Luke’s eyes opened to another sunny morning in Coruscant. He could see it and feel it in the thin sunrays that fell on him, filtering through the window blinds.
Just as the foreboding heaviness in his heart and mind told him that today would be the day. The day when everything would end for all.
The young man sat up and looked around. Even the colours seemed duller, subdued, lifeless.
Slowly, his hand began to move across the sheets. He wasn’t very knowledgeable about materials and fabrics, but the softness he was feeling was exquisite. So warm, so... welcoming to the touch. A perfect image of what his parents had been to him for the past four days.
Warm and kind people, who in a few hours would see the end of the world as they knew it; and in Anakin’s case, by his own hand.
It seemed impossible. All in one fateful, unremarkable day.
No matter what, he had to find the strength to go on. Padme and Anakin must never suspect. He had interfered in their lives enough already. He couldn’t afford slipping. Not now when it mattered most.
Forcing himself to get out of bed, he went to the bathroom, showered and got dressed in his cleaned black Jedi clothes and boots. Then, as he did every morning, headed for the kitchen.
“Hello there, sleepyhead!” a cheerful feminine voice greeted him when he was crossing the living room.
Luke turned his head with a start and saw his mother getting up from the couch she had been sitting on. She was dressed in a simple navy blue linen gown. She wore a matching beaded black necklace and a jet belt decorating the front of the gown. Her dark hair was loose, parted in the middle and secured back with invisible hairpins.
His chest constricted with an undefinable pain and yearning. Force, she looked so young, so... earthly in that outfit that accentuated her pregnancy! Her serene beauty broke his heart.
Padme rearranged the black shawl around her shoulders and approached him.
“Good morning. Did I oversleep?” Luke asked, fleetingly distracted, looking around as if searching for something. Or someone.
“No,” Padme said with a short chuckle. “You didn’t. It’s us who got up earlier this morning,” she held on to Luke’s arm like the most normal thing, and they walked together to the kitchen. “Anakin will be out for a few hours, so I’m afraid I’ll have to do.”
Luke’s eyes settled on his mother, clinging to his arm with such easygoing familiarity. His hand reached out and took hold of the smaller one, squeezing it fervently.
“There’s no one I’d rather be with,” he declared with all his soul.
She looked up at him and smiled as the kitchen door opened.
The young Jedi’s eyes almost popped out of their sockets when he saw that the table was already set. Several pieces of fruit, including two Corellian peaches, a big glass of milk, and a huge piece of toast next to what looked like a jar of Nubian chocolate – if the label was anything to go by - seemed to be waiting for him!
His jaw dropped open, and he turned to his mother, blinking in utter astonishment.
Padme’s smile became one of pure elation at his reaction.
“Enjoy,” she said with a sweeping flourish of her hand.
Luke stared at the table in front of him in sheer disbelief. Corellian peaches and especially Nubian chocolate were two of the rarer and more expensive delicacies in the galaxy, at least in his time. How...?! His bulging eyes turned again to his mother.
“But... B-but...” he stammered.
Padme’s smile grew bigger.
“Threepio told me you don’t have heavy breakfasts exactly, and I decided that you were going to have one today, if I had anything to say about it.” She looked pointedly at the table. “Soooo...”
It took a few seconds for Luke to come out of his stupor, and when he did, he took a seat almost in a daze.
“I hope everything is set to your satisfaction, sir,” Threepio said, walking up to the table.
Luke glanced up at him.
“Erm... yes. I mean of course it is, thank you very much,” he amended himself, eyeing the display of treats he never thought he would get to taste one day. Shaking his head, he looked at his mother again, realizing then that she was still standing. He jumped to his feet. “Please, sit down,” he offered her the chair before him.
Grinning broadly, Padme sat down. Luke returned to his seat and with a sense of wonder he’d rarely experienced, he picked up the napkin. His gaze returned to the incredible breakfast.
“I-I really don’t know where to start,” he mumbled.
Padme’s forefinger started pointing.
“Fruit. Milk. Chocolate.” End of discussion.
Luke’s eyes met hers.
“Yes, Mum,” he answered, sitting straighter.
Padme burst out laughing happily. Good heavens, she was so fond of that young man, so very fond of him!
Luke wasn’t particularly hungry, no more than the previous days, but he made the effort for his mother’s sake. He ate the two Corellian peaches first, washing them down with the milk. Delicious didn’t begin to describe their taste, and he attacked a small apple and a Talasean pear next with gusto. After that, his eager eyes turned to Padme.
“All right,” she acceded with a feigned long-suffering look. “You may start with the chocolate now.”
Luke’s hands almost trembled while he spread the chocolate on the toast. The creamy, full scent made him feel light-headed. When he put the toast in his mouth, the flavour exploded in all its glory and he had to close his eyes.
His mother’s chuckle brought him out of his reverie. He opened his eyes and began to chew.
“Am I drooling already?” he asked after a while, his eyes glowing exuberantly.
Padme laughed heartily at that.
“Almost,” she replied. “You see, for the past month I’ve had this terrible craving for Nubian chocolate. Until I said to myself: ‘Hey, why shouldn’t you indulge yourself?’
Luke regarded her affectionately.
“Be careful, or the baby could become an addict,” he teased her.
“Good,” Padme shrugged, “the more the merrier.”
It was Luke’s turn now to laugh in earnest at the defiant look on the lovely face. He savoured the toast until the last crumb, and when it was over, it was all he could do to lick his lips.
“I’ll remember this for the rest of my life,” he sighed, smiling at his mother gratefully. “Thank you for sharing your craving with me.”
Padme’s answering smile was tinged with a nostalgic undertone.
“What is it?” Luke asked, reaching out and holding her wrist.
Padme looked down at the strong, gentle hand. She clicked her tongue bitterly and covered it with her own, patting it to comfort herself as much as him.
“I know I shouldn’t feel like this. I knew the day would come, but...”
“What?” Luke asked again.
Sighing, Padme met his eyes.
“Anakin got a transmission this morning from the body shop,” the pain in her voice was palpable. “Your ship is repaired.”
Luke leaned back in his chair gradually. His gaze became introspective. Yes, it was Time. Staying for longer would only jeopardize an already dangerous situation.
“I’m going to miss you, so much...”
Padme’s cracking voice brought a lump to Luke’s throat. His eyes misted and he squeezed the soft hand passionately.
“I will miss you too, more than I can say. You’ve been so good and kind to me. I can’t find the words to tell you... to begin to...” he bit his lower lip, at a loss for words.
“You have been such a good friend to us,” Padme’s eyes reddened with emotion. “It’s as if we had known you forever. Your wise advice, your... very presence has been a source of strength, of hope, for the two of us.”
“I will take you both in my heart for as long as I live,” Luke’s free hand covered his mother’s, completing the circle. “For as long as I live,” he repeated, knowing he would remember this moment until the day he died.
Suddenly, he stiffened.
“What’s wrong?” Padme looked around, as if expecting someone to walk in.
“Someone’s coming,” Luke said, tilting his head.
“Anakin?” Padme was used by now to Luke’s announcements that invariably turned out to be correct.
“No,” Luke shook his head. “Someone else.” He concentrated on the Force-signature of the unannounced visitor. He knew this person, although they felt somewhat different from... And then he knew who it was. “It’s another Jedi,” he stated, rising to his feet.
Padme thought for a minute.
“It must be master Obi-Wan,” she guessed rightly, standing up as well.
Luke took one step forward and held her hands in his own urgently.
“Listen to me. I’m going to the guest room now and enter a trance. A deep trance, to try and hide myself from him. I just hope I know how to do it. He mustn’t feel me here. I can’t let anyone else, let alone...”
“I understand,” Padme squeezed his hands, fully aware of the implications of his words.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to wake up on my own. If you see that I don’t come out after he’s gone, please snap me out of it,” Luke told her.
“All right,” Padme nodded, a bit uneasy at the prospect. What if...?
“It’ll be fine,” Luke assured her with all the confidence he could muster. “Do not be concerned.”
‘My goodness, his eyes!’ Padme was blown away. ‘So like Ani’s!’
She nodded again, looking at him in wonderment. Luke nodded back at her, released her hands and left the kitchen in haste.
‘Force, help me!’ Luke implored, once he was sitting cross-legged on the bed. ‘Obi-Wan must never find me here! I have to hide my presence from him! Please, please now!’
He closed his eyes, struggling to control his heartbeat and respiration. He applied the meditation techniques master Yoda had conscientiously, minutely taught him, until he found himself reaching a hitherto unknown level of concentration. Not enough. Deeper. He had to go deeper. Deeper still, until there was no trace of him for his first master to follow.
Out of the blue, he found himself floating out of his body. Floating somewhere calm and peaceful. He had no awareness of the passage of time there. He truly was beyond time and space, beyond the universe itself. Someplace where all the possibilities lay before him like a canvas that was still to be painted. Fragmented memories, scenes both old and recent, and others he had no recollection of.
‘It’s out there! I know it!’
‘How did the boy know?’
‘You know how. The same way his father did, Owen.’
‘He knew my father?’
‘Vader was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force.’
‘How could you know my father? You don’t even know who I am.’
‘If you end your training now, if you choose the quick and easy path, as Vader did, you will become an agent of evil.’
‘The Force is with you, young Skywalker. But you are not a Jedi yet.’
‘Son, come with me.’
‘I can’t kill my own Father.’
‘What is it?’
‘Ask me again sometime.’
‘The Force is strong in my family. My father has it. I have it, and... my sister has it.’
‘I feel the conflict within you. Let go of your hate!’
‘I’m looking forward to completing your training. In time you will call me master.’
‘I’ll never turn to the Dark Side.’
‘Young fool. Only now, at the end, do you understand.’
‘Are you sure you’ve never seen him before?’
‘I’m Anakin Skywalker, and this is my wife, Senator Padme Amidala.’
‘I will not lose her.’
‘Who are you?’
‘You belong here with me!’
‘Just look at him.’
‘I’m so unworthy!’
‘Always here for you, my baby.’
‘I... I don’t know what’s happening to me.’
‘I will always come back to you!’
A whirlpool of images and sounds he couldn’t make out passed rapidly before his mind’s eye. Faster and faster, until everything was spinning out of control...
“Luke. Luke, wake up. Luke, can you hear me?”
The grounding touch of a gentle hand on his shoulder brought him out of that spiral of insanity like magic. His eyes burst open.
“W-who? Wh-what? What is this? Where...?”
“It’s me, Padme. Do you know me?”
Eventually, his eyes focused on the breathtakingly beautiful face leaning over him. He knew that lovely face... Padme. Yes, Padme Amidala. His mother. He was still in the past; still in his parents’ apartment.
“Yes, yes, I do,” he nodded, shaking his head to clear it completely. Everything came back to him in a flash. He looked into her eyes keenly. “Did it work? Did he...?”
“Yes, it did,” Padme smiled wonderingly. “There were a couple times when he looked around, like sensing something, but he ended up shrugging it off. Whatever you did, it worked.”
Luke expelled all the air in his lungs in one long breath.
“How long...?” he asked all of a sudden. He had lost track of time.
“About fifty minutes,” Padme replied. “I was getting nervous because I didn’t know for how long you’d be able to remain... you know.”
Luke smiled up at his mother with a nod, and unfurling his legs, he stood up carefully. No dizziness or wobbly legs. That was a good sign.
“Thank you for waking me up. You did it right on time,” he told her while they returned to the living room, walking side by side.
They sat on the couch, sharing a comfortable silence. Luke studied his mother, noticing the tiredness on her slightly slouched shoulders.
“You should make the most of your day off,” he told her attentively. “Rest until lunchtime if you want. I will help Threepio with the cooking. It’ll be my farewell present for you.”
They exchanged a bittersweet smile.
Padme didn’t feel like lying down, but she couldn’t deny the fact that at this point in her pregnancy she felt heavier and more tired than usual. A little nap couldn’t hurt, quite the contrary. But she also wanted – no, needed - to make the most of every moment she had left with Luke.
The young man saw the indecision on her face.
“Come on,” he encouraged her. “It’ll be for a short time anyway. My ‘abilities’ won’t allow me to engage in fancy culinary experiments,” he made a goofy face that didn’t fail to make his mother laugh.
“All right, smooth talker,” she acquiesced fondly, beginning to stand up. “But only for a little while,” she bargained, pointing a finger at Luke.
“Agreed,” he said in all seriousness, rising too.
Padme stared at him, a bit surprised. That expression, and the way he’d said “agreed” were so damned familiar! She hesitated for an instant, and then forced her eyes away from him, heading for the bedroom.
Luke watched her go with tears in his eyes.
The next hour was spent peeling and cutting up food, boiling and frying lightly all the ingredients he needed to prepare the best meal his limited cooking knowledge allowed him. While stirring the final product, he asked Threepio to set the table. Twenty minutes later, he was pouring the soup into the dishes.
“Whatever your price is, I’ll hire you.”
Luke turned his head and observed his mother, who examined the table with hungry anticipation. She looked absolutely stunning, not a hair out of place, and definitely refreshed.
“You should hire my aunt. She could make the most delicious meal with practically nothing,” he smiled at her, offering her the chair. “Did you rest well?”
“Yes, I did, thank you,” she said, sitting down.
Luke sat before her and took the spoon.
“This was her ‘master recipe,’ when she managed to get all the ingredients. I hope I did it justice.”
“I’m sure you did,” Padme affirmed, holding the spoon and nodding to him.
They tasted it simultaneously and looked at each other.
“I want the recipe now,” Padme demanded with wide eyes.
“Threepio has it,” Luke replied with a chuckle. “I’m glad you like it.”
“Now that’s an understatement if I ever heard one,” Padme commented, indulging herself unashamedly to Luke’s amusement.
The second dish consisted of stew with a ‘special sauce’ that Luke refused to reveal. Padme’s eyes lit up at the flavour.
“I’ll take it as a compliment,” Luke teased her.
“I hope Threepio also has the recipe, for your own safety,” she mock-threatened him.
Luke smiled enigmatically and continued eating.
They were almost finished when Padme hit the young man with the most ironical question.
“Do you miss your parents?”
When he recovered from the emotional jolt, Luke tried to appear nonchalant, rising a poignant eyebrow.
“One would think that you can’t miss that which you’ve never had,” he replied, staring at the fork in his hand.
“That’s not what I’m asking you,” Padme said.
“Every day of my life,” Luke straightened up and met her eyes with a fervour that shocked her to the core. “Every. Single. Day.”
Padme flushed at the intensity in those incredible blue depths. Why did it feel like they were telling her something deadly important? Something she should know? In the end she had to look down, feeling that her question had intruded into something terribly private. No, more than private. Something... sacred, to the young Jedi.
“It’s just that I... now that I’m going to be a mother, I think I’m beginning to understand my own mother, and my sister too, when they said that having a child changes you forever. Your outlook on life and its priorities. It’s something you can’t even conceive until you’re holding your baby in your arms for the first time.” She braved Luke’s gaze. “It breaks my heart to know that you never... that your parents never had the chance...” she paused and shook her head, words failing her.
On his part, Luke was struggling with the information his mother had unknowingly given him.
‘Grandmother! Does it mean that we could still have grandparents? And an aunt? And cousins too?’
“Luke?” Padme asked, noticing his distracted look.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized, making eye-contact again. “What can I say?” he sighed with a shrug. “That’s how things turned out to be. I’m just trying to do my best and help others. I think I’m lucky in many ways. I have very good friends who care about me. I found my own family, although a part of me will always be empty.”
Padme looked at him, speechless, marveling at the young man’s approach to life. At his fortitude and resilience, despite all the ugly things that had befallen him. Or maybe because of them.
That thought hurt even more. She reached out and held his bionic hand.
“It’s the biggest wake up call, to see firsthand to what extent the loss of your parents can scar you for life. I see it in Anakin’s eyes every day. Being separated from his mother as a child, losing her the way he did...” she looked away with a shudder, and brought her other hand to her belly instinctively. “But I just know that when he’s holding our baby in his arms... everything will change for him. It will be a rebirth for both of us. It doesn’t matter the hurdles we have to face. Anakin being expelled from the Order, me not being allowed to serve in the Senate...” she grimaced in regret, but dismissed it right away, gathering strength from a deeper, stronger knowledge that she carried within. “Somehow, I feel that our baby will herald the change that will heal us all.”
Luke couldn’t take his eyes off his mother, realizing where Leia’s tenacity and perseverance came from; and his own unshakeable faith in what other wiser people would consider a lost cause.
‘Your mother died believing there was still good in him.’
Luke closed his eyes.
‘I will save him, Mother. I will prove your faith in him. He will come back, because he has to! All this love will not be in vain.’
They let go of each other’s hands with a parting squeeze, and finished eating in a reverential silence, sharing occasional little smiles of affirmation and mutual reassurance.
After helping Threepio to clear the table, Luke took his mother to the veranda and they sat on the couch, contemplating the busy city life flying around them.
Padme studied the beautiful features, deeply affected by the play of emotions on the smooth face she’d come to know as well as her husband’s.
“Have you ever been to Coruscant before?” she asked at last.
Luke turned his face to her, and Padme saw a flawless blending of awe and sadness in his eyes.
“No,” he shook his head. “The closest I’ve been to the Core Worlds is Ord Mantell.” He turned again to the bustling world out there and this time, awe won.
“What do you think of it?” Padme asked with genuine curiosity.
“It’s an amazing sight,” Luke smiled, taking a sweeping glance at everything he could see from their vantage point. “It looks so... cosmopolitan.”
“Cosmopolitan?!” Padme chuckled at Luke’s chosen word for it. Definitely, it wasn’t the adjective she would have used to describe it. Well, maybe some districts, but as a whole... But then, this view was all Luke had to judge. “Yes, I suppose it does look cosmopolitan when seen from here,” she nodded pensively. “I wish I could show you the best sights and places to visit.”
Luke turned his head at the great sorrow his mother’s voice conveyed. He smiled woefully and held her hand in his own.
“I w-” he trailed off and whipped his head to the side.
“What?” Padme straightened her back.
“Anakin’s coming,” Luke said solemnly. His senses sharpened to feel more clearly. There was something about his father's Force signature. Something... ill-defined, disquieting. It chilled him to the bone.
Padme smiled with a little sigh and patted his hand, releasing it slowly.
“I’m going to talk about dinner with Threepio now,” she said, standing up.
Luke sprang to his feet.
“You don’t have to...”
She smiled softly at him.
“Your time with us is running short. Let him have this memory of you. I know it will mean everything to him,” she almost whispered.
Luke opened his mouth, but couldn’t think of anything to say. The ache in his heart was unbearable.
With a last smile and nod, Padme walked into the apartment.
Luke watched her go clenching his fists helplessly. Why did it have to be so hard?
Turning about, he gazed off into the distance, knowing that one of the tiny points out there was his father flying home. For some reason, his eyes fixed on a bright spot that reflected the sunlight and seemed to come in the apartment’s direction. The object became bigger and bigger, until the young man could make out Anakin’s ship, followed closely by another. He frowned uncomprehendingly, until he recognized the second ship.
Anakin arrived seconds later with his X-Wing in tow, and quickly jumped out of the Interceptor. Luke stared enthralled at his father’s ship, smitten by its stylish design and impeccable state of maintenance. But before he could say anything, his father beat him to it.
“Verify that everything’s working to your satisfaction,” he said, giving him the strangest look and walking inside the apartment without a backward glance.
Luke froze where he stood for a minute, unable to react. Not a smile, not even a polite greeting. Something was wrong; very very wrong.
Pulling himself together with a shaky intake of breath, he started for his X-Wing. Artoo’s beeping noises as he rolled down the right wing of Anakin’s Interceptor alerted him to the little droid’s presence.
“Artoo, could you please help me check the systems of my ship?” he asked.
The blue droid beeped assent, and while Luke climbed into the cockpit of his X-Wing, he heard a loud combustion noise. He looked up and then had to do a double take. Artoo had displayed twin booster rockets and was flying the few metres that separated him from his ship.
‘What the...?’ the young man wondered, stupefied.
Artoo landed himself in his astromech slot and started running tests on all shipboard systems, correlating data and monitoring the performance of the engine startup. Luke received the results on his main screen, and needed only a few seconds to understand that his X-Wing had endured not only an extensive bodywork, but it had been fine-tuned to the tiniest detail as well. He gave his father a silent thought of gratitude.
“Yes, Artoo. Everything’s working at 100%,” he told the droid. “You can go now, if you want. I’ll shut everything down. And thanks for your help.”
Artoo beeped back happily in acknowledgment and propelled himself out of the X-Wing, returning to his own slot in Anakin’s Interceptor. He began a routine check of all systems to kill time while he waited for his young master.
Luke remained sitting in his X-wing, feeling oddly numb. Nothing stopped him from taking off and leaving this instant. Without question, it would be the wisest thing to do. But he couldn’t ignore the fact that he didn’t know if he had fulfilled the objective that had brought him here. He didn’t have that impression; however, at this moment he was too caught up in his parents’ lives to not be a danger to them and their time, now more than ever.
Not to forget the look his father had given him... it gave him the shudders.
‘Please, what must I do?’ he begged. He closed his eyes and hung his head, soul-tired.
He felt momentarily dizzy and his ears began to ring. He reached out to the Force for balance, and all at once...
‘I feel lost.’
‘Lost? What do you mean?’
‘Obi-Wan and the Council don’t trust me.’
‘They trust you with their lives.’
‘Something’s happening. I’m not the Jedi I should be. I want more, and I know I shouldn’t.’
Luke willed himself out of the involuntary trance, realizing that he was eavesdropping the conversation his parents were having at that very moment.
But how? Through which means...?
The self-evident answer made him gasp out loud. He and his father were linked mentally.
If anything, this was even stronger evidence that he had to leave immediately. And yet... the cry for help that his father’s words were, even though he wasn’t aware of it, held him back.
‘Bury your feelings deep down, Luke.’
‘He reached a critical point in his life and he had no one to turn to.’
What to do? What decision to make? Reason versus emotion. Intellect versus intuition.
Common sense versus filial love.
Shaking his head, Luke exited his X-Wing and looked at it from the bottom step of the staircase. He made the gesture of returning to it, but stopped.
‘I need you.’
Choking back a sob and biting his lower lip until he drew blood, Luke turned about and climbed the remaining steps with a heavy heart. He stood beside the fountain, seriously questioning his sanity.
“You will be leaving today, won’t you?”
His father’s pain was alive, clawing at his insides and ripping them open. And a sizeable portion of that pain was the prospect of saying goodbye to him. For good.
For the first time, Luke felt guilty. Guilty about the mysterious twist of fate that had brought him there.
“You know I have to,” he replied hoarsely.
Anakin walked up next to him, brushing his shoulder with his arm.
“Yes, I do,” his voice was equally hoarse. “But knowing it doesn’t make it any easier.”
Luke lowered his head. Why did it feel like he was deserting his father when he needed him the most? What was his role in this story, once and for all?!
“How do you do it?”
The resentment in Anakin’s voice was like acid on an open wound.
“What do you mean?” he asked, looking up at the glowering features.
“I mean how can you stand there. So... accepting, so at peace with yourself, when deep down you know... you know...”
Luke’s body followed his head and turned to face his father.
“How wrong this is!” Anakin exploded, turning to face him. Anger reddened his features. He wanted to hit something, he wanted to yell at the young Jedi until he understood... until he admitted... “You belong here with me! With Padme. You belong with us. And you know it too!”
There was greed in Anakin’s passion. Selfish, self-serving greed. And in that very moment, Luke knew how that unhealthy passion, stoked up by Palpatine, had corrupted his father’s already crumbling ethics and self-restraint, transforming his personal goals and ambitions into a megalomaniac delirium to rule the galaxy, and bend the universe to his will.
‘I have brought peace, freedom, justice and security to my new Empire.’
Recoiling inwardly from what those smouldering eyes reflected, Luke tried desperately to reason with the man he had admired since before he was born.
“Anakin, even if I admitted that, you know I must go! For all our sakes!”
Anakin straightened up to his full height in triumph at Luke’s admission.
“All I know is that in four little days you have become the dearest, closest thing to my heart since my mother and my wife. And there has to be a reason for it.” His eyes gleamed with a secret knowledge. “And we both know what that reason is, don’t we?”
Luke’s blood ran cold in his veins.
“W-What?” he stuttered, paling like a ghost.
Anakin smiled knowingly.
“We had a concurrent vision yesterday. I saw you fighting the Sith Lord who took your hand.”
Luke’s eyes opened wide in shock.
“You do know Obi-Wan, don’t you?” Anakin took a small step forward. “And you know me too, in the future?”
Luke’s eyes strayed from his father’s face, and he stepped back.
Anakin reached into the leather pouch in his belt and produced a folded piece of cloth with what seemed to be... blood stains?
“Please, don’t deny it. It’s written in your blood.”
Luke’s teeth began to chatter. Force, had his father analyzed...? Did he know...?
“Your midichlorian count is almost 20,000. Higher than master Yoda’s,” Anakin’s eyes bored into his soul. “And in all the history of the Jedi, there has been only one person with a higher count than Yoda’s,” the blond head tilted meaningfully. “Me.”
Luke didn’t know where to look. He was trembling from head to foot, cornered by his father and the truth, and terrified of where this would lead.
Anakin dropped the cloth to the floor and grasped Luke’s shoulder. His touch burned like fire, even through his clothing.
“Who are you? Why are you so important, so vital to me?”
Luke’s brain short-circuited with fear. And when his skittish gaze returned to his father’s eyes, he couldn’t look away again.
“I’m Luke S-”
“I know that your name is Luke Stargazer!” Anakin exclaimed, exasperated by his friend’s deliberate denseness. But then, the swift, almost imperceptible twitch of the young features gave away the most unexpected deception. “Or is it?” the penetrating blue eyes pierced the cowering man like lasers.
Luke shrank from his father’s touch.
“Don’t, please,” he asked pleadingly.
Anakin’s stare turned to his own hand, and although he wasn’t squeezing Luke’s shoulder tight, something in his grip seemed... aggressive.
“I’m sorry,” he let go with a start. “I’m not offended, believe me. I understand that you thought you were protecting us by hiding your true identity. But that’s exactly it,” Anakin’s eyes flashed intensely. “I need to protect you too. And judging from what you said and what I saw in my vision, your future isn’t a happy place.” His hand reached out of its own volition and held Luke’s shoulder again, gently. “Maybe you were thrown back in time so that I could keep you safe? And make a difference in your life?”
Luke closed his eyes, emotionally exhausted.
“Since I arrived, I’ve been looking for an answer to why I’m here,” he confessed. “I may never find it, but I do know one thing: information is a power greater than you can possibly imagine. It gives you the ability to influence a galaxy’s destiny. That’s why I must go. This very conversation poses a danger whose consequences we can’t fathom.”
Anakin’s hand snapped back, and Luke knew he’d struck a nerve. It was as if a dam burst in his father’s mind and all the frustrations of a lifetime broke loose.
“Do you want to know what too much information did for me?” sarcasm oozed from every bitterly spoken word. “Nothing!” he spat. “How do you expect your big answer to be? A sign in the sky? A booming voice in your head? Well, wake up, little one. It never happens that way! And I should know. I waited for weeks for such a sign, and when it didn’t come and I finally made up my mind and took action, my mother died! She died because I wasn’t strong enough, brave enough to act upon my dreams when I started having them. Just as I am doing now, as I keep seeing Padme die while I’m sitting in the couch!” he stood straight proudly. “Being a Jedi means being responsible for your powers and what you do with them. I promise you I will be!” he started past him.
Luke’s hand shot out and grabbed Anakin’s forearm, stopping him in mid-stride.
“But at what price?” he cried out, beside himself with helplessness, seeing his father march right into his doom. “Don’t you understand how susceptible to manipulation you are? How easy it would be for anyone to take advantage of your vulnerability? Even the ones you trust the most?”
Luke jumped back as if he had been slapped, and released his father’s arm.
The two young men looked deep into each other’s eyes. Luke saw his father’s instant regret of his words, and Anakin saw the pain that his cruel, uncalled-for accusation had caused. Still, he didn’t back up. He bent forward and spoke in a dark, hissing voice.
“I won’t lose my wife. I won’t lose my child.”
Luke’s last bout of strength died away.
“Even if they lose you?” he breathed, eyes filling with tears.
Neither pretended not to know what he was talking about. And then, the unthinkable happened. Anakin’s face metamorphosed into the very image of resignation, of blood-curdling acceptance of whatever became of his soul. He gave Luke a smile that the youth would remember until his last breath, and turned around.
‘No!’ Luke’s mind shouted after his father. ‘Don’t go like this! Not because of me!’
His paralysed legs responded at last, and he followed Anakin almost in a daze.
“Don’t do it. Please! You’re too important! Don’t forfeit your soul in a moment of despair. Anakin, please!”
Anakin broke into a run towards his Interceptor, and with a technique and skill that Luke was still to master, he jumped right into the cockpit. The engines roared to life.
“ANAKIN!” Luke yelled.
Three seconds later, the Interceptor flew away.
“ANAKIN, NO!!” Luke collapsed to his knees, out of his mind with horror and grief.
It couldn’t be happening. It couldn’t be happening! He couldn’t have just thrown his father into Palpatine’s arms. He couldn’t have just succeeded in accomplishing the very thing he would give his life to prevent.
He buried his face in his hands, devastated and broken. Shattered to the depths of his being.
‘If only we’d never been born! If Mother hadn’t gotten pregnant, she wouldn’t have died in childbirth and Father wouldn’t have turned,' he sobbed, abandoning himself to hopelessness. 'I failed you, Father. Please, forgive me! Oh, Force, what have I done? What have I done?’
TO BE CONTINUED...