New additions to the Queen's personal staff were usually received in the Grand Audience Chamber. It was a chance for the rest of the court to become familiar with the person who would pass them by every day. Leia had never been fond of this, since she hated being ogled as much as the next person, but she had grudgingly agreed to uphold the tradition once she took her mother's place.
She had never been given that opportunity, but it seemed to be a strange coincidence that she should see the only woman she had ever called Mami in the private setting that she had always wanted. After all, when one was on the run, it wouldn't do to parade them before the entire planet.
Instead of meeting them in the Grand Audience Chamber, Breha had them shown to her private office. It was the one that she rarely used because she preferred an even more informal setting, yet it was appropriate to the situation.
She was as stately as ever, though Leia could recognize the lingering shadows of the illness that had left Breha unable to bear children just one year before the fall of the Republic. Leia remembered the dark purple velvet gown with gold embroidery as one of her father's favorites, but the lines of her mother's collarbones and the thinness of her waist was more pronounced then she remembered.
Nevertheless, one thing would never change: No matter the situation, Breha was more interested in the needs of others than her own. It was a trait that had been both exasperating and admirable to her family. It was early in the morning and knowing Breha, she would have an immensely busy schedule, but she had chosen to meet with them first.
"I hope you can find some peace here," she said by way of greeting.
Leia had found it difficult to even speak her own name when she entered this office again, since being here invoked almost as strong a reaction as when she had seen Bail again. Han had made the introductions himself and Breha had not asked the reason for her silence.
The kindness in her mother's low voice, however, released some of the anguished tension that had been building in her chest. Leia forced her hands to unclench her hands and looked up to meet Breha's gaze.
"You don't know how much I hope for that," she confessed.
Breha's smile was thin, reflecting an unspoken frustration. "I know that you're as caught up in the madness on Coruscant as my husband," she reminded. "Since he can't be with us yet, I hope I can help you instead."
"He'll be safe soon enough," Leia insisted.
If the stories are true, he will be here himself in a few days with something you did not expect.
I'll finally know how exactly I came to be here. Maybe I can find out what they would not dare to tell me when they were alive.
Breha's expression softened and she nodded. "As Taia wills it," she recited, "or, failing that, even if I have to die trying."
Leia had to smile as she recognized the fierce loyalty to family that Breha had taught her by example. "As Taia wills it, let's hope that it doesn't come to that."
"I dare not keep you in the public eye," Breha pressed on without responding to the last comment. "Even Captain Solo would be recognized as one of Bail's personal guards."
"How much can you trust your security people?" Han countered. "They could start to ask questions about the people that you're trying to keep out of sight."
"And even then, Republic Intelligence may have its eye on Alderaan," Leia added. "The Chancellor knows that the Viceroy is a Loyalist."
Breha nodded. "It's a danger," she conceded, "but there are certainly positions that would allow you to contribute to the function of the Palace without worrying about endangering yourselves."
"And Alderaan," Han agreed.
"What do you propose?" Leia asked.
"Well," Breha sighed, "we are already receiving hundreds of requests for repatriation. There aren't many of our kind that want to stay on Coruscant since Palpatine's announcement."
"The Chancellor's announcement?" Han asked.
The frustration in Breha's face turned into full-blown anguish. "The Emperor's," she corrected.
"It's happened, then," Leia blurted out.
"It shouldn't have been a surprise after what happened to the Jedi," Breha rasped, her voice suddenly breaking, "but we always thought that we could stop this before it went that far."
She would never know exactly how much Leia understood.
After a heartbeat, however, duty took precedence over emotion and she straightened her shoulders. "We will need someone to help process those applications," Breha explained without further comment on the current political situation. "Bail suggested that you might be able to do so."
"I would be glad to," Leia assured her. "And my husband?"
"We'll find a way," Breha promised.
Before she could elaborate, the door creaked open and Rieekan stepped in. "We've got a message incoming from Viceroy Organa, Your Majesty," he said.
"Put it through to my comm," Breha requested, "and Lady Antilles and Captain Solo will need an escort to their quarters."
"Yes, Your Majesty."
It was the only time that he could remember feeling chilled to the bone on Tatooine. Luke could remember sitting in this same chair and breathing in the oppressive heat of the Jundland Wastes, but something in the air here made it feel as if he had been left all night on the ice plains of Hoth.
It took him a moment to realize why. After all, he had only been to Ben Kenobi's hut on Tatooine once and he had taken more notice of what had been said than what was in the room.
It had been the first time that anyone had spoken freely of the man who had been his father. Uncle Owen had done nothing but avoid questions and speak in bitterness of what had been. Ben, on the other hand, had finally explained why Luke had become an orphan and what course the rest of his life could take.
Luke had to wonder how easy it was for him to lie.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he asked the emptiness of the room.
"You would have preferred to have another reason to fear him?" Obi-Wan retorted from somewhere beyond his eyesight.
Luke didn't dare turn to look at him for a long moment, but shook his head. "Would it have been so bad to let me know the truth?"
"Not bad," Obi-Wan amended, "but dangerous."
"And it's less dangerous to make me find out this way?" Luke challenged. "You would have had me kill my own father."
Obi-Wan made an indistinct noise in his throat that Luke couldn't quite figure out. "It might never have gone that far."
"Or it might have," Luke shot back. "He's nearly killed me twice. Who says I wouldn't have done the same to him?"
Obi-Wan sighed and Luke turned to find him looking just as world-weary as he had been at the moment that Alderaan was destroyed. "You were taught..."
"You taught me that I had every reason to hate Vader," Luke snapped. "What else did you expect?"
Obi-Wan fixed him with a pointed look. "We had to trust that you would continue to remind us of your mother," he admitted.
And with that, the chill turned into a violent trembling that kept him from speaking for several moments. When he did, his voice was tight with the anger that he might never be able to release.
"And what happened to her?"
Ben was finally silent, had no easy answer for that. He even had the grace to look away, confirming what Luke had suspected, but Luke had to hear it for himself.
"You haven't guessed?"
That only angered him more until his voice was almost a bellow: "What happened to her?"
Obi-Wan finally looked him in the eye again as if he had nothing to apologize for. As if there were no lies to correct, no faults to forgive.
Before he could answer, however, Obi-Wan's mind blasted him with an image of a fire-scorched world and the crumpled figure of the mother that he had never known.
"She believed in him when we could not afford to," he explained unnecessarily. "She would not help us find Vader, so she found him herself and he killed her for it."
Luke wanted to challenge that, to ask if this was another one of the Jedi lies. It could have been nothing more than Obi-Wan's attempt to rekindle his anger towards Vader.
Then again, it could have been true.
It was a paralyzing shock that left only one thing in his mind and even then, he couldn't explain what had inspired it. "Does Leia know?"
Obi-Wan shook his head. "Leia knows that Vader hurt her mother," he explained, "but not who she was or how badly he hurt her."
He had never considered before that they had lied to her just as much as they had to him.
"Your dealings with him are not finished," Obi-Wan stated. "No matter your opinion on the matter, Vader will not let an enemy live."
"It's a chance I'm willing to take."
"Perhaps it is not your choice," Obi-Wan mused mirthlessly, his gaze stone-cold. "Have you never considered your obligation to the Force?"
"My obligation?" Luke hissed. "Is this the same obligation that you had to lie to me? If that's the Force, I don't want anything to do with it."
Obi-Wan didn't dispute that. Maybe he'd felt the same way once.
"I'm not going to do it," Luke asserted at last. "I can't kill my own father."
Had he known what was expected of him before coming to this time, the words would have been the same, but he would have never truly understood why. Now, instead of doing it on principle, he knew that he had been given every opportunity before and had stopped himself because it had been the right thing to do.
"You were perfectly willing to eliminate Vader," Obi-Wan reminded bluntly. "He was your enemy and the enemy of everything you stood for."
"But there is still good in him," Luke insisted, not entirely sure that it wasn't a fool's hope.
"That's what your mother's last words were," Obi-Wan said bluntly. "She died for that belief and we can't risk you doing the same."
"Then you should have never lied to me."
For a long moment, there was nothing but silence. Even the usual sounds of krayts or banthas had been completely blocked out. It seemed as if the entire Galaxy and the Force itself was waiting for a resolution to this conflict.
"Aren't you at least going to admit that you regret it?" Luke demanded.
"You told me not to lie to you," was his only answer.
He hadn't been aware that he had reached for his lightsaber, but his hand tightened on it as if he was facing a mortal enemy. Perhaps it was Obi-Wan. Perhaps it was himself.
"What will you do about Leia?" Obi-Wan asked at last.
"What about Leia?" he asked, his voice low. "You think that if I can't do your dirty work, you can convince her to do it for you?"
A whisper sliced across his thoughts: "If you will not turn to the Dark Side, then perhaps she will." It was too frightening a thing to think about, so he forced himself to focus on something else.
"No," Obi-Wan responded blandly. "She will someday know what you do and you may have to stop her from taking matters into her own hands."
"She wouldn't," Luke insisted.
"She has greater reason to hate Vader than you at times," Obi-Wan retorted. "Can you really trust that cooler heads will prevail in every circumstance?"
Before he could answer, the vision faded, leaving Luke as empty as he ever been with the darkness of the Force.
Leia awoke with a start as if an electric jolt had shot through her, but she felt nothing more than the night's chill. Her eyes focused on the passing lights of speeders and the glimmerflies that moved among the nightflowers.
And then, her skin registered the warmth of Han's hand on her shoulder. He hadn't shaken her, only rested his hand there to bring her out of her fitful slumber or maybe to steady them both.
"What is it?" she asked immediately.
"Bail's coming," he explained. "He won't be in-system until this afternoon, but he wants some discrete security and time alone with his Queen."
It was understandable, after everything they'd all been through in the last days. Bail had told her once of how the only thing that had kept him from succumbing to the same madness that had taken the rest of the Republic was coming home to his family.
"He's coming with me," she whispered, more to herself than to him.
He nodded, settling on the edge of the bed. "I think so," he murmured. "What do you want to do?"
"Leave," she said without having to think about it.
"Do you think that's..."
He stopped, apparently fully aware of the fact that he was starting to sound like her. She didn't comment on it, only waited for the remainder of his question.
"Why?" he asked at last.
Leia shook her head to clear it. "I don't know that I would be able to," she admitted, "but I feel as if it's more dangerous to be here than to take our chances with Vader."
His mouth twitched as if he was reconsidering every promise he'd ever made to stick by her side. "Dangerous to..."
"I don't know."
He frowned as if she had gone crazy. Maybe she had.
"You've seen something," he guessed.
"No," she protested, her voice cracking. "That would have made things easier, but I'm flying blind here."
He was starting to look a bit rattled and that was even more unsettling. "But you think it's dangerous."
"Holding her is dangerous."
"You know what Vader did to me," she said, forcing her voice into a more normal range. "I can't put Alderaan at risk and if that all that I accomplish here..."
"I get the idea," he interrupted before she could go any further.
"Not without Luke, of course," Leia said quickly. "Vader has already attacked him once and there's no telling if it will happen again."
"I know," he soothed, tugging on her hand until she rested against him and she could feel that his heart was pounding almost as much as hers. "I don't want anything to happen to either of you, but I'll carry him myself if I have to."
She felt her mouth stretch slightly in what might have been her first genuine smile since arriving here. "It won't come to that," she said and, surprisingly, found that she finally believed it.
Breha insisted on dismissing her by the early afternoon, after patiently going over the latest round of repatriation applications while her mind was clearly on something else. Given that Bail was inbound, that was only natural, but Leia was sorely tempted to ask a few uncomfortable questions.
Bail had never spoken of exactly how they found out that she would be theirs. He had spoken of her Naming one week after her arrival and how she had been surprisingly calm as if she was already accustomed to her royal destiny. He had told countless stories of her growing impatient with her own childish nature and trying instead to imitate her mother.
He had claimed that she had been the greatest gift they'd ever been given, but had also said nothing of what brought her here.
On the other hand, she remembered very clearly that there was a kind of tension in his voice when speaking of her adoption. It was as if, though none of them had ever talked about it in the open, just thinking about it would betray them all. She had thought for a long time that she was just imagining it, but she learned that the look in her father's eyes when he watched her was too often a sign of fear.
Like most daughters, she thought her father to be impervious. She saw him, rightly, as her greatest protector and champion and he never gave her reason to doubt that. The fact that she frightened him was unthinkable.
There were few things that she could think of that would give him cause to fear her. She had finally realized that he was afraid of what she could become.
Perhaps the only time he had not dreaded her fate was at the moment when he first brought her to the world that she should have someday ruled. Perhaps he had seen darkness in her future even now. Either way, she had never understood why.
If nothing else, that uncertainty was what brought her to a particular veranda at sunset.
There were few who had the access codes to this section of the Palace, but the members of the Queen's personal staff were certainly among them. As a result, she could gain access to the balcony that overlooked what Bail simply referred to as "the haven."
Bail had told her that the young couple that would face the burden of royalty had eloped here three days before the torturously elaborate royal wedding was to take place. They had grown tired of having nothing to themselves, so they had started each new chapter of their lives on this same veranda. It was only appropriate that they should come here for their first moments as parents.
The Tantive had touched down at the Palace's private hangar no more than ten minutes ago, so Leia chose one of the marble benches that lined the balcony, half-hidden from view by both the railing and the planter of arralutes that was built into the railing itself.
She didn't need to see the scene clearly to know when Bail approached. His footfalls were as familiar as his voice, since she had spent so much of her childhood trying to keep up with them. This time, though, he was moving carefully as if he were afraid of breaking something.
Her left arm, wrapped around the base of the planter, tightened as she edged forward until her cheek was pressed against its cool surface. Shadows were slowly creeping across the Palace as the sun set, but it seemed to be no coincidence that the Organas were still bathed in light as if they were generating it themselves.
Her breath froze in her throat, though the heat of the day was still bleeding off the world and the force of the amazed apprehension that swept through her was dizzying. Instinctively, she squeezed her eyes shut and sucked in deep, steadying breaths until the vertigo passed.
Before she could open her eyes to study their faces and to memorize this moment, she heard a familiar, gentle voice speaking.
"What shall we call our daughter?" Breha asked in a tone that suggested that she herself had forgotten how to breathe.
"Leia," Bail said reverently. "It's the name that her mother gave her."
In the perfect stillness of this moment, she could hear Breha's sigh. It was not one of unhappiness, but one that acknowledged a part of her daughter's life that was not her own.
She let her eyes open at last and found that within the few moments that she had been distracted, they had somehow formed a perfect unit. She could no longer see the timid awkwardness of them trying to welcome a stranger to their family circle. With one arm around Breha's shoulders and the other supporting the narrow arm that was holding their newborn daughter.
Perhaps she had been foolish all along to doubt him. Then again, that was something that she should have known from the beginning. Either way, it seemed perfectly unnatural to see herself, just out of reach, but as much a part of this family as Leia had been from that day forward.
"Leia Organa," Breha reflected quietly. "Her first mother chose well."
There was a moment of hesitation, but Bail did not comment on that, only let out a slight sigh of his own. Almost unconsciously, Leia leaned forward, though it didn't improve the view much.
"She did," he agreed at last.
There were only a few times that she had heard Bail speak directly of the woman who had given her life. Hopefully, he would be more willing to speak of the truth than he had been in her previous experience.
Finally, as if knowing that she was not the only one who needed to have the question answered, Breha asked, "Who was she?"
Another hesitation, but this one had more the tone of being unsure of the right words to use rather than withholding something. That was at least more of a reassurance than before.
"One of the last defenders of the Republic," he said simply at last, though there was an immense amount of respect in those words. "She died because of how far Palpatine was willing to go."
Breha didn't seem to require further elaboration for the moment. Leia had heard too many arguments between them to think that Breha was unaware of what danger Palpatine posed to his rivals. She had also been, perhaps, too conscious of the fact that with each Loyalist that fell, there was the danger that Bail would be next.
It was no surprise, however, that Breha did not ask for further details. There were very few times when she wanted to know exactly how bad it could get because usually, her imagination was vivid enough to suffice.
"And the father?" she pressed on.
The answer was immediately and completely devoid of the careful awe that he had used when speaking of her 'first mother.' "Dead before the war even ended."
She had to wonder how much of that was true.
"You knew her well, then," Breha prompted.
"Well enough to know that we can give Leia as much love as she would have," he insisted, turning his face to press a kiss against her brow.
Breha nodded distractedly, her dark eyes fixed on the face of the child she bore in her arms. "She will be loved with us," she promised the gathering shadows.
"There was never any question of that," he said, his tone relaxing once more as if they were finally on familiar ground.
"But you will not speak their names?"
"They are dead," he said firmly, almost dismissively. "Until the wound of that loss has healed a little, I prefer not to say anything further."
Breha nodded in understanding as if this was not the first time that he had deflected a difficult question with that reasoning.
"I will make the necessary arrangements for the Naming," he promised, "as is tradition for any child of Taia."
Leia couldn't even be sure that she was, by lineage, worthy of that title. The Naming served both as the presentation of a child to her own community and the formal declaration of her status as a legitimate heir. If they had eschewed that ceremony, there would have been questions. As it was, they had to be careful to follow all proper traditions as if Leia had never known another parent's embrace. It was comforting to know that they had been willing to take her that easily into their hearts.
"In the meantime, you should take our daughter home," he recommended.
"I will," she promised. "Are you coming?"
"In a few minutes," he assured her. "It's been a very long week and I need to spend some time with Alderaan before I can begin to feel at peace again."
Breha was half-turned away from Leia, but the Queen's daughter could imagine the familiar smile of perfect comprehension. "We'll see you at home, then," she said, stretching up to kiss him gently. "Take as much time as you need."
He watched them go, back ramrod straight as if he were keeping up appearances for someone. Finally, his shoulders slumped slightly, but he did not turn away.
"Lady Antilles," he greeted in a nearly expressionless voice.
Leia somehow found her way to the stairs leading from the balcony and, without waiting for an invitation or letting him ask what she was doing there, made her way to his side. He did not move until she was nearly within arm's reach of him. The look in his eyes was not accusatory, just cautious and hopeful.
"You heard," he guessed.
"I did," she admitted quietly. "My congratulations on the birth of your daughter."
He let out a soft hiss, then nodded. "I didn't think I would have to worry about your knowing," he observed.
"You wouldn't have sent me here if you didn't believe in my discretion," Leia reminded. "I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but..."
He waved a hand dismissively, but smiled ruefully. "I'm not the only one who needs peace here," he said.
Leia nodded. "What do you require of me?" she asked.
The smile disappeared into the familiar expression of earnestness that he could sometimes adopt in more private moments. "More than the usual discretion," he explained. "I need to know that I can trust you with this secret."
"As all of your staff will," Leia rejoined.
"They won't know exactly what happened here," he corrected. "I need to know that it will remain that way."
If he had ever known what he was asking of her, he would have thought that one of them was crazy.
"Of course," Leia said fervently. "I would do anything for..."
"Alderaan," she finished.
His smile finally reappeared, and the tension in her chest eased some. "How does it feel to be a father?" she inquired.
The expression that followed was one that she could only remember seeing once, when he had come to tell her that she had won the Senate seat.
"Perfect," he said honestly.
Turning, Bail gestured to the doors leading back into the Palace proper. "After you," he offered.
Leia complied and it seemed for the first time in weeks that her shoes weren't filled with duracrete.
Before they reached the public area of the Palace, however, there was one question that she could not leave unanswered.
"I know the defenders of the Republic," she said carefully. "Which one of them was Leia's mother?"
His stride faltered for just a moment and then he stopped in his tracks. Without turning to face her, he simply shook his head.
"You heard what I told my wife," he protested feebly.
"I did," she agreed. "Which one was she?"
His chin lowered in either defeat or mourning; either one was entirely possible. "You worked closely with her," he retorted, "and you know the danger she faced. You have to ask?"
And with that, he turned on his heel and left her still wondering when her heart would start beating again.
"You worked with her."
"She died because of how far Palpatine was willing to go."
Her knees buckled and she would have fallen, but she caught herself against the wall, blindly groping for purchase as her vision blurred. Abruptly, oxygen seemed to be in short supply.
She didn't know how she got her feet moving again, only found that the adrenaline forced her to move to a place where she would not be disturbed.
Leia had spent every waking moment aware of Padme Amidala. She had found a worthy ally and a kindred spirit in the woman who had given birth to the hero of the Rebellion and Leia Organa's closest friend.
"My Lady," the voice said again.
She couldn't focus, couldn't identify who it was who would not leave her alone. Somehow, she had been so blind to the truth that she had somehow missed...
"My Lady?" the man asked rather urgently.
She snapped out of her reverie, blinking furious tears from her eyes as she clutched at the man's arms for support.
"My Lady, do you require assistance?"
The man who had sent her here in the first place, fully aware of the fact that he would ask her to kill her own family, was the one showing such paradoxical concern. He was the one who would have let her betray everything she stood for just for his own means.
Just like the rest of the High Command.
On the other hand, Rieekan was the only one within arm's reach. Her hand released his arm and before she could even think, it had balled into a fist and connected solidly with his nose. He staggered back, releasing her arm so he could stem the flow of blood from his broken nose.
"My Lady!" he snapped.
"Someday, you'll understand why," she hissed.
Finally, with one thing done right, she managed to turn and flee. She wasn't even sure of where she was going, but needed to keep moving. It was a kind of self-preservation technique, since she wasn't sure she could get moving again if she stopped now.
Abruptly, she stumbled and crumpled, landing hard on her knees and then canting forward until her forehead pressed against the hardwood floor. Her arms braced against her abdomen as if she were about to be violently ill, but she could do nothing but catch her breath.
A moment after she buried herself in Luke's arms, her mind registered the fact that he was the last one she had expected to meet at the moment. For now, however, it didn't matter. He was the only one who could possibly understand this paralyzing terror that had taken over her mind. Of course, she would have to find a way to tell him.
For the time being, he didn't seem to need to know what was troubling her so much. Since the moment that they had met, they had developed a kind of compassion that needed no invitation or explanation. It was the same kind of instinct that kept them wiping each other's tears and seeking the other out when they felt that something had gone wrong.
She had been such a fool to think that it was nothing more than a sign of perfect friendship. She would have never believed that it meant they were family. Yet for some reason, there was no way of arguing with it. The knowledge had come without having to think about the reasons why.
Somehow, I've always known.
Luke pulled away, his eyes searching her face "Come on," he said quietly, not bothering to ask questions. "We need to get you inside."
She didn't argue, only let him lever her to her feet and help her into the suite and onto a repulsorcouch. His hands released hers as he headed to the kitchen for a glass of water, but she still could not manage to form a coherent thought.
"Do you need me to comm Han?" Luke asked, pressing the drinking bulb into her hands.
She tried to shake her head, but it just made small jerking motions since the rest of her body seemed to have seized up.
"You know," he guessed, his voice resigned and laced with tension.
Her chin came up sharply as she met his gaze. "You..."
He inhaled deeply, but nodded in response to whatever she was accusing him of. Maybe she blamed him for everything. Maybe she blamed him for nothing.
Maybe the blame was all her own.
Immediately, the anger and frustration that still coursed through her brought her to her feet and she wrapped her arms around herself, pacing. She wasn't particularly restless, but at the moment, she couldn't look at the brother she should have recognized all along.
"You knew?" she demanded. "What else have you decided not to tell me, Luke?"
"Don't lie to me!" Leia shrilled. "Everything I know has been a lie and I can't take one more!"
He blanched at that and she remembered that he had been angry for the same reasons not very long ago. Their parentage had come as a shock to him, just as it had to her. The only thing that she could not see past was the fact that he seemed to have known what part of his heritage she shared and had simply never bothered to tell her.
"I didn't," he countered. "Not at first..."
She didn't know why she believed him. She couldn't tell what made her keep from breaking his nose as she had with Rieekan. There was no way of knowing how long he had been lying to her and frankly, it didn't matter.
Maybe he had known since before rescuing her for the first time and had simply spared her the frustration of having another family that Vader might destroy. Maybe he had realized it at the moment that he connected her dreams of his mother to a bond that only a daughter could have developed. Maybe he had, in fact, not known at all.
"Not at first?" Leia challenged, her voice cracking around the emotion that she dared not put into words for fear of doing some permanent damage. "When exactly were you going to tell me?"
His voice raised in volume, but he did not look angry, only extremely frustrated. He at least didn't need to hold any of his emotions back. He had been able to master them weeks ago while she was left in ignorance.
"You don't understand," he asserted fervently. "If it weren't for Ben Kenobi, I still wouldn't know. The Force wanted me to make a decision on what to do next before I could come back to you and he was their only ambassador."
She had no reason to believe him, but she couldn't help it. To add insult to injury, the anger was draining away, leaving nothing but a resigned terror in its place. Terror and another strong urge to vomit. Instead of emptying her stomach, she chose to calm her own emotions. It was a difficult task to say the least, but Luke was at least waiting for her to make the next move.
She wasn't sure what else to throw at him. It all seemed to futile to hate any of this, since it would never be changed and despising it would only take away her control of herself. That was something she could not afford, not now, not ever.
"They wanted us to kill him," she croaked, sinking into another chair. "They claimed to be our allies and wanted us to turn into the same kind of monster that our father is."
"But we didn't do it," Luke interrupted fervently. "Whatever we came here for, we chose to do the right thing."
Again, the feeling of vertigo returned in full force and she had to put her head between her knees to regain her equilibrium this time. There was a rustle of movement and Luke was suddenly crouched before her, taking her by the hand and waiting until she could continue. Finally, something was familiar to her.
"I don't know that it was the right thing to do," she admitted hoarsely. "Maybe we should have done what the Alliance asked before he could do more damage."
"And you think that would have stopped this?" Luke challenged quickly. "We'd have had to fight someone else until Palpatine..."
"Palpatine," Leia sniffed loudly. "We should have been after him from the start."
"And we will be," Luke promised. "In the future, we'll know who our real enemies are and we'll have some way of fighting them."
She stared at him, unsure of how crazy he was at the moment. "We can't," she muttered. "We have no allies and no way of pulling it off."
Luke nodded, but when he spoke again, his voice remained the same. "We don't have them here," he agreed, "but who says we have to stay?"
"In the future."
He was already ready to give up, to abandon the field of battle that they'd been holding for too long already. She had hated herself for conceding defeat by coming here, but he wasn't even interested in a rematch. The worst of it was the feeling that she should agree with him. Instead, she chose the traditional path of argument.
"You don't think we have obligations here?" Leia asked, prompting an explanation of any kind.
"Your father would understand," Luke said.
Immediately, she had to wonder which father she meant, but after a moment, she realized that Luke would always know that Bail was the only man to earn that title. Regardless of genetic coincidence, that would always be the case.
"He would," Leia conceded, "but we are giving up on everything for which we have fought and suffered if we go back now."
It was a low blow to attempt to place that guilt on him, but he didn't seem to notice at all. In fact, his expression grew more resolute than ever and it was infuriating as Han on a bad day.
"No," Luke gritted out. "You keep thinking that we only had one reason to be here."
"That's not true," Leia defended. "We came here to kill him and instead decided he was worth saving. We failed utterly and completely to do that."
Luke was silent for a long moment and this time she knew that he was taking her oft-repeated advice to consider his words carefully. His hand remained wrapped around hers, but the grip slackened slightly so that it seemed as if he was ready to pull away.
Instead, he set his jaw for a moment, then spoke in a low, deliberate tone. "We came here," he explained, "to find out what it would take to eliminate Vader. We decided that it would require us to keep him from turning. The same...tools that we used in that effort aren't completely useless now."
"Oh, yes?" she asked patiently.
He sucked in a long breath and held it as if steeling himself for an attack that never came. "The Force asked me to choose what I would do to Vader," he stated. "I choose to turn him back."
Finally, she understood and it didn't frighten her the way she had expected. There was nothing either offensive or unrighteous about his intentions. He simply wanted to finish what they had begun here. It was the one thing that could have eased the sharp pain of failure and, for some reason, she found herself nodding in assent.
"Besides," he said, his voice lowering slightly, "you don't want to stay here."
"I can't," she agreed.
It was a simple enough question, but one that had no simple answers. The only one that she could put into words, though, was one that she had fought for too long.
"Because there is nothing more that we can do here," she expressed.
Before he responded, the door hissed open and Han moved in with a kind of caution that strongly suggested that he'd heard something. He immediately took in the scene and she could see his mouth curving downwards.
"I ran into Rieekan," he said flatly. "What part of you ran into his nose?"
Leia's hand clenched rather involuntarily in her lap and Luke stared at her, mouth slightly agape. "You..."
"You know how I angry I was," Leia shot back. "It was no more than he..."
"Twenty-three years in the future," Han corrected with a vaguely amused look.
"Deserved," she concluded.
He sat down hard in the chair opposite her, his expression unchanged. "What happened?" he asked.
Leia looked away, not entirely sure of why she couldn't look him in the eye when telling him something this important. They all meant too much to each other for this to inflict permanent damage, but then again, she wasn't even sure that she would recover from it.
"I asked Bail who my parents were," she explained.
He kept an uncharacteristically sympathetic silence and Luke turned so that they were both facing him. It was the first sign, verbal or not, that he was willing to face this horror together with her. In any other situation, she would have clasped his shoulder in gratitude or reached for his hand, but instead, her hands remained in her lap, twisting a fold of her skirt. She flattened her fingers against her thighs, then sighed and looked him directly in the eyes.
"Anakin Skywalker was the father of twins," Leia said.
It was the first time she had been able to put it into words and they nearly choked her. She had to clear her throat twice before continuing and even then, her voice was high, unnatural.
"Fraternal twins," she clarified.
Han's eyes darted between the both of them, comprehending immediately, but not willing to betray any emotion until he was willing to get it under control.
"How long have you known?" he asked.
"About half an hour," Leia answered.
"I don't know," Luke responded.
Han's hands dropped to his sides, but he made no move. There was no revulsion or fear on his face, only a kind of helpless concern that Leia had not thought within his abilities.
"We need to leave," Han murmured. "Not just Alderaan, either."
"I know," Luke said in a voice so quiet that Leia could barely hear him.
It wasn't that simple of course, since the anomaly that served as a portal between this time and the one from whence they'd come was only active on certain days. They could miss it completely and have to wait weeks for the next chance. And while they waited, there was the danger that Vader would take a more personal interest in them.
The timeframe might mean that there would be no room for goodbyes or explanations. There was always time for regrets, since they lasted longer, but she had no desire to leave here with any more than she already had.
"When is the next opening?" Leia asked, surprising herself with the amount of control that a consensus brought to her voice.
"Seven days," Han supplied.
Time enough, then. Relatively speaking.
"It will take one to get to Coruscant," Leia calculated, "and another three to get to the jump point. That's not counting time if we run into difficulties on Coruscant."
"We should be able to," Luke insisted. "Even if we have to leave the Falcon..."
No debate was necessary.
"We'll have time," Leia persisted. "The difficulty will be getting into the necessary places. Two Jedi on the newly-christened Imperial center will draw too much attention."
"If I have to," Han suggested, "I'll get the ship myself and swing by here on the way back."
She wanted to protest, to argue that they weren't going anywhere without each other. She wanted to insist that he take someone to get him out of the trouble that he would inevitably land himself in.
Instead, Luke took the more direct approach. "That's not practical if it's being tracked," he dismissed the idea. "We go together or not at all."
They set the departure for the next day. Han seemed restless, always ready to get moving, but Luke had given him a passable imitation of the Organa Glare of Death when he suggested that they forget "the sentimental stuff" and make an immediate run for it.
The difficulty, however, was finding a way to explain the need for escape to the man who had selflessly offered her so much. He had set the Naming Day as promised, but had cancelled all public audiences for the next four days.
It then fell to her to approach him in a more private setting. She knew perfectly well that he would end each day in his personal study, since she had gone there every night that she could remember for a kiss goodnight and the occasional conversation. She had no idea when this habit had started, but Han helpfully reported that Breha had retreated to the royal quarters by the time Leia found her way to the administrative wing.
She had walked this corridor every night that she spent at home and had often heard things that she would have probably been forbidden to know. More often than not, she would make a 'scouting run' in order to gauge how long she should wait before asking permission to enter. Most of her friends among the Palace Guard were made this way, since no one else had the time to talk to their boss' daughter.
Tonight, there were, as ever, guards, but the heaviness had returned to her steps and the tension in her chest made it difficult to speak. She had almost hoped to hear Bail in a meeting, but instead, she heard silence coming from within.
She heard a murmur of voices behind her and immediately, the door swung open to reveal Bail standing there.
"I had hoped you would come to see me," he said without preamble.
That did nothing for her nerves, since it was a familiar greeting from the days when they would quarrel. They had not fought, per se, but he had obviously picked up on the fact that something was not right.
"I need to speak to you," she said unnecessarily, tucking her hands into the long sleeves of her gown. "May I come in?"
He nodded. "I ordered the night watch to permit only certain civilians here tonight," he explained, "and you were on the list."
"On the off-chance that I might come to my senses and visit?" she teased.
"Of course," he responded with a slight smile.
Without further explanation, he stepped aside and let her enter the office. Without thinking, she moved to the old-fashioned armchair that sat in the corner and curled up in it, tucking her feet beneath her as she had often done as a child. Bail sent her an amused smile, and then settled into the chair behind his desk.
"No one chooses that chair," he observed. "They always seem to feel too uncomfortable to take advantage of it."
Leia's legs immediately stretched out and she felt the heat rise slightly in her cheeks. "My father has one very much like this," she stated while planting her feet on the floor once again. "I could use his guidance right now and I wasn't thinking..."
"It's all right," he assured her. "I could use some of my father's wisdom myself these days."
She only nodded by way of response, but she at least resumed the more comfortable, comforting position in her favorite chair.
"I feel that I acted badly this afternoon," he continued. "I hadn't meant to leave things at that."
"There wasn't much more that we could say," Leia countered, "and I know how highly you regarded the Senator. It's troubling news...for all of us."
He did not argue with this, only nodded thoughtfully. "The moment I knew that her daughter would need a home, I knew it would be with us," he mused. "I am troubled today because I am constantly reminded of how little I can do to protect her."
She wasn't sure exactly of what, at the moment, he thought would be Leia's greatest adversary. In the wake of the Jedi Purges and knowing full well the power of his daughter's birth father, there was one logical option.
"She could be as blind to the Force as her mother."
It was an empty assurance, and probably the first time that she had consciously decided to lie to him. She had learned long ago that there was little that mattered more to her than giving her father peace of mind.
For that peace of mind, she had omitted her reasons for being here. She had withheld the love that had come so naturally to them both. She had never outright lied until now, but she was not prepared to do it again.
"Taia willing," Bail murmured.
"Taia willing," Leia echoed.
His hands lay supine on his thighs and he seemed to be studying them as if he had lost something. Finally, he looked up and turned his wrists so that his fingers were splayed on top of his knees. It was a familiar sign that the time for contemplation, selfish or not, was over.
"What did you want to say to me?" he asked.
Leia lowered her eyelids, ashamed to have to broach the subject. "It's about our place here," she blurted.
Immediately, his brow furrowed in concern. "You are uncomfortable?"
Not in the way you'd think.
"No," she insisted. "You've been more than kind to all of us and your wife is no different."
"Good," he said cautiously. "What, then, is your question?"
Tears stung at her eyes, but she blinked them away and lifted her eyes to meet his. "We need to take our leave of Alderaan," she explained.
She wasn't sure what she expected by way of a reaction from him, but she felt a certain amount of guilty relief when his shoulders slumped and his jaw clenched in grim frustration. It was a strange but potent sign that she had made some kind of an impact.
She had changed much since the destruction of Alderaan and she had too often wondered if Bail would have been proud to associate with the Leia Organa that she had become after his death. With little more than body language, he had assured her that he would have been. That meant more than she could ever express.
His attitude of defeat reminded her of her own and for some reason, it was a comforting thought that they resembled each other in habit if not in genetics. She could almost imagine that the defeat he felt was a mirror of her own feelings that she could do nothing more.
"Are you sure?" he asked simply.
"I'm a danger," Leia rejoined. "You have many more people to protect than one foolhardy aide and her Jedi brother."
"But you are welcome here as long as protection is ours to give," Bail protested. "There are ways of keeping you safe..."
"It's not your place," Leia interrupted. "The Empire will take an interest in Alderaan too soon if you continue with your loyalist tendencies and you can't afford any liabilities. That means that I cannot be a part of Alderaan any longer."
He at least had the grace not to argue with that, only nodded as if he understood what she was struggling to comprehend herself. "When do you intend to leave?" he asked.
"Tomorrow morning," Leia supplied. "We have a rendezvous with someone who can help us disappear safely in seven days. If we are to retrieve our ship from Coruscant, we can't afford to leave any later."
Finally, inexplicably, his mouth stretched in a smile. "We have some time, then," he retorted. "The Taia's Hand arrived this evening and it had precise instructions to retrieve your ship."
Leia's throat tightened immediately and she let out a long breath. "I should have known that you would have thought of that," she murmured.
Bail's smile was bittersweet, but he reached across to squeeze her hand for just a moment. "We take care of our own, Leia," he reminded, "and whether you like it or not, you qualify."
"I'm not sure whose army he thinks we'll be feeding," Han observed, "but I'm not complaining."
"Yeah," Luke said with a grin. "Besides, when Chewie starts crewing again, you'll need all the food you can get for free."
"True," Han sighed, "but this is Her Worship's sort of food. Practical, vegetarian...healthy. It's not natural."
"I heard that," Leia called from the cargo hold where she was unloading the last of their supplies. "One more comment like that and I'm leaving you here to learn gratitude for a few decades. Understood?"
"Yes, Your Highnessness," Han shouted back.
Turning to Luke, he lowered his voice. "I'm keeping the steak under lock and passkey."
Luke nodded in understanding, then brushed past him. "Hey, Leia, where do you want..."
He stopped short, momentarily caught off-guard by what was going on in the cargo hold. Then his face broke into a broad grin and he entered quietly.
"I didn't want to let you slip away unnoticed," Bail explained, stepping forward to shake his hand, "but I couldn't bring any more attention to your departure, so I thought we'd just make it a family affair."
He probably would never know how accurate the term was. Whatever the motive, Leia looked happier than she had in days. This was surprising, since she was seated next to her mother, holding the infant version of herself in the crook of her arms for a few moments.
"Good idea," Han interjected lightly from behind Luke's left shoulder, "but if that daughter of yours wakes up half the city, it's your fault."
Breha smiled genially from her seat at the gaming table. "She won't," she promised. "Leia's turning out to be a quiet child."
"That won't last long," Han and Luke chorused, earning a glower from Leia and an amused look from the Organas.
"We can't thank you enough for your kindness," Leia said pointedly, passing the baby over to Breha so she could stand comfortably. "You have taken my family and I in when we most needed it and expected so little in return."
"Which you have repaid with kindnesses of your own," Breha reminded.
Leia's face pinched slightly, an uncharacteristically open facial expression. She seemed to be less prone to putting on a sabacc face around those who she had adopted. Luke had noticed that she did the same with him from almost the beginning of their friendship and had found it both amusing and flattering. Now, he wondered if it had been an unconscious acknowledgment of what they should have always known.
"Not enough," she commented quietly. "I don't think it will ever be enough."
Bail's own face grew solemn. "Then we will have to meet again, so you can fulfill your end of the bargain to your own satisfaction."
The pinched look disappeared and Leia had to look away. They probably suspected that she feared that Vader would find her as well. They had no way of knowing that she would be thinking how much she wished she had Alderaan to return to in the future.
"Besides," Breha reminded, "you should come see your namesake on occasion."
Leia managed a small smile. "I hope," she admitted, "that our paths will cross in the future."
"And if not," Bail added, "we have something for you."
Luke recognized it immediately, since the onyx pendant was an almost exact replica of the one that Leia had received on her twelfth birthday. It was one of the few personal effects that she had brought here, but was always hooked onto a thread in her clothes.
"You will have the protection of the Royal House whenever you need to ask for it," he assured her, "and I will trust you to know when that is."
This time, when the tears started to well, she did not bother to hide them.
She remembered too well when she had received the signet of the Royal House that her real father was now bestowing on her. She had finally reached the Alderaanian age of legal accountability and her first request had to somehow help with the Alliance. Bail had sent her on her first assignment, a courier mission that was hardly risky but certainly more than she had ever been asked to do before.
She knew that the symbol of protection was more for his own nerves than hers, and his hands trembled as he fastened the necklace around her thin neck, but she had taken it because she knew what it meant to him. He had no real way of keeping her safe from all the evils of the Galaxy, but he could at least try.
Today, his hands were more steady, but the gesture meant the same thing and she could not keep the tears from coming. She was not sure if they were a sign of frustration, fear, joy or mourning. Perhaps it was something completely unfamiliar or a combination of all of them.
As it was, he let his hands rest on her shoulders as if he were giving some kind of blessing, then pulled her into an embrace. Her arms wrapped around his waist, but as always, she let her cheek rest against his heartbeat so she could remember that his pulse always seemed to match hers.
The last time she had seen him on Alderaan, she had completed this gesture out of habit, more concerned with the mission than the fact that she might not have the chance to come back for a more appropriate farewell. When Alderaan had been blasted out of existence, her heart had stopped for a few moments to recognize that it had to beat on its own from now on.
There was so little to celebrate here, as she was constantly reminded by her own dreams and the news reports coming in daily from Coruscant. If nothing else, she could treasure the fact that she had finally been given the opportunity to give him the goodbye that they had been cheated out of.
As they pulled away, she found his expression slightly wry, but respectful of her emotion. "We have had too little time," he lamented, "but I think I trusted you because you reminded me of myself."
"I should hope so," Leia murmured, offering a smile. "I also hope that it doesn't change."
His smile matched hers. "At the very least," he commented, "I hope my daughter has that same aspiration."
Without further comment, he moved aside to farewell the others and Breha shifted the future High Princess of Alderaan to the other arm so she could give Leia a quick, fervent embrace.
"I hope you will someday find your way back to us," was her heartfelt comment.
"If not in this life, in the next," Leia repeated the familiar adage. "Taia willing."
Her mother squeezed her shoulder firmly, then pulled away. "Taia willing."
As Breha moved on, Han wrapped an arm around her shoulders so he could speak in her ear. "We need to get airborne," he said simply. "Let me know when you're ready."
"Thank you," she responded.
Leia slipped from beneath his arm and fell into step with the Organas, finding too few steps between the cargo hold and the hatch. Neither of them asked why she was seeing them off the ship, but no words seemed necessary.
She did not dare step onto the ramp, since even now, the temptation to stay was too great, but they both sketched a respectful bow before leaving.
"Clear skies," was Breha's parting benediction as they reached the bottom of the ramp.
Leia smiled and stepped back, hand hitting the closure switch before she even bothered to reply. "The same to you."
Before they were even out of sight, she had turned her back on Alderaan once more, but this time, there was no bitterness in the act.
Her gait was surprisingly steady as she returned to the cockpit and Luke glanced up from the copilot's seat, clearly anticipating the need to go to her rescue. Instead, she took a deep breath.
"Ready when you are," she said truthfully.
"All right," Han said, sounding relieved as he brought the engines to full power. "We have a plan?"
"Avoid all Imperial ships on pain of death?" Luke suggested.
"Best idea I've heard all year," Han grunted.
"Amazing," Leia teased. "I didn't think you guys knew the meaning of the word 'plan.'"
Han shrugged, his eyes on the viewport as he turned the Falcon toward the sky. "I knew you'd rub off on us at some point," he confessed. "It might as well be for something good."
Luke's eyes remained on her, though, as they began climbing through the clear skies of morning. No matter what their relationship, he always seemed to be the one who would keep an eye on her longer than absolutely necessary. It was his own way of knowing that he had done the right thing.
"You're sure you want to do this?" he asked.
"Want, no," she corrected. "That will come later. For now, we're doing what we need to and that's enough."
With no more assurance than that, they cleared the atmosphere and set their course for home.