In its final moments, her home planet burns brighter than anything Leia has ever seen. It overtakes its own mass; it consumes its own atmosphere. In an instant, billions of people -- hundreds of thousands of years -- dissolve, uniform, into nothing.
Leia’s hand finds whatever’s nearest, and grips.
Her breath hangs in her chest; her lungs burn with the heat of her destroyed world; her knuckles creak and pop with the force of her grip on external reality as she tries to swim out of her grief.
The beat of her heart flares her vision outward again, and again, and again, until she finds it in her to draw breath again.
She breathes. Her hand unclenches.
And she perseveres.
ii. the force
In the months that follow the decline of the Empire, Leia eyes Luke’s lightsaber more often than she’d like.
There is plenty to do; the establishment of government is a slow and arduous process, and she works long, unending days, often lucky to get five hours of sleep. Here is one obstacle to training in the ways of the jedi: time is a limited resource.
Here is another: she wonders if as many would trust her to ensure smooth administration of the Republic, if she were ever caught.
In reality, smooth government requires both planners and doers. It’s Leia’s good fortune to have the skills, the education, the ambition to be both. It doesn’t change the fact that establishing governance ranks as a higher priority than do her personal ambitions; and it doesn’t change that, in the time after she lost everything, she still had the cause. She wouldn’t -- she couldn’t -- give it less than her all now.
Besides all that, loving someone as pigheaded as Han damned Solo is enough of a side project on its own.
So she makes her decision. She isn’t going to pursue it -- at least, not now.
And yet each time Luke shows up to meet with her, lightsaber strapped to his hip, her eyes snap to it immediately as though calling her attention.
Luke’s words echo in her mind from the day he told her she has the Force -- you’ll learn to use it as I have -- and she ruminates on this from time to time, and for more hours than she’d freely admit. She may on the one hand have already decided not to pursue it; but on the other hand, can she really afford not to? The Dark Side is dormant; it is not defeated. In time -- as Luke himself is all too keen to remind her -- they will need more defenses against the resurgence of evil.
But it is hard to justify defending a government that does not yet exist, so her gaze falls inevitably away from this lightsaber that haunts her, each and every time her eyes find it as though to try to tempt her into changing her mind.
Han Solo commits to her, against all odds, by buying land groundside.
It’s just a scrap, some tiny corner off a back alley that looks as though it was bought at a very heavy discount, and it is littered with trash, though Han is quick to assure her that it is “nothing that can’t be thrown out in a day.”
She doesn’t need him to explain to her what this represents, but he tells her anyway. He says, “it’s just a little something to call home,” scuffing at the ground with his foot; only what he actually says is “for us to call home,” and she knows it, even if he never admits to the wording again.
Leia has never once asked him to settle. She’s never once asked him to stop running; she knew she’d be a fool to try. She had resigned herself to a staggered romance. She expected his long absences, his insistence to live a life on the move, and she truly expected it that was the best she would get from him until the day he stopped coming back. But here he is now, exceeding her expectations -- offering her this, offering her the closest thing to a home that he knew how to give, even though she’d never asked.
She turns to look at him, then, standing behind her as he is, and on top of everything else he’s holding an open ring box in the air.
“I’m not gonna get on one knee, if that’s what you’re thinking,” he drawls, expression infuriatingly neutral; but then he gets on both, to spite them both.
The smile spreads over her face in increments, until at last, his eyebrows raising hopefully with each fractal inch, it does become a grin. “I’ll marry you, Han,” she says, quiet; the bark has left her voice, caressed into submission by kindness, and she stoops to kneel in front of him. “But I’m not living here.”
“It’s not for you,” he says; “it’s for me.” Already, the story changes; but she lets him, just as she lets him pull her hand up to his lips, holds it for him in the air, and watches him fumble with, almost drop, the box with the ring. “You know I hate that -- place.”
“The Presidential suite?”
“Nowhere to park the Falcon. Where’s Chewie supposed to sleep?”
“Chewie’s not living with us, either.” It is still quiet, how she says it; some gentleness, some calm, has seeped into her and settled -- as though to counteract his nervousness, subdued though it is. Han’s hand, always so steady, now almost quakes as he slides the ring on her finger, and when he’s finished she grabs his hands with hers -- aims to steady him, as he has so often done with her.
They both stare at it, this ring on her finger, kneeling with hands held together in the middle of Han’s lot.
“It looks good on you,” he tells her.
“It does,” she agrees.
“It cost more than the lot.”
“I figured that out.”
“I didn’t think you’d marry me if I didn’t have somewhere to -- park.”
He’s wearing the barest of smirks on his face when she looks at him. It’s much the same face he wears when he’s fixed a perplexing engine problem. “Alderaan’s gone, Han,” she says, solemn; and the smile immediately drops from his face. “I don’t have a home. I never expected you to pretend to have one, either.”
“Who’s pretending?” he asks; and something flexes in his jaw. “Anyway, I -- listen, I just needed a place to park.”
Leia smiles as she takes in his haphazard cover-up, and then she kisses him, there, surrounded by trash. When his hands move to pull her in, they are warm and firm on her back; if his arms still show some evidence of tremor, it’s surely the thought of being planetside for longer than five minutes that’s causing it.
“There’s still time to change your mind,” he tells her.
She says, “I’ll take that under consideration.”
“I love you,” says Han; then he shuts his mouth hard, swallowing down whatever else emotion might’ve compelled him to say.
Leia says, “I know.” She puts a hand on his chest and feels the way his heart beats at his ribs, hard, as though to betray his flawed romanticism in no uncertain terms.
If he kisses her again, it’s surely to prevent her from mocking him for it. But Leia doesn’t mind either way.
The lot does prove ultimately useful, even when Han’s not in town.
Luke finally blinks at her with that do you think I’m stupid expression on the day they’re finalizing plans to open the New Jedi Temple on Coruscant. “And what about you?” he asks, gesturing at her across the table. She feels immediately affronted even before she figures out what he’s about to say.
“What about me?” she shoots back.
“Are you gonna come and train?”
She blinks; feels her face soften; shakes her head slowly. “Oh, I’m no jedi,” she says.
“I know,” he replies. “That’s the problem.”
“Where’s there any problem?” She waves a hand around the room. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have a government to run here.”
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but government isn’t exactly an effective resistance tactic against the Force on its own.”
Leia opens her mouth, then closes it. The word resistance reverberates in her head. Indignation furrows her brow before she remembers that this is how she’s choosing to fight. “I have to protect my father’s legacy,” she reminds him, and herself.
Luke’s eyebrows shoot up, then collapse again when he figures out she isn’t talking about Vader. “And I have to protect the galaxy from ours,” he reminds her. “Leia, listen. If you’re still here in however many years and you don’t know how to resist the call of the Dark Side when the Empire comes back--”
“Excuse me,” she interjects. “How much training had you had before you decided to take Vader on by yourself?”
“More than none!”
Leia stares; he does have a point. “I can’t leave now.” She gestures to the room again. “And before you start, I’ve already told Han the same thing, so don’t bother trying to get him on your side.”
Luke leans back in his chair with his hands folded over his stomach. “Well, I guess that means I’ll have to train you here,” he says; and his tone is so sure and so blisteringly cocky that she’s of half a mind to Force-throw him out of the room, trained or not.
So maybe there would be benefits to learning a thing or two about how to harness her abilities after all.
“Are you listening to me?” she says, instead of embarrassing herself with further fantasy.
“Yeah, I am. You wanna be the President? Fine. We need organization and economy if we’re gonna establish a New Jedi Order anyway, and I like your priorities -- for the most part.” Luke’s mouth quirks into a smile; and Leia tries to fend off the political argument before it starts with narrowed eyes. “But you’re gonna need protection,” he continues. “The new Empire is gonna be drawn to you when they show up, Leia, just the same as they’re gonna go after me. That means we need to be prepared, you and me both.”
Leia opens her mouth. “I--” she begins; but it shutters closed again as she realizes there’s not actually much to argue with. “Fine,” she says shortly; and Luke brightens immediately, surprised the discussion went that easily. Admittedly, it had helped his cause that she already wanted to learn, but she’d never tell him how much she craved to see some action after so long sitting behind a desk lest he actually try and talk her into joining him on Coruscant. “When do we start?” she says instead.
“Tomorrow,” he says immediately.
“Fine. I’ll be waiting at Han’s lot in the morning. But you really mustn’t tell anyone we’re doing this. I’ll be wearing a disguise, and I expect you to wear one too.”
“A disguise? Aw, hell, Leia, I’m not gonna--”
But Leia has already risen and turned furiously to leave the room; and when Luke sighs behind her, she knows he’s come around.
By the time she’s nearly mastered her abilities, she learns she’s fallen pregnant.
Han greets the news with five minutes of catatonic silence. His mouth falls open; his eyes drop from her face to her stomach, and then flit off to the side, focusing on nothing in particular. After that, he doesn’t move at all, the shock apparently taking him out of himself for a considerable time.
Leia spends the first minute yelling in his face before giving up and spending the remainder of the time breathing furiously, arms crossed, in the nearest chair.
His gaze finds hers when he finally does blink himself out of his stupor. “I guess I’m gonna need an honest job, then,” he manages to say, dazed, as though full minutes have not in fact passed since last proof of life; and then a grin spreads over his face, slow and genuine, until it lights up every corner of his face.
Leia stares. “You can’t be happy about this,” she bites fiercely, anger filling her at the fact that he left her alone to stew for five minutes while he processed; but before she can accuse him of anything more, he picks her up and spins her around the room, wild laughter escaping him, as though he’s never experienced true joy before this moment.
Leia barely has time to give a surprised noise before the laughter dies out, just as suddenly as it began, and he sets her back on her feet with an expression of alarm. That’s more like it, Leia thinks fleetingly -- but then he presses both hands against her belly as though to stabilize any jostling he might have caused and mutters, “Gotta keep that safe,” before sprinting around the room with apparent purpose.
“What?” she mutters; and watches him, bewildered, with a steadying hand on the nearest surface.
“Why not?” he asks without looking at her. He is picking up the spare parts strewn across the floor and looking at them as though disgusted with their very presence in the ship, and it takes her a moment to figure out what he’s even replying to.
“Because,” she bites back, desiring him to stop and pay attention to her again.
He does not. “Are you not my wife?” he asks the wall.
“And aren’t I your husband?”
Han straightens up with a spare compressor coil in his hand, shrugging as though unsure of where to stow it away. It occurs to Leia that he’s trying to clean for the baby’s sake, as though it might arrive any moment. “Then what’s the problem?” he asks, throwing the coil back in the same corner he’d picked it up from.
“What’s the problem?” She blinks her incredulity. “Han, I’m the President of the Republic.”
“So?!” She steps forward and grabs him by both shoulders, stilling him, forcing him to face her. “Han, don’t you know the Empire might come back someday?” she asks seriously.
“Sure,” he says, but he clearly doesn’t grasp the severity of the statement.
“Don’t you know they’re going to be looking for me?” She shakes him gently where he stands in case it might jostle loose some good sense. “We can’t have a baby!”
“Why not?” he says, and shrugs, his lip curving with its usual casual indifference. “We’ll stop them.”
She tightens her grips on his arms. “What?” she hisses, absent other replies.
“We’ll stop them.” He shrugs again, as though it’s the most credible thing he’s ever said.
Her mouth falls open with unarticulated rage. “How can you be so sure?”
“It’s the only option.”
“What do you mean, it’s the only option? We couldn’t stop them from destroying Alderaan!”
“Because we weren’t ready.” He nods. “We’ll be ready next time.”
Leia shakes her head, trying to counteract Han’s nod. “Are you listening to me? We’re talking about the Empire, Han! We can’t be ready for what they might try to do to us! We--”
“--can’t be sure that this is even a problem,” Han interrupts; and he removes her hands from where they’re threatening to pierce his skin with the conviction of their grip. His gentility startles her into furious silence; he bunches her hands together into fists, covers them with his own, and kisses one and then the other, then repeats the gesture again. “Leia.” He is quiet, he is certainty, as though driven to a place of serenity by the very fact of her sound and fury. “We can’t be so scared of the Dark Side that we stop living our lives.”
Leia sets her jaw and breathes, clenching her fists in Han’s hands and pressing against them. “I have a government to run,” she repeats.
“I know,” he says, nodding. “No one’s stopping you from running it.”
“I can’t run the government if I have a baby.”
“Because…” She purses her lips angrily together. “Well, because!”
“Are you forgetting that there’s a whole other parent in this scenario?”
Leia stares. “You’re not going to stay.”
She blinks. “Well, are you?”
“Sure.” He shrugs. “I can stay for a while.”
“No you can’t. You won’t!”
“I can, and I will. When the peanut’s big enough, I’ll take him or her on the ship with me, give you a break to do your governing.”
Leia’s gaze hardens back into fury. “You will not!”
“The life you lead?”
“Hey now Princess, you married me.”
“Don’t you dare play the Princess card now.”
He smiles at her, kindly, as though he loves her, and the anger in her recedes another inch. She glares at him, as though to let him know how annoying it is when he does that.
“Leia,” he says. “I’m saying we can do this. I think we’ll be great parents.”
“Huh,” she huffs.
“Not necessarily, but we didn’t exactly plan for any of this.”
“Not the issue, as far as I’m concerned. If you’re saying you don’t want this, that’s something else. Well, do you?”
Leia thinks about this, with her eyes focused on Han’s chest, her teeth clenched tightly together. “I don’t know,” she bites, after a while.
“Well, what’s stopping us? Empire and Presidency aside, that is?”
“Isn’t that enough obstacles?”
He shrugs, expression crumbling into casual incredulity. “Is that all?”
She hates this -- the way he brings her concerns shattering to the ground, just by voicing his baseless convictions. “Luke’s been training me, for some time now,” she tells him around a clenched jaw.
“I know,” he says; and he raises an eyebrow when she looks up at him, surprised. “You’re not the only one who talks to me, you know.”
Leia stares at him. “I’m very good,” she warns.
The grin breaks through Han’s face, just for a second. “Go figure.”
She breaks her hand out from within his grip and waves it in the air. “I don’t think he’s going to side with the Dark Side,” she says.
“Who, Luke?” Han frowns. “I don’t either.”
“I can hear him now, and -- he’s fine. He seemed worried for a while. Maybe that’s why he wanted to train me so badly, in case I could check him, or...” She shrugs. “Well, anyway -- I know that I’m not going to the Dark Side.”
“That’s... good,” Han says, looking at her as though he’s missed something.
“But that doesn’t mean--” And when her breath hitches unexpectedly, she grabs Han’s hands with her own. “That doesn’t mean that our child won’t.”
The comprehension unfolds slowly on Han’s face. “That doesn’t mean they will, either,” he says -- and he is calm. Sure. A refuge in the tempest.
Leia nods, slowly, eyes unfocused as she looks at Han. “Is that enough of a hope?” she asks.
“The two of you turned out all right.” He presses his lips to her forehead, then, and holds them there. “Isn’t that?”
And Leia, despite herself, decides that it is.
When, years later, Luke finally tells her why Ben hasn’t come home -- why he isn’t going to come home -- Leia locks her lightsaber away once and for all. It’s been gathering dust for some months, now, she’d think it might be years if she hadn’t forced herself to stop keeping track -- ever since Ben started calling to her somehow through the Force, even when he’d been galaxies away.
To lock it away for good, now, on the day that she knows he’s lost to her… it feels right. And she swears, for the love of everything she has dedicated her life to building, never to offer the Force a scrap of her hope again.
Not anymore. Not for anything.
Not when it destroys lives the way it has destroyed hers.
She waits by the comm system, some nights; others, she waits by the door. She hopes that, if she stands in its entryway and peers out over the sloping landscape, he might, by some happenstance, amble by; he might see her silhouette; he might remember the world that he came from, and come home after all.
Every night, Leia wonders: Had she condemned him to this, by exposing him to the ways of the jedi too early? Had she condemned him to this by teaching him to look for the Force within himself instead of quashing his potential, as Han had warned her to do?
Had Luke condemned him to it, in training him?
She plays the last message Luke sent to her before Ben disappeared, again and again, ad nauseum, forcing Han from the room every time she presses play and caring not a lick.
“I answered all his questions about Vader,” comes Luke’s voice. “I answered every one. I can’t--”
She always rewinds, here, to hear it again.
“I answered all his questions about Vader. I answered every one. I can’t -- stress enough, how often I told him... I told him, Leia, I swear it, I did everything in my power to make him understand--”
Luke never gets around to telling her, in so many words, that Ben has fallen to the Dark Side -- only fumbles around for the truth, offers her scraps of an explanation, and leaves her only with her suspicions.
Leia thinks: If he can’t even tell her what he told a child, he could hardly have been as clear as he claims he was.
“Delete the message, Leia,” Han tells her. He’s different since Ben left -- just as still, but it’s couched in uncertainty, now, a marked change from the sure man she’d married. The feeling when he exits a room is one of blame and bile and booze, and Leia can hardly stand to be around him anymore.
(He has become the tempest, she thinks, and she is the certain calm; but he refuses to rage as she had, only stews in isolation as though building toward some unpredictable catastrophe, and she wishes beyond all else that he would find one of his beloved salvage missions and leave her in peace to wait for her son.)
Instead of telling him any of this, she raises her book and reaches for the glass of wine that waits for her by the comm.
“Go to hell, Han,” she says, quietly, and she waits for him to leave again.
She had always been lightning; sound; fury; tempestuous. He had been certainty; quiet; refuge -- her refuge. And from time to time, they had switched; when he was the one weathering turbulence, she had become the shelter, and they worked well like this, switching off in their complementary roles.
But their relationship was never built for the roles to switch for long. When they settle in permanently -- when he becomes the tempest and she becomes stone -- they start to fall apart.
It takes Leia figuring out that Han blames her for what happened to Ben, after he deletes Luke’s message from the comm when she’s out one day, for them to crumble in earnest.
Their relationship was not built to weather the argument that follows. It was not built for Leia to turn to Han, tears spilling uselessly down her cheeks as she looks at him without a sound or word or movement; and it was not built for Leia to withstand Han shouting at her, using all the words that Luke avoids. It was not built to weather him saying to her: “If I’d only bothered to look within myself for a shred of common sense, I wouldn’t have ever made the mistake of having a child with one of the few women in the universe who could cost me my son in this way”; and it was not built to withstand Leia silence, her eyes staring stonily, right up until the moment he slams the door behind him.
It has taken twenty years. That’s much longer than she expected.
But she has finally lived the day when Han will not return to her.
She finds Luke on some backwater rock, not long after she’s rejoined the Resistance. He’s wearing his colonial garb again; he has grown a beard. From afar, he might be easily mistaken for Obi-Wan.
Leia finds this, on some level, indescribably ironic.
“Hiding, are you?” she barks at him, dispensing with all greeting as she comes up behind him. He turns to her with surprise, away from what looks like a large pile of scavenged ship parts; but then he returns her confrontation with a roll of his eyes back into his head.
“Don’t you give up on anything?” he asks, and goes back to sorting his pile.
“Not when there’s something I want to know.”
Luke straightens and looks to the sky, then turns to look at her with his whole body at last. “I gave you all the answers I have,” he says evenly, crossing his arms over his chest.
“And then you fell off the blasted grid.” Anger courses through her; Luke must sense it, for his hand reaches to grip absently at the lightsaber that no longer waits at his hip. “Do you have any idea how I--”
“Of course I do,” he interrupts; it cuts through her, that she won’t even let her finish. “I feel it.”
“Can you feel him?”
“Yes,” Luke says blandly; “no matter how far I go; no matter how hard I try to shut him out, of course I feel him. And that’s why you have to stop trying to get to him, Leia. You have to know by now that he’s a lost cause.”
Leia blinks at him. “You would say that to my face?” she says, voice shaking. Her fist clenches by her side.
The spark in her eye brings Luke to falter to silence, rather than reply.
“Careful,” he continues, instead, in muttered undertone. “Or he may find us.”
“He isn’t that far gone yet.” Her lips barely move; her conviction is tainted by doubt when she says it.
“Give it time,” Luke promises.
A pause develops between them; builds in momentum.
“Did you teach him Dark ways, Luke?” Leia asks, when she thinks her voice will stay steady.
“No,” he replies calmly.
“I know you can access--”
“I control my rage.”
Leia sucks at her teeth to control her own. “You must think I’m beyond stupid to believe that--”
“I manage my rage to the best of my abilities,” he amends, then; “and so do you. Don’t mistake uncertainty for dishonesty, Leia. I meant him no harm, but I can't say I didn't cause it.”
Leia shakes her head, slowly, from side to side, and says nothing.
“He learned from our father,” Luke says. Remorse edges at his features. “At least, that’s my best guess. I’m not sure how; we know how the Force…” He shakes his head. “He was already more powerful at thirteen than either one of us were at twice his age. It was just inheri--”
“Don’t judge me,” she interrupts harshly, “for presuming to build a family with my husband.”
Leia would Force-slap that smile off his face if she was as certain as she claimed that Ben wouldn’t show up to eliminate her if she did.
“I don’t judge you, Leia,” Luke says. “I never have. Don’t confuse me with Han.”
Leia says nothing; to that, there is nothing to say. She waits for him, instead, to offer her what she came for.
“You’re not at fault, Leia,” Luke tells her instead. “You must know that.”
“I do know that,” she replies; and before she can stop herself she adds: “You are.” She says: “You instructed him.” She says: “You instructed him in your methods.” She says: “I hope it pleases you to know that the First Order is powered by your hubris;” and she says: “I hope you sleep well knowing that your nephew’s -- my son’s -- preoccupation with the Dark Side is on your damnable head.”
And then she turns away from him for the last time, walks back to her ship without once looking back, her ramrod posture -- the march of a General -- held up only by the strength of her corrupted convictions.
She remembers what Luke said to her, some time later, on the day he’d told her about her heritage:
You’re the only hope for the Alliance.
Had he meant that she would one day lead the Resistance?
Or had he meant that he could not be trusted, even then?
Was Leia at fault for all of this, in the end -- just for not noticing what he’d meant when he said it? Was she responsible, for letting her only son train by Luke’s side without realizing what he'd tried to tell her all those years ago?
She finds no answers in standing still. And so she moves forward, a hurricane spurning at her heart.
She finds a quiet mind, in time -- cultivates the calm within herself that Han had always bestowed upon her, in those moments when feeling had led her closer to ruin. With enough practice, she finds a way to tuck the Force away, much as she had learned to bring it out; and she manages, in years’ time, to hide from the whispers Ben leaves for her.
It means that she does not hear Luke, either -- especially once he disappears again, this time untraceably. But it’s for the best.
She tells herself this -- that it’s for the best. But she tells herself, too, that this situation -- all of this loss -- can be managed. So she begins to distrust herself as much as she distrusts anyone else; and there is no way, in the end, to tuck oneself away from one’s own thoughts, is there?
One thing she has never lost, in spite of it all, is her ability to lead.
A career of thirty years has led her through two lengthy wars; a senatorship; a governorship; a presidency. It has led her to Jedi Knighthood; to command; to motherhood; to resistance. And over all of that time -- despite everything she has endured -- she has become the leading authority on how to combat the forces of evil. She has never disappeared on some beloved ship, unlike Han; she has never deserted herself on a backwater planet and opted for a simple life, unlike Luke.
She has never once been tempted by the Dark Side. Like Darth. Like Ben.
She has never once -- not for an instant -- wavered from the cause.
Thirty years on, and she has somehow outstripped the legacies of both of her fathers, albeit in different ways.
She receives one letter from Han, before he dies. It’s an apology, as much as an apology can be wrested from a Solo’s stubborn hand. The thing of it is, she’s long since forgiven him; and so when she writes him back, just the once, she finds the only words that give her trouble is her reply to his closing salutation.
You have my allegiance -- my wife, my General, my Queen.
At last -- after thirty years of building her own legacy -- she is no longer a Princess, even to Han.
She elects to ignore it entirely, too burdened by the grief of what happened between them to allude to any status she might hold (apart from her Generalship); but if she calls him King Solo in her return letter, just the once, only the two of them ever needed to know.
And if she folds the letter he wrote her and slips it into the pocket of her vest -- keeps it close to her heart, so she can trace its edge in those few moments when being so alone is suddenly too much to bear --
Well. Not even Han needs to know about that.
Even in war, there is a gain from time to time.
This is the reality of warfare: one advances; one retreats. Two steps forward is generally met with one step back, even for the winning; and sometimes, when one is losing, the gains are even fewer and far between. Sometimes, they’re hard to see at all through the haze of loss after loss after loss.
Leia would know.
But there are gains. There are, she tells herself, sure and yet seeking of the proof in the pudding. There are.
The Force hums in the girl to the point of disruption.
It’s not beyond Leia that changes need to be made. Thirty years, and her hurricane stamina is finally winding down. To fight her own child, to put daily effort into blocking his voice from her mind, has run her down faster than she’d always anticipated. And when Han d--
When Han is--
Leia’s hand finds whatever’s nearest, and grips.
She has long since kept a quiet mind, but Han… well, he always inspired within her that tempest, and he does so now, even after all this time. It had been a blessing to see him. It had been a blessing to have more. But it had been unmistakeable, the moment when life had left his body; and to block herself off again in the midst of renewed grief has been difficult.
She is tired. She is so very tired. Ben is gaining power, and now -- finally -- she cannot ignore that he may very well kill her if ever he finds her.
And he will find her.
So changes need to be made.
The girl -- Rey, she calls herself -- reminds her of Luke; blast it does she ever. The strength of the Force in her veins has led her to find Luke’s old lightsaber, and if that hasn’t helped reopen Leia’s own connection to the Force -- whether she wanted it or not -- then she doesn’t know what did. Leia looks at Rey, who boasts no last name, and thanks whoever might be listening that she seems free of the sordid past that Leia had been condemned to; free of the sorts of struggles that Luke had had to face during the war. Leia is filled with hope at the very sight of her, much as she used to feel when she looked at Luke.
On the one hand, Leia is overridden with maternal instincts. She’s as driven as she could ever be to lead the Resistance, but so too does she want to mentor this girl, to show her the good that the Force has to offer --
But on the other hand, with the power she yields, Rey might be the first person Leia has ever seen who could reasonably become her successor.
There is much ground to cover first.
So she mentors the girl… for a while. And then -- perhaps against better judgment -- she sends her to Luke.
This has to work. She needs them both.
There is only so much fight left in her.
The letter she eventually receives from Luke is brief, but it says all there is to say:
The Force is strong in this one, it reads, and then, smaller, as though said less majestically -- Does this mean you’ve forgiven me?
She writes back -- or at least tries to; her hand hovers instead of writing, and she is stone again, the eye of the hurricane settled over her heart.
Take care of her, is all she writes.
After a very long pause, she sends it just as it is.
She doesn’t truly forgive Luke, in the end, until he makes good with Rey -- and she comes back, this girl who might rival her, as strong as Leia had ever imagined. She is steady and focused, the lightsaber her own; and she rises to exceed the image Leia had imagined for her in seconds.
It’s then, with steady breaths in her chest, that Leia finds forgiveness. She finds it for herself, and for Luke -- and when they meet again, it is as though no time has passed.
She finds it even for Ben, in a way -- not for his offenses, but for being the product of heritage.
And then she finds, with closed eyes and a hand braced over her heart, a quiet mind once more.