heroes and fools (heroes are fools)
The last thing Han hears before oblivion drags him under is, “BB-3, down and under. Before that gullible idiot really dies.”
Ah, he thinks vaguely and actually manages a smile even in the aftermath of his son’s betrayal. Lany came back. It’s so good to hear her voice one last time.
And then darkness takes over, and maybe it’s not such a bad way to go after all if both his children are here with him in his very last moments.
They forget their daughter, him and Leia both. They give her a roof over her head and all the food and clothes and toys she could ever need or want, and her very own charm sees the Resistance’s pilots clamoring to babysit. She’s a good child, a good daughter, but they forget her in all the ways that matter.
At first, it was because Ben was always the problem child, wanting to hear stories of Darth Vader, curious about the First Order, and so very interested in the Jedi. Well that last one was good, they all thought, and Luke was over the moon when Leia and Han gave Ben to him for training.
Ailana on the other hand had no interest in being a Jedi. She grows up running around with Poe and the other pilots, engine oil and dust on her face, bolts and screws and a wrench in hand. And she was a genius at it. She could dismantle a broken droid and put it back together better than before, repaired and good as new. She could step into a cockpit and ace every simulated run put in front of her by the time she was thirteen. She knew the parts of too-many-to-count spacecrafts backwards, forwards, and upside-down, and the modifications she drew up made her the darling of the Resistance’s Starfighter Corps. Poe, two years older and second only to Ailana amongst their peers (and arguably amongst most of the older generation of pilots too), worshipped the ground she walked on and declared he would marry her one day. That got him a broken nose courtesy of Ailana, which only made his crush on her even worse. Somehow, they still remained the best of friends.
Neither Leia nor Han noticed. Oh they noticed her interest in spacecrafts and mechanical engineering and even flying, and they indulged her by giving her free access to the hangar, to the pilots, to the starfighters so long as there were droids around to watch her. But compared to her brother who breathed the Force and wielded a lightsaber like an extension of his arm and kept asking about Darth Vader, she faded into the background.
And then, later, well, it was still because Ben was always the problem child. He fell to the dark side, to the First Order, to Snoke’s lies and temptations, and perhaps that was the beginning of the end for the Skywalker family.
Luke disappeared. Han ran. And Leia threw herself into the one thing she was raised to do – lead. All three of them grieved in their own way, and by the time any of them managed to look around and spare a thought for the last Skywalker, their youngest and just as gifted as her brother but so, so overlooked, she was long gone.
Ailana is nineteen when she leaves the Resistance, ten months after Ben becomes Kylo Ren. Then again, nobody ever asked her to be a part of it so it would be more accurate to say that she is nineteen when she simply leaves. She steals a starfighter, guts it for parts to sell on the next planet, and then spends the next ten years wandering the galaxy, leaving her footprints on any planet she can get onto, working as a mechanic, a bodyguard, a pilot, and everything in-between. There’s never a shortage of work, not with her skills, not when she can fix anything and fly anything, and even when she’s cornered or owes a debt or two or her food runs low, she never starves. She survives, she learns, and she thrives.
She took three things with her when she left, aside from the starfighter and a single bag of necessities – a picture of her family, a picture of her and Poe, and BB-3. The droid was her parents’ birthday gift to her when she was eight, her favourite gift out of everything she’s ever been given, and the last gift she ever received from either of her parents that wasn’t something as impersonal as a toolkit or as useless to her as a practice lightsaber.
BB-3 becomes her closest companion. He takes damage one time when she’s twenty-one and running from stormtroopers. She fixes him, of course, but she also makes a few modifications, and within a month, BB-3 can also become a hoverboard at will. He’s delighted by this and tends to follow her around, knocking into her shins and trying to get her to climb onboard so that he can fly her everywhere.
Occasionally, she sends letters back to D’Qar, to Poe, who was the one to help her get away. She doubts anyone would’ve noticed anyway but he did provide a long enough distraction so that she could sneak out of the base without anyone logging her exit. Poe can never send anything directly back to her in return, but sometimes, one of the contacts she’s made over the years finds her, and they hand over a months-old letter from her old friend, which is always a pleasant surprise. He keeps her updated about what's going on back at home, news about the up-and-coming pilot trainees, about the war, even about her parents.
It’s not like she hates her parents. She doesn’t even hate her brother. They’re Skywalkers, the two of them. Ben can deny his name all he wants but that doesn’t change the fact that they have the blood of fools running through their veins. Not to mention their father is Han Solo, so they each have twice as much reckless stupidity as a regular Skywalker.
Heroes are fools. That’s a fact set in stone.
So she doesn’t hate her family. She thinks she even loves them most days, just as she knows that they – her parents more than her brother – love her. They just don’t know her very well, never had quite enough time for her on top of juggling the Resistance and wanderlust and Ben, so much Ben, and as a result, Ailana’s never been particularly close to any of them either, not for a long time now. Ben left at the age of six to begin his training with Uncle Luke, with only sporadic visits back to base to see his family, and even those were far and few in-between. Even when he was there, the most that the two of them did together was eat a meal or two with the rest of the family. Far more often, their dad would go visit Ben and Uncle Luke instead, sometimes taking their mom along when she could spare the time, but – at first – Ailana was deemed too young to tag along, and then – later – nobody really remembered to ask if she wanted to go, and she never asked. Things just spiralled from there.
As for their parents, even before her brother immersed himself in the dark side, their mother was already busy with the Resistance, and their father will always have the heart of a wanderer. Ailana probably inherited that from him.
She thinks it’s a pity, sometimes, that their parents’ love is an old sort of love. That the two of them can go months and – later – even years without seeing each other, and still know with absolute faith that they will never love another the way they love each other. So their father wanders the galaxy, and their mother stays home and leads the Resistance, and both trust that one will always wait and the other will always come back.
They forget that their children might not understand.
But Ailana carved out a home for herself amongst the Resistance’s pilots and mechanics and droids, and then amongst the stars and her travels, and she turned out okay even though she left. Especially after she left.
Ben on the other hand carved out his home in Darth Vader’s legacy, in the dark side, in Snoke and the First Order, and… well. None of that turned out remotely okay.
Han comes home with a hangover the size of a Death Star and is almost immediately accosted by Leia. It takes a moment of muddling through her frantic words to make sense of them because 1) hangover, and 2) Leia never panics.
But one sentence gets through, crystal clear, and Han almost wishes it didn’t. “Ailana’s gone, Han!”
He also almost wishes he didn’t come back. Or maybe he wishes he never left in the first place.
Later, he’ll wonder if it would’ve made a single goddamn difference either way.
Even later, he’ll admit – probably not. He and Leia screwed up years ago.
It takes about two weeks for them to figure out how their daughter managed to sneak off the planet without anyone even noticing. Apparently, three months before she actually left, one of the Resistance’s best pilots ‘accidentally’ crashed an X-Wing during a test run but didn’t limp it back to the hangar for maintenance. The pilot claimed that it was beyond fixing, which was a lie. The damage was repairable, and the X-Wing was whisked away into a patch of woods to wait for its future passenger.
Within five minutes of finding out, Poe Dameron’s standing in front of them, stiff and blank-faced. Han almost decks him, Chewie almost throttles him, and Leia almost beats them both and shoots him. Of course, none of them actually goes through with it, if only so the kid can explain himself first.
Clearly, Poe knows the jig is up because he talks. Guy’s never going to be an actor though because he can’t keep the accusatory tone out of his voice at all. Admittedly, it’s possible he’s not even trying.
“She isn’t a prisoner here,” Poe says defiantly.
“You never paid her any attention anyway,” Poe says defiantly.
“You didn’t notice when she left five months ago,” Poe says defiantly.
“She’s happier out there,” Poe says defiantly.
“I respect you as my leader, General, because you’re an amazing commander and you’ve earned the loyalty of every person in the Resistance, including mine,” Poe says, and of course, he says it defiantly. “And obviously, General Solo-”
For once, Han doesn’t bother cutting in because the ‘General’ barely registers, he just wants to know where his daughter is and why.
“-everyone knows what you’ve contributed to the Republic, the Resistance, the war effort. But-”
And Poe’s jaw works, and his face pales a little, and he looks every bit his twenty-one years, but he also glares, hot and fierce and stubborn, and somehow he reminds Han of Leia in all her righteous fury when the two of them and Luke were young and reckless and taking the galaxy by storm like they didn’t know fear or loss or their own mortality. When anything was possible because they refused to believe otherwise.
“But,” Poe says, unblinking, head high, with all the defiance of someone who knows he’s right. “If you’ll excuse my language, Generals, you were shitty parents to Ai, and if she didn’t want to stay here, I sure as hell wasn’t gonna make her.”
Leia flinches like she’s been slapped, and Han decks Poe anyway, but he also stops Chewie from ripping the pilot’s head off.
Because the brat is right, goddamn it.
Han leaves again, and this time, it’s on the very cold trail of his only daughter. He kisses Leia farewell, tells her not to make the pilot brat too miserable with lavatory duty and night shifts (”But don’t let him off too easily either.” “I know, Han.”), and then he’s off, Chewie beside him as always.
He never does catch up to her. He hears about her, rumours flying about a jack-of-all-trades mercenary who topples a slavery ring and brings home a bunch of kidnapped children, who majorly pisses off a Crolute cartel for the rest of eternity after robbing them blind, who outflies every pilot in the galaxy when she shatters Han’s own record and makes the Kessel Run in just over eleven parsecs on a stolen ship.
He even finds her a few times, even gets within shouting distance, but he shouts, and she doesn’t, running instead, always running, and slipping through his fingers time and time again, as easily as Han slips his own pursuers. It makes his heart ache, to get so close and still be so far away, but at the same time…
He and Leia may not have had much of a hand in raising her, but he finds himself indescribably, overwhelmingly proud of her all the same.
He can’t catch her. Nobody can.
That’s his girl.
His son shoves a lightsaber through his chest, and he wakes up in the Resistance’s medical wing with Leia slumped at his bedside, and how many times has he told her to at least pull up a cot if she isn’t going to go sleep in a proper bed, she’s going to wake up with aching neck muscles like this, honestly.
But he’s awake, when he thought he’d never wake again, and-
“Lany!” He gasps, shooting up in bed, and then doubling over when his entire body flares with pain. He also jolts Leia awake, who looks sleepily bewildered for all of a second, hand drifting towards the nearest available weapon, and then she smacks him over the head before helping him lie down again.
“No wait, Leia, Lany-” Han tries again, because he knows, he knows he wasn’t just imagining things back on the Starkiller, he couldn’t have or he wouldn’t be here-
“Han, calm down,” Leia sighs sternly, but there’s a slight smile on her lips and a quiet joy in her eyes that Han hasn’t seen in a long, long time. “Ailana’s here, on base. She brought you back home, and… well, she decided to stay, at least until you woke up.”
“So she’s still here?” Han persists, still wheezing a bit. More than anything else, getting injured and waking up on rainy days are two things that remind him most about how much younger he is never going to get.
“Yes,” Leia confirms emphatically. “I believe Chewie went to find her a few hours ago, and I haven’t heard her screaming about oversized rugs yet today so they may well be spending some quality time together.”
Han snorts out a laugh, and then he keeps on laughing until tears are trickling out of his eyes. Sentimentality gets worse with old age apparently.
Beside him, Leia folds his hand in both of her own and smiles at him, eyes a bit red-rimmed herself.
They may have lost their son, perhaps for good this time, but their daughter still comes when the Force calls, when blood calls, and for now, that is more than enough.
“Are you leaving again then?” Han asks carefully as he eases down onto the grass beside his daughter. She’s beautiful, always has been but all grown up now, almost the spitting image of her mother in her youth, but she has his eyes.
“Don’t overdo it, old man,” She snarks as Han settles down in a position that doesn’t put too much pressure on his chest whenever he breathes. Which, you know, is sort of impossible, but he tries anyway. The medical droids are not going to be pleased when they find out he’s escaped from medical but Han’s been running from them his entire life. He’s had plenty of experience.
“I am,” Ailana continues after a contemplative moment, and her gaze flicks back to the lake that Han remembers taking her swimming in once upon a time. He only took her once, always busy later with galaxy runs or Ben whenever she asked to go swimming again. He doesn’t even remember when she stopped asking.
He bites back the you could stay that’s sitting on the tip of his tongue. He’s long since lost the right to that so he stays silent instead.
“Are you?” Ailana asks after a stilted minute of silence. BB-3 beeps joyously in the distance, swooping over the water and kicking up a wave in his wake.
Han’s daughter is amazing and he never told her. He should.
“Probably, once I’ve healed,” Han pats a hand against his chest before grimacing. “If nothing else, your mother does need me to run a few errands for her.”
Ailana hums and shrugs. “Right. Well, good luck with that I guess.” She pauses. “Mom might want you with her more though.”
Han blinks at her. Ailana huffs and scuffs her sandals in the grass. “She came and talked to me a bit before you woke up, and one of the things that came up, well, she didn’t come out and say it but, you know, subtlety is not one of Mom’s strong suits.”
Han has to chuckle at that one. “It never has been.”
“Yeah,” Ailana smiles a little too, but then she shrugs again, slaps her thighs, and rolls to her feet. After a moment, she holds out a hand to him, one Han gladly takes, letting her help him up.
She wears simple clothes, but they’re also designed for easy movement, and each step she takes telegraphs the fluidity of a dancer. She’s small, but she’s quick on her feet, and strong, if the way she struck down her brother – as Rey babbled excitedly about when she came to visit him, stars in her eyes as she talked about his daughter – is anything to go by. Didn’t even use the Force. Just appeared out of nowhere, leapt off BB-3, and crashed feet first straight onto the bridge, blasters firing, and even Ben- even Kylo Ren faltered in the face of such an impossible, unpredictable ambush.
She bought just enough time for BB-3 to fly Han out of there. Han wonders if Ben remembered her when they fought. He wonders if either of them cared enough about each other to pull their punches.
Fingers snap just beneath his nose, and Han blinks back into the present to find Ailana arching an impatient eyebrow at him.
“Are you paying any attention to me at all?” Ailana asks, and she doesn’t mean it like that, her tone is too unconcerned for it, but Han has to hide a wince anyway.
“I said,” His daughter continues, arms crossed. “I was thinking about hitching a ride with Rey. She’s asked me to at least make the run with her when she goes to find Uncle Luke.”
Han blinks again and then perks up. “That’s a good idea. I mean, if you want to. You can even take the Falcon.”
Ailana nods thoughtfully. “I figured.” She grins, fox-sly. “The Millennium Falcon’s the only ship I’ve never flown. It’d be nice to give her a spin.”
Han winces again. Has he never lent her the Falc before? Ever? Not even taking her up as co-pilot?
“Are you okay?” Ailana asks this time, brow scrunching as she eyes him critically. “Do you need to go back to medical? You’re not even supposed to be outta there yet, are you?”
“Don’t tell your mother,” Han mutters, rubbing at his bandages through his shirt.
Ailana rolls her eyes and gives him a gentle push. “You’re such a wuss, Dad. Fine, I won’t tell her, but only ’cause you’re going back to medical right n- hey!”
Han turns on his heel, ignoring the heartburn sensation that ripples through his chest, and promptly pulls Ailana into a desperate bear hug instead. His daughter remains as rigid as a plank of wood, unyielding and terrible, but just when Han closes his eyes with regret and starts pulling away, she melts, and he feels her arms wrap clumsily around him in return.
They stand there for far too short a time, but eventually, they do have to separate. Ailana clears her throat and somehow looks embarrassed and long-suffering at the same time as she pushes back some of her bangs from her eyes. Han rests his hands on her shoulders and can’t quite make himself let go.
“Why did you come back?” He blurts out without meaning to, the one question he wasn’t ever going to ask, and he curses his tongue the second the words are out.
Ailana squints at him, then squints past him, eyes roaming over trees and sky and horizon.
“Poe got a letter to one of my contacts,” She says at last, focusing on him again. She wrinkles her nose. “And the Force has been… annoying lately. Combined, well, I figured you and Mom were gonna get yourselves in over your heads again sooner or later, especially since my dear old bro was involved.” She shrugs but doesn’t use the opportunity to shake Han’s hands off. “So I came back.”
Han studies her for a long moment, sad and somber and tired right down to his bones. “…You didn’t have to, Lany.”
Ailana shrugs again, looks away again, and then looks back. She steps away so that Han’s hands drop from her shoulders, but then one of her own swings out and catches one of his.
“No,” She agrees. “I didn’t have to.”
They walk back to the base after that, BB-3 whizzing around them, but Ailana lets him hold her hand all the way there, like she’s five again, back when they still had so much time to spend together, and Han still had a chance at being a decent father.
“I could swear I gave you that jacket when you became an official Resistance pilot because you’d been drooling over it for weeks, and you promised to love it forever and ever and ever and only ever let your future wife even touch it,” Ailana remarks, more amused than anything as she drops in on one of her oldest friends, gaze lingering on the clumsy patch job of a familiar jacket hanging from one of the bedposts.
Poe jumps guiltily, swearing when he bangs his knee against the frame of the bed in front of him.
“Do you have to sneak up on me?” He snaps crabbily. “And don’t be so loud. It’s not visiting hours so I’m not supposed to be here.”
Ailana rolls her eyes. “I’m the loud one? And I didn’t sneak up on you. If you weren’t staring creepily at a coma patient, you would’ve heard me coming.”
Poe glowers indignantly at her. “I wasn’t staring creepily!”
Ailana just snorts and shakes her head as she takes a seat beside him. “Well who is he then?”
Poe huffs but his expression softens when he turns back to the young man on the bed. “His name’s Finn. He saved my life.”
“He’s been trained to become a stormtrooper his entire life, Ai,” Poe murmurs, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the bed. “And he turned against it, all of it, all the things the First Order ever filled his head with, just because he thought they were wrong and he didn’t want to do it anymore.”
Ailana side-eyes him for a long moment before quirking a smile. “I can see why you gave him the jacket.”
Poe’s head jerks up. “Ai-”
Ailana drops a kiss on his cheek before climbing to her feet again and heading for the door. “I just came to say goodbye. I’m heading out with Rey tomorrow morning. Later, Poe.”
She’s through the door before he calls out after her, “I’ll introduce you two when you come back! I think you’ll like him.”
Ailana waves a hand over her shoulder and doesn’t turn back as she takes her leave.
The Millennium Falcon gleams in the morning sun, and through the windshield, Han sees his daughter staring up at the sky before turning to Rey to say something, and Rey grins back, exultant and glowing in her element.
He brings up his right hand and flexes it, remembering Ailana’s hand in his, and then Leia’s there at his side, eyes bright and happy, and he answers with a smile of his own.
Maybe he’s a fool for still believing in miracles at his age, but sometimes, they do happen. Sometimes, even after so many fuck-ups and so much lost time, the galaxy still sees fit to give one back.