First star wars fic! Entered into C/Ps MOC for January, prompt "I have not broken your heart - you have broken it; and in breaking it you have broken mine."
I never should have sent him away. That's when I lost him. That's when I lost both of you.
Harvest of Shards
When Ben was six, we almost lost him.
It happened in Corellia, on a de-regulation racecourse where Han had cut his pilot's teeth as a boy. "A little rough around the edges, maybe," Han described it. "But since when has racing ever been a gentleman's sport?"
By the time we rode out there, Ben riding behind Han on their prized swoop, bubbling over with excitement for this glimpse into his father's myth-like past, the place had decayed to a bucket of rust that hung like an ulcer on the outer rim of the capital.
"Charming little place," I couldn't resist saying. "I can see why it means so much to you."
A motif of abandonment ran over the place. Weeds sprouting through cracks in the asphalt, the makeshift stands crumbling from neglect. But we'd finally escaped from the choking smog of the manufacturing plants that glutted the city center, and I brandished my first smile since the boys had commandeered our little family getaway into this impromptu racing lesson.
It was a windy day. Debris tumbled across the track like it'd decided to come alive and go for a brisk walk. The dry earth of Corellia coated us in a fine layer of grit, kicking up my doubts. "I don't know, Han. Maybe he's still too little. He might not have the body weight for it." I was, after all, the designated "not" parent. Never, no way, ask me when you're older. My parents were the same way.
But while Ben has me for a mother, he has Han Solo for a father. And Han, despite all his self preserving instincts, is always a bit flexible when it comes to common sense. "Come on, don't be such a spoilsport. I promised the kid a ride in my swoop for his sixth birthday."
"That was three months ago."
"Then I owe him three times as badly. Work with me, sweetheart," he said in a whisper, quietly enough for little ears not to overhear. "I've already disappointed him enough times as it is."
Han was trying, and I nearly agreed. But then the wind picked up and my hairdo was torn to pieces, long strands flapping like a loose packet of ribbons. Han's hair was fabulous, of course. It can never manage to look anything but fabulous, and Ben –
Here's the thing about Ben: he may wear my face, the long, brooding nose and inquisitive eyes. But every expression, every twist of his lips or quirk of the eyebrow, is patented by his father. Han's notorious throughout the galaxy for his ability to simper and smooth talk his way out of, or into, just about anything, although I like to think I'm a harder customer to his charms.
But Ben Solo, his little limbs darting every which way, voice giddy as a cartwheel – "Please please please please mom?" – slaying me with those undeniable puppy eyes that I know Han helped him perfect in front of the bathroom mirror...
Ben Solo owned my soul.
I waved a relenting hand. "Fine, fine. We're already here. Go and have your fun." What could go wrong? Han was an impeccable pilot, and there was no stopping the inevitable. Racing, after all, was in the blood; I'd have an easier time fighting gravity. "But be careful out there. I mean it, Han."
"Dad's always careful. And besides, we have helmets, and this, and this thing." He dangled an orange chest strap aloft. "I don't know what it does, but I think it can help. And besides, I'll hold on extra tight, like this -" Ben scrunched his body inward, his small frame vibrating, holding in his breath until his cheeks bloomed with red blotches, and then collapsed into a pile of uncontrollable laughter. I can't describe how he sounded just then, the little bell-like notes that carried up with the wind and evaporated into the cloudless Corellian sky. But my smile was immense, liberating.
The sense of freedom was short lived.
It took all of five seconds to happen. One of those freak, blink-and-you-miss-it accidents, the kind that always play out in hi-def slow motion. There goes the discarded, old fuel can, picked up by the dizzying wind and drifting on a collision course with the swoop as Ben and Han zoomed along, hugging every tight curve. There goes Han slightly adjusting their trajectory, attempting to swerve around the piece of garbage even as it barely clips the back of the swoop. There goes the swoop, it's perfect equilibrium thrown into a nearly undetectable wobble. Not enough to pitch off a grown rider, of course, but a wisp of six-year-old boy? Filled with too much excitement to hold on properly, Ben didn't stand much of a chance.
When I watched Alderaan get reduced to a smear of dust and light, I didn't cry. I didn't moan. Cognitively, I knew that everyone and everything I loved was gone. Gone like it never existed. And while the sorrow did come eventually, in that precise moment all my eyes saw were distant fireworks, and I felt almost nothing.
Watching Ben's tiny frame struggling to hold onto the side of the swoop, only a few straps and carabiners securing him, his face inches from the black tarmac as the swoop throttled along at one hundred klicks an hour, a single thought revolved through my head.
But this time was different. This time I wasn't watching from a battleship hanger. I was fifty yards away, and I felt everything. The wind plastering my face. The rattle in my bones as I sprinted towards them. Dust pouring into my open throat and that awful, awful screaming.
No words. No "help!" or "mommy!" Just pure terror out of both our mouths.
Afterwards, Han and I had one of our famous blow outs, the ones the locals dubbed an "Organa-Solo Row." They were proud of the way it rhymed. I wasn't proud of our fractious reputation.
"You never listen to me! This is why you should listen to me!" In hindsight, I should have saved my wrath until we were behind closed doors. But hindsight is what it is, and in that moment, fear and fury rubbing fast against each other, all I could think was - too damn close. "Look at him! No, look at him Han! This is your fault; you almost got him killed!"
"You think I don't know that?" I'd never seen him look so pale, so close to dread. Every word shivered as it left his mouth. "Princess, you could fill up the galaxy with your almosts. I'm looking at him, and here's what I see: He's alive, I'm alive, we're all alive, so give it a rest, will ya?"
I probably should have given it a rest. Kissed each of them and wrapped them up tight in my shaking arms.
Instead I scooped up my child without a word, marched over to the transport I had ridden over, strapped Ben in, drove him home, and put him to bed. And the whole time I was fuming and railing and so angry with Han that I never once stopped to look at Ben. I never put my hands on each side of his face, kneeled down till we were at the same level, and searched his eyes. To this day I wonder what I would have seen if I did. Maybe it would have been a simple emotion, lingering fear or the relief of his narrow escape.
Or maybe I would have seen what I saw too often in my son's lifetime. That empty, blue-eyed gaze. The static features, as if someone had pressed pause on his face.
The way Ben looked whenever he watched his parents fight.
"Mommy! I missed you sooo much!"
"Bet I missed you more. Did you have fun on your trip?"
"Good. Now come here, give me the biggest hug you've got, and tell me all about it."
"Dad let me take apart his blaster. Oh, and we met Desmin Goji, you know, the guy who just won the Five Sabers. He gave me a high five and said I had the best parents in the world."
"I'm sure your dad loved that."
"I guess he did. But he wasn't so happy you told him to bring me home early."
"You've got school, and there's a thousand other things that need to get done before you two go joyriding around the galaxy. Someone's got to be the responsible parent."
"I know, I know. Just don't fight about it with him, please?"
"Well, it's your dad, so I can't make any promises."
Birthing stories are a lot like war stories. And I have my share of both.
My story, which is also Ben's story, started at three am. Throughout my hazardous life I've confronted a wide spectrum of pain. Mind probes, blasters to the chest, you name it, and it's been pointed at me. One time, an Imperial guard managed to thrust a dagger deep into my thigh, like lightning had ripped through every vein.
Pain and I were fast friends. And I wasn't ignorant about the physiological mechanics of the process, either. I was a princess, and my royal education did not neglect the fine duty of bearing the next Alderaanian heir, and all that it entailed.
I thought I was prepared for whatever labor had to throw at me.
But then I jolted out of bed that night, bent double, my body in revolt, as if my insides had organized a prison break. I'm in trouble. If I could describe the state of my body in those early hours, it would be clenched, my abdomen, my teeth, my eyes, and my fingers, gripped around Han's arm hard enough to draw blood and send him surging upright, a sleepy curse on his lips.
Once he became clued in to the fact that he was on the precipice of fatherhood, he devolved into uselessness. "Have you tried breathing, sweetheart?" One thing I love about Han is his myriad of pet names. Sounds crazy, but it's true. And it's not really the names I love, so much as Han saying them. Believe it or not, it's the most genuine he gets, capping off a midnight comment with honey or princess in that raspy, just-woken-up voice, stripped of all his performative swagger. It's Han, dressed down to his bare minimum, and I can still taste the moment when he first called me sweetheart without irony. "Try breathing, sweetheart."
This time, I took a swing at his face. "What do you think I've been doing? Holding my breath?"
His hands floundered in the air. "What do you want me to do? Should I call Luke? Should I call Chewie? Chewie has a couple of kids, I think. He might know what to do. I'll call Chewie." It was as if his self-possession had gone on vacation and forgot to tell him, and if I didn't partially believe I was well and truly dying, I would have found it adorable.
"Leave Chewie out of this. Just make it go away!" I wasn't really angry, of course. Just in pain. Pain. It's the unknown variable of life, isn't it? Pain does funny things to people. Makes them do things they wouldn't normally do.
Of course, my rational, pre-labor opinion was that Han had been amazing over the course of the pregnancy. His intrinsic wanderlust was like an itch he wouldn't let himself scratch, and as I slowly rounded into a giant, gestating ball, he too evolved into a giant ball of twitchiness. "I've been on this lousy planet for almost a whole year!" was a standard complaint. Only Han would describe Chandrila, one of the most immaculate places in the galaxy, as lousy. "One planet for an entire year, Leia!"
"Imagine that," I'd say over lemon water and a smile.
"I'll have you know it's a universal record, your highness."
"If anything is worth breaking your record, I think it should be this. After all, where in this galaxy would you rather be than at the birth of your first child?"
"First? Well, aren't we getting ahead of ourselves?" Then he'd kiss me, kiss me like only he could, like I was the only girl worth having in the whole galaxy, yet with that unmistakable hint that he was doing me some great favor.
Ben came ten hours after those first, upending contractions. A fast delivery, the midwives told me. My Ben is impatient, and was even then, ready to throw off everything he'd known for a future that he didn't understand. Not much has change, I suppose, but I didn't know it then, when a flesh colored mass of tiny limbs and downy brown hair was laid in my arms.
People talk of that instant connection between mother and baby. It's in all the holos and books. But the truth is much harder. The first minutes after giving birth are disorienting, body quivering from head to toe, in complete shock, wondering what the hell just happened to it. And then someone plops a squirming ball of flesh into your lap and all you can do is stare at it and give an uncertain, "Hello." And as I sat there, teeth chattering and covered in nothing but a draping, medical gown, I tried to unjumble my thoughts enough to make sense of this stranger, the one who'd been my constant companion for nine months straight.
Unlike me, Han was sold on the first look.
"Look at him, Leia. He looks just like you." Han's traveled to more planets than the average Republic citizen even knows exists, but you'd think by the look on his face he'd just discovered the twelfth wonder of the galaxy. And his first smile for our son - let's just say I've never seen him smile like that at anyone, not even me. "Are we still going with Ben?"
Ben. Hearing the name aloud, hearing my husband call my son his name for the very first time, was what finally brought my new reality home.
I was a mother.
We made a flurry of promises. Lots of always and forevers and never agains. Sure, we have the kind of love story that would make a swoon-worthy novel, but that didn't erase the facts that our personalities clashed, our passions often worked at cross-purposes, and that we fought constantly.
Han and I are realists. We went into our marriage with eyes open and hearts on a leash. We never fooled ourselves into thinking our relationship wasn't a tenuous cease-fire, with frequent lapses into outright war.
But that day, I swear we could climb mountains with our ambitions. "No more bickering over everything."
We were going to be better.
"So they made you eat grettle fish on Alderaan?"
"There was no 'making' me, I gobbled it up of my own free will!"
"Gross! Those things are like slimy feet! I'd probably rather eat slimy feet than grettle fish, and I can't believe –"
"Listen, hon, I hate to cut you off, but I gotta go."
"Really? But we've only been talking for a few minutes."
"I know, Ben, but this meeting….tell you what, we'll vid-chat again before you go to bed."
"Okay. And you'll be home soon?"
"As soon as I can."
It shouldn't have surprised me that Ben inherited all our worst traits.
I say worst, but that all depends on context, doesn't it? Defiance is an indispensable quality when toppling a dictatorship. But it's a bit more unwelcome when wrangling a seven year old into eating his vegetables. "I know they taste horrible, Ben. Believe me, I know. But you need to eat them to be healthy, so you can grow big and strong."
"Just like your old man," Han would inevitably chime in, smirking, twirling his fork through his fingers.
"Perish the thought. On second thought, Ben, skip the vegetables."
The fork would clatter to the table, Han would protest, and Ben would stuff another cookie into his mouth, diving under the table before we could stop him. "Get out from under there, you little rascal!"
"Or what? You'll make me eat my vegetables? I think I'll take my chances under here!" And before we knew it we were chasing a trail of cookie crumbs through the house, and our laughter seemed loud enough to bring down the walls.
Those early years are so vivid, I could bathe in the memories. Where did it start to go wrong? When did we take our first step down the spiral? I'm lucky if five minutes go by without those questions tackling me to my knees. I tried. I tried. And I know Han tried, in his own way. And we had so many, many good intentions.
But my experience has taught me that intentions are like kites, fickle and flimsy, changing trajectory with the slightest breeze. And our breeze, if I'm to be honest, was always more of a windstorm, Han's racing and shipping business that scattered him all over the Republic while I hopped from one galactic crisis to the next.
We were a family in flux. I went here, Han went there, and we juggled Ben between us. How many times did we miss a pass off? Let him smash to the ground while we attempted our impossible balancing act? One crack here, one crack there. I should have noticed our son was breaking to pieces, bit by painful bit.
But at the end of another long day, sinking into bed only to realize I hadn't spoken to my child except to give him a swift kiss and issue a few hasty commands, I would think - well, that's just life. The Solo family wasn't an exception in our social circles. Everyone we knew was too busy by half. We do the best we can with the time we're given was my mantra in the easy times, something to assuage the ache of the fleeting years. And in the hard times:
We'll make it through one way or another.
And maybe we would have, if I hadn't neglected the fourth member of our family. The silent member.
The Force is…. the best way I can describe its psychological effect is a constant, low-level restlessness. It pushes, it pulls. It's a force – an invisible prod for those who can sense it, those who can tap into its inexhaustible power. Imagine having an endless barrel of Corellia's best wine, and you get a glimmer of the temptation of the Force. If not used in careful measure, it's easy to get drunk on its limitless potential.
I can't pinpoint the exact moment when Ben succumbed, but I began noticing a change as Ben turned the corner into double digits. Eleven. Twelve. Seemingly overnight, a cheerful, bouncing boy morphed into a sullen and contemplative pre-teen. Rather than asking for ice cream and a game of hide and seek after dinner, he swiped through countless news articles and opined about the nature of destiny. "With so many heroes in my family, the pressure's laid pretty thick, don't you think?" The amount of laughter in our home plummeted, and he could no longer look out the window with content. "I'm not sure I'll ever live up to the expectations."
"What I think," I replied, "Is that no one expects you to be anything other than who you are."
Ben laughed. "Famous last words, mother." But it wasn't his old laugh, or rather his young laugh, that jovial sputter that used to flit from room to room and gave our home the whimsy of a butterfly sanctuary.
This laughter had an ancient bent: low, sinister, and a thin thread of cruelty.
I ignored the worst of the warning signs. It was easier that way. And for the rest, I have to own that I wasn't paying the best attention. Rumors were swirling of an Empire splinter group going by the name of The First Order, and I was spending long nights on the field ordering about intelligence workers, smoking them out. "No one seems to know who's in charge. All we know is that they're not getting smaller. Reports show their numbers growing daily."
"Relax, sweetheart." Han can smile through anything. I've seen him do it. But I've also learned to read his tells. Brow creased, shoulders taught. He was worried. My fault, probably; he'd spent too many years married to me to still be any good at not giving a damn. "They're nothing but a fringe group fueled by old loyalties. They'll be gone in a generation." He looked pensively at Ben. "What do you think, kid?"
"Who cares? If they get enough support, then why do you need to shut them down? Isn't that what a republic is all about? Letting 'the people' decide how things are run?"
"If they're an offshoot of the Empire, then they have no intention of letting 'the people' decide anything. All they care about is complete control, complete power. And they'll stop at nothing to get it."
"Absolute authority. The power to make everyone in the galaxy unite together and get along, for once." Ben had his back to us as he stared out the window. "Doesn't sound like such a bad thing to me."
Ben was falling. He needed help. And I knew where he could get it.
I made a decision.
"I still can't believe you're just packing me off."
"You need help. I see it all over you. Your Force it's…. it's not something I'm prepared to deal with."
"Deal with? You make it sound like I've got some kind of disease."
"That's not fair, Ben. No one thinks that, least of all me. Your Uncle can help you, and I can't. That's all there is to it."
"But I want to stay here. It's my home. I don't want to leave you and Dad."
"We'll come visit. And you'll visit us. This is the best thing for you, can't you see? Don't you trust me?"
"Of course I do."
Luke blames himself. I know because after the bodies were cleared, but before all the men in my life abandoned me, he came to me and said, "Leia, I blame myself."
Blame. When I was younger, a brave princess of Alderaan, the world was black and white. Good and evil. Peace and war. There was no room in the patchwork for shades of gray, and that monochrome worldview informed every decision, right down to my wardrobe: a billowing garb of pure white to counterbalance the long, dark shadow of the Empire, and their obsidian Commander, Lord Vader.
Blame was easy back then. I believed everyone should be held responsible for their own actions, and it was one of the platforms with which I would run my campaigns as I shuttled from planet to planet, ignoring the distress calls flaring up from my own home. "Our Republic was founded on the principles of good. These rogue Empire soldiers are a legacy of cruelty and hate. Will we consent to be ruled by their iron fist? No! We must continue our fight for freedom, freedom for every citizen of this Republic, and bring down these insurgents at any cost!" Princesses as a general rule are trained to be eloquent, and I was a gold mine of sound bites.
Luke is a quieter sort. Plenty have tried shoving a mic in front of his face, asking for the divine opinions of the last Jedi in the galaxy. But speech making eluded him. He is country folk, preferring the company of faithful droids to the capricious nature of people.
But despite our outward differences, in the essential ways Luke and I are the same. Han, the consummate anti-hero, blending heroics and selfishness to perfection, could never understand our, "slavish devotion to a bunch of ancient myths." They say blood is thicker than water, and Luke and I aren't merely brother and sister. We're twins. We're two halves of a whole. I don't just know Luke, I feel Luke, as much as one feels the blood in their veins or the air in their lungs. We share a genetic destiny; we could never be anything but warriors of light, battling down the warriors of darkness.
And maybe, I hoped, maybe the brightness of Luke's light could chase away the shadows I saw gathering like malcontents in Ben's eyes. Because there is no gray scale when it comes to the Force. Light or dark. Black or white. A moon was rising in Ben's heart, and what better way to halt its progress than cast him into the sun?
I speak only half-way figuratively. Luke had built his Praxeum, his new Jedi temple, on a dismal little planet situated so close to its solar star only weedy shrubs and Jedi had any chance of survival. Han was convinced it reminded Luke of Tatooine. "Once a desert dweller, always a desert dweller."
Early on, Han and I made a point of visiting Ben at the Praxeum every other month. We'd make the long trek out there, Han seething the entire way. "I don't know why we sent him to this hokey temple in the first place." He was never on board with the decision, but as usual, was overruled.
"Because it's what he needs," I replied. "Look at how he's been acting! He mopes around the house, he says the most depressing and disturbing things…"
"Leia, he's just a teenager! Do you know what I was like at sixteen?" Then he struck some ridiculous pose with this perfectly petulant face, a face like...like...
Like a teenage Han Solo.
We swept our arguments under the rug as soon as we landed. Nothing but hugs and smiles and updates. Seeing him under Luke's care helped mend some of the small fissures erupting in my heart. Bad mother. Angry son. Never forgive you. And I thought it would help with Ben's transition.
Luke didn't like it. "You shouldn't keep coming out here. I know you want to see him, but it's a distraction. And what my apprentices need, especially Ben, is focus, not the disorderly influences of society."
"Are you calling me a bad influence?" Han asked with a smile. "Thank you, Luke, those are words of high praise."
"You know what I mean, Han. This isn't about either of you, it's about Ben." Luke was rebuilding the Jedi order from the ground up, and he didn't want interlopers, especially politicians or reformed criminals, snooping around. Government and politics, according to Luke, is what decimated his order in the first place. "The Jedi work precisely because they belong to no human institution, and they work best when they have minimal personal contact with outsiders. We both know what happens when –"
"Hey, you leave that bastard out of it. Ben is nothing like him!"
"Ben needs to be here," Luke said. "And you do not."
I understood what Luke meant. But I also understood that Luke didn't understand me, not when it came to Ben. "He's my son, Luke."
"Trust me. I know how unruly the force can be for someone just learning to control it. Give it time. Once he masters the basics, he'll be like his old self again."
What could we say to refute the master Jedi? We said nothing. We acquiesced to his request. We stayed away from Ben.
And two years later his picture was circulated throughout the galaxy. WANTED: BEN SOLO, FOR MURDER OF TWELVE JEDI PADAWANS. I still have the clipping stowed away in the back of a drawer, barely legible from all the tear-shaped smudges.
Han, already slipping away from my decision to send Ben to the Praxeum, cut ties entirely. "I'm making a cargo run to Corellia," he said one morning, and I haven't seen him since.
Blame, I've come to understand, is more like a web than it is a straight line. It captures everyone.
Where did it start to go wrong? Was it the Force? Teenage hormones?
We never thought about what we were sowing into the field of Ben's life.
We never thought to blame ourselves
"Let me explain, Ben."
"You never told me. Darth Vader was my grandfather, and you never told me!"
"I always meant to."
"You were always meaning to do something, but instead you put this damn galaxy before everything!"
"You are the most important thing to me in this universe."
"I can't believe you lied to me. For years, you lied to me. What am I supposed to do now, mother? I've tried so hard. I've tried…."
When Ben was six, we almost lost him.
I've gone over that day, those horrifying minutes, what must be a thousand times in my head. Every detail is catalogued, every nuance memorized.
Let me tell you what I remember most: It wasn't the blow up with Han afterwards. It wasn't even the dread that paralyzed every inch, my whole life balancing on the edge of the knife.
What I remember most was when it was all over. When I ran to him and held him close in my arms. My little, bruised boy. My child who was alive. Heart-beating, lung-breathing alive. He was mine, and he was living, and he wasn't dead and he hadn't been taken away from me.
"My baby, my baby." I couldn't stop saying those words. "My baby, my baby." I couldn't stop weeping.
I held Ben in the crook of my elbow, as if he were a newborn. And here's the deep secret of motherhood: In that moment, Ben was a newborn. He was a toddler and a little boy. He was a teenager moping around the house. Because in every moment of your child's life, he is never just who he is. He is who he was. He is who he will become. He is every moment that came before, and every moment after, captured forever in the bottomless well of a mother's heart and mind.
That day on the dusty old track I cradled my six-year-old boy in my arms. I was also cradling Kylo Ren. And there are times I wish that we had lost him that day. That I could have those six, perfect years of memories, memories of my Ben, unstained from the man that would one day break me.
One day break me. Isn't that what happened? He broke himself, and in turn he broke me.
But I've had years to pore over the reasons why it all happened, and what I've discovered is that the answers aren't so easy.
And the questions are even worse.
"You killed all of them?"
"All but Uncle Luke."
"Oh, Ben...how could you?"
"Oh, mother. Have you never asked yourself the same question?"
I'm not very well-versed in Star Wars lore, so there will likely be some inaccuracies. And while I personally don't blame Leia's life choices for Ben turning to the dark side, Leiai most certainly would, which is why the fic is framed as it is. Thanks for reading :)