Gathering Shadows (Penumbra, Part 2)

by Catriona Campbell Boyle

It had all tumbled from her grasp. Everything she believed in, everything she had fought for, everything she had gained in the last few years had simply slipped away. Instead of friendship, there was only loss; instead of love, there was only grief; instead of hope, there was only hopelessness. What had they done wrong, what actions could they have taken to turn events around, to twist them into an alternative ending?

Ending? thought Leia Organa, as she lifted a hand and gently pushed away the annoying strands of hair which fell over her eyes. Is that what this was? An ending?

She drew in a breath and turned her eyes to the stars beyond the viewport, to the darting x-wings as they patrolled the Alliance fleet as it massed above Sullust. It was difficult to accept that this was more than a bad dream. A distressing nightmare can be dismissed and forgotten, but reality cannot be treated in such an off-hand manner. The Rebellion would continue, but they had lost so much. Hoth Base had fallen, taking so many lives with it, its personnel scattered throughout the galaxy, limping to this rendezvous point. Each new ship which reached them told of more losses.

The Millennium Falcon had been no different. Han was gone. Luke was gone. Luke was...

Dead, her mind told her. A humiliating and public execution. He had looked beaten, in body and spirit, his Alliance uniform filthy and torn. He had looked drugged and dazed as he was dragged before the Imperial Palace gates and shot.

...gathered here to witness the execution of the notorious rebel terrorist. His crimes, as well as high treason, also included the murder of civilians, the destruction of Imperial property, and espionage. It is the Emperor's wish that those who would follow his example take heed of his death, for this will be the fate of all who dare betray His Majesty...

The cool, calm voice of the holovid commentator echoed as her, teasing her mind with Luke's final moments and she closed her eyes as the tears grew and spilled.

"I'm so sorry, Luke," she whispered huskily to the stars, to her friend who was only days dead, hoping somehow he would understand, hoping somehow he had found peace despite his violent end. "I'm so sorry."

They should have gone back. After Lando had freed them, they should have gone back. When she had seen that Han was beyond her...


...they should have gone back for Luke, returned to the carbon freezing chamber and... What? What could they have done with Vader and his troops there? How could she have turned Luke away from facing his father's murderer? He was so determined that was his destiny, so convinced the confrontation was his goal. She smiled sadly as she recalled his fierce anger as he told her about his family, and about Vader and the deaths he caused. She could understand his passion, for she shared it with the deaths of her own family. Now, Vader had torn more loved ones from her.

Yes, she had shared Luke's passion and determination. She had drawn strength from his wild enthusiasm for life and learning. When he had opened the door to her prison on the Death Star and breathlessly announced his identity and purpose, she had been drawn to the light within him, for he had banished the shadows of despair which had been threatening her, and given her renewed hope. That hope had prevailed until he died, and now the shadows had begun to gather once more.

And Han. Snatched from her just as she had realised her love for him, the love she had tried to deny, the love she had fought in case it interrupted her duty as princess. She had been a fool, and arrogant, self-centred fool!

How many times did you use those words for Han? her mind mocked. How many times did you rebuke him?

Han had known. Han had been able to see through her. Han had watched her love grow, had teased her with it, had used it to infuriate her, exasperate her, had used it in an attempt to get her to admit it. But it had taken Vader to make her do that; it had taken Han's loss to make her do that.


Leia startled at the soft voice. She wiped quickly at her face and turned around to find Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca standing in the open doorway. She pushed away the anger which quickly rose within her...

Because of you, Calrissian. Luke and Han are gone, because of you.

"I'm sorry, Chewie, Lando. I didn't hear you." Leia spoke calmly and stood to greet them. Lando had been placed in an awkward situation. He had been used by Vader, forced to betray his friend in exchange for his people and his city. Ultimately, he had lost them all.

The gambler cleared his throat before continuing, finding the words difficult to say. He was beginning to feel stifled on the Alliance ship. The stunned atmosphere among the Rebels on the cruiser, due to the death of the youth he had helped Vader lure to Cloud City, was hard to bear. It accentuated the guilt he felt at being part of the whole lousy affair. "Ah, Chewie and I...well... The Falcon's repaired and kitted out and we've got clearance to leave."

"Yes, of course," Leia heard herself answer, feeling her loneliness deepen. Chewbacca was leaving, jetting off with Calrissian to search for Boba Fett, to find her once more, when Han delivered that silly lop-sided grin of his in her direction.

Lando hesitated, wondering briefly if he should mention Skywalker, but he only returned Leia's nod. "Okay..." he breathed to himself and turned on his heels. After another embrace from the princess, Chewbacca followed him.

Leia returned to her seat by the window as an x-wing rocketed past. Its markings were those of Rogue Flight - soon to be Red Flight once more - Luke's command. No, she corrected herself, it was Wedge Antilles' command. It was many minutes before the Millennium Falcon emerged from the docking bays several decks below her cabin. She watched as the freighter banked away from the cruiser, heading for open space. It was strange to think that the Falcon was leaving without her captain. If Luke were here, he'd probably mumble something about the Force and...

She shuddered, the ripple moving swiftly through her muscles, and she suddenly chilled. Luke! She's been thinking of him casually, as though he were merely away on some mission and not dead. It was a thought which had risen within many times during the last few days. It was a common pursuit for those who grieved, especially when a sudden death was involved. It was a mistake, he's not really dead, that battered figure on the holovid wasn't Luke, that wasn't really Alderaan Tarkin destroyed...

A pointless, though disturbing consideration. Luke's not dead...

Her eyes followed the Falcon's path, watched as the freighter abruptly shot forward and was lost to hyperspace. For a few moments, Leia's gaze remained fixed on the area of space into which the ship had disappeared, her silent wishes following its afterburn. Then she shook herself and rose, closing down the window cover, shutting out the galaxy and pushing Han and Luke as far back into her thoughts as she could. There would be time to remember them again after the emergency council meeting, after her duties for the day had been performed.

The door to her quarters slid silently closed behind her and, like a trailing phantom, two words quietly whispered on the fringe of her consciousness.

not dead...

to be continued

Part 3
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