Luke sticks around for the first few months of the war’s aftermath. He is a lot quieter than Leia remembers him being when they first met. Still earnest, but reserved. Observant, contemplative. Pained, too; like something inside his chest hurts all the time and won’t ever go away. Leia sees that when she isn’t looking sometimes: the grind of Luke’s teeth, the dart of his eyes, the clench of his hand, his right hand, metal fingers and electric wiring where sinews used to be.
Han notices too. He takes Leia aside one day, frowning. His lip is split; Leia wonders who the hell he’s been getting into fights with, even now.
“How is he,” Han asks; “Luke—how’s he doing?”
Leia doesn’t know how to answer that. “Why don’t you ask him yourself?”
Han laughs. “Yeah, ‘cause I’m sure he’ll love talking about that with me.”
Luke doesn’t particularly love talking about it with Leia, either. As far as Leia can tell, Luke doesn’t talk about this—or much of anything—with anyone.
“You never know,” Leia says. “You could try.”
“Maybe.” Han’s hands are on either side of her shoulders. He’s looking somewhere over her head, thinking. He seems more upset than Leia would have expected him to be. Then he looks down at her and smiles. “They want me to stay and train new pilots.”
“And?” Leia asks.
Han shrugs. “Oh, you know me. Always on the lookout for new things, never wanting to stay tied down in one place too long....”
“If you say no, I’m breaking up with you,” Leia says.
“Wow,” says Han. “That’s a powerful bargaining chip.”
She stands on tiptoe and kisses him very lightly. “What happened to your lip?”
One of his hands comes up to touch the broken skin. “Nothing. Some guys were saying—well, you know, people say things, I maybe disagree with them, a few punches get thrown, the usual.”
He’s avoiding the subject and her gaze again. Leia hardens her resolve, and she knows he can sense her doing it. “What did they say, Han?”
He brushes one hand over the back of his head, ruffling his hair. “They were just—wondering what Luke’s doing. Why he’s not out there making speeches, joining parades.” He sounds sheepish.
It had to have been worse than that, though Leia knows that Han will get in a fight for Luke over just about anything. But she has heard, too, what people have been saying: that Luke isn’t doing enough, isn’t doing anything right. That he isn’t doing what other people want him to do and flying all over the galaxy to show off his lightsaber and talk about the Jedi Knights and hear people ooh and aah when he tells the story of how he killed Darth Vader. Because everyone thinks he killed Vader even though Luke has said, a hundred hundred times, that Vader died defending Luke from Palpatine. No one cares about that story, about what really happened: they care about the mythos of a Jedi Knight, a figure from an ancient tale striking down Vader and stepping over his body in triumph, one foot on the top of his mask. That’s the image plastered all over every city in the galaxy; that’s the image that has Luke bitter and angry even though he doesn’t say it.
“Well,” Leia says, and she thumbs Han’s lip. “Be careful. You’re useless to me without your pretty face.”
“Thank you,” Han says. “I knew you thought I was pretty.”
“Mm,” hums Leia noncommittally. “I wanted to keep you frozen in carbonite and hang you in my living room, like a painting.”
“Don’t even joke about that,” Han says, and Leia grins at him, wicked.
So: they won the war. And slowly they are beginning to realize that winning wasn’t the hardest part.
Galactic infrastructure was fractured and crumbling even before the Empire’s fall in all but the most central systems, but now it has completely collapsed. Planets like Tatooine (Luke says angrily, over and over again) have eked out a survival without intergalactic support for decades. But now everyone is suffering, and now everyone is scrambling for help.
(“They didn’t care when it was just Tatooine,” Luke says.
Leia says nothing. Because it was never just Tatooine, and people did care, but nobody did anything anyway, so maybe Luke is right about that. Luke doesn’t care about politics, leaves most of that to Leia, but he’s not stupid; he sees the central planets getting help first, recovering more quickly than the outer planets, and he knows that is not an accident. He doesn’t spend a lot of time in the central systems, even when he’s called to meet presidents and galactic leaders and get medals. He just doesn’t show up. Neither does Leia, really.)
The rebel alliance doesn’t dissolve after the war; there are still things left to accomplish. Leia, despite being offered several prestigious political positions in governments across the galaxy, doesn’t take any of them. The rebel alliance doesn’t have a single leader, but she is about as close to being in charge here as anyone else, and she’s pretty sure she can do more good in this way than in any other.
Luke disagrees with her, he always disagrees with her, but he also won’t tell her why. Leia is pretty sure she knows anyway, without being told, but—she needs him to ask her first. She needs time to consider. She needs to hear Luke say it.
Luke, fumbling with the straps of his glove. Looking down as if that is easier than looking at her. He’s leaving; she sees him leaving, and he hasn’t even left yet. But she can see him leaving already whenever she looks at him.
“This isn’t my path,” he says finally, looking up at her. His eyes are bright blue and look like they have glass in them. “I know this isn’t what I’m supposed to do.”
“And what are you supposed to do?” she asks him.
The grind of his teeth. “You know the answer to that.”
She does, but she wants to hear him say it. It’s okay, she thinks; it’s okay, Luke, I believe in you. “Yes, I do.”
“Then you know I’m leaving.”
Irrevocably, inexplicably. “Yes.”
He doesn’t say it: does not say, come with me, does not ask her to walk this path with him. She can hear him thinking it: she can hear him just as she heard him when he hung upside down underneath Bespin station, clinging for his life, one-handed, and called out her name. She hears him think, will you come with me, Leia, only he never actually says it, and she does not know, yet, whether she is even supposed to leave. She doesn’t have a path. Not like Luke does.
“Why?” she asks, because she may as well.
Luke fumbles, grasps for words. “Ben—Obi-Wan tells me I should go. But I know I should. I feel—” He spreads his hands, empty. “There’s so much history that’s already lost. I’m the only one left who can start piecing it all back together.”
Leia doesn’t ask how Luke speaks to Obi-Wan. There are things that she does not yet want to know. There are ghosts that she is not yet ready to face. After all, Obi-Wan didn’t live in exile on Alderaan, watching over her for years. Obi-Wan didn’t come to her when her planet was destroyed and give her a lightsaber.
Come with me, Luke asks again, silently.
Leia doesn’t say no; nor does she say yes. She doesn’t let Luke know, either, that she can hear him; she does not know if Luke even realizes how loudly he has thought this unspoken question.
He hugs her goodbye. She doesn’t want to let him go, but she does anyway. “Call for me if you need me.” I’ll hear you.
His hand frames the side of her face, just for a moment. The next day, he’s gone. Han is so angry he almost goes off in the Millennium Falcon to bring Luke back—bring him home, as Han puts it.
Leia stops him. “Let him go,” she says. “He has to do this.”
Han stomps away, grumbling angrily about Jedi bullshit, about twin siblings who keep more secrets between them than they have ever let on, and that’s not right, not exactly, Leia thinks, but she doesn’t know how to say it.
A few weeks without any word from Luke turns into one month, two months, three. No trace, not a single holo. Lando is the one who breaks first and insists they should send someone to look for Luke, just to be sure that he is all right. Leia tells Lando not to worry; not as if that stops him or Han from being utterly overbearing.
“Aren’t you even worried about him at all?” Han says one day, finally, when they’ve crossed the four month mark without any word from Luke.
“He’ll be all right,” Leia says instead of answering the question, and she knows that Han notices this, and she knows that it is, for him, answer enough.
The truth is, she does not know whether Luke will be all right.
Palpatine is dead; Vader is gone; the Empire that has held the rest of the galaxy pinned beneath its grasp for twenty years is defeated. But the galaxy is not a safe place; and Luke is young, like Leia is young, but still. He may not be the same kid she met on the Death Star four years ago, but he’s not a different person either. And people like Luke—people with big hearts, people with good intentions—tend not to last very long in this galaxy.
Jedi fare even less well than the simply naïve. And there is so much out there that Leia doesn’t understand—the Dark Side and whatever that means, its lure, its pull; the way desperation looks in the darkest regions of space, the way temptation whispers, solitude. The evil that destroyed the Jedi Order (the evil that was within the Order, the evil that struck from outside it) is still out there: it did not die with Vader. And Luke has gone in search of it: in search of answers to questions that he has only just begun to understand.
If Jedi once spoke of the Force as if it were a living thing, then they spoke of the Dark Side as a nullification, as entropy. Not the reversal of life—not the eradication of it—but the complete nonentity of it. Empty space. The absence of blood, of heart, of sinews, of poetry. The absence of the Force.
Luke is all life: all brightness, quick fierce humor, sweetness. He is the antithesis of entropy, of decay. Space itself is dark and empty and traveling through it alone is enough to change a person; what other things Luke will find out there, in the spaces between stars, Leia does not know. That’s what she fears.
Five months, and Luke travels far enough that Leia can no longer sense his presence, his existence, even when she focuses all her energy on it, on the thought of him.
And then Luke returns: late, alone, on a small ship without declaration. Leia realizes when Han tells her that Luke is there that she knew this before Han even began to speak.
“He looks like hell,” Han says. “But I think he’s all right.”
Interesting, that those two states can coexist. Leia supposes the ancient Jedi had a saying for it, some pithy bite-sized wisdom she doesn’t particularly care to contemplate. Give her the intractability of existence, the impossibilities of neat explanations and of simple wisdom.
“Did you speak to him?”
“For about a whole minute before he collapsed on me,” Han says, and he hurries to add: “Out of exhaustion, that’s all. He just needs to sleep. Some good food. And a date, in my opinion.”
“Please, Han,” Leia demurs, dryly; “you’ll smother him.”
“I want to train you.” Luke is earnest, a shadow of a bruise along the ridge of one cheekbone, the scars from frostbite and near death on Hoth still visible, still slow to heal despite all that Leia and the medics tried to do for him. He looks the way he did when he showed up at Jabba’s Palace: calm, collected, dressed as a Jedi, whatever that must mean, but everyone could feel it then and Leia can feel it now.
She has been waiting for him to ask her since the Empire fell, since Luke found her and Han on Endor and hugged them close and they watched the fireworks in the sky. She had thought that he would asked her that night, but he hadn’t. She has been expecting him to ask for months—but she hasn’t, in that time, ever thought about her answer. She’s been expecting the question, and still she is caught off guard by her indecision.
Leia wavers. “I’m not like you, Luke.”
Luke’s face turns puzzled, bemused. Leia hurries to continue before he can stop her. “I don’t have a great destiny. I haven’t been to any swamps seeking old mentors, I don’t have Kenobi looking over my shoulder to make sure I do the right thing.”
“You’re my sister,” Luke says, and she doesn’t know how to make him understand. She doesn’t know where to begin. She knows, she is sure, more about what Vader did to the Jedi than Luke does despite the fact that Luke is the Jedi Knight and not she. She grew up with access to that sort of knowledge, purged and hidden as it was. No one knew that Vader used to be Anakin Skywalker, but everyone knew what Vader had done, how he destroyed the Jedi Order. Leia doesn’t have any warm feelings for Vader, or for Anakin; not the way Luke does. She has not forgiven him; he is not, in her mind, her father, and he never will be. Before destroying Alderaan, Vader had her tortured for hours—and he never realized, not once, that she was his child just as Luke was. Vader cut off Luke’s hand, but he knew.
Leia hesitates, then reaches out and takes Luke’s hands, both of them. Remembers finding him beneath Bespin in the orange clouds, how he’d come to the cockpit and she’d sucked her breath in between her teeth when she saw him, the blood over his eyes, his right forearm, handless, tucked under his other arm as he trembled. “Yes, I am your sister. But—I’m not the Skywalker. That’s you.”
Luke looks down at their hands. His right, gloved. Leia’s, both bare, small over his. “I’ve been all over the galaxy,” he says quietly. “I’ve been to old ruins, abandoned for millennia. I’ve been searching—scraping every hidden place left, trying to learn what I can about a people I’m supposed to represent and never got the chance to see.” He swallows. “Did you know Dantooine once housed a Jedi enclave?”
She had not. She remembers, a long time ago, naming Dantooine as the hidden base of rebel alliance when she knew the Empire had the firepower to threaten whole planets. “No.”
“There’s hardly anything left.” Luke’s voice is quiet, a whisper. He looks so pained and so tired. “Broken ruins. A—a cave.” His voice wavers, and he tightens his grip on Leia’s hands.
And then: he does not speak, but he shows her, in bits and pieces, what he saw.
The cave: dark, soulless. Fingertips brushing over the hilt of a lightsaber. (Leia shudders.) Footsteps, silence, then dripping water. The feeling of dread, of old power, of ancient, long forgotten histories lost to time, to war, to sacrifice, to evil. The cave is without a soul but there are imprints of beings who once stood here, individuals so strong-willed that the air still smells like them, still tastes, vaguely, of sulfur and lightning, the Force.
Luke, standing in the middle of it. (Leia, standing in the middle of it.) Angry, bitter, alone, lost, tired, grieving. The strength of his emotion—not fear, not rage, but frustration, what am I supposed to do—
And then, clearly, what not to do—
The onslaught of images, sudden, broken, fragmented pieces of history long gone and imbued not only with color and sound but emotion and memory as well, is overwhelming. Leia stumbles back, breaking contact with Luke’s thoughts. He watches her, motionlessly. His eyes reflect back at her like stars.
She breathes heavily. Presses her hands to her eyes. Sees: a mask, a face, a red slice of light (lightsaber, she thinks, and sees hundreds lighting up in the dark); another empire rising and falling millennia ago, how the cycle repeats and has not yet been broken. Even their victory over the Empire is just another repetition in the cycle. Just another piece of the endless, unbroken slide of history.
She shakes her head mutely, not sure what she means to say by it. “What happened to them?” she asks, raspily.
“I don’t know. The Force is more powerful than,” he shakes his head, “than I can comprehend.”
He looks up at her. Leia feels, for the first time, that they truly are the same age; feels, for the first time, that he may even be older.
“I need your help, Leia,” Luke says. “I can’t do this alone. I don’t want to do this alone. I’m not the only Skywalker left in this galaxy. There were two of us,” he insists; “at the start. I shouldn’t do this alone.”
Leia looks down. Feels very small compared to her brother, who is not tall nor large himself: slender, short, unassuming.
“Maybe Obi-Wan did choose me and not you,” Luke says. “I don’t know why. I haven’t asked him—”
“Please,” Leia says, “don’t.”
Luke smiles, his face softening. “But maybe he knew you’d make something for yourself anyway,” he says. “Maybe he knew you’d join the rebel alliance while I sat on Tatooine and watched the sand dunes change.”
You wouldn’t have stayed forever, Leia thinks. You always wanted to get out of there—so did I. I wanted out, I wanted up, I wanted starlight.
And now she wants more; now she wants tranquility, wants peace, wants watchfulness, wants rebuilding and newness and a galaxy remade. Luke wants history, wants lore, wants knowledge and mythology brought back from death, from nonexistence. Maybe, she thinks, they are both needed: maybe she does have a role to play.
“Yes,” she says at last; “yes, I’ll train.”
Luke’s relief, the brightness of his smile. Asshole, Leia thinks at him forcefully, and his eyes widen in shock. You know you should have asked me before you left, she thinks, and Luke’s face turns pink.
“I didn’t know you could hear me,” he says.
“I thought as much,” Leia says. Luke, flushed, smiling, pleased; Leia, pressing her weight down on the balls of her feet, thinking about the things she has seen Luke do, wondering, can I do that.
“You’re joking,” Han says.
“I thought you said you didn’t want to train.”
“I never said anything about it either way,” Leia says.
Han grumps. He looks tired and frazzled and unhappy. “But Luke left and you stayed here.”
“Yeah, well,” Leia says. “He came back.”
Han looks around, sighs mightily. “Two baby Jedis to look after,” he says, more to himself than to her. “As if one wasn’t hard enough.”
Leia lifts an eyebrow at him. “'Look after?’”
“Yeah,” Han says. “You’ve seen the trouble that kid gets into.”
That she has.
Han reaches out and takes her hand. His skin is rough, callused. He hesitates, then looks as if he’s reconsidering saying anything at all.
“What is it?” Leia presses.
“When do you leave?”
Han’s smile is crooked, a little bemused. “Did you think you were gonna train here?”
‘Here’ being the rebel alliance space station that Leia has been living on for the past six months, where she has directed the rebels movements along with Han and Lando and several others. She hadn’t realized that yes, of course she would have to leave.
“I don’t know,” she says. “I won’t be gone long.” It hadn’t taken Luke long to learn. The Jedi of old would train all their lives, practice for decades. Leia foresees that Luke will do that, in his way, and that she will, too—but they’ll do it differently. She knows Luke learned in months what many Jedi took more than a decade to learn. And if Luke is right—if there isn’t only one Skywalker left in this galaxy—then she doesn’t think she’ll spend decades on the basics, either.
Maybe that’s cocky. Maybe that’s shortsighted, maybe she doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about. But she can hear Luke’s thoughts when he’s lightyears away. In the dark, she can sense the presence of others, monitor their heartbeats. Yes; she will be good at this.
But then, she’s always been good at anything she’s put her mind to.
Luke and Leia leave for Dantooine a week later. “The ancient enclave?” Leia asks, but Luke shakes his head.
“I’ve found a new place. Untouched. I think—” He hesitates. “I think it will be right.”
The ground on Dantooine is old, the grassland hilly and golden and nearly empty of other people. Leia steps onto the new planet and chills crawl slowly up and down her spine. This is a powerful place; spacetime, she thinks, bends differently here. Luke leads her to a hidden spot, a low construct she thinks he may have built himself while he was away.
At first she is the only one training, and it’s just the two of them. “There will be others soon,” Luke says. “I’ve found some of them already.”
“How?” Leia asks. “Do you—”
Sense them, she thinks, and Luke smiles. Yes, he says back to her.
“I haven’t sensed anyone else with...anyone else like us,” Leia says.
“Not yet,” says Luke, his smile deepening, but Leia can feel his nervousness, his self-doubt. He doesn’t think he’s good enough to rebuild the Jedi Order; doesn’t think he can do it. Leia knows better.
“All right, then,” she says. “Where do we start?”
She hasn’t brought anything with her, just the clothes she’s wearing, and those get torn apart and sewn back together into her new padawan’s robes. Luke wanted her to make the knight’s, but she refused, telling him that she had to earn that first, didn’t she? Like he did, like all the Jedi before have.
She doesn’t feel that connection to generations of Jedi long gone that she knows Luke does. She still thinks she should honor it: the tradition, folklore. There’s power in those sorts of stories, of lives lived. She is not attuned to it the way Luke is: but then again, he does not see the future the way she does, either. He will bring the disciples, the history, the knowledge, the lore. She will bring the forward motion, the rejuvenation. Old things made new.
Luke teaches her what Obi-Wan taught him, and then he teaches her what Yoda knew. “Yoda,” Leia says, slowly. That’s an old name. That’s a name not written in the history texts but present at all of their edges: the real history.
“Yes,” Luke says. “On Dagobah. He was the one who said there was another Skywalker.”
When Obi-Wan didn’t, Leia doesn’t say. “Tell me about him.”
“I think,” Luke says, “I’ll show you,” and he does, the way he showed her the cave on Dantooine: flashes, images, impressions, colors and sounds and presence. A small figure, with a large presence; old eyes, weariness, hope gone thin and dusty but still holding strong.
“Do you think he would have liked to train me?” Leia asks when the vision fades.
Luke’s smile is self-deprecating. “He probably would’ve liked you better than me. He thought I was too reckless.”
“Oh, and I’m not?” Leia says, but she smiles back.
She awakes in the middle of the night a few weeks after arriving on Dantooine, her whole body shaking, the silence deafening. She remembers—she feels—
The phantom pain of a lost right hand; the cold smooth metal of a lightsaber hilt in the other. Vader’s eyes, the eyes of his mask: black like night without starlight, glassy like a mirror with no depth, no soul. Taking off the mask and underneath—!
Smoke and systole. She awakes before she sees anything further; but she knows Luke has not, that for him the dream has not ended.
Leia walks down the hall on bare feet to Luke’s room where he lies still dreaming. When she shakes him awake, his breath comes in bursts, his eyes unseeing, his hand reaching out to grab Leia by the wrist.
“You saw,” he says when his breathing has slowed. Not a question; a statement.
She nods, and decides to tell him the truth. “When you were away, I saw then, as well.”
His smile slides crooked, embarrassed. “I’ve never had any of your nightmares.” He lets go her wrist.
Leia doesn’t know what to say. “That could change.”
“It won’t.” He sits up and pulls, once, at his hair. “Leia,” he says, and falls silent. He’s afraid: tired, and small in the dark, and very much alone.
Leia puts her arms around him and hugs him. She’s his sister; sometimes, this is all that you can do. Her nightmares are not as vivid as his: more left unseen than ever made clear. She dreams of Alderaan, of a mother she never met; but mostly she does not dream at all, save when Luke’s dreams bleed through. Luke dreams nearly every night.
“Ben said,” Luke says, and Leia can feel him tremble. She hugs him tighter. “When I—when I thought, maybe, I couldn’t do this—he said that I’m not the last of the old Jedi” (But I am, Luke thinks, so loudly Leia can hear it) “but that I’m the first of the new.” He shakes his head. He’s crying. “It doesn’t feel like it.”
“Maybe,” Leia says, “you’re both,” and Luke breathes out, goes still.
Luke is a patient, compassionate teacher. He never gets angry or raises his voice or shows disappointment in Leia’s progress, though it feels frustratingly, and unexpectedly, slow and difficult to her. She’d expected—
Ease. Simplicity. Foolishly, perhaps.
Luke’s never-ending patience only frustrates Leia further. She is always angry—with Luke, with herself, with the whole damn galaxy. She hides it well, but it’s always there, and she knows Luke can tell. She doesn’t know how to be vulnerable—the idea of trying never even occurs to her.
Anger leads to hate, she thinks, and doesn’t know why. It feels like a very old thought.
But Luke—Luke, Luke, sweet quiet forgiving Luke—sits her down one day and tries to pull the truth out of her, like sucking poison from a wound.
“It’s all right to be angry.” Luke is quiet, deliberate. “Anger is an emotion like any other.”
Leia, who has been reading what scant amount of material on the Jedi Order that Luke has managed to accrue, smiles somewhat bitterly. “That doesn’t sound very Jedi-like of you.”
“Yes, well,” Luke says; “that Jedi Order is dead. Maybe it’s dead for a reason.”
Maybe they didn’t get everything right the first time around.
“I can’t forgive him,” Leia says. I can’t, Luke. You can’t expect me to.
He nods at her. He looks—pained, as if he wishes he could change her mind, but knows he can’t. “I know,” he says. “You don’t have to.”
Her anger does not lessen, but the timbre of it changes, the color. Luke doesn’t understand, but he accepts.
Her training progresses quickly after this. She was right: she is good at this.
Six months after arriving on Dantooine, Luke leaves and returns two weeks later with three new disciples: three padawans. Bel, Riyah, and Isamu, twenty-three, twenty, and seventeen respectively. They’re young, earnest, and fiercely determined, and they defer to Leia just as much as they do to Luke. It’s hard for her to remember most of the time that she’s only twenty-four: that she’s as young as any of them technically, if not in truth.
Luke is as patient and helpful with them as he is with Leia. Looking at the three new students meditating, hopeful and excited and nervous too, Leia realizes for the first time that they’re really going to do this. Luke is going to do this: the return of the Jedi.
Adjusting to a new routine and new students to occupy Luke’s time is strange at first, but the change is welcome and necessary. They all live together, eat together, room together, form a strange sort of community together. Luke encourages openness and honesty and the exploration of hard questions and truths and self-doubts. Luke is better at all of that than Leia is, and Isamu, the youngest, is particularly close-mouthed and speaks little of herself. But overall, Luke’s process works. Obi-Wan and Yoda’s training—so thoroughly pervaded by the intense keeping of secrets and the repression of emotion—has had their effect on Luke, but not, perhaps, in the way that Obi-Wan and Yoda may have wanted.
Bel is the oldest, just a little younger than Luke and Leia, a tall, dark-skinned boy from Coruscant. He is softspoken, disciplined, eager, his gold-brown eyes piercing even while he himself is restrained and seemingly unassuming.
He catches Leia in the study while she reads one day a few months after his arrival on Dantooine. She lifts one hand to him in greeting but otherwise pays little attention to him until he sits at the table across from her, looking intimidated and nervous but also intent.
She lowers her book. “How many times must I tell you I’m no master, but a padawan like yourself?”
He fumbles for a moment. “Leia, then.” She nods at him. “I wondered whether I might ask you something.”
Luke has been encouraging her to connect more with the other trainees. It’s not that she has no interest in them, merely that she feels much apart from them for reasons beyond her control. She’s fought in a war, after all; she feels much apart from most people.
“Sure,” she says, because Bel seems like he needs the reassurance.
He looks down at his hands, his mouth twisting. “I was just curious,” he says; “about Luke.”
Leia, surprised, raises her eyebrows and puts down her book. “You’d be better served by talking to him instead.”
Bel seems embarrassed. “It’s not that I—I just want to know more about him,” he says. “I’m sorry. This was rude. I should not have bothered you.” He makes as if to stand, and Leia puts out her hand, trying to hide a smile.
“It’s all right,” she says. “I’m just curious as to why you would ask me and not him.”
Bel struggles for a moment. Leia can tell he is blushing even though his skin is too dark to show the blood flushing beneath his skin; she can sense the way his body temperature rises. Heightened Jedi powers and all that. Rather invasive. “He is—I’ve never met anyone like him,” Bel says. “I have never….”
He trails off. Leia tucks her smile away and tries to seem as cool and detached as she pretends she is. “Well, you should talk to him then. I’m sure he’d love to talk to you more and get to know you better as well.”
Bel looks down. “There’s nothing to say about me.”
“Perhaps,” Leia says. “I doubt it, though.”
Bel looks up at her. He seems to have gathered a modicum of courage. “Will you tell him about this?”
“Hm,” Leia says. She picks up her book again. “We’ll see.”
Bel looks slightly anguished, but he bows to her before he leaves. When he’s gone, Leia can’t help snickering into her book—as well as feeling, yearningly, a sort of long-held nostalgia for a time when she was that young, and that enamored.
When she sees Luke later, she nudges him in the ribs. “So,” she says, briskly; “what do you think about Bel?”
Luke, distracted: “He’s an excellent learner. Very bright. He’ll make a good Jedi one day.”
“No,” Leia says, “what do you think about Bel, Luke?”
Luke looks up at her, bemused.
“He’s starstruck by you,” Leia says, because Luke isn’t getting it and will never get it unless she just says it straight. “I think he has a crush.”
Luke blushes, quite visibly. “What? That’s—why would you say that? Leia....” He trails off.
Leia shrugs. “Because it’s true.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Luke says with more fervor now, gaining strength. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. And it doesn’t matter, anyway, even if it were—well, it’s not, so it doesn’t.”
“Hm,” is all Leia says, and she smiles.
Nearly one year after arriving on Dantooine, Luke—sitting cross-legged in meditation while Leia mirrors him—lowers his hands and says, “There is nothing more that I can teach you. From now on, we learn together.”
“I don’t feel ready.”
“Neither did I.”
“You had to fight a war,” Leia points out. “You had to be ready.”
“Yes,” Luke says; “and now we have to put together a new galaxy. We both have to be ready.”
Leia looks down. If a year ago she could have seen herself now, she would not have recognized herself. She has dressed as a Jedi for the past eleven months, has lived as one, has kept her hair in braids. She has not left Dantooine in that whole time—has spoken to Han and Lando and the others often, but not left the planet to see them.
“There is one thing left for you to do,” Luke says.
Leia knows this. But she is reluctant to do it. “My lightsaber.” She does not particularly want one. She respects the Jedi tradition, respects that there should be a place for the Jedi in the galaxy in the future—respects that Luke wanted her to do this with him, the two of them together. But she has not taken to the martial aspects of the training as even the other disciples have. It’s her weakest field: but Luke is not perturbed by this, and neither is she. They both know what her real strengths are.
“What do I need to do?” she asks.
“First,” says Luke, “you need a crystal from the cave.”
The cave, then, proves one of the most important reasons that Luke chose Dantooine as the place to begin quietly rebuilding the Jedi Order. The crystals that line its walls are unobtrusive, not particularly pretty nor seemingly valuable: but they are lightsaber focus crystals, and they’ve been here, untouched, for millennia.
Luke told Leia that she must do this alone, so she crosses the low rolling hills of Dantooine’s grassy plains on foot, unarmed. There are roaming kath hounds that scavenge through the grasslands and present many dangers to the (very few) settlers and farmers on Dantooine, but Leia is unconcerned. She has learned how to move swiftly, and quietly, and beneath the notice of others, even wild creatures. She makes it to the cave unharmed and unnoticed; the sun is just beginning to set, the air growing cold, and Leia’s Jedi robes, while warm, do little to insulate her from the unnatural chill of the cave. She turns her back to the darkening sky and enters the mouth of the cave, passes the threshold of its dark foreboding presence.
She knows as soon as she enters that the cave is old: very old, and she can taste its history though not understand it nor parse it. She has developed her Force sensitivity greatly in the past year and can feel traces of the Force in places where veil of time and space has thinned, distorted by the presence of strong beings, strong people, strong emotions, strong events.
The heart of the Force, Leia thinks: she sees it when she looks into Luke’s eyes sometimes; and she sees it here, reacting to the crystals in the cave, the black mortar of the walls, the dense thick unforgiving air, the memory of the cave itself.
But she is not here to ruminate on mysteries of the past; not here to ponder the presence of the Jedi who lived thousands of years ago in a small, forgotten cave on a small, forgotten planet in a quiet corner of the galaxy. She’s here for her lightsaber: she’s here to choose a crystal.
Leia does not know what draws her to the crystal she chooses: small, oval-shaped, smooth where most of the other crystals are jagged. And where the others have color, hers is like glass: transparent. She closes her fingers around it and it pulses gently in the palm of her hand, like an echo of her own pulse.
When she turns, Luke is standing there before her. She startles without meaning to, clutching at her crystal, and tells herself this isn’t real: it’s the working of the cave. But it’s also the working of the Force, and the Force, she has learned, need not be real to tell the truth.
Luke is looking down at something that Leia cannot see. He is motionless, expressionless, his gloved right hand closed around the hilt of a lightsaber. His breath comes heavily, thickly despite the cool of the cave.
He never told her what happened on the Death Star while she and Han and the Ewoks stood on Endor below. She never asked.
She hears, suddenly—across time, across lightyears—Luke scream; lightning in his mouth. But she hears him scream, in truer anguish, when Vader says her name, when Vader speaks of her fate. Luke rising from his knees to fight.
Luke, standing before her. Lightning over the front of his teeth. When he activates the lightsaber, it burns red: ersatz, synthetic. She knows what she is expected to do—what she must do—what the cave and the Force want her to do.
Get up from your knees and fight.
Instead, she runs. She runs until she’s miles from the cave and her breath burns ragged in her throat; until she falls to the ground, clutching the crystal to her chest, the knowledge that she cannot raise a hand against her brother even when he stands a mere vision before her a powerful talisman in her heart.
When she returns, she says nothing of what she saw in the cave. And Luke does not ask.
Luke shows her how to construct the hilt of the lightsaber, though he lets her do all of it, simply guides her where guidance is needed. He says nothing about her crystal, though she catches him looking at it, somewhat puzzled.
“The crystal determines color, yes?” Leia asks.
“Yes,” Luke says. “Among other things.”
“Your lightsaber,” Leia says. “Why green?”
Luke seems taken aback. He ponders this for a moment, one hand going to the hilt of the lightsaber at his hip. Finally, he says: “There was no green on Tatooine.”
A healing color, Leia thinks; and hears Luke echo the sentiment back to her with a small, sad smile.
When her lightsaber is done, she holds it in one hand, outstretched. She activates it, and a laser slices through the air: silver, like pure starlight.
Luke blinks, surprised. “Congratulations,” he says, and Leia smiles at him; “you’re now the second Jedi alive in this universe.”
“The second of many,” Leia says, and Luke’s gratitude cuts like glass.
Leia leaves Dantooine not long after this. She neither particularly wants to leave nor wants to stay, but she longs to see Han again, and Lando, and her other friends in the New Republic, and to once more be a part of the reconstruction of the galaxy. She was never going to be a teacher of Jedi the way that Luke already is, and they both understand that. Still, it is hard to part from this place, from Luke, from the new padawans studiously training hard.
Luke clasps her hands in his. Thank you, he thinks, and she allows a small smile before she kisses him on the cheek. Luke’s emotions, in this moment, are many and mixed, much as Leia’s: cycling through gratitude, grief, pride, nervousness.
She kisses him on the cheek goodbye. “We’re in this together,” she tells him, aloud.
He nods at her. Lets go her hands. “The Force will be with you, Leia,” Luke says; “always.”