Voices. He could hear voices in the background.
Sweet, caring and loving for him.
“He's been unconscious for an hour now. Anakin, we must call a doctor.”
“Trust me, my love. He's all right. He's healing even as we speak.”
“My goodness, just look at him. How come we didn’t see it? How could we be such a...?”
“He's coming to.”
A warm hand settled on the side of his face, cradling it and pressing itself against his skin with such fervour that it brought him all the way out of his stupor. His eyes blinked open and when the fuzziness dissipated, they zeroed in on two still figures leaning over him. The male one was sitting to his right, and the female one to his left. Her eyes were a bit swollen, but so full of wonder and love that he had to look away, to the young man who was holding his face in his palm. He was biting his lower lip and his chin trembled with emotion.
“Anakin!” he sat up with a jerk, almost disengaging the hand on his face. “What happened? Did he...? Are you...?”
“Shhh, little one,” Anakin reassured him, massaging his scalp soothingly. “I am perfectly all right. Still me. Still sane. Still keeping my soul... thanks to you.”
Slightly breathless, Luke’s gaze turned from his father to his mother, and back to the gentle blue eyes he was drawn to like a river to the sea.
“Lie back down now,” Padme urged him; and it never crossed his mind to disobey. He realized then that she was holding his left hand between both of hers on the bed where he was lying oh-so-comfortably.
“And... Palpatine?” he whispered the name fearfully.
The fingers twitched in his hair, but after a brief pause, they resumed their reverent stroking.
“Dead,” Anakin replied drily. “As he should have been for a very long time,” his voice shook with shame and regret.
Luke swallowed the lump in his throat and let out a long sigh that seemed to last forever.
“I couldn’t help it,” he choked out. “I saw you giving yourself to him and... and...”
“...And you found the only word that could save me from a destiny a billion times worse than death,” shuddering, Anakin framed Luke’s face in both hands adoringly. “Oh, my son. My son!” he exclaimed, savouring the sound of those three letters that, put together, formed a miracle; his and Padme’s blessing come alive.
Luke’s eyes opened wide and searched his father’s face eagerly. His heart fluttered with apprehension now that everything was out in the open. There was so much to say, so much to explain! Would his parents understand why he had lied to them? Would they forgive him for his deceit? Would they...?
Caressing Luke’s cheek tenderly, Anakin answered to every emotion his child’s eyes communicated.
“There is nothing to explain, nothing to forgive. It is *I* who should beg your forgiveness on my knees,” he looked down and shook his head, cursing himself once again. “How could I accuse you of... when I knew you only meant well to us.” He withdrew into himself for an instant and released a harsh, self-deprecating laugh. “I told you to never expect signs in the sky or booming voices in your head, and look at the answer I got. My own son came down from the sky, spoke into my mind and saved my hopeless soul.”
Luke couldn’t find the words. There weren’t any words to be said. He could only lose himself in the indescribable love and gratitude he saw in his father’s eyes.
“Can you forgive me for everything I put you through, my guardian angel?”
There was no stopping what happened next. Sitting up again, Luke wrapped his arms around his father and hugged him for dear life. His soul soared when Anakin returned the hug, crushing him so hard against his chest that his ribs protested. He buried his face in his father’s shoulder, submerging himself in the most beautiful and perfect moment of his life.
‘I don’t deserve an angel like you,’ Anakin’s heart ached with self-hatred and remorse.
‘You deserve everything!’ Luke tightened his embrace even more, sinking his fingers in his father’s hair, caressing the thick blond strands and comforting Anakin with all that he was.
A sublime eternity later, they moved back just a little. Just enough to press their foreheads together.
“You were right after all,” Luke said softly. “I was thrown back in time so you could keep me safe, and make a difference in my life.”
“A father will always be right about the safety of his children; even his unbeknown children,” Anakin’s response was dead serious and unequivocal.
“Yes, sir,” Luke rejoined, making both of them laugh poignantly, bashfully.
They sniffled and rubbed each other’s upper arms. They couldn’t relinquish their hold on one another. Luke took a deep breath and for the first time since he arrived, he opened his senses all the way. Light pervaded everything, and hummed in his veins with exulting happiness and joy. The suffocating shroud of Darkness had vanished as if it’d never existed. There was total peace and beauty around, within and without.
‘You feel it too, don’t you?’ his father’s ebullient mind-voice warmed his heart, and he nodded.
‘My goodness, if I can tell the vast difference, what will it feel like for him, who’s lived over half his life under Palpatine’s Dark influence unknowingly?’
Luke scanned his father through the Force. The change in him was staggering. Gone were all the shadows, ambivalences, anger and turmoil that had almost been his undoing. This was Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight, in all his glory. The man he’d hero-worshipped all his life, the father whose steps he had followed, hoping to be worthy of calling himself his son one day.
There was only Light and prosperity in the future now. Under Anakin’s wise, painstaking guidance, a new era for the Jedi Order was about to commence.
“Is this the answer you sought?” Anakin asked him in a whisper, anchoring his hands on Luke’s shoulders. “Is everything the way it should be?”
Luke met the pristine blue eyes that looked at him humbly. He allowed himself to be swept away by his father’s protective presence, and the overpowering certainty that he’d fulfilled the destiny that had brought him here. Finally.
“Yes,” he replied, leaving no room for doubt. “Everything is the way it should always be,” he moved back all the way, smiling at the joyously grinning face, so much like his own. Then, he turned his head and met the breathtaking brown eyes that watched them with so much pride and love. He reached out and wiped away the tear that trickled down a rosy cheek. “Mother.” The word tasted like heaven on his lips. “Oh, Mother!”
“My baby!” Padme’s arms opened and brought him close, as close as their bodies would allow, and it still wasn’t close enough. “I should have known. I should have known!”
Luke hid his face in the thick dark curls, nuzzling them needfully. He was totally past words. He just wanted to feel his mother holding him. Her warmth, her scent, all of her. He closed his eyes and breathed her in, wishing this moment would last forever.
All of a sudden, remembering the babies’ reaction to his proximity, he drew back with a start, making the three of them jump.
“The baby!” he said impulsively, retreating as far back as he could.
“It’s all right,” Padme hurried to dispel his fears, taking a quick hold of his hand again. “It stopped kicking and squirming when you passed out,” she tipped her head and caressed her belly lovingly, looking down at it. “It’s as if... as if it understood that everything’s fine with us now, with our lives... with you...” her head snapped up at him when everything suddenly clicked. “My goodness, it is you!” she gasped. “It is you... in here!” she looked down at her stomach again and then turned her flushed face to her husband, whose eyes were fixed on her belly, staring at it in disbelief.
Anakin reached out one unsteady hand and placed it on his wife’s abdomen, shaking his head.
“It’s... mind-boggling,” he murmured, feeling a small movement against his palm. “And at the same time, so... perfect,” he looked at Luke, and a stunning smile illuminated his features. “Our perfect miracle.”
Luke’s gaze dropped self-consciously, and Anakin swiftly put his other hand under his chin, bringing his face up. He studied avidly every tiny little feature, seeing Padme and himself in them.
Padme’s hand joined in and caressed Luke’s cheek with her fingertips.
“I always said that you could be Anakin’s brother.” In retrospect, she had to smile at her misguided cluelessness.
“I guess your mother was right,” Anakin touched the dimple on Luke’s chin with an impish grin. “It’s a boy.”
The three of them burst out giggling like teenagers. But soon enough, the giggles gave way to something so deep and unstoppable that could only be sublimated in each other’s arms. They laughed, and cried, and cuddled against one another, never wanting to leave that sacred circle of warmth and belonging.
Luke had never felt so loved, so cherished. He felt like every cell in his body was vibrating in harmony with his parents’ bodies. He soaked up his mother’s roaming caresses all over his back, and his father’s devoted kisses across his forehead. This was a moment worth dying for.
‘I’d give my life so he could have a second chance and do the right thing.’
In a bloodcurdling moment of clarity, Luke realized that that was exactly what he had done. On changing the past, he’d destroyed his future, the timeline he came from. The ruthless brutality of the discovery hit him like a bullet in the head, and he clung to Anakin and Padme, doubling over in shock.
“Luke! What is it?” Anakin cried out, feeling his son’s body sag against him and his spirit shrink in naked terror.
Luke couldn’t speak, couldn’t do anything but shiver and tremble in denial, telling himself time and again that it couldn’t be, that he was mistaken, that it didn’t have to be like that. But in the essence of his being he acknowledged the sacrifice implicit in his altruistic act.
‘Force, help me! Please!’ he shouted, praying for balance, for strength. ‘They must never know. It would kill them if... Please, please, don’t let them find out!’
And it was the mental image of his broken parents that enabled him to find the courage to recover and offer a shaky smile at them.
“Forgive me,” he straightened up, begging the Force to present a calm front. “But I... I’m... I have to go,” inhaling with a shudder, he tried to extricate himself from Anakin and Padme’s arms.
Padme and Anakin looked at each other with identical expressions of anguish and loss.
“Delaying it will only make it worse.” Luke closed his eyes, fighting to accept the truth of his words with every instinct he possessed. ‘Please, help me! Help me!’
Anakin’s eyes, all of his senses, were riveted on his child. He could feel Luke’s inner conflict, but what had brought it on? Shaking his head, he tried to take things one at a time, but he found it next to impossible. His heart was so full! Full of love and admiration for his boy. So extraordinary, so brave, so beautiful! He wondered how he had managed to live all his life without this love. Only... maybe he hadn’t. Maybe he’d carried this unique, special kind of love in his innermost self forever; lonely, hungry, desperate, waiting for the only one who could understand him inside and out, and be with him like only his own flesh and blood could.
He felt his son’s lifeforce beating, breathing, thriving within his own soul, and he wanted to get lost in that beauty and dwell in it for the remaining of his days. He would do anything for Luke. He couldn’t live without him anymore.
That’s why the mere notion of losing him, of locking away the four most important days of his life in a corner of his mind and never speak of them again... Force, he couldn’t do it! He didn’t want to bring himself to even consider it! But they had no choice. Luke didn’t belong here, as much as he’d selfishly tried to convince himself of the contrary. His unborn Luke’s life would be in danger then.
Looking down into Padme’s brown depths, he saw the same ruminations going around in her mind. He saw the same aching need to never part with Luke again, to hold him and honour him, and never stop telling him that no parent could ever dream to have a better child. And he saw the same resignation and surrender to what simply couldn’t be.
As one, never losing physical contact, they rose from the bed and all wrapped around one another, finding support and strength in the unity they were, they walked out to the veranda. Not a sound was heard, only the faint brush of cloth against cloth, of their bodies feeding on each other’s love for the last time.
The golden light of the lamps on the sofas’ armrests cast a mournful atmosphere that heightened the feeling of imminent separation, making it unbearable. They stopped by the fountain and merged into a heartfelt hug.
Luke stepped back a little and met Anakin’s eyes.
“May the Force be with you, Father.”
Anakin trembled inside at the ineffable love that word conveyed. Once more, its power washed over him, redefining him for good, giving a new meaning and purpose to his life, and realigning his priorities.
All the things that had worried him and kept him awake at night since his marriage to Padme turned out to be so trivial, so irrelevant! Being made a master, not being made a master, the media scandal they would have to face when everything came to light, being expelled from the Order... Force, who cared about all that? He couldn’t believe how much he had based his opinion of himself on what other people thought of him, on being the best, the bravest, the greatest. What his son had done for him, for all of them, put everything into perspective, and all his achievements paled in comparison.
His Destiny lay with his family, and he would spend the rest of his life trying to be worthy of it, nurturing it, protecting it, being a good father and a good spouse; for in the end, those were the only things that mattered. That would be his true legacy.
He placed his hands on Luke’s shoulders and squeezed them passionately.
“May the Force be with you, Luke Skywalker.” And on speaking his son’s full name for the first time, he felt the bond between them, the personal and spiritual connection they shared, take root so deep within their souls that he couldn’t tell where he ended and Luke began. It was a christening, a claim, an acknowledgment of his child as his own man. Bending forward, he kissed the silky blond hair, wetting it with his tears. His final blessing.
Luke threw his arms about his torso and Anakin never felt so much love.
‘I love you, my saviour, my teacher, my master. I love you more than life itself!’ he enfolded himself around his son, imprinting the touch and feel of the smaller body onto his, until he knew he had been branded by them.
Luke pressed hard against him, as if he wanted to disappear inside him, but mere seconds later he moved back, denying himself any more closeness. Anakin understood his child’s motives, but it still hurt. Besides...
Luke turned to Padme, who snuggled her head in her son’s chest as soon as his father released him. He held his mother to him, entangling his fingers in the long, curled hair, feeling its softness caress his skin.
And it was watching this perfect scene that Anakin’s heart almost stopped.
Luke’s misted eyes turned to him while he rubbed his cheek against his mother’s head.
‘Will I still lose her?’ he asked, feeling his insides being torn apart again by a well-known, inexorable fear.
Luke’s face twisted in a pained grimace.
‘I just know that you turned and...’ his silence was explicit enough. But on seeing his distressed face, he lost no time to offer all the hope that was within his reach to give. ‘But everything’s changed now. You will be with her this time, and maybe you will make a difference then. Have faith, Father. Anything is possible, as long as we stay true to ourselves, to the Light and the love that binds us together.’
Force, what was with this young man, who had the unerring power to bring peace to the darkest corners of his mind? Luke saw hope where he only saw negativity and death. It was a new and crucial lesson for him to learn. One he would strive to master one day, with his son’s patient teaching.
Luke’s steadfast faith in him bolstered his self-confidence to unimaginable heights. No one had ever shown such absolute trust in his ability to beat the odds and make the impossible happen. And looking into those fortright eyes, he knew he would rather die than let down such incredible faith.
Composing himself, he walked over to Luke’s X-Wing, giving him and Padme the privacy they needed to say their goodbyes. As he got his son’s flight suit and helmet, their soft, whispering voices floated up to his ears.
“I knew you were here to help him. And you ended up saving us all, and the Republic.”
“No, Mother; I didn’t...”
“I promise you that I will do everything in my power to end this intolerable self-complacency that brought us to the brink of destruction. We *will* make a future worthy of the present you’ve given us. You showed us the way, and we will make it real.”
“I know you will. I love you, Mother.”
“I love you, my son. My sweet, brave, beautiful son!”
Biting his lips, Anakin raised his head to the heavens and lost his gaze in the glitter of the few stars that were visible through Coruscant’s luminic pollution. Very soon, his son would be flying amongst them, like a true Skywalker...
And then, his guts constricted with an unendurable feeling of foreboding that came out of nowhere.
Luke’s hand on his shoulder startled him, but quickly bringing himself together, he passed him the suit and observed him intently while he put it on. With practised ease, Luke zipped up the orange suit and then held out his hands to him. Blinking in confusion, it took him a few seconds to understand that his son was asking for his helmet. He quickly gave it to him. Luke took it and turned about, staring up at the black sky for a few moments, as if saying goodbye... And then, his whole frame was racked by a hair-raising shudder that echoed through Anakin’s very soul.
“NO!” he shouted as the implications of Luke’s act struck him like a thunderbolt. “Oh, Force, no! NO! What have you done, my son?” he grabbed Luke by the arm and whipped him around.
Tears glistened in Luke’s eyes, revealing his defeat and fear. Fear of the unknown, and defeat at his fate having been discovered.
“What? What is it?” Padme ran up to them, her paling face demanding an answer.
Anakin began to hyperventilate as he took Luke’s face in his uncontrollably trembling hands.
“You killed yourself,” he whimpered, sobbing so hard he could hardly get the words out. “You have no future to return to anymore. Your timeline ceased to exist the moment you saved me.”
Padme let out a choked moan and clutched at Luke in an instinctive reaction.
“NO!” she wailed in denial, squeezing his arm so tight that the young Jedi winced in pain. The helmet fell from his hands with a clatter that resonated through them like a death omen.
“Please,” Luke begged, trying to free himself from his parents’ unyielding grasp. “I have to go. Please... please, let me go.”
But Anakin and Padme only clutched at him harder, psychologically and emotionally devastated. And Luke knew they would never let him go.
“Everything will be all right now. But I must fulfil my destiny. You must let me go! Mother, Father, please!”, he pleaded, looking up, not knowing what kept him going at this point. ‘Force, help me! Help us!’
Anakin slid down to his knees and buried his face in Luke’s stomach, crying inconsolably.
‘I killed you twice, little angel of mine!’ he wept into Luke’s mind. ‘When I mutilated you... and now. There can be no forgiveness for me. For what I caused to happen in your world, and this! I’m so unworthy! I’m unworthy of your sacrifice, my son! You can’t die because of me! Please, don’t die, my son! Please, don’t die because of me!!’
Luke groaned. His father had put all the pieces together. Force, wasn’t there enough torment for them to suffer? He reached down and cradled the back of Anakin’s head in his palm, holding it against him.
“I love you, Father. And this love will sustain me wherever I go. This is not the end. It can’t be!”
“No, please! No, please!” Padme sobbed, hiding her face in his shoulder. Suddenly, her legs gave out.
Luke grabbed his mother around the waist, holding her up gently.
Anakin reached up and helped Luke to support her. With an extreme effort, he rose to his feet and held Padme until they made sure she could stand on her own.
‘You must be strong for her!’ Luke beseeched his father. ‘We must not suffer any harm!’
Anakin looked at him as if he was asking for the only thing that was beyond him to give.
‘Please,’ the young Jedi implored desperately. ‘For me? For us?’
Anakin hissed through his clenched teeth, and gathering strength from a place he didn’t know he had, he nodded despondently.
They took Padme slowly back to the couches and sat her there. She refused to let go of Luke’s hand as he knelt down in front of her.
“You must have faith that we will see each other again,” he entreated her, kissing the small hand time and again. “I have this feeling that...” Luke tried to articulate something that he didn’t quite understand himself. Some inner, unforeseen knowledge that was coming to their aid when they needed it the most. “Somehow... in some way, we *will* see each other again... one day.”
Padme shook her head erratically, refusing any empty words of comfort. Her baby, her son, her heart and soul was going to die, to disappear into nonexistence. Her very mind was slipping away in inconcievable grief... bit by bit...
Luke’s hand held the quivering chin between his fingers, forcing her to meet his eyes.
“We. Will. See. Each. Other. Again.” He enunciated every word, infusing them with a power and authority that defied any argument.
And somewhere deep within, Padme believed. Luke’s faith commanded her to accept his affirmation and reject any shadow of a doubt.
Luke’s smile blossomed in her heart, along with a feeling she’d never have thought to have a place in this situation.
His piercing blue eyes bored into hers, and she knew she would remember that look until her dying day.
Holding her gaze, Luke bent his head and kissed his mother’s hand one last time, pressing his lips hard against her skin. Then, he stood up and kissed her forehead in a pledge that was still beating in his heart when he turned to his father.
Anakin didn’t even seem to be there. The shock and trauma were too great, and there was just nothing left inside him to draw strength from.
‘Look at me,’ Luke ordered the man who’d sired him.
And Anakin obeyed instantly.
Reaching out, the young Jedi took his father’s hands in his own, and pushed his Force-presence across the bond that joined them. He needed Anakin to understand what he was about to say, for that was the true reason that had brought him there, he knew that now. The reason why he had been born.
‘Promise me that you will never allow anything to be more important than your principles; more important than your convictions about right and wrong. Without that moral compass, we’re lost.’
Anakin’s lips trembled as tears welled up in his eyes.
‘Promise me that you will never give in to hate,’ Luke insisted. ‘That it will never be a choice in your mind and your heart. Love is the only truth that matters. Love has more power than anything in the Universe. Love is what brought me here... to you. Love is what will always bring me to you.’
“I promise on my soul,” Anakin vowed aloud, heedless of the scalding tears rolling down his cheeks. Why did it always take a tragedy to finally understand what one should have known all along? Why did his enlightenment have to cost his son’s life?
Luke’s face shone with contentment when he heard his father say the words. Releasing the big gloved hand, he wiped away the evidences of Anakin’s pain with his thumbpad.
“My mission is truly complete now,” he sighed serenely. “I have my family back. The rest is up to you, master.”
Anakin reached out to him to embrace him, but Luke moved back hastily, putting his palm on his father’s heart, stopping him.
‘Stay with Mother,’ he asked. ‘She needs you.’
Anakin’s arms dropped to his sides, unfilled and needy, crying out for his child. Luke’s eyes took on an ethereal quality then. The crystal blue of his irises seemed to ripple, to come alive with love, cocooning his father in it.
‘Farewell, Anakin Skywalker. I’m so proud to be your son!’
Anakin bit his lips mercilessly, dying inside when Luke began to retreat.
“I love you both,” the young Jedi’s statement reverberated throughout every corner of his parents’ beings. And with that, he turned about, picked up his helmet from the floor and walked up to his X-Wing. He climbed into it, adjusted his helmet and closed the cockpit.
The engines came to life, and the small fighter rose gracefully, seeming to float like a feather, facing the veranda.
Luke had to look at his parents for the last time. He needed that last image of them, together.
His mother stood beside his father with her lithe arms around his torso, and her head on his shoulder. Her husband’s arms around her smaller body made the perfect picture he would take with him.
‘Look at us, Leia,’ he addressed his twin sister lovingly. ‘And they don’t know you’re coming. That will be our gift to them. They’ll have their little Princess too.’
He inclined the nose of his X-Wing downward, saluting his parents respectfully. Padme sank her face in Anakin’s chest, and his father’s eyes fell closed. When they opened again they were swimming with such heartbreak that for a single second, Luke’s resolution wavered.
The futility of his wishes brought him back to the reality he couldn’t get away from. Turning his ship about, he accelerated brusquely, heading off for the destiny that awaited him.
Uncertainty and trepidation gripped his throat. He didn’t even have Artoo to make the fear bearable and just... be with him. He was alone, utterly alone, facing... oblivion.
‘Luke... my angel.’
‘Father!’ Luke’s soul sang, pure and innocent like a child’s, at the sound of the beloved voice. ‘What...? How...?’
‘I won’t leave you, little one. I am with you here and now, and forever.’
Luke’s heart missed a beat, sobering immediately.
‘No, you mustn’t. I won’t ask you to...’
‘You won’t go through this alone. I am your father, Son. Nothing will ever part me from you. If you must go... I’ll be there with you until the end, holding your hand. Don’t worry about me.’
And his father’s ultimate act of love infused Luke with the hope for the future – his future - that had faltered momentarily.
‘I love you; and I’ll be with you too, forever. We will see each other again. You won’t lose me. You won’t!’
‘I know. You helped me to find the strength within myself, and now I will be yours. I swear I will be the father you deserve!’
‘You are. You’re the only father I ever wanted. Even... then.’
Luke felt his father’s essence going out to him, and all of a sudden, it *was* there with him, in the cockpit. Anakin seemed to have channelled himself into his mind, and he was sheltering him from his fears, caressing his psyche with soft murmurs he couldn’t make out.
The X-Wing crossed the atmosphere of the planet and began to leave the dark, arid sphere behind. Stars came into view, and the blackness of space engulfed everything. It was close, very close now...
‘I am here, Luke. Always with you. Always...’
His father’s mind-voice was like a lullaby, warming him, soothing him.
Force, to be so loved...!
A faint feeling of dizziness came over him, and Luke recognized the signs. Unconsciousness was upon him, and his heart skipped a frantic beat.
‘Father!’ he cried out.
‘Just let go, my dear angel. Don’t be afraid. I’m holding you in my heart. Always in my heart, my baby. My precious angel...’
Luke knew that a big part of his father was being damaged forever by this; and still he was going through it, shielding him... loving him more than he’d ever been loved in his life.
‘Let go, my sweet baby... Your father’s here, always and forever. Always here for you!’
A lonely tear ran down Luke’s pale face and then, there was no fear anymore. Just love. His father’s all-encompassing love... for all eternity.