“Princess,” Evaan said, “I’ve come to join you—”
Leia sighed and held up a hand. “Call me General, Evaan, if you can’t call me Leia.” And then she looked at Evaan, really looked at her, and she smiled, the weariness disappearing from her face completely. “It’s good to have you. How do you feel about training new pilots?”
Evaan wasn’t sure if Leia was glad to see her or simply glad to have the help. It had been many years since they’d parted, since Evaan had stayed on with the survivors of Alderaan and Leia had returned to the Rebellion. When the war was over, the princess had turned to New Republic politics, and that had stung a little, that she had not returned to her people—but Leia’s abilities were needed on the galactic scale. The survivors of Alderaan could not keep her to themselves.
No matter how much they might want to.
“Your wish is my command,” Evaan said, quirking a smile.
“Evaan,” Leia said, and the smile she returned seemed sad, “didn’t we get past all that years ago?” And Evaan suddenly wondered how many true friends Leia had here. The man she loved was gone. Her son and brother were away. Many of her former allies had turned on her once her parentage was revealed. This new Resistance was made up of people Leia could trust…but how many of them treated her as untouchable, as beyond them? How many idolized her, didn’t see her as a person?
Evaan had thought Leia an “ice princess,” once. Did others feel the same? Did no one truly see her?
Was Leia, yet again, alone?
Evaan wet her lips, dropped her eyes. “Yes, Leia,” she said. “We did. Old habits die hard, I guess.” She looked back up at the other woman, relieved to find that her expression had softened. “To really answer your question: I’d love to train your pilots. In fact, I’ve been training pilots for the New Republic for the past five years.”
“I know,” Leia said, and a genuine smile tugged at her lips. “Old habits die hard, indeed.”
Evaan ducked her head; Leia had recommended that Evaan lead the survivors of Alderaan, but politics had never really been in her nature. “I hope you don’t—”
“Not at all,” Leia interrupted. “As I’ve always said, you are not my servant, and you are not bound to my will. I’m glad you found the path that was right for you. And…” Leia’s voice softened, and when Evaan looked back up the princess was the one looking away. “I’m glad your path has brought you here.”
Evaan took her hand then, squeezed it between both of hers, and said, “So am I.”
Some time passed before Evaan saw Leia again. The Resistance had only recently established their base—they obviously could not operate out of Hosnian Prime, as they could not be associated with the New Republic—and there was much to do in terms of setting up operations, establishing routines, recruiting, and all the other things a general had to organize. And Evaan was busy setting up her flight school, preparing for the influx of Resistance fighters who needed to learn piloting beyond simple takeoffs and landings. Leia had luckily managed to snag quite a few pilots from the New Republic, including the legendary Poe Dameron, but if they were to truly stand up against the First Order, they would always need more soldiers…especially since the extent of the enemy’s forces was virtually unknown.
So it was with surprise and no small amount of delight that Evaan opened the door to her quarters one night to find Leia Organa standing there—but the look on Leia’s face dashed any hopes for a happy visit. “Come in,” Evaan said quickly, and Leia swept inside without a word.
The princess allowed herself to be seated and accepted a cup of tea. Evaan sat beside her on the sofa, sipping her own tea and waiting. After a long moment, Leia set down her cup.
“I’ve had some news,” Leia said, and her voice was the same as it had been after the Disaster, flat and emotionless. “It’ll be all over the holonet soon, though I don’t know what form it will take. I must be prepared for anything.”
Evaan waited. The reveal that Darth Vader was Leia Organa’s father had been devastating; surely whatever had happened now was not on that scale?
“I’ve called Han,” Leia said. “I can’t tell him in a message. I can’t have records of this, not until I’ve decided what to do.”
“What’s happened?” Evaan finally asked.
Leia raised her face, gazed at her with the bearing of a princess. “My brother’s Jedi school has been destroyed,” she said. “All of the students have been killed. Except one.”
Evaan’s heart thudded into her throat. “Leia,” she said.
“My son is alive,” Leia said. “Ben is alive. And Luke is alive. Luke says—” She stared hard into Evaan’s eyes. “Luke has gone into hiding. He sent R2-D2 here with that message. That he has to go, has to find an answer. And he also says that Ben has—”
It was almost painful, looking into Leia’s hard eyes, but Evaan could barely blink.
“Ben has left us,” Leia concluded, her voice still unnaturally level. “He’s gone to join the First Order.”
“No,” Evaan said immediately, grabbing up Leia’s hands in her own. “Leia.”
“This is everything they expected of my family, once they found out,” Leia said. “It’s like fulfilling a destiny. I always said I was not a Skywalker, but an Organa. Turns out I was wrong. I was a Vader all along. And I passed that destiny down to my son.”
“Leia,” Evaan said again. How could she respond to this? She didn’t understand the Force, didn’t understand the strange destiny that had entangled her princess. She didn’t see the need to, because Leia herself didn’t—
“I rejected the Force,” Leia said. “Not because it was not important. Not because I didn’t like the idea of controlling that power. Because I knew what could happen to a person who becomes a Jedi. I knew what had happened to…my biological father. If I could have, I would have helped Ben reject the Force too. But he—he was just so powerful. It was like he couldn’t turn it off. He needed training, and I sent him away…”
Her words choked off then, the emotion finally making itself known in her voice.
“Getting him training was the right choice—”
“I should have gone with him!”
Evaan nearly dropped Leia’s hands at the sudden shout; instead, she squeezed them tighter. “You couldn’t have known. You might not have been able to do anything.”
“But I would have been there,” Leia said. The princess dropped her gaze to her lap. “I should have been there.”
Evaan’s first instinct was to offer platitudes: What you’re doing now is important, too and We’re fighting the First Order, we’ll find a way to get your son back from them. But Leia was not the sort of person to be comforted by platitudes. “I’m so sorry, Leia,” she said instead, and she pulled one hand away to wrap an arm around Leia’s shoulders.
Leia leaned her head on Evaan’s shoulder. It was the closest they’d ever been; Evaan could smell the soft, sweet fragrance of Leia’s hair, could feel the coiled braids smooth like silk against her cheek. She sighed, and closed her eyes, and clung to Leia’s hand.
“Evaan,” Leia said, quietly.
“I’m in love with you.”
Evaan startled backward, dropping her arm away from Leia’s shoulders. Leia raised her head.
“I’m sorry, Evaan. Ignore that. I’m not myself right now.” Leia pulled her hand away, tucked a loose hair back into her braid. “Thank you for listening. I should go now.”
“Leia,” Evaan said as the princess stood, and it felt like that was all she was capable of saying, and she hated herself.
“I’ll be fine. Thank you.” There was that sad smile again. And then she turned away, and General Leia Organa pulled the hood of her jumpsuit back over her hair and slipped off into the night.
And Evaan Verlaine slumped back on her couch, twisting her fingers together and thinking of the scent of Leia’s hair.