Leia moves skillfully, her feet quick and her eyes confident. No one would know it was her first ball, Bail thinks, if they had not known it ahead of time.
Bail watches Leia as she moves across the dance floor. She grins at a noble boy from Naboo. Bail remains on the balcony, content to observe Leia on her introduction to Coruscant society. There's some of Padme in Leia, he notices, not for the first time; the delicateness of her steps, the height, the wavy brown hair that cascades down her back. The boy from Naboo tries to let his hands slip lower than Leia's waist, but, graceful, Leia turns, forcing him to adjust his hands. Good girl. A natural politician, though by nature or by nurture he's not quite certain. Leia will always think of it as nurture; he cannot tell her of her mother, of the graceful way she smoothed conflicts, of the heroic way she stood against tyranny. To Leia, her mother will always be a handmaiden; a minor soldier who protected a queen on a sister-planet Leia has never been to - but, perhaps, will be someday, if this dance bears fruit. She will know Naboo as her mother's home, but not in the way that she should.
She looks up at him, smiles brightly. He nods, continues his monitoring.
Leia's smile is her father's. It must be. Padme's smiles were small, simple; a subtle treat revealed only for the finest of friends. Skywalker -- he was ever the brasher of the two. His smiles must have been as bright as his homeworld's twin sun for Padme, for surely the effect Anakin Skywalker had on Padme was no less than the effect Leia's smile has on him; devastating in its brightness, pure in its passion, always loving and true.
There are times he wonders just how much of Leia is her father's daughter.
Not him, as much as he would be complimented by that. Leia has learned politics at his hand, but it is clear, even at her age, that she has the heart of a warrior. He will have to tell her about the rebellion soon. He will have to tell her, and he will have to offer her a choice. It is not much of one. Leia, whose only disciplinary action in school has been for standing up for smaller children, will choose to rebel. She will put her life on the line, think nothing of her privilege, and she will not shirk from her duties. Not even when she is holding a blaster, and he knows she will.
He is raising a killer. He knows this; knows every time he gives her classes in diplomacy, strategy, and shooting that she will one day use them against the Empire. Open conflict is inevitable.
It's what she was born for, really; Leia is bright and quick and powerful, a warrior-queen the likes of which Alderaan has not seen for centuries. (Naboo, their sister-planet, of course, has a proud tradition of warrior-queens, of which Leia's mother was no exception.) The social graces are just a bonus - he watches the boy from Naboo bow deeply, as Leia is spun to another young man. This one, darker-skinned and heavier, takes her hand just as eagerly; the hostess' nephew, the prince from Drall. A planet with a low profile; a planet where Leia could lose herself in the minutiae of running a small planet in the shadow of it's larger cousin, Correllia.
But that would be a waste of her talents.
His hand tightens on the wood of the elegant banister; he wonders, idly, where their host Lady Venturil found Alderaan's ebony-wood here on Coruscant. The endangered wood hasn't been allowed to be exported since his father's days. Quieter days. He would ask, but six months to his retirement, six months to Leia's induction to his seat in the Senate, he finds himself focused on far more important matters.
There's a murmur rising; Bail watches as Darth Vader plunges through the crowd. His stomach drops, as it always does when Leia and Lord Vader are in the same room. He isn't force-sensitive, but he always wonders just how long they can keep their secret from him. His eyes focus only on the black menace, easy to trace when the crowd parts around him like fishes around sharks.
Vader makes a brief, introductory remark to Lady Venturil. He is too far away to hear it, out here on the scantly occupied balcony, but she wanes, her dark skin turning pale as she points toward her nephew, currently spinning Leia toward the center of the ballroom. Leia, of course, is too focused or too stubborn to stop moving in the face of danger.
Vader stalks toward Leia, his movements graceful as silk (Leia has inherited her father's step), his voice no-doubt commanding as he all-but-shoves the boy aside, taking up Leia's hand. Leia looks up at him, jaw stubbornly set (her heart is as immovable as her father's).
Bail starts to move, cursing his age, the aches that crack in his bones as he watches the unknown father and his daughter dance. Bail's movements are slow, clumsy; he's never been a warrior, not like Leia or Padme, and his step falters as he takes the ever-many steps too fast. A servant girl gives him an odd look, and he shoots back an apologetic one, unable to even utter an apology before he encounters the swelter of bodies on the dance floor, including their host.
"A dance, Senator Organa?" Lady Venturil murmurs, no doubt noticing his panic. He swallows and coughs, stalling for time as he runs through his options. She has played him well; Lord Vader has already caused enough of a stir at her party, and she does not want any more. She knows he cannot refuse the host, as much as he wants to. He nods his assent but bites his lip. He has little choice; refusing would be a slight that would put Leia's future in danger - for what reason would he have to be alarmed in Leia's well-being when her arm is being in the hand of the Imperial Throne's most fierce protector?
He leads the Lady out onto the floor, her golden gown shimmering, but he keeps his eyes locked on Leia when he can. A father's watch he can get away with. Vader keeps his distance with her, his hands on her arms, not her waist. Leia holds two of those dark, mechanical forearms, her eyes locked on that cold mask, her gaze fearless. He says something - Bail can only make out the low bass of his voice, not, damnably, the words - and Leia, to his astonishment, smiles.
His stomach drops.
"Your daughter must be something to have caught Lord Vader's attention," Lady Venturil murmurs as she shifts close to him. "I've yet to see him at any of the parties this season." She is no doubt pleased. Drall's dinner parties are a rather minute affair; he had hoped to break Leia into Coruscant society in a smaller setting before bringing her into the Senate's politicing properly.
Now she faces a challenge far crueler than even the backstabbing of the Imperial Court - all the more so for her unknown connection to the man she dances with.
"She is a truly talented young woman. I have little doubt she will do well in the Senate when she comes of age," he murmurs, changing the subject from Vader's designs to Leia's achievements. Coruscant has many ears, and he does not wish to have any comment on Lord Vader make their way to the Emperor.
"Indeed," she says, as he twirls her around the dance floor. He loses track of Leia, then, her white dress and Vader's bulk lost in the swirling wall of silk and brocade. "It is not such a bad match, Lord Vader and your daughter."
"I - " he sputters, his mask slipping. She raises an eyebrow, an unmistakable cue. A test. He must tread carefully. "I had not thought of that," he says honestly, mentally kicking himself.
Leia looks so very much like her mother.
The song ends; Lady Venturil steps away, satisfied to have her party continue in its merriment. She bows toward him, but even as he returns it, his eyes gaze for Leia.
"Until next dance, Senator," she says, taking the hand of her nephew and grinning.
Bail doesn't bother to utter a response. He scans, hastily, not seeing Leia on the dance-floor. He gasps, but it feels as if he cannot breathe. Does Vader know? Or worse, does he not? Where has he taken Bail's daughter? She's mine, he thinks, wildly; mine. Not yours.
He catches Leia's laugh and a flutter of a white cape and follows it. He sees Vader and Leia on one of Lady Venturil's many balconies. The air goes out of his lungs as he watches them talk, as if it was normal. Vader doesn't look at her, his gaze more on the world beyond Lady Venturil's compound; Leia, however, has her eyes on the man, her tiny hands animated as she talks.
He slips closer, relieved but still wary. Talking, he tells himself, is not a crime. He cannot act so suspiciously, but he cannot leave her alone with him --
"And, you see, the issue of slavery simply cannot continue," Leia says, her tone harsh. "We cannot live in a truly secure Empire if we do not look out for the well-being of all its citizens. This is not the Outer Rim, you see."
He stops in his tracks a second once he overhears the subject of their conversation. One of Leia's first votes, should she be elected (and he has no doubt she will be), will be on the issue of allowing slavery on Hosnian Prime. He had planned on coaxing her to abstain, to keep a low profile, but Leia, it seems, has done her own homework, as has Lord Vader. No doubt this is the reason for Lord Vader's ambush; the issue has had great difficulty in gaining public sympathy for the Empire's position of allowing slavery, and he has little doubt that the Emperor has been displeased by this. Using Lord Vader to needle a young, inexperienced senator -- that, surely, must the reason for his journey into this dance-hall. Not marriage, and certainly not to reclaim his lost daughter.
Bail all but slumps into the walls, relieved.
"Indeed not," Vader says, his tone surprisingly...light. "But how, Princess, do you expect to counter the argument that paid labor is simply too expensive for the vast majority of the Emperor's planets to implement? Not all are as rich as your homeworld in resources, including Hosnian Prime."
"An empire is only as strong as its most impoverished citizen," Leia says, her voice brave as she recites the values Bail has instilled within her. "The Empire's core worlds must do their part to ensure that slavery is economically unviable, whether in the form of aid or taxation. We must nurture the seed of our liberty; slavery is a weed that will over-run all our fields if we let it. Sometimes I want so badly to free all the slaves in the Empire that I - I dream of doing it."
Vader turns toward his daughter slowly, and Bail can almost see the eyes behind that mask widening, taking in the measure of her bravery. He is silent for a long moment, and Bail, his heart pounding once more, takes a few steps closer, until his hands touch Leia's arm.
"I had wondered where you went to, little one," he says, his voice perhaps a bit tight. Hopefully, Vader will not notice.
"Ah, father, Lord Vader wished to discuss how Alderaan planned to address the Hosnian Prime situation." She beams at him, and he has no doubt that she is flattered by Lord Vader's attention. "I trust our position is clear to you, my lord?"
She bows, and, after a moment, Bail does the same.
Vader does not return it, but nods at them. "Yes. You have a most ...gifted daughter, Senator Organa."
"Thank you." He says, a bit stunned.
"We will see if your proposal bears fruit, Princess," Vader says, nodding toward her, and then, like a dark shadow, he is gone, disappearing back into the ballroom.
"Leia," he says, and she looks at him strangely, but he does not care, enveloping her into a large hug. "I was so worried about you."
"Father!" She squeaks, as indignant as any sixteen year old can be. "Stop. you're embarrassing me. It isn't as if I was in danger."
That, he knows, is a lie. And one day, he will need to tell her why -- but, for now, it is safer that she does not know, and so he drops his arms to his side.
"Leia, you are the heir to a core world crown. There are many who would seek to ransom you for it, or worse," he says, but squeezes her hand to keep his rebuke gentle. "Don't leave without telling me again."
She looks a little guilty at this; she is a good girl, he knows, and she will obey her father. "Sorry. It was just - I had never been asked my opinion by -- "
"I know. I know. Enthusiasm is the bounty of youth, wisdom the bounty of age. You will learn. But for now... Let's go home, my little princess," he says, the childish nickname comforting on his tongue. "I am tired."
She follows, but Bail notices how her eyes meet Lord Vader's on their way out the door, and knows that the day is coming, sooner rather than later, that he will have to tell her of her full heritage.
But -- for now -- they rest. His daughter's head droops onto his shoulder as she falls asleep, and he dares to hold her close as they travel back to his apartment on Coruscant, savoring the moment of peace for as long as possible.