Leia could never put Luke's words in order, not even moments after his fingers slipped from hers as he walked into the forest night.
You're my sister.
I'm endangering everyone.
You've always been strong.
Strong in the Force, too.
Face our father.
I can save him.
You know why.
She pressed her cheek against Han's chest.
I have to try.
The Force is strong in my family.
You've always been strong.
Luke's confidence burned through her like shame. Run away, she'd told him.
Han's hands on her hair and back bled his anxiety into her. It danced with her own, like the spirited whirl of a traditional court dance on Alderaan. Luke was going to his death. He was going to his death, and she'd told him to run away, and he wouldn't.
He won't turn me over to the emperor.
A shudder ran through her, notching the dance within her up to a fever pitch, the fear from each of them chasing the other.
She'd seen that look in men's eyes. It haunted her. The calm that came with the certainty of one's death, the urgency to say anything left unsaid. "My sister.... If I don't make it back.... The Force is strong. I have to face him."
Run, Luke! He will kill you. He will turn you over to the emperor. Run. Run! She felt him stride on, unheeding, although she vibrated the thought at the same frequency as Luke's cries for her as he dangled beneath Bespin.
Realization hit, and her stomach dropped as if the bridge had given way. There. It was there he'd learned of it.
He'd fought Vader in Bespin.
Lost his hand in Bespin.
I am your father.
He'd kept this from her for the year since Bespin.
Leia let go of Han and stepped back, staring at him.
"What?" Han's fear shifted along her spine until it pinched her forehead as it shifted to confusion. "What'd I do?"
She knew she was glaring but pursed her lips, her breath stuck, not coming just as words had been stuck and not come when Han asked her what was wrong.
He won't turn me over to the emperor.
A year. He'd known for a year that Vader was his father…their father.
Heat and nausea burned through her.
Vader. Darth Vader.
Vader who'd tortured her. Vader who'd pressed against her drug-addled mind. Vader who'd held her in place while Alderaan was turned to space rocks before her. Vader who'd tortured Han. Vader who'd made her watch Han's agony then and while freezing him. Her father. Vader.
He won't turn me over to the emperor. Luke's death calm was accompanied by such certainty.
Certainty that he could somehow get through the Dark Lord's defenses, that Vader would turn back for him. But Vader was her father too--her stomach turned because it was true--and he'd never hesitated for her.
Luke was going to his death.
She grabbed Han's hand and dragged him along the bridge behind her.
If I don't make it back, you're the only hope for the Alliance, Sister. Father. Have to face him. You've always been strong..."
She forced her mind away from Luke. She could not distract him. If he was to stand any chance, she could not think about him.
She couldn't not think about him.
"Your Worship--" Concern tinged his eyes, where green fluttered like the leaves in these ancient trees.
She looked away but tightened her grip on his hand, holding it and herself firmly in now. "Come on. We've got a battle to plan."
She dragged him right up to where Threepio was surrounded by a dozen Ewoks and telling a story complete with sound effects. "Threepio," she said, a bit more sharply than she'd intended.
You've always been strong. Phantom pain flickered along abused nerve endings and shame at her own years-gone screams further heated her cheeks and tightened her voice.
"Threepio, go gather the village elders and warriors. It's time."
"Time for what, if I may ask--"
"You may not ask," Han snapped.
She could feel him worrying over her. She leaned into him, breathed in his scent, his warmth, his steadiness, then looked up. "Go get Chewie. We're going to need him."
His chin tipped down, and he met her eyes. She held his gaze steadily, ignoring the curiosity and unease that she could almost hear buzzing just half a note lower than Luke's call had been. He nodded and squeezed her hand one more time. His mouth quirked that half smile that made her stomach flutter, and he strode away.
She closed her eyes, breathed, and straightened her spine as she exhaled. The Death Star shone through the swaying branches, more mockery than moon. She fixed her eyes on it. By tomorrow this time, it would be gone. It had to be.
Something yanked at her chest and she gasped. Shudders ran across her shoulders, pain lighting along after them. The torture droid floated toward her, hypodermic extended. Han's screams merged with her own. Her stomach dropped as the ship carrying Luke...her friend...her brother...she had a brother and--how dare he, he was going to die after he just told her?--and Vader...her father...shot through the atmosphere.
She blinked, swallowed, arranged her Princess posture, and turned to where the others were gathering. Luke was going to his death, and in the name of everything ever held holy in the galaxy, she was going to make sure the shield was down so when it was time, the loss of her last newfound family would mean something.
Pain burned through her bicep as Han applied the makeshift bandage to the blaster wound.
It was followed by an unexpectedly powerful emptiness in her chest, the gaping, numbing weight of sorrow and loss and regret. Not as powerful as at Alderaan--nothing was--but enough to take her breath away. She leaned back against the log, and Han paused. He was staring at her so that his worry wrapped all the way around her, but all she could feel was light. A light, a dimmed joy, a golden-edged hope spread through her chest, not filling the emptiness, but speeding along her limbs and softening against her back like relief.
The clearing erupted in cheers from Ewoks and droids. Even the trees vibrated with joy and relief. The sky filled with fragments of the Death Star. Han turned to where she was staring, and she held perfectly still, the log at her back feeling for that instant like--her father her father--Vader's respirator unit and she saw the fragments of Alderaan overlaid against the explosion in the sky above her. She took shallow breaths, counting, counting.
"I'm sure Luke wasn't on that thing when it blew," Han said.
He was looking at her, but she couldn't look back, not with Alderaan haunting her. She forced her eyes away from the dual spectre, and that hope and light spread through her again, chasing away the cold and dark of the spaces beyond atmosphere.
She reached out and listened to the frequency that was Luke, and felt him, sad but satisfied, exhausted but content. "He wasn't." She blinked. Swallowed. Felt under Luke's exhaustion, where love and relief waited to embrace her and the others. "I can feel it." They weren't the right words, but what words were there for this...new...strange...familiar…thing she shared with Luke. Luke...her brother. Her brother who saw good in Darth Vader...her father Darth Vader.
Han was babbling something about stepping aside, and she stopped him. "It's not like that at all." She laid a hand to his cheek and spoke the words aloud for the first time. "He's my brother." She kissed Han and his confusion circled her, skittered across her lips, then softened into realization and pure joy.
Four years of war had blown apart everything she ever cared about. But it had given her this family, and that knowledge seeped along the cracks in her heart. A sad and joyful, "I love you" spread through her and she reached out with it, this time on a frequency that was all her own.
Leia awoke to a mouth filled with cotton. Her heartbeat sounded, soft but steady, in her ears, along the burn on her arm, and behind her eyes. She was slumped against Han, his arm loosely slung over her shoulder.
She blinked in the dim morning green. Ewoks were still dancing and drums and flutes still played in the distance. Fires still burned, though lower, and she suspected that as soon as the village awoke, the party would continue apace, perhaps for days. Reports had filtered in that indicated the whole galaxy was celebrating.
She should be celebrating or, at least, feel lighter.
Instead she felt heavy.
The Emperor was dead.
Darth Vader was dead.
The second Death Star was destroyed.
The Empire was ended and the Rebel Alliance was poised to begin the reconstruction that would build the New Republic.
Tears pricked her eyes.
The New Republic would not, would never, include Alderaan.
Her parents would never see this victory.
Bail would never serve in the new Senate, would never watch her serve, standing tall and beaming with pride at his little girl who'd followed in his footsteps.
He'd never explain his lies to her.
She picked up Han's arm, stood, and set his hand in his lap, then climbed down the tree to the forest floor.
She opened her mind the way Luke had once described, long before she even conceived that she could tap into the Force. There was nothing to see or hear or feel, and yet she was pulled along, more confident of her path with each step.
The items she needed presented themselves along the way as the childhood ditty promised.
A bit of red,
a bob of blue.
A small rodent's bones,
a plant's oblong chutes--
and a leaf moist with dew.
The pull stopped and she looked around her. Her feet had brought her to a clearing, and the acrid smell of melted synthetics filled the air. There was a pile of blackened ash and wood, and a large tree stood sentry opposite the pyre she knew Luke had set to send Vader, her father--their father--to rest.
Could Bail and Breha and all those on Alderaan ever go to a rest like that? Was the bright flash of burning death enough to release their spirits to the Force? Were their souls splintered and scattered like the planet itself?
She stared at the ashes of a man who'd tortured her. Luke said he'd repented, become again Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight, the man who trained with her father's friend Obi-Wan.
She had never met either man.
Her father and Luke had met them both and white-hot fury filled her, burning through every vein, that she was so removed from it. Vader became Anakin again for Luke, and Anakin saved Luke by killing the Emperor. Vader had never spared her. Or Alderaan. Or Han. Or her.
Bail knew Anakin, knew Obi-Wan. Her father hadn't told her. Even if he had meant to someday, he never would now. His ashes were scattered to the stars.
Vader's ashes were here in a heap, the helmet that had cowed billions distorted, melted.
Leia felt every muscle shake and burn with the raw grief and fury of betrayal. Bail, Obi-Wan, Vader, Anakin, even Luke.
The remains of the pyre with the ashes sank and dropped. She felt a hum, an almost electric buzz pass through her, chasing the fury, and Vader's helmet bent yet further.
She jumped back, froze in place, stared.
She had done that. Her anger and grief had sunken a spot of earth and dented armor.
She sank to the cool forest floor and set her forehead on her knees, counting her breaths. She would not cry. It would do no good.
Several breaths in, she uncoiled slightly.
A little longer, and she gathered the items she'd found and began shaping them. Small bones for spines, chutes bent and tied to attach stones for heads. She barely had to look, though she'd never done it herself.
She draped flower petals and fine-smelling herbs around her figures like a rich, fragrant cloak. Without turning she said, "You don't have to hide. I've known you were there for a while."
Luke joined her on the ground, and when she glanced at him, he had the decency to look sheepish.
"Have you seen medical? You look like you've been dragged for hours behind a bantha."
He shrugged her off. "I'll be fine. Mostly it's just going to take time."
Her blaster burn tingled, and she thought that at least that pain was from now. "You look rough, little brother."
Luke smiled, and, for the first time since before Jabba's palace, he looked like himself. "How do you know I'm not older?"
She scoffed. "I think we both know that's unlikely." She attached the reds and blues like sashes. Very, very quietly, she admitted, "I'm very angry."
He shifted so his knee touched hers. "I know."
Leia felt herself fail to smile. "Am I always transparent?" She examined his face, but his mind was like a hole in space.
His eyelids drooped slightly toward the dark circles that stood out against paler-than-usual skin. His smile was wan but genuine. "Leia, you are never transparent. I followed you because I could hear you, and I thought you might have called on purpose."
"I don't know how to do that."
He tipped his head, raised his eyebrows. "I think we both know that's not true."
"Fine. Should I just be happy to know I've used the Force all my life without knowing? I never knew. I didn't think I did anything different from anyone else. But now that I know what that feeling means--" The hum in her veins grew louder as she tensed.
He shrugged. "I never knew that I piloted different than others."
"And then...I felt it, the Force, drawing me here, and as I stared at his remains, all I could see was pain and rage, all the loss, all the people Vader hurt. Then the pyre...caved in. I...I--"
"You pushed him away. Leia, you are stronger in the Force than you can even imagine."
Leia pushed herself to her feet. "And that's a good thing somehow? How does that old Jedi saying go? 'Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to the Dark Side.' That part is still true, isn't it?"
Luke looked at his hands.
"I thought so. And I hate Darth Vader. I hate him and that...it proves he's my father. It makes me like him." She couldn't meet his eyes any more than he could hers, and she rubbed her thumb across her forehead. "How could you do that, Luke? How could you not tell us?"
"I didn't know until--"
She nodded. "Bespin."
His head jerked up.
Her chuckle was hollow. "I realized last night. I'd assumed the difference in you was from losing your hand. It was so much deeper than that."
He stared at his hands.
"Did you not trust me?" Her jaw clenched, and her throat burned, almost incinerating her words.
His eyes found hers again. "You know that's not true."
"Then...why? It affects me too! That...he…" She gestured toward the pyre, and the knot in her chest tightened, burning. "His blood runs through my veins and through your veins. Do not be another person lying to me!"
Luke's face relaxed slightly. "Oh, Leia. I would never have kept it from you if I'd known. Anakin--Vader--he told me he was my father. I didn't even know for sure he was telling the truth."
"I went back to Dagobah. I had to keep my promise to Master Yoda. He said Vader was my father, had been Anakin Skywalker before falling to the Dark Side."
Leia straightened her back. "But you knew. It would never have changed you so if you'd truly doubted."
Luke hung his head, but nodded. "I didn't know about you, though, I swear. Anakin didn't know about you."
"I don't know how he didn't know, but he didn't know until…he didn't know for a long time. And I didn't know we were twins until just before the Endor mission."
She stared him down, dared him to talk with a raised eyebrow.
"Obi-Wan. He spoke to me, told me that I had a twin sister."
Her breath came shallow against taut muscles. The gall of these old men, playing with her life and Luke's. "They separated us for our own protection, I suppose."
"And they kept that secret so well. They hid you on Tatooine with Vader's own surname. They hid me with a member of the Imperial Senate, then I became a member of the Senate."
"Obi-Wan said you were critical to the fight against the Empire. That your identity had been kept secret for safety's sake."
"That worked out so well for Alderaan in the end," she spat.
"You did everything you could to protect your world. There was nothing anyone could have done to stop the Empire then."
"Except not send me there in the first place. Or tell everyone who I was, let them focus their attack on me, let Vader take just me."
"That was never an option, Leia. You're too important."
"No one, no matter their heritage, is more important than an entire world."
"You still have a role to play. Even in death, Obi-Wan didn't tell me it was you. When I felt for who my sister could be...I felt it was you just as surely as you could in the village. I've felt our connection since the first moment I saw you on Artoo's message."
Lips pursed, she nodded. It had been the same when a short stormtrooper had appeared as she awaited execution, rolled his helmet off, and declared himself there to rescue her. He had become immediately important, vital in ways so natural she had not even questioned them. Leia frowned. "Should I expect everyone else I feel a kinship with to be my kin? Maybe I should have Han tested," she added, hearing bitterness edge her tone.
Luke reached out a finger and touched the figures on the ground. "Tell me about this." His voice grew soft, gentle, more like Luke as Leia thought of him.
It did nothing to soften the rage that vibrated through her. She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, lifted her chin, wrapped herself in the presentation of the Princess of Alderaan.
"There were no funerary pyres on Alderaan. According to ancient tradition, the shells that remained of people who had died were raised up to the mountaintops where they could watch over the living for all of time." It was the mountains she missed most. None of their bases had been on mountainous parts of planets or moons. She could barely remember what it was like to feel as one with an entire planet. "It was believed, long ago, that, as their bodies returned to the planet, they slowly rejoined us as their remains were absorbed into the ground and washed down the mountain, until their spirits were a part of all of us, no longer separate."
Luke was silent as he fingered the small stones.
Leia stroked the other stone and lightly fingered the blue and red on the figures. "During the period of mourning, family members would walk in places they had gone with their loved ones, remembering and honoring shared time, and collecting tokens from each place. Once the period of immediate mourning was completed, we would make a...relic, a memento from them."
"These are for your parents."
Leia swallowed, nodded. She turned the still-moist leaf over and set the relic onto it. "And this is for Alderaan." It was so...small. So inadequate. At least it was green. "I…" She risked a look at Luke and her eyes filled with tears to match his. "I didn't remember. It's been four years and...I haven't commemorated…" She swallowed, blinked, lifted her chin again. "It's time. The people and government who murdered them--all of them--we've ended it. Now they can rest."
Luke nodded. "When we were on Tatooine, I visited the memorial markers for Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru."
She studied the new lines on his face. They were both so old now.
Luke was quieter even than he'd been telling her about their parentage. "I told them I was sorry." He looked up into her eyes.
"I did too." They chuckled slightly, both together. "Look at us," she said, "apologizing for not dying."
"I need to apologize to you too, Leia."
"Apologize? For what?"
"I betrayed you." He tried to hold her gaze, but failed. "To Vader."
She pulled back. She meant not to.
"I tried to hide you away in my mind, but I failed, and he saw. He found the thought and knew I had a sister. He said he was going to come for you." His eyes returned to hers, flickering with more intensity than she'd ever seen there. "I would never let him have you again, Leia. Never."
The knot in her chest loosened ever so slightly.
"I'm so sorry. I should have hidden you better. You deserve… I'm so sorry." He looked down again, shame rolling off him in waves. "I...almost killed him."
She slipped a hand into his.
"I beat him back and," he stretched and clenched his mechanical hand, "I cut off his hand just as he had mine. I would have done anything to keep him from you."
"And you did...and now you don't have to anymore." She squeezed his hand and he squeezed back. So...he hadn't known? When he'd tortured her, imprisoned her… "He didn't know who I was?"
Luke shook his head. "He didn't even know there were two of us."
"But...how? Who was our mother that he…"
"I don't know. I don't know that we'll ever know."
Leia nodded. She knew where to look in the old archives, in planetary records, but the Empire had destroyed so many records. "My father. Bail. He must have known. He knew Obi-Wan in the Clone Wars. He must have known, and he never told me."
Luke just squeezed her hand. Luke knew when there was nothing that could be said, even more so now. After a lifetime at war, they had an entire lifetime of work ahead. There were no words for that.
"He wanted you to know...he was so relieved, at the end...he wanted you to know there had been good in him."
Leia smiled. It was a tiny smile with her forehead still furrowed. "Is this your way of saying 'Told you so'?"
Luke grinned. "Maybe? Does that make me the annoying little brother?"
She had no idea what she was going to do now. There was so much to rebuild. Her arm burned, and she shifted as muscles twitched. She needed to move, to plan. She lifted the leaf and the relic it cradled. She stood and pulled Luke up with her. "Come on."
She listened to the trees, to the forest, to the history of Endor breathing around them.
They walked and walked, and Leia listened until her ears could hear the stream that called to her. She knelt in the moss on its bank.
She let go of Luke, who leaned closer to her as she cradled the leaf in both hands.
She straightened her back and shoulders, lifted her chin as it quivered, and whispered, "I miss you both, every day and always. In all that I do, I honor the lessons and values you both taught me. Your life's work is mine. I cannot bring you to the mountains, but a stream like this flowed from their peaks. I release you into peace." She submerged her hands until the water lifted the leaf and it floated away.
She reached for a nearby flower and plucked it. "Peace to Alderaan. Peace to her people." She set the flower into the stream, then pulled petals off another flower and dropped them one by one, murmuring names of pilots, soldiers, spies, and civilians.
Luke picked one and dropped petals onto the water as well, "Peace to Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Peace to Obi-Wan Kenobi. Peace to Biggs…"
The list of names stretched as long as the stream until they were wrung out.
There was only the sound of insects and forest as they sat shoulder to shoulder.
"So this is where you two got off to."
The voice made her jump. Luke just turned mildly. He had apparently felt Han's approach.
"The furry guys have a breakfast feast prepared. Threepio sent me to find you two, said they won't start without all the liberators." Han smirked. "Said the trees would find it rude or some such."
Luke laughed, a genuine laugh despite the wear that still hung about him. "I think I'm still stuffed from last night."
"We have to eat at least a token amount," Leia said.
"So long as we're not on the menu." Han slung his arm around her shoulders, letting his hand dangle to the front to avoid the wound on her arm.
"You only have to see the dress they made me in an hour to know how important hospitality is to them."
Luke smirked at her. "You may know that. Or feel it..." He thought a very pointed "...using the Force" at her.
She lifted her chin. "It makes me a good diplomat."
"It does, big sister."
Han frowned at them, clearly confused. Leia stood on tiptoe and kissed him, then tucked her hand into the crook of Luke's arm as they headed back to the Ewok village together.