‘If you choose to face Vader you will do it alone. I cannot interfere.’
‘Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.’
‘Ben, why didn’t you tell me?’
‘There is still good in him.’
‘If you fail, everything will be lost; and for good this time.’
‘It is too late for me, Son.’
‘Your father can never be turned from the Dark Side.’
‘Obi-Wan has taught you well.’
‘Your hate has made you powerful.’
‘I am a Jedi, like my father before me.’
‘If you will not be turned, you will be destroyed.’
Luke sat up in bed with a jolt, breathless and sweating. His heart pounded savagely in his chest and his muscles twitched involuntarily, still reacting to the excruciating torture the Emperor had subjected him to in his nightmare. He’d never experienced a dream like that, not even after Vader’s horrifying revelation, when nightmares had plagued him for weeks.
What did that dream mean? Was he dreaming of the future, or just a possible future? Was the Emperor going to kill him in front of his father? Was his father going to allow his child to be murdered before him? Was the Dark Side that powerful? Powerful enough to obliterate all traces of compassion and good in a person? Everything that made him who and what he was?
His ragged, laboured breathing sounded deafening in the silence of the apartment, in the oppressive silence of the night. He turned his head to the window, desperate for some light. Only the faintest glow filtered through the paper thin spaces between the closed blinders, making them look like bars on a cage.
Throwing the bedcovers aside, he swung his legs off the bed and remained sitting there, unmoving for several minutes. Finally, he rose to his feet unsteadily and felt his way out of the room.
His legs appeared to know where to take him, and soon enough he found himself on the veranda. He stood there, by the fountain, watching the city lights, the skyscrapers, the speeders zooming back and forth. A beautiful sight, that did nothing to assuage his fears, the ever growing sense of dread.
Was his father’s soul truly forfeit in his Time? Was he hoping for the impossible? Seeing what he wanted to see? Were his love and his need blinding him to what was glaringly evident to everybody else? Was this young man who’d sheltered him in his home already doomed, and the entire galaxy with him?
Luke collapsed on the armrest of the couch, feeling defeat eat at his very marrow.
‘You can’t be lost to me, Father. You can’t! There’s too much love inside you for your hatred to be stronger. Hate burns fast and leaves only devastation in its path. I know you know this! I know you’d come back if you could! If you thought there is still hope, I know you would return! Please, Father, it can’t be too late for you!’
Gradually, the four small disk-shaped lamps on the armrests began to glow, casting a soft light around that warmed him.
“Excuse me. I didn’t know you were here.”
Luke closed his eyes, quietly pulling himself together.
‘Oh, Father, do you have any idea what it means to me to just hear your voice? The gift that it is to be able to talk to you, to be with you? Will you ever know how much I cried, how much I prayed for... this? Just having this?’
He felt his father padding barefoot to him, until he stopped right behind his back.
“I needed some fresh air. To get my mind off... some things,” Anakin said.
“I can feel how agitated and on edge you are,” Luke said, eyes fixed straight ahead.
“Did my... agitation wake you up?” Anakin walked up beside him. Luke felt the black robe brush against his shoulder.
“No,” Luke shook his head. “I had some... nightmares of my own.”
Anakin turned his head to look at him. He opened himself to the young man’s Force presence and once again, it slammed against him with a strength he’d never known before. With the same uncanny sense of peace, homecoming and complete acceptance.
‘My goodness, who are you? How can you make me feel like this? Why do I feel like... like you are a part of me?’
“I’m sorry,” he sympathized out loud. “I know what it’s like.”
Luke nodded, abstracted.
“Have your dreams ever come true?” he asked out of the blue.
Anakin raised one eyebrow ironically.
“It’s been known to happen once or twice.”
The bitterness in his voice brought Luke out of his hazy thoughts.
“And did you do something about it?” he asked again, turning his head to the motionless man next to him.
“Yes,” there was a brief, pain-filled silence. “Unsuccessfully.”
Luke’s eyes fell closed.
“Whom did you lose?” his question came out as a statement pregnant with sorrow.
“My mother,” Anakin looked down. “Tusken raiders kidnapped her and tortured her for weeks. She died in my arms.”
Luke squeezed back tears.
His grandmother. Shmi Skywalker. The name written on the tombstone before which he’d mourned both, mother and son. Even if his father had never been buried there.
“I wiped out the Tusken village after that.” Part of Anakin wondered why he was talking about it... again. Why he was sharing an episode of his life that shamed him so deeply. When he had discovered a side of himself he never wanted to see again.
And yet, he had. Not too long ago.
Suddenly restless, he moved forward, leaving Luke staring at his back.
“Men, women, children. Everyone paid for it.”
“And all for nothing, wasn’t it?” there was no judgment or condemnation in Luke’s words. Only understanding.
“Not quite,” Anakin smiled self-deprecatingly. “A part of me died there too. I... disgraced myself as a person and as a Jedi. That night, I found out there’s a darkness inside me that frightens me more than anything in the universe. I saw what I’m capable of... and it disgusts me.” The tall form shuddered and the wide shoulders drooped in defeat.
Luke reached out his hand, and when it was about to touch his father’s arm, he brought it back.
“We all have that... beast inside us. And it’s terrifying to meet it face to face. But there’s a lesson to be learned from it as well. The line that we must never cross, no matter what. Or the beast will consume us.”
Anakin nodded at Luke’s words, feeling as if they had been made for him and only him.
That sweet, gentle young man was the most luminous and compelling source of Light he’d ever encountered. The poignant wisdom in everything he said that screamed he was talking from personal experience, resonated with him like an echo of his own soul.
He couldn’t talk to anyone the way he could talk to that young Jedi from the future. Not Yoda, who projected the bearing of someone who’s always right about absolutely everything, beyond the frailties of Human nature, and something as human as doubt. And sadly, not Obi-Wan. He’d been so close to telling him about his secret in the past three years! But ultimately, he knew that his friend and master wouldn’t understand either. Their outlook on the Force and how it should be... lived and experienced couldn’t differ more. In some ways, in many ways, he was still an outsider. The slave boy they’d reluctantly agreed to train, and who still had to prove himself every step of the way.
What did they want from him? What was expected of him? No one tried harder than him. No one was harder on himself than he was. What did he have to do to show them he was worthy? What would it take for them to finally accept him as one of them?
The turmoil in his father’s spirit hit Luke in a wave of heartbreaking, harrowing disappointment and loss. He seemed to be falling apart at the seams, and responding viscerally to that silent cry for comfort, his hand completed the gesture this time and squeezed the muscled arm in wordless support.
“What’s hurting you so?” he ventured to ask, appealing to their blood bond, albeit his father didn’t know it existed. “What’s this sadness, this... wall you’ve put up between yourself and the others?”
Anakin hung his head low and shook it resignedly.
“Please... Anakin,” Luke entreated desperately.
‘Father,’ his heart implored.
For the life of him, Anakin couldn’t tell what it was. The darkness of the night, the inviting quiet out there, something higher and deeper. The Force. Whatever. He just couldn’t resist this voice that called on to him so intimately, like not even Padme could. No, not even his beloved wife.
Denying this young man was like denying his very flesh.
“The Jedi don’t trust me... and I fear I can’t trust them either. Not after today.”
That’s what was so special about Luke, Anakin suddenly realized. Any other person would be scandalized. How could he say such an ugly thing about the Order? About his brothers and sisters, with whom he’d been raised? In a way, he was also scandalized by his words, but that didn’t change the fact that that’s exactly how he felt.
And this young man, maybe because of where he came from, because he wasn’t biased against or in favour of anyone, or simply because that was his nature, limited himself to ask a single question. No criticism or disapproval, just wanting to know why.
It was so easy to talk to him that it didn’t feel like a courtesy, but a gift they were giving him.
“They denied me the rank of master, but accepted me on the Council in order to spy on the Chancellor. So much for diplomacy and morality,” Anakin snorted in sheer revulsion.
So today had been the day.
‘We weren’t proud of our actions either, but the then Chancellor Palpatine was amassing an incredible amount of power in the Senate, and stayed in office long after his term expired. Something was clearly out of place, but to Anakin it was just treason, something that went against the Jedi Code.’
Now Luke had access to Anakin’s side of the story, and everything began to make sense at last. From Anakin’s point of view, his resentment was justified; and what’s more, Luke was getting a glimpse of a more profound, underlying issue: the Council’s distrust in his father, as it became transparent in their refusal to make him a master. Anakin was aware that he was being used, and along with the feeling of humiliation and outrage, a lifetime of rock-hard beliefs and teachings was being put to the test, after being shown so graphically that principles could be bypassed when convenient.
Anakin was getting mixed signs that were turning him into a time bomb.
Still, there was something missing. There had to be something else. What would ultimately make his father go off?
“I didn’t know there were two sides here,” Anakin’s spirits seemed to abandon him all of a sudden. “I... I don’t know what to believe anymore. Who do I trust now?”
“Reach out with your feelings,” was Luke’s spontaneous answer. “Leave aside your pride and personal interests, and turn to that place inside you that you still keep safe from all the horror and evil you’ve caused and witnessed. Deep down, you know what’s fair and just. Forgive people’s faults and try to see with more than your eyes.”
Anakin turned his head and contemplated him with glittery eyes.
“Do you still think that something good could come out of all this?”
“Absolutely,” there was unequivocal conviction in Luke’s voice. “Find your calm centre and let it lead you to the truth. The salvation of the Republic could rest in your hands.”
Something seemed to fuse in Anakin’s head then.
“The Republic doesn’t need to be saved! It needs to be protected from the Separatists and insurgents who started this carnage!” he exclaimed indignantly.
Luke grasped his father’s shoulders and whipped him around to face him fully.
“Anakin, just like people, systems go astray too! And by refusing to see it you're not serving any good purpose, only perpetuating the problem. Sometimes, people must take action and set things straight.” He released his father and finished in a calmer tone. “Surely, you must have known this even before the Clone Wars started.”
‘I don’t think the system works.’
His own words to Padme years before resounded in Anakin’s mind loud and clear, as if he’d just pronounced them. His face flushed with embarrassment.
“Are you saying that the Republic is not a valid system?” he felt they were sidestepping the issue and not getting to the crux of the matter.
Luke raised his eyes to the sky.
“Good heavens, no! It's not the system that's the problem, but the people running it. What if... What if the Sith Lord you've been looking for isn't lurking in the shadows, but hiding in plain sight? Maybe as a politician, a Senator, pulling the strings and using you all like puppets?”
Luke knew he was revealing too much, although his father had no way to know. He didn’t want to influence Anakin’s line of thinking, but he feared he just might have done so.
Anakin’s eyes went huge.
“What... what did you say?”
He’d definitely talked too much, Luke acknowledged with boundless regret.
“You must consider all the possibilities, Anakin. All of them, not only the ones inside your comfort zone,” he advised, locking eyes with his father.
After a moment of deep staring, the two young men drew apart, exhausted by the intense verbal sparring they’d just had.
“Forgive me,” Luke whispered hoarsely after a minute, looking into the distance. “I have no right to question the world you live in. This isn’t my Time, and I know nothing about the intricacies of...”
“No,” Anakin interrupted him, his voice sounding just as hoarse. “You’re right. There *are* things I never thought to consider, and you just opened my eyes,” he wrapped his arms around himself as if a freezing breeze had settled in his soul. “Would you please leave me alone now? I... I need to meditate.”
Luke hesitated. He could feel how shaken his father was after their conversation, and something in him simply refused to leave him alone with his thoughts.
“A-are you sure?” he asked, biting the inside of his mouth. “It’s late and...”
Anakin turned his head. Incredibly, there was a little smile on his lips.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I have no duties tomorrow, and I can afford to sleep late. We’ll spend the day together,” the smile on the full lips widened genuinely.
Luke’s heart sang with a pure, childlike happiness he had never known.
“I will love to spend the day with you,” his cheeks reddened with joy.
Anakin laughed softly despite himself.
“The pleasure will be mine, little one,” he reached out and ruffled Luke’s hair fondly. Just then, he realized what he’d just said and done and pulled back, blushing to the roots of his hair. “I’m sorry! I don’t know what made me...”
“I’m not offended,” Luke said with sparkling eyes, “big guy,” he mock punched Anakin’s upper arm.
Anakin laughed again, giving up trying to understand the reason why that young man made him feel so alive and at peace with himself.
He watched Luke walk back inside the apartment with a growing feeling of anxiety. Somehow, he didn’t want to see him go.
“Luke,” he called from somewhere deep within.
Luke stopped in his tracks and turned about.
“Thank you,” Anakin said, meaning it with every fiber of his being.
The youthful face brightened joyously.
“Thank *you*, my friend,” Luke replied, making Anakin feel as if he had been blessed with the most precious gift in the universe.
Once alone, the young Jedi turned his attention to the city lights, seeking the soothing effect they used to have on him. The speeders flew back and forth, like small living creatures, moving at a lesser speed than during the day. His gaze shifted to the fountain, finding comfort in the sight and sound of the flowing water.
Luke had given him a lot to think about, no doubt about it. Clinging to the fading warmth of the young man who’d stood beside him, he allowed his thoughts to wander, using Luke’s words as a beacon unconsciously.
‘Find your calm centre and let it lead you to the truth.’
The truth. What was the Truth here? One truth was that the Republic and everything he believed in was falling apart like a house of cards. Naively, he’d thought that a good and fair system could survive anything, but now it was becoming evident that more and more cracks were appearing in that apparently impeccable façade.
It seemed impossible, almost anathema, that the Republic might be sheltering the seed of its own destruction. But when he thought about it... how could such a war be sustained for so many years, unless... unless someone was anticipating their movements, even manipulating them, waiting for the moment to take over?
Anakin’s blood ran cold in his veins. For such a scheme to have any chance of success, the traitor had to lurk in the very core of the Republic, perhaps the Senate itself, as Luke had suggested. A Senator, or someone from their closest group of advisors. Someone with access and power.
And the Jedi? Where did they fit in all this? Were they mere pawns or...? His blood seethed now at the thought of the act of treason they’d asked him to commit. Spying on the Chancellor! One of the very few who’d bothered to relate to him as a normal person, with problems, worries, dreams and hopes. Someone who listened to him and offered sincere advice. One of the few constants in his life, where nothing had ever stayed for long.
Padme! His angel!
Again, the memory of his nightmares was enough to annihilate all veneer of balance. He felt like he was standing on quicksands. Was there no solid ground for his tired soul to find some measure of security? He’d tried so hard to meditate and find answers in the Force! And all he could see was Padme’s face contorted in pain, over and over, begging him to help her as her lifeforce slipped away.
Control had become an illusion. He felt he was being buffeted around, pulled in a dozen different directions; and he was starting to break.
‘Find your calm centre.’
‘Your calm centre.’
‘My calm centre are Padme and the baby,’ Anakin replied to the voice in his head that surprisingly sounded like Luke’s. ‘How will I deal with a possible traitor in the Senate, a Jedi Council that’s proving to be as conniving and manipulative as the most rotten politician, and the prospect of losing everything I love?’
With a moan, he covered his face with his hands.
‘Force, help me! I’m losing myself! I’m losing it all!’
‘Try to see with more than your eyes.’
‘More than your eyes.’
He was bone weary, drained inside. He would go mad if he continued like this.
Giving up, he walked back into the apartment, aching for the only thing that made him feel safe and anchored.
He slid into bed carefully, spooning up behind his sleeping wife and wrapping his long arms around her protruding belly, cradling it in his hands, craving the feel of his child as it kicked against his palms.
‘Grow healthy and strong, my little angel,’ he sent mentally to the fetus. ‘For I can’t bear the thought of living without you.’
Burying his face in Padme’s thick, fragrant hair, Anakin fell asleep in sheer exhaustion.
The following morning, Anakin woke up with a splitting headache. Checking the time, he saw that it was just past breakfast time. That didn’t really pose a problem, but as a person of fixed habits it made him feel uncomfortable.
With a small groan, he forced himself to get out of bed, remembering how Padme had whispered into his ear to sleep for as long as he needed as she stroked his hair just before she left. In the midst of his discomfort, he smiled at the memory.
He stopped by the bathroom for a quick wash and, barechested, headed for the kitchen.
He heard the muffled sounds of a conversation going on inside, and when he walked in, he found Luke washing his breakfast dishes, while Threepio argued that the dishwashing machine could do it. Artoo watched the scene making low raspberry noises that resembled a snigger all too much.
Anakin’s eyes settled instantly on the young man. For once, Luke wasn’t wearing his austere black attire but the navy blue pajama bottoms he had given him, folded up around the ankles, and his own cream-coloured sleeveless undershirt, that revealed strong and muscular arms and torso. His unusual, stark Jedi clothes had managed to hide a really impressive physique.
Luke turned his head when he felt him enter, and his face cheered up.
“Good morning,” he greeted.
“Good morning,” he greeted back, strangely moved by how young and... vulnerable his friend looked. With his blond hair all disheveled from sleep he looked like a teenager, especially when Anakin gazed into those crystal eyes that observed him so contentedly and almost with... gratitude?
Something in him went out to those eyes, to that gentle heart that seemed to speak to him in a language only he could understand.
“Did you sleep well?” Luke asked kindly.
Anakin made a grimace.
“I slept. Let’s leave it at that.”
Luke’s eyes softened, and Anakin smiled poignantly as he walked up to the table and sat at it.
“Do you want juice, milk or anything?” Luke asked.
“No, no,” Anakin shook his head, picking up a small Corellian apple from the bowl on the table. “I’m never hungry after waking up.” He started peeling it lazily with a knife.
Luke didn’t insist and dried his hands.
“Have you been up for long?” Anakin asked conversationally.
“Half an hour at most,” Luke replied, coming to sit beside him.
There was a companionable silence while Anakin concentrated on peeling the piece of fruit and Luke watched him quietly.
The young man’s attention was inevitably captured by his father’s mechanical forearm. He examined it with a blending of grief and curiosity.
Feeling eyes on him, he looked up, meeting Anakin’s bittersweet smile.
“I’m very sorry,” he uttered from the bottom of his soul.
Anakin put down the apple and the knife.
“It’s all right. It happened almost four years ago,” he flexed his fingers. “It’s a part of me now.”
Luke nodded, flexing his own bionic hand surreptitiously under the table.
“I’m very sorry about yours too.”
Luke’s head snapped up with a start.
“What do you mean?”
In answer, Anakin reached down and took Luke’s right hand in his own. With what could only be described as reverence, he took off the black glove, revealing the broken synthskin on the back of it and the micromachinery beneath.
“I saw it when we undressed you after you crashed,” he admitted apologetically.
Luke closed his eyes.
“A blaster shot?”
“Yes,” Luke nodded, looking away.
Anakin studied the artificial hand for a few seconds, and his insides twisted into a knot.
“How long since it happened?” he asked thickly.
“A few months,” Luke replied matter-of-factly.
The straightforward answer didn’t fool Anakin for a minute. Impelled by a feeling that wouldn’t be denied, his hand moved of its own accord and began to caress the broken skin tenderly.
Luke turned his head when he felt his father caressing his hand. He looked down at their joined hands, rendered speechless by the depth and purity of Anakin’s compassion.
“I’m so sorry,” Anakin murmured mournfully, squeezing Luke’s fingers with fierce intensity. Somehow, seeing a reflection of his own mutilation in Luke’s flesh was more physically and emotionally painful than his own mutilation ever was.
There was something about that youth... and himself. Something that bound them together for all eternity.
“It’s all right,” Luke echoed Anakin’s words. And it was. For the first time since that unspeakable moment on Bespin, Luke made peace with his amputation, his father, and himself. ‘I forgive you, Father. I will always forgive you.’
Swallowing the lump in their throats simultaneously, the two young men’s eyes sought each other.
“This gives me hope, though,” Anakin’s light-hearted tone surprised them both.
“Hope?” Luke croaked.
“Yes.” Anakin’s eyes turned impish. “‘Cause this means that in a few years into the future, I’ll be able to get a prosthetic like yours,” he winked at him.
Luke let out a short, helpless laugh, shaking his head. He acknowledged his father’s need to tone down the level of emotion between them with a nod, letting him know it was all right.
Anakin nodded back, still holding Luke’s hand between both of his, reluctant to let it go.
“So, what could we do?” he asked lively. “We’ve got the rest of the morning and the entire afternoon.”
“I usually meditate and talk to Threepio,” he said. “Time flies when you feel at home.”
There was a brief pause, while the two young men conveyed a universe of emotion through their eyes.
“Oh, don’t be so modest,” Anakin smiled slyly. “You also make certain that your hosts don’t get ripped off.”
“Excuse me?” Luke arched his eyebrows interrogatively.
“Threepio told us what you did yesterday, when the bricklayers tried to get away with putting the wrong blocks,” there was sheer affection in those extraordinarily expressive eyes.
“Oh, that,” Luke shrugged again nonchalantly. “I merely reminded the man in charge of the benefits of having a satisfied customer.”
“I’m sure you did,” Anakin fired a grin of pure mischief. “And tell me: did you remind him or did you ‘remind’ him?”
Luke bit back the smile that threatened to break out.
“Ahhh, I... ‘reminded’ him,” he conceded at last, allowing the smile to spread across his face.
“That’s my boy!” Anakin patted the back of Luke’s hand triumphantly with a loud laugh before releasing it. He jumped to his feet. “I’m gonna change. After that, we could meditate together, spar or anything you want. What do you say?” he threw over his shoulder, on his way to the door.
“Fine by me,” Luke replied, awestruck by the spring in his father’s step. His enthusiasm was contagious. “Hey!” he called.
Anakin stopped by the door and turned around to look at him.
Luke reached over and took the peeled apple on the plate.
“Don’t forget your breakfast,” he threw the apple at him.
Anakin caught it in mid-air, looked at it and then at Luke with a raised eyebrow. Next, he smiled broadly and left the kitchen giving the apple a big bite.
He was halfway through the living room when it struck him.
The headache was gone.
TO BE CONTINUED...