For as long as Leia can remember dreaming, she’s dreamed of a desert. Not a desolate inland valley like the one on the northern continent, but an endless expanse of empty deadland, dunes heaving like waves across the lifeless sea, an entire planet of gold sand and blue sky with nothing in between but loss and the lonely wind.
She describes it to her mother, who smiles through the tears that have abruptly appeared in her dark eyes. “I’ve been to a planet like that,” she tells Leia. “Long ago. It was a beautiful place, but very sad.”
“Can I go?” Leia asks. She doesn’t know why she wants to see a place so empty and terrible, but she knows there’s something important about it.
Her mother smooths her hair and smiles patiently. “Someday, when you’re older.”
That’s the adults’ answer for everything, and Leia doesn’t think of it again for many years.
As she grows, so does the desert in her dreams. It becomes more vast, more inescapable, and her dreams become filled with a loneliness and longing that aren’t hers. She is lonely, she does long for something she can’t define, but the feelings in the desert are more like an answering echo than an expression of her own mind.
After Alderaan is destroyed, the dreams stop. She doesn’t realize until years later that watching her home shatter into fragments across the stars isn’t what stopped them.
When she tells Luke about the desert, he smiles. “I used to dream about a castle in a forest. I thought I must have seen a picture of it somewhere or just made it up.”
She wants to ask about his childhood, if it was his loneliness she felt reaching out to her, but this isn’t the time. The galaxy is still reeling and celebrating in the wake of the Empire’s fall, and Luke is still drawn and quiet in the wake of his confrontation with... with his father.
Leia can’t bring herself to think of Anakin as her father. Her father was Bail Organa, murdered along with his entire planet, and the grief she carries for the father she knew won’t allow room for the one that she didn’t.
They’re sitting side by side on the lookout platform above the Ewok’s village, their shoulders pressed together as if to prop each other up. That’s what they’ve been doing this whole time, she thinks, keeping each other upright from a galaxy away.
“I think you were my imaginary friend,” she says. It’s one of many things that has occurred to her since learning that her best friend is her long-lost twin brother, one of the pieces of her past that has suddenly clicked into place. “I had an imaginary friend who was a little blond boy, and we would talk about the stars and go on adventures. He used to get me into all kinds of trouble.”
“I bet he did,” Luke teases. “I’m sure you were a perfect lady and never got into any trouble on your own.”
Leia shoves him with her shoulder, and he shoves her back. “What kind of princess would I be if I did what I was told?”
“Not the kind that leads a rebellion and saves the galaxy.”
“I did have some help with that,” she points out. “From my brother.”
“Your brother,” he echoes. “My sister.”
She can’t hear his thoughts, but she can feel them, the tumult of bitterness and relief, his quiet joy and his bone-deep exhaustion. She puts her head on his shoulder and tries to give him some of her peace. “I remember wishing my friend was real so I could have a brother,” Leia goes on, distant memories resurfacing with fresh meaning. “I told my mother, and she said... she said I’d had a little brother, but he died right after we were born.”
Luke flinches, and Leia reaches for his hand without thinking. If she concentrates, she can feel the hum of power pooling in his fingertips, but she focuses instead on the warmth of his skin, damp in the balmy night air, and on the distant rhythm of his heartbeat.
“That must have been what they told her. It makes sense,” he says after a moment, calm and flat, like it doesn’t mean anything, like it’s just another strategy and not a lie that broke the heart of a mother he never knew.
Leia knows better. “If I picture her in my mind, will you see her? Can I show you what I remember?”
There is a pause, then Luke nods slowly. Leia closes her eyes and holds on tight to him, pulling up images of their mother, of her beautiful hair and sad eyes, reaching deep for all the small details captured by her childhood self. She can feel Luke’s cheek resting on her forehead and his presence in her thoughts, like he’s watching her trying to sketch a portrait in the sand. Leia remembers the airy scent of her mother’s perfume, the blue silk of her dresses like water, the way she stared at Leia sometimes like she was searching for a sign of someone else. She remembers crying as the last of her mother’s faded spirit slipped away, and in the present, a tear that isn’t hers slides down her face.
“Thank you,” Luke says, and she doesn’t know if it’s aloud or echoing in the space where their hearts overlap.
For as long as she can remember, Leia has dreamed about a desert. She still does, but now it’s only one more setting among the myriad dreamscapes that fill her unconscious, no longer endless and inescapable. Now, there is a horizon and beyond it, stars.