Leia awoke to a brisk “Get up, Your Highness,” and a shove at her shoulder.
She mumbled an instinctive protest “General.”
A harsh laugh filled her ears “The rebels so desperate they put you in charge?”
Her eyes flew open. She was in a cargo hold. There were stormtroopers all around her. The inherent strangeness of this took a few moments to settle in her mind before warning alarms went off. She was on an Imperial shuttle. There was a long bench in front of her stretching out along the side. She was sitting up, sandwiched between two stormtroopers. The one on her right, the one who had been talking pulled her up to her feet.
She looked down. Her hands were cuffed together. They were also a lot smoother than they had been last night. When she laid down, on her own bed, on D'Qar. She was wearing that ridiculous ceremonial white dress from her youth. She looked back up and noticed the company of stormtroopers in the back of the interior of the shuttle. There were at least fifteen of them, all who were wearing the old Imperial style armor. They were quietly talking among themselves and Leia could smell the faint aroma of the cleaning oil they used on their weapons in the air.
“What?” she asked out loud, the sheer impossibility of what she was seeing stealing her wits.
The stormtrooper on her left chose to answer her. “Have a nice nap your highness?” She tilted her face in his direction. He didn’t disappear in a poof of smoke. He remained distressingly real and smug “You won’t be so relaxed after he’s done with you.”
She opened herself to the Force. This had to be a vision or a nightmare of some kind. Han’s death and the destruction of the Hapan system had clearly done something to cause her to hallucinate. She needed an anchor to guide her out of this.
She felt at first that there was another presence here. It was close to her, distressingly close, with it’s dark and imposing aura. A blackness that ate everything around it. But the quiet desolation, the helplessness, the apathy, underneath all that anger puzzled her. Who was on this ship with her? It was no one she knew, therefore no one she could trust.
“Luke,” she whispered, reaching out with the Force. There was no response. He hadn’t answered her call in years. But instead of the impression of a door not being answered, there was a feeling of vagueness around him. That bright flame was there, he wasn’t dead. But it was diffuse somehow. Leia wondered what the hell she had fallen into this time.
The door to the cockpit opened and Leia turned her head, curious about the other Force user that was here. The tall figure emerged from the entrance and Leia felt her world give out underneath her.
“Lord Vader,” the stormtrooper who held her arm stated. “The prisoner is ready.” Leia’s breath whooshed out of her body as her mind started yelling at her to run, run, run. She had forgotten the eerie breathing, unconnected to his voice. She had forgotten how the armor gleamed under the lights like a dark reflection. She could only stare in horror at her worst nightmare made flesh.
“Take her to the cell block on level 5 for processing, while I give my report.” He glanced at her for a moment, then stalked away down the gangplank.
“Come along.” the trooper pulled her after him towards the hanger heading to an elevator on the right side. Leia wasn’t sure how her legs were moving, it was all she could do not to fall to the ground and scream her denial.
The walk into the elevator and hallways passed by her in a haze. She offered no resistance and perhaps more telling no snide comments to the troopers increasingly escalating taunts. It wasn’t until she was escorted into her cell that Leia managed to shake off her shock.
In the confines of her prison, Leia began to pace the small space. This felt real. It was completely impossible and she had never even heard of such a thing happening. But this was no vision. She touched the walls, the smooth cold implacability of them. The background chatter she had heard on the way here. And the smells around her. Men in armor and being confined in to a small area with only recycled air. Generally, force visions didn't have smells associated with them. She punched her fist into the durasteel wall. Her hand immediately began to ache and pulse in pain. Not a dream.
She looked around, it was just as she saw it in her nightmares. The black walls with mica flecks. The top three feet of the ceiling in the front and back, leaning in to make the space feel even smaller than it was. There were the grates on the ceiling with the faint red light glow to them to be paralleled with the grates on the floor with the soft white light. There was the bench along the length of the far wall. No blankets or pillows to sleep on. The toiletries were in the corner. She shivered, the air was biting cold. Every detail, every scrap of this was meticulously correct.
“Think,” she whispered to herself. Panic wouldn't get her out of this. Making and implementing plans would get her out of this. Treat this as real. Believe it is real because everything around you says it is. Break this down into its component parts. She had no clue as to why she was here. Then it was irrelevant. Next problem. If she didn’t know how she got here she didn’t know how to get back. She would learn nothing here in this station about anything, so she needed to escape. What is your next step in order to do that? Vader will come along shortly and interrogate you for the location of the rebel base. You won’t give it. Tarkin will threaten Alderaan and….
Save Alderaan! Leia’s breath caught, she felt herself fall back onto the seat on the power of that realization. Her home was still here. It was still out there in the galaxy, she could save it. If this was real she could save them all. If this was real, she would be altering the timeline as she knew it in a fairly large way. She pondered this for all of two seconds. The damage was done, she realized. The timeline is already altered by her mere presence. There was no way she could stand by passively and let what happened unspool in front of her again. All she needed was time anyway. Luke, Obi-Wan, and Han... Her mind skittered away from that name, the pain so fresh her breath caught. Move on, if this is real he is alive, they were all still alive, and they were coming for her. Her presence here would have no effect on that sequence of events. She just needed to wait it out.
She could give Vader Dantooine, like she had to Tarkin so long ago. After a bit of his mind probing let him see that information “accidentally”. No, she realized with a sinking dread, that wouldn’t work. The shields in her mind. The ones she had reluctantly let Luke teach her how to build. She had seen the sense at the time. Being able to keep out any unknown Dark side users certainly had its advantages. But now, they would doom her. Her shields were too good for an amateur, and she wasn’t skilled enough to hide them. Vader would know she had been trained. And his next question would be by whom.
Dropping them wasn’t an option either. There was so much she needed to keep from him. Both of the Death Stars fates, all the future plans of the alliance, General Kenobi, Yoda, Han, Ben, Luke, and herself. Yes, she had kept him out before, but then she was only trying to keep one thing from him. It had been like trying to keep a drop of water steady while someone was pushing her. Now she would be trying to keep a pool of water in her hands without spilling a drop. So, no torture, avoid torture by any means necessary.
So just tell him the name of the base when he walks in here. What would happen then? Vader was thorough, he wouldn’t just simply take her word for it. The moment his mind touched hers to confirm what she told him, Vader would know about the training she had gotten from Luke. She would be right back where she started. How to avoid that? The answer was there is no way to avoid it. She frowned, so what if she went the opposite way? What if she told him about them?
“Yes,” said a voice in the back of her head that sounded of Han. “Brilliant plan. Tell him you're thirty-four years from the future and in that time some Jedi will teach you. I’m sure he’ll believe that.” She laughed at the ridiculousness of Vader’s reaction to that statement. Then she thought the scenario through fully. Why wouldn’t he believe her? She wasn’t lying, he would sense that. It definitely wouldn’t be anything he was expecting. Shock and curiosity might intrigue him enough to play along. She would have to be very careful and very clever to keep him away from subjects that would be dangerous to discuss, but it was doable. So buy for time, until Luke and Obi-Wan came for her. Do not get tortured, do not reveal anything important, do not lose your focus.
So, stick to telling the truth. From a certain point of view.
When he did come, Leia was forewarned by that dark cloud of power surrounding him. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise the closer he came. She stood up from the bench, where she had been meditating to steady her mind, and chose a position in the center of it. She wouldn’t cower in the corner this time.
The door opened and for a moment Leia forgot every lofty idea and thing she had planned as his presence overwhelmed her. Earlier, on the flight deck, she hadn’t been this close to him. And she had been in such shock she hadn’t been paying attention to the details of him. They were coming back to her now. As he descended the stairs and came to meet her she wondered on how she could have forgotten that he actually was that tall. It wasn’t just her fear amplifying how he loomed over everyone. His mask, shaped to resemble a death head, with its sharp angles and inky black eyes, was close enough to a face, with an eerie lifeless look, to give anyone nightmares. Then there was the breathing, that steady and imposing sound that boomed even louder than normal in the small room. The noise of it sent shudders down her spine. She had forgotten, the steady rhythm of it. It was enough to drown out the increasingly high pitch of the interrogation droid.
“And now Your Highness we will discuss the location of your hidden rebel base.” The door thumped closed behind him, in perfect time to his words. The theatricality of the gesture snapped Leia’s focus. She had to be here, not then. Then she noticed the two guards, dressed in black, standing at attention on either side of the door. She had forgotten about them, in her rush to prepare for the larger threat that Vader was.
“Is it still Imperial procedure that these ‘sessions'," she sneered the word, “aren’t recorded?”
There was a pause “What?” Bafflement, she was off to an excellent start.
“Is this being recorded?” she asked again.
“No,” he informed her, speaking slowly “this is not.”
“Good,” she stated firmly. Now there was a sense of puzzlement. As if he was trying to guess what game she was playing. "Yeah, he’ll have good luck with that," the voice of Han whispered in her mind.
“You are going to want to send them away.” she put on her best imperious voice that politics had taught her, as she waved at the guards.
“I will?” he seemed to be on surer footing.
“Yes, I have several things to say that you won’t want Tarkin to hear.”
“Blackmail?” now he seemed amused. “I thought the standards of a member of the Imperial Senate would preclude such an act.” Was the sarcasm really necessary, she wondered to herself.
“You are going to want them to leave,” she stated again. She didn’t need witnesses to this little dance, and the fewer people in the Empire who knew what she was going to say the better.
“Very well.” he dismissed them with a wave of his hand. The second one pulled out a small remote and the door whooshed open. Vader watched her, clearly trying to see if she was going to rush the door, but she merely stood and waited for the door to close before speaking again.
She pointed to the droid, which was beginning to hurt her ears with its high pitched tone. “That won’t work,” she stated flatly.
“I assure you, Princess, that it will.” that deep voice boomed.
She took a deep breath, centering her mind, and allowing her instinctive irritation at the title of Princess to fall away. “When I say that it won't work I speak from experience, not conviction. This won’t work. Your droid pumps me full of drugs, that fails. You bang at my mental walls, that fails. Tarkin threatens Alderaan with this mechanical abomination. That also fails. I am not telling you where the base is.”
There was a pause “Experience?”
She snorted. “Yes, I went to sleep on the worst day of my life and woke to find myself in the past on the second-worst day of my life. As experiences go, I don’t recommend it.” She began to shout to compensate for the increasingly louder torture droid.
There was uncertainty around him now. He tilted his head, studying her for a moment. Then he made a gesture and the droid ceased its insistent high-pitched whine. Leia sighed internally with relief. He had decided he wanted to play along.
“This is an interesting approach to avoiding interrogation,” he said.
“You think I am lying?”
“No,” he replied “You believe you are telling the truth. But a weak mind can find refuge in many different ways.”
She raised her eyebrow “You think I am weak-minded?”
He paced three steps in front of her, before the size of the cell forced him to stop. His arms clasped behind his back he stared at her “No,” he admitted, “I do not.”
She shrugged. “An impasse then.”
“What you claim is not possible,” he informed her.
She bit back her first response, took a calming breath, and settled for “Yet here I am.” she gestured to the cell around her.
“Why confess such a thing to me? If this is true, you have the events of the future at your disposal. That would make you a more valuable source of intelligence, not less.”
Well yes, but the alternative was worse. “You would have figured out something was wrong the minute you touched my mind.”
He huffed, and she felt the absent-minded feel of that power touch up against her shields. Then rage, bitter, sharp, and cutting, filled the Force. He straightened to his full height, and stalked up to her, his boots eating up the small space. Leia forced herself not to cower back as he came to a stop inches from her.
“You are a Jedi!” he hissed. Such loathing in that one word.
“Your lies will not save you, your highness. Not here.”
“I am no Jedi.” she gave a short bitter laugh “But the Force is strong in my family.” She looked over his shoulder at the now quiet droid. She lifted a finger and it spun in a gentle circle, squealing in protest. She returned her gaze to his mask. “I will not be left defenseless on any battlefield Lord Vader. I was taught how to shield myself and to move small objects, no more. A few small tricks only.”
She could feel his rage cooling slightly and he pulled back, giving her a bit more space. “And who taught you?”
Now a real smile crossed her face “A very wise loved one.”
“The name of this Jedi? “ he demanded.
She shook her head. “No. There are many things I’ll tell you, but not that.”
He did that abortive walk again, clearly trying to think. She took a few breaths to calm herself, while he was distracted. Keep him off-balanced, keep him angry, but do not provoke that full-throated rage. He would charge ahead and she would lose what little control she had in this situation.
“I am clearly dead in this future of yours.” he finally settled on.
She breathed out of her nose, “Yes.” trying to keep the triumph out her voice.
“How?” he seemed resigned more than anything else.
She considered that for a moment, weighing the damage this could do. Then she mentally shrugged. Let the bastard know. “Palpatine killed you.”
“I see.” he didn’t seem shocked by her answer. He continued his pacing.
Her eyebrow shot up. “You don’t seem surprised?” Mentally Leia berated herself. Stupid. Don’t ask questions, just answer.
Now he shrugged “It is the Sith way. There is a Master, and an apprentice. To achieve mastery the apprentice kills the Master. Failure to do so leads to the death of the apprentice.”
She stared at him “That is a horrible way to live.” Why was she still talking? She didn’t care about any of this.
“You wouldn’t understand the ways of the Dark side.” he intoned gravely “Its true power is only for the strong.” She cocked her head, something was off about that statement. He wasn’t lying, not directly. He believed it. No, he said it like he should believe it. That was interesting. Let’s pull on this thread a little further.
“I was told that only the weak fell.”
He waved his hand dismissively “A lie the Jedi tell themselves. It is only the strong who survive the Sith way.” He sounded like Ben then, in that last frantic conversation she had with him before he ran off. For a moment Leia felt the cell she was in closing in on her as her thoughts strayed to her son. He had sounded so lost and determined. She couldn’t make sense of the rambling monolog he had given her, and then the transmission had been cut off. By him, she later learned. Then, of course, she learned just what he had done before he placed that call to her.
She shook herself mentally. She hadn't expected these particular echoes in everything around her. Not here and now. In a conversation with Vader, of all people. But maybe that was the point. Maybe it wasn't just Alderaan she could save.
He had gone back to his pacing, still clearly trying to figure out what to do next. “Why did you fall?” she asked, hoping her voice was steady. This wasn’t initially where she imagined this conversation going, but needs must.
He stopped, and his head tilted to the side “What?” Confusion radiated off him.
“Why did you fall? What were you thinking?”
“You can not possibly be interested in joining me.”
So he clearly did understand that about her at least. But he could possibly have answers to some of the questions she had about Ben. There wasn’t anyone else she could ask, even in her own time. She had to be gentle here, though. Luke had told her how badly he reacted to being called by his old name. “You had another name, another life.” she clarified “Why walk away from that?”
Panic, sheer clawing panic. “You know who I was?” He was suddenly walking back from her as if she was unexpectedly a much more dangerous foe than he expected and he needed the distance.
She frowned. This wasn’t expected. She was expecting anger, or perhaps denial, not this overwhelming sense of helplessness. “Yes?” she answered uncertainly, not understanding the cause of his mood change.
The feeling only intensified. She found herself in the odd position of offering reassurance. Him panicking over this wouldn’t help her here. “I am not going to tell anyone. Who would believe me?”
His posture relaxed, a little. The pacing resumed, however, so he clearly believed her, but was uneasy that she knew. “I ask you again, who is your tutor?” Well, that was one of the least subtle subject changes she had heard. But until she understood the source of his panic she would play along.
“No one you have met yet,” she retorted.
“But I will meet them,” he pressed.
“If I had my way, no. Their first encounter with you did not go well.”
“If I did not kill them on the first meeting then it went very well for them,” he informed her. “There has only been one Jedi that has escaped me.”
She blinked in surprise and worked hard to keep it from showing on her face or in the Force. He was lying to her. That part was irrelevant. The more interesting issue was the subject of this lie. General Kenobi was, at this time, the only Jedi she knew who had escaped him. There were others?
“Did the second encounter go better for them?” he followed up.
She thought of Luke’s haunted eyes and the nightmares that followed Endor. He had achieved one form of peace, but he paid a heavy price in other areas. “No”
“Because they will fail in trying to kill me?”
She snorted. “Who says they tried?”
“You were not lying before. The Emperor will kill me. So clearly this ‘wise loved one’ failed.” Again with the sarcasm.
She gave out a small laugh. “Oh, no. Succeeded in exactly what they were aiming for. Big goals, big heart, and a clear vision will get someone far in this life.”
“You love them. Dearly.” He seemed surprised. Was she somehow deemed incapable of love by some weird Sith metric?
She gave a small wan smile. “My other half. And again I state, you will not learn their identity from me, no matter how many questions you ask around the edges.”
“Who taught them then? Or does this fanatic loyalty extend to everyone?”
“I find that life is often the best teacher,” she informed him primly.
There was a noise of irritation. “Don't play word games with me.” There was a pause, as he was clearly thinking of likely possibilities. “Was it Jarrus?”
Damn, now he was getting specific. “No, it was many people.“
“The Jedi are all but extinct. There are not many of them left that aren’t accounted for.” He paused for a moment, seeming to gather himself. “Ahsoka Tano?”
“No,” she said, surprised into giving a straight answer. She hadn’t know Fulcrum was a Jedi.
There was a long silence “Was it Obi-Wan Kenobi?” That name was said with a sense of anticipation. And there was a sense of longing? Yes, it was longing, swirling in the Force. Longing for what? Anticipation at the thought of killing Kenobi Leia understood, but longing?
While interesting, this line of thought was irrelevant. She didn’t see any way she could wiggle out of this one. She didn’t want to disrupt this delicate dance between them by lying directly to him, and giving him Yoda’s name was out of the question. It didn’t matter, in the long run, Kenobi was coming and the difference of a few hours wouldn’t mean much. She had known going in that he would probably come up.
“Yes,” she conceded.
There was an ugly sneer in his voice. “He lives?”
“Do you feel that I am lying?” she sneered back.
“No.” He walked away from her, to the door as if he wanted to go out now and start the hunt. Leia blinked, just like that and the Rebel base was no longer important? Well if she had known that it was that important to him she would have told him about it first thing and sent him on his way to Tatooine. It would have bought her those hours she needed without having to endure his presence. By the time Vader reached that dustball, Kenobi and Luke would have been long gone.
He reached the door and then stopped. “Do you know where Kenobi is now?” So not so distracted that he didn't want directions.
“No.” She had a good idea vaguely where he was, but not the particulars.
“Do you know where he has been hiding the last twenty years?”
Leia hesitated. Vader was from Tatooine. He might wonder the why of the General’s chosen planet of exile “Some outer rim world.”
“Like the one, we caught your ship circling?” he inquired.
Damn, he had put that together. “Yes.”
“Obi-Wan Kenobi spent the last twenty years on Tatooine?” he asked incredulously. “If I had designed a prison to hold him it couldn’t have been worse than that.” There was malicious glee in his voice now. Clearly, he held no love for his homeworld. Having been there Leia found herself in the odd position of agreeing with him. Between the Hutts, sand, and the hostile natives it was not a planet one spent time on voluntarily.
“What did he do to you?” she asked, curious despite herself.
“He is the reason I am in this suit.” So Luke had been told the truth about that. They had wondered. Well, she had wondered aloud and Luke hadn’t chastised her about questioning the veracity of it.
“His mistake then. He should have let you burn, then killed you.” she nearly bit her tongue. Where had that come from? Well, she knew where it had come from. It was just a lot harder than she anticipated being in this room with him. She took a breath, she had to stay focused. She could not let this get personal.
“Such hatred your highness. I wonder why?” He pondered this a moment. “The force is strong in your family. Your parents?” he murmured, looking to her for confirmation, “One of them was a Jedi?” Now he was venturing into it.
A deep breath in. This is the truth, let him hear it, no matter how it stung personally. “My father.”
“Ahh, that would explain why Bail knew to forge your test results.” She shrugged. Truthfully she had no idea how her father had gotten her around it. The blood test was mandatory for all Imperial citizens. This was safer ground to be on. She had nothing to say.
"And did I kill this man, Princess?” She cocked her head, startled, why had he jumped to that conclusion? “Is that the source of this rage towards me? Your long lost Jedi father?”
That was a little too close to the truth for comfort. She embraced the rage this question provoked and let the ice into her veins “You tortured me, twice. Ripped apart my family, hunted down almost everyone I love, and left a poisonous legacy in your wake. Isn’t that enough?”
There was a snort of derision, for all that it was distorted by his vocoder. “Not for this, no. This is deeply personal for you, this hatred. I can sense it all around you.”
She hissed “Yes, in a way I suppose you did destroy him.” Let him sit on that.
"I can tell you I probably took no pleasure in the act.”
“And can I tell you what a great comfort that is to me,” she answered snidely.
“It was a necessary evil, the Jedi had lost their way. You would have found your biological father a poor substitute to Organa.”
She laughed bitterly “On the whole, you're probably right about his fitness as a parent. That doesn't mean you were justified in what you did. My family isn’t the only one who was ripped asunder by you. The whole galaxy has paid for your decisions and I want to know why!”
“I owe you nothing. But why does this concern you so much?” his condescending tone grating on her nerves. Owed her nothing? He owed her everything.
“My son fell.” she shot back, losing control of her temper, and giving him the truth before she thought better of it. He paused, visibly surprised.
His head cocked. “Then he is lost.” He didn't sound gleeful or triumphant, just matter of fact.
She shook her head in denial. “No,” she stated firmly “he is not.”
“It is not possible to return.”
“It is.” she insisted.
“Your highness, this is not a case where you can apply your will and make it happen. It is not possible.” he lectured.
But it is. You did it. She bit her tongue, that was not a revelation she could disclose without disastrous consequences.
“Are you afraid of the powers he has embraced?”
Was he being deliberately slow? Did he ever wonder about them? Plan and hope for hers and Luke’s future. “No,” she said slowly as if talking to an especially obtuse politician. “He is my son. I want him to be happy. To fall in love. To laugh. To have joy. None of these things are what the Dark side offers.”
His sudden stillness at that statement was unsettling “Then he is fortunate indeed for such a mother.” There was a twinge there as if she struck something deep within him. Leia considered the basics of what Luke had known about their paternal grandmother. Shmi Skywalker had been a slave. She had been freed and married her former master. She had been murdered by sandpeople. She had been held in high regard by Luke’s aunt. But Leia had never delved into any more than that with Luke. Now she was regretting that decision. Without knowing more she was reluctant to go forward on that point.
“How did he fall?” Vader asked. He genuinely seemed curious.
“Why do think I keep asking you?” she huffed.
“I have no answers for you. I fell when the Jedi betrayed the Republic.“
Oh, that was rich. “You betrayed the Republic.“
“You speak of things you do not understand.” he chided her.
“Because you won’t answer my questions. I don’t ask for my own amusement.” To buy time yes, but not for fun.
“You should ask your son.” he shot back, annoyed.
She gave him a disbelieving look. “I would, but he doesn't exist yet so that would be difficult.”
“Don’t be obtuse. You should have asked him then.” His anger was growing again, and she found hers rising to meet it at his deliberate evasion of her questions.
“I tried,” she hissed through gritted teeth “but all he said was he was embracing his destiny and he ran away.”
“Ran to where?”
She opened her mouth to answer and shut it closed when she realized she almost told him about the First Order. She had been so focused on following this thread that she almost forgot the point.
“Ah” he murmured “he found the Emperor didn't he?”
“A lecherous old man poured poison into his brain, yes.” she flung back.
“He has embraced the truth. You should too.” Darth Vader was lecturing her about personal truths? Han would have fallen out of his seat laughing if he had known.
“Yes, how noble, a government of thugs and tyrants. We should all aspire to such lofty heights.” she sneered.
“The Empire brings order. It brings peace.” he insisted.
“According to the Sith peace is a lie. That it's about power.” she retorted, using the little knowledge of Sith philosophy she possessed.
“There is no order without power.” he intoned, neatly sidestepping the thorny issues with Sith ideology “Without power, there is only chaos.”
Who exactly was he trying to convince with that line? “And the people who won’t and can't fall in line? Are they simply the collateral damage to your quest for order?”
“If they will not obey then yes, they brought it upon themselves.” Did he truly believe this nonsense? That even the smallest defiance brought about wholesale destruction? That this was the price to be paid for galactic order?
She hissed “How convenient for you. Anything that opposes you is the enemy of peace, instead of simply wanting to live their lives and be left alone. And who are you to decide what is best for the entire galaxy?”
“Not me.” he said slightly mockingly “Someone wise.”
Her mouth fell open “Palpatine! Palpatine! You thought he would be a good choice for a dictator? Someone who cares for nothing but himself? You looked around a galaxy of sentient creatures and thought he was what was best for the galaxy?”
“He was all I was left with.” Her eyes narrowed, there was something there. Some thread of despair and grief that teased the edge of her senses. She shook herself mentally. No, that was not was she wanted or needed answered right now. It was time to bring this conversation back to its original question.
“I am not interested in a philosophical debate about tyranny versus democracy. I want to know why you fell.”
“You do have an extreme interest in events that happened long ago. Why do you care?” now exasperation was joining the anger from him.
“Do you see a plethora of fallen people around? Is there an abundance of Force users in this galaxy that I missed somehow? As much as it galls me, you are the only one I can ask. I need to understand what happened to my son.”
His hands fell to his belt as he considered this. “That isn't the whole truth.”
“You don’t have children,” Was that a flinch from him? “so maybe you can’t understand why I want him back. If I understand why you walked away from everything you had, maybe I can understand why he did too. Why he hurt me so badly?“
“You said you didn't talk to him after he fell. What did he do afterward to cause you such pain?” Of course, now he chooses to pay attention to what she told him. Then ask the most painful question of them all in the bargain. Her pain, the pain she had lived with since Luke told her about him, since she had understood what had been stolen from her, since Ben fell to the same madness, since that madness had cost her everything she worked for, spilled over its dam in her mind. And with it came its twin emotion, her anger. She stared at the man who started all of this. He had thrown them away for some power-mad Sith and some skewed philosophy about order, power, and acceptable losses. Choices that everyone she loved were still paying for thirty years later.
“He killed his father!!” she howled, her frustration with him freeing her tongue. “He killed him and half a galaxy away I felt my heart being ripped out and couldn’t breathe from the pain. And I want to know why he turned his back on everyone who loved him. Betrayed everyone who loved him for the false promises of a deranged old man who did nothing but lie to him!”
His answering rage in the Force was shocking in its abruptness. She had gone too far. Something she had said ripped away his control and that simmered anger was now in full force. The voice coming through the vocoder dripped disdain and loathing “Your hatred of me pours through those of those oh so careful Jedi shields my lady. To you, I am the clearly the unredeemable monster and he is only ‘lost’. Yet what have I done that he has not? You ask and ask why I fell, but I tell you this your highness, the answer will not save your son. Not now and certainly not then.” He leaned down, his mask almost touching her. Leia felt her a tendril of fear travel down her spine, worried for the first time that he might actually kill her before he learned anything useful from her. She wasn’t sure if he was aware of anything but his desire to hurt her. “He is dead. What is walking in his place is not anyone you would give an ounce of compassion to under any other circumstances. Are you willing to extend the ‘mercy’ of your forgiveness simply because he is your blood? How hypocritical.”
Because he was her blood? It was because of her blood that the whole damn mess had started. Because of this towering dark mechanical half droid of a man. Who had killed her father, her mother, her planet. The amount of pain he had inflicted on the galaxy and the legacy of pain and betrayal he had left for her, Luke, and most especially for Ben. For a moment Leia was voiceless in her fury. And he dared to compare himself to Ben? It was his fault her son was even a target. Her snarled words were spit in his face, caution discarded as she went for the most damage she could inflict. “Jealous there was no one to forgive you for killing your wife?”
The Force contracted so sharply around Vadar it hurt to feel the whiplash of it. Then it snaked out and wrapped around her throat. Leia, in her panic, instinctively scrambled for the hands that weren’t there. “No,” she thought and forced her hands to drop. The left one formed a fist and for a moment she focused everything she was into it. With a definite gesture, she punched as hard as she could into the air in front of her. Vader cried out as the Force hit him in the solar plexus, shoving him clear across the room. Those invisible hands suddenly stopped. Gasping Leia sank to her knees, breathing in air and trying to ignore the fine tremors brought on by her rage.
“Why did you fall?” she rasped, her throat ached. There would be a ring of deep bruises around her neck later.
He didn’t answer her. Just leaned against the wall, orienting himself.
"Why?” she repeated as she slowly climbed back to her feet.
He shook his head in a silent denial.
Damn him. Damn him. Damn him. For once in his miserable existence, could he give her something besides loss and betrayal? “Why?” she wailed.
“FOR HER!!” he screamed, loss and pain coming through even through the monotone, almost garbled into incoherency. “All I saw everywhere was her death. No matter what choice I made!! The Jedi only told me to accept the loss and let go. But Palpatine, he promised he could save her!! I lost my mother, I wouldn’t lose her!” Then the rage simply vanished as his head fell, exhausted, from its wake. “And it was for nothing.”
Leia knew this fear. Knew it in her bones, like an old unwanted ache. She had borne it through the long years of fighting the Empire. Through the years of ‘peace’ of the New Republic. Through the bitter slog with the First Order. When your entire world is taken from you, it leaves you with that fear. With that constant voice telling you to hold on as tight as you can, to those you love, for they will be taken away. Or worse, they will be used against you. Like Ben had been used against her. Like she had been used against Luke. Oh yes, she knew this, all too well. It was to live, driven by loss and pain so sharp you would do anything to make it go away.
“I failed,” he continued on. “All I had left was me, Palpatine, and a galaxy in chaos. The Jedi made me a weapon, so a weapon in full I became. I would bring order to the galaxy. And I let nothing stand in my way.”
“You went back to what you knew,” Leia said hollowly.
“Yes.“ he agreed dully, not reacting to her dawning horror about this facet of her personality. Maybe that wasn’t so surprising. The pain and grief that was around him scorched her mind. Had he ever truly mourned this loss? Had he ever confronted it at all in the last nineteen years? Or had he done the same as her, burying herself so deep that she only had to dance around the edges of it?
For a moment, Leia felt sorry for him. For Vader, of all the people in the galaxy. Then the word “her” snagged in her mind, and the rage and pain came again. He hadn’t thought of them, hadn’t seen them.
“You bargained for her but not the child.” she spat, righteous indignation filling her.
Vader's head turned “The child?”
“Yes the child,” she repeated, annoyed at this dimness on his part.
“No,” he said in a slow measured way “I did not because Palpatine did not know.”
That was not the expected answer. Leia wasn’t sure how to process this. Vader hadn’t told Palpatine? Why?
He continued in that strange thoughtful way. “I didn’t tell anyone and neither did my wife.” Leia blinked. Why was it a secret? Why wouldn’t they tell anyone? Possible blackmail? Safety protocol? There was a war on. He had been a high profile General, and Padme had been as equally high profile in the political sphere. Leia knew, better than anyone, the vulnerabilities of having a young force-sensitive child. “I am left to wonder how you know about my child. Or that I had a wife. It was forbidden among the Jedi, and neither of us told anyone.” Oh, no. She had misstepped. Badly. Luke hadn’t told her this bit about Jedi doctrine.
Leia’s heart jumped “My father told me.” she improvised. “He said she died with a child.”
He rose to his full height abruptly “That is a lie.”
Too close, too close, too close, the Force sang.
“Was it Obi-Wan?” uttered with such confidence. He thought she was protecting his former teacher. Well maybe in his eagerness to hunt the old Jedi down he would believe.
He paused, clearly surprised “That is also a lie.” He crossed the room again, cape nipping at his heels. “You contain a font of information about me that almost no one knows. Even after my death, I can think of no reason you would go searching for this, or why. And when I ask for your source, this half honesty you have been dealing in dries up and you spit out lie after lie.” He grabbed the sides of her head between those strong metal hands, forcing her to look at him. She could feel no give beneath the leather gloves.
“I didn’t go searching,” she protested “After your death, I wanted nothing to do with you or anything about you.”
His head tilted “That is the truth.” She let out a small breath of relief, but he continued relentlessly “Someone felt you did need to know. Who was this person and why did they tell you?” Leia could feel those cybernetic fingers flex against her head in frustration. Her mind spun and she focused her eyes over his shoulder in a desperate attempt to avoid his gaze. The truth could not be said. Yoda was a name she could give. In the shock of that revelation maybe he would buy it. She discarded that thought. It wasn’t even close enough to the truth for him to believe her. She had hit some deeply personal spots for him and he clearly wanted to eliminate the person who had such vulnerabilities on him. Maybe Mon Mothma would work. She had told them about Padme. As long as she avoided why Mon felt the need to tell her, Leia wouldn't be putting her in any more danger than she was already in. She opened her mouth and the fingers around her head abruptly stopped their punishing pressure.
Her eyes flew back to his mask. He hadn’t released her, his hands still cupped her head but he was so still, except for his breathing. The Force, which had been swirling around them with his emotions just stopped. Leia felt like she had been taken out of a hot summer day and emerged into the stillest pool imaginable. Gently, he pushed her head from one side to another, examining her. She could feel his focus, laser-sharp, and for a second, just a second, she thought she saw a shadow of where his eyes were.
No. A voice, not hers and not Luke’s, rang in her mind, filled with horror.
His hands released her head. They gently, so gently, reached down and they traced her neck. Exactly where he had only moments before been throttling her.
No. It said again, filled with denial now.
He backed away, stumbling in his haste. The Force, outside of that calm pool, was a maelstrom of too many emotions for Leia to identify.
NoNotAgainNoNotAgainNoNotAgainNoNotAgain. Was the wail of despair that echoed in her mind.
Leia flinched at the loud crack sound as it reverberated in the room. She looked around at the walls as a spider web of cracks spread out along them.
“Did he know?” he choked out in a weird stuttering rhythm.
Oh Force please, please, please. Too late... “Did who know?”
“My alternate, did he know you were his daughter?”
Leia shut down. She sat blindly down on the bench behind her and curled in on herself as she simultaneously made herself as small as she could in the Force. Waiting for the blow to come.
“I see.” is all he said. Then he turned around and motioned for the door to open and walked out.