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Flesh of My Flesh

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Apparently, Leia was not adopted; she was stolen in the middle of the night and registered to House Organa with forged papers. This was kidnapping, a class one felony, and her parents could be executed -- unless she returned voluntarily to her rightful father. Immediately.

A man called Grand Moff Tarkin explained this to Leia when she was eleven years old.

He looked like a skeleton, and Leia was pretty sure he was the bad kind of stranger, so she ripped her hand out of his cold, bony grip and said, “I’m not going anywhere with you.” Her voice was loud and clear and her back was straight, just like her self-defense teacher had taught her: we defend ourselves with our words before we defend ourselves with our fists.

The skeleton made a clucking noise and said, “Spirit. He’ll like that.” Then he gestured at Lake Aldera, sparkling in the morning sun, and the crenellated rooftops glinting on the far shore. “You like all this, I take it?”

Leia nodded, and he bent down to whisper in her ear. “Then I suggest you come with me. Vader will have what’s his, and he will lay waste to your whole world to claim it.”

He spoke with a strange rhythm, rolling the r’s and drawing out the words, but there was a ring of truth to what he said. Leia shivered and followed him to his ship.

***

Mustafar smelled like sulfur, and a river of lava flowed under the palace. She met her birth father for the first time in front of wide picture windows that looked out onto jagged mountains and geysers of flame. He was standing with his back to her, and his cape rustled faintly in the breeze from the recirculated air.

To reach him, she had to traverse a bridge over a chasm, which really didn’t seem like the kind of thing anyone should have indoors. A servant pushed her along, murmuring, “Carefully, carefully, no guard rails here.”

Vader turned to face her at the exact moment she looked down at the pit of magma roiling below. She stopped, and he said, “Fear is for the weak.”

Leia arched an eyebrow, thinking of her true mother back home on Alderaan. “If you don’t want me to be afraid, maybe you should be less scary,” she said, and her voice didn’t wobble. Much.

Suddenly she was flying, her feet skidding over the smooth black bridge, her body arcing up into the air, and it took her a moment to realize that she wasn’t in any danger. When Vader put her down beside him, she was breathless and smiling in spite of herself. She wanted to do it again, but he was already looking away from her, gesturing out at the scarred landscape below.

“One day, all of this will be yours,” he said.

Leia stared doubtfully at the endless pits of roiling magma and wondered if there was a nice way to ask if she could possibly lay claim to a different world.

***

At dinner, she sat alone at a polished black table with seats for twelve where she could stare at yet more magma pits. Vader’s servant, a hunched man in a black robe, deposited a plate of nutrigel cubes in front of her with a flourish.

Leia had been taught to eat what was put before her, so she poked one experimentally with her fork. The gelatinous surface wobbled slightly, and it slid down her throat without much chewing. By the eighth one, she was ready to gag, though of course she didn’t let herself, even though there was nobody to see.

When Vader appeared, servant in tow, she walked toward him cautiously, plate in hand. “Excuse me, but I think there has been a mistake,” she said in her very best princess tone. “I believe you have given me pet food.”

There was a moment of silence. The servant said, “My lord, if I may have a word.” He never raised his eyes from the floor.

Vader turned toward him with a vague gesture of acknowledgement. Their conversation was too muffled for real eavesdropping, but Leia caught a few words.

“Those of us who serve you...happy to live within the limitations of your diet...but for your daughter…”

Vader held up his hand, thumb and index finger a few centimeters apart. The servant made an odd sort of choking sound. Then Vader looked back at her, hesitated, and dropped his hand, leaving the servant to cough and wheeze behind him.

***

Before bed, the servant arrived in her room bearing a sheet of flimsy on a polished silver tray. He knelt on the floor and held it out to her.

“Your father decrees you shall have whatever you desire,” he said.

She crossed her arms over her chest. “Then I want to go back to Alderaan.”

Hatred flashed across the servant’s eyes. “Spoiled brat, to reject the attentions of Vader,” he muttered. Then he shook his head. “Perhaps I wasn’t clear. Lord Vader decrees you shall have whatever food you desire. Make a shopping list.”

Well, that wasn’t so bad. Leia snatched the sheet of flimsy and glared down at the servant, who was kneeling on the floor. “Begone,” she said. “I will send for you when I’m finished.”

Her mother would have grounded her for days if she’d spoken to a servant like that on Alderaan. Here, though, it seemed the servants were used to a firmer hand. Anyway, the servant made her skin crawl. She didn’t take her eyes off him until he finished backing out her door.

Then she flopped backward on the bed, which was covered with black silk sheets, but suitably fluffy. Any food you desire, she thought. Perhaps this place won’t be so bad after all.

***

Leia spent the next week dining on animal crackers, Dantooine flapjacks with dewberry syrup, tuica cakes, and every other sweet thing she could think of. There was holoplayer in her bedroom with no parental restrictions, and as near as she could tell, she had no bedtime. Really, there were no rules at all, except that she wasn’t supposed to ask to go home, because this was home. There was a legal decree and a DNA test to prove it, plus a letter from the Grand Moff explaining that Vader wouldn’t kill her parents so long as she referred to him as Father.

Leia thought she’d enjoy the lack of restrictions, but by the end of the week, her teeth hurt and her stomach ached from all the sugar, and she knew staying up all night wasn’t actually good for her. The trouble was, her father didn’t know that -- or anything at all about children. Apparently she would have to teach him.

At their evening audience, she said, “Why do you want me here?”

Vader turned away from the window of magma fields and said, “One day we will rule the galaxy together.”

Leia waited for the punchline. When it didn’t come, she said, “Seriously?”

“Every planet will tremble before us,” he said, totally deadpan. He added, “You must not speak of these plans to the Emperor.”

Leia frowned. “Are we going to kill him?”

“It is the way of the Sith.”

“I see,” Leia murmured, which her mother said was a polite response when you think another person might be crazy. On the other hand, killing the Emperor sounded like a plan she could get behind. Vader was looking at her expectantly -- well, no. She could see nothing of his face behind the mask, but she was getting better at reading his moods. An odd sort of tether hung between them, a connection that pushed and pulled in a way that she’d never felt with her parents on Alderaan.

She pushed down her guilt and said, “Before we get on with the assassination plans, there are some things you need to know about parenting.”

Vader turned back toward her and said nothing. He did that a lot, usually when he was weighing whether to choke someone with the power of his mind. Leia held her ground, and eventually he said, “Continue.”

She cleared her throat and opened a file on her data pad. “You should make sure I eat at least two kinds of fruits or vegetables at every meal. I should go to bed by ten p.m. every night, whether I want to or not. And don’t let me watch holos with too much sex or violence unless you’re prepared to discuss them with me afterward.”

Really, there was a lot more to parenting than that, but Leia thought it best to start small. He stared at her again, but this time with less hidden rage and more silent contemplation. Eventually he said, “As you wish.”

***

The next evening, he dined with her. The servant presented her with a plate of balka greens and hemmel wedges, and Vader said, “You will consume these vegetables or face the consequences.”

His tone made Leia want to shiver, but she straightened her back and said, “That’s much too vague. You have to name the consequences, or children won’t think you mean business. Try, ‘you will eat these vegetables or I’ll take your holoplayer for the week.’”

She heard something that might be a snort, though it was hard to tell with all the mechanical breathing. He said, “You will eat these vegetables or you will rot in the dungeons for a week at the mercy of the rathtars.”

“Not bad,” Leia allowed. She had a feeling he meant it, so she dug into the balka greens even though they smelled like a pile of sweaty gym socks.

***

Vader’s ship was the first thing that actually made her want to be with him. Predictably, it was an industrial shade of gray -- she should ask sometime if he was colorblind or just unimaginative -- but she loved the sharp angles of the wings and the expansive windows that fronted the cockpit. It looked like speed and death, and she wanted it instantly.

“Will you teach me to fly that?” she asked. Her true father, Bail, would have refused immediately and shipped her off to protocol lessons, but Vader lacked any sense of age-appropriateness, so maybe…

“A flight simulator will be delivered to your chambers tomorrow,” he said promptly. “If you demonstrate suitable dedication, you will be taught to fly a real fighter.”

Tomorrow?” Leia gasped. Her parents said that spoiled was the worst thing a princess could be; they usually required reasoned arguments and lengthy waiting periods before delivering what she wanted. And anyway, Mustafar was light years away from anything. Surely it would take more than one solar cycle for anything to be delivered.

“All will be as I will it,” Vader said, as if he sensed her thoughts -- which he probably could. That was a bit concerning, but Leia forgot all about it as soon as he opened the access hatch on the back of his fighter. “Come. I will show you the controls before I depart,” he said, beckoning her with his hand.

She wondered if he would fly her there if she refused. He hadn’t done that since her first day here, and she hadn’t worked up the courage to ask him to do it again; he seemed to disapprove of fun. He looked down at her with just the faintest tinge of disappointment, and she rushed into the cockpit before he misunderstood her hesitation.

The inside was filled with switches and buttons, most of which she was too short to reach. She felt a split second of disappointment before she was flying through the air again, and then she was hovering above the pilot’s seat at just the right height to inspect the control panel.

“Modifications will be required,” Vader murmured, mostly to himself. Leia could practically feel the wheels turning in his mind, and her heart raced. He really meant to give her one of these.

“What does this one do?” she asked, pointing at a bright red switch. Vader stood behind her, holding her steady and answering each of her questions clearly. Occasionally he reached around her to position her hands on the throttle. It was almost paternal, if you discounted the unsettling mechanical breathing.

The lesson ended before she was ready. “I must depart,” Vader announced simply. A touch of reluctance hung in the air, and he deposited her carefully on the floor.

“Where are you going?” Leia asked. “Can I come?”

The question surprised her as much as it did him. They both stood in awkward silence for a moment, and then he said, “I must serve the Emperor. It is no place for a child.”

And this is? Leia thought, looking at the jagged volcanoes through the hangar bay door. She disciplined her expression into regal calm. “Who will care for me while you’re gone?”

“The servant will oversee your studies,” Vader said. He opened the cockpit door with a wave of his hand, clearly expecting her to leave.

“He hates me,” Leia said, standing her ground. “Sometimes I think he wants me to die.”

Her father would have said something like, don’t be silly or you just need to spend more time together. Vader said, “I am certain your wits are sufficient to defeat him, should the need arise.”

Then she was flying again, straight out the cockpit door. She thought she was dismissed, but then Vader stepped outside and loomed over her.

“Leia, if you attempt to escape, there will be consequences,” he said. He stared down at her until shivers ran down her spine, and she had to wad her fists into her gown to stop her hands from trembling.

“I’ll be good,” she promised, imagining her parents’ broken bodies sprawled on the floor. Vader nodded once, short and sharp, and left her to watch as his ship sailed away.

***

That night, she realized that no one else lived in the palace, save for herself and the servant. A pang of sadness shot through her. How lonely Vader must be. She wanted to hate him, but she couldn’t. Bail Organa was her father, but Darth Vader was too; she kept thinking of him that way, even though she hadn’t meant to.

But who was he? More than a monster in a mask, surely. At least, she hoped he was. If he was evil and she cared for him, what did that make her? She stared at the staircase to his private chambers for a good ten minutes before she resolved to climb them. He’d never invited her inside, but he’d never said she couldn’t go either.

Her slippered feet made no sound on the smooth metallic steps. Her heart pounded in her chest as she approached the door. Maybe it would be locked, she told herself, but it slid open silently when she pressed the control panel. Had he wanted her to come inside?

 

She hesitated at the threshold. Fear is for the weak, she reminded herself. She lifted her chin and stepped inside her father’s chamber as if she owned it. Luckily, it was not boobytrapped, so she wasn’t cut apart by spinning laser saws or whirling lightsabers -- images that only crossed her mind when it was too late to turn back.

At first glance, his study wasn’t so different from anyone else’s. He had a big row of floor-to-ceiling windows, looking out on yet another endless field of spewing volcanoes. A simple white desk sat in front of them, nothing like the gleaming black monstrosity in the audience chamber below. Its surface was littered with data tablets, holo pads, and the odd bit of flimsy, and Leia felt a sudden lurch of longing for the equally messy desk in her father’s private study. Would Valder allow her to sit next to him and ask questions as her true father had? Was she betraying the man who’d raised her if she recreated the same traditions with another man?

She pushed the thought aside when she caught a splash of yellow from the corner caught her eye. It was the first color she’d seen in the whole palace, and it was nearly hidden in the bottommost shelf of a bookcase crammed with data pads and ancient books printed on parchment. In fact, it looked as if Vader wanted it to be hidden; she had to crouch on the floor and slither behind a chair to find where the color was coming from.

At last, she found herself staring at a row of children’s holobooks. Their bright colors glowed in the dim light, so Vader must have been charging them regularly. Something fluttered in her heart as she ran her fingers across the spines. The Little Hyperdrive That Could and Where the Mynocks Are had been on her bookshelf on Alderaan. The Very Hungry Sarlacc was new, and she settled into Vader’s chair to read it. Predictably, it was strange and disturbing and not particularly appropriate for children. Leia loved it so much she read it three times.

Later, after she’d spent eight hours in her freshly delivered flight simulator, she crept back upstairs and curled up in the chair with The Very Hungry Sarlaac beside her.

In the morning, she demanded art supplies from the black cloaked servant and he obeyed with resentment burning in his eyes. She passed most of the day in the flight simulator, and the rest twisting bits of colored tissue into flowers that she spread across her father’s desk. That night, she slept on the rug with the books again. When she awakened, Vader was home and she was lying in her own bed. A real flower, white with yellow stamen, lay on the nightstand beside her.

She twirled it in her fingers and decided she could love two fathers after all.

***

If she had expected a touching family reunion, she was wrong. Vader wasn’t at the breakfast table, and she ate her Dantooine flapjacks with a side of space carrots in silence. The two didn’t really go together, but Vader had taken her at her word about vegetables at every meal. She’d decided not to risk the dungeon and the rathtar over inappropriate breakfast combinations.

He burst through the door just as she was shoveling the last carrot in her mouth. He clutched the readout from her flight simulator in his fist and roared, “Your performance is unacceptable!”

Leia dropped her fork on the table with a clatter. She’d been afraid of a lot of things before -- the weird gardener, ion storms, tumbling out of a hover ski lift -- but nothing like this. Her breath came in ragged gasps and her hands shook. But no, she wasn’t doing this. Fear is the for the weak, she chanted in her mind until her breathing evened out. She was Leia Organa, first Princess of Alderaan, and she would not be intimidated.

“Actually, it is your behavior that is unacceptable,” she said, suddenly thankful for her mother’s endless protocol lessons. “I was not provided a tutor when I arrived, and I have never been instructed in performing hyperspace calculations.” She finished with an imperious glare, the one royal skill she had truly mastered.

Vader’s mechanical breathing echoed through the room. He was angry -- she hardly needed some special link to sense that -- but she could feel something reverberating in the air. Interest, she thought, focusing harder, and admiration.

Feeling bolder, she stood up from the table and came to stand in front of him. She’d stuck the flower in her hair before breakfast. Now she pulled it out and twirled it between her fingers again.

“I like this,” she said. “And I’d like it if you would be my tutor.”

Vader stared down at her. His mind had suddenly gone blank, as if he’d closed a door between them. “I lack the patience,” he said at length.

“Oh.” Leia tried to swallow back her disappointment, but she couldn’t stop her voice from wavering. She knew he wasn’t the kind of dad who’d play hover hockey or tell bedtime stories, but he did seem to know a lot. Being a moderately terrifying tutor seemed right up his alley.

He said nothing, and Leia finally shrugged her shoulders. “Well then. I suppose I’ll go read some inappropriate children’s books and see what I can learn on the Holonet.”

Her footsteps echoed forlornly on the metal floors, and she tried to breathe around the lump in her throat. So what if she’d decided this morning that Vader could be her father? She didn’t need him; she could take care of herself.

She’d almost reached the door when his voice echoed across the chamber.

“I will not teach you mathematics. I have a different sort of training in mind for you.”

Leia spun to face him. He was holding something small and silver in his hand. It called to her, though she couldn’t say how.

“It will be difficult. I am an unforgiving master, and you will fail many times. But together, we will be unstoppable.” At last he revealed the object in his hand, and Leia caught her breath. Was that a lightsaber? For her? He nodded infinitesimally, stretching it out toward her. “If you desire it, take it.”

Leia started forward, then halted abruptly. Somehow she knew she wasn’t meant to walk toward him and simply take it out of his hand. Instead she stretched out her hand, took a breath, and called it.

The lightsaber quivered in his hand. Fear shot through her. Her parents’ faces flashed through her mind, and a distant voice whispered she would never be the same. But she couldn’t pull away; she didn’t want to. Power surged through her, like nothing she’d felt before.

She reached out with her mind and claimed what was hers.