April 1, 2000
Category: Star Wars
Author: FernWithy

[Disclaimer]

Playing Politics

Father's Heart, Part Three

Disclaimer: "Playing Politics" was written purely for personal amusement, and involves no money. It is intended as an interpretation of some events in the Star Wars universe, not as any infringement upon Lucasfilm's copyright.


"These belonged to -- "

"I know to whom they belonged, Saché."

"Take them. Take them and keep them and remember the price she paid for you. Remember -- "

"I do not forget."

"You have forgotten everything, Ani -- "

The fire raging up at the hated name. The twitch in the power of the Force. "And you forget yourself, Saché."

Hands reaching to her throat. The defiant look. "You... haven't won."

"Perhaps not. But it is only a matter of time." The rage subsiding, the sound of an indrawn breath.

"I shouldn't have come. What do I care anymore what you remember or don't remember? I leave you to your victory! May it bring you all you deserve."

The trunk, gleaming in the ray of sunlight from the open door.

Finally alone, the doors and windows closed, safe in his isolation, he opens it.

***

Alderaan, many years later.

"Influence?" the holotoon said, batting its oversize eyes giving a vapid smile. It wore Leia's face over Vader's armor (with exaggerated female curves beneath it), and carried a red lightsaber in one hand and a case of medical supplies in the other. Its hair was braided to resemble Vader's helmet. "I can't imagine what you mean..."

Leia stuck her tongue out at it -- she was alone in her campaign headquarters for once, and could do so -- but didn't turn it off. It was the only one of the underground cartoons that really struck a nerve with her (partly because she feared that there might be a grain of truth in it somewhere), and she was determined to desensitize herself to it. She had been running her campaign for over a year now, but she felt no closer to the end of it than she had at the beginning. An endless cycle of dinners, of public appearances, of interviews with the press. Her personal life was paraded across the holonews at every opportunity, though so far the truly personal matters, the secrets, had not been approached.

She was glad to be only fourteen; she hadn't had time to accumulate any real scandals, though the more malicious critics had tried to create them. She'd been portrayed both as Jaet Bishapi's mistress and as Lord Vader's in a series of scatological holotoons run in an underground newsweb. She didn't take them as personally as she took the other -- the "Influence?" holotoon -- but it was a ridiculous accusation with which she was growing increasingly impatient.

She sighed, and tried to fit a strangely shaped piece of wood into a puzzle she'd been given by a supporter ("To calm your nerves," he'd said, and that was a laugh). She thought she could see where it went, but there was no way she could put it there without upsetting the balance of the whole tower. She tried anyway, reaching carefully into the structure with skilled fingers...

"Influence?" the holotoon said, and laughed.

Leia's hand jerked, and the tower came crashing down.

"I can't imagine what you mean..."

The holo disappeared. "Stop watching it, Leia," Bail Organa said behind her. He came into the room. "The polls show that almost ninety percent of the population considers this a non-issue. Of those, almost fifteen percent think that you're the one doing the influencing. Politics can be messy, Leia. You know that. When I ran, they dragged me through the mud, too. It's a rite of passage. Once you get to the Senate -- and I have no doubt that you will -- you'll hear the same story from every other Senator you meet."

Leia knew this was true. "He wants to support me," she said. "Lord Vader, I mean. He contacted me, and said he wants to offer Imperial support."

"What does he want in return?"

"Nothing explicit."

"And your inclination in the matter?"

"I don't know. I haven't talked to him much since Ampinua. And Mother said that he..." She bit her lip, and looked shyly at her father; she wasn't sure how much her parents told each other. "She said that he hurt my birth mother."

"She said that?"

"Yes. Is it true?"

"Yes. I suppose it is. I don't wish to discuss this with you further until you're older."

"How old? I'm running for the Imperial Senate. I organized a relief effort for an entire planet. I helped get a thug out of power. How old do I have to be before you tell me who my mother was? I'm ready."

"Her name was Padmé Naberrie," Father said. "Beyond that, you may be ready, but I'm not. And it is a name you are not to mention to Vader under any circumstance."

Leia looked out the window. She would not consider discussing personal matters with Vader. "Did he kill her?"

"No. He didn't kill her. But he broke her trust. She was hurt."

"But he saved me on Ampinua."

"He was once a great man." Father put a hand on Leia's arm. He had told her that once before, and she still didn't know if she believed him. She could find no record of Vader's past anywhere. He had appeared out of nowhere as the Emperor's good right arm, as far as she could tell. "But, Leia," Father said, "you can't judge him on what he once was. Not what I remember, and not what your mother remembers. Either of your mothers. You have to make the judgments based on what you know yourself."

Leia went to the table, and started gathering up the pieces of her puzzle. She would probably start it again tomorrow -- it didn't exactly calm her nerves, but it gave her something to do other than worry about the poll numbers and sneak attacks from her opponents. She had never had trouble reaching a conclusion before this business with Vader. Things were clear to her. She planted her feet firmly in her positions, and felt certain they were right. She let her conscience and her instincts guide her, and they were never hesitant.

Until now.

Now, her heart wasn't speaking clearly, and her mind was racing itself in circles. He hurt her, he saved me. He kills, he rescues. He imprisons rebels without trial, he frees Ampinuan slaves. It made her head spin. What was real? What was image?

She knew that some of the horrible things she heard were true. Vader did torture people. He had tortured Bishapi on Ampinua, even if it had been for practical reasons. But she also knew that other things weren't true. One of the worst rumors was about a murder on Malastare, but she knew that he hadn't committed it, because he'd been on Alderaan at the time it happened, talking to her. So how much of his reputation was a big shadow cast from smaller acts?

"I need to know more," she said finally. "I can't judge him until I know what's real."

"Good luck with that project," Father said with a smirk. "Let me know if you get anywhere."

***

The princess had grown up a great deal in the past year, Vader noticed when she appeared on his viewscreen, and was now wearing her hair up in a loose twist of curls and braids. Her gown was of a classic style. Vader suspected that she was deliberately trying to look older than her fourteen years. It was a strategy with which he had a great deal of experience. It was effective.

"I'm pleased to hear from you, Your Highness," he said. "Have you considered the offer of Imperial support for your campaign?"

"I've considered it." She nodded briefly, her smile fading. "Lord Vader, I'm sure you understand that it might prove... awkward. The editorials have been unkind."

"I see." It was clear that there was more she was trying to decide how to say to him, and he did not hurry her.

"I don't want to run a constantly defensive campaign. I'm not responding to the editorials, at least not in kind. Most of them don't deserve answering at all. But I want to avoid the appearance of... " She bit her lower lip, drew it through her teeth. "Of influence," she said finally.

"Of course you do."

"Then you aren't angry with me?" She looked up, eyes questioning. Vader was surprised to see that it was a genuinely inquisitive look. She wasn't afraid he was angry at her -- she was worried that she might be alienating him. It was a strange and unsettling thought.

"I am not angry with you," he said. She bade him farewell, and the transmission was cut.

In curiosity, Vader searched the holonews that came from Alderaan. The main organs of the press treated her with respect for the most part, but the seditious, irresponsible reporters of the underground Rebellion had orchestrated a truly hideous smear campaign. She was right to "avoid the appearance of influence," as she'd put it. Yet the worst of them, the cartoon that had placed the girl in his own likeness, was compelling to him, if disturbing. He didn't wish this monstrous appearance on anyone. But

(influence? I can't imagine what you mean)

there was something about the belief that he'd had something to do with shaping her that he found deeply satisfying. His temptation was to send in troops to shut down the underground press, but that would not help Leia's cause, or be of any particular benefit to the Empire. The articles were so blatantly vulgar and uninformed that he could not imagine reasonably intelligent people would pay them any heed.

Still, perhaps after the elections, when it could do little harm, he would do something about them. Meanwhile, he had politics of his own to attend to. The regional governor of the world of Motibi had been agitating for a factory on that world to be converted for the production of the new starfleet, based on the Ampinuan woman Rejuo's designs. She had visited and reported the facility satisfactory, but Vader had his doubts about the world itself. His spies reported a grassroots Rebel movement -- small and disorganized, but zealous. It seemed an unwise choice for a facility that would certainly be targeted.

But Vader had strained his political credit to the limit in having Rejuo appointed head of the project -- they were her designs and she understood the requirements better than anyone else, but of course placing a non-human (and a woman to boot) in such a position had taken a certain amount of political compromise -- and he doubted he would prevail. He would simply have to keep a close eye on Motibi, and be ready to act decisively.

***

Leia turned off her transmitter. Calls off-world were expensive, but she'd owed Vader a response, and wanted to judge his response for herself. He'd seemed accepting. That was a good sign. She went downstairs to join her parents for dinner, hoping her choice in this would alleviate some of the tension that had been building among them. A year ago, Mother had been ready to reconsider her opinion of Leia's friendship with Vader, but the smear campaign -- particularly the filthy cartoons -- had frustrated her back to her original position, and she was upset that Leia had even considered accepting support. Father played the arbiter between them, but Leia knew his sympathies were with Mother.

Mother was sitting at one end of the table, looking edgy. She had been keeping track of the campaign, and always seemed on the ready to lash out at Leia's opponents. It was all Leia could do to keep her from making a spectacle of herself. Father sat at the other end of the table, waiting more patiently. He looked up when Leia came in, eyebrows raised.

"Well?" he said. "What was your decision?"

"I declined Imperial support," Leia told him.

Mother relaxed visibly, closed her eyes, opened them again. "I'm glad to hear that."

"The polls are optimistic," she said, sitting down and slathering a piece of bread with clotted cream. "It looks like the moderate vote is going to come to me. Fasiol Nadiv might carry the underground, and Gralek has a pretty strong vote with the isolationists."

"Then the news is good."

"It's good enough."

"And the other matter?" Father asked.

"Is still unresolved."

Mother shook her head, and pushed her chair away from the table. "Leia, you need to put an end to this. Quickly. It will end up costing you more than votes."

Leia was bone-weary of the subject. "Yes, Mother, your opinions on this aren't the best kept secrets in the Empire."

"Watch your tone," Father said. "Your mother is coming from longer experience than you are."

"I thought you weren't taking sides. I thought you'd decided I was supposed to try and pity him."

"Oh, Bail, you didn't!" Mother said, turning on him. "Please tell me you didn't say that to her."

"I did. And I stand by it."

Mother slammed her hand against the wall in frustration, but Leia's parents never denied one another the right to differing opinions. After awhile, she turned, came to Leia, took her hands. "Leia, I know he can be charming. It's something a lot of people don't know, but those of us who remember... who remember him before his accident... are well aware of how he can draw people in. He'll win you. Then he will break your trust. You can count on it. He will hurt you in the end."

"Because he hurt my birth mother."

"No. Because he hurts everyone he touches."

"How did he hurt her?"

Mother drew back. "What does it matter how he hurt her? Isn't it enough for you to know that he did?"

"If you won't tell me the truth about that, how do I know you're telling the truth about anything? Who were my parents?"

"We are your parents," Father said firmly. "And you must trust us to do what is right."

"How can I trust you when you won't tell me anything?" Leia stormed out of the room. She knew her parents, and she did love and trust them, but she knew that they would tell her nothing. The blood pounded in her head, the world took on a pale red haze, the abyss opened before her. She squeezed her eyes shut against it, waiting for her temper to let go of her. She was a candidate for the Imperial Senate; she couldn't afford to act like a spoiled teenager.

The reddish haze had become real with the sunset by the time she opened her eyes. Her head ached, but she was all right. It wasn't fair, but it was her life, and she knew her parents meant her no harm.

She could hear their voices, low and private, as she passed the dining room. Mother was crying. Leia only caught the words "can't trust him" and "terrified," and decided that it would be better for her to stay away, to let Mother get her fear out of her system. She tiptoed upstairs to her room, her mother's quiet sobbing and soft whispers in her mind, and beneath that, the question that repeated itself like a homing beacon, the question that her parents would never answer: Who am I?

She curled up in one corner of her bed, her pillow hugged tightly against her, and told herself what she always did -- that what mattered was who raised her, who had told her stories, who had tended her scraped knees. She held on to her love for her parents with a death grip; she would not betray them, not let go of them. They were her parents. She shouldn't have questioned.

But who am I? Who am I, really?

She slept and dreamed twice. The first dream was a comforting blur of sunlight and warmth, the freedom of flight, but the echo of her own mind's nervous question. She glanced up and saw something strange about the sky

(son of the suns)

and then she was somewhere else, a great dark abyss, bridged by a glorious web of spun glass. She was clinging to it, suspended above the pit, her hands bleeding from being cut on the glass, and she could hear it cracking. The web shivered -- it was weak and fragile, and deadly for all its beauty. Far below her was the broken body of the sad-eyed woman Leia knew as her birth mother, Padmé Naberrie.

The eyes opened, the alien blue glow lighting up the darkness. One bloody hand reached up toward her, and she was trying to reach down when she became aware of the sound surrounding them, everywhere -- the soft, even, mechanical intake of breath.

Vader.

Vader was here. He was everywhere in this place. She had to pull herself out before he found her intruding here. She had to --

-- wake up.

That was the secret. Wake up and think about something else. Anything else. She opened her eyes, and pulled her mind back to herself. It was three hours before dawn. She shivered, then got up and wrote her notes for the Senatorial debate that was coming up.

She won it easily.

***

The next year and a half went quickly for Leia, in a blur of debating, touring, and general campaigning. She went into the country and spoke earnestly to the isolationists. She didn't win them, but she did learn from them the fierce love of the roots of her own world, and came to understand the desire to stay out of other people's affairs, though she could not share that desire. She debated Fasiel Nadiv in his home territory, the back alleys of Alderra, where the underground writers had their dens. They stopped posting scatological holotoons of her, and some of the less fanatic among them even offered a cautious support -- she had convinced them that it would be easier to defeat the Empire than to defeat an endless series of Zokusas on a trail of ruined Ampinuas. Some hungered for war and didn't care about distinctions that would make it shorter, but most wanted it over with.

Her father prepared to step down from his seat, briefing all three candidates on what issues he was allowed to speak of, and training them in Imperial protocol. Leia knew much of it, but she learned alongside her opponents as if it was the first time she had seen it. The cam-droids were trailing them, and Leia would not take advantage of her upbringing to make Gralek and Nadiv look uninformed. The issues Father was allowed to speak of were banal, to say the least, but the each of the three candidates dutifully prepared a speech, voicing the views he or she would speak in Alderaan's name, on one of them. Leia carried this contest, speaking on droids' rights. She had wanted to have Threepio accompany her, but her mother convinced her that people might see him as a toy she had brought along for show.

Shortly after her fifteenth birthday, she had occasion to be glad she had refused Imperial support. She'd known it would come, but it still made her angry (and stopped her communications to Lord Vader entirely for many months, though she never explained it to him). From the remote world of Motibi came reports of stormtroopers burning cities to the ground, of scorched hillsides, of an Imperial garrison marching hundreds of accused traitors into prison camps. Leia denounced it, in the most impassioned speech she had ever given. She said that such a thing should never happen, not to any world. She spoke of the love she had gained for her own countryside, and the horror she had of seeing something so terrible happen to it.

It was not meant as a campaign speech; it had simply come out when a reporter had asked for a comment "from the candidate most closely associated with Imperial interests." Leia had been close to tears in her disillusion, but they had not come out. She was giving no thought to the race when she said the Senate needed to put controls on this, to re-establish civilian authority over the military. If any idea about her campaign was going through her mind, it was that it was over, and she might as well go home. The last thing she expected was that Gralek would withdraw from the race, and the isolationists would swing wildly in her support. They wanted her to make sure they were protected from such a ghastly, unprovoked attack.

Nevertheless, the election was not a landslide. The Motibi affair had solidified the underground, and swelled its ranks. Nadiv gave her a good run, and the numbers were close until late into the night, when a surge of her supporters apparently all descended on the polls at once (she later learned that many of the late votes were isolationists from the country, and had been dealing with a power outage that barely ended in time to vote). Nadiv conceded gracefully, and she asked if she might consult with him about various matters before she left. She'd made connections in the underground. She wanted to make sure they were represented.

The evening before she left -- it was only a month shy of her sixteenth birthday -- her parents gave her a farewell party. Mother gave her a box of seeds, supposedly for every plant that was native to Alderaan. She said she'd heard of the custom of such collecting on the world of Gala, and thought it would be nice for Leia to try to keep a garden of Alderaan with her on Coruscant. Leia didn't have the heart to tell her that she had a brown thumb, and doubted she'd have time to wander gardens. She would take the seeds with her, and keep them until she found time for them. It was good to have them, in the meantime.

Mother also gave her a small wooden pendant, marked with strange symbols. "This is not to be worn," she said. "But it is yours, and it should go with you to Coruscant."

Leia took it curiously. She knew by now that it wouldn't be explained, so she didn't ask. There was a faint scent to the wood, perfume absorbed into it over a long time, long ago. It smelled familiar.

Father gave her a necklace of chalcedony, the official signet stone of her office. He placed it around her neck with great ceremony, and Leia promised to uphold the honor he had given to the delegation. He also confided with her, for the first time, the names of two prominent senators involved in the Rebellion. "Don't move too fast," he cautioned her. "You will be watched when you first arrive, and they know it. They aren't sure what to make of you. You will have to make your positions clear."

"I'm glad you trust me, Father."

Bail Organa smiled. "I know you better than they do."

***

Vader had not been idle during the three years of Leia's campaign.

The sorry business in Motibi had been the inevitable endpoint of the governor's foolishness. The saboteurs had hit only two months after the refurbishing of the factory had been completed, and Rejuo had lost a year's work of preparation. The governor, of course, had blamed her for the fiasco instead of his own obstinacy, and Vader had found it necessary to defend her position yet again.

"People will talk," she'd said with a bitter grin, and in fact, people had talked, but Vader had ways to silence wagging tongues. He had enough trouble keeping a good engineer in an engineering job without the gossips assigning her an entirely different sort of employment. He'd been able to maintain her position as the head of the design crew, but the new factory, on La'azum, was under more direct military leadership. That it was a lieutenant almost fresh out of the academy was a slap in the face on the surface of it, but Vader had learned that young Piett was a fair man, and gave Rejuo control when she required it.

On the matter of Motibi, there had been little choice. The Rebels had been well connected. Vader had ordered a planet-wide sweep of every major city. Forty saboteurs were arrested, along with slightly over two hundred collaborators. A fire had started in the factory, and the wind had swept it across the dry grasses. It had razed most of the city of Gilna. Vader was aware that it was believed to have been set deliberately, and he did not discourage the belief. Fear was an excellent deterrent.

There had been no sabotage here on La'azum, and Vader thought it unlikely. The Empire was welcomed here. The new, faster fleet would be complete within the next year, and pilots were already being trained on a set of prototypes. The Rebellion would be crushed, and the war could end. Palpatine would keep the promises he'd made. And Vader would be free to pursue other interests.

Like finding his son.

"Lord Vader?"

He turned to find the young commander standing at the door. "Yes, Lieutenant Piett?"

"You wished to be informed of the outcome of the elections on Alderaan. We have just received word that young Princess Leia has taken the seat, over the rebel Nadiv."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Vader said. He started to say, That is good news, but he couldn't be certain of it. Had Motibi made Alderaan afraid of being involved in the Rebellion? Or had the princess become more appealing to the underground? If so, why? He had seen a replay of her impassioned speech after Motibi, and knew that she was genuinely angry. But had she used this anger to win rebel votes? Was it true anger, anger she was invested in, as he had been in his anger at the Old Republic?

He chose not to think about that too closely, and dismissed Piett with an impatient wave. A congratulatory call was in order, at any rate.

He found her in her own chambers, and could see in the background that she was packing for her voyage. She looked up at him hesitantly, and he knew, without needing to make an attempt at probing her mind, that her victory had been bought at the Empire's expense. She had chosen.

But such choices need not be permanent.

"Your Highness," he said. "It is my understanding that congratulations are in order."

"Thank you, Lord Vader," she said, looking down.

"The Senate and the military rarely see eye to eye," he said carefully. "It is my profound hope that we can avoid any... conflict. It would be unfortunate to mar our friendship."

For a moment, she stood perfectly still, her brown eyes as blank as if they were covered by eyeguards. Then she blinked and smiled. She recognized the game perfectly well. "That is also my hope, Lord Vader. So I hope the military will remember that it is answerable to the Senate."

"We are answerable to the Emperor."

"Who is, theoretically, also answerable to the Senate."

"Theory and practice are different matters, Your Highness. I look forward to discussing this issue with you in person someday."

She laughed briefly, and her smile became puzzled. "You know," she said, "actually, so do I." The laugh faded and she became serious. "I can't allow another Motibi. I need you to know that."

"It is not for you to allow or disallow, Your Highness. It is in the best interest of all involved to end this conflict quickly."

She looked down. "Did you order the fire set?"

Vader paused. He did not generally find it useful to admit losing control. But Leia was a unique case; fear did not motivate her as fully as justice and loyalty did. "The fire," he said, "was an unfortunate accident."

"And the arrests?"

"Those arrested will see trial."

"I'll be watching carefully."

"As will I."

She started to reach for the disconnect, then looked up again and said, "Thank you for telling me the truth."

"I have small patience for lies, Your Highness."

She nodded, gave him a long, steady look, then cut the connection.

Vader left the line open for some time, letting it hum idly in his chamber. This could, he thought, become complicated.

***

Leia slept more easily that night than she had in months. The election was over, the tensions with her parents had faded again, and Lord Vader still trusted her, at least enough to intelligently discuss the issue that gnawed at her. She supposed it was naive to believe him, but something about his explanation had struck her as true.

The next morning, she dressed for the first time in the shimmering white of Alderaan's official delegation -- a simple shift for travelling, with a modestly scooped neck and long sleeves -- and left her home to board the Tantive IV, the ship designated for Alderaan's Senator. A crowd had gathered, and they cheered her wildly. She smiled and waved, then embarked on her new life. She would never set foot on Alderaan again.

She arrived on Coruscant on her sixteenth birthday, which went uncelebrated, and was briefed on the more important issues the Senate was debating. They were of greater weight than the issues her father had been allowed to discuss with her during the campaign, but they would hardly be considered of vast import in the grand scheme of things. Budget allocations, for the few things that had not been reserved for "the Emperor's discretion" (in other words, those things on which the Empire spent revenue without going through channels), matters of administration in outer rim territories, and anti-smuggling efforts, for the most part. The trials of the Motibi rebels were approaching, but Leia was unsure how to involve herself in them.

After a week, it occurred to her to pay a call on Lord Vader. She didn't decide she was going to do it until she was on her way, so she hadn't called ahead for directions, and had to find her way through the strange trafficways to the nondescript neighborhood where he was known to live. One identical building after another, then finally the one with the proper number. It had no distinguishing markings at all, except perhaps that the windows beside the door were covered with solid metal. She wondered if he lived without the mask inside. She didn't think he could, but she supposed it was possible, and that would explain the opacity. It would be quite a curiosity factor, to peek in a window and see Lord Vader without his face.

His mask, she corrected herself.

"Oh my!"

There was a tug at Leia's sleeve, and she turned to find an older woman standing behind her, a hopeful expression on her face. "May I help you?" Leia asked.

"I... " The woman shook her head. "I'm sorry, I thought you were... but I suppose you couldn't be, could you... such a young, pretty thing."

"Thank you, ma'am. You thought I was who?"

The woman shook her head. "It was an old woman's poor eyesight. You'll not find Lord Vader at home, if that's what you're after, though I can't see why a nice thing like you would be after that. He's almost never here, thanks be to all that is good in the galaxy." She spat on the walkway. "Lives in his big Star Destroyers now. Up in the dark. This place is just a storehouse. Sometimes a workshop, I think, though I don't like to imagine what devilry he's brewing here."

Leia guessed that, in his home, it was probably refinements to his breathing apparatus and so on, but said nothing about it. "Lord Vader has been kind to me," she said, hoping to stop the conversation before it led to sedition. It was a lie -- he had avoided outright cruelty, and had been well-behaved to her, but kindness was beyond him, she thought, though she felt enough loyalty to him to defend him.

The woman scanned her from head to toe. "Aye, that I don't doubt," she said. "I don't doubt it at all." She sniffed, and disappeared back into the crowd before Leia realized, with a blush, what she must have assumed.

She rang the signal bell, but, as the woman had surmised, there was no answer to it. Her curiosity not stifled, she followed the small walkway around the building, looking for windows that might not be covered. Finally, at the back entrance, she found a tiny round window above the entrance pad. She stood on her toes and looked into it.

Storehouse!

It looked more like a hangar. A vast empty space, with crates lined neatly along the walls, each closed and locked like a crypt. They were like the buildings on this street -- nameless and identical. She could imagine that inside each one, tools and other objects were arranged neatly, by type and frequency of use. A place for everything, and everything in order. Far across the vast room, she could see the front door, and beside it, a smaller box. A trunk.

(...hide her oh no not in there it's too small but he'll see he can't miss his own...)

Leia felt her eyes go wide, and forced herself to blink.

(...can't miss his own...)

The hot wind blew up in her mind again, forcing all the sparks that were trying to coalesce away from one another. They flew to far corners of her mind, and let her breathe. She counted under her breath, and waited for all the memories to retreat entirely.

So he had a trunk.

So she had a memory of a trunk. There was no reason she should make a connection between the two. None at all. She decided that her curiosity was settled, and went back to her quarters adjacent to the Senate.

***

Vader did not return to his house -- he didn't think of it as his home -- for three months after Leia's arrival on Alderaan. It did not occur to him that she might have wanted to see him, and he did not attempt to contact her, though, in some way, he longed to see her. He did not think of the place as particularly more his own than any other, and certainly did not think of it as hers yet, and the thought of meeting with her simply did not cross his mind.

He sensed that someone had been prowling around outside his house. Any number of someones actually; to his shame, it was something of a game for local children to try and catch him in. He had covered all of his windows, or at least all of them that mattered. The doors were both covered entirely when he was... exposed... at any rate.

He keyed a command that opened a box midway down the main room and activated the six droids he stored in it. They scurried around the hall, arranging the sterile environment, setting up the miserable machinery of his life. The walls of the large hyperbaric chamber rose and locked, and Darth Vader removed his mask. He ate furtively, looking nervously at the walls, and commanded the droids to help him wash.

Humiliating.

Most of the connections to his limbs were deactivated for the process, and he felt weak and powerless. He had once caught his own reflection a droid's smooth covering. He had destroyed that droid in a fit of rage -- not his proudest moment; even he had to admit that -- then dulled the surfaces on all the others. Now, he never needed to see the ruin of his own face, or remember the time when it had been fair to look upon, when he had not needed to use fear in negotiations because people were drawn to the wry, easy grin, and wanted to be on his side. He no longer remembered that face, or the name that went with it. Both had been burned away in purifying fire.

The pieces of his suit were put back together and locked into place, returning his limbs to their full strength. He didn't replace the mask yet. The large chamber provided his only true respite from it, and no one would see him inside it. He wandered around the space, not certain what to do with himself. Palpatine had no current instructions for him, and there was no ongoing project. He supposed he knew where he would end up, but he was still disgusted to find himself drawing the trunk to him. It had been over a year since he last opened it. Of course, it had also been over a year since he'd last been here.

He used the Force to pop the lock open, and raised the cover. The smell wafted out. He supposed it was faint, but he never really smelled anything else, and he found it overpowering. A bit of perfume, he thought, that smelled like the great red flowers of the Naboo swamp. The underscent of pancake makeup. Some other smell, familiar, but unnamable. And under all of it, a smell that had just been uniquely... HERS.

He drew out a bracelet, a delicate strand of gold, and remembered it glittering in the flicker of firelight. It was dwarfed against his mechanical hand; it would barely fit around two of his fingers. But he handled it gently, almost reverently, draping it over the edge of the trunk. Some of her clothes were folded at the bottom. He ran his hand over them, but could neither feel them nor remember what it had felt like to touch them when SHE had breathed beneath their delicate volume. The most prized item in the trunk was a pin that had held up an elaborate hairstyle -- he didn't know which one -- and still bore, like a trophy, a single strand of dark hair. Anakin ran it across his cheek, along the line of his scar.

He dropped it.

That name had no business being in his head.

He picked up the pin and the bracelet, and placed them back in the trunk, locking it securely, his heart pounding. He should dispose of this. Immediately.

He put it back in its place near the door.

The droids returned at his command, and replaced his mask, making the intricate connections that were just too much to handle with his bulky mechanical fingers. The helmet, shiny and opaque, was put back, covering the livid scar.

Vader commanded the walls of his chamber to rise, and left it and its degrading memories behind him.

***

Leia knew she was being watched.

It wasn't just the Empire, which was so arrogant that it didn't even bother to disguise its probe droids as they floated around Coruscant, looking into the windows they'd been programmed to look into. Most Senators had learned how to fool them early, with holograms, free-standing screens, opaque windows, and many other methods. Leia herself opted for decorative screens with paintings of the Alderaanian countryside. She had programmed R2-D2 to occasionally transmit holograms and move around, to confuse the probes with excess motion. She was still trying to think of something for C-3PO to do, as he seemed disappointed by his exclusion, but nothing else seemed necessary. The Empire wasn't always easy to avoid, but they had so far not been particularly attentive.

She was also being watched by the Rebellion.

She noticed that the two Senators her father had mentioned to her -- beautiful Nizia Mati of La'azum and T'Neka Tral of Sullust -- had found opportunities to attend many official functions with her, though they never spoke to her privately. There were others whose faces she was beginning to grow accustomed to as well -- a lanky amphibian-type creature she saw frequently in the marketplace; the Calamarian Sorgar (whom she knew to be associated with Bishapi), who seemed too often to find her at the local cafe that had become her haunt; the Corellian General Madine, an honorably discharged Imperial officer who was rumored among rebels to have sabotaged one of his own missions, and who always seemed to be the mechanic on duty when Leia came to the shop he owned to have her droids serviced.

The Senate returned to session four months after Leia's arrival on Coruscant, after its lengthy mid-year recess. She dressed in the most formal of her white gowns, with the chalcedony necklace to signify her place. Her hair was braided into a high crown, with a long curl cascading from its center.

She'd had time to familiarize herself with most of the major issues, and to acquaint herself with some of the nearby delegations, but nothing had quite prepared her for the experience of entering the vast cavern of the Senate, with its floating platforms and echoing spaces. She felt very small.

The chancellor's seat was empty, of course -- Palpatine had locked himself away years ago -- but the two seats flanking it were occupied by the Imperial governors Tarkin and Fre'lach, who conducted much of the Emperor's political business here. Both were rumored to be ruthless, and neither especially valued the input of the Senate, but they were, at least in theory, in charge.

Tarkin stepped forward. "It is my honor to return this august body to session," he said briefly. "A proposal to allocate funds to build a monument in honor of the Imperial dead on Motibi was made and seconded at our last meeting. The chair now recognizes the Senator from the sovereign system of Motibi."

A platform detached itself from a space near the base of the chamber. Leia watched it rise on her viewscreen, as it was quite far from her. The Motibi were a large, strong species, with pinkish eyes and long limbs covered with course white hair. "Honorable Senators," the delegate began, "as you may imagine, the people of Motibi object to this measure, at least until the facts of the matter have been ascertained. Over two hundred of our citizens have been taken into Imperial custody, and their friends and families have heard nothing from them. No trial date has been set. Until this more pressing issue is attended to, Motibi moves to table the discussion of the monument allocation."

There was silence. It was an attempt to use a frivolous issue to call attention to a more serious one, one that had been taken out of the Senate's hands. Leia had hoped for a chance to bring up Motibi -- her constituents had been clear about wanting their objections to the actions voiced -- but she was surprised it had come so quickly and so easily. Now or never, she thought, and stood. She signaled for recognition.

Tarkin looked at the light on his panel. "The chair recognizes the Senator from Alderaan, and welcomes Princess Leia Organa to this role." It was not a kindness -- he was reminding her, along with every other delegate, in no uncertain terms, that she was inexperienced, and should have listened and learned longer. She didn't care.

"The people of Alderaan are in sympathy with Motibi's plight," she said. "It is unrealistic to ask for such an allocation before the questions this incident raised have been answered. The fair and just trial of the Motibi prisoners must be completed before this body can be asked to debate such an extravagance. Alderaan seconds the motion."

"How surprising," Tarkin said dryly. "It has been moved and seconded to postpone this debate until the completion of the treason trials. Does anyone wish to speak before voting?"

No one did. The move to postpone was passed almost unanimously, much to Tarkin's obvious annoyance. The look on his face made Leia glad. She decided to speak as frequently as she could.

Over the next several days, she noticed that most of the rebels she'd grown accustomed to seemed to have faded into the woodwork, not approaching her or watching her. It was easy to understand -- Imperial watchers had doubled their numbers. They were waiting for the Alliance to contact her, or for her to contact them. Instead, she contacted Lord Vader. He agreed to meet her at a hangar that served as a base for the Imperial Fleet of Coruscant.

The atmospheric controls had chosen this day for a light rain, to cleanse the air of excess water vapor. Leia dressed in one of her Senatorial gowns (she was beginning to wish heartily for some reason to wear something else, but knew one would not arise for some time), and wrapped herself in a long white cape with a hood to keep out the rain. It only occurred to her when she was halfway to the hangar that she would look like a parody of the man she had gone to meet. There was little to be done about it now.

He was standing at the great window when she arrived, a black shadow in the gray mists. He looked at her briefly, appeared to recognize the unintended parody, then turned to look out at the city. Leia hoped he wasn't offended. It would not have been her choice.

"You seem to have attracted attention, Your Highness," he said. "You might choose your battles more carefully."

"I moved for a trial," she reminded him, "not an unconditional release. I moved for justice. I told you I would be watching the situation."

"The trials of traitors are no longer in the purview of the Senate's wagging tongues."

"Do you really think that's right?"

"I believe it is right to end this conflict, as quickly as possible. The Senate -- present company excluded, naturally -- will take the longest possible route to the least decisive conclusion." He finally turned back to her. "You know this is true, Your Highness. You would move more quickly yourself, if you had the means."

Leia did know that it was true, but some instinct told her not to give Vader this leeway in the conversation. "Lord Vader, I didn't come here to engage you in the same debate I've engaged the Senate in. I've broken no law, and called for a proper trial under Imperial procedure. Why am I under surveillance?"

"Don't be disingenuous, Your Highness. It doesn't suit you."

"Please, let me walk out my door without seeing ten stormtroopers loitering on my front walk."

"What you ask is not in my power to grant," Vader told her.

"They're under your command!"

"And, as you reminded me, the military is ultimately answerable to the Senate. My orders come from Governor Tarkin."

"Marvelous. Of all the people to take orders from, you take them from Tarkin."

"Only in as far as the Emperor has given him power. In this matter, he has been given full authority. I must obey him."

"Then I guess I need to talk to Tarkin."

"I would not recommend that course of action, Your Highness." Vader looked carefully around the room. "If, in time, we have become convinced that you are not involved with the Rebellion, the surveillance will undoubtedly stop. We do not have unlimited resources."

Leia shook her head, hating that he dared lie to her. "Don't be disingenuous, Lord Vader," she said. "It doesn't suit you." She turned and left.

***

Vader didn't bother trying to contradict her. He did not enjoy lies (in fact, he loathed them), and was glad not to have to spin a deeper one. She would always be watched. If she wanted to find a more private life, she would have to learn to be more clever. He hoped she would. He wanted her to be happy.

He did, however, plan to begin cutting the obvious troops over the next several weeks. Leia was smart enough to be suspicious of the Empire, but naive enough to believe that the Alliance would protect itself. She would not seek them out. But she would believe that they would not seek her until the danger was past.

Vader knew better. They would find her. Then eventually, they would reveal the leaders to her.

He didn't want to do this. But he had little choice in the matter.

***

Leia didn't trust it when the stormtroopers really did disappear from her front walk a few weeks later. Nizia Mati of La'azum (in a very cautious contact in the Senate chamber) had suggested that it was because the trials were finally being held, and she had so far not shown any inclination to free the rebels by force, even though the verdict was a foregone conclusion. Leia wondered. It made sense, she supposed, and Mati did have more experience than she did.

She spoke to Vader at the Fleet headquarters again, and thanked him, cautiously, for withdrawing the excessive surveillance. He seemed distant, and did not tell her she was welcome. She tried to bring up other matters -- minor points on which they had shared interests in the past -- but he drew himself away from her, and left her alone in the hangar. Afterwards, she felt unutterably sad. She went home and slept fitfully, dreaming of the night he'd found her in the park racing her speeder bike, and of the day he'd saved her life on Ampinua. In the dream, she really did put her arms around him, and he really did hold her close and tell her that everything would be all right. She woke at midnight, feeling heartsick and lonely. Outside her window, the endless strings of traffic moved against the night sky, caring nothing for the insignificant creature that watched them from its tiny nest.

"There now, Your Highness," a gentle voice said, and she turned to find C-3PO. "Is there anything I can do to help you sleep?"

She smiled at him. The protocol droid could be an annoyance, but he had been programmed to be kind (or perhaps was so by his own nature; as a child she'd thought him sentient, and she still sometimes wondered), and she found him a comfort now. "No, Threepio," she said. "I just need to pull myself up out of the abyss."

"Abyss, Your Highness?"

"Poetic license." She sat down on the couch. "Maybe... maybe you could tell me a story, as you used to when I was a child. Do you remember any of the stories?"

"Why, yes, Your Highness. That occurred after my memory wipe. But I'm not much of a storyteller."

"You used to play stories in a woman's voice. Do you have that programming in memory?"

"Yes!" Threepio sounded inordinately pleased with the suggestion. A moment later, he spoke again, but it wasn't his own voice. It was a soft woman's voice that Leia didn't know. "Once upon a time," she said, "a young queen ruled a beautiful world. But her advisors were faithless..."

Leia smiled to herself and closed her eyes. She hadn't heard the story for a long time. It had a magic boy in it, she thought, and ended with the queen learning from him that she was capable of taking things into her own hands. She didn't know which world the fairy tale had come from, but she thought it a fine story, and it eased her heart.

Threepio didn't get a chance to finish. He'd only gotten to the part where the magic boy was in race (riding a dangerous, fire-breathing dragon that no one else dared tame) when a quiet bell told Leia that someone was at the door. Reluctantly, she asked Threepio to stop, and went to answer it.

The creature at her door was not one she had seen before. His hood was wrapped tightly over his head, and she couldn't see his face clearly. He held up his hand, and in it was a small slip of paper, with a group of indecipherable marks on it. She didn't know what the marks meant, but she knew their origin -- they were the same ones that had been on the wooden pendant her mother had given her before she'd left. She had kept it hidden, as promised, so the only people who would know about it were people her parents trusted.

The Rebellion.

Leia looked around nervously. She saw no guards, but didn't feel safe. Still, the Rebels would know if she was being watched, wouldn't they?

When the creature signaled for her to follow him out into the night, she did.

***

"We lost them going into the old city, my lord."

"It is not of concern. She has been contacted. Continue your surveillance, Lieutenant Piett. Do not act too quickly."

"Yes, my lord."

"And lieutenant?"

"Yes?"

"Do not harm the princess herself. If she is harmed, you will answer to me."

"If she becomes involved, Lord Vader -- "

"If she becomes too deeply involved, Lieutenant, I will take responsibility for her myself."

***

Leia didn't know what the old building was, but it had an air of sanctity about it, despite its near-complete destruction. The obvious ritual design on the floor, the high arching windows, the ruined circle of stones that had once been seats... all suggested high ceremony.

Robed and hooded figures stood in the circle, hidden in the shadows. Leia felt conspicuous in the center of the room, the white robes of Alderaan glowing faintly in the moonlight. The chill of autumn penetrated the thin cloth, and she shivered. Her melancholy was fading in the excitement of this mystery.

"Hello, Senator," a disembodied voice said.

"Hello," Leia responded uncertainly.

A woman's gentle laugh. "You don't need to be afraid. We're hiding our faces for our own security -- you have nothing to fear from us."

"I'm not afraid."

"Why do you wish to join the Rebel Alliance?"

"Because I hate the Empire."

One of the figures straightened his back, perceptibly coming to attention. "And what would you replace it with, Your Highness?" His voice was gentle and familiar, but firm.

"Sir?"

"It's easy to say you hate something. It's not always quite as easy to explain how you would replace it. The Alliance is not a negative, existing only to overthrow the Empire."

Leia lowered her eyes, embarrassed by the scolding, and wondering if she would be sent away in shame. She took a moment to gather her thoughts, then spoke in the same, even tones she had used in the Senate this afternoon. "I know we can't move backwards, Sir. I -- " She lost her nerve. The leaders of the Rebellion were reputed to have been leaders in the Old Republic.

"Your Highness?" another woman said. "What is your vision?"

Leia thought of Lord Vader at that moment. If she could discuss politics with him -- with a man who struck terror into the hearts of nearly everyone who saw him -- why should she hesitate here? The thought, for a moment, cut her with the realization that the friendship was over, that what she was doing now would seal its doom, but in the end that made her feel stronger. She was willing to make that sacrifice for the Rebellion. It wasn't a child's game.

It was nonsense, at any rate, the question they were asking her, or at least that she suspected they were asking her. Her disagreements with the Old Republic were real, but they were far less serious than her hatred of the Empire. And besides, if the Rebel Alliance simply reinstated the Old Republic, all the same weaknesses would be there, all the weaknesses that had angered Vader and the galaxy to the point of calling for change at any cost. She took a deep breath, and raised her head.

"We have to remember our mistakes," she said. "The Old Republic had degenerated, and left itself no room to react to crises, or to individuals. You can't have justice that way. My vision is a galaxy where people are free, and the government is an organ for justice and a servant of the citizens. We should return to the forms of the Old Republic; I don't dispute that. But we can't afford to worship and romanticize it as blindly as I've seen in some circles. There were real problems. My vision, if that's what you want to call it, involves solving them. The point of going to war with the Empire is not just to destroy it -- though I was not lying when I said I hated the Empire, and will be glad to see it fall -- but to take the lessons we've learned, at high tuition, and use them to build a better galaxy."

There was silence. Leia tried to see into the shadows, to imagine their faces. Were they impressed? Did they think she was trying to impress them? Did they dislike what she'd said? Were they insulted?

No answer to those questions came.

There was a tapping of keypads, and Leia realized that they were communicating with one another.

The tapping stopped, and the gentle, familiar voice spoke out of the darkness. "There is one question that remains: what is the nature of your friendship with Lord Vader?"

Leia smiled weakly, but felt confident. "I wondered when you would get to that."

"And the answer is?"

"He has been kind to me," she said automatically. "I dislike the fact that we are divided in this war. But we are divided. If your question is about where my loyalty would lie in a direct conflict, it's the easiest one I've had to answer. I would never betray the Alliance to Lord Vader, or to anyone else. I would never give him an inch in a fight. I care for him, but if he was my enemy in battle, I would..." She swallowed. "I would do what I must. My loyalty is to the Alliance. That is my oath."

It was presumptuous, she knew, to make an oath before being accepted. But it was the truth, and she would have made the oath even if the Alliance rejected her entirely.

The figure who had stepped forward first stepped further into the light. "Then welcome to the Rebellion, Leia," he said, lowering his hood. It was Bail Organa. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her head.

The others came into the light and showed themselves. Senators Mati and Tral. Mon Mothma. A billed, amphibious creature that Leia vaguely recognized as a Gungan of Naboo; he said his name was Tarpals. A female Toydarian called Ampa. Several Senators that Leia knew were there, more than she had imagined. Some had closer ties to the Empire than she herself did. And, to her delight, Jaet Bishapi.

They opened their circle to her, and held her close within it. She felt safe and warm as they drew around her. The celebration didn't last long -- the building was in a forbidden quarter of the city, and there was fear of being discovered here -- and each Alliance member made his way home separately, with the exception of Bail and Leia.

"I was proud of you tonight," Father said when they were alone. Leia was looking up through the ruined ceiling at the starry sky. "You spoke well, and betrayed no one."

"I was afraid I would be asked to."

She moved back to the center of the room, standing at the center of the design. It had been defaced at some point. The cold was penetrating now, and she wanted to get back to her quarters. But there was something about this place -- something awesome and powerful, and a part of her felt like she'd always been here and always would be.

Then her father was there with her, and put an arm around her shoulders. "Shall we leave now?" he asked.

Leia and her father left the ruined temple to its forlorn loneliness, and went together to the manufactured warmth of the city.


FernWithy

Go on to Father's Heart, Part Four: Imperial Entanglements

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