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bleeding out your days in the river of time

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She is nineteen when she loses her home.

Breha and Bail never hid the truth of her parentage, and it didn’t matter. The planet of beauty, cultivated to be so - prosperous and benevolent, the galaxy’s highest achievements in art, philosophy, culture; the forest greenery, the pale oceans, the snow-capped mountains she’d climbed to their peaks - Alderaan was home. The only one she’d known, or needed.

Leia set her orphaned roots there, learned and grew. She wielded the power of her royal heritage not for personal gain, but to protect her people. She governed fairly, justly, as her father taught. She bore the Organa name and its responsibilities with pride, regardless of blood.

Even in the middle of a rebellion they helped build, Alderaan refused to bear arms. That was not their way, Bail said, reciting peace again and again until it planted immovable in her mind as an unquestionable truth, a right. She was trained in hand-to-hand combat and could fire a blaster as well as any soldier, but only to ensure her safety as the youngest member of the Galactic Senate, the sole daughter of high royalty, and an enticing target of the Empire’s growing chokehold.

Leia could defend herself, to degrees. There was not even a chance for her planet to try.

As the only heir, by line of succession she would be queen, now. Queen to memory and floating debris. Dust and rock, all that remains of a people.

She wasn’t able to say goodbye.

Tarkin turns from the window display, smiling cruel and pleased. “So much tragedy,” he says quietly, lifting one hand to stroke her cheek. “For someone so young.”

Leia swallows thick, dry. She doesn’t think about unfair, only justice. She assembles her face, steels her spine.

She will not weep for him. They are not privileged to her grief.

And there is no time for grief, after a bright-eyed farmboy breaks her from her cell and they flee, and prepare, and wait. Kenobi is dead. The Empire approaches, merciless and calculated.

Leia must be her own hope. Her world cannot have died in vain.

 

*

At twenty-three she loses her birth father.

Leia only knew him as the symbol of the enemy, faceless and implacable behind that mask. The Emperor’s arm of war, the boogeyman parents told their children about, and the voice that chilled her dreams on the rare nights she dreamed of more than the home she can’t return to. Because of him.

He witnessed her torture firsthand. The first, on the Death Star, the second at Cloud City. She tended Luke’s wounds from their battle. It’s impossible to reconcile Vader with father.

But she trusts Luke’s judgment. If there is a scrap of good left in that shell of a man, against all odds, her brother will find it. He may be gifted with the Force, but he also wields the precious, too-rare gift of helping others realize the best of themselves. Just like Bail. (Her real father.)

When it happens Leia doesn’t feel Vader’s death, but Luke’s grief fills her mind like shattered ice. So for her brother, she mourns. She asks him, and Luke shares what little he knows about their father - Kenobi’s carefully selective memories, and the naked moments of Anakin’s death, when Luke learned the right hand of the Empire was just a weak, dying, flawed man, fused together by wires.

(Vader died first; then Anakin, minutes later. In Luke’s mind, they are separate. Leia still can’t delineate.)

“There’s something he wanted me to tell you,” Luke says.

Tell your sister you were right.

Leia never knew him. And there isn’t time for even a distant sadness, with a democratic government to rebuild and lingering Imperial forces to quell. But she looks up at the stars above Endor, Han sleeping beside her, and contemplates the loss of what could, perhaps should, have been.

 

*

She is thirty-four when she loses her son.

Her brilliant, beautiful boy, whose tiny mind Leia felt stirring inside her before he was born; dark-haired, wide-eyed, and brimming potent with the Force. Quiet, after the initial storm of crying, but Ben’s eyes take in the world with unbridled curiosity and his tiny fists grasp for more. He’s crawling into the cockpit of the Falcon before he can walk, twisting in Leia’s lap to read the newest report from the Council.

He’s always hungry, for her kisses, her stories, Luke’s “tricks” that trigger his rare, shy smile. Eager for approval, and knowledge, and to channel the power that spills monumental from his fingertips, as intrinsic as breathing.

Ben’s one of the first children of the new generation, born into a world not shadowed by war. One of the first of Luke’s new Jedi Order, when he’s ready. The symbol of all their hopes. The proof of their victory. Her son.

“Why don’t you talk about my grandfather?”

Leia bites her lip. This look in her son’s eyes frightens her more than facing an armada of enemy warships. “I never really knew him,” she says, carding back the bangs falling into his eyes. He fidgets. “Not the good side of him.”

Ben absorbs the notion. For his quiet, his mind is in turmoil. They’ve been keenly attuned to one another since he was in her womb, more so even than the emotional line threading together her and Luke. She feels Ben’s moods as an extension of her own, and this sorrow, this frustration and helpless, paralyzing fear of inadequacy, tears Leia’s heart to shreds. Individual shards, one for each of his days.

They all sense it. Han feels helpless, a worthless father and the black sheep in a family of Jedi who can’t reach this part of his son. Leia knows she isn’t skilled enough in the Force, her talents honed but still too raw. There was always some diplomatic crisis to settle, some bill to pass in the Senate that took priority. She thinks about a mask, the graveled voice behind it, and doesn’t trust herself to protect her son this way.

She trusts Luke. Luke will do anything for his terrified sister in a heartbeat, even as his gloved hand twitches from a phantom memory. He’s already been Ben’s unofficial trainer from the moment they decided, all three of them, to take the risk. The Force isn’t a disease or a curse; they can protect Ben from the dark side. From himself, if need be. Like all children he needs guidance and empathy, and a healthy way to channel the tangled confusion of desires that leave him shaking with suppressed frustration.

Luke takes Ben away and promises to do everything within his power.

Leia knows he did.

The slaughter is a sudden ache in her stomach, a deep, twisting pain. She knows something’s wrong, braces a hand against the wall and stretches out with her senses -

The hatred. The anger. A new blade, forged red from his will. The fear, the hunger, the power, and then the silence in his mind as the swing of his arm savagely cuts the last apprentice down.

Her baby boy is gone.

Han leaves not long after, hardly a word. Luke manages to stay long enough to beg her forgiveness before he, too, vanishes.

Her son, her husband, her brother.

There is no time to mourn any of them, when there are funerals to arrange and a new threat rising from the Empire’s ashes. A phoenix, led by her Ben, burning the universe down to prove his worth.

How easy it was for everyone to leave. Leia always stays.

 

*

At fifty-four, tired and world-weary, shoulders bent from the ache of carrying, she loses Han.

Yet again Leia must place duty before herself. Lives to save, a battle to win, no matter the personal cost.

They succeed, and the masses around her celebrate, and yet again Leia must smile while the pain rots her out.

Han’s fear. His forgiveness. His love. Burned like an ash silhouette onto her heart. Leia sees him fall through Ben’s eyes; always falling, never where he lands.

Her father killed her first family. Her son killed her second.

The universe isn’t fair. It’s not easy. Bail told her that so long ago, before she could understand. Of course, now she understands better than most.

She wonders if he, Bail, would be proud of her. If he would sit with her, and hold her while she wept.

How naive she was to dream of a hero’s ending.

General Organa accepts the condolences from the well-intentioned. She greets the wounded. She consoles the ones who also lost. Leia, a woman made of wounds, longs to rest. Lie down and close her eyes and come undone, melt away into waves of sorrow, to be weak for even one moment.

But there is Luke, with his finished map. There is Rey, with her hope-filled eyes and a legacy unfolding before her.

(Spoken: bring him home, Rey. Unsaid: he’s all I have left.)

There is her son, her lost and only son, whom she will fight to save even if it means she meets the same fate as Han. There are the last living scraps of the New Republic, desperate for a leader to guide them through yet another darkness.

Leia assembles her face, steels her spine. She bears up, and on, until the next. Until she can no longer.

She wasn’t able to say goodbye.