When your father dies, say the Coruscanti, you are left clutching a star map for a different galaxy.
Leia never had a body. Even Luke had that, a black hunk of plastiform in the shape of a man, and she’d watched him—hidden behind the treeline as acrid smoke curled around her brother and up to the sky. He’d burned the creature who claimed to be their father, and Leia watched him in silhouette, knowing without ever once seeing his face that he was howling, all agony, and alone.
The flames had burned down to flickers, and she was still watching Luke. Even when he went to his knees and pressed his face, hands, into the dirt and screamed, like an animal, like something was being amputated.
(Later, Leia will think: yes, it was like that, exactly like that.)
She’d crept back into Han’s bed in the grey-cold hours of the morning, tucked herself in the warm curve of his body. He’d let out a string of sleep noises and shifted to wrap an arm around her, his hand spanning the soft rise and fall of her stomach. Leia had been dizzy and overwhelmed with the sudden warmth of him, and she found herself tucking her face into the crook of his arm, crying.
If Han noticed his sleeve was wet in the morning, he had the unlikely grace not to mention it.
She hadn’t had a body to bury, that was the thing. She hadn’t had any bodies to bury, or burn, even a stone to carve their names into. The Falcon had flown through Alderaanian space afterward, on a mission for the Alliance; she’d been grateful for the blue-white blur of hyperspace, hiding the enormous absence of her planet. Like an abscess in the world.
It occurs to her later—much later, after Endor, after the New Republic, holed up in some rusting base repurposed for the Resistance—that she lost her father and met her father in the same breath. Exit Bail, enter Vader. Leia wasn’t consulted on the transition, but she never has been. She’s someone tragic things happen to, not someone who decides if they’re happening.
(She inherited this from her mother, more’s the pity.)
“I used to dye my hair,” Leia Organa says to Poe Dameron once, and it’s unfortunate, that she’s drunk and he isn’t, but she also ordered men into battle—to fight and die under her command, and he didn’t, so maybe that justifies it. Leia Organa hasn’t killed many sentients, but she’s commanded enough of them to die between the first war and the second, she’s not certain of the dividing line.
So. She says, “I used to dye my hair. Black. Like my father’s. I wanted to be…everything he was, I wanted to be him.”
She told Luke this, once—not when she was drunk but when they’d been shoved together in a bolt-hole at a cantina, waiting the owner to deal with the troopers. Everything had to be whispered, their mouths close to one another’s ears, and Leia had been very aware of the complicated, shivering and ineffable thing between them, whatever it was. So she said—and Luke had smiled (it was too dark to see, but she knew) and leaned in close, said, You’d look good with black hair. And maybe it was the proximity of him, the inexplicably familiar shivering-feeling—
Do you think he’d be proud of me? she’d whispered, and though she never told Luke—or Han for that matter—she never recovers from the stab of love she felt when Luke said, Well, the rest of us are.
(She doesn’t know what color Anakin Skywalker’s hair was.)
“Ma’am,” Poe says in the present, touching her shoulder with a kind of rare gentleness. “Get some sleep.”
Leia sleeps, and does not dream.
When your father dies, say the Naboo, he takes your childhood with him into dark water.
She can feel his ghost sometimes, when he comes too close; the particular prickle of set of eyes on her, a dry heat stealing the moisture from her mouth. If he lingers, she ends up with a tension headache that won’t ease—though she’s never sure whether that’s the Force, or because she ends up staring at her datapad hard enough to strain her eyes.
She refuses to look at him. Luke’s said he looks like a man these days, death having pried open his armor, given him freedom; Leia wants no part in that. The Force gave in too easy, she thinks; coaxed by Luke into forgiveness before it was just, before the debt had been paid.
Bail Organa gave a speech about the necessity of freedom on the floor of the Imperial Senate, once. Leia remembers watching the holocast, her mother beside her. Leia had been young—small, not sure why Mama was so serious, so pale, her hands fisted tight in the folds of her dress. With the clumsy awareness of a child, Leia had offered her favorite soft toy, a stuffed fathier.
Breha had looked at it in surprise and she had smiled, then taken Leia into her arms. “Your father is very brave,” Leia remembers her saying, stroking Leia’s hair. “He does what is right, even when it’s dangerous.”
(Twenty-odd years later, Leia watches the recording and wonders how in all hells he got away with this, standing under the Emperor’s gaze and saying, A thousand thousand voices cry out—for the destiny of all peoples is freedom, and this is a force, a force which intervenes in history in order to break down the structures of injustice, and topple empires.
They should have shot him on the Senate floor, Leia thinks, a hand to her mouth to keep herself from laughing, or crying. One of the two.)
“You’re so like him,” Luke says during their worst, most vicious fight—Leia doesn’t fight with him, not as often as with Han, but it’s always worse. Fights with Han are mostly noise; Luke is too close, in her head and under her skin, not to nick some internal organ and leave her bleeding out.
“You’re so like him, you’re—gods, you might even be more Skywalker than I am,” Luke says, his eyes hard and his mouth set with that familiar terrible bitterness.
(Leia refuses to speak to Luke for two weeks, until Han announces he’s tired of playing messenger droid and locks them in the refresher together while he takes Ben for ice cream.)
“You’re so like him,” Mon Mothma says, when Leia’s first bill is passed by the New Republican Senate. She’s fond, embracing Leia; they’re the only ones still here, the others having decamped to a cantina to celebrate. “The way you spoke today…it was like seeing Bail again, when he was young in the days of the Republic. He would be so proud, Leia.”
Leia’s voice breaks as she thanks her. Mothma doesn’t seem to mind.
That night, Leia stands in front of the mirror in the refresher, looking at her reflection—she doesn’t look like either of them, really. Her skin too pale, her hair the wrong color. Wrong nose, wrong mouth. When she was younger, she used to think she had her father’s eyes, but she knows (has known since her first geno lesson) that it’s impossible.
She presses her hand to the glass of the mirror, until her fingers are white with the effort. She wishes she could reach in, rearrange what’s there like clay; give herself Breha’s smile and Bail’s eyebrows, a nose like her father’s, even if it looked strange on her face. She wants people to look at her and know where she comes from, she wants them to say, you must be Bail Organa’s daughter, you’re so like him. You’re just like him.
She’s almost doesn’t notice the sudden prickle of eyes on her, a dry and itching heat, like the desert. It takes her a moment to place it, and when she does—
Leia could turn around, she could turn and look at the man who was Darth Vader. She could turn, and see whether he gave her the color of her hair, the particular set of her cheekbones. Jaw. Ears. She and Luke have stood side-by-side in a mirror and studied each other’s faces, but she could turn around right now, and she would know.
She shuts her eyes.
“Go away,” she says, and he does.
When your father dies, say the slaves of Tatooine, the suns shift forever in the sky.
Leia never had a body, and so instead she finds a quiet place (it doesn’t matter where, really, on whatever world she finds herself) and burns a cigarra.
She doesn’t smoke it, because she’s never liked cigarras—she doesn’t even like the smell, choking and chemical. But her father had loved them, even after Breha banished him and his habits to the gardens. Leia has a database’s worth of memories like that: her father, sitting on a chair he dragged outdoors, her cross-legged at his feet. He would tell her stories, talk to her, the horrible smell of cigarras wreathing them both.
It’s a ritual, then. Infrequent, but—to find a private place and light the cigarra. Let it burn, and fill her up with a smell she associates with green, and flowers, and home. Her father’s voice, her father’s laugh. Her father’s love.
This time, her hands shake as she lights the cigarra.
“How did you do this?” she asks, breathing in the treated vegetation and chemical aftertaste. “How did you…”
There wasn’t any more map, that was the problem. Bail Organa had believed in justice, in rebellion against all things that kept people from being free. He mapped the path to victory; he had laid it out and entrusted it to his daughter, and so she followed the way he charted, broke down the structures of injustice and toppled an empire and then—
Then there was nothing, no more map. There was only blank space.
Leia exhales, pressing the heels of her hands against her eyes. “I don’t know what to do. Papa, I don’t…”
She wants to claw at something, bite, snarl. She wants to blast her way through this like she did so much else—the Death Star, innumerable missions, tight corners, the war. She doubt she would have loved Han half as much, if they hadn’t fought their way into it, through it. Ben had inherited it from her, and she’d never been very good at hiding how much she liked that about him when he came home with fat lips and scrapes.
(Luke was right.about that, that one thing. Breha abhorred war; Bail believed it could be just in the service of liberation. Neither of them were soldiers, and Leia was—she is still, and that means—)
Alone, all alone, on a cliffside overlooking the Silver Sea of Hosnian Prime, Leia exhales, and lowers her hands from her eyes. She looks out at the water, breathing in the cigarra smoke.
“I don’t—care about the New Republic,” she says, though it feels like a betrayal, like murder, like she’s still on the bridge of the Death Star and watching her planet burn up. It feels like she’s killing her father, though he’s been dead for more years than she had him alive.
She swallows. “I don’t care about the New Republic,” she repeats, still sounding unsteady, on the verge of tears. (She is.) “I—do want to care. But I don’t, and I…I feel like I’m losing sight of what I fought for. What you fought for.”
Leia could lie, and say they offered it to her, but they didn’t. She was the one who’d called for a peacekeeping task force in the Outer Rim to combat increased unfriendly activity by the First Order. She was the one who’d staffed it once the funding was approved, and continued to keep an eye out, for other likelies. (Poe, her latest, was on a mission to—well, that’s when she knew, when she called it a mission and he called her general.)
She was the one who, when Kalonia mentioned it was inconvenient, not to have any leadership on-site—
Leia’s letter of resignation from the New Republican Senate was sitting on her desk. She imagined they’d find it tomorrow morning, but by then she’ll be on a freighter to the Outer Rim. She’s already packed.
“You were so good at this,” Leia murmurs. “You were—you would have liked this government I helped build, you know. You always liked the administrative complexity and the boring meetings and building slow, awful consensus. I know you did, you used to tell me about it. I thought it was boring even then.
“But I…I am not good at this,” Leia says. She hates how small her voice sounds, amid the wind and waves. “I’m sorry, papa. I tried. I really did, I tried, for you. But maybe Luke was right, and I’m too much like him, or I’m just—broken. That’s what Ben used to say, whenever he was upset, ‘I’m broken,’ like he was a droid. Though given—maybe I should have believed him, I should have…”
She swallows, forces herself to say, “Please don’t be angry with me.”
She wishes—with a viciousness that surprises her, a desperate suddenness of want—that Anakin Skywalker would show up. His ghost, even just a wisp, even if she has to look at a man who doesn’t deserve to be one. She wants to scream at him, rattle his peace; she wants to open a vein and have him take it back, this blood he gave her, too hot to be an Organa’s. It’s rotted through every tie that bound her to other people, all of them. Brother, husband, son, father, mother, all gone.
But she is here still, and even if she is a—a Skywalker, then she will be Bail Organa’s daughter too.
“I remember what you said,” she breathes. The smell of the cigarra is all around her, in her hair and her throat and her lungs. It is like having her father there, beside her and within her. “The destiny of all peoples is freedom, and this is a force which destroys injustice, and topples empires. I will always remember.”
She looks out at the sea, and for a moment—for a moment she is on the cliffside in Aldera, she is home, and she will turn around and her father will be there, he will be waiting. She will be sixteen again, long-limbed and coltish and light as air, and she will run to him; bury her face in his robes and breathe in the smell of cigarra. All things will come back to her, and all will be well.
The moment passes.
Leia exhales. “I can be a force. I can break, and topple, and I fight for that day you imagined, when people are free. Please, let that be good enough.”
She stands, stubs out the cigarra with her shoe. The wind carries away the smell too quickly, and then Leia is alone.
When your father dies, say the Alderaanians, he comes back as a mountain. May you have the strength to carry him