Leia Skywalker would always be rough in ways even the desert couldn't polish up, in ways she'd never wanted to polish up.
One boy, Deak, had made the mistake of calling her 'Princess' precisely one time, in the courtyard in front of the Anchorhead school house when they were seven.
She'd swung around and popped him in the nose, told him that she was an orphan and a bastard, but never to assume she was something so low as coddled.
It was the first and last time she'd ever had to tell anybody.
And perhaps, perhaps she was not a princess, but she knew she wasn't about to be scrabbling around in the dirt for her whole life, no matter what Uncle Owen thought, and she knew it frightfully young.
She wanted to see the stars, wanted to see anything but flat desert, and she knew, somehow, that she had before, and would again.
She knew she hadn't been born here, without her Uncle and Auntie even having to tell her. She knew that her Uncle was lying when he called her father dead. She knew that he harbored some kind of a grudge against old man Kenobi, the desert hermit, but somehow knew better than to ask why. She knew that he blamed her father for things far worse.
She knew that all this knowing was some kind of the wizardry her uncle spoke of in such angry tones - it was a dirtier word even than father or mother or starship, of all things, as far as he was concerned.
Some of her wizardry was knowing how to fix up engines and circuits without really having to be told how more than once, and occasionally, not at all.
She was thirteen when she started repairing a half-junked airspeeder, responding to Owen's shouting with some of her own, that if she wasn't going offworld, she was sure as hell getting around this one on her own terms.
She took it out for the first run a year later, three weeks after her birthday, able to best her friends on canyon runs more often than not. She was almost as good even as Biggs Darklighter, and he'd bought his T-16 brand new and all.
The X-34 was a prize won in one of the post-harvest races that year. Not as fast, useless for jockeying, but goodness knew Aunt Beru felt far less anxious about riding along in it for trading trips.
Coming into her element that way didn't diminish any of her hopes, though. Maybe it would take a few years, a few really great harvests, Uncle Owen really being able to afford a new hand or two, but she was going to get off this rock, one way or another.
She'd told Camie as much, one night when they were sixteen, drinking some of Laze's 'stilled pallie juice, sprawled on their backs on the hood of her landspeeder halfway between Anchorhead and the Tosche power station. Camie had simply laughed at her, handing the clay jar back over.
“They’re all rocks, Leia.”
“Well, yeah,” she groused, gesturing as if to toast the sky, “but some of them have, y’know, more than one color to the landscape. More weather than the odd sandstorm? Plants that grow out on the open? Rain? You’ve never wondered what rain feels like?”
It was a moment before Camie answered, shrugging.
“Snow, actually. Frozen water, falling? I don’t understand how it doesn’t hurt.”
Leia about snorted into the drink.
“Well, I want to find out instead of just reading about it. You still wanna be doing this in ten years?”
“What, listening to you gripe? Hell no,” Camie fired back, slapping her in the shoulder.
When they were seventeen, Camie finally up and married Laze, and that was when Leia knew. It wasn't just a dream, it was vital - she had to get away. She wasn't going to be a spinster, trying to bend the will of the desert micron by micron so survive, and she sure as the midsummer noonday suns wasn't going to do it for any man. She wanted to live.
When she was eighteen, Biggs went off to the Academy to get his trading and piloting credentials, leaving her behind but imploring her to follow.
She wasn't jealous that he left - it had never been that way with them, and never would. If anything, she was so happy for him that she could hardly breathe.
What she was jealous of was that she was still dirtside with no way out. She was jealous that she didn't have it in her to up and simply abandon her family and follow.
She was jealous that she was stuck here with the dung traders and the water gatherers and with her friends who were starting proper little families, and she knew that if she waited much longer, there would be no leaving.
It was all of six months later that Leia decided to thread the Needle.
She hadn't woken up that morning intent on kicking the world's ass in - well, any more than usual, anyhow - but it'd happened by sunset.
There was just something in the way that Fixer had grimaced at her, in the way he'd cracked wise about the new paint job, about the way that she just didn't care for his tone when he knocked her on the shoulder, taunting, "Biggs bein' gone don't make the second in command top dog alla-sudden, Wormie, we all know it."
Something snapped for her, then. Maybe not maliciously, but she felt some primal line in the sand flutter off on the breeze, and that, as they say, was that.
Twenty minutes later they were neck and neck down the canyon, and she peeled off down the old tributary without even truly thinking about it.
Windy was riding second gunner, and she wouldn't even think until later about how suddenly he was screaming for her to pull back, that she was coming in too hot.
Windy had, of course, never piloted a day in his life.
As they crested the climb and Leia allowed the T-16 to buffet itself through the passage, even as she felt the scrape on the left foil, she knew that they were through, pounded the aft thrusters, and bolted for the finish line.
The scrape had taken a stabilizer coupling with it, but she compensated, banked hard left after Drip Gulch, somehow knowing that Fixer was just coming up behind, watched on the scanner as he was caught in the slipstream from her secondary exhaust, and lost sight of him on the curve into home stretch.
She was perched proudly on the front snub of the craft when Fixer blew around a full ten seconds after, and even he could laugh at her and all of their friends derisively barking at him as he climbed out of the hatch.
(All of their friends, that is, aside from Windy, who was busy changing his pants behind a speeder, having pissed himself on top having screamed himself hoarse.)
In any case, it was all the more reason to keep pressing her Uncle for his blessing on her Academy application, once he was done scolding her for chipping parts off of her ‘ridiculous little death machine’.
But if she'd done that, then surely, surely it meant she could do at least as well as Biggs on her entrance exams.
Even if it meant going to the Academy, even if the Imperials were a bunch of status-quo bootlickers, even if it meant abandoning the deserts that she would miss, in a way, even if it meant breaking Aunt Beru's heart a little bit, it wasn't as though she'd never come home, right?
It wasn't as though Uncle Owen didn't mean well, right?
It wasn't as though the Empire was ever going to notice one jumped-up bastard of a girl from the outer rim as being something special. She'd just take her piloting credentials and see the universe, wouldn't she? Even if she knew she'd never really fit in among the starched uniforms and rote recitals of loyalty?
Biggs had told her, not five days later, home on leave, that there were ways, should she be willing to at least make a ruse of going to the Academy, to get out of even that. To make a difference. To take down the Empire, maybe, if they fought hard enough. If she were willing to maybe lay down her life, to abandon everything and risk that she might not ever come home to a meal of tatos and nausage and zucca, not ever. There was every chance she might not come home from that side of a war that she had no real reason to fight (and after all, the Imperials were little more than an annoyance out on the Rim), but it was still a choice.
It didn't matter. Anything was something.
Something that called her, even though she'd miss the heavy afternoon light and the rip of the breeze buffeting over her windscreen, even though she'd miss protecting her bragging rights on clock-ins on canyon runs.
It would be just another layer of showing up those idiot boys from Anchorhead when they tried to laugh about Wormie thinking she was ever going to leave.
And there had to be something out there, hadn't there? There had to be something that had kept her father away her whole life, something bigger and better than her and her dead mother she could somehow remember if she concentrated hard enough.
There had to have been something, and she intended to find out what it was.
Find out she would, but never as she'd imagined. Join the Rebellion she would, but never as she'd imagined.
She'd never imagined that it would be an outmoded, pernicious astromech droid, of all damned things, that would set that particular boulder rolling.
She'd never thought that one fuzzy hologram of a boy calmly pleading with an "Obi-Wan” Kenobi for help could change so much.
It was all so much more than she bargained for, even to begin with.
She'd never thought to talk to Ben Kenobi himself. It had never even occurred to her to simply ask why her Uncle was so wary of the man.
It was as simple as swinging that lightsaber around for the first time. Something fell into place for her, a strange completeness she’d never thought possible, moreso even than the first time she’d ever learned how to rewire a speeder console.
Even from the first moment, it felt more like an extra arm than a weapon, and it had been her father’s. Her father - Anakin, a name after all these years! - hadn't been a merchant, he'd been a knight! A knight of the Republic!
It should have felt like a larger loss, knowing that her father was indeed dead. Not even simply dead - murdered, like something out of one of those adventure-holos she’d seen as a child. Ben spoke the other Jedi’s name like a curse, the way that Uncle Owen spoke of wizards and off-worlders: Darth Vader. It would have sounded foul all on its own.
She wondered if that man was still even alive, but she could tell that Ben was reluctant to speak further on the subject.
By rights, it all should have confirmed her Uncle’s prejudices for her. Leaving home and going off-world was dangerous. It could get you killed just as easily as it could be your making…
And yet, all she could think was that the galaxy was suddenly both more infinitely vast and more incredibly within each than she could possibly have dreamt.
And: Jedi. So there was a word for her wizardry now, a word for something that she could become with it. She knew, even as she uttered her protests, that it was a lost cause.
You must do what you feel is right, indeed. That’s your uncle talking, indeed.
Well, she’d give Ben that he knew how to hit a pressure point.
The spark that she'd held in for so long was flaring to life, even if it was going to hurt her Aunt and anger her Uncle more than simply up and leaving for the Academy ever would. She knew, she knew what she meant to do, even as she agreed to only take Ben as far as Mos Eisley to find transport.
Even at that, it was almost as though everything had been cut away from her at the very moment she'd swung that sword through the air, listening to the strange, whirring crackle of it.
They took the short route through the bottom of the Xelric Draw, out onto the flats that would take them past Bestine. The Jawa transport was hardly a speck on the horizon when Ben tensed up completely.
“Trouble,” he muttered.
“Come again?” she asked, not ready to reach for the ground scanner just yet.
“Look closely,” he said, gesturing towards the ever-approaching monolith, and she shaded her eyes to block the sun out better.
He wasn't wrong - it wasn't moving toward them, that she could tell, though there were certainly no homesteads that she could think of out this way. The closer they came, she could make out a faint plume of smoke rising from it.
That was odd. The Jawas were thieves and swindlers, but their attention to their own tech was absolutely unsurpassed.
Trouble, she thought to herself, agape, when they finally came up on the burnt-out shell of the thing. At least she was beginning to understand Ben’s penchant for understatement.
It took her a moment to notice the scattered bodies of the transport’s crew, and it all brought it into shocking focus.
This was no accident, no technical malfunction.
Her mind raced for anyone who would have the gall to launch an attack on this scale. Interrupting the trade routes on the low plains would be a harsh blow to the southern settlements.
Not the work of Sandpeople, though. Ben was right. This swift, organized aggression, and yet sloppy in all the wrong ways, not adherent any of the patterns she’d ever known to associate with a raid.
It wasn’t much of a logical leap to put the pieces together.
She'd felt numb as she'd bolted for the speeder, not even pausing for Ben or the droids. Everything was fine, everything was fine, she was going to warn Auntie Beru and Uncle Owen, and they'd all go to Mos Eisley, wouldn't they? They'd all load into the speeder and run.
But no. Forty minutes later, she stood alone before the wreckage of the house, staring at their charred remains, realization dawning on her that she didn't even have time to bury them. If anyone came back to check the house, they would see. They would know that she'd been back. They would know that she was still alive.
There was nothing now but running, nothing but getting to Mos Eisley and leaving. There was no stopping in Anchorhead, no whispering to anyone that she'd made it out. She was nobody, now, and her friends would simply have to think she died with her family.
There would be no family for her to come home to - no home, for that matter. There would be no races down canyons, no nights with her feet up on the dash staring up at the stars and whispering course trajectories to herself. No possible way that she was going to even pretend to join Biggs at the Academy now.
She was wanted, legally a fugitive, because she'd watched a stranger's hologram - because of noise and light.
More than that, though, the Alliance was no longer the morally just option for leaving home.
After today, rebellion was a personal imperative.
Leia tried not to dwell on the image of Ben lopping off the drunkard's arm in the cantina, if only because there were more pressing issues at hand. It was staggering, though - a man well into his fifties moving with that kind of speed, not to mention seeing how effortlessly a lightsaber could do such extraordinary damage? There was time to be floored about it later, she told herself.
They had to buy their way offworld and straight into the eye of the storm, had to move and keep moving.
Han Solo was, to put it bluntly, revoltingly common. Every smuggler with a blaster and an obscure claim to fame liked to put on their airs as though the galaxy owed them something, swaggering around with cheap smiles and carefully-chosen self-styled uniforms.
It would have been charming when she was a child, but a decade of coming into the cities twice a year had long since desensitized her to just about anything of the sort.
She knew, though, that Ben had made his mind up the moment that Chewbacca had brought them to the table.
Han wasn't as rude as the other spacers tended to be, though, so she'd give him that much.
It had never even occurred to her that they'd have to sell her speeder. It was ridiculous - there was nowhere that they'd be able to store it, they were leaving forever, her family was dead, and here she was choking down her offense at the pittance the dealer offered her for the little craft she'd poured so much love into.
Leia hated, hated not being in the cockpit as the hyperdrive kicked in, but it still took every fiber of her being not to shriek with laughter when she felt the initial boost.
For just a moment, she got to thrill to the feeling of finally leaving, even if 'bittersweet' would be putting it lightly.
She knew that Ben wasn't telling her everything. Jedi or not, nineteen years of life with her Uncle had at least taught her how to spot out a lie, but he was hiding something about that Rebel princeling. The boy was more important - personally important - than he was letting on.
He offered to teach her some basic lightsaber handling, though, and she felt confident, somehow, that he'd be more divulgent once they were safe on Alderaan.
It struck her at some point on the crossing that this was all she had now - strangers in a gradually-decaying gunner ship - and all she could do was carry on with the little training orb Ben had brought along, willingly blinding herself to swing at blasts she couldn't truly see.
It also occurred to her, when they'd been in space for nearly a full standard day, what this exercise was meant to accomplish - it had always been the same in her speeder, racing her friends. The strange intuition she'd always had about the canyons, even on first runs, came back to her, the odd calm she always felt when her adrenaline peaked.
That was what she was meant to be striving for.
Slowly, she was beginning to understand. It was almost breathtaking, how natural it felt, even if she was still mediocre at best.
Her first meal in space was, frankly, half-disastrous.
She’d only rarely drunk actual water before - water was for trading, plant juice was for drinking - and this water was terrible. She never thought she’d complain that water was too clean, but this stuff, this trip-filter valve process tasted like stale plastic, if there was such a thing.
The food pack wasn’t much of an improvement. Whatever the matter was meant to be, it was a formed purple square, and yet tasted like over-spiced meat.
Choking it down with the already disgusting water was almost too much to bear. She’d be having words with Biggs for not warning her, if she ever had her way about it.
Chewbacca had let out what seemed to be a long laugh from where he was still trying to best the droids at a game of Dejarik, and she actually laughed back. Of all things, she was getting worked up about food.
And so much for Alderaan.
This wasn't even the eye of the storm, but the grasping arms of a tempest hell-bent on dashing them all to high heaven.
This was shucking her desert linens for the strange white armor of a storm trooper with no accounting for modesty - not that she'd ever had much to begin with.
She'd seen Han's glance in her direction, and shook her head as she wiggled into the uncomfortable suit.
"Look all you want, but keep dreaming," she’d said, grinning wide even as she spoke through gritted teeth, and he'd snorted out a genuine chuckle at that.
"Noted, kid. Noted."
Of course, of course, of course the prince would be here. No Alderaan, but at the very least, the boy might be able to tell them just what the hell they were supposed to be doing next.
The entire journey down to the detention blocks to rescue him was riddled with chuckled-out wisecracks from Han that she was only too happy to volley back at.
Han wasn't awful, if she was going to be honest. Abrasive and stubborn, surely, but she was at least that much herself. Not precisely her type, but then, hardly anyone had ever managed to be her type.
Leia would admit, too late, that she'd never even thought of a backup plan for an escape route, and would also admit that the trash chute was an odd stroke of genius for a royal, even if she was probably going to have nightmares about that creature in the compactor until her dying day.
(She was, however, thankful that they'delected to tuck their clothes up into the flat carry-compartment on the back of their armor, after that.)
She would also admit that blasting the bridge controls had not been her finest hour, but she had probably done worse than having to ripcord over bottomless chasms in her life. (Luke, thankfully, was apparently better-equipped for such situations than Windy.)
It was three miles of twisting corridors from the prince's cell - Luke's cell, rather - to the ship, the whole time not even knowing if Ben had managed to shut the tractor field down.
The whole time, she might add, trying not to giggle over Han giving up trying to get a rise out of her and turning his attention on Luke. The boy was clearly flabbergasted that a smuggler was speaking to him, let alone flirting with him.
"Are you honestly telling me that Obi-Wan Kenobi hired these two?" he eventually asked in quiet disbelief, gesturing at Han and Chewbacca, and Leia could only shrug.
"Lesser of about eight hundred evils in Mos Eisley."
Luke’s annoyed glance towards the ceiling was one that she’d remember forever.
“I’m just not used to such…”
“What, snap-decision rescues and blatant insubordination?” Han offered with a grin, shouldering ahead to check around a corner.
After wading through seemingly unending waves of stormtroopers, there was finally a straight shot across the entry bay. She was about to shout that they needed to find Ben, that they couldn’t possibly just abandon him -
The incident in the cantina couldn’t have possibly prepared her for the sight of Ben engaged in a duel with possibly the tallest man she’d ever seen, and it was gut-wrenching.
She stopped mid-stride, hardly thinking as she reached for her blaster, attempted to sight the man in black, and then... it happened.
A cold wave of panicked awareness swept over her. Ben was a better fighter than this, no matter how old he was, no matter how long he’d lived in a hut in the desert. He was about to die to ensure their escape - to ensure that something much more important than himself went according to plans that nobody was letting her in on.
He froze, suddenly, and she could do nothing but watch as his opponent’s lightsaber sliced through him.
Leia screamed, but Luke grabbed her and dragged her along before she could think to argue.
It was two hours, maybe three, after they'd escaped the space station (the Death Star, Luke had called it) and the barricade of TIE fighters. Leia had wandered back down to the little galley alone, intent to practice with the training orb for a while.
It wasn't the blank, calm state that drove her, but she knew that if she tried, if she simply kept trying, she'd be able to find that blank state, be able to stave off the nauseous grief that kept threatening to spill over.
She wasn't wrong, but she wasn't completely right, either. She'd lost track of the time ten or fifteen or twenty rounds before she finally turned the light saber off, pulled the opaque-visored helmet off, collapsing against the wall behind her, sore, hair practically dripping sweat. She sat down slowly, not letting herself care that the cold floor would only make the muscle cramps worse later.
There must have been something in the all of the trying, though, because she knew to open her eyes before she even heard the footsteps, and looked up.
Luke said nothing, holding a glass of water out to her. She accepted, but merely looked at it before she cleared her throat to speak.
"You shouldn't sneak up on someone with a weapon."
He nodded by way of an answer and walked over to sit at the chess table. Leia finally drank, a little sip at a time, forcing herself to ignore the taste.
When it was gone, she turned the cup over in her hands, slowly, not actually looking at Luke as she spoke.
“So... what was so special about Ben?"
She heard a shift that she interpreted as a shrug before he answered.
"I'm honestly not sure. My father... felt that we have a shot to turn things around, really turn things around, and Master Kenobi was an old, loyal friend."
"Well, whatever's on that astromech had better be worth it," she sighed, looping the lightsaber back into her belt and standing.
"Turning this war around is worth everything."
Leia set the cup down on the table and fought to keep her voice steady as she spoke.
"Your war isn't everyone's war. Try and keep that in perspective."
"You disagree with the cause, or are you merely indifferent?"
There had been no malice in his tone, and yet she turned on him at that, only barely restraining herself from grabbing him by the shirtfront, settling instead for slamming her hands against the table.
"You know, a week ago, I was considering running away from home to join up with you. I was! Hell, Ben had convinced me to cut out early, to just up and take off. And now? I don't actually have a choice, because I have nothing. My family is dead. My home is a smoking crater in the middle of the desert. I accidentally watched a ten second hologram, and now I'm one of the most wanted fugitives in the entire galaxy. Hell, my friends probably all think I'm dead, and they'll never know otherwise. It turns out that my father, whom I'd been hoping to meet one day, has been dead for my entire life. The only person I've ever met who was willing to give me straight answers just let himself die to keep the Rebellion alive, so this Rebellion is all I have, your majesty."
The boy seemed oddly unfazed by her outburst, but slowly let his gaze drop to his hands before he spoke.
"I didn't know. I'm so sorry. And I'm... not a prince."
Her eyebrows knit slowly at that.
"What do you mean, you're not a prince?"
He looked up at her, eyebrows raised, and spoke quietly.
"Luke, son of Breha and Bail, crown prince of House Organa, Senator for Alderaan? My family died with my planet, and the Emperor dissolved the Senate four days ago. I'm just Luke, now. You're right, though. I chose this. My mother and father chose this."
"And my aunts, and my cousins. They were all getting ready for the spring festival. Everyone on the - everyone. It's just gone now."
Leia didn't know what to do, and simply sat down across the table from him, heavily.
"We were... in the middle of repairing the condensation harvesters for the beginning of the season. That's why we bought the droids. We needed help with the circuitry. I'm good, but I can't talk to a computer."
It wasn't one-upping, for either of them, she realized. It was simply shared grief.
Slowly, Luke cocked an eyebrow.
"You never knew your parents did you?"
She merely shook her head by way of reply, and Luke gave a little shrug.
"Funny. Well, not... funny. I never knew mine, either."
"I thought you said-" Leia started, and he did chuckle at that.
"No. Well, yes, but no. I was adopted. They didn't treat me any less, but they never hid it."
"So we're both orphans again, huh?" she whispered.
“Looks like it. Better orphans than dead, though. At least this way we have a chance to see Tarkin and Vader dead, if not the Empire itself.”
“Vader?” Leia felt like she’d been kicked. “As in, Darth Vader?”
The strangest expression passed over Luke’s face before something dawned on him.
“You don’t tend to see many news holos on the outer rim, do you? Propaganda stuff, but never proper news.”
Leia shrugged helplessly. “I guess?”
“The man on the Death Star. The one who fought Obi-Wan. Darth Vader is the Emperor’s right hand man, the only one he trusted enough to oversee the completion of the space station.”
Leia couldn’t even form words for a moment, and wasn’t sure she even knew what she was trying to say.
“He murdered your family. He murdered my father. He murdered Ben,” she finally managed.
It was a long moment before either of them spoke. Leia breathed in deeply, nodding, swallowing before she opened her mouth to speak again.
"I say we give the Bantha-shits what's coming to them, then."
Luke seemed more rattled by her coarseness than he had by her anger, but he smiled back.
The hilarity of it all was that Han thought she was jealous, of all damned things, of his flirtation with Luke.
"Whaddaya think, a prince and a guy like me?"
"No," she all but laughed out, shaking her head. That boy was married to his cause, and Leia doubted a smarm-faced smuggler, of anyone in the galaxy, was going to crack that.
Even she could say, half-numb as she was, that Yavin 4 was a marvel.
Green, everywhere, as far as the eye could see, and the air was so incredibly damp - she could merely stand wide-eyed at the mouth of the fighter bay, trying to calculate even a fraction of the fortune someone could have made with just a single harvester, here, or off of the harvest of the lumber. The reality was so much stranger, in this light, and made her breath catch in her throat, and she forced herself not to cry. It was no time to cry.
It was still time to move, and keep moving, and of all damned things, there was Biggs, and the breath went out of her, because hell if a little piece of home, of something surviving, of the world turning, of something going right, wasn't what she needed.
Appearances be damned, they slugged each other in the arms and walloped each other upside the head and cursed each other’s faces off, even though they’d seen each other only a few days before.
Biggs had genuinely been on Tatooine on leave, had thought Leia dead along with the rest of her family, but understood why she wasn’t quick to disabuse anyone of the notion. For her part, she was just glad to have a familiar face around.
Not that she distrusted the lot she’d come in with, but there was a certain level of familiarity that seventeen some-odd years of friendship could afford you.
Funny enough, not fifteen minutes later, Biggs was introducing her to the wing commander just the way he’d promised to when he’d been home.
Sometimes you end up right where you'd intended in all the wrong ways, and it's almost worse.
The plans were all there, intact, in the R2's hard disks.
Biggs and Luke both vouched for Leia's piloting skills and gunnery to Luke's superiors, not that any of them were about to turn down putting an able body in a fighter.
If anything, that made Han simply taking his money and running all the more difficult, but he was right - it wasn't his war. It was craven, perhaps, but Leia might have done the same herself mere days prior.
Days prior, she wouldn’t have even taken offense at his offer to take off with him.
Whatever was said between him and Luke, she wasn’t about to ask, but she’d cop to wanting to punch the smuggler for wishing her a luck that he didn’t even believe in, no matter how guilty he was trying to look.
"What, not gonna call him out like you did to me?" she asked Luke among the bustle of gearing up the fighters as they watched Han make for the further cargo bay where he'd landed.
"Farm-hand from some Rim planet suggested I keep perspective," Luke shrugged back, pulling her into a hug before she climbed into her x-wing.
The run on the Death Star was like fire, was like sitting calmly on her own funeral pyre, praying to every corner of the celestial divine that nothing sparked it.
And there she was, men and women dying all around her in the void, and suddenly, as though Ben himself was speaking to her, she knew what place to find within herself, the solitary state of being that guided her through all of those half-suicidal daredevil runs down the canyon back home.
Solitary, but perhaps not so alone.
She and Biggs still had each other’s back until - well. Until.
Until there was a sickening flare-pop on Biggs’ comm channel, and she could do nothing but press forward.
Until her squad leader missed the target and they had to loop back for a second pass, right around the time one Han Solo decided to grow a conscience.
This was so much more than bringing home some vermin for stew , so much more than threading the Needle to cement her own legend.
Even with the sickening panic-nausea in the pit of her stomach, she exhaled completely and pulled for the shot.
In the moment, she didn't feel like she was even in her own body.
It wasn't until after, all the way back to the base, old friends and new friends all around, the princeling and the pirate and the droids, that she wept at last. Wept for her family, wept forlosing the life she hadn't even wanted, wept with angry satisfaction that it wasn't even close to done, and yet?
And yet, it wasn't all grief. There was a definite release, a definite veneer of joy.
These people mourned properly, she would give them that much.
There was a great bonfire on the clearing just below the great pyramid, before dawn the next day. Any and all survivors, wing or command, were encouraged to come forward and speak of the dead.
Each story was capped off by throwing a handful of special kindling into the flames that gave off colored sparks - she’d been told it was some kind of an Alderaanian tradition. She wondered if it was part of the spring festival Luke had mentioned - which would be morbidly convenient, though she kept that to herself.
She heard stories of musicians who wrote bawdies in the languages of their home planets that could never hope to make sense in Standard. She heard stories of loyal comrades, of recipes treated to ration adjustments, of embarrassing mishaps that only served to draw people closer together.
When it came to Leia, she found there was no one story she could think to tell.
“I grew up about four clicks from Biggs Darklighter. Our families helped each other through boon harvests and vicious dry seasons. He taught me how to tell good liquor from ‘still garbage that would poison you. He taught me how to scuffle. He was the only one who never laughed when I started talking about leaving home. He died doing something he believed in fiercely, for reasons he never exactly discussed with me, so I think he’d prefer it to having died in bed on a moisture farm. I very literally owe him my life.”
Before she could think to throw the kindling, she stopped. Should she say something about her family, about Ben? She decided this was probably not the place, acknowledged them silently, and threw the spark-kindling on the fire so that the next person could speak.
She was a hero for a cause that she'd been a part of for less than a week - this had not been what she'd meant when she said that anything was better, but there was no looking back. This was truly, truly all she had now.
Perhaps, though, it wasn't so bad. The world had turned on its head completely, but this all felt so oddly correct, now that there was a moment to breathe. This felt like the strangest homecoming she could possibly imagine, though she certainly couldn't explain it.
Even as Luke put medals on her and Han, and eventually the rest of the squadrons, she thought it was odd. Were the accolades not typically handed out once a war was finished?
But then, this was a turning point, the first that these people had had in years.
Her new family, and that word felt right.