It was the most pleasant dinner any of them could remember. They talked about trivialities, discussed the tactics and questioned the many motivations behind the war; they even laughed a little. Luke mostly listened to his parents, learning more about the Clone Wars than all the history classes and holos he had seen in his life put together. He learned about all the battles his father and Obi-Wan had been in and decided with their mere participation. And he understood the price his father had paid, emotionally and psychologically. Anakin was deeply scarred, inside and outside, but also incredibly alive, living the day to the fullest and holding on to his family like an anchor, like the only thing that made sense in the insanity that surrounded him.
Through his mother’s sparse account of the Senate’s deliberations and decisions the past few years, he came to realize to what extent Chancellor Palpatine was manipulating the very course of the war, pulling everybody’s strings and using them all like pawns in his master plan: to wipe out the Jedi Order and turn the Republic into an Empire under his absolute dominion.
His look of infinite sadness didn’t go unnoticed by Anakin and Padme, who shared a quick glance.
“Is everything all right?” Anakin asked for both.
Luke turned his eyes to his father.
“Yes,” he nodded. “It’s just hard listening to you. To see the degree of violence and destruction we’re capable of. How many innocent people are still to die...”
“There will be no more deaths when we capture General Grievous and the Sith Lord behind all this,” Anakin’s voice turned passionate and slightly vengeful. “They will pay for all the lives their greed and thirst for power have cost the galaxy.”
“If the Council approves Anakin’s appointment as Chancellor Palpatine’s representative, things could start moving faster,” Padme chimed in with a proud smile at her husband.
Luke choked on his juice. For a second, he thought he was going to suffocate, and Anakin had to slap him on his back several times.
“Palpatine’s representative... on the Jedi Council?!” he asked in disbelief.
“Yes,” Anakin confirmed. “But they have to make me a master first, and I’m not too optimistic about it.”
A thick silence befell them all then. Luke could feel it was a very uncomfortable subject for his father and didn’t pursue it, as much as he wanted to.
“I hope everything turns out for the best,” he replied diplomatically, meaning it with all his heart.
“I hope so too,” Anakin nodded wholeheartedly. “For everyone’s sake.”
Luke’s eyes fell closed in bitter defeat. The saddest, most terrible thing of all was having the absolute certainty that even if he told his father the truth about Palpatine, he still wouldn’t believe him. Such was his loyalty and faith in the Chancellor and Emperor-to-be.
The irony! One of Anakin’s greatest virtues happened to be the biggest obstacle to overcome.
The young Jedi watched his parents lost in each other’s eyes and holding hands, giving and receiving support and strength from one another.
‘Oh, Force! Why? WHY?!’ he shouted to the heavens helplessly. ‘Why did it have to happen?’
The last part of the evening was just as quiet and peaceful. They shared a soft drink in the living room and talked about lighter subjects. His parents showed admirable restraint when asking him about his life ‘in the future’. Luke revealed that he was an orphan and had been raised by his aunt and uncle, and how when they died he’d been trained in the ways of the Force by a solitary, ‘renegade’ Jedi, who used an alias to hide his true identity.
Anakin listened avidly to Luke’s story, biting his tongue to restrain his curiosity and outright asking Luke for more details.
Padme reached out and took hold of Luke’s hand, squeezing it fervently. Her eyes glittered with tears at the thought of that sweet young man being an orphan. It broke her heart in a way that she couldn’t describe.
“Your parents would be so very proud of you,” she comforted him, conveying absolute conviction.
Luke covered the small hand with his own.
“That’s the only thing I ever wanted,” he confessed to her.
At that moment, Threepio walked in, followed by Artoo.
“Excuse me, master,” he addressed to Anakin, “you forgot to tell me at what time the bricklayers will be coming tomorrow.”
Luke’s eyes opened like saucers at the sight of the blue droid. It became clear then why his own Artoo had disappeared upon his arrival. To prevent the paradox.
“Sorry, Threepio,” Anakin apologized. “I have a lot on my mind lately. They’ll be here around noon.”
Padme misinterpreted Luke’s expression.
“They’re going to repair the staircase of the veranda,” she explained to him.
Luke’s gaze dropped in embarrassment.
“I’m very sorry. I can’t pay for...”
“Don’t worry about that,” Padme squeezed his forearm. “This apartment - the entire building actually - belongs to the Senate. It will be mine until I step down. All repairs are covered.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Luke sighed in relief, smiling at her shyly.
“Artoo,” Anakin’s warm voice made Luke and Padme turn their heads to him. “This is our guest, Luke Stargazer. He’ll be staying with us for a few days.”
Artoo rolled towards Luke, beeping a cheerful greeting.
“Hello, Artoo,” Luke greeted the little droid back, feeling his chest constrict painfully. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Will you be retiring soon, master?” Threepio asked.
Anakin met Padme’s eyes and before Luke could blink an eye he turned again to the golden droid.
“Yes,” he nodded. “It’ll be another busy day for us tomorrow.”
Getting the hint, Luke rose to his feet.
“I shall bid you goodnight now, then,” he placed his empty glass on the tray Threepio was holding.
Padme and Anakin stood up as well. Anakin wrapped his arm around his wife’s waist.
“Do you need anything before going to bed?” he asked.
“Oh, no!” Luke shook his head gratefully. “You’ve been so kind to me that I don’t know how to thank you.”
“It’s our pleasure,” Padme smiled at him. “Sleep well, Luke,” she held out her hand and Luke squeezed it firmly.
“Good night,” he released his mother’s hand and turned to his father.
“I told Threepio to give you one of my pajamas,” Anakin told him. “It’ll be a bit too long for you, but I hope you don’t mind.”
“You didn’t have to,” Luke shook his head again, truly overwhelmed.
“I don’t think the bricklayers will be here for too long. You can stay out of sight until they leave, if it’ll make you feel better,” Anakin winked at him conspiratorially.
“Good idea,” Luke nodded, winking back with a little grin. “Thank you both for your hospitality. I can’t find the words anymore.” He reached out his hand.
Anakin returned the handshake fondly.
“We’re glad to have you here. Somehow, it feels like a good sign in these uncertain times.”
“A good sign, having someone crash on your veranda?!” Luke’s eyebrows skyrocketed.
The three burst into riotous laughter.
“You’re right. It *is* crazy!” Padme wrapped an arm around her belly, so hard she was laughing.
“Oh, well,” Anakin said when the laughter subsided. “May the Force be with us tomorrow.”
Luke could feel the shift in his father’s mood, and something in him reached out to counterbalance the ugly feeling of foreboding.
“May the Force be with you,” he uttered back from the bottom of his heart.
The following morning dawned as sunny as the previous one. Feeling more comfortable around his parents’ apartment, Luke completed his chores faster than the previous day. He had a light breakfast while he engaged in idle chit-chat with Threepio.
“Will you be meditating again on the veranda this morning, sir?” Threepio asked when Luke was finished.
“Not this time. I’ll meditate in the bedroom instead,” Luke said. “Will you please let me know when the bricklayers leave, Threepio? I’d rather not bump into them by accident.”
“Certainly, sir,” the droid acknowledged, as attentively as always.
The young Jedi returned to the guest room after a leisure walk around the apartment, feeling his way around it, enjoying the spectacular views from the wall-wide windows and filling himself with the mostly pleasant atmosphere around the place. He sat down cross-legged on the lush bed, facing the window, and relaxed every part of his mind and his body. He closed his eyes and allowed his mind to wander, carefully this time. He didn’t want to touch that veil of pestilent Darkness again. He focused on the Force itself, asking the questions he desperately needed answered.
‘Why am I here?’
‘What am I supposed to do? Watch and learn? Or something else?’
‘I need to know!’
His mind’s eye illuminated with the flashback of a fond, old memory. A memory of himself, training in the Millennium Falcon on the way to Alderaan, his father’s lightsaber in hand, while Ben observed his progress closely - his first steps into a larger world.
‘Stretch out with your feelings.’
Luke’s eyes burst open. Was that what he was supposed to do? To follow his instincts? Basically feel his way around?
That didn’t help much.
He let out a loud, irritated sigh, and unfurling his legs, he left the room, needing some fresh air.
The moment he walked out to the veranda, he realized the mistake he had made. He’d forgotten about the bricklayers, and now it was too late to turn about and hurry back inside.
“’Morning, sir!” a potbellied Bothan greeted him.
“Good morning,” he greeted back politely. A quick look reassured him that they were the only two living beings on the terrace. Four cargo droids were busy removing the torn and chipped blocks of the staircase and putting them on a big container.
Piled up on the top step of the staircase were the brand new marble blocks that would replace the ones his unorthodox landing had shattered. He frowned when he realized that the blocks were a few shades darker than the staircase.
“Excuse me,” he addressed the Bothan. “Did you notice that these blocks are darker than the originals?”
The Bothan looked at the new blocks nonchalantly and then compared them to the blocks under his feet.
“Yeah, they do seem to be a couple shades darker,” he agreed with a shrug. “We must have picked up the wrong ones from the warehouse.”
“And why don’t you send one of your droids back to the warehouse to pick up the right ones? Surely, it wouldn’t take that long,” Luke suggested.
“Come on, buddy, give me a break,” the Bothan complained lazily. “We’re falling behind schedule already and this’ll only make it worse. It’s the same material and colour, who cares about the shade, anyway?”
Luke studied the Bothan for a moment and then took a little, unthreatening step forward.
“But if I give you a break, that’ll mean that the blocks meant for my friends’ veranda will end up someplace else, where they won’t match the originals either. And we don’t want that, do we?” he swept his hand in front of the Bothan’s face.
The Bothan blinked in sudden confusion.
“No... No, we don’t want that,” he repeated somewhat distractedly.
“You can leave two droids here and send the other two to pick up the right blocks. That way when they return, all the broken blocks will be removed already, and you’ll only have to put the new ones,” the young Jedi reasoned logically.
“I can leave two droids here and send the other two to pick up the right blocks. That way when they return, all the broken blocks will be removed already, and we’ll only have to put the new ones,” the Bothan repeated.
“Good,” Luke approved with a nod, releasing the Bothan’s mind gently.
“Good.” With a small shake of his head, the Bothan turned to the droids nearer to the speeder. “You two! Go back to the warehouse and bring here the marble blocks with the order number...” he checked his datapad, “...1138B-2B. And take these,” he pointed at the darker blocks. “Quick!”
“Roger,” the droids said, picking up the marble blocks with their pincer-like arms and putting them back on the cargo speeder. Thirty seconds later, the speeder disappeared from sight.
Luke turned to the Bothan with a smile.
“A good job will always be rewarded. Happy customers always come back.”
“Yeah... right. True,” the pointed ears flickered, reflecting the Bothan’s fuzzy state of mind.
“Oh, dear!” Threepio’s distressed voice made the young Jedi look back.
“It’s all right, Threepio,” he told the befuddled droid. He turned back to the still mystified Bothan. “I’ll leave you to your work now. Have a good day.”
“Erm, yes. Have a good day you too,” the Bothan replied absent-mindedly.
Biting back a mischievous grin, Luke walked back into the apartment.
“Please, give him a generous tip,” he whispered to Threepio on his way inside. “We must practise what we preach,” he patted the golden shoulder.
“I totally agree with you, sir,” Threepio nodded, looking even more nonplussed than usual.
The afternoon passed swiftly. Luke had a light lunch and got to learn more about his parents thanks to the little tidbits Threepio shared with him.
The young man’s gaze was lost in the skyline when he was suddenly assaulted by a poignant feeling he couldn’t fathom.
“That’s the Jedi Temple, isn’t it?” he asked, pointing at a fortress-looking building with five spires on top in the distance.
“Yes, sir,” Threepio replied. “That’s where master Anakin must be at this very moment.”
Luke nodded slowly to himself. He stood up and walked over to the massive window. The emanations coming from that direction were so strong that they overwhelmed him. Outrage, disappointment, betrayal, anger... they pounded on his mental barriers, almost bringing them down. He brought his hands up to his temples.
“Please excuse me, Threepio. I... I need to meditate,” he muttered, turning about and heading blindly towards the guest room.
Shaken and trembling, Luke sat down cross-legged on the bed, trying to control his heartbeat and his respiration. His father’s emotions ricocheted back and forth like the silent scream of a caged soul. Hurt, distrust, helplessness... So much helplessness! And lurking on the edge of those emotions, a bottomless pit of Darkness.
So close. So close! And his father still wasn’t aware of the danger. He was too focused inwards to see beyond his own obsessions, beyond his fears.
“Force, help me!” he pleaded. “What can I do? How am I supposed to take this? How can I stand back and watch my father being consumed by the Dark Side? I need help. I need guidance!”
Just then, an unnatural calm settled on his father’s spirit. An unsettling forced calm, as useless as trying to plug a volcano.
And that’s exactly what his father was. A volcano about to erupt.
The soft knocking on his door broke him out of his morbid thoughts.
“Excuse me, sir. Senator Amidala just arrived...” Threepio announced.
“I’ll be right there!” he replied, taking several deep breaths until he was composed enough to present a calm façade in front of his mother. Tiredly, he rose to his feet and dragged himself out of the room.
Padme was sitting on the living room couch, deep in thought. She wore a purple velvet cloak, a double yoke, and a matching purple velvet, intricately embroidered gown. She didn’t hear Luke walk in, and only reacted when she felt the warmth of his presence on the opposite couch.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized, shaking her head. “I was... thinking.”
“A difficult day at the Senate?” Luke commiserated with his mother’s situation.
“Another wasted day, or so it felt,” she sighed, looking away. “Hours of amendment after amendment, that will lead nowhere, just like all the others...” she bit her lower lip, disheartened. “But I don’t want to bother you with my frustrations,” she turned her head back to him with a weary smile.
“That’s what friends are for,” Luke returned her smile with one of his own.
Padme examined again the kind, somehow eerily familiar features, and the words just began to flow.
“It’s just that I keep remembering something Anakin said yesterday. Something that, in the light of the events that happened today and have been happening for too long now...”
“Yes?” Luke prompted.
“He said there were too many irregularities in the way we’ve been doing things. And when we bypass the procedures, we’re undermining the very basis of the Republic.”
Luke hunched forward, leaning his arms on his thighs.
“What I’m trying to say...” Padme worried at her lips, “...is that this war is really destroying the principles the Republic was founded on. We’re wasting our time in preposterous motions, and we’re not protecting the system from those who’re fighting against it. Today, for the very first time, I felt... I felt that maybe we are the problem. We’re nothing but bureaucrats with no real power to change things. And when politicians become the problem, Democracy is no more.” Her beautiful brown eyes raised to Luke’s, almost in despair.
Luke tilted his head to one side sympathetically.
“Please, tell me it’s not too late?” she asked weakly.
Unable to resist the plea in those desperate eyes, Luke stood up, walked over to his mother and sat down beside her.
“When systems become too self-complacent, they’re an easy prey for those who crave power and will stop at nothing to get it. The Republic’s facing the greatest danger of all, and you must wake up and act, or it will really be too late.”
Padme fixed her gaze on Luke and saw the danger he was talking about, as real and tangible as if it was staring at her in the face. She couldn’t help but shudder in abject horror, but almost immediately, an inner strength she didn’t know she had, urged her to stand up and fight to stop such a future from becoming a reality.
“You’re right,” she nodded at him emphatically. “And that’s exactly what I intend to do.” She set her jaw and pressed her lips together tightly, making up her mind. Her hand went instinctively to her belly, gathering strength from the touch.
Luke drew back, fearing that his nearness was upsetting the babies again.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“Never been better,” she replied with firm determination.
‘My goodness, it’s as if I had Leia right in front of me,’ the young Jedi marvelled. ‘Mother, I am so very proud of you!’
“I don’t know how Anakin will take it, though,” Padme shook her head in concern. “He can be so.... unyielding in his opinions and beliefs...”
“Why? You just admitted that he was right in his assessment,” Luke arched his eyebrows, puzzled.
“I know, but...” her gaze turned inwards. “This war has shaken many of the moral standards he’s abided by all his life. If his faith in the Republic was compromised...”
“The Republic is not to blame. He’s intelligent enough to understand that,” Luke interjected.
Padme met his eyes again and ended up smiling in wonder.
“It’s so easy to talk to you. Why do I feel like I’ve known you forever?”
Luke smiled tenderly.
“Because you’re very perceptive?” he observed with a twinkle in his eye.
Padme’s eyes narrowed, taken off guard by the humour in Luke’s words. A slow grin appeared on her face.
“You’re making fun of me?” she chuckled, still a bit uncertain.
Luke snickered and shook his head.
“I’d be much too frightened to tease a Senator,” he looked down with a sheepish smile.
Padme’s hand shot out and cupped Luke’s chin, raising his face to meet her eyes. She looked dead serious all of a sudden.
“What is it?” the young man asked, intrigued by that intense look.
“You... You reminded me so much of Anakin just now... Your eyes, your mannerisms...” her eyes skittered all over his face searchingly. “You’re so very like him that if I didn’t know better I’d swear that you’re... his brother.” Her thumb went automatically to the dimple on his chin. “Even...” she noticed then that his eyes had glazed over, as if his senses were elsewhere. “Luke?”
“He’s coming,” Luke stated, his eyes focusing again on her.
Her fingers tightened on his chin.
“How do you know?” the question came out harsher than she meant it to. “What’s this... connection you share with him?”
“The Force. His presence into the Force is very powerful. It resonates like... like ripples on a pond,” Luke explained as truthfully as he could.
“There’s more than that. I can feel it,” Padme whispered, not taking her eyes off him. “You’re here to help him, aren’t you?” her features softened. For a second, it crossed her mind that it never occurred to her to doubt the young man’s intentions. The mere notion was ridiculous.
“I don’t know why I’m here,” Luke spoke the absolute truth then. “I wish I did.”
Padme’s heart went out to the searing longing in his voice. Her thumbpad caressed the thin scar on his upper lip. Two idealistic, deeply scarred souls. Both carrying burdens that would crush older and wiser men.
“You will fulfill your destiny, whatever it is. I know it,” she breathed, almost in a trance.
Luke smiled wistfully and took hold of her hand, moving it away from his face and squeezing it with infinite gratitude.
“Go to him now. Tell him what you think and talk it over. I’ll be with Threepio, helping him to prepare dinner.”
Luke had never been a particularly good cook. He’d helped Aunt Beru every now and then, and he could cook a decent, albeit uncomplicated meal. The resources in the farm didn’t exactly allow for expensive, exquisite foods; and after joining the Alliance, the case was practically the same. He was more used to rations and canned food than anything. Still, he was pleased to see that after a rather clumsy start, he could still use a knife to cut up the vegetables and calculate the amount of salt and spices the stew required. Both Threepio and Artoo watched him in silence as he tasted the broth with a spoon. He swallowed and turned his head to the two droids.
“Not bad. Not bad at all,” he smiled at them with a wink.
Artoo beeped excitedly, congratulating the young man.
“Let it simmer for five more minutes, and then we’re all set,” he instructed Threepio, putting the spoon back on the worktop.
Luke was helping the golden droid to set the table when Anakin strode into the apartment and walked past him without a backward glance.
The young Jedi’s heart missed a beat at the dark thoughts spiralling out of control in his father’s core. Leaning on the table for support, he ground his teeth.
And then, Anakin froze on the spot. His frenzied heartbeat calmed somewhat and he half turned his head in Luke’s direction, drawn to him like a magnet.
“Good evening, Luke,” he greeted softly.
Luke’s head snapped up. Oxygen returned to his lungs and he looked up, feeling a semblance of peace settle in his spirit again.
“Good evening, Anakin,” he greeted back, tipping his head to his father, not quite daring to look at him.
There was a short, hesitating pause, and then Anakin walked away.
Dinner was tense and awkward. Luke had never felt so much like a third wheel. Obviously, the conversation between his parents didn’t go as well as planned, and even though they were still talking to each other, it was mostly in monosyllables. They shared fleeting looks that cried out they wanted to make up, but neither dared to take the first step. Padme’s gentle overtures were met by a stubborn silence that didn’t fool Luke. Anakin’s brooding thoughts were full of suspicion. He was withdrawing more and more into himself and Luke shuddered inside, seeing more and more clearly where those misgivings would ultimately take him.
Suddenly, he couldn’t stand it anymore.
“So, will it be a boy or a girl?” he asked. He gave a start, surprised by the sound of his own voice and how cheerful it came out.
And those were the magic words. Anakin’s face lit up and turned to Padme, meeting her eyes for the first time since their discussion on the veranda.
“We don’t want to know,” she replied for the two of them, returning Anakin’s bright smile.
“We both agreed that we want to do it the old fashioned way,” Anakin nodded. “We’ll know the baby’s gender when we hold it in our arms.”
“Anakin’s convinced that it’s going to be a girl though,” Padme revealed.
“Really?” Luke turned his head to his father.
“With dark hair and dark eyes, just like her mother,” Anakin’s voice sounded like a liquid caress. “My little Princess.”
There was a short pause, and Luke studied his father’s features, marvelled at how that closed, somber face had opened up and shone with an inner light that had been missing until then. He had to swallow the hard lump in his throat.
“And what do you think?” he asked his mother.
“Oh, it’s definitely going to be a boy,” Padme replied, meeting Anakin’s eyes teasingly. “With blond, very blond hair and blue eyes, like his daddy. A little angel. Our little angel,” she sighed, reaching out her hand to him across the table.
Luke bit his lips to prevent a choked sob from escaping. He put his fist in front of his mouth to hide how much this moment meant to him. Wanted children. Leia and him had been wanted children. The living embodiment of their parents’ love for each other. To someone like him, who had been raised in total ignorance of his heritage, where he came from and from whom, to be reassured in this unambiguous way of who he was, and how happy it made his father and mother the mere thought of having him was the most profound validation of his existence.
There it was, in Padme and Anakin’s joined hands, the breach between them fully healed now.
‘Force, I love you. I love you both so much!’
TO BE CONTINUED...