When Leia had first heard the rumors, she had dismissed them as propaganda. Or that cult, Vader Lives, indulging in wishful thinking. Her few remaining contacts in the New Republic certainly thought so. Vader, alive? It was either fake, or they had stuck some poor Force-sensitive in a replica of his suit.
Unlike her contacts and her allies in the Resistance, there was no denying the reality of the situation when a month into the galaxy spinning itself into chaos on the rumors of a fake resurrected Sith Lord, a presence brushed up against her mind in her sleep.
“Lei-Your Highness,” it said. For a moment Leia allowed herself to hope it was Luke. Or even more improbably Ben. They were the only ones who would even think of reaching out to her like this.
Then her sleeping mind recognized the title, not her name. She puzzled over that for a moment, sleep-fogged brain trying to figure out who would start to call her by her name, then switch to a title she hadn’t answered to in four years.
She reached out, trying to get a sense of the presence waiting patiently at the edge of her mind, and everything in her snapped to immediate attention. Even in her sleep, she recognized him. She might not have been aware of what caused the feeling of danger dancing along her skin in her youth. But she knew enough about the Force to know what that meant now. Vader. It was Vader, who had so softly been saying her title. His presence was still like a large moon, blocking out all light, but she thought she caught the glimpse of warmth, here and there. She didn’t remember that from before. All she could recall was the frightening cold and dread whenever he was near her.
“Wonderful,” she hissed, mind coming awake, even if she didn’t consciously leave the dream state “So the rumors aren’t just rumors. You really are here.”
“Yes,” he said in a hesitant sounding voice. His mental voice sounded nothing like his vocoder. It was light and mellow. And then there was his tone. If it weren’t for the uniqueness of how he felt in the Force, Leia would have doubted this was him. Vader didn’t do hesitant. “And I have something to offer you.”
“You have nothing I want,” she told him, shouting in as loud as a mental voice as she could manage. “Go away.”
“I have your son,” was all he offered in return.
“Ben?” Leia’s heart skipped at the thought. “You have Ben?”
“Is that his name?” he sounded amused “All he tells me is that he is called Kylo Ren. I was wondering about that. You don’t strike me as the type to give such a pretentious name to a child.”
Leia’s eyes snapped open, and she sat bolt upright in her bed. She didn’t sever the connection to him though. “If you hurt him, I swear by all the gods-”
"No, Your Highness,” now his voice sounded regretful “the boy is not seriously injured.”
Leia’s eyes narrowed, thinking of Luke’s missing hand. “Define seriously injured.”
There was a wave of sorrow and regret from him “He has a few bruises, but the only major injury is to his pride.”
There wasn’t even a question in Leia’s mind what her next move was. “Where do I meet you?”
A long pause, then “I will allow you to pick the meeting place. I am not as familiar as I should be of the current planets that would suit best.”
So she selected Crait. It was isolated, out of the way, and far enough into New Republic territory, that the First Order couldn’t easily strike at it with an aerial bombardment.
The Resistance High Command was sufficed to say, apoplectic, when she informed then where she was going.
Poe and Ackbar were both convinced that it was a trap, laid out by her son. Leia shook her head “It’s Vader,” she said, “I don’t know how or why he is here, but it is Vader.”
Amilyn was silent during most of the shouting, but when things quieted down she asked in a soft voice “Do you believe him?”
Leia blinked “Vader?”
Amilyn nodded “Do you believe him when he says he has your son?”
Leia nodded. Amilyn looked thoughtful “Do you think he means you harm?” she asked.
“Means to harm me?” Leia chewed her lip, thinking about that cautious voice in her head “No, I don’t. Doesn’t mean he won’t, but I don’t think that is his goal.”
Amilyn nodded, “Then you should go. At the very least we might learn what his intentions are.”
So Leia left, alone. Vader hadn’t specifically put that as a condition, but she wasn’t willing to risk anyone else's life over her son. She wished, briefly, she knew where Han was, she could use his support, but he had disappeared from her life as thoroughly as Luke had. And Luke, while ideal to deal with their father, wasn’t someone she wanted near her son. For both their sakes.
Leia entered the system and landed near the old Rebel base. All the while she continually scanned the planet and the surrounding system. There was nothing there, except one shuttle, exactly where it was supposed to be.
As she landed across from it, she drew in a deep breath. She could feel both of them, her son and her father, she didn’t need to look through the viewscreen to know they stood not fifty feet from her. The Force moved between the three of them, in ways she didn’t understand, but could feel the pull of in her bones. Leia moved to the back of the cabin, and flicked the ramp, descending down onto the salt surface.
Vader was standing there, silent except for his respirator. His armor didn’t have the dark gloss polish that she remembered. In fact, it looked downright scruffy, and there were several rips and tears in the cape billowing in the wind. Whatever he had been up to, he hadn’t had an easy time of it.
Her son, on the other hand, was anything but quiet. He was bound in cuffs, standing on Vader’s right. He was yelling about how Vader was a traitor, that this was not what he was brought here for, that Leia had denied him and their legacy.
Vader said nothing as Leia approached, and then said in a rough voice as she came to within feet of them “I tortured your mother boy. Twice. That gives her the right to do whatever she wishes in regards to me.”
Ben fell silent at that and turned wide amazed eyes at Leia. She gulped at the betrayal in them. Another secret she had kept from him.
Vader’s voice was quiet “You didn’t tell him?” he asked Leia.
Leia’s gaze never left her son, but she did answer Vader “Would you?”
“No,” he said.
Ben’s face twisted, and Leia’s heart broke “Are you going to save my soul grandfather?” he asked in a sneering voice.
Vader gave out a bark of laughter at that. “No,” he said, “I cannot even save my own.”
Leia finally managed to tear her gaze away from Ben to look at him, “Then why are you doing this?”
Vader shifted on his feet for a moment, then said “Snoke is dead.”
Leia’s mind blanked at that “What?” she whispered.
“Snoke is dead,” he repeated, “Hux is now the Supreme Leader, but I imagine he will not be able to hold the position for long.”
Leia gaped at him. At the careless tone as he described how he had just set another system-wide government into chaos.
“Your Highness,” Vader said respectfully, “Snoke thought he could use me as my Master once done. That is the reason behind my ‘resurrection.’” He sounded tired then, even though the vocoder. Leia wondered if this Vader remembered his death, and the peace he found there. “He underestimated me, and himself.”
Leia snorted in derision at that. Snoke really thought he could hold Vader’s leash?
Vader nodded his head in acknowledgment of her disdain of Snoke’s ego. “Then what is your goal?” Leia asked.
“My only goal, as you say, is to see to your, and your brother’s, happiness and welfare. What do you wish of me now?”
Typical Vader, Leia thought, of course, he would make such an offer. When had the man ever done anything half-assed?
“I don’t know where Luke is,” she said softly, addressing the least fraught part of that statement.
He nodded his head, “Then may I suggest you see to your son, and I will look for him?”
“He killed you!” Ben howled “Just like he tried to kill me!”
Vader sighed “I don’t know the circumstances of your encounter with Luke grandson, but I can most assuredly tell you Luke did not kill me.”
Ben fell silent at that.
Leia looked into those red tinted eye lenses, debating with herself. A Vader without a guide was a Vader who would careen through the galaxy with no thought of the damage he would inflict. She wondered at how far his offer really went. If she asked for his life, would he give it to her?
No, Leia dismissed the thought. No, that was not the way now. That was not the way to repay him for bringing Ben here. And if there was one thing she knew, it was that Vader would tear the galaxy upside down in an effort to find Luke. Give him that goal, and when Vader found him, let him be Luke’s problem. “First we get you out of that suit,” she decided.
“Concerned for my welfare?” he sounded disbelieving.
Leia shook her head, “You are not what I would call ‘inconspicuous’ in that thing. If you really want to help me, I need you to be able to go places without people breaking out into mass hysteria everywhere you go.”
“And after that?” he asked.
She looked at her son, who was pale and shaking “Then we see.”
Vader bowed, “Thank you, Your Highness,”
Leia shook her head “I’m no longer a Princess. Please call me Leia.”
There was a flicker of shock, and then an almost shy “Thank you, Leia.”
Leia looked at her son and her father and sent a prayer to every god willing to listen that she hadn’t just doomed them all.