Leia doesn't see the point of the meeting, especially when her father tells her it's because he needs to establish her as a trustworthy resource to the operative known as Fulcrum. There isn't anyone in the nascent Rebellion who doesn't know who she is and who her parents are, and if the former isn't yet sufficient, the latter absolutely is. Leia is young, but she's lost her novice shine and she's held her own in both the Senate and in subterfuge.
"Fulcrum has seen me place my faith in the faithless before," her father tells her and it's only the look of regret and sorrow in his eyes that keeps her from shouting out that she has no plans to turn traitor to the rebellion. This look on her father's face, this pain, comes from the last days of the Republic and Leia wishes with all of her heart that she could convince her father that he did not bring about the Empire through his actions. But she doesn't have the words for that yet, only the actions. And right now those actions lead her to agreeing to meet Fulcrum and prove her worth.
Fulcrum, when they meet her in a cantina on Partorna, a planet that makes the lower levels of Corucant look like the Outer Rim, is a Togrutan female who sits at a table with the sort of placid stillness that promises only deadly violence if crossed. There's a... pull to her, maybe, that Leia doesn't so much feel as sense, like the goosebumps before a lightning strike in a storm. She could close her eyes in this room with four hundred souls, spin around until she was dizzy, and still know where Fulcrum was. It's a little scary and comforting all at once.
Fulcrum smiles when she sees them, but that smile quickly disappears when she sees Leia, who in turn is taken aback by the reaction. She's used to people thinking she's too young for the responsibility and her back straightens up in defiant response, but her father pats her shoulder comfortingly. He exchanges a look with Fulcrum that is an entire conversation she's not supposed to understand, like when her parents would speak volumes with their eyes when she was a child, and it's so frustrating that she can't say anything about it. But this is why she's here, to prove that she's not the same child who'd demand to be let in on everything, even things that did not concern her. Even though this silent argument almost certainly does.
Her father and Fulcrum speak in Mando'a, which Leia can only understand in part because her vocabulary came from one of her governesses and didn't include too many words for war or treason against the Empire. Then they switch to Durese, which Leia takes to mean that she is now invited into the conversation.
"I know who you are," Fulcrum cuts her off when Leia tries to give her own credentials. It's not unkind, instead almost amused and Leia finds herself smiling instead of being annoyed because she's pretty sure she's missing something. "Your father's faith in you is not misplaced. I look forward to working with you."
It will be years before she can put this meeting into its proper context, not just because of the missing information, but because her memories of that evening are not of the mysterious Togrutan, but of her father -- his pride in her, especially. It's a hard memory to revisit because, no matter how much Luke assures her that there was nothing she could have done to stop Tarkin from destroying Alderaan, she blames herself and her temper and her talent for mouthing off for escalating a threat into a genocide. And that Vader's blood runs through her veins... She will never have Luke's calm acceptance of that. She never met Anakin Skywalker, only the monster that he became. Luke's tried to show her through the Force that Anakin -- he calls him "our father," but Leia had a father and his name was Bail Organa -- regrets his acts and bears true love for them. But while the Force might have forgiven him, Leia's not ready to do the same just yet. Her wounds at Vader's hands have not healed and Anakin Skywalker... he's the faithless friend at the root of her father's self-doubt and she's not ready to forgive that, either.
But when she does finally make the attempt, the mysterious Togrutan is more responsible for it than Luke. Leia knows that Fulcrum is really Ahsoka Tano before she finds out that Darth Vader was once Anakin Skywalker, knows that Grand Moff Tarkin had left scars on Ahsoka before he carved his own into Leia's soul. After Endor and the high of what they've accomplished -- and being in love -- fades to a dull roar, it is Ahsoka's words about Anakin, spoken from a pain not unlike her own, that reach Leia more deeply than her brother's. Ahsoka, in many ways, is Anakin's kin more than Leia and Luke are. She knew him best of anyone still living and her willingness to try to appreciate -- not excuse -- why he became Vader feels more right to Leia than Luke's preternaturally calm Jedi acceptance. (Luke sometimes sounds like he's already half Force ghost, all abstracted feelings and ethereal emotions.) Ahsoka doesn't think Anakin made the right choices and doesn't think his wrong ones can simply be washed clean, but she has context for them that makes his fall to the Dark Side less of an eager running jump and more of a short slip from standing on the edge. Anakin took the final steps on his own, Ahsoka believes, but he didn't get to that place on his own and she considers herself one of those who got him there.
"He blamed me for it," she confessed one evening as the two of them sat in a garden looking at the stars. "For abandoning him. He's apologized for it since -- his Force ghost is an awful lot more introspective than he ever was -- but he maybe wasn't entirely wrong the first time."
"But you were his student!" Leia's not enough of a hypocrite to tell Ahsoka not to do exactly what she does herself, but she draws the line at blaming apprentices for the faults of the master. "You were his responsibility, not his keeper."
Ahsoka shrugs. "I was his responsibility, but he was mine, too. A padawan teaches their master as much as they are taught, even if they don't realize it at the time. By teaching me, he learned about himself and about the Force even as he was showing me the same. And some of what we both learned... weren't maybe the best lessons. I used to wonder if he'd have fallen if I'd stayed, but I'm not sure it would have been enough. And I'm also not sure that I wouldn't have followed him to the Dark Side."
Leia doesn't know what's on her face in reaction to that, but Ahsoka laughs ruefully. "Out of the two of us, I was the one more likely to use the Force as a tool instead of as a guide. We were both really good at ignoring the lines between what could be done and what should be, but... Anakin had had to learn about the Force and his relationship to it and he remembered his life without it and what the cost had been for him to become a Jedi at all. I was essentially born to it and raised with it and didn't treat it as a privilege or a gift or having a price. When you feel entitled to great power, you don't respect it and you don't understand when not to use it. I didn't. Anakin did and that's what he had to teach me, but it was something he had to forget to become Vader."
Luke has his own conversations with Ahsoka, Leia knows, about the Force and about Anakin Skywalker and about the Jedi and what they meant to be and what they actually were. These are important, both to Luke and for the Rebellion itself, but Leia honestly doesn't want to be a part of those, even indirectly. She believes in the Force, she has to -- she feels it within her -- but it's not useful to her right now. Her expertise lies on a more mundane plane and there is too much to do to spend time arguing philosophy with ghosts. She needs to be like her mother -- both of them -- and put her political skills to work.
Ahsoka is the one to tell her the name of the woman who bore her. She'd been long gone from the Jedi by the time Anakin had become a father, but she'd known who he'd spent his time with and that Senator Padmé Amidala was the most likely choice for more reasons than that. "You look so much like her," Ahsoka explained sadly. "The first day we met, on Partorna, I felt you through the Force and I guessed that you were Anakin's child, but when I finally saw you... Padmé was a friend. A hero to me. She was brave and good and she ran toward the fight instead of away from it, which was as rare in the Senate then as it is now.
"She tried to teach me to see both sides of an argument, to recognize that the act of choosing differently did not make one evil. She wanted peace and prosperity and freedom for everyone, not just her friends. I know you are rightfully proud of the mother who raised you, but... Queen Breha had been a friend to Padmé, too, along with Bail. You didn't go to live with them by accident. Wherever your heart winds up with Anakin, I hope you can come to think fondly of Padmé. She deserves to be remembered and I cannot think of a better memorial to her than you."
Leia knows who Padmé Amidala is, knows of her history and her career as Queen of Naboo and then as its Senator. Her parents had always spoken fondly of her with the genuineness of friendship and it had never dawned on her that there might be more of a reason for that than simply missing a woman they'd both admired. She doesn't fault her parents for not making the connection explicit, but she's a little less interested in absolution when it comes to Mon Mothma, who also would have been able to speak of her birth mother and had chosen not to even after she'd known that Leia had learned who her birth father had been.
"Padme died before Vader was born," Mon says the first time Leia confronts her. "She died believing in Skywalker's inherent goodness and it... it was easier to let that stay in the past. Because telling you about her requires breaking her heart, long after it ceased to beat. And I didn't want to hurt her so deeply, but in the process I hurt you instead. Please forgive me."
Luke, as usual, takes the revelation with an equanimity that makes Leia want to beat him over the head. "All I knew about her was that she was a beautiful woman. You really do look just like her," he tells her with a sweet smile, as if the compliment will brighten her day. She doesn't reply -- or beat him over the head -- because she remembers that Luke grew up wondering about how his life would have turned out if he'd grown up with his mysterious and absent parents and she'd never given it much thought. She'd known from early on that she'd been adopted, but it hadn't mattered. Her parents had had no 'real' children to compete with and they'd never treated her as the best they could do otherwise. She'd been treasured. As a princess of Alderaan, she'd been sent to orphanages and poor houses to give alms and help those who could not help themselves and she'd always understood how lucky she'd been. Meanwhile, Luke had stared at the sky on Tattooine and wondered what could have been. He had had missing pieces to his puzzle, now filled in after he'd grown used to the idea that they never would be, while she'd been replete all along. She can't begrudge him the comfort of finally having his history made whole, but she wishes he was a little less... Jedi about it all. The Force doesn't know what it's doing all of the time, doesn't will everything to be as it should be, and she is just not constructed to accept everything that happens as passively as Luke can.
"It's not passivity, it's obedience," Luke tells her and she throws up her hands before he can get to the part about what she could accomplish if only she, too, would learn to listen to the Force and accept its guidance. She didn't overthrow an Emperor at such a cost to so quickly submit to another unyielding master.
She does ask him if he imagines what they might have been like as a family now that he knows who all of the principals are. He surprises her by shaking his head no. "It would all be so different, require so much history to be undone, and the paths that could be taken instead are endless. Would it have required Anakin to never submit to the Dark Side and become a Sith and what happens to the Empire if there is no Vader? What happens to the Jedi? Does our mother still die in childbirth or does she live to see what has become of her husband and what does she do with us if she does? Does Anakin leave the Jedi to go live on Naboo? Do they live on Coruscant? Are we still a secret? Are we both Jedi knights or are we both politicians or do we end up exactly as we are, just through different means? What if this is who we were meant to be all along?"
The last is not a rhetorical question; she doesn't like the Force sometimes, but she knows as well as Luke does that the answer is very much yes. She'd have liked a path with less pain and death and an Alderaan that still lived and she knows Luke knows that, feels that, and she's grateful that he also has the wisdom not to say anything of the sort.
"We'll do what they would have wanted for us," he says instead, kissing her cheek as he leaves her. "All of them," he adds, in case she didn't think he'd meant Bail and Breha Organa, too.