Title: In Plain Sight
Pairing/characters: Leia, Luke, Vader
Word count: 7,500
Summary: What if, in an AU where ANH never had chance to happen, Leia learnt the truth about her heritage and decided to confront Vader and Luke with it herself? Vader has over-thrown Palpatine, apparently having been spurred on by the need to protect a newly-discovered son. The Empire is reformed and Leia Organa's plans for rebellion are still-born. But Leia has a bigger problem to deal with - a personal problem. Bail Organa has died a natural death, but not before revealing the secret of Leia's identity. Should she just ignore the information, or follow the dangerous impulse to confront her erstwhile family?
Timeline: 18 years after ROTS
Notes: This is a complete, one-shot story. I adore stores where Vader finds Luke at an early age and attempts to raisfe/protect him. Often those stories reach a climax when Vader is forced to choose between Palpatine and Luke, hopefully choosing Luke! This is the story of what happens after the curtains close on those tales. It's been languishing on my hard drive. Many thanks to Jedi Nemo for her long-ago read-through of this. I did plan on making significant changes, but in the event I've only tweaked it a little.
In Plain Sight
Never allow fear to rule you, Leia.
Very nearly the last words her adoptive father had spoken, the memory of Bail Organa's plea to her common sense had been reverberating in Senator Leia Organa's mind since she had left his side. The effort of speaking - of holding onto life for just a few minutes longer – had very nearly been too much for him, his breath rattling in his chest, his voice lacking its characteristic resonant authority.
There is nothing to be afraid of, not whilst you have your integrity.
A stab of grief twisted in Leia's stomach at the memory. Had it only been two days since his death? Since he'd confessed all the secrets he'd been keeping? Leia closed her mind to the memories. Eighteen was too young to lose your father - and years, years too old to have finally learned the truth.
Never allow fear to rule you, Leia, he'd said. And she hadn't. She didn't even frecall feeling frightened. Shock had taken hold too rapidly for fear to have any influence. She'd given free reign to the instinctive need to deny what Bail had told her. Her shock had led her calmly away from the Palace of Alderaan, out into the spaceport, to bribe her way onto a merchant freighter that could take her far, far away from home.
But the fear had arrived eventually, hours later. Waking in the freighter's darkened, cramped cockpit, the enormity of her father's revelations - and what she'd initiated in response to them - had closed in on her with a sudden, suffocating horror.
She hadn't cried, though the temptation had stung her eyes. The pilot had been present and she'd stowed her tears away for later - for somewhere and some time when she wouldn't feel compelled to repeat the whole sordid tale she'd been told. She'd sat quietly in her stiff chair, staring unseeing into hyperspace, trying to put the crushed parts of her identity back together... back into something she recognised as herself.
Just days earlier she'd been Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan, the youngest ever Senator in a recently reformed Republic. When she'd made up her mind to go into politics at fifteen, few in the Royal Family had thought it even worth her while trying for Senator; few had thought that Palpatine would allow the institution to last very much longer as the grip of the Empire continued to tighten.
Leia had agreed with them on that, but when she'd reached seventeen she'd run for Senate anyway, all the while helping Mon Mothma and Bail Organa to foster a small but growing rebellion against the Empire. She'd hoped to serve the Rebellion by remaining embedded within the Empire's political system for as long as possible. She'd expected to have to show her hand eventually, though, in order to challenge and hopefully remove Palpatine.
But she'd been wrong. Shortly before Leia's eighteenth birthday Darth Vader had beaten her to it, launching a coup that was swift and unexpected and lethal.
Rumours abound as to why he had betrayed his superior, most of them focusing upon the hushed appearance of a long-lost son a few years earlier. But why he'd done it didn't really matter - that he had done it, and then only months later gone on to loosen the grip of the military command, transferring more power to the Senate, declaring a Second Republic... that was what mattered.
Perhaps those actions had even given Bail Organa the strength to confess to Leia the truth about her heritage. It had certainly given Leia the strength to board this freighter, bound for a brief stop-off at Darth Vader's private retreat, even though she knew, logically, that she was as likely to be shot on sight as she was to be allowed an audience with him.
Leia closed her eyes, unwilling to re-examine that line of thought too closely. She had done enough thinking during the past two days to last her a lifetime. Now what she wanted was to take action. And besides, they were just minutes out from planet-fall. She had to go through with this - she needed to go through with this.
"We're being hailed," the merchant said, breaking into her thoughts. He was a portly Rodian and spoke Basic with a trill that ran each word into the next.
"Good. Ask them for permission to-"
She stopped mid-sentence as a droid's mechanical voice echoed over the speakers, issuing automated directions to land and unload their shipment at a landing strip some distance from the boundary of the estate.
Leia frowned uncertainly - she'd assumed that they'd be going into Vader's estate. After all, the goods the Rodian was carrying were for the main castle. Apparently, Vader was as protective about his airspace as he was about the rest of his private life.
The Rodian toggled the comm controls. "I am also carrying a passenger," he trilled. "She wishes to make contact with Lord Vader."
Leia shifted uneasily, wondering if she should intervene in the conversation. But there was a knot of expectation closing her throat and she remained silent, fingers digging into the hard arms of her seat.
The droid on the other end of the line didn't miss a beat. "Lord Vader can only be contacted through official channels."
Leia leant further forward, towards the pick-up, but the Rodian spoke first. "She wishes to-"
"Your passenger should make enquires via her planet's Senate Representative. Now, if you would be so kind as to proceed to the landing strip and unload your stock. Payment will be authorised once the stock has been transferred and you are clear of Dantooine airspace."
Leia pushed the pilot out of the way and leant over the pick-up. "This is Princess Leia Organa. I am my planet's Senate Representative," she said. "And I am formally requesting an audience with Lord Vader to-"
She stopped. The line had been cut. She turned to the Rodian. "Did you cut it?" she asked, although she already knew the answer.
"Not I," he said, holding his spindly green hands up. "They closed the connection."
She glared at him, then at the blank comm screen. She couldn't come this far to be cut off! Indignation swelled in her - and desperation. "Get them back," she said.
He hailed them. Several times. "They are not responding, Senator." Leia leant across him and tried it herself - to no avail. "They do not want to see you, huh?" He paused. "I still get my passenger fee."
Leia closed her eyes, pressing back the surge of angry disappointment. She hadn't expected this to be easy - but she hadn't expected to be so summarily dismissed, either.
The Rodian silently turned the ship towards their remote landing point, and Leia stared out the forward viewport, trying to gather a plan together. The estate was just an indistinct shadow in the far distance, a residence the size of a small town that sprawled across the lavender fields, the obsidian turrets of the main castle just visible where they scratched at the sky. Hazy waves of heat from the midday sunshine obscured the details of the estate, and although Leia knew rationally that the grounds covered several thousand square klicks, from this distance it seemed to hardly impact upon the rolling countryside at all.
"I have to see him," she whispered fiercely. "I have to get into that estate."
"You are crazy," the merchant said, eyeing up her five-foot-nothing stature and apparently coming to the conclusion that she'd lost her mind. "What is so important it cannot wait for the Senate?"
Leia narrowed her eyes on the man. "This isn't Republic business - this is personal."
The merchant just shook his head. "Crazy," he said again.
Maybe she was crazy, but she needed to see Vader, and not just a to swap insults in the corridors of the Senate. He would never grant her an audience on Coruscant. He could barely stand to be in her presence. She grimaced, remembering the few times he had spoken to her. No - it had to be here. And besides, Vader's son wasn't on Coruscant, was he? And she was here to see Luke Vader just as much as see was here to see Lord Vader himself.
She still remembered the scandal of the revelation that Vader had a son - when he'd found the boy four years ago, hidden on a backwater planet, it had been little short of a media feeding frenzy. She remembered wondering about that boy, feeling sympathy for him. Remembered wondering what it was going to be like for him to be whisked away from an outer-rim end-of-nowhere planet to a life at the forefront of public life.
Not that it had turned out that way: Vader hadn't allowed the media anywhere near the boy. There had never been any pictures, never any interviews. No one even knew what Luke Vader looked like. Leia's imagination had conjured up the image of a tall, darkly handsome and serious young man when she thought of Luke Vader, but she was aware she was blindly guessing.
And that had been before the coup, before Vader had usurped Palpatine. Now he was more protective and secretive than ever. But who could blame him, if the rumours were true about what the Emperor had done to Vader's son?
She swallowed, feeling that desperation pressing against her mind. She had to meet them. Bail Organa had begged her not to, but she had to see them just once, if only to be turned away. Then she could put this behind her, move on. Go back to Alderaan in time for her father's state funeral. Pretend Bail Organa had never made any deathbed confessions, pretend she was still who she'd thought she was before his death.
She refocused on the merchant. "Whatever money you want to get me into that estate, I'll pay it,"
The Rodian laughed, the sound oddly melodic. "A million credits is no good if I am dead, Senator - they shoot us down as soon as soon as we enter their airspace."
Leia ground her teeth in frustration, falling back into the passenger chair with a hiss of irritation. So close! Too close to be stopped by Vader's infamous aloofness. As she fumed, the merchant began the landing sequence.
"Then I'll just have to walk," she said, surging up from her seat and turning to the aft of the cockpit, where her carryall was stowed, a bag that held all the meagre possessions she'd brought with her.
"You are crazy. That will be a three day walk."
"I can manage it," she said, aware as she said it that she was trying to convince herself as much as she was the merchant. But she was not turning back now – not even if she had to fight her way through miles of undergrowth and defences to get into that estate.
The merchant didn't reply. Leia stood and turned for the freighter's rampway as the ship made a slow landing.
The landing strip the freighter settled down onto was a rough scar struck across the grassy landscape. A strip of grey permacrete cutting across a hilltop. As Leia left the cramped confines of the ship she turned her head eastwards, shading her eyes from the bright sunshine, and eyed the distant estate through the heat haze. This was going to be a very long walk....
Standing here, in the glittering sunshine that bounced an unwavering heat off the worn and cracked runway, it felt like her life had paused for just a brief moment. The mad rush of the last few days had stilled, as if the energy that had driven her from Bail Organa's death bed to this isolated hilltop had finally run out, the last gasp of desperation breathed out of her, leaving behind an exhaustion and trepidation that she would admit to no one.
Leia closed her eyes, and the light continued to shine brightly against her eyelids. She could ill afford the temptation of her exhaustion if she was going to reach her destination. Sending a silent entreaty for strength into the heavens, she opened her eyes and took a steadying breath.
"I should leave before Vader's lackeys-"
"Another ship is coming," the merchant said, nervously, his spindly fingers pointing to a dark spec against the cerulean sky.
"Already?" she said. "They really don't want you to linger, do they?" Leia turned her gaze to follow the merchant's, expecting to see a crested freighter or shuttle arriving to pick up the Rodian's stock. But instead she saw a much smaller ship cutting across the sky towards them, sunlight flashing off its silver side. "That's no freighter," she said. And there went any chance she'd had of making it down from the landing strip unseen and sneaking into the estate.
The Rodian looked startled. He turned quickly, heading back to his own ship. "This is not good," he said. "I don't like this."
He started back up the ramp of his ship and Leia was briefly tempted to follow - the closer the new ship drew to them, the more it looked like a large fighter. A shiver of panic ran down her spine - had the droid on the comm told Vader she was here? Had Vader ordered them to be blasted off the permacrete? Would he do that?
A strange sense of betrayal swept through her as the ship neared. She hadn't even had a chance to speak with Vader or his son - they wouldn't even know who it was they had blown to atoms.
She braced herself as the ship roared closer, refusing to take her eyes off it, refusing to run. Too late now – she'd face this with eyes wide open. The sound of the repulsors raced through her, the low vibration thrumming through the air as the ship drew level with the landing strip... and then roared overhead before decelerating in a long, lazy arc and turning back towards them.
Without firing a shot.
Leia twisted to watch it as it came around, blowing out a low breath of relief.
It was a sleek craft, nimble with a nostalgic flair to its line and the newly-unveiled Republic Crest tattooed on one wing. Too large for a fighter, it was probably a small executive yacht. It began a whisper-soft landing on the permacrete and the downdraft of the repulsors rushed across her face in a hot breath.
She glanced back at the Rodian's freighter again - the merchant was hovering in the cockpit entranceway. His bulging eyes flickered a nervous gaze between her and the new ship, and then he turned back inside his own vessel.
"Wait-" she started, but he was gone.
Annoyed by the merchant's cowardice, Leia turned back to the landing ship. At best, the craft could probably carry four men. And although that was more than enough to overpower her, something was urging her onwards. Now wasn't the time for second thoughts. She started walking towards the ship, the Dantooine sun beating down on her head.
As she approached, a hatchway opened in the ship's side and a slender figure appeared in silhouette. Leia forced herself not to alter her pace, though her heart was ramming against her chest with anticipation. The figure hesitated for a moment before nimbly jumping down to meet her at the foot of the narrow rampway.
He was slight young man, his features obscured by the backlight of the ship's interior. Leia gaze ran over his outline quickly - no sign of a weapon, but that didn't mean he didn't have one hidden somewhere. Best to play nice.
"Hello," she said, smiling.
"Leia Organa?" the man replied - a young man, by his voice, and maybe no older than she was. And he hadn't tried to hide his surprise when he'd recognised her.
He stepped closer, the sunlight finally playing across his face. She'd been right - he was young. His hair, long enough to be blown about in the backdraft of the yacht's engines, was blond in the brilliant sunlight, his eyes an intense blue. He was neatly dressed, but what he wore wasn't a uniform, or at least not one she recognised. Which meant – what? That he was an aide, perhaps? She had no idea whether Vader's personal staff wore a crest or not.
Leia kept her smile in place and said, "I take it you're not going to shoot me?"
She smiled at him, disarmed by his friendly nature. Maybe he was trained to be the friendly, unintimidating face of Vader's regime. She certainly knew how that felt. In any case, it didn't matter who he was – right now he was her ticket to the castle. "I believe my pilot fears that you're planning on forgoing the forward guns and blasting him away in person," she said.
The boy blinked at her. "Uh... right," he said. And then, quickly, "I'm not going to do that." Spoken with a curious air of earnest confusion.
Leia felt herself smiling again - genuinely, this time. "Good," she said. "So, if you're not here to get rid of me, you must be here to escort me in," she said, projecting more confidence about that than she felt. She picked up the carryall she'd brought with her and moved towards the young man. "Shall we go?"
The boy took a step backwards at that. "I'm not here to... ah, I mean... I was just passing overhead and I... noticed you. I can't-"
She made a show of disappointment, dropping her bag and wiping a hand across her forehead. "Oh. Well... it's sweltering out here. When you return to the estate, can you remind them I'm here? I'm not sure the airtraffic droid passed on the message to your employer."
For a moment Leia thought she had him, but then a flash of a frown crossed the boy's face. "Why are you here?" he said, tone suddenly serious. And he looked older for just a moment; far, far older than his years.
Leia considered her reply, wondering how to answer. In the end she just said, "I'm here to see Lord Vader and his son."
"His son?" the young man repeated, sounding surprised and doubtful.
Leia nodded, knowing where that surprise came from. Few people even knew the younger Vader's name, let alone had been given the opportunity to meet him. Lord Vader protected his son possessively, shielding him from the media, the interest of the general populace and the government alike. For her to turn up unannounced to request an audience with them both....
"Yes," she said.
"And he doesn't know you're coming, does he? Lord Vader, I mean," the boy said.
Leia pressed her lips together. She sighed. "No, he doesn't," she admitted. "But I'm not here to cause trouble... look, if you can't take me in, at least let him know I'm here and I... I have some information that might be of interest to him, that I have to deliver personally."
The young man stepped closer to her at that, very close, and for a moment he did nothing more than just stare at her, although the stare seemed distant somehow and he didn't respond to the sincerity she projected in her expression. A strange sensation seemed to inch its way up Leia's spine. A warmth; a pleasant tingle.
Then the boy shrugged and reached down to pick up Leia's dropped bag. "Well, you're not going to get far sat out here. Come on - I'll fly you over and you can wait for him. He's due back soon."
"You'll... but...." She stuttered to stop and shook her head, taken by surprise at his sudden acquiescence. "Aren't you going to check me for weapons?" she asked, bemused.
He glanced at her and something about that look again travelled right through her. "Uh," he said. "Do I need to?"
"No," she answered honestly.
"Good," he said. He turned and headed back up the ramp of his ship.
Leia eyed the boy curiously. She was smart enough not to question him now she'd gotten what she wanted. But still... who was this boy and did he really have the authority to take her to the Vader Estate? She needed to stop thinking of him as a boy, she realised. He was probably about her age, and Force knew she snapped every time someone used her age as ammunition against her in the Senate. Pausing for only a moment's more bemused trepidation, she followed him. She had wanted a free ride into the estate, after all.
The interior of the ship was as sleek and expensive as the outer design had suggested it would be. The young man continued on into the cockpit and Leia walked after him, grateful to be out of the blazing sunshine and in the cool of a temperature-controlled environment.
"Have a seat," the boy said, smiling and pointing towards a co-pilot seat. It was a beguiling smile, she thought, an innocent one. She instinctively liked him, she realised, and in response to that realisation she upped her guard. "And strap in," he added, his fingers flying across the console.
She did as she was told, watching her companion work. Perhaps he wasn't an aide, perhaps he was a pilot - he certainly appeared to know his ship intimately. He was young for a professional pilot, though. He was probably of an age with Luke Vader. Before she knew what she was doing, she was halfway to asking him if he'd ever seen the son of Vader, and if the rumours were true: if Luke Vader really had been blinded in Palpatine's final attack, and that was what had provoked Vader's coup.
But somehow she had the feeling that the subject was off-limits and she stopped herself. Instead, she asked, "Have you worked for Vader long?"
She saw the boy lift an eyebrow at her question but he didn't turn from the controls. "I've been here a few years," he answered, even as the ship kicked up off the permacrete and whistled up into the air. Leia caught her breath at the sudden acceleration. He smiled knowingly.
"So you're a pilot," she said.
"I guess so." He shrugged. Leia shook her head, not sure what to make of that. "You're lucky I noticed you there. I nearly stayed at the estate and waited for... Lord Vader," he said.
"So you really weren't sent to get rid of me?"
"No," he replied. "I was practicing."
She frowned at him. "Practicing what?"
He shrugged again. "Flying," he said.
He nodded. "Yeah. Just flying."
She pressed her lips together, turning to watch the landscape streak past. The answer had been cryptic and she didn't like that. Yes, she supposed that pilots had to practice some time - but didn't they have flight simulators for that? Shouldn't they practice as a group? Something about this felt... misleading. And she'd made up her mind, on that long two-day flight here, that she wouldn't allow herself to be misled about anything anymore. Not even if the truth could wound her.
Her hands were curled into fists, she realised, her nails digging into her palms, and the pilot was now looking right at her, concern in his expression.
"Are you okay, Senator?"
She didn't know how to answer that. A knot of grief made talking difficult. "Call me Leia, please."
"Okay, Leia." The boy paused. Below them the landscape screamed away beneath their wings. "Why have you come here? Why do you want to see Lord Vader? Couldn't you have seen him in the Senate?"
She blinked, refocusing upon him when the threat of tears had cleared from her eyes. "My father," she said, and then had to pause to work around that knot of grief again. "My father died a few days ago."
"I'm sorry," he said. And where for most people that would have sounded like an automatic reply, he actually sounded like he meant it.
She clenched and unclenched her hands again. "It was a long illness. Before he died... he told me... some things... that I need to talk to Lord Vader and his son about. Some things... I need to discover the truth about." It was hard to voice even that much of what was going through her mind.
"What kind of things?" the pilot asked.
She shook her head, tempted to not reply because she thought that the words she needed to say were ones she could only ever bear to speak once, and she needed to save them for the right person - the right people. "The kind of things that change your life," she finally said, and was surprised that the words came out in a whisper.
The pilot nodded seriously. "I see," he said.
"Of course... there's no reason Vader will agree to see me. I've hardly been his strongest supporter, even after he reformed the Empire. He'll be furious I've even considered trying to see him, let alone his son," Leia said, speaking more to herself than to the pilot.
The young man paused, swallowing thickly. Then he said, "Listen, I think I should tell you... I'm not really employed here. I kind of... live here. I'm-"
"You live here? Have you met Vader's son?"
The boy sighed. "That's what I'm trying to tell you. I-"
"Or does Vader keep him locked in a golden cage?" she asked, hearing the note of sarcasm in her voice and wondering where it came from. Protectiveness for the young man she'd never met?
"What makes you say that?" the boy asked. His hands were on the controls but his face was now turned away from her.
Leia snorted. "I doubt Vader will want me anywhere near his son, not with his reputation of over-protectiveness," she said.
The boy chuckled softly at that. "No kidding."
"Nobody knows anything about Luke Vader, not really," she mused, quietly, and the part of her brain that wasn't talking was wondering why she was being so open with this young man who she'd only just met and who was, quite possibly, going to report every word back to his superiors. But she couldn't seem to stop.
"Nothing at all?" the pilot asked, curiosity back in the tone of his voice.
Leia thought about that for a moment, tucking a stray wisp of hair back behind her ear. "I suppose we know he's the reason for the Republic's current stability and peace."
"He is?" There was no mistaking his surprise.
"Well, yes. Without him, Vader would never have turned on Emperor Palpatine."
"He might have-"
"Vader was never going to slip his master's leash on his own, was he?"
"He waited long enough to rise up - long enough that it took Palpatine mutilating his son to wake him up."
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she knew it had been the wrong thing to say. The pilot's hands tightened on the controls and the ship kicked forward, almost in a reflection of the anger Leia could see tightening the young man's muscles. "You know about that?" he asked. He'd turned away from her again.
She stared at him, thrown off-guard by his instant reaction to her words. Mentally, she gave herself a slap: the pilot was under the employ of Vader - maybe he even knew Luke Vader. Of course he wouldn't react well to her scathing tone of voice!
She paused, decided to soften her tone. "Is it true?"
"Is what true?"
The ship was still hurtling along, and still the pilot didn't turn to look at her. Leia gritted her teeth against the acceleration. "That Palpatine's attack left Vader's son blind?"
The boy didn't move, but his expression flashed with something unreadable. "Is that the talk of the Senate? Don't you have anything better to talk about? Like rebuilding Coruscant or something?"
She flushed. "I... I may have spoken out of turn," she said. Damn, but she'd become too comfortable in the boy's presence - she'd forgotten who she was talking to. "I didn't mean to cause any offence."
He pressed his lips together and the expression on his face reminded her of... someone. Then with a sigh the tension drained from the boy's body. "Alright," he finally said. "I suppose a lot of people must see it like you do."
Leia turned her attention back to the approaching castle as they began a descent down to a small landing bay. Now that they were close enough to it, Leia's appreciation of the estate grew. In many ways it reminded her of her father's country palace on Alderaan - a sprawling, elegant beauty, and not one she would have expected from Vader. The silence stretched.
"It's beautiful," she said, "don't you think?"
The pilot smiled at her wistfully, but it didn't reach his eyes. "Is it?" he said.
She shook her head, perplexed. "Don't you think?"
He shrugged, looking momentarily troubled. "Look, I think I should tell you... I mean... I've been trying to tell you that I'm-" he started to say, but then stopped abruptly as his gaze went up towards the cockpit ceiling even as the ship completed its delicate landing. "He's back," the pilot said.
"My - I mean, Lord Vader." He looked like he was seeing right through the durasteel, staring up into space.
A fluttering excitement rattled through her at that. She took a shaking breath. "Good," she whispered.
The ship barely shuddered as it touched down and the pilot was unstrapping from his harness before the cooling sequence had even initiated. He grabbed her bag, turning from the cockpit. Leia hesitated.
"Aren't you coming?" the boy asked.
"I'm coming," she said.
The small landing bay he had set the ship down on bore no resemblance to the one they had just left. The air was cool, the walls and floor polished to a high shine. Leia's pilot was off the ship and on that floor before the ramp had finished lowering, practically bounding across the small area. He turned around when he reached the entrance to the castle beyond. "It's this way!" he said, and then was gone.
Leia closed her eyes, counted to ten, and then followed him. Nothing to be afraid of, she thought. Not whilst I have my integrity.
The building beyond opened into an antechamber of the main castle. Sharp, cool, clean marble stretched across the area; a frigid elegance that intimidated just a little. She expected at any moment to hear the rhythmic breathing she had feared for most of her life, or to see the dark shadow of Vader stretch across the pale floor towards her. But Vader didn't materialise. Instead Leia saw only the guards stationed at the exits from the chamber - and her pilot, who was talking energetically with a man dressed in the sharp, neat uniform of a military commander. Suddenly she felt totally underdressed for the occasion.
As the soles of her boots squeaked on the polished floor, both men turned to look at her. The pilot said something - it looked like 'See?' but she couldn't hear the word - and the military man stared at her a moment before hurrying closer.
"Princess Organa!" the man said, his bootheels skidding slightly on the floor as he came to a halt before her. "This is most unexpected."
"Yes, I apologise for arriving unannounced. But I must speak with Lord Vader and his son."
The commander's face became pinched for a moment. "I'm not sure that will be possible..." he started to say, but then trailed off as a rhythmic hiss echoed through the room.
That sound... Leia was tempted to close her eyes but it seemed pointless: fear had blocked out her senses anyway. Nothing to be afraid of, she thought again, but desperately this time.
"What is the meaning of this?"
She swallowed thickly. "Lord Vader, I-" she started to say, anticipating his anger. And there was anger - but she broke off in bemusement as she realised that it wasn't directed at her. In fact, Vader spared her only a cursory glance before focusing upon her erstwhile escort.
"Well?" Vader demanded, and Leia was dumbstruck.
"Hello, Father," her pilot said. "It's good to see you too." With bold familiarity.
Leia choked, taking a staggering step backwards.
Vader reached out a hand and placed it upon the pilot's - Luke's - shoulder. He didn't speak, but Leia could almost feel the words in the air, just below her ability to hear them. She shook her head, stunned into silent staring, before her mouth finally reconnected with her brain.
"You're Luke Vader?!"
Father and son finally broke their silent gaze, and turned to stare at her as one.
"Indeed," Vader said, a distinct tone of threat in his voice.
Luke had the grace to look bashful. "I kept trying to tell you," he said, apologetically. "Sorry."
Leia shook her head. "But Luke Vader is blind!" she said, her voice scratching slightly on the last word.
"Yes," Vader said, this time his tone laced with warning.
"But you flew that ship - and you're looking right at me!"
"The Force can compensate if you-" Luke started to say, but stopped when Vader stepped in front of him, half obscuring him from Leia's gaze.
"Curb your curiosity, Princess Organa. I do not care for it in my home. My son's health is no concern of yours." He took another step towards her. "And I have more pressing demands at present than yet another barrage of complaints from you, Your Highness. You are trespassing on this estate and-"
"She didn't trespass, Father," Luke interjected. "I picked her up."
There was a strangled sigh from the man. "Would that you could just drop her back again," he hissed, and the words and expression were surprisingly human. It gave Leia the strength to defend herself.
"Lord Vader, I-"
"You have had a wasted journey. I do not entertain politics here."
Leia swallowed convulsively. The threat in the Dark Lord's voice had risen a notch, and she bit her tongue. She shook her head, focusing upon Luke. Upon Luke Vader -
- her brother.
There was a lump in her throat.
Vader was talking to Luke, but the words were muddled in Leia's hearing. A trick of the Force? Perhaps. Then Vader turned to his military commander, and the words became audible again. "Take the senator to the south docking bay and ready a shuttle. Return her to Alderaan."
Leia blinked. Having come this far, she hadn't expected to be simply brushed off. Killed outright, perhaps. But not sidelined and dismissed.
As the man tried to take her arm, she shrugged off the grip angrily and took a step closer to Vader. "Wait! I'm not here on Senate business, Lord Vader," she said, lifting her chin and trying to draw herself up, make herself taller. Not that the extra inch made even a dent on Vader's height advantage.
"I am in no mood for your games, Organa," Vader replied, sharply. He turned aside, to Luke, and placed a hand on his son's shoulder, began to draw the boy away.
"Wait!" Leia called.
But Vader had turned his back on her. He was steering Luke away from her, heading towards the exit and the heart of the estate.
"You can't just send me away!"
Vader didn't respond, just kept walking. But Luke glanced back at her, his sightless eyes somehow - impossibly - meeting her gaze.
"Wait-" Leia stared to say again, and moved to go after them, her wounded pride and desperation eclipsing her common sense even as the sound of several blaster rifles being unholstered and cocked echoed through the room. The commander stepped in front of her and put his hands up.
"That's not wise, Senator," he warned. His eyes flickered briefly aside, and she followed his gaze - to the troopers stationed by the exits... and their readied weapons. "You've already had a lucky escape."
Leia bit back the urge to shove the man aside and go after Vader. She pursed her lips, feeling desperation hammering against her chest in time with her heartbeat.
She heard Vader saying to his son, "There was a non-Republic craft in the vicinity and you not only left the estate but flew out to meet it! Have you no sense of self-preservation?" as he led Luke away. Although his voice was threatening, Leia thought she heard a note of fond exasperation in there, too.
"I didn't sense any danger," Luke replied. He came to a stop. Vader walked on a several steps before turning back to his son. Luke shrugged. "She was telling the truth. She's got something to tell you. And she needed help."
Vader sighed, the noise rushing through the vocoder like a gale transmitted over a comm channel. "She is not the only one."
The commander moved to block Leia's vision on Vader and Luke. "Senator, this way."
"No, wait," she said. "I...."
"I must insist, Senator."
Leia glanced at him in irritation, and tried to move around him again. The man grabbed her arms, held her back. "Wait! Lord Vader!" she called after them.
"Another time, Organa," Vader said, turning to leave.
But Luke glanced over at her. She met his gaze imploringly, although she knew he couldn't see her expression and she didn't know what she would be hoping to communicate to him even if he could.
"Father," Luke said slowly, "she's come a really long way to talk to you."
It had little impact – Vader kept walking. Luke frowned after him. Keep trying, his expression seemed to say to Leia as he glanced back at her. She tried to tug free of the commander's grip, but he wouldn't let go. She couldn't be turned away now, couldn't be rejected without even the chance to tell her secret!
"I need to talk to you!" Leia finally shouted, and braced herself for the next part: "About Padme Naberrie!"
Vader stopped, almost mid-step.
Her words seemed to bounce off the marble floor and walls, echoing down the hallway. Then a tense silence rushed in to fill the air around them. Leia sucked in a breath.
Vader turned back to her and just... stared.
"I..." she started. Never allow fear to rule you, she heard, in Bail Organa's voice, even though what I have to tell you will scare you. "I have come a long way to speak to you and your son, Lord Vader. About my mother."
Every hair on her body was standing on end, as if she stood too close to a live wire. The electric feeling rushed through her, making her feel giddy. Is this the Force? she wondered, closing her eyes. Or just the hysterical disbelief that I actually told them?
When she opened her eyes again, the commander had backed off hurriedly. Luke broke away from his father and came jogging back towards her. He seemed to move in slow motion, the distance shrinking with a surreal slowness. She thought he might embrace her, but at the last moment he stopped short, incredulity shining in his blind eyes. "Your mother?!"
She nodded. The lump was back in her throat and she realised now that it wasn't fear that made it difficult to speak - it was hope. "Yes... my father... Bail... he died... and he told me... I'm adopted... I'm your sister," she said, haltingly. "I'm your twin."
Luke kept staring at her, the corners of his mouth turning up into an incredulous smile. Then he did embrace her, his arms closing around her shoulders and there was a singing, wordless happiness filling her mind, and she was almost certain that the emotion wasn't entirely hers.
Leia wasn't sure what to do, wasn't sure if embracing Luke in return would incur Vader's wrath. But a glance over her brother's shoulder showed her that Vader had yet to move. He was rooted to the spot, as if her words had turned him to stone, and so she hugged her brother back.
She could almost picture how they must appear to Vader's then - herself dishevelled and grimy, looking nothing like the public image of Princess Organa in her plain ship-suit and her loose hair, and Luke hugging her like he would never let go. Vader approached slowly but he said nothing and Leia closed her eyes, her fingers tightening convulsively in the clean fabric of her twin's tunic. If Vader did come forward now and try to rip her from Luke's grasp, she wasn't sure either of them would let go.
There was a light touch to her cheek, and she opened her eyes again to find herself staring at Vader's chestplate. His gloved fingers moved to rest under her chin, lifting her gaze upwards. He said nothing.
Luke released her but he stayed close, the heat of his body a silent comfort. Leia couldn't tear her gaze away from Vader's mask. Bail Organa's words came back to her, rough and weak with the last throws of life. He loved your mother, she heard.
And that sentence alone had given her hope, despite Bail Organa's plea that she not go to Vader, that she protect herself from him, arm herself with the knowledge of where she came from - that he had only told her because with him gone the secret would have gone to the grave also and he could not have borne that.
He loved your mother. Too much, perhaps. He has a skill for destroying the ones he loves. Don't go to him, Leia. Please - don't go to him. In case he learns to love you too.
And what if her adoptive father was right? Suddenly, she could believe in being accepted here, believe in finding a new home, believe in protection and belonging and cauterising the lonely hole in her heart left by the loss of her parents - but what if Bail was right?
"Father," Luke said softly, "you're scaring her."
Leia shook herself free of the memories, wondering how long had passed with Vader simply... looking at her.
"I... don't know what to say," she said, and then laughed slightly hysterically - a politician, lost for words!
"Nor do I," Vader finally replied. "So... Luke was sent to the Lars'... and you to the Organa's. Hidden in plain sight." Bitterly said – and Leia remained silent. "And you look so alike," Vader added quietly, and Leia could only assume he meant she looked like her mother.
She didn't know what to do now that the words had been said. In her mind she had imagined two possible realistic scenarios - death or denial. She hadn't allowed herself to dare think that they would believe her. And now that they had she didn't know what to do, blindsided by the way her dreams had evaporated as they'd come true, leaving her to face their reality unprepared.
"If you want me to leave..." she started to say, and then wasn't sure how to end the sentence. It had been a diplomatic thing to say, a formal offer to distance themselves from the emotions raging between them. But was inviting rejection from Vader really what she wanted?
Vader tilted his head to one side. "Do you wish to leave?"
Was he reading her mind? Leia shifted uncomfortably. "No," she said. "I want... to...." To what? To know them? To belong? To confirm that Vader was everything her father and the Rebellion had once portrayed him to be and to walk away with her head held high?
A warmth spread through her then - a warmth that made her realise just how cold she'd been before now, and a warmth that had nothing to do with the scorching weather.
Then stay, someone whispered in her mind, and it took her a moment to recognise Vader's voice without the vocoder's inflection.
Tentatively, she reached out towards that voice and was drawn into the heat of the presence of the two men in front of her. The connection was so bright she was uncertain whether she'd be able to pull back now even if she tried. She felt like an insect drawn towards the light of the unknown, the call of the heat it offered, unaware that the heat could burn as well as warm.
He has a skill for destroying the ones he loves, she heard again, from her memories. And she could believe it - believe in the destructive power of this man's - her father's - emotions. But....
"I'll stay," she finally answered. And then added, "For now, at least." She paused. "Until I return to Alderaan for the state funeral." And if she'd heard that she hadn't said my father's funeral, then Leia was sure Vader hadn't missed it either. A lump in her throat made it hard to swallow.
Then Luke was hugging her again, and Leia held her breath as her brother lifted her off her feet and spun her around. Dizzily she clung to him as the room revolved; clung to the grounding presence of her brother. '... we know he's the reason for the Republic's current stability and peace,'she heard herself saying, from just minutes ago. And she'd been right, but for the wrong reasons. And now she was a part of that - for better or worse.
Don't go to him, Leia. Please - don't go to him. But she closed her eyes, held onto her brother. In case he learns to love you too.