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Even heroes need a break

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Sometimes, Leia wondered if getting involved in Jude’s adventure had been a good idea. Of course it was! she usually shot back to silence the treacherous thought. That journey had taught her invaluable things about herself, and she’d met precious friends along the way. And hey, helping Jude and Ludger had landed her a cute girlfriend. What was there to complain about?

But sometimes, just sometimes, she wondered if, had she stayed home that day when Jude and Milla departed from Leronde, it could have prevented tragedy and hardships plaguing her loved ones.

“I’m sorry,” Nova whimpered, and her words struck Leia like a lightning bolt, shocking her out of her spiraling thoughts. “If only I hadn’t made noise back then...” She clung to Leia, her grip strong despite her shaking.

“Why are you sorry?” Elle asked, a little indignant. It was hard to see her in the dim light, but she was standing a few paces from them, having lost none of her usual energy. “If anyone is to blame, it’s the bad guys!”

Leia chuckled, invigorated by her words. She hugged Nova tight, hoping the body warmth would help comfort her. “Elle’s right! We did nothing wrong! And we’re going to get out of here before you know it!”

Self-doubt could come later; now was the time for action. And if there was something Leia was good at, it was to push through the most desperate of situations with a smile.

 


 

They may have done nothing wrong, but mistakes were made every step of the way.

 

The first mistake: interrupting her date because she’d spotted Jude and Ludger.

Nova looked out the café window immediately at the mention of their friends.

“Aww, are they on a date too?” she cooed.

“I don’t know,” Leia said. “Elle is there.” Right between them, holding each of their hands, in fact.

“Maybe a babysitting date?” Nova suggested. “Is that a thing? I think it’s a thing. Oh, look!”

Elle let go of them. More precisely, she took both of their hands and joined them together, before letting go and skipping ahead to play with Rollo.

Nova giggled behind her hand. “They’re blushing something fierce.”

Leia grinned. Watching Jude get flustered was turning out to be really fun.

“Ah, they’re moving away!”

It could have stopped there, but Leia was in a mood to play. She slurped down the rest of her latte and slapped some gald on the table before grabbing Nova’s hand. “Let’s follow them!”

 

The second mistake: letting Elle spot them.

Jude and Ludger walked toward the harbor, their hands still linked and staring straight ahead. Elle trailed behind them, scolding Rollo for trying to demand Ludger’s attention. Interrupting his owner’s special time was rude, she was saying—Leia heard everything, because she was hiding behind a lamp post close to her. When she and Nova moved to find a better spot, they didn’t notice Rollo meowing loudly, leading Elle’s gaze in their direction.

 

The third mistake: shifting attention.

Spying on Jude was fun, but Leia’s detective senses tingled when she spotted a man in a black suit carrying a hard briefcase. While his attire was not that out of place so close to the business district, his shifty attitude screamed ‘I’m doing something suspicious.’ Nova, of course, was always down for some investigation. It wasn’t the first time Leia had taken her to follow a lead, though so far their most noteworthy accomplishment was finding someone’s stolen jewelry in a magpie’s nest. Excited at the prospect of uncovering new secrets, they left their lovebird friends to Rollo’s watchful eye and followed the man into small alleyways. The further they went, the more suspicious they found him.

They hid behind a corner when the man stopped in the middle of a deserted alley. Another man soon appeared in front of him, and they started discussing in low voices. Leia couldn’t make everything out, but it seemed the first man had asked the other to bring something and, in return, showed him the contents of his briefcase—enough gald to put a huge dent in Ludger’s debt! As silently as possible, Leia grabbed her camera and started taking pictures. This was the scoop of the century, she was sure of it.

 

The fourth mistake: not paying attention to their surroundings.

They were so engrossed in spying on the shady deal that they did not notice Elle sneaking up behind them. When she grabbed Nova’s sides to prank her, Nova shrieked in surprise, attracting the men’s attention. Leia reacted immediately, turning to her friends with sudden urgency. “Run!”

And run they did. Through dark alleyways and hidden pathways, they ran as if their lives depended on it (they probably did). They paid no attention to where they were going, as long as they put some distance between them and the shady men. Leia didn’t know how long they ran for. All she knew was that they had to keep moving.

 

The fifth mistake: getting lost.

Of course, running without aim had its drawbacks. The Elympion city was enormous, and even Nova, who’d lived there her whole life, was not familiar with every single district.

They eventually stopped to catch their breath, unable to go further without rest.

“Did we lose them?” Nova asked, looking frantically behind her.

“I think so.” At least, there was no sign of them anywhere.

Elle crouched down, holding her sides. “I’m beat! Why did we have to run so much?”

“They would have caught us otherwise.”

“Who’s they?”

“Bad guys,” Leia answered. “I’ll tell you later.” She looked around, trying to find any clue as to their surroundings, but she couldn’t find anything. They were in a maze of narrow streets between shabby residential buildings, far from anything they knew. “We need to get out of here,” she said, trying to mask her rising anxiety. “Nova, do you know where we are?”

“Nope!” Her cheerful tone was as much of a mask.

“Don’t tell me we’re lost…” Elle complained.

“Don’t worry, we’ll find our way soon! Right, Nova?”

“Right! Don’t worry, Elle, we’ll bring you back to Ludger safely.” The next moment, she took out her GHS, eyes twinkling with inspiration. “I know! Let’s call Ludger! Maybe he can help locate us.”

“Ah, but…” Leia’s protest died on her tongue as Nova composed the number. Calling Ludger meant alerting Jude, meant worrying Jude, and worrying Jude was the last thing Leia wanted. She could already hear his reproaches about her lack of caution. On the other hand, keeping Nova and Elle safe was her responsibility. She couldn’t endanger them more just because she was afraid of Jude’s reaction.

“…so that’s our situation,” Nova was speaking into her phone. “We’ll try to find our way back to a main road, but just in case, maybe you could ask Spirius to track our GHS location or something?” She nodded a few times while Ludger’s voice came out of the receiver, too muffled for Leia to properly hear. “Thanks, Luds!” Nova exclaimed in response. “I owe you!”

“Is Jude there?” Leia couldn’t help whispering. She walked closer to Nova in order to better hear the conversation.

Nova repeated her question to Ludger.

“I am,” came Jude’s voice from the receiver, and Leia flinched at the stern tone. “Leia, are you listening?”

 However, Leia didn’t get to hear his lecture…

 

The sixth and last mistake: getting distracted.

Leia was so focused on Nova’s GHS that she didn’t see the shadows approaching around the corner, dangerously close to where Elle was crouching. She only realized her mistake when the little girl cried in surprise as she was yanked up by a strong arm and held against a man’s chest, a gun pointed at her head.

Leia immediately grabbed her staff, but she knew before even trying that she wouldn’t get to use it.

“One wrong move,” the man warned, “and you can say goodbye to the kid. Now drop your weapon and raise your hands.”

More men emerged from the shadows to surround them completely.

Leia’s last thought before they seized her weapon and roughly shoved her was that, if they made it out alive, Jude’s lecture would pale in comparison to her mother’s.

 


 

“Operation: Escape the Bad Guys’ Hideout! What do we got, Team?”

“Agent Nova reporting! …They took everything I have, including my GHS.”

“What about you, Agent Elle?”

“They took my backpack,” she grumbled. “I had so many treasures in it.”

Leia rummaged through her own pockets, in search of something—anything—to use that could help their escape. Unfortunately, she had been deprived of her belongings just as much as the other two. Her staff, of course, was the first thing they had confiscated, but they also took her GHS and camera, and even her notebook. All she had left was the pen she stored in her front pocket. She twirled it in her hand, trying to think of something.

“They’re bound to come back, aren’t they? They’re not planning to just abandon us in this dingy basement, right?”

“I hope not!” Nova exclaimed. “But the alternative…”

If the deal they’d stumbled upon was supposed to remain secret, what fate did they reserve for witnesses? Leia preferred not to think about it.

“Maybe, if they leave us alone long enough, Ludger will have time to locate us…”

That’s if they didn’t dump their GHS somewhere else. Leia hoped their kidnappers didn’t have that foresight. But regardless, she wasn’t planning on meekly waiting for the guys to rescue them. She would get Nova and Elle out of there, no matter what!

A cursory search of the room yielded nothing either. They’d been thrown in a small, bare basement room, locked by an armored door. There was thus no tool to use, and breaking the door by force was out of the question. With a shudder, Leia wondered if this room had served to hold other people captive before.

“Okay, here’s the plan. The only way to get out is to wait for someone to open it from the outside.”

Elle groaned. “That’s not a plan at all.”

“I’m not finished! When they come to check up on us, or move us to another location or anything, I’ll knock them down as soon as they open the door. Then we make a run for it!”

“Will you be all right?” Nova asked, a hint of worry in her voice. “They took your weapon.”

“Heheheh…” Leia sprang up and took a fighting stance before realizing they probably couldn’t see it in the darkness. “I may be a staff master, but I didn’t train alongside Jude for nothing! Mom taught me to fight with my hands and feet too!” It had been a while since she’d had to go against anyone in hand-to-hand combat, but she was sure she could make it work. She’d have the element of surprise on her side too. “All right, I’m all pumped up now!”

What Leia loved about Nova was how it never took her long to match her enthusiasm. “Heck yeah! Beat their asses, Lei-Lei!”

Even Elle didn’t remain dubious for too long. “Give them what they deserve!”

The three of them joined hands and let out a battle cry. Adrenaline coursed in Leia’s veins. In that moment, she felt like she could accomplish anything. Perhaps even break that stupid door. But she forced herself to calm down and focus, to remember her mom’s lessons. Don’t rush. Strike when appropriate.

She instructed Nova and Elle to hide in a corner far from the door to avoid being used as hostages again while she positioned herself right next to the door.

Then came the waiting. Sitting still had never been her forte, but her mother’s rigorous training and hours-long lectures had eventually drilled the skill into her body. She could do this. She had to.

Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait too long. The stillness of the room made it easy to distinguish footsteps approaching from outside. Only one pair of feet if she heard right. Lucky.

“Come, spirits,” she whispered under her breath. “Quickness!” The lights of the arte illuminated the room for an instant before they converged toward her. She suddenly felt a lot lighter, like she could leap across the room in a flash, fast and deadly. The next moment, a key turned into the lock, and the door crept open. She wasted no time springing on the man who entered the room, leaving him no time to react.

“Cerberus Strike—fist version!!” she yelled as she pummeled into him. When she was done, he was laying on the ground, out cold. “Total victory!” she cheered.

“Good job, Leia!”

“Huh… is he all right?” Elle wondered, poking at the man.

“Shh, don’t wake him up.”

“You’re the one who was yelling a moment ago…”

“Right, sorry,” she answered sheepishly. “Come on, let’s get out of here quickly.”

They snatched the man’s keys and locked him in the room to prevent him from alerting his accomplices should he wake up, and set out to find the way out of the building. They found a staircase leading to an upper floor not far from the room they came from and cautiously climbed it, hoping not to find anyone waiting for them upstairs. The hall it led to was thankfully deserted.

“They must be underestimating us,” Leia whispered.

This gave them a certain amount of leisure to check their environment. The hall they were in had another flight of stairs leading to the second floor, as well as two doors. The first one they tried led to a corridor with another door at the end. The second one was a dead end—a simple office with no other entrance and no window to escape from. They went back to the first door, supposing that direction would eventually lead them to the front door or at least to a room with a window. Unfortunately, their luck stopped there. The door at the end of the corridor opened to a large room, some sort of lounge, it seemed, which was this time not empty. No less than four men were sitting on armchairs, smoking cigars and drinking from wine glasses. Leia tried to step back and close the door before they saw them, but it was already too late.

“Well, well, if it isn’t our little rats.”

Leia knew they should turn tail and run, try the second floor, but there was no guarantee they’d have more luck upstairs. Besides, something else made her pause.

“Hey, isn’t that our stuff?” Nova whispered behind her.

Leia nodded silently. On a table in a corner of the room were their confiscated belongings, from Elle’s backpack to Leia’s staff. There was also the briefcase that had been exchanged for that extravagant sum of gald; Leia would be lying if she said she wasn’t dying to know what it contained, but for now, her focus was on her weapon. If she could somehow get to it…

The man who’d spoken took a puff of his cigar and blew rings into the air with a smug expression.  “Don’t be shy, ladies, do come in.”

Mustering all her confidence, Leia took a few tentative steps into the room, inching toward the table ever so slightly without taking her eyes off the man. Nova and Elle followed her closely. Leia took out her pen and twirled it in her hands nervously. “We didn’t want to bother you,” she said. “We were only passing through.”

The man burst out laughing. “Well, aren’t you a daring one.”

“No, really!” Nova piped up. “We did nothing, saw nothing, so you can forget aaaall about us, okay? The exit is this way, isn’t it?” she asked, pointing at another door behind the men. “Don’t mind us, we’ll just be on our way.”

She took a step forward but was immediately stopped in her tracks when the man raised a gun at her, still not losing his amused smile. She quickly scuttled back behind Leia.

“Saw nothing, heh? The contents of your camera seem to tell another story.”

It was then that Leia decided to drop all pretenses. She pushed Nova and Elle to the side and walked toward the center of the room, glaring at the man defiantly. He made no move to shoot her (yet) nor did he seem particularly cautious. The other three men—likely his subordinates—mimicked his relaxed attitude and made no move to draw their own weapons. Underestimating her, she knew. After all, why wouldn’t they? They were seasoned criminals, on their own territory, with who knows how many more henchmen on the premises. And who were they up against? Two unarmed women and a kid. Who wouldn’t underestimate them?

“What are you going to do with us?” she asked. From the corner of her eye, she saw Nova and Elle creep toward the table.

“You saw something you shouldn’t have, I’m afraid. If you’re good, we’ll make it painless, like you’re just going to sleep.”

“What if we promised not to say anything to anyone? You can keep the camera. We’ll never tell a soul.”

“And what guarantee would we have of that? You went through all this trouble to spy on us.”

“We were just playing around!” she pleaded. “We never expected it to be the real deal.”

“Your notepad has ‘Daily Trigleph’ plastered on its cover,” the man said with an all-knowing smile. “I know your kind, nosy little weasels that you are. You stick your nose in every little thing looking for a scoop and never know when to stop. If I let you go, the whole city will know about it before dusk.”

“Aw, was it that obvious?” Perhaps her first order of business when they got out of there should be to buy a less conspicuous notepad.

The man leveled the gun toward her forehead. “Any last words?”

“Hmm…” She tapped her pen to her lips. “You know, my editor likes to say that the pen is mightier than the sword. Do you know why?”

It was her luck, she supposed, that the man found her amusing and wanted to humor her. “Why?”

Because pens, when you thought about it, were a similar shape as miniature staffs. Definitely not as sturdy, but good enough to sustain temporary elongation and swipe a bad guy’s weapon out of his hands, for example. Not that this was the answer Leia’s editor had in mind, but, well, technicalities.

The man let out a cry of surprise when his gun was knocked away, falling somewhere behind the large sofa. The other three immediately sprang up and rushed to restrain her, but she anticipated them and quickly jumped out of the way.

“Leia!!”

Nova, wonderful woman that she was, had taken advantage of their distraction to grab Leia’s staff and throw it at her with all her strength. Her aim was a little off, but Leia leapt and caught it, bringing it down on one of her opponent's head in one smooth movement. “Earth Roar!”

One down, three more to go.

The other two henchmen came at her with daggers; perhaps a stray bullet would hit each other or their boss if they were to pull a gun in such close quarters. They managed to evade her swipes at first and tried to sneak past her defenses, but it was clear they were not used to fighting against such a mobile adversary. Leia used an armchair to propel herself in the air right above them and swung her staff downward with all her might. “Soaring Blast!”

The blast of mana knocked the men off their feet, and from then it was easy to knock them out.

She looked around for the last one, the boss, but she didn’t immediately see him—nor were Nova and Elle within sight, in fact. It was his cries of pain that alerted her to their whereabouts. She walked around the sofa and found him on the ground, arm outstretched toward his gun, but held back by Nova, who was lying on top of him, an arm around his neck, and Elle, who was mercilessly bashing his hand with what looked like a small hammer. Leia stepped in just as he was able to shake Nova off, though the bruised mess that was his fingers seemed in no shape to hold a gun anymore. Normally, Leia wasn’t a fan of gratuitous violence, but considering the circumstances, knocking him out seemed to be the safest option, so she felt no guilt bringing the edge of her staff down on his head.

“Whew. Thanks, Lei. I don’t think I would have been able to hold him back much longer.”

Leia smiled. “You did great!” She then turned to Elle, a little concerned. “Where did you get that hammer?”

“I found it in Duval,” Elle replied nonchalantly, stuffing it back into her backpack before Leia could think of taking it away. “Don’t tell Ludger, okay?”

Leia and Nova exchanged a glance, then burst out laughing.

“And here I thought protecting Elle was a priority… seems like it was the other way round.”

“Elle is the type to survive all the way to the end in a zombie movie, isn’t she?”

Elle held her hands to her hips and glared at them. “Stop making fun of me!”

This only sent them into another fit of giggles. “Sorry, sorry!”

“What we meant is that you’re the strongest among us!”

“Really?” The thought seemed to please the little girl immensely.

“Anyway, we should get moving. Let’s grab our stuff and go.”

“Wait,” Nova said. She walked up to the table and placed a hand on the briefcase. “Shouldn’t we take this too? We went through all this ordeal to find out what it’s about, after all.”

Prudence would dictate to wait until they were out, away and safe before opening it, but the danger was gone; they could spare a few minutes, right?

“Open it,” Leia instructed, excited.

What they found inside sent a chill down her spine.

“Is that…”

“Spirit fossils,” Leia whispered. “A whole case of them, wow. And that’s…”

A spyrite. One of the prototype spyrites Jude had shown her one day. What was it doing here, in this shady house? This was bad. Super bad.

“We’re not just dealing with petty criminals, are we?” Nova said. The mirth of their victory was gone from her face, replaced by uncertainty and fear.

Leia shut the briefcase closed. “Let’s go. Now.”

 

She led the way, staff in hand, ready to hit first and think later. Elle followed, then Nova, who’d taken the briefcase and was doing her best to keep up despite its weight. Fortunately, they didn’t encounter anyone else on the way. They eventually reached a large entrance hall, with a double staircase going up to the second floor. The main door was just in front of them. Just a little more, and…

A gunshot resounded, loud and deadly, followed by a cry of pain and the sound of a body falling to the ground.

Leia stopped in her tracks and turned, afraid of what she’d discover but unable to not look. Nova was on the ground, writhing in pain, a pool of blood quickly forming around her.

At the top of the staircase was a man looking down on them, gun in hand. Another soon joined him, then another, and another… too many to count. They came running down the stairs, their eyes on the briefcase, ready to get it back at all cost.

“Don’t let them escape!” the man who’d shot Nova yelled. “Secure the goods!”

Was this how Jude felt when Alvin shot her? This utter rage and despair driving her entire being, pure fighting instinct taking over. A hit here, a spin there, fire to burn, wind to cut, earth to shatter. And in the back of her mind, the rising panic. The echoes of Nova’s cry. I have to get to her. The blood seeping from her. I have to save her. Get out of my way, get out of my way, get out, get out, get out!

But there were too many of them, and they were determined not to let them escape. A bullet grazed her shoulder, and she ducked out of the way of more, elongating her staff to close the distance between herself and her opponents. Another down, but so many more behind. No time, no time for all of them, I have to get to Nova, I have to—

A loud crash momentarily interrupted the fighting. The main door burst open with a bang, revealing two silhouettes on the other side.

Leia nearly sobbed in relief. “Jude!”

Jude’s eyes widened as he took in the scene, but he wasted no time switching into a battle stance. Ludger was at his side, link already activated. Together they leapt between Leia and the enemies, keeping them at bay in a flurry of steel and fists.

“Jude, I—”

“We got this! Tend to Nova!”

She didn’t have to be told twice. Trusting they’d keep the fighting away from her, she rushed to her girlfriend’s side, the incantation for Cure on her lips.

“Nova, Nova, sweetheart, please, please be okay.”

She was so distraught she nearly forgot her training, but the sight of Jude fighting for her gave her strength. She took a deep breath, tuned out the cacophony around her, and focused on her task at hand. She may not be a doctor like Jude, but she’d spent enough years assisting Doctor Mathis to know the steps.

First, assess.

Nova was still conscious. In pain, but conscious. That was the first good sign. The second was that the shot had missed vital organs. The blood loss was worrying, but the wound itself should not be too hard to close.

Second, treat.

That part she could do well. Perhaps, if she’d remained a simple countryside nurse, she wouldn’t have known what to do. But she was no stranger to gun wounds, and knew exactly how to weave her artes to heal it. Mana poured out of her fingertips, seeping into the skin like a soothing stream.

“Leia…” came Nova’s faint voice.

“Shh, I’m here, don’t worry. You’ll be fine. You’ll be fine.”

“Leia, don’t cry…”

“I’m not crying.” She smiled wide to prove it, tasting the saltiness of her tears. “It’s just… sweat. Healing artes take a lot of effort.”

“Leia, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, you dolt! I’m the one who’s sorry! I should have never gotten you into this mess.” Her vision blurred, and the flow of artes wavered. That won’t do. Focus, Leia, focus!

She was so caught up in her task that she only realized the battle was over when Jude knelt down beside her, his hand covering hers and adding his own contribution to the healing.

His words were full of reassurance and encouragement. “You’re doing great, Leia. Keep going.”

Ludger stood guard before them, just in case reinforcements were on their way. Elle was at his side, miraculously unhurt. Relief washed over Leia. Everything was going to be okay.

 


 

“Come in,” came a faint voice from the other side.

Leia opened the door slowly and poked her head inside. “Did I wake you up?”

Nova shook her head. “I was waiting for you.” She patted the mattress next to her. “Come.”

Smiling nervously, Leia closed the door behind her and came closer. “You look better" was the first thing she blurted. The hospital gown didn’t help Nova’s sickly look, but some color had returned to her cheeks, and she looked more alert than when they’d brought her in.

“I was given painkillers,” Nova explained. “Makes it a lot more bearable.”

Leia flinched.

“Ah, sorry, I didn’t mean—”

“It’s fine. Of course it’s better with painkillers, it hasn’t been half a day since you’ve been shot.”

“The doctor wants to keep me a little longer for monitoring, but he says I’m holding up remarkably well.” There was a hint of pride in her tone, as if surviving being shot was an accomplishment worth bragging about. Maybe it was.

“I’m just glad you’re all right.” Leia finally sat down next to her. She hadn’t wanted to let her out of her sight, but Elympion hospitals had strict protocols. Seeing her now, though, she knew the worst was behind them.

“What’s going on with… you know, what we found?”

“Jude is handling it,” Leia explained. “He was furious.”

Nova bit her lip. “Did he yell at you?”

“What? No! He’s mad that someone stole from his lab and put us all in danger. Ludger had to talk him down from interrogating the suspects himself.”

The thought brought a small smile to Nova’s lips before she looked at her gravely. “You were afraid he’d lecture you.”

Leia fell silent a moment. Jude had a lot of opinions about what she’d done, and Ludger, too, was angry, even if he tried not to show it. Yet they’d been remarkably understanding. “He knows I know I messed up. There’s no need for him to say anything.”

“Leia, you didn’t mess up.”

“I did! I absolutely did! I rushed after a lead without thinking of the consequences and nearly got you and Elle killed. You’re injured by my fault.” Tears welled up in Leia’s eyes again, and she grabbed Nova’s hands like an anchor. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I did everything wrong. I couldn’t even get you out of there safely; the guys had to come in like heroes to rescue us.”

“Hey,” Nova said softly. She freed one of her hands and brought it to Leia’s cheek, wiping teardrops with her thumb. “Leia. Lei-Lei. Sweetie. Look at me. You did the best you could, okay? And if you’re to blame, so am I. I followed you without a second thought, remember? I should have been more careful too.”

“It’s not your fault,” Leia protested.

“Then it’s not yours either.” She sighed. “Let’s stop this blame game; it’s not leading anywhere. Elle’s right; it’s the bad guys’ fault! Let’s blame them instead!”

Leia let out a giggle. Warm spread through her chest, a tender fondness that cleared her doubts. Nova was always so good at cheering her up, she realized. “Screw the bad guys!” she exclaimed.

“That’s the spirit!”

They grinned at each other, as if sharing a secret only they could understand.

“Lei, you know what?” Nova added after a while. “To me, there was only one hero today. You.”

“Aw, stop! You’re going to make me blush.” In fact, that was exactly what happened.

Eyes twinkling, Nova cradled her face with both hands. “You’re my hero, Leia.” She brought her face forward and gave her a sweet peck on the lips. Leia’s smile widened, and she found herself half-crying, half-giggling as they traded messy kisses.

“When you get out,” she started, but was interrupted by another kiss. “When you get out,” she tried again, “we’ll go on a date. On many dates. No more adventures for a while, okay? Just low-stakes fun and nothing else.”

“Even heroes need a break from time to time,” Nova quipped.

“Aah, stop it!”

“Make me!”

Leia did, resuming their kisses with renewed enthusiasm, glad to be able to hold her like this, alive and warm in her arms.