Leia was trying out shawls to go with her evening dress. She fingered the fine silk one that was the exact match and then ran the embroidered wool on her cheek, enjoying the warmth the silk shawl couldn’t offer. The evening was going to be cool. The wool was a more prudent choice. She put down the silk shawl on the low settee at her side and picked her republic brooch to pin her choice securely to her dress.
Ben sat at the side of his mother bed and waited for her to get ready, bouncing his left leg in anxiety and impatience. He was escorting her to a party this evening and he did not want to go. The circuitous politicking of such events always left a bad taste at the back of his throat. Every time, he barely controlled himself from dishing smart retorts to the boring people who came to these extravaganzas and thought to schmooze him for their nefarious purposes. He however did not control himself from small bursts of force misuse, an upended wine glass on the face of a ten year older woman who’d been flirting with him inappropriately at the last party, a senator who tried to hold tight his mother’s elbow and suddenly couldn’t stop digging his nose, an old pontificator whose baritone suddenly went squeaky like a mouse. His mother always knew he did those things and he got his just scolding later. But for the pleasure of making fools of people who thought to make him the fool, Ben knew he would do much more than juvenile pranks if he were allowed more freedom.
“Do I have to escort you?”
“Where is Han? Shouldn’t he be the one suffering a boring event at the side of his wife? I thought he would be here by now.”
A shadow passed over Leia’s eyes. She tried to hide her face but Ben saw it.
“He is on his way.”
“What’s his ETA?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can you ask him where he is now?”
“No Ben. I haven’t been able to contact him since morning. I am sure he will arrive soon. Meanwhile, we will go attend dinner and talk people into acknowledging the plight of slaves in the republic.”
Ben pulled at his collar, the rich gold embroidery scratchy and uncomfortable where it touched skin.
“I thought slavery was abolished already.”
“Yes, it is illegal to hold slaves. But we have a long way to go before the free people start receiving just compensation and fair contracts for their labor, or even getting a seat at the tables that make decisions regarding their lives. The privileged have learnt to work around our laws and still hold undue advantages over the less privileged of our society. They keep gaining and the others keep losing. They are more segregated than ever, not able to afford housing with the privileged classes, not able to afford the same schools that teach the rich, forced to get by on rationed food that is far from good for their bodies. The last meteor sickness pandemic decimated over sixty percent working class citizens while only barely touching the ruling rich classes. The scale is so tipped, it is a miracle people aren’t openly revolting against the government. I would have, had the tables been turned. Our work against slavery is far from over Ben.”
Ben listened to his mother’s impassioned speech and couldn’t help feeling guilty about not knowing more about the huge problems faced by the people of their world. He knew his mother fought tooth and nail for each and every piece of legislation passed to benefit the disadvantaged masses. Slavery was not the only evil his mother wanted to eradicate. There was also hunger, epidemics, faulty school systems and lack of equal rights among the races to list a few. He saw her sincere efforts and her honest disgust for the wrongs of their world. Trying to achieve a better world took Leia away from being a mother to her only son, and her son accepted her choices, even if it was a bitter pill to swallow. He still wanted her attention though. And maybe some appreciation.
Ben stopped fiddling with his collar and stood up to straighten his elaborate dinner jacket. He was tall for a teen. Although still lanky, jedi training had cured the awkwardness of his gait and made him more comfortable in his bones. His thoughts were a different matter. He hoped his training progressed to the point where small things ceased to make him angry, or mere derogatory talk push him into lashing out in the worst possible way, or that he stopped antagonizing important people out of jealousy for taking up all of his mother’s time. Luke and Leia thought there was hope for him yet. It would have to be enough for now.
And so, even if he despised the wealthy politicians and spoilt aristocrats that turned up at his mother’s events, he knew Leia saw tiny scrapes of good in them. Enough to engineer change through their support and money. All he had to do was escort her, look respectable and not embarrass her. He would have to buck up and do that. For charity and world peace.
“Senator Grassly is attending with his family.” Leia said out of the blue.
“Uhuhhh.” Ben replied, holding out his arm.
Leia looped her arm around Ben’s and started walking to the door.
“You remember Sasha? His daughter?” Leia asked casually.
Too casually. Ben’s senses pricked.
“Yes, I remember her. Beauty and no brains. Thinks the world starts and ends in her mirror, along with other delusions.”
“That’s sounds about right. However, her father is one of the most powerful men in the senate. He holds sway over a number of other senators as well. I have been trying to get him to work with me on a new legislation to raise minimum wages. If he supports the bill, it will pass without a glitch.”
They walked the halls of their palatial home for a few silent moments as Ben digested what his mother was saying.
“Sasha has a bit of a thing for you.” Leia continued, “It won’t hurt us if you encourage her a little. Maybe enough for her father to wish for a friendship with us.”
Ice went down Ben’s spine.
“Is Sasha the reason you called me for this trip home?” He bit out, anger unfurling in a red stream inside his veins.
“Don’t be silly.” Leia made a dismissive gesture with her other hand, “I wanted to see my son too. I am trying to teach you how the world works Ben.”
His anger flared, more than he could keep in. An expensive gold inlayed vase kept on a pedestal right beside Ben burst into thousands of shards.
Leia stared at the broken pieces and then at Ben. Her eyes held poorly concealed fear, a look Ben had received many times from his parents.
“I thought you were learning to control yourself at the academy.” She said quietly.
Ben removed Leia’s hand from his arm and walked to a window overlooking the grounds. Losses of control in front of his mother never ended well. He tried a few calming breathes and waited for his balance to return. If Rey were here, he wouldn’t have to try so hard.
Ben closed his eyes and looked for his happy place within. But all he saw was darkness laced with red.
“Ben?” Leia placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Are you alright?”
He nodded and turned back to his mother.
“I am sorry for that.” he whispered; eyes cast down.
“No harm no foul son. I hated that vase anyways.” Leia forced a laugh.
Mother and son started walking towards the ballroom again.
“Will you talk to Sasha?”
Ben didn’t answer, desperately trying to keep a tight rein on his anger.
“It’s important. We are more than the sum total of our feelings, son. If a little artifice makes life better for thousands of people who look up to us, then what’s wrong with that? Just laugh and dance with her tonight. Take her out to an expensive dinner or a club where other young and carefree people go. It’s not much to ask, especially when you think that it would be a form of payback to the society for having more than most others do. Come on Ben, I am not asking you to marry her.”
A cold calm spread over Ben’s fiery anger. It felt off and a little dark, but it got rid of the roiling bitter hurt lodged deep in his stomach, and Ben welcomed the numbing cold.
“Yet. You are not asking that of me, yet. Because I am too young for marriage.”
Leia looked up to Ben’s face to gauge his feelings. They were approaching the ballroom’s side entrance and the corridors leading to it had been blessedly empty. When they entered the room, mother and son would come under the scrutiny of hundreds of eyes, just waiting for them to slip and reveal a chink in their armors. Leia couldn’t have Ben fighting with her or losing control with the force in there.
“Whatever we do, we do it in the service of the people of this galaxy. That’s our burden and our privilege. Do what you can to earn the things you take for granted. Grow up Ben. The world wouldn’t wait for you while you have your temper tantrum.”
“Of course mother. What kind of world would it be if its future depended on the temper tantrums of one man?” Ben answered, his voice even, face giving nothing away.
“Exactly son.” Leia nodded and noted the confident tilt of Ben’s chin and his ramrod straight spine and shoulders in approval. Then she opened the door and got to work.