.”

Padme shrugged. "Think of this, then.  You've heard it before, I'm sure: 'fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to the Dark Side.’”

She paused, and he nodded so she would keep going.  “The opposite of Dark is Light, but what is the opposite of hatred?  Could the saying not go: 'fear leads to isolation; isolation leads to apathy; apathy leads to the Light Side'?  Either one without the other is incomplete.”

He thought, guiltily, of Luke, as Padme added, ”There is another saying; the children like this one better. ‘Endless day would be as much a tragedy as endless night.  Just as there are no shadows without light, it's the darkness that makes every dawn a miracle.’”

"You're talking about Luke," he said, just in case she wasn't. He wasn’t touching her dig about needing the kiddie version.

"Luke has been seduced by the Light just as surely as Snoke has by the Dark.  The extremes have their own allure.  Obi-Wan’s working on him; he's been through it himself, and come out the other side stronger than before."

"He came out the other side dead.” Padme opened her mouth to say something, and Han held up a hand. “And don't say it's a gray area."

”I don’t need to say it for it to be true,” she countered. She got a distant look on her face, and said, ”I should go. It’s bedtime; we all help out.” She was fading out even as she stood up, and he felt her closing words more than he heard them. ”We’ll talk more later.”

- 25 -

Rey was avoiding him. Not actively -- she didn't duck out of rooms when he walked in, or anything like that.  They just somehow never ended up in the same place at the same time.  Over and over again.

He was lurking in the engine room when Qu'ara ducked in and threw herself down next to him.  "She's avoiding me too," Qu'ara said.

He’d been doing everything he could to try to remember Rey as a child. Sometimes he thought he almost had it, and it slipped away again. He didn’t want to talk about it. He was pretty sure she didn’t either, so he said, “Why Jakku?”

"How much do you know about hiding in the Force?" she asked.

He waved a hand.  "It's -- hard?"

"Sure.  But it's like anything; some things are easier to hide than others.  Rey's always had a loud Force presence.  All kids do, really, but when you get older, it's easier to sit quietly, right?  When you're little it's all crazy energy and running around everywhere."  

He wasn't sure he was really following, but by then she was on a roll, and she added, "So you can hide them in a group of other noisy things, or somewhere with a lot of echoes,” like that explained everything.

”Or a sound proofed room,” he said.

Qu’ara shook her head. “Not unless you want them to go crazy. Which we didn’t. Obviously.”

He raised his eyebrows. ”Obviously.”

“These days we mainly use the crystals to create an echo effect, but back then we had a list of safe planets. Snoke’s not the only one recruiting Force-sensitives; not even the one with the worst methods. Kidnapping, coercion, blackmail — the gang that had Hux’s brother snatched him right out of a shelter. Certain places are worse than others. Jakku’s got a combination of a high concentration of people who respect Force wielders and an enormous amount of Force echoes leftover from the battle.”

”The spaceship graveyard,” he guessed.

“Yeah. Jakku’s under heavy surveillance from certain branches of the First Order — there’s something they want in those ships, we figure, but no one seems to know what. We wanted to get further out, but we couldn’t shake the tail we’d picked up. Our crash landing was — less staged than we like to remember.”

”You said it was a bad plan.” He kicked his feet against the lower railing, not looking at Qu’ara at all.

“Snoke already knew about Rey. When the crash was reported, he was enraged. He questioned Ren about her death for years.”

The door to the engine room slid open suddenly, and Rey was standing there. “Is that why you never came back for me?”

Qu’ara sucked in a breath, but she didn’t move. “We wanted to,” she said. “So much.”

Rey was silent.  Qu'ara said, "If there had been a way -- any way -- to get you back without sacrificing the others...  If it had just been my life, I would have traded it for you in a heartbeat."

He blinked, and suddenly Rey was right there, pulling Qu'ara up off the floor and hugging like the world was ending.  Rey's voice was muffled when she said, "I'm glad you didn't."  When she pulled back she was smiling.  "I remember you, you know.  You let me fly the ship."

Qu'ara bit her lip. "I did." Her fingers tangled themselves up in Rey's sleeves, and Rey leaned into her side.  "Let's maybe not tell the Captain about that." 

- 26 - 

"General."  Dameron acknowledged him with a nod, and Han rolled his eyes.  "Captain," he added, and Phasma raised her eyebrows.  "Can I borrow you for a moment?"

Everyone had been pretty pointedly staying in their own zones for the last day, while they waited to drop out of hyperspace somewhere a little less hostile.  Resistance on one side, First Order on the other.  (Hara and the rescu-ees were tagging along in the other ship, but it was a toss-up whether the decreased crowding was worth the decreased buffer effect.)

Phasma stood up and tossed her stylus to Hux.  "Don't lose while I'm gone," she said.  

Han followed them into the engine room, because he hadn't been told not to, and why not?  "So?" Phasma said, when Dameron didn't seem inclined to talk first.

"We need to land somewhere," he said finally.

"Why?"  

There was a pause.  "Which answer do you want to hear?"

Phasma sighed.  "Whichever one made you pick me to ask instead of one of the others."

"Rey needs a break.  Somewhere with less people, and more space."

"She managed the trip to Skywalker," Phasma said.  

"On a bigger ship," Dameron countered.  "With one Wookie and a droid."

Phasma looked like she was thinking.  "And the other reasons?"

He ticked them off on his fingers as he spoke. “I’d like a chance to report in, let them know we're not dead.  Our trip wasn't exactly official business.  I assume you have your own secret messages to send; it'd be easier if we weren't in hyperspace.  We could stand to resupply."  Dameron shrugged, and spread his hands apart.  "Take your pick."

"You have a planet in mind?"

"Nope.  Finn does, though."

- 27 -

It wasn't much of a planet.  Rocks, sand, an atmosphere just on the right side of breathable.  Rey loved it.  She was scrambling over the outside of the ship with Qu'ara pointing out the crystal placements as they went. The others were all outside with them, even Ben, who kept glancing towards the cockpit like he was checking on him.

He felt tired for the first time since waking up dead, and he thought he should probably be more worried about that. But he couldn’t help feeling the tiniest bit smug instead. (“If you see our son, bring him home.”) Son, daughter, foster daughter, extended family and friends — Leia was coming, he was sure of it, and he was about to deliver in spades.

The shimmer in the air was the only warning he was about to be less alone inside the ship. ”I hate sand.”

”Yes, we’re all well aware of your feelings on the topic. Personally, I don’t see how caves are an improvement.”

Padme was back. Unfortunately, she’d brought company. “Hello Han,” she said.

”Hi,” he answered, and raised his eyebrows at the others.

”We’re here to help,” she said, which sounded nice but wasn’t much of an explanation.

”Help,” he repeated, trying not to sound as dubious as he felt. Faced with not one but three ghosts, one of whom was Obi-Wan Kenobi, which meant the other was probably Vader — he let a variety of distinctly uncharitable thoughts pop up before he realized they could probably read his mind. He wasn’t sure their definitions of help were going to match up.

”To fix you,” the one who was probably Vader clarified. ”And Anakin’s fine. Vader was — a long time ago.”

”Not that long,” he said automatically, but his thoughts were racing ahead. He’d done his part. Most of the time not very well, but he’d done it, and he’d only stuck around afterwards through whatever Force manipulation Leia had prompted. He wasn’t sure there was anything to fix.

”I’m not interested in joining the ghostly babysitters club,” he said finally. ”I’m dead. I’m just gonna —“ He spread his fingers apart in a ‘poof’ gesture.

”I thought you told him,” Obi-Wan said, and Padme shrugged.

”I said it was a gray area.”

Vader — Anakin — was looking out at the horizon line. ”They’re nearly here. You have no reason to trust me, I know. So trust Leia; you’re not going to want to miss this.”

He was pretty sure he lost some time after that — Ben was there, and then he wasn’t, and he saw Leia holding a baby and laughing as he tried to put the crib together (how could it possibly have been harder the second time?), and somewhere in there he must have said yes, because all three of the ghosts looked ridiculously pleased with themselves when he snapped back into awareness.

”There you go,” Anakin said.

”What did you do?” he asked. Everything felt weird.

Anakin opened his mouth to reply, but Obi-Wan beat him to it. ”Oh look, Leia’s here.”

- 28 -

”I was not expecting that.”  He turned to Ben, a little surprised the kid hadn't sidled off when he wasn't looking.  ”Were you expecting that?”

"I was," Phasma said from Ben's other side.  "Where else did you think they would go?"  

Somewhere behind him, he heard Dameron say quietly, "Were *we* expecting that?"

'That' was Leia stepping out of the transport ship with Chewie at her shoulder -- and a full honor guard of what was obviously ex-stormtroopers on either side.

"Finn's not worried," Rey answered.  

Whatever opinion Dameron had on that, Han missed as Finn stepped forward and clasped forearms with the closest trooper.  

"Finn," the trooper said.  "Good to see you."

"You too," Finn told her.  "Any trouble?"

"Nothing we weren't expecting."

"Please tell me you're shielding everyone,” Hux muttered.  "If Snoke gets a hold of this it's all over."

"Working on it."  Ben sounded strained. 

Qu'ara slipped in next to him and put her hand on Ben's shoulder.  "We're set to take over," she said.  "In three, two, one --"

He couldn't feel any change, but Ben relaxed -- only to tense up again when Leia headed straight in their direction.  She wrapped her arms around his waist without a word and held on.  After a few seconds, Ben gave her shoulder an awkward pat.

"It's so good to see you," Leia said.  And then, "Don't think this means I'm not going to yell at you later."

Ben shook his head, and Leia turned towards Han.  He shrugged.  ”You said bring him home.  Found some friends along the way.”

Leia rolled her eyes.  "I'll get to you in a minute."

Hara stepped up next to him.  "General," she started, and then Leia grabbed her in a hug too.

"I knew you were too smart to blow up on a patrol run.  And now I finally get to meet the rest of your family."

Hara frowned.  "You knew?"

Leia stepped back.  “That you were a spy? Of course. What do you think we talk about in senior staff meetings? The rest — not until Luke knocked a few things loose in my head. I can’t believe how much I missed you.”

He took a minute to check on Rey, who was beaming. “You okay?”

She nodded. “Happy. Confused.” She hesitated before adding, “They did something, didn’t they? To make you remember me? I asked them to fix mine too, but it doesn’t work if it’s just — normal forgetting.”

“Yeah, well, you were five, I think you get a free pass,” he said. They were quiet for a minute, watching the others. Leia working her way around the group, Ben talking with Chewie, Dameron and Finn gesturing wildly as they told some story or another to the former stormtroopers. ”Not exactly the reunion you were imagining all that time, I guess.”
 
“No,” Rey said, but she was still smiling. “It’s better.”


THE END

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