Leia looked up from her Ewok ale to see a young man flickering at the edge of the party. About her age, he wore old fashion robes straight out of a historical holo-drama. He was no one he recognized until, suddenly, she did.
Slamming down her drink, Leia stormed over. “You have a lot of nerve showing your face here,” she hissed. Especially that face. Who did he think he was trying to fool, looking like a man, not a monster?
“You can see me?” he asked, his eyes widening.
The ghostly glow made it hard to tell, but she was pretty sure his eyes were the same shade of blue as Luke’s. He had Luke’s chin too, or rather Luke had his. His cheekbones though? Those Leia saw in her mirror every day. She touched her own. They felt dirty now.
He watched her with sad eyes. “You’re my daughter,” he said, his shoulders slumping.
“Disappointed?” She hoped he was. Between the two of them, she and Luke had destroyed his entire life’s work. She hoped he rued the day they were born.
“We’re bringing the Republic back,” Leia taunted. “When we’re done, you and your Empire will be nothing but a bad memory.”
She braced herself for his rage, but he looked at her with something like wonder. “You are so very like your mother.” He shook his head. “How did I not see it before?”
The words sent a shiver down her spine. He didn’t mean Breha, but the sad-eyed woman who haunted her dreams the way he was haunting her now. Leia didn’t even know her name. How dare he lay claim to her memory? Her hands curled into fists. How dare he!
“You don’t get to be here,” she ground out through clenched teeth. “You’re dead!”
A flair went up behind her. It burst across the sky as if to punctuate her words. The light shown red across his face like a spatter of blood. The assembled Rebels and Ewoks gave a drunken cheer.
“They’re celebrating your death. Go be dead and leave me alone!” she yelled.
A second flair exploded above them, showering the clearing with light. For a moment, it seemed to shine through him as though he were made of stained glass. Then it faded, and he was gone.
Unfortunately, he didn’t stay gone. In the months after Endor, he was a persistent flicker in the corner of her eye. Even when she couldn’t see him, she could feel his presence, like a strange electrical energy that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention. He was everywhere: on her missions, at her meetings, even in the mess hall. If he hadn’t been dead, if his master hadn’t been dead, Leia would have had herself pulled from duty in the interests of security until she found a way to make him go away. As it was, she was edgy and snappish. Han bore her temper about as well as he always had, but, when she found herself biting Mon Mothma’s head off over a passing comment, she knew it was time to deal with her ghost.
“Why are you following me?” she demanded the next time he caught her alone.
She had been staying up late, reading reports of fighting with Imperial remnants around the galaxy. They’d cut off its head but, like a certain someone, the Empire lacked the decency to simply stay dead. There was always some general or admiral or moff popping up to make trouble for the Alliance. It had been a long day and the report swam in and out of focus. If her visitor had been anyone else it would have been a welcome distraction.
Head tilled quizzically, he seemed confused by her question. “You are my daughter,” he said like the answer was obvious.
Ugh. Did he have to remind her? Leia rubbed her forehead tiredly. “I see. You tortured me when you were alive and have decided to keep it up now that you’re dead.”
He winced and hung his head. “That was a mistake. Had I known you were my child I would have—”
“Cut off my hand?” Leia suggested pointedly. How Luke could have thought there was even a pinch of good in him after that she did not know. She’d never begin a forgiving person.
He had the gall to look wounded at that. It was like kicking a monster disguised as a puppy. Every flinch made her feel guilty. Every twinge of guilt made her want to kick him that much harder for having tricked her into sympathy. Stop, Leia told herself. There was a time on Vrogas Vas when she’d been willing to die for a shot at killing him, but he was already dead. There was no point to hurting him now and surprisingly little satisfaction.
Closing her eyes, Leia tried to exhale her anger the way Luke had taught her. “What do you want?” she asked when she was calm enough not to yell it.
“You are my daughter,” he said with an intensity which was more than a little unnerving. “I was deprived of the chance to be a father to you—”
“Thank the stars for that,” she muttered despite herself.
He continued on as though she hadn’t spoken. “I would be a father to you now to make up for what we have lost.”
Leia opened her mouth, but no words would come. She’d called him bold when he’d taken Tantive IV, but this was beyond boldness.
“I had a father,” she finally managed to say. “A good one.” Bail Organa had clearly hidden some very important things from her, but he had never deliberately hurt her. That this monster thought he could replace him would be ludicrous if it wasn’t so horrifying. “I don’t need one now,” she said, her voice quavering with poorly contained anger, “and I certainly don’t need you.”
He loomed over her, trying to intimidate her with his height. That might have worked when he had the mask. but not when she could see the pleading in his eyes. “These Rebels work you too hard. You barely eat,” he admonished with an accusing finger. “You do not sleep.”
“And you thought stalking me would help?” Leia asked, incredulous.
He blinked, his mouth forming a silent ‘oh.’ It hadn’t even occurred to him that she might find being haunted by the man who tortured her upsetting. What a wonderful father he was turning out to be.
Leia sighed and rubbed her forehead tiredly. “If I go to bed, will you leave?” They needed to have a talk about boundaries, but she didn’t have the patience right now. Her head hurt and she just wanted this to be over.
“Yes,” he agreed without a second to consider and then just stood there like he was waiting for a person invitation from the Emperor.
“Goodbye,” Leia said pointedly.
“Sleep well,” he said gravely and winked out.
Eyes burning and body yearning for her bunk, she forced herself to stay up for the next hour finishing the reports. It wasn’t spite, she told herself. She was just being a responsible adult. That he would disapprove was just an added bonus.
Leia was making up a proposed bill and absently rocking Ben’s bassinet with her foot when a change in the air made the hair stand up on the back of her neck. He’d been conspicuously absent during final months of her pregnancy and she’d thought she was finally rid of him. No such luck apparently.
By this point, she had more or less resigned herself to the way he drifted in and out of her life. They had ground rules. No stalking. No visits during intimate moments. No speaking when she couldn’t respond without looking crazy. Leaving when she said to. As long as he stuck to them, she could more or less tolerate his little visits. He always stuck to them. She didn’t even bother looking up from her work as he materialized next to her.
“He has your husband’s nose,” he said sounding mildly disappointed.
Leia nodded absently. “And my coloring.” Everyone said so. She wished there could have been something of Breha and Bail in his features. At least there was nothing of Vader to see in him.
She continued to read as he studied his grandson. Three paragraphs in, Ben made a sound she’d never heard from him before. It sounded suspiciously like laughter. She looked up to find him leaning over the cradle making funny faces while Ben cooed up at him. He looked too young to be a grandfather, but, for the first time, Leia could picture him as a father. In another life, that could have been her or Luke, laughing up at his silly face. It was a disconcerting thought.
A vision hit her like a bolt of lightning. A man, all in black. Han’s nose, with her coloring. Ben. Older than she was now, but still recognizable. He knelt before a shrine to Vader’s charred and twisted helmet. “Show me again, grandfather,” be begged, “the power of the Dark Side.”
“No!” Leia surged to her feet and snatched her son from the cradle. Startled by the movement, Ben began to cry. Sensing her fear, he began to scream.
He reached for them, whether to comfort or to claim, Leia didn’t know. She didn’t care.
“Stay away from him!” She clutched Ben protectively to her chest as he howled. “I won’t let you ruin him.”
He looked at Ben with naked longing, but he must have wanted to be her father more. “As you wish,” he said, bowing his head. “He will not see or hear from be again, but Leia—” he took a half-step forward, then thought better of it. “He will need guidance. The Force is strong with him.”
Leia squeezed her eyes shut as if that would block out his words. She’d known since she had first felt Ben’s heart beating below hers. She just hadn’t wanted to accept it. Her son was strong in the Force. There was Vader in him after all.
“Go away,” she whispered, barely able to hear herself over Ben’s hysterics. “Go away!” she yelled.
By the time she opened her eyes he was already gone.
Entering her office, Leia headed straight for the sideboard, poured herself a stiff drink from the decanter of Corellian brandy she kept there, and knocked it back in a single gulp. It burned all the way down. She pressed the cool glass against her pounding head and repressed the urge to scream. Down the hall, Ben clearly had no such compunction.
She winced at the sound. How had it all gone so badly? Ben loved spending time with his uncle. He should have jumped at the chance to study with Luke. Instead he’d acted like being sent to Luke’s school was the worst thing to ever happen to him, alternately begging not to go and railing at them for making him. Han had been no help at all, saying things like your mother thinks and your mother has decided instead of actually backing her play. Leia had finally put her foot down and sent Ben off to his room to pack before it could devolve into a screaming match.
He materialized beside her, somehow managing to look even younger than usual. Or maybe Leia was just getting older. “That was poorly done,” he said disapprovingly.
“Your powers of observation are astounding,” she said flatly and poured herself another drink. Just when she thought her evening couldn’t get any worse, a murderous, baby-faced ghost had come to critique her parenting. Wonderful. She considered hurling the decanter at his head, but decided against it. She’d probably want another drink later.
From down the hall came the sound of breaking glass. He looked startled at the noise, but Leia just sighed. At Ben’s age she’d been an apprentice legislator and Rebel spy. They’d been waiting for him to grow out of his tantrums but, if anything, they had gotten worse. Luke would help him. She knew he would.
“He thinks you’re afraid,” he said.
“Of course I’m afraid,” Leia said, and downed her drink. This wasn’t the life she had planned for her son. Ben had powers neither of them knew how to control and a ferocious temper. Meanwhile, that bastard Snoke kept trying to weasel his way into her son’s head. Leia could’t even begin to protect him from any of it. She wasn’t just afraid. She was terrified.
He frowned as she poured herself yet another drink. “You misunderstand me. He thinks you’re scared of him.”
There was a hoarse yell and a terrible crash from Ben’s room. Was he flipping furniture now? Was it the bed, the desk, or the dresser? She was almost afraid to check. Maybe it was just him she was afraid of.
“There’s so much Darkness in him,” she admitted quietly.
“There is Darkness in you as well,” he said mildly.
“And who’s fault is that?” she snapped. Her glare would have killed him if he hadn’t been dead already. They’d inherited it from him. She’d kept him away from Ben as best as she could and he’d still managed to infect him.
He shook his head. “There is Darkness in everyone,” he said, exasperated. “Whether he gives in or rises above is a choice. One you can not make for him.”
“Watch me,” she said challengingly, knocking her glass against his chest. Or rather, through it. Her earlier drinks were catching up and the brandy sloshed all over her hand, through his intangible robes, and onto the carpet. He sighed and stepped back as she polished off what was left.
Her parents had made the choice for her, keeping him from her and her from him. They had made the right call and so was she. If Leia could get Ben to Luke and away from Snoke, he would be fine. He would be safe. He would be good.
“At least don’t let him leave thinking there’s something wrong with him,” he said, resigned to the wisdom of her decision.
What was that supposed to mean? Her son knew how she felt about him. She told him often enough. I love you. No matter what, I love you. “I don’t need parenting advice from a monster,” she said tartly, pouring herself a fourth brandy she was sure to regret in the morning.
“Clearly, you do.”
“Get out,” she said, jerking her head towards the door. He clearly had more to say but, obedient as always, he went.
Han’s death was like a lightsaber through her own heart, but Leia held it together. She kept it together until the last ship came home and official word had been received. She hugged the girl, thanked her, and walked briskly to her office. There, she closed the door behind her and fell apart.
She felt like she’d been crying for hours when a change in the air made the hairs on her neck stand at attention. He didn’t say a word, just stood in silent sympathy has she sobbed her heart out. Her husband was dead, their son had done it, and she had been the one to send Han into Ben’s murderous arms.
“I got him killed,” she choked out. She looked at him sharply. “The Light I felt, was it even real?”
He knelt in front of her, looking up at her for the first time she could remember. “There is Light in all things,” he said gently. “Your hope was not misplaced.”
He looked so young and earnest. He was the same age as her when the Empire fell, as Ben when he destroyed Luke’s school. Except he wasn’t. He’d been a good twenty years older when he had died. She was still older than he had ever been. Leia had outlived all four of her parents. Maybe that was why she felt so old.
“Wasn’t it?” she asked hoarsely. Han hadn’t thought it was possible but he had gone because she believed.
He shook his head. “He could always make another choice.”
Yes, Ben could stop before his next atrocity and Leia could pretend that made everything alright the way Luke pretended for Vader. The sad thing was, Leia could have forgiven him. She was ready to take him back after the Hosnian System, if only because she could still feel the soft weight of his newborn body in her arms. Then he made her complicit in Han’s death. She would always love him. She had promised him that, no matter what, but there was no making this right.
“I don’t know If I could forgive him.” A Jedi probably could, but she was no Jedi.
“Then don’t.” He shrugged. “You have not forgiven me,” he said without hurt or anger.
“No,” she agreed. After Alderaan, she had spent four years hating him with an intensity that scared her now. His death had blunted her rage. He had sacrificed himself for Luke and he was trying to do and be better. In the years since, he had not been a particularly good father, but he hadn’t been a terrible one either. He’d been there for her with advice and someone to blame when it all went wrong. Her anger with him had faded, but the wounds he’d given her were part of her now. She didn’t know who she would be without them.
“I’ll never forgive you, but I’m glad you’re here.”