The 'F' Word

Chapter 6

Padme couldn’t take her eyes off her husband and their young guest. She didn’t need the Force to know that something was going on. They were strangely morose, introspective. They weren’t at odds with each other; in fact, it was quite the opposite. They seemed so attuned to one another that the look in their eyes, the expression on their faces was a mirror of each other.

‘So alike. So similar. They look like brothers!’ she thought for the umpteenth time.

She could only guess at what had happened today; but she did know that something resonated profoundly between them. A unity, a harmony of the heart and the soul that was uncanny to watch. And they were totally unaware of it. There they were, lost in a world of their own, and yet it felt like an umbilical cord stretched between them, keeping them together despite everything. Or maybe because of it.

Her hand went instinctively to her belly, and she caressed it. For some reason, the baby always became restless in Luke’s presence. Maybe it was due to the fact that the young Jedi didn’t belong in their time, and somehow the fetus could feel it and reacted to it. It wasn’t Anakin Skywalker’s child for nothing.

Just then, Luke’s eyes met hers and the most heartbreaking, sorrowful smile crossed his lips. Her heart skipped a beat in her chest as she experienced the most disconcerting, almost disturbing feeling of deja vu.

‘I know this young man. I *should* know him!’ her mind cried out. ‘And I’m a fool, an idiot for not recognizing him! WHY?! This is insane!’

As if in answer, a strong hand held hers. She’d know that touch everywhere. Anywhere. In life and in death. She turned her head to those fathomless eyes, and in them she saw the same confusion, the same frustration of feeling, but not knowing.

After dinner, they sat in the living room and enjoyed a light-hearted conversation, but Padme could tell that neither Anakin nor Luke’s spirits were there. Not fully. Their minds were elsewhere. She shook her head and looked down. She had seen Anakin in that state once or twice before, but seeing Luke like that opened her eyes again to what being a Jedi meant and entailed. They could sense and feel things beyond her reach, beyond her comprehension. That made them different from everybody else, and more vulnerable in a way.

She’d encouraged her husband to talk to Obi-Wan about the things he couldn’t discuss with her for her sheer lack of understanding of the matter, but Anakin refused most of the time. She knew it wasn’t their secret that held Anakin back. Even among the Jedi, Anakin was different. And whatever he was looking for, whatever he needed, it was beyond her abilities and his fellow Jedi’s to provide.

The baby kicked her stomach hard, and taking a deep breath, she brought her hand down again and caresed it for a moment.

‘I know you’ll give your father everything he needs. He’s so out of his depth, so alone with his thoughts and fears...’ she spoke mentally to her child. ‘He’ll finally have someone to talk to. The one who will truly understand him, like...’

Her eyes turned to Luke automatically, and her heart skipped another beat.

‘...Like him,’ some part of her completed the thought.

And she knew what she had to do.

Rising to her feet slowly, she put her empty glass on the oval table in front of them. Luke and Anakin quickly followed suit.

“Is everything all right?” Anakin stood in front of her protectively. She could feel his anxiety like a dark undertone of foreboding.

“Yes,” she smiled. “But I think I’m going to lie down for a little while.”

“Then...”

Padme placed her fingertips over his lips, silencing him. She stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek lovingly, hiding her face from Luke’s shy eyes, that were already looking away respectfully, giving them the privacy their exchange was crying out.

“Talk to him,” she whispered into his ear. “He can help you,” she looked up at him and smiled again softly.

Something moved behind Anakin’s eyes, and nodding in acceptance, he took her face in his hands and kissed her intensely.

“I love you,” he breathed against her lips, kissing them again.

When they separated, Anakin settled one hand on her swollen belly passionately.

“I love you both,” he spoke to his child, in words and thought.

Luke turned about, closing his eyes and biting his lips.

‘I know, Father. I know!’ he answered with all his heart.

He felt his mother walking up to him and he turned to face her, forcing a tremulous smile.

She reached out her hand to him, and taking it in his reverently, he bowed his head and kissed the back of it.

“Have a quiet rest,” he said wistfully, tipping his head to one side.

She nodded, giving him a searching look. Overflowing with affection all of a sudden, she bent forward impulsively and kissed his cheek.

Luke blinked back tears, praying for his mother not to notice.

The two young men watched her go, and then Luke walked over to the wall-wide window, fixing his gaze on the hundreds of speeders fluttering about in perfect lines like Ylesian dragonflies.

Anakin joined him.

“She’s not too subtle sometimes,” he smiled bashfully, staring out as well.

“Especially for a Senator,” Luke commented fondly.

Anakin chuckled to himself, remembering one or two instances of his wife’s less-than-senatorial behaviour while dealing with a situation.

“Still, I bet that’s one of the reasons why you love her,” Luke dared to say, knowing he was right.

Anakin remained silent for a few seconds.

“She’s everything to me. Everything.

Luke’s eyes dropped closed. It hurt. Oh, Force, it hurt!

He held back a shudder when a warm hand rested on his shoulder.

“I thank the Force for having you here. You have no idea how much I’ve yearned for... a friend. Another Force-sensitive I could talk to about all the doubts, and questions, and secrets I could never share with anyone. Not even my own master.” Anakin sighed in resignation. “If only for a few days – when I needed it most – I have been granted that wish. It’ll give me the strength I need to do... what must be done.”

Luke’s blood froze with dread.

“And what does that mean, exactly?” he asked in a deceptively neutral tone of voice.

“Whatever’s necessary,” was the chilling answer. “I will not lose her.”

The most terrifying notion dawned on Luke at that. Could his presence be the catalyst for his father’s turn? The time paradoxes and their implications would be too mind-boggling to even begin to contemplate them. He had tried so hard to be careful! He’d meditated over and over, and he’d never received the barest hint that such could be the case.

But he had no way to know for sure.

He was convinced that he had been thrown back in time for a reason, a good reason, that the Force would reveal in its own good time. Until then, what was the right thing to do?

“Let me tell you something,” the spontaneous words took him by surprise, but he didn’t stop to question them. “A few months ago, I had a vision that my three best friends had been... captured,” he ground his teeth at the ugly memory and the chain of events it had unleashed. “They were tortured and I could feel their pain. I had to go to them.” He looked down in shame and took one step forward, disengaging Anakin’s hand from his shoulder. “My master advised me to complete my training first, but I wouldn’t listen. I feared they would die, and I couldn’t just do nothing. I had to help them!” he turned his head to Anakin, needing some sort of forgiveness, of understanding of his impatience and recklesness that so much had cost him.

And Anakin’s eyes offered them in spades, with an emphatic nod.

“So, I abandoned my training and rushed to their side. And do know know what happened?” his eyes filled with tears of self-disgust. “They managed to escape on their own. They even had to come back and rescue me. My actions didn’t change anything. I lost my hand, I almost lost myself and my sanity, and I accomplished nothing.” He looked away and wiped the tears away angrily.

“Are you saying that I have to sit back and do nothing to save Padme?” There was a mixture of outrage and trepidation in Anakin’s voice.

Luke turned around and gave Anakin the saddest look the young Jedi had ever seen.

“All I’m saying is that we must learn to control our passions, because it’s impossible to think coherently when they have us in their grip. Rushing to help my friends was the biggest mistake I ever made, and I paid for it.” His expression hardened unexpectedly. “But believe me, it could have been much worse.”

The dark look in the beautiful blue eyes made Anakin start back, as the image of the masked Sith Lord who had maimed Luke appeared in his mind’s eye.

‘Join me and I will complete your training.’


Anakin’s eyes bulged when he realized the danger that Luke had faced that day. That monster had his friend’s life in his hands, literally. Not only his life, but his soul as well.

No. It was impossible! No matter how great the temptation was, Luke would never turn! He had said earlier that his young friend was beyond the darkest nuances of Human emotion, and he still believed it firmly.

Luke and he were so alike in so many things... but this was one aspect of their personalities where they were completely different. It was hard to admit, but Luke was intrinsically purer and better than he was. Even hanging on the edge of the abyss, Luke would find the strength and the courage to step back and do the right thing.

Could he say the same?

Thoroughly disheartened, he walked away and leaned his body against the window frame.

“What’s the point of our visions, then?” he asked in utter dejection.

Luke nodded bitterly. That was the question he’d been asking himself all this time.

“Maybe...” his eyes wandered all around, “...maybe they act as a reminder that despite our abilities and powers, we’re no better than the others. Being strong in the Force gives us an advantage, but it doesn’t make us all-powerful. We’re still imperfect and fallible, and we must learn to use our gifts wisely, for the responsibility we bear is greater.”

Anakin turned to him brusquely.

“In that case, our visions do have a purpose! We must find that wisdom within ourselves and...”

“Excuse me,” the urgency in Padme’s voice put an abrupt stop to their conversation.

“What is it?” Anakin asked earnestly, approaching his wife in long strides.

“I just received a transmission from the Chancellor. He’s been looking for you,” her eyes were eager. “He wants to meet you immediately.”

Luke broke into a cold sweat. The pestilent shadow he had managed to keep at bay broke through his defences, so determined to have his father, to complete the seduction that had been years in the making and was so close now to coming to fruition. His stomach churned, and he sat down on the couch as calmly as he could, fighting back the rising wave of nausea.

Oblivious to it, Anakin went into action.

“Where?”

“He’s at the Galaxies Opera House, attending a performance,” Padme said. “He’s waiting for you at his private box.”

Anakin’s excitement was apparent.

“It must be important indeed if he wants to see me at this late hour. Let’s hope it’s good news, for a change,” he turned his head to Luke. “Please, take care of her. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” And with a quick kiss to Padme’s forehead, he left at a run.

Padme stared after her husband, worrying at her lips, deep in thought. Sighing softly, she turned to their gentle guest, noticing instantly the unhealthy pallor on his face and his hunched posture on the couch.

“Luke!” she exclaimed, hurrying to sit beside him. She put her hand on his cheek, and jumped when she felt the cold, clammy skin. “What’s wrong? Are you ill?”

Pulling himself together, Luke raised his eyes to his mother’s with a forlorn smile. He lifted a slightly trembling hand and held hers.

“I think I’m the one who needs to lie down for a little while now,” he whispered to her with an ironically arched eyebrow.

Padme stood up.

“I’ll go with you,” she offered resolutely.

“Please don’t,” Luke asked. “I can manage.”

Padme gazed down at him, exasperation written all over her features.

“Look, I don’t care about changing history, altering the space-time continuum and all that hokum. I’m going to call a doctor,” she insisted. “You’ve been getting sick on and off since you got here and...” she trailed off, realizing what her words implied.

Luke nodded to her knowingly, pressing her false assumption home.

“There’s nothing any doctor can do,” he told her softly. “It’s my being here that’s causing this,” he shook his head, unable to get over the fact that in a way, his words were absolutely true. He met her eyes apologetically. “I’m sorry I can’t take care of you like he asked me...”

“Don’t be silly. I’m pregnant, not ill,” Padme squeezed the cold fingers comfortingly. “But if you don’t get better in a few minutes, you must let me know. All right?”

“All right,” Luke agreed, feeling his chest twist into a knot. Force, he couldn’t stand this. He couldn’t!

Standing up with a supreme effort, Luke released the small hand that vibrated with such inner strength and solicitousness.

‘Oh, Mother! What would I give to feel your touch once more!’

Focusing entirely on the short journey to the guest room, he all but collapsed on the bed. He kicked off his slippers and lay onto his side facing away from the door, burying his face in the pillow, grateful for the dark.

It was so close! Preying on him, on her, on the Republic’s last hours, so certain of himself and his victory... The shroud of Darkness thickened and suffocated everything. He could feel it sucking out his lifeforce drop by drop.

He had to leave here before it consumed him completely. What had begun as an excuse turned out to be deathly accurate. His very life was in danger.

There was nothing else he could do. He’d learned everything he needed to know. It was time for him to return home and fulfil his Destiny. His unwavering resolve to save his father had doubled after getting to know Anakin Skywalker, the man. Flawed and imperfect, yes, but also with an immeasurable capacity for love and compassion.

He would rekindle the love surviving in his father’s heart. He would honour the promise he had made to Ben before leaving Dagobah. He would never give up on this man’s soul.

The swooshing sound of the door opening brought him out of his musings. Delicate footsteps neared the bed.

Mother!

“How’re you feeling?” Padme asked tenderly, placing the back of her hand on his cheek.

“I’m better.”

“The cold sweat’s gone, thank heavens,” Padme nodded to herself, vastly relieved. She reached down, grabbed the bedspread at the foot of the bed and covered Luke with it. “If you feel sick again, just call me.” She slid her fingers through his hair maternally.

“You should rest also,” Luke reminded her, swallowing the hard lump in his throat.

“Who’s taking care of who here?” Padme chided him fondly. There was no explanation for the emotions Luke elicited in her. Such fierce feelings of protection! “Sleep now. Everything will be better in the morning,” she reassured him as if he were a small child.

“Good night,” Luke whispered, drinking from the fading sensation on his scalp, where his mother had caressed him. “Thank you.” A solitary tear rolled down his face and fell on the pillow.

“Good night, Luke,” Padme whispered back. And with a final caress to his forehead, she left as quietly as she entered.

The young Jedi brought his fisted hand to his mouth and bit on it, cursing his helplessness. With tears pouring from his eyes in rivulets, he drifted off.




‘Anakin, you know I’m not able to rely on the Jedi Council. If they haven’t included you in their plot, they soon will.’

‘I’m not sure I understand.’

‘You must sense what I have come to suspect. The Jedi Council want control of the Republic. They’re planning to betray me.’

‘I don’t think...'

‘Anakin, search your feelings. You *know*, don’t you?’


‘I know they don’t trust you.’

‘Or the Senate, or the Republic, or Democracy for that matter.’

‘I have to admit, my trust in them has been shaken.’


‘Why? They asked you to do something that made you feel dishonest, didn’t they? They asked you to spy on me, didn’t they?’

‘I don’t, ah... I don’t know what to say.’

‘Remember back to your early teachings. All who gain power are afraid to lose it, even the Jedi.’


‘The Jedi use their power for good.’

‘Good is a point of view, Anakin. The Sith and the Jedi are similar in almost every way. Including their quest for greater power.’

‘The Sith rely on their passion for their strength. They think inwards, only about themselves.’

‘And the Jedi don’t?’


‘The Jedi are selfless, they only care about others.’

‘Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise?’

‘No.’


‘I thought not. It’s not a story the Jedi would tell you. It’s a Sith legend. Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith. So powerful and so wise he could use the Force to influence the midichlorians to create life. He had such a knowledge of the Dark Side he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.’




“NO!”


Luke jumped out of bed, sick and trembling like never before. He began to pace the room aimlessly, frenetically, back and forth, twisting his hands, almost hyperventilating. Finally, he stopped and leaned his head on the wall, hitting his forehead against it repeatedly. Time and time again.

The monster! The conniving, treacherous, deceitful monster!

How did he know? How did he find out?

Those questions didn’t seem to matter any longer. The only thing that mattered was the precise, faultless trap Palpatine had set up for his father. He had discovered and nurtured Anakin’s weak spots all these years, and now he would ripe what he had patiently, painstakingly sowed.

He had made certain that his father would suspect everyone in the Jedi Council, even Obi-Wan. He had effectively burned Anakin’s bridges so he had no one he could trust. He had used to his advantage the Council’s own shady manoeuvres to bypass his authority to make him look like the cornered, blameless party.

And now he had delivered the final blow that would seal his father’s destiny. He had presented the Dark Side as Anakin’s only hope to save his beloved wife.

It couldn’t be. It was a plan too perfect in its simplicity, the way the Chancellor had played them all like clueless pieces on a board that never stood a chance.

Shakingly feeling his way in the dark, Luke sought the comfort of a wider space. The door opened before him and he ventured out into the corridor that led to the living room.

He didn’t feel any better there. The Darkness encompassed it all. He couldn’t stop trembling and shivering. An unnatural fear penetrated into his very bones.

Tired to the marrow, he stopped in front of the massive windows that overlooked the planet-city whose horizon seemed to stretch on to eternity.

It wasn’t enough. He needed more space to move, to walk, to breathe. He took one little step forward and the crystal slid open, as if inviting him into the semicircular balcony. He walked out and looked around, taking in the busy life of that world, even at night.

He felt so small, so insignificant! Here he was, a time-traveller, a humble Jedi learner who had accomplished a feat unheard of, at least that he knew of, and he could only watch and despair at what he was witnessing.

No hope at all. No hope whatsoever for his father, for his mother, and for the millions who would die in the following decades. The Force offered no solace, no answers, not even the tiniest sign of what he should not do.

“Oh, you’re still up!”

Luke stiffened in shock. His father’s return had gone totally unnoticed by him! So distraught he was that his connection with the Force had actually weakened. It was scary to realize to what point fear could numb his senses and make him lose touch with the reality around him.

And in a sudden moment of inspiration, he understood that such was the state of mind his father lived in since he had first dreamed of Padme dying in childbirth. Unknowingly, he was disconnecting himself from his deeper feelings and perceptions, making it even easier for Palpatine to trick him.

Anakin walked up beside him, relaxing immediately in Luke’s presence.

“I have good news.”

“Really?” Luke asked ironically.

“Yes. Who would have thought, huh?” Anakin smiled at Luke’s scepticism. “A clone intelligence unit have discovered the location of General Grievous in the Utapau system. We just took a giant step closer to putting an end to this war.”

‘Another pawn Palpatine is sacrificing in order to get the biggest prize of all,’ Luke thought resignedly.

“Will you take up the assignment?” he asked instead.

“The Chancellor thinks I’m the best choice for the job, and I would be delighted to put that monster out of commission personally,” Anakin said. “But I don’t think the Council will approve. They’ll probably send Obi-Wan. And just this once, I agree with them. I much rather stay here until...” he took a deep breath and sighed loudly.

Luke’s back went rigid and he withdrew into himself instinctively. He didn’t mean to do it, but he couldn’t help it.

Anakin turned his head, feeling Luke’s retreat. From him.

“What is it?” he asked worriedly. Luke’s withdrawal hurt.

Luke half-turned to him.

“May I ask you a question? A... painful one?” his voice sounded so mournful.

“Yes,” Anakin nodded.

“Your vision of M-Padme...” Luke began clumsily, “...do you actually see her die?”

A profound shudder passed through Anakin’s body at the verbalization of his worst nightmare. He closed his eyes at the images that assaulted him.

“I see her crying out in pain. She begs me to help her, and I can feel her lifeforce slipping away,” he shook his head sharply, wanting to get rid of the flashes that wouldn’t stop haunting him night and day.

Luke nodded to himself.

“Why?” Anakin asked with a raspy voice.

“I...” Luke sighed softly. “I just remembered how it was with my vision.”

“You felt your friends’ pain and thought they would die. But they didn’t,” Anakin said.

Luke nodded.

There was a single instant of doubt in Anakin’s mind.

“But the fact that such was the case in your vision doesn’t mean it’s the same with mine,” he argued. “I must know for sure, or do everything in my power to prevent it from happening.”

Luke’s eyes dropped closed. Fighting a person’s Fate was like trying to stop the tides. Futile. It didn’t matter if his mother was meant to die in childbirth or not. It was Anakin’s fear and his acting upon that fear that would set the seal on everyone’s destinies.

‘Is it possible to learn this power?’

‘Not from a Jedi.’


“And I just might have found a way. An... alternate one.”

Even his father’s voice had darkened, Luke noticed with a shiver.

Tentatively, like a child looking under his bed knowing that the monster hiding there would attack him, Luke opened his senses.

His father reeked of the Dark Side. It hovered around him like a fetid ghost. Enticing, tantalizing; like a sensual mistress luring him in. The door had been opened in Anakin’s heart and there was no turning back from the promise it offered.

Something in Luke died right then and there. His final hope.

“I... If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to bed now. I’m v-very tired,” he stuttered. “Good night.” He bowed his head and turned around.

“Wait!” Anakin exclaimed, feeling as if something inside him would break at Luke’s departure. He reached out and grabbed his wrist.

Luke stopped and raised his eyes to him.

‘Force, it’s as if I was looking at the mirror of my own soul!’ Anakin’s spirit trembled at the moment of self-awareness that he couldn’t explain.

“I-I’ve done something to hurt you, and I... I don’t...” Anakin’s gaze dropped. In the dim light, he could make out the broken synthskin on the back of the hand he was holding. His chest tightened with a brutal, excruciating pain. Once more, his fingers sought to heal the damage by caressing it over and over.

Brave and gentle soul that will never have the chance to blossom and thrive like it was meant to! Buffeted around by a million forces that will transform it into a pathetic, insane, vile mockery of the beauty it always should be.

Luke couldn’t stop himself if his life depended on it. He reached up with his free hand and held the back of Anakin’s neck, bringing it down.

“Belonging to the Dark Side doesn’t necessarily involve killing men, women and children. It happens when you don’t care about it anymore,” he whispered to his father, tears of overwhelming love for the man coursing down his cheeks in an unending flow. Closing his eyes, he hastily bestowed an unpremeditated, forgiving kiss on the warm forehead, before letting go and rushing for his bedroom.




Anakin stood transfixed, staring after Luke. He couldn’t believe what had just happened. He couldn’t explain it, he couldn’t begin to understand it; but the pain... Oh, the ache in his heart! It felt as if it was being stabbed by the finest dagger. It hurt to breathe, it hurt to think, it hurt to be! He turned about and leaned on the railing for support. He stared at the buildings in the distance, at the speeders, at the world out there without seeing them. Soon after, he felt his cheeks getting wet. He closed his eyes.

Pain. There was only pain for him. Inside and out. Even Luke seemed tainted by it. What was with this universe, this madness that soiled everything? He seemed to carry it deep within, soiling everything he touched.

He was torn, confused, and so tired! Only Luke seemed to bring some measure of sanity, comfort and light. And now it seemed that his friend was losing it too. Losing heart, losing his faith in himself and... in him too.

Force, the look in those eyes! For a second, it had even felt that... that Luke knew... knew about the door that the Chancellor’s tale had opened... A chance. Maybe his only chance.

His last words had been... Yes, Luke knew... Somehow. He almost seemed to know what lay beyond the veil... and into the deepest reaches of his heart. And that sadness... That infinite sadness. So stoical, so hopeless...

And the poignant kiss on his forehead... as if absolving him for... for what?

Squeezing the railing hard between his fists, Anakin decided it was time to stop holding back. Luke’s appearance at that precise moment in time, at that precise moment in their lives... there had to be a reason for it. He had forbidden himself to ask any questions, to even think about them. If Luke came from the future - and he believed he did - then the consequences of interfering with the past – their present - could be catastrophic. He understood Luke’s reserve better than anyone.

Already that very first night, indeed the very moment he set eyes on the young Jedi, he had felt it. The connection, the certainty that something bound them together, across time and space, beyond life and death. A spiritual bond that felt like a living, breathing thing. Closer than flesh and bone.

Did Luke and him know each other... in the future? And what about other people and events he had avoided to discuss? Was his fear of changing history the only reason for so much evasiveness and caution?

A deep shudder went up and down his spine. His instincts told him he was onto something here. And those instincts guided him to an almost forgotten piece of information that had escaped his notice that evening. Something major.

He needed answers, if only for the sake of knowing the truth. And if Threepio’s proverbial fussiness had slipped for once, he had an idea where to start.


TO BE CONTINUED...
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