It's late when Leia finally heads back to her quarters. She's exhausted, but she hadn't the heart to dampen the celebrations after the destruction of Starkiller Base, and she also couldn't walk away from the series of condolences her people were offering. Because they are her people, and she's their leader. Her victories have always been paid for in blood and edged with loss, and public duty always takes precedence over private sorrow. She learned that young, and she should be used to it after all this time, but the pain never loses its sting.
She hasn't slept in a couple of days and she doesn't think she will tonight either, but she knows for sure before she even enters the bare room she claimed as her own when they set up shop on Ilenium. It's almost exactly like every other room she's lived in for the better part of the last decade, when she hasn't been living onboard one ship or another, but it's not empty the way it should be.
Anakin's presence burns as brightly in the Force as it ever has when he chooses to manifest, and even thirty years of death can't dim it. He hasn't shown himself to her in years, though. They've always been uneasy with each other, too much pain and death between them for her to forgive or for him to accept it if she had. She's not like Luke; she can't separate Vader from Anakin (though she's aware, now, of the difference between them in the Force), and she's never thought of him as her father, though Luke was family from the moment she met him.
She's always known she's not as good as Luke; perhaps there's too much Vader in her, as well.
He sits on the edge of the narrow, perfectly-made bed, looking as uncertain as she's ever seen him, the edges of his presence flickering blue in the darkness of the room.
She could ignore him or dismiss him. She could rage at him and he'd accept it. There's probably not much the dead don't accept. But he's been there for all the other losses in her life, so it feels right for him to be here for this one, too.
"I'm sorry," he says, and his sincerity radiates through the Force.
From somewhere deep inside, she summons up the strength to glare at him. "It's your fault," she says, but it's rote. She's not sure even she believes it, though she knows Han does. Did. "He's too much like you."
"I'll accept the blame," he replies with an easy solemnity that reminds her of Luke. Or maybe Luke reminds her of him. She can't tell anymore. "You don't have to carry it all yourself, you know."
"I don't blame myself for Ben," she says. She almost sounds convincing. Han, though. Han is partly her fault. She didn't kill him, but she insisted he try and save their son. She knows Han wouldn't blame her for that, that he would have done the same whether she'd asked him to or not, but she asked, and that makes her responsible.
Anakin tips his head almost imperceptibly to the spot next to him on the bed, and says, "I know."
She can't tell if he's responding to her words or her thoughts. She's not sure she wants to know.
Instead, she sits. She can feel warmth radiating from him, and she leans into it instinctively, surprised to find him semi-solid. He wraps an arm around her, and though she has a sudden memory of his fingers digging into her shoulder while Tarkin blew up Alderaan, the cold strength of him the only thing holding her back (holding her up) while she watched her whole world literally destroyed, she doesn't shrug it off. She's been alone for so long. Maybe only the dead can comfort her now. She takes a hitching breath and squeezes her eyes shut against the tears she can no longer keep from falling.
He lets her cry in silence for a while, his warm and unexpectedly solid presence surprisingly comforting. She wonders if he'd have been like this as a father if things had turned out differently. She won't let her mind wander too far down that path, though. She never has before, though Luke used to occasionally bring it up after a drink or two.
The only way she knows how to survive is to keep moving forward without spending too much energy looking back or playing what-if. If she starts now, she might never climb her way out of it, and that way lies madness. The weight of all she's lost is like a vise around her heart and she gasps for air, wondering if there's ever going to be a respite from the pain.
"Don't despair, Leia," he says gently, the words a weird electrical buzz against her hair. "The girl is strong. She blazes with hope and purpose."
"She reminds you of yourself?" Leia asks, her voice muffled and not as sharp as she'd like.
"No. Well, a little," he allows, and she can hear the self-deprecation in it, "but mostly of my mother. And your mother. And you." He sighs. "I've never known anyone stronger."
She hums, accepting the compliment, if not quite believing it. "Will she be okay?"
"She'll be tempted, but I don't think she'll fall."
She raises her head from his shoulder. "You don't know?" Her voice rises incredulously.
"'Always in motion the future is,'" he quotes, lips twisting in a grimace.
"What good is being dead if you can't see the future?"
He shrugs, his arm tightening around her shoulder, sending a low thrum through her that makes her shiver. "Sorry. I'm not used to being solid anymore."
She's pretty sure that's not what he's actually apologizing for, but she doesn't call him on it. That would require knowing whether she wants to accept it or not. Instead, she puts her head back down on his shoulder and takes another shuddering, sighing breath. The tears come slow now, oozing instead of cascading, and he lets her cry herself dry in silence.
"Have you spoken to--him?" she asks when she feels able to speak again, sitting up and untangling herself from his embrace. He lets her go without a struggle.
Anakin frowns. "He doesn't listen to me. He thinks I'm some trick of Luke's to lure him back to the light."
"There is still good in him," she insists, even now. "I've felt it."
"I know. It might not be enough." He pats her hair tentatively and when she doesn't pull away, he does it again.
"It was for you." She hasn't acknowledged it often, but it feels right to do so now.
"It almost wasn't."
She gets a flash of an image, Luke under an onslaught of Force lightning, rage and fear flooding her veins. And then it's gone.
"Sorry," he says again. She wonders if he's ever apologized so much in his life. Death. She's too tired to sort that mess out. "I'll try again. I'll keep trying."
She remembers something Luke told her once, when he was teaching her the ways of the Force. "I thought there was no try." Her voice holds a hint of warmth she's never shared with him before.
"Only do or do not," he agrees with a small smile. "You do remember I wasn't that great at being a Jedi, right? You want Obi-Wan for that."
"Is he--" she asks, surprised, before stopping herself.
"He's still around somewhere, yeah. He speaks to Luke occasionally."
"Yeah, me, too. It's all right, though. I've had him telling me what to do for so long I'd probably miss it now if he stopped."
"I meant, do you still speak to Luke?"
His grin is mischievous. "Yes. Not as often as I'd like, though. Otherwise, he spends too much time alone. That can't be good for him." The grin disappears. "He'll need you, when he comes back. He might even be sensible enough to tell you so."
"He was never the sensible one," she says.
"No," Anakin agrees. "It's not really a Skywalker trait."
She'd argue but it'd just be for argument's sake, and she tries not to do that anymore. She settles for, "Not in the men, anyway," and his smile returns, making him look younger and sweeter than he has before. She's glad she was able to bring that out in him. Maybe she's learning to forgive him, after all.
"Sleep well, Princess," he says, as if it's an unlooked-for endearment, rather than her old title, and she thinks maybe she will, after all. He rises and offers her a brief bow of respect. "May the Force be with you."
He's faded almost entirely away when she whispers, "Good night, Father," but she's sure he heard her by the brief wild flare of joy in the Force.