7 miles north of Hanna City, Chandrila, Core Worlds
A convoy consisting of five modified Gian landspeeders made its way out of Hanna City at dawn, just as the late winter sun began to creep out over the hills. The snow had already melted and the coastal winds, though still strong, had lost their bite. The speeders did not appear to be traveling with haste.
On the first speeder, behind the pilot, rode a Rebel Alliance Fleet trooper and an Imperial Stormtrooper. Their uniforms, pale blue and bright white, were not an unpleasant combination. They sat side-by-side in silence and appeared more like indifferent strangers than the enemies they were meant to be.
Behind them, on the second speeder, were Mon Mothma, the Chancellor of the New Republic, and Mas Amedda, the Grand Vizier of the Empire. They too were silent, though their expressions could not be more different. The Chancellor looked serene and the Grand Vizier looked exhausted, one like a newly-lit candle and the other almost completely melted away.
Mothma's advisors Sinjir Rath Velus and Sondiv Sella were on the passenger seats of the third speeder. They each held identical rectangular boxes on their laps. Sinjir in particular clutched his box as though his life depended on it.
On the fourth was a group of journalists, their equipment strapped onto the back of the speeder. All of them, except for the reporter sitting on the gunner's front seat, wore the same uniform with the logo of HoloNet News emblazoned onto the left shoulder.
And behind them on the last speeder was a heavily pregnant woman sitting beside the pilot, several floating pads and a hovering lectern lying deactivated on the seats behind them. The woman wore a simple tunic that could not hide the swell of her belly, and her thick chestnut hair was arranged in a plait that fell over her shoulder and down to her waist. Her stoic face betrayed not a single hint that she was at that moment going through excruciating pain.
Leia Organa's contractions had begun. And they weren't even halfway up the road to the crystal cliffs yet. She tried to make an estimate of how long the ceremony would take, and decided that three hours was her safest bet. It was too late to back out now. Mon was adamant that she be there beside her, and she couldn't very well disrupt this historic moment for personal reasons. Even if that reason was her unborn son.
Their group would be convening north of the Chandrilan capital, under a particular tintolive tree on the crystal cliffs that overlooked the sea. Mon had decided on that spot for the signing of the Imperial Instruments of Surrender, the document that would clear the way for the Galactic Concordance. It was the peace treaty that would turn over a fresh page in the history of the galaxy. It would be the official beginning of the New Republic, the official end of the Empire they had fought against for years. It would be the day when all the losses and the victories would be remembered, all the lives that were sacrificed would be honored, and all the lives that would be lived in freedom from now on would begin.
And her baby's life would be one of them. He could wait.
She wondered why he would choose to be born today of all days. It wasn't to say that she was busy, because Leia was always busy. But why on such an important day as this? The Force was trying to say something, not just to her but perhaps to the whole galaxy. It was not by chance.
The convoy stopped as they reached the crystal cliffs. Up here, the wind howled even more wildly than it did in the port city below. As everyone began climbing out of the speeders, gusts of wind blew their coats and capes around.
Once she had gotten out of her seat, Leia looked out at the rest of the group and saw Sinjir still holding the box close to his chest. His grip around the edges was so tight that his knuckles had turned white. Leia almost chuckled, were it not for another painful contraction. It was only right that Sinjir would practically guard that box with his life: it contained the paper documents Mon and Amedda would be signing. Paper and ink were the only options for an event such as this. Everything always seemed more official with ancient instruments. She only hoped the wind wouldn't blow away the Galactic Concordance. If she were in Mon's position, Leia wouldn't have minded signing it in a bunker. But she was not the Chancellor.
Once the HoloNet News cameras had been set up, and the floating pads and lectern brought out, the ceremony began. Leia tried not to make an audible sigh as she lowered herself onto the floating pad between Mon and Sinjir. Her contractions were becoming more frequent, but her water hadn't broken yet. There was nothing to worry about.
Sella stood at the lectern and began reading out loud the terms of the surrender. Leia found that she could not hear what he was saying, not because of the wind but because of the pain inside her.
I've been through worse. This is nothing.
She only wished she had told herself that with more conviction. Still, her face remained impassive, and she was glad for it. She hated being called a princess, but her training as one was beginning to pay off.
An hour passed before Sinjir opened the other box and brought out a pen and a bottle of ink. Mon and Amedda both stood up and signed the document. Once the ink dried, Sella moved on to the Concordance itself. Leia only just noticed how thick the document was.
Her husband always knew how to lighten a dire situation by cracking a joke. His jokes didn't always work, but she learned to appreciate his efforts. But Han was down in the city, probably watching the live broadcast of the signing. Or he probably already turned off the holoprojector 10 minutes in, she thought. He never did care for politics. She allowed herself a secret smile, but another contraction wiped it off her lips.
"' - by way of a conditional pardon, such that this organization be not fully dissolved but allowed to exist as a remnant of the Empire that may remain only within predetermined boundaries in the Core and the Inner Rim, insofar as they meet the requirements to qualify as non-combatant functionaries,'" Sella read out. "'These aforementioned boundaries of the Imperial remnant are to be delineated by the coordinates zero - '"
The rest of his words were drowned out by the realization that water was now slowly trickling down her thigh. Leia's heart beat faster, but she would not allow herself to be overcome by panic. She knew the terms of the Concordance by heart, the stipulation concerning the Imperial remnant was somewhere in the middle. They were already halfway through.
Just a little more.
She could feel her son struggling inside her. He wanted to come out.
Not yet, my angel. Please.
He responded with a strong kick that almost made her groan out loud.
Throughout her pregnancy, Han liked to call him a "little bandit." For once, she agreed with his assessment. This kid would be a violent one, just like his parents. And he would be a strong one too. There was no use denying what she could already sense, both physically and in the Force. She had lost count how many times she had woken up at night to his kicks, so powerful for so small a being that it felt like a punch in the gut.
There was another kick. This time, she could not resist a grunt. She felt like she might keel over in pain, but forced herself to sit still. Sinjir discreetly turned to her, his brow furrowed.
"Are you all right?" he whispered from the corner of his mouth. She saw his eyes dart quickly over her belly before looking back up again.
She merely nodded, not wanting to tell him the truth and start a panic. She would not let herself become a distraction to this moment, not this piece of history. The news today would not be about the birth of Leia Organa's child. It would be about the foundation of the New Republic. She would make sure of that.
And it was. Before she knew it, Mon and Amedda stood up again and approached the lectern. By the time Sella closed the cover of the document, the ink now dried and its terms now ratified, Leia had become numb to the pain of the contractions and her baby's movements. She vaguely saw Sinjir's form leaving her side as he went over to where Mon and Amedda stood, but she could no longer see him clearly. Her head was spinning and her vision had blurred.
She had to get back to her senses. There was another matter to be taken care of, and he could not wait a moment longer.
With trembling hands, Leia pulled out her comlink and pressed some buttons.
"Is it over?" Han's voice asked over the speaker.
"The baby's coming," she said as calmly as she could.
"WHAT?! Just now?"
"I started having contractions when we were going up the hill."
She didn't need to see Han to know that his hands were balling into fists.
"It's been three hours!"
"Just get over here and pick me up," she told him in the voice she used to command Rebel troops. "Your speeder's faster than the Gian."
"Damn it, Princess! Just one time - !"
She turned off the comlink, not wanting to hear anymore of his shouting.
She did not realize Mon was standing in front of her. She looked up at the statuesque woman, her white robes billowing in the wind.
"It looks like our lunch to commemorate the New Republic will have to be postponed," Mon said. Her tone was light but her eyes were worried.
"Don't postpone it on my account," said Leia. She tried to get off the floating pad but felt her legs shaking. "I would hug you if I could stand up."
Mon leaned over and kissed the top of her head before walking behind her and pushing the floating pad away from the tintolive tree and the politicians and media crowded around it. They stopped behind the last speeder, just before a steep slope on the hill.
"Is General Solo on the way?" Mon asked.
"He should be."
The numbness ceased suddenly and the searing pain returned. A particularly strong contraction made Leia groan. Mon took her hand.
Perhaps to distract her, Mon went on, "Have you decided on a name?"
Leia smiled up at her and shook her head. She and Han had discussed this in the beginning, but could not come to a mutual agreement. After the jokes about "Luke Chewbacca Solo" had subsided, they had become so busy with everything else that they eventually forgot to come to a final decision. And now they had maybe an hour or so left.
Just like how he was made, just like how they fell in love. And just like Leia already imagined their son's life with them would be. Nothing was or would ever be planned.
But they would be okay. Leia believed it. Just because he wasn't planned, it did not mean he was a mistake. And for her baby to be born on this day, the very day the war ended and a new chapter in the galaxy would begin... It was fortuitous. She knew it had to be. It was a ray of hope. He would be a ray of hope.
"This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope."
It came to her suddenly.
In another life, without Old Ben, Luke would still be farming on Tatooine. Han would still be at the beck and call of syndicates and spice dealers. She would probably be dead. He was the reason why she even knew her brother and her husband, and why she was where she was at that very moment.
"Ben," she said.
Ben Solo. It was simple and had a nice ring to it.
Mon looked at her, recognition dawning on her face.
"I never did meet Obi-Wan Kenobi," she said. "But I heard from your father that he was a great man." She smiled.
Leia smiled back. She knew her son would be too. She had felt him, as a bright band of light. From the moment she first felt his presence, she always knew that he would be strong in the Force.
Mon interrupted her thoughts. "Have you seen his future? Through the Force?"
"No. I'm afraid that ability is beyond me."
She had no idea what the future had in store for her son. Luke might, but she was untrained. She could only ever feel and hear through the Force.
"Leia!" her husband's voice called, his tone laced with anger.
That could not have been the Force. It was too tangible.
Some distance beyond the hill, Leia saw Han's brown hair flying in the wind as his speeder approached them.
"Hi, Chancellor, congratulations," he said not without irony as he stepped on the brakes.
Mon smiled knowingly at Leia, who rolled her eyes both out of exasperation and pain.
"Hurry now, General," Mon urged.
Han jumped off the speeder and lifted Leia from the floating pad. He tried his best to set her down gently on the backseat, but was not entirely successful.
"Would you be careful!" she hissed. If she hadn't been in so much pain, she would have hurled a snappy insult at him.
They quickly bid Mon goodbye and sped off back to the city. As she expected, Han spent the entire trip berating her for not telling anyone, let alone him, until the entire ceremony was over. The contractions, which were at their worst at that point, easily distracted her from hearing what he had to say, which was irrelevant. What was done was done. Leia thought he was wasting his breath.
Then she remembered. "Han."
"What?" he asked sharply.
"Let's call him Ben."
"Ben? After the old man?"
Han paused, then said, "Fine. I guess Ben Solo doesn't sound so bad. Better than Obi-Wan Solo. Glad you didn't suggest that."
Leia sighed heavily and closed her eyes. Any moment now. The pain would be gone. And she would finally see him in the flesh. She stroked her belly and managed a small smile.
"How about a middle name?" Han asked, not taking his eyes off the road ahead.
"I am not naming him after the walking carpet."
"Well, aren't you rude."
"Speak for yourself."
The trip to the birthing chamber was hazy to Leia. The pain was searing and she was only half-aware that she was being pushed into a room filled with lights. Once they had placed her on the operating table, two GH-7 medical droids came in and examined her.
"I can already see him," one of them said calmly. "Black hair."
Leia looked up at the droid, her vision even blurrier than before. She wondered at what she had just heard. Perhaps one of Han's parents had the same color.
She found herself uttering a cry. He was so close to coming out. Sweat formed on her brow. She glanced through the glass dividing the birthing chamber from the hall beyond and saw Han looking in. He seemed to be holding his breath, or at least that's how his motionless form looked to her.
Another figure stood beside Han, a tall man in a dark brown cloak. She could not see his face, but Leia could swear that a faint blue glow emanated from him. Before she could think on it further, the droid spoke.
"I need you to push. Are you ready?"
Leia managed a nod.
"Take a deep breath. One, two, three. Push."
Each push hurt more than the last. But it would soon be over. She would finally meet her angel, Han's little bandit.
"Almost there," said the GH-7. "Just one more."
Her legs shaking and sweat flowing into her eyes, Leia gave one last push. There was silence, and then a piercing scream.
"Ben," she whispered, panting. Her eyes stung with a mixture of sweat and tears. But her tears were not of pain.
The other droid gently wiped her brow with a towel and adjusted the operating table so she could sit. After the cord was cut, the first droid cleaned and bundled up her baby.
"He is big and very healthy," it said as it made its way towards her and held out her son.
Leia grabbed the towel from the droid's grasp and quickly wiped her eyes. She took Ben from the GH-7 and looked at his face for the first time. As though realizing that his mother was looking at him, he slowly opened his eyes.
Brown, she noted, with darker flecks around the pupils. They were her eyes. She smiled at him, and he stared back at her in wonder.
Leia gently stroked the damp black strands that stuck to his cheeks. He had far more hair than she expected of a newborn. It covered his entire head and framed his small face.
She never took her eyes off him.
"Would you call my husband over?" she asked the droids, not looking up.
The door slid open and Han hesitantly stepped inside. Leia finally looked up. Her husband's face bore both relief and a hint of fear.
"Do you want to hold him?"
Han seemed at a loss for words, but held out his hands. Ben began crying immediately, and Leia cradled him closer to her.
"Maybe later, then," she said. Looking back down at him, she added, "That's your father."
Han seemed to finally release the breath he had been holding and said, "You'll get your good looks from me, kid."
Leia rolled her eyes. At that point in their relationship, it was already a gesture of affection.
She then remembered the man who had been standing next to Han in the hallway. She turned to look, but saw only her reflection in the glass. Her brow furrowed.
"What is it?" asked Han.
"Nothing," she lied. "I'm just tired."
She was taken to a room overlooking the city while one of the droids momentarily took care of Ben. After less than two hours of lying on the bed, she tried to stand up but was reprimanded calmly by the GH-7 and angrily by Han. The other droid brought Ben to them and set him down on the crib that had been prepared beforehand. He slept soundly and did not cry.
She began receiving visitors and hologram calls - and there were many - in the afternoon. Her old friend Amilyn Holdo called, as did Jan Dodonna and Ackbar. Mon, Sinjir and Sella paid a brief visit before leaving again to do some interviews about the Concordance.
As soon as the politicians left, C-3PO entered the room and loudly voiced his observations on how peacefully the baby slept and how Leia behaved so typically by not telling anyone she had gone into labor during the ceremony. She smirked at him as Han stood up and began dragging him out of the room.
"Come on, you golden trash can," he said, his grip on C-3PO's arm tight. "Help me find some food around here."
"A golden trash can!" exclaimed Threepio. "Why, I never - "
Han interrupted him and asked over his shoulder, "You want something to eat?"
"No, I'm fine."
The door slid shut behind the two, and Leia was left alone. Her holopad beeped for possibly the hundredth time that day. Luke's name flashed on the screen.
Her twin brother's face appeared before her. His eyes twinkled as he smiled.
"Han told me what you did."
She threw him a knowing look before breaking out into a grin.
"Not like anyone could have stopped you," he added, chuckling.
"Not even you," she said.
"Can I see him?"
Leia took the holopad and held it above the crib. Luke was silent for a time.
"I'm glad you named him after Ben," he admitted. Though the hologram flickered, she could see his eyes watering.
"I wish my parents could have met him," Leia whispered softly. She looked at Ben as he breathed evenly in his sleep.
Luke did not need to know which parents she was referring to. Her parents from Alderaan, Old Ben... Her son would never meet them. But she vowed to herself that he would know of them and the sacrifices they made for the galaxy. And for him.
They spoke at length, about her delivery and the signing of the Concordance, about Luke and his current mission to build a new school, about the future and what it held, especially for Ben.
"Where do you plan on raising him?" Luke asked.
"I think Chandrila is a good environment for a child. But I can't imagine we'd be staying here permanently. There's always work to be done on other planets."
"So you're bringing him along, then."
She nodded. "He'll be traveling all over the galaxy. That is certain."
After a moment, Luke asked, "Do you still feel it? The darkness?"
She had told Luke her fears throughout the pregnancy. How bright Ben's presence was in the Force, and how a shadow always consumed this light. How she felt the light and the dark in him over and over again. Luke had told her that it was nothing to fear. The bigger the shadow, the brighter the light.
"Not now," she replied. "I feel like... my ability to sense him has weakened. The moment he was born, it felt like it disappeared."
Luke nodded in silence before finally saying, "Tell me anything that happens. Anything you sense in him."
This matter would remain between them. Han could never understand. Only five years ago, he didn't even believe in the Force. Leia wondered if he truly did believe in it now. Once Ben began showing his abilities (and Leia knew for certain that he would have them), perhaps he would. But this was beyond the boy's father to fully comprehend. Only Luke could help him, when the time came.
By the time she and Luke said their goodbyes, it was already getting dark outside. Han had not yet returned with C-3PO, but she was not particularly concerned where they were at the moment. Silently, she watched the city lights turning on. When the sky turned the darkest shade of blue, fireworks began erupting over the skyscrapers.
Leia smiled. The end of the Empire, and the birth of her son.
She heard him crying quietly and got up from the bed. She could walk perfectly fine and decided she would show Han just that. Leia picked up her baby as gently as she could and began breastfeeding him. Once he let out a soft burp and fell back asleep, she began setting him back down on the crib.
But she felt someone behind her. Still cradling Ben, she turned around and saw the man in the dark cloak outside the birthing chamber. He had dark blonde hair that fell to his shoulders and clear blue eyes. There was a scar that ran down from his forehead past the edge of his right eye. He seemed barely older than her. This time, she could clearly see the blue glow around him. She had never seen him before in her entire life, but her feelings told her who he was.
She could not call him her father. But in her arms was his grandson.
His eyes were sad. "I'm sorry, Leia. You still have so much to do, to fix what chaos I've left all over the galaxy. I fear you won't be able to be with Ben as much as you wish."
Leia knew in her heart that what he said was true. She ventured to ask him only one thing, and hoped that he would say no.
"Will he be anything like you?"
"The future is always moving. Even those of us who have gone beyond life can't see it clearly."
For the first time since he was born, she felt the shadow again. It consumed the band of light, completely extinguishing it. But then something flickered. Though it was faint, she could see it against the darkness.
"The Force will be with him," Anakin said. "Always." He smiled at the baby in her arms and disappeared.
She looked down at the sleeping face. Tufts of hair fell over his eyes. She brushed his hair aside and kissed his temple.
It was only the first day of his life. There was nothing to worry about. She had been wrong to assume too quickly. She understood that there would be great expectations of Ben. She hoped that she would be there to guide him every step of the way.
But her real father's ghost had spoken the truth. She wouldn't be, and she knew it.