The Road Home - Part 2
by MJ Mink
Luke decided to tell his closest friends before he formally told the Alliance Council. He gathered them together on the Falcon--Han, Chewie, and even Leia. His petty jealousies of the past needed to be put aside; she and Han were truly his friends, no matter that they sometimes hurt him. Pain was a risk, he realized, of true friendship. And the test of that friendship was facing the pain and putting it aside.
Han propped his foot up on the gaming table. "What's up, junior? Gonna read us the riot act?"
*What is a riot act?* Chewie asked curiously.
*You do not know!*
"'Course, I know! I just...I'll tell you later, okay?"
Luke chuckled. Leia leaned forward, folding her arms on her crossed knee. "What is it, Luke? What's wrong?"
Oh, she was so serious! If he'd dared love her, he'd have been driven mad by her somber ways. He wiped his palms on his pants. Not surprisingly, they were damp with sweat. "I wanted to tell you three this before I told the Council. I'm resigning my commission and leaving the Alliance."
"Let me finish. Not forever. But I need to go home. I need to find out about myself and about the Force." He gazed past them, searching for words that would have meaning. "I feel so many conflicts. I'm so confused about who I am. I'm afraid I'll damage everything that's special to me, even my friendship with all of you, if I continue my present course. I don't know how long I'll be gone. But I promise I'll come back someday."
"Well, shit," Han muttered glumly.
Leia twisted her hands together. "What do you think you'll find at home?"
"Everything, I hope," he said with a smile. "All my answers."
Chewie tilted his head. *Then come with us, pup. Han-o wishes to repay his debt to Jabba, so we will be journeying to Tatooine anyway. Join us.*
"Yeah, join us, kid. It'll be like old times."
He tried to smile. "I'm not going to Tatooine. It's not my home. Though I hope not to mention that little fact to the Council." He looked at Leia. "If you won't tell them."
"Sure it's your home. Chewie and me met you there, remember?" Han poked his furred friend and laughed. "Wide-eyed kid in a bar full of scum the likes of which he'd never seen."
*I don't think the pup has had a total memory blackout. He is trying to tell us something. What is it, Young One?*
Sometimes he felt closer to Chewie than the other two. Maybe it was his age or his wisdom. Chewie reminded him of Vader.
"I was raised on Tatooine, but--" Luke drew a deep breath. "I am Sith. And I'm going home to Sith."
A stunned silence fell over the room. He sensed confusion, disbelief, a faint hint of fear. "There's no such place as Sith," Han said finally.
"Well, I've never seen it."
"You haven't been everywhere," Luke replied with a chuckle, "even though you'd like everyone to think so."
"Sith?" Leia leaned back in the chair. "Luke, it's a place of legend, a horror that wicked maidservants tell their young charges to punish them. It's not real."
He reached for her hand. "It's real. It's not a terrible place. It's my home. And I need to go there to find out who I am, what it means to be Sith. I need to find all the pieces of myself that are missing."
Han laughed harshly. "So Vader really is a Sith. This is all coming from him, isn't it?"
He released Leia and looked at Han. "Yes."
*How will you get to Sith?* Chewie interrupted. *It is on no navigational charts.*
"Vader is taking me."
"Ah!" Han and Leia both uttered identical sounds of dismay and looked at each other. "This is ridiculous," Leia stated. "Vader wants to destroy you. You're the last Jedi, Luke! He and the Emperor have killed all the others! You can't hand yourself over to him."
"There's where we have a difference of opinion." He stood and leaned against the wall, arms folded. "I trust him. He doesn't want to kill me--he wants me to become a Sith."
"You just said you are a--"
Luke waved his hand. "Sith can mean a native of the planet or a follower of the Sith sect. Or both. We agree I'm the first, and he thinks I should become the second."
*Why do you trust him, pup?*
Leave it to Chewie to get to the bottom line first. Luke pulled a stool in front of them and reseated himself. "This is another thing I'm not telling the Council. But I want you to know. No one else, just you three. I trust you won't repeat it."
Her brown eyes were concerned. "I...can't promise, Luke. I'm a member of the Council."
"I know, but--" He shook his head. She would never compromise, not even for friendship; whatever she decided was in the best interest of the Alliance, she would do. He met Han's eyes. "This is the truth you wondered about, the one I wouldn't tell you before." He glanced at Chewie and Leia. "I am Vader's son."
This time the silence was complete and extended. A few spontaneous murmurs of denial were bitten off, and he knew his friends believed it. He wanted to probe their thoughts, but accepted that it would be a hideous violation of privacy. So he waited, head raised proudly, for their responses, and part of him gloried in their consternation. Now they would begin to realize just how special he was.
*That explains much, Young One.* Chewie's voice quavered.
"Everything, I should think."
*Yes. So this is why you love him.*
"He's my father." How he loved the sound of those words!
"You said your father was a great Jedi," Leia said softly. "Anakin Skywalker. You said Vader killed him."
Luke nodded. "He is Anakin Skywalker. He was a Jedi. When he reverted to being a Sith, the Jedi leaders concocted the story that he was slain by Darth Vader because his defection was a great setback for them. Vader is the name the Emperor gave him for his own purposes. On Sith, my father is still Anakin Skywalker. He is the leader of the Sith Lords."
Leia's hands trembled. "What's going to happen to you, Luke? Are you going to become one of them--a Sith Lord? Is that what you want?"
"I don't know. It is not my desire now, but who knows what I'll discover? I'm uncovering myths about Sith...maybe its lords are shrouded in mystery, too. Maybe they are not evil as we've been led to believe."
"That's very naive."
"Is it?" He stared into her eyes, willing her to listen. "What are we taught? That Siths are evil. I am Sith. Am I evil?"
To her credit, she didn't give him an immediate response. She studied him carefully before she replied, "No."
"That shoots down the first myth, doesn't it?"
"Only if you're really Sith. How do you know Vader isn't lying to you?"
"Leia." She would never understand because she didn't want to. "I have a bond with my father. I am part of his soul, and he is part of mine. I know."
"And did you know he was your father when you rescued him on Stennis?" Han asked quietly, a suspicion of sharpness buried in his tone.
He looked at his friend, wondering if Han would see this as a betrayal. "Yes."
The gaze was cold. "You always knew?"
Luke shook his head. He wanted so badly to say yes, to tell them that it didn't matter what the rest of the galaxy thought. That he'd always known Vader was his father and always loved him.
Chewie stood. *When do you leave?*
"Two days." He rose and shrugged awkwardly.
The shaggy arms reached out and pulled him into a rough hug. Luke choked on a mouthful of fur and fumbled to get it off his tongue. *May good wishes travel with you, Young One. My thoughts will protect your path.*
"Thanks, Chewie." He extricated himself from the embrace, blushing for
no good reason. He waited for Han and Leia, accepting their tentative words
before leaving the Falcon. They would need time to discuss this without
his suffocating presence. He'd told them only two facts, but they were
probably two of the most difficult things for friends to accept. His parentage
and his background, all that they knew of him, were lies. The only truths
they'd ever really known were those they had seen--his spirit, his friendship,
his love. He hoped that would be enough to retain their brotherhood.
He was both delighted and nervous. This was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to him. How could his life have changed so much in so few years? Being whisked from Tatooine and thrown into the adventure of a lifetime had been almost beyond belief. But now--he had a father, his father was the greatest Dark Lord of the Sith, and he, Luke Skywalker, farmboy and Force-user, was going to Sith! It was like being invited into heaven or hell--Sith! A word used as a curse and a threat. A word that was synonymous with evil. Yet the name Vader also meant evil to the peoples of the galaxy, but from his enraptured eyes, he saw no evil in the man. Even their philosophies were not so different. It must be that Palpatine was the Evil One, and that his aura had contaminated everyone's perception of Vader. Leia would call him naive, but he could believe such a thing. He had been inside his father's soul, their spirits had been linked--he knew the truth and had felt the love.
Luke stared at the stars, never tiring of the sight. Their journey through hyperspace had been long, and it was a relief to be safely through. The star system outside his father's craft was unfamiliar. "Where are we?"
"Nearing the Outer Rim. This area is charted but Sith does not appear on any maps."
"That's what Chewie said. Why not?"
"No one but a Sith can see it."
He looked at his father. This was more than a new world he was approaching; it would be a whole new way of thought. "How will I understand everything?"
"You will. After you have been on Sith, you will just...understand." There was a lightness in Vader's voice.
"I've been too long away from Home. I was traveling there when the Alliance droid team shot me down."
He twisted in the copilot's seat. "Does it really affect you to be away?"
Vader laughed. "Indeed it does. You shall see the difference in both of us after a few days."
"Days. When we arrive, we will be left alone, unvisited and unwanted for three standard days in order that we may Rest and recover from the influences of Outside. Then we may rejoin the population."
Luke drew back. "That's a little weird. You mean we'll be...outcasts?"
"Not precisely. It takes three days for our souls to adjust."
A small wave of fear shuddered through him. This was so unknown, so strange. Would he have the courage to face it?
"Do not worry, young one. Your fear will pass once we arrive Home."
"Will it?" he asked wistfully. He realized his emotions were spiraling downward again, and he struggled to regain control of them. "I hope so."
Vader didn't reply, his attention focused on a strange, empty area in space. Luke stared at the blackness and saw a shape begin to shimmer and form into a ball. He drew a sharp breath. "Is that it?"
"That is Sith."
The ball seemed to glow in jewel tones, blue and green and hints of gold that pulsated and grew. Luke had never seen anything remotely comparable to the sight now unfolding before him. The planet shimmered, like a single star seen from far away. It twinkled, it winked, it beckoned to him in a manner he could not describe. He leaned forward, lips parting eagerly. Home. Yes. This was Home. He could feel it. His eyes brimmed with tears of elation as it loomed closer, reaching out for him with a feeling that embraced his mind and very soul.
The blue areas were seas, vast oceans that were serene and tranquil. Green covered the land areas, broken only by dots of white-capped mountains. And gold--gold seemed to be everywhere, sparkling off tall trees, dazzling the roofs of dwellings, glinting off the great oceans. By the time Vader brought their craft down for a smooth landing on a small, flat field, Luke was trembling with emotion. He felt his father's excitement, read it in the stillness that surrounded the large body once the ship's engines were shut down. Neither of them spoke for several minutes. Then Vader turned to him.
"You are Home, my son." His voice was joyous. "We're both Home."
Luke wished he could see the expression behind the black mask. Vader stripped off his leather gauntlets and tossed them aside. His pale hands made a strange contrast to the darkness of his garb. "Come."
He rose, heart beating so fast that he wondered if it would burst. He followed his father down the ramp and came to a sudden halt. All he could see was land. Rolling emerald hills splashed with a myriad of colorful wildflowers, tall trees, short trees--so different from Tatooine's barrenness, so dreamlike! "Is it real?" he breathed.
"As real as anything can be." Vader grabbed at his arm with the almost impatient tug of a child. "Come along."
With a grin, he followed. On the other side of their ship, the land sloped slightly upwards to a magnificent, sprawling structure built of rocks, peeking up over vine-covered walls. Luke bounded forward. "Is this our home?" he asked eagerly.
He knew it, recognized it somehow through that tumult of wild feelings that cascaded inside him. This was it, he should have grown up here! He should have climbed these trees and slid down that steep path and fallen off those walls a hundred times. He should have played Sith-games with other Sith-children, he should have dreamed Sith-dreams and cried Sith-tears. Someone had cheated him, someone had stolen him away from his life--his mother? With a touch of sadness, he pushed away the question. He would probably never know why she had hidden him, or even who she had been. It would have to be enough that he was here, now, finally Home.
A lean man burst through the arched entry in the wall, running to meet them. "My lord!" he called with obvious delight. Vader removed his helmet, lifted the mask from his face. He handed them to the man.
"Alin. It's good to be Home."
The man studied Vader critically. "You look like hell. You've been away too long, lord." A frown marred his strong face, crinkled lines around eyes that were pale grey.
Luke giggled at the servant's familiarity. The man focused on him. "And who is this?" he asked, his brow furrowing in puzzled concentration. "Not Sith...yet...."
"Sith," Vader confirmed. "But away his entire life. Alin, this is my son, Luke Skywalker. Luke, this is Alin Lightshiner."
"Son!" Alin exclaimed before Luke could utter a word of greeting. "Son! Anakin--lord--I'd given up hope--" He pumped Luke's hand, then pulled him into a fierce, quick hug. "Welcome, young lord! You don't know how excited everyone will be--! Laark will-- Oh, my lord!" He turned to Vader again and grabbed him with equal passion. "A son, an heir! I must know all! Where has he been? Why wasn't he born here? Where is his mother?"
"In time, Alin, all in time. For now, the journey has been extended and, as you say, we have been away too long."
"Yes. Forgive me. But the surprise--" Alin assumed a brisk demeanor. "Come, come, you must be fed before you begin your Rest. Ah, young one, in three days you will be as good as new."
"New?" Luke echoed.
"Better than you have ever been," Alin corrected himself. "Where were you raised?"
"Tat-- Someone should be executed for that."
"Someone was," Vader said dryly. "The two who reared him."
Luke flinched. His father looked down at him. "Do not regret it. They were not good to you."
"They raised me."
"Lighten up, lord," Alin interjected. "Better that he was taken in than left alone to make his own way on such a harsh planet. Forget your bad memories, young lord. You are Home. That is all that matters."
He felt as though his breath had been taken away. If all Sith were as overwhelming as his father and Alin-- Luke grinned and half-skipped a few steps as he followed the older men into the house.
This was great, just great!
By the end of the third day, his son was chafing from the restriction of remaining indoors. Anakin Skywalker smiled as he watched Luke pace restlessly, pausing every few seconds to stare out a different window.
"When can we go out?"
"Why do we have to wait until then?" His son crossed the room and sat at his feet, staring up at him with ill-concealed amazement. Luke's astonishment over his ability to rid himself of the cumbersome life support equipment still amused him. Soon enough the boy would learn that on Sith even the greatest miracles were commonplace.
"You look so different."
"Thank you, I think."
Luke grinned. "I mean...it's nice to see your whole face. And your hair's so...long. But," he added falteringly, "you're different in another way. You look...younger, I guess, than you did at the base. Or... happier? Handsome. I don't know. You sort of...glow. Does that sound stupid?"
He stifled an impatient sigh. How had Owen Lars pounded that ridiculous sentiment into the boy's head that any of his words might be stupid? "You are quite correct." It was close enough to the end of Rest that he could lift the edict regarding mirrors. "Come with me."
In his own spacious suite, he unlocked the tall doors that had protected a corner of the room. Light bounced off the triple mirrors installed there, blinding them for a moment with its glare. "Examine yourself," Anakin commanded gently. "You are nearly Rested."
Luke gave him a very strange look, then walked slowly toward the mirrors. For a moment, his eyes expressed a wild kind of panic, and he clutched his own arms as if to hold himself in a protective embrace. Then he moved close to the glass and stared, one hand reaching out to touch his reflection.
A smile brushed Anakin's lips. His child was beautiful, as was fitting. He'd only mated with women who were lovely, just in case an offspring was produced. Luke's skin was molten, dipped with gold, and his pale hair appeared touched with the light of Sith's huge moon. The brief taped footage he'd seen when his son had rescued the princess from the Death Star had given him a hint of the child's identity from the tanned skin and sun-bleached hair; now it was confirmed. He was a true Sith prince, a fitting heir to the title of Sith Lord. As handsome as his father and grandfather before him.
Luke swallowed audibly. "Is this...me?"
Anakin threw back his head and laughed. "Indeed it is, my young one. This is you as you truly are, free of the Outside, free of space decay."
"Will I stay this way even when I leave Sith?" he asked eagerly, examining his face closely.
"For awhile. Your appearance is dependent upon how often you return Home."
Luke shook his head, but couldn't tear his gaze away from himself. "This is so weird. It's...spooky. How can I look so different? Am I a different person?"
"You will learn the answers to all your questions in--"
"In time, I know. I must learn patience." The boy turned around and beamed at him. "Sith-hell, I look terrific!"
"Indeed. But I believe you should modify your language."
"Oops." A faint blush of color tinted the golden cheeks. "Guess I shouldn't use Sith anymore as a, um--"
"Curse. You are correct."
"What do we use instead?" the boy asked, mischief sparkling brightly in his eyes. "Jedi?"
Anakin chuckled. "You will find that, as a Sith, you will have very little to curse about--so your need for such language will gradually vanish."
"Oh." The boy whirled around in front of the mirror, then faltered. His body twisted, and he looked over his shoulder at the reflection of his back with uncertainty on his face.
Anakin stepped forward, loosed the ties at the neck of his son's long tunic. The silky fabric slipped off Luke's shoulders, and he tightened his grip on the upper arms. "Look," he commanded.
Luke's head twisted around again. His eyes widened as he craned his neck to study the smooth skin of his back. "They--they're gone!" he exclaimed incredulously. "My scars--they're gone!"
"Yes." With infinite tenderness, he pulled the boy close against his chest and stroked his hair. "All your scars will be healed, my son. You are Home. You are safe now and forevermore."
His son was safe with him, and his son had brought a measure of safety to Lord Skywalker himself. The Skywalker line was protected and extended. There would be no break in Sith's continuity. Soon he would have the boy bonded, and the next generation of Skywalkers would begin to appear.
Sith was secure once more.
"Who are these people?" Luke asked anxiously as he lengthened his stride to keep pace with his father. "Neighbors? Leaders? Friends of yours?"
"Yes," Anakin replied tersely.
"Yes, they are all those things. Must you ask so many questions?"
"Yes," he answered with a grin. "Why are we going to someone else's house instead of having them over? Why are we walking? Why haven't I seen any speeders? Why don't the towns have any names? Does everyone know where everyone else lives? Don't the people of Sith ever--"
Anakin Skywalker came to a dead stop, and Luke overshot him by a few steps. He halted and looked back. The look on his father's face was one of total bemusement.
"After the last few days, I thought you would have no questions left."
"I have lots of questions! Everything is so different here--"
"And all your questions will be answered. In time. Not all at once. Please have patience, Luke."
"I'm sorry." They resumed their quick pace, climbing to the top of a low hill. A pleasant, well-lit home appeared in the valley below. "You seem nervous."
"But these people are your friends."
"Yes. But I am also responsible to them for the...the safety of Sith. To them I owe a report on my progress."
"Progress?" He wanted to stop again, to have all the answers before they reached the house, but his father never paused. "Progress on what?"
"It will all--"
"Be explained. Okay."
This time his father stopped and squeezed his shoulder. "I realize that you are in what is for you an alien environment. I am sorry that it must seem so frustrating. But you will have all the answers eventually. Tonight's dinner is more than a social occasion. I will report on the status of Outside, on how that affects Sith. And, even more importantly, it is a historic occasion--the presentation of the next generation of Skywalkers." Pride swelled in Anakin's voice as he looked at his son. "They will be most pleased with you." He began walking again.
"That's a relief," Luke muttered uncertainly. Now he had more questions than ever. If his father was the leader of the Siths, to whom was he reporting? And if he was the leader, why didn't he stay planetside? He didn't bother to voice any of his concerns; all his life people had been telling him to be patient. Maybe it was time that he took their advice and waited and watched and listened.
They approached the house. It was built of the same large rocks as the Skywalker manse, and it too was probably centuries old. Luke instinctively liked it. "Who--?" He bit his lip.
His father chuckled. "You are permitted to ask. It is the home of Dev Starsinger, my closest friend. He always hosts my Thirdnight."
Thirdnight. This was all too much for his prosaic Tatooine upbringing. These people, this planet--too esoteric, too cryptic, too...weird. He clenched his hands behind his back, suddenly nervous. Until this moment he hadn't considered his role in tonight's events, but apparently his father thought him a key player. And so would these strangers. Would they like him? Would they approve? He was so different, he hadn't been brought up properly, would he say the wrong thing, use the wrong fork? Did he look like them? Would they recognize him as a Sith?
"Your anxieties are needless," Anakin murmured as they mounted the staircase.
"Will they know my thoughts as easily as you do?" The notion filled him with despair.
"No. Father and son share a special bond."
Those few words went a long way in soothing his worries. Luke smiled and felt himself begin to relax even though the door was flung open before they could ring.
"Anakin!" With the single word, the man threw both arms around his father and embraced him. "Welcome Home!"
"Dev." There was fondness in his father's tone, and Luke smiled faintly. "Thank you. It is good to see you again."
"Come in, come in." Dev Starsinger stared sharply at Luke. "Come, young one, let me have a look at you." But as they entered the spacious foyer, he immediately turned back to Anakin. "I can't believe it! A son! It's a miracle, a true miracle."
"Indeed it is. Let me present you formally." Anakin put his arm around his son's shoulders. "My son, Luke Skywalker. Luke, this is Dev Starsinger. He will be as good and true a friend to you as he has been to me for so many years."
Luke studied the other man as they shook hands. Dev was probably about his father's age--mid-forties--with steel grey hair and eyes like bottomless black cavities. He was of medium height--which was a relief, since Luke had wondered if many Siths were the size of his father--and was built rangy but proportionately. He decided the man's gaze was what he liked best about him; it was solid and honest, despite the intimidating color of the eyes. He could see no deceit in their cool depths. Still, he shifted uncomfortably under the intense scrutiny with which the man studied him, as if he was reading his very soul.
"Welcome, young Luke. I am pleased that you were found and brought Home, both for your sake--and your father's." With the last words, Dev shot a look of outright affection at Anakin. "Congratulations. I suppose it's years too late for a Birth celebration?"
Anakin laughed. "It is not customary for the son to appear at his own Birth celebration, and somehow I cannot imagine Luke allowing me to attend it without him. He can be quite stubborn," he added with a hint of boastfulness.
"Not unlike his father," Dev teased. He stepped between them and guided them down a wide hall. "Everyone is waiting. Tomorrow we can spend time together. My family is not here tonight, Luke, but you will meet them soon. Oh, damn, if only Alida hadn't bonded with the Windseeker boy! What a pair the two of you would have made!"
Luke swallowed. The first of his father's friends already wanted him bonded. Even his father had mentioned it. How could he tell them that he'd never even--well, he couldn't, so what could he use an excuse not to bond? He could scarcely face a female, let alone begin producing young on demand.
The evening passed in a blur of new names and faces and voices. He could barely keep up with the conversation because everyone seemed to talk over one another. In fact, they didn't wait for him to answer one question before another was aimed at him. And his alertness wasn't helped by the potent wine that made his eyelids heavy. He stifled a yawn and peered around the room for a chron. There were none. Maybe time wasn't important to Siths.
Though he tried to prevent it, eventually his lids fell closed. Lulled by the low murmurs and the warmth of the fire that blazed in the hearth near his chair, he fell into an exhausted sleep.
Eventually he was roused by a persistent touch. Forcing his eyes open, he focused them on his father. Anakin Skywalker knelt beside his chair, holding his arm, the other hand stroking his forehead. There was so much affection displayed both in the face and in the gesture that Luke felt a sudden rush of happiness catch in his throat. He smiled.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to...."
"Rest can be very tiring, my son. Particularly when it is your first one. I shall take you home and send you straight to bed."
"Your friends?" He straightened and looked quickly around the room. They were alone.
"Left. Dev is waiting to bid you good night. Come."
As he said farewell to their host and stumbled after his father, Luke wondered what he'd missed that evening. He hadn't heard any of the report his father was supposed to make. A faint suspicion wandered into his mind. Had they plied him with wine for this very purpose, to dull his senses so he wouldn't understand what was happening?
The notion made him feel faintly traitorous, and he banished it from his thoughts. He was a Skywalker, a Sith Lord, and he accepted that as the truth. How could he deny it? As for a Jedi--he no longer know what it meant or if he was one. Where was the enormous difference in philosophies that he'd expected? On the other hand, what was the Sith philosophy? All he remembered was what his father had said about Sith wanting to rule the galaxy. But when they had this paradise, why would they care about the rest of the galaxy? What could possibly equal the glory and contentment of life on Sith?
But if it was so glorious, why did his father continue to leave it?
Questions. Patience. He had a surplus of one and a serious shortage
of the other.
Days passed, brimming with gratification and joy. Anakin enjoyed the hours of lessons with his son, as well as the pleasure of his company. The boy was like a sponge, absorbing each new idea and doubting everything. He had never heard so many questions. It was a good sign. Despite his atrocious lack of formal education and discipline, Luke had a brilliant mind. He was canny and skeptical, much more than he had first appeared. Anakin had to be cautious in what he said, careful not to reveal too much before the boy was ready to hear it. There was much about Sith ideals that would disagree with Luke's rudimentary Tatooine patterns of life, and he didn't want to lengthen the educational process by having to shepherd the child over every small disparity in scruples or ideological concepts. In time, Luke would come to fully accept the ways of Sith; it was inevitable. For now, he would be eased gently into the experience of the life.
"You will like Leodi Windseeker," he commented idly. "She is quite charming."
Luke sighed and pushed the food around on his plate. "I don't want to get bonded."
"I said nothing about bonding," Anakin pointed out carefully. "You will merely be introduced to her."
With startling abruptness, the boy pushed his chair back and stood, throwing his napkin on the table. "I don't want to! I wish you'd leave me alone--quit bothering me about this! I never said I would stay here, I never said I'd get bonded! I want to leave!" And, after that extraordinary outburst, he did leave.
Anakin stared after him. His son was quite sensitive about matters of a romantic nature; he'd noticed it many times. It was almost as though--but no, the very idea was too alien, too extraordinary. Still...alien. Perhaps customs on Tatooine were different. Could it possibly be that Luke was lacking in sufficient education and experience, that his previous sexual or emotional relationships had been unsatisfactory? Unusual, yet it could have somehow occurred, given the boy's peculiar upbringing. He fingered the delicate ruby goblet that held the finest wine Sith had to offer and sipped it appreciatively. He'd learned to allow Luke an hour or two to sulk; then they could discuss the situation rationally. Fortunately, the meeting with the young Windseeker girl was not for two days; surely in that time, Luke would have come around and realized the logic of taking a mate. Then, when he was ready, he would be presented with his mate-to-be. In the meantime, flirtations with Leodi and her ilk would be good practice for the boy.
"Another crisis?" Alin asked as he removed the nearly-full plate from Luke's abandoned place.
"Another," he confirmed. "I do not recall that you had so many with your offspring."
"I had enough." Alin lowered himself into the vacant chair. "Yet my children were born and raised here. You have a tremendous job still ahead of you, trying to turn him into a true Sith."
"I know." He studied the man who was both his servant and companion. It was the traditional role of the Lightshiners to attend Skywalkers. Alin's father had served Arron Skywalker; his son would serve Luke--providing Luke remained on Sith. Though even if he did not, life in his service was still young Laark Lightshiner's destiny. He needed to make Luke understand that if he returned Outside, he would have to take Laark with him in order to establish their tie. It was nearly a bonding that occurred between master and servant, a lifelong commitment to be served with honor and trust by both parties. He would be interested to observe their first meeting. "When is Laark due back from University?"
"Next week. We decided that he would finish out the term."
"How does he feel about having to return?"
Alin smiled. "He's thrilled. Much as he loves his studies, he's always longed to work side-by-side with a Skywalker. You should have heard him!" The man laughed, mouth stretching widely. "When I told him you'd returned with a son his own age--! He was speechless for a full ten seconds!"
"Quite an amazing accomplishment," Anakin said wryly. "I would be grateful for an entire ten seconds of quiet from my son. Five, even."
"Bah!" Alin rose and gathered the remaining dishes. "You are totally preoccupied with him, it's obvious. If the sun could be made to rise and set according to his whim, you would see to it. I knew--and how often did I tell you?--that you would be an excellent father. What a shame you waited twenty years to discover it."
"I didn't wait twenty years," he answered rather crossly. "I reproduced on schedule. It was not my fault--"
"It never is." Having had the final word, Alin marched out of the dining room, bearing the plates as if they were trophies.
Anakin learned his elbow on the table and rested his chin in his hand. There were times it was a nuisance to be inflicted with someone who knew him so well. But more often, it was a blessing. He knew the same would be true of Luke and Laark, and he couldn't help but smile as he imagined his son at the mercy of that bright, impertinent Lightshiner. A Lightshiner who would plague Luke with penetrating comments and endless questions.
It was, in a way, poetic justice.
He allowed the prescribed time for Luke's brooding to pass, then he sought out the child, finding him sitting in the darkness of the garden. "Come," he commanded from the doorway.
With an distinct lack of enthusiasm, Luke obeyed, following him down the corridors to the master Skywalker suite. It was Anakin's favorite room in the huge house, encompassing his sleeping chambers and, at the opposite end, a private sitting area complete with absurdly comfortable furniture and a wide stone fireplace. It was there he settled into the large chair, allowing his son to slouch in one corner of the long sofa. He studied the boy for several minutes, mentally experimenting with several subtle approaches and rejecting each of them. Perhaps a direct attack would be the most expedient.
"I sense you have some problems of a sexual nature. Would you care to discuss them?"
"What!" Luke blinked rapidly, violent color washing into his cheeks. "I--no! I mean, I don't have any problems of--no. Nothing."
Evidently he'd selected the wrong approach. Anakin sighed. The cloak of fatherhood seemed to wear so effortlessly on his friends; why could he not gather it to himself with similar ease? "Forgive me," he said carefully. "I am being less than tactful. I only meant that you were not brought up in the Sith way and have no experience in our manners of sexual instruction. What sort did you receive on Tatooine?"
The boy looked faintly appalled. "What sort of what did I receive?"
"Sexual education," he repeated, grasping for patience. "Did your guardians teach you or--" he nearly shuddered at the idea, "--were you instructed in school?"
The mouth opened and remained that way for several seconds. "Uh, no," Luke said faintly. "That is...well...."
This embarrassment over normal biological functioning was difficult to comprehend; fortunately, he had heard of the ways of Outside and knew many civilizations still used barbaric ceremonies to initiate their young into adulthood. "Was there some sort of ritual you did not complete?"
"Ritual?" the boy echoed. "No. There was...nothing."
"What do you mean, nothing?"
"I mean...nothing. Well, except once when Uncle Owen--" The blush returned, deepening until the child's skin appeared mauve in the firelight.
"Ah. Your uncle instructed you." Though he couldn't imagine what that obscenity of a human could have known about the tender arts, it was still something of a relief that his son had at least minimal supervision.
"No, not instructed. He--" The legs shifted, pulling up until they were crossed on the sofa. Luke studied his fingernails. "He caught me. Once. When I was a kid."
Anakin strained to hear the soft whisper. "Caught you?" he repeated, bewildered. "Doing what?"
"You know." Another wave of color washed across the flesh.
He wondered if his son would overheat and have a coronary. So much misplaced shame--had it been anyone else, he would been disgusted. "No, I do not. If you cannot tell me, then let me see a mental picture."
"No!" The legs were uncrossed again. "He...I was...you know...." One hand made a vaguely familiar gesture.
"Ah." He nodded, finally understanding. "Pleasuring yourself."
Luke rolled his eyes and slumped deeper into the corner of the sofa. "Yeah," he mumbled.
All this agony for no reward at all. Covertly, he checked the chron. At this rate, it would take a week to discover the extent of his son's bizarre Tatooine education. "And?" he prompted.
"And what?" Luke's defiance slowly faded in the face of his determined silence. "He...beat me. Said what I was doing was...that it was wrong, that I was...dirty. The devil's spawn--he called me that a lot. He said that I'd spoiled myself. That I'd ruined myself for...for any girl. That I...." The words trailed off, the blond head turning away. Luke stared into the fire.
Stunned, Anakin stared at the still profile. For one of the few times in his life, he was bereft of words. Luke was not a liar, so what he said must be the truth. But how could anyone--even the despicable Lars--tell such destructive lies to a child? Outside was full of obscenities; the Sith were correct to stay away from it. Maybe they should stay further, should not even be involved in this Empire versus Rebellion drama. Sith needed to be protected from poisons such as this.
He returned his thoughts to his son. He was not, had never been, a weak man, but this was a very difficult matter with which to contend. He was so deep in contemplation that he was startled when Luke spoke again.
"Then there was a girl. She...laughed at me. I was scared. I couldn't...I kept thinking of Uncle Owen and what he said and I thought she'd see that I was...spoiled." Luke slid off the sofa and onto the floor, clutching his knees to his chest, resting his forehead on them. "So I can't, you see. I don't want to meet any girls here. I don't want to get bonded. I just can't."
Anakin drew a deep breath. Instinctively, he joined his son on the floor, resting one big arm around the boy's shoulders. Luke leaned against him. "I am sorry for your experiences," he said awkwardly. "Your upbringing was very different from how it would have been here. You are Sith. You needed to be raised in the Sith way. Because you were not is why you have confusion about such things. The inadequacies are in your education, not in yourself. Here on Sith, you would have received sexual instruction the same as your training in every other area. Sith parents instruct their children, preferring not to leave such tender guidance in the hands of teachers or, worse, strangers." For that was another Outside corruption with which he was familiar, sending one's children into worlds where they would be sexually exploited and even wounded, physically and emotionally, by strangers. "I know it is late, but if you wish, I can instruct you."
Luke shrugged. "What's the point? I know everything, I just can't do it."
"Haven't," he amended gently. "Unless you have a physiological abnormality--and you do not--there is no reason why you cannot. You merely require instruction in the physical acts and the emotional complexities."
The head lifted, and Luke gave him a small smile. "You make it sound so simple."
"It is. And totally natural."
The boy laughed. His eyes reflected artless adoration. "I'm glad I found you," he said softly.
"I found you," Anakin corrected.
"Whatever, I'm glad." Luke straightened his back, groaning. "Can we get off the floor now?"
"Gladly." There was a time when he could have leaped to his feet as easily as his son did; now he accepted the assisting hand that was offered. "Shall we begin this evening?"
"Sure." Luke appeared less than eager to begin his instructions; that would change soon enough, Anakin thought with amusement.
He crossed to the bed and pulled the tunic over his head, dropping it down the laundry chute hidden beside the armoire. Sitting on the edge of the soft mattress, he unlaced his tall suede boots. After removing one, he became conscious of the unnatural stillness in the room. Looking up, he saw Luke staring at him with huge eyes.
"What are you doing?"
He looked at the laces wound around his fingers. "Disrobing."
Luke's mouth was hanging open in a most unbecoming fashion. "Wh--why?" he stuttered.
Anakin dropped his boot and unlaced the second one, glancing at the boy with some annoyance. "What is wrong with you? You just indicated your willingness to begin your lessons this evening--have you decided it is inconvenient?" He had little patience with vacillation and indecisiveness.
His son seemed to collapse against the wall. "Inconv-- Lessons? Lessons? You mean-- Wait a minute. Uh...I think you've lost me here. What do you mean by lessons?"
"Instructions. Training. What do you think I mean by lessons? Surely your vocabulary is not so limited that you are incapable of understanding such simple words." He unfastened his trousers and slid them down his legs. Did the child not understand this was a sacrifice on his part? He could have spent the evening with Elisa Darklighter instead of participating in this ancient parent-child ritual. Hands on his hips, he glared at the boy. In an even further absurdity, Luke blushed and turned away. "What is wrong with you?" he repeated.
"I think...." Luke swallowed audibly and folded his arms, staring woodenly at the floor. "I think I misunderstood. We...I thought you meant you were going to teach me about sex--with words. Pictures, maybe. A vid? Not.... I mean...." He licked his lips nervously and spread his hands. "Look, Father, I've tried to understand everything you've been showing me. I think I'm doing pretty well. But this...this is not the way I was raised."
"I know. That is why--"
"Will you let me finish? And will you put something on? Please?"
Unbelievable. Fuming silently, Anakin fumbled in the armoire for a robe and belted it around himself. He stalked back to the sitting area and faced his son. "What are you attempting to say?"
"I am attempting to say that this is...for me, this is morally wrong. Where I come from, parents don't--don't have sex with their children. That would be an abomination."
"Abomination?" He never remembered being so offended. "Are you quite mad? You just revealed to me your atrocious introduction to sexual matters, and now you say that Sith's loving, sensible approach is an abomination?"
Luke shook his head despairingly. "I'm trying to understand. I can see that this is a Sith custom. And it's valid for you. I'm not criticizing it. I'm just saying that for me it's wrong. I don't come from a culture that handles its children this way."
"No," Anakin sneered, giving full freedom to his quickly rising anger, "your culture abuses and maltreats them. And yet you prefer it. So be it. Perhaps you should go back to your precious Outside. Have children--if you can--and treat them in the manner in which you were treated. Destroy their fragile psyches the way yours was desecrated. You have no respect, no understanding, for Sith and its ways. You will never be a true Sith--you will never be a true Outsider. You are--nothing!"
Luke didn't flinch, but his face had gone white. "You don't mean that," he whispered.
Of course he did not mean any of it. He clicked his tongue, annoyed with himself for losing his temper. Nothing would be accomplished by a show of anger--indeed, much could be lost. But the boy was so damn aggravating-- "You are correct. I apologize. I find it difficult to accept criticism of Sith customs, particularly one with which I have had no adult experience." He stopped and considered his words. "To teach one's child about sexual matters is normal. We do not risk our children with dangerous innocence. We instruct and protect them so they know how to develop relationships and are not constrained by sexual inabilities. That is one reason bondings are so successful on Sith. Incompatibilities are virtually nonexistent. It is not like other planets where sex takes on mythic proportions. Here it is a simple function, meant for both pleasure and reproduction. It is not an object of anguish. In offering to teach you, I am offering you my wisdom and experience, another part of myself that I wish to share with you. If I am awkward in my approach, it is because it is rare that a parent needs to instruct a grown child. Generally, by the time they have reached adulthood, they are experienced in all manners of sexual activities. I am trying to assist you in overcoming the abysmal manner in which you were treated and the unhappiness which it has caused you."
Luke's expression had gradually softened. He nodded slowly. "Thank you. I understand. And I appreciate what you are trying to do. But please understand what I'm saying. I have a lot of changes to get used to. This one is too...difficult. This is not...me. I care about you. But not in a sexual way."
"Of course not in a sexual way." Again he felt that bewilderment. "This has nothing to do with sexual desire." They were speaking in two different languages. Perhaps they would never find total harmony. "It is parental caring."
Luke smiled and reached over to brush his knuckles across the sleeve of the thick robe. "Well, I'm still getting used to parental caring, okay? Let's skip the sex education bit for now."
"I will, of course, accede to your wishes." Anakin frowned, not entirely convinced. "Perhaps if you had a mother to instruct you--" he began.
"Mother? Oh, not the mothers too!" Luke burst into laughter.
He was at a loss to understand the amusing aspect of the conversation. "It is unusual, but I could procure a mother-substitute for you--"
Luke gave a little shriek. "No, thanks! I don't think I could take any more parental caring right now! I'll just, uh, leave." He began backing toward the door, giggling nervously. "Oh, nobody will believe this! I'll--I'll see you in the morning. For breakfast? Maybe you can draw me some little...sex pictures?"
"I do not draw," he replied stiffly.
"Not even stick figures?" Luke inquired with a touch of hysteria. "Good night, Father!" He fumbled for the doorknob at his back, slipped through the entry, and slammed the door behind him.
Children. Anakin sighed and removed the heavy robe. Alien children.
Had another Skywalker ever been in such a situation? He would have to review
the family journals. Or maybe-- A smile of hope lit his face. Maybe Laark
Lightshiner could explain the facts of parent-child relationships to his
unhinged son. Sith knew, someone had to!
Leodi Windseeker. What kind of name was that? Strange names these Sith had. It reminded him of Biggs. Biggs Darklighter. He'd ask his father about that. Could it be that Biggs had been Sith?
Luke stared at his black evening wear in the mirror. This was probably some get-thee-to-a-bonding costume, and they just weren't telling him. Shit. No wonder his father left Sith. It seemed like paradise--and maybe it was--but it was stifling. There were so many rituals, so many proper ways of behavior. No one ever cut loose, no one ever had fun. They all acted as if they were carrying the weight of the galaxy on their shoulders.
Still...who knew? Maybe they were. Maybe Sith was the living embodiment of the Force. It had occurred to him several times. There was something eerie, almost mystical, about the planet itself. The grass never seemed to grow, the trees never shed leaves. Even the flowers didn't wilt. Maybe it was all some kind of illusion brought about by the Force. Maybe they were really living it a hell-pit but couldn't see it. These questions were not ones he felt comfortable putting to his father. In fact, he was almost afraid to ask his father anything after that bizarre sex situation.
Luke ran a brush through his hair. Perfect. Bondmate on his way to meet the beloved stranger. He had news for these people. He wasn't getting bonded to anyone, not anyone, for a damn long time. If ever. Or maybe someday. Strange how that little lecture his father had given him had served to ease his mind. No matter how uncomfortable he'd been, it was reassuring to know that it was only his Sith education that was lacking. If he'd been brought up properly--
There was a tap at his door. "Enter," he said resignedly, because it was Alin, and Alin would enter whether bidden or not.
"Ready, young lord? Let's have a look at you."
He turned and presented himself like a stock animal at auction. Would Leodi's parents want to see his teeth? He would have rather met Dev's daughter, bonded or not, than this stranger whose parents he didn't even know. Still, his father said her breeding was impeccable--actually, he'd said she would be a good sturdy breeder, it ran in her family.
"Doesn't anybody marry for love around here?" he muttered aloud.
Alin chuckled. "Everyone marries for love, child. Love is abundant on Sith."
That was another thing he was sick of. All this camaraderie and mutual admiration business. He could see why everyone fawned over his father and himself--Skywalkers were the leaders of Sith--but they seemed to do it with each other, too. He wondered if the women were the same way. He'd yet to meet one. Oh, he'd seen women in the village center, heard a few feminine voices raised in laughter somewhere in the Skywalker compound, but none had ever been in attendance at the dinners they'd frequented. Every occasion seemed to be strictly male. He'd asked his father about it, but he'd only received a very odd look and a comment about women patronizing their own functions. Whatever that meant.
Leia would hate it here. He grinned to himself. She'd drive the Siths completely mad with her imperious demands and willful conduct.
"Come along now. Don't keep your father waiting."
Another order. His life was ruled by orders. "When will Laark get here?" he asked wearily. If he had to have an attendant ordering him around, at least it could be someone his own age. Hopefully, they would be friends. He was beginning to feel the absence of Han and Chewie. Not that his father wasn't a terrific companion...but he was awfully touchy at times.
"Only a few more days. He is anxious to be with you, too."
Anxious. That described his feelings exactly. He was anxious to meet Laark Lightshiner, but why? Was it as his father had said--their destinies were intertwined? So why didn't he feel the same way about Leodi? Was she not the mate for him? Or was there a difference in the way a Sith felt about friends and lovers? Still so many questions.
Patience. In time. He could almost hear the admonitions. But he was so tired of being patient. Which was another thing--everyone here was so damn patient!
With an annoyed exclamation, Luke stomped from his room and ran down the staircase. Luke Skywalker wasn't patient, not by a long shot! He'd just meet this Leodi Walkwinder or whatever her name was and be pleasant and get it over with. Tomorrow he could start afresh; he could find a girl of his own if he wanted. Or not, if he didn't want. He would demand some answers about this planet and these people and what the hell was their purpose. And then he would decide if he was staying here or going back to the Rebellion.
He would decide. Not his father.
"Are you quite ready?" Anakin Skywalker stopped him at the bottom of the stairs and studied his dress.
"I'm ready. I'm fine."
"Leave my collar alone," he said, enunciating each word distinctly. "I am tired of being prodded and poked and fiddled with. Have our guests arrived?"
Anakin shook a warning finger at him. "Mind your manners, boy."
He lifted his chin and looked coldly at his father. "My manners will be impeccable. Just don't try pulling any tricks on me."
He ignored the question and swept regally into the drawing room. If he was to be a young prince, then he'd play the part. Thoroughly.
His entrance was ruined by his father's effortless movements to overtake and pass him. "My son, Luke Skywalker," Anakin said quickly before he could open his mouth. "May I present Kalir Windseeker, father of Leodi. And his mate, Thalia."
"My pleasure," Luke murmured, shaking Kalir's hand and bowing over Thalia's pale fingers. They were a pleasant-looking couple--but then who on Sith was not?--obviously upper class wealthy--who wasn't?--and pleased to be in the presence of Skywalkers. Like everyone else. Cautiously, he turned his eyes on the girl who hovered in the background, her gaze cast shyly downward.
She was tiny. No, she was young! Luke suppressed an automatic gasp of dismay. She could only be--fourteen, fifteen? Ridiculous. He sent an angry message to his father. She's a baby!
"My daughter Leodi," Kalir was saying, taking her arm and leading her forward the same way Alin served the main course at their dinners. "As we are, she is also honored to make your acquaintance, young lord."
He smiled pleasantly at her, causing her cheeks to go pink. It wasn't the girl's fault, after all. Anyway, she was just the first in the long line of prospective mates. Mentally he groaned at the probability of endless dinners with more little girls and their boring parents. He already knew what his father would say. That girls his own age were already bonded, that he would have to take a younger one. A good breeder.
It was one of the longest meals of his life. And, though he focused
on the conversations, he spent most of his cerebral time murdering his
The garden was very still, not unusual for a Sith night. There were no sounds except the occasional ruffling of leaves in the warm breeze. Luke bit his lip and looked nervously at his father. "What if he doesn't like me? What if I don't like him?"
"Impossible," Anakin repeated. "There is much you don't understand about Skywalkers and their Lightshiners."
"There's much I don't understand about a lot of things, and I'm not making any progress in learning about them." He tried to quell the irritation that rose in him. "And please, Father--don't say 'patience' again."
"Very well." There was amusement in the warm voice. "Perhaps you'd prefer an explanation?"
His eyes widened. "Yes!"
Anakin inclined his head slightly. "Each generation, one male Skywalker and one male Lightshiner are born. Though they are not blood kin, there exists a symbiotic relationship between them as you will discover. Over the years, you will learn--and Laark will teach you--what you can expect from your Lightshiner. He will serve to calm and comfort you, to irritate you, to steer you toward the correct path, to hear all your concerns and ideas, to offer his own ideas--"
He was taken aback by the recitation. "If he does all that, what do I do?"
"You do the work." His father chuckled. "Think of him as your astromech droid--you pilot your ship while he feeds you all the necessary data, maintains the craft, and makes repairs."
Like everything else on Sith, the ideas were difficult to grasp. "Does Alin do all that for you?"
"Yes. He always has."
"But he's not your best friend. You have Dev."
"Yes. It is a difficult distinction to explain. Above all, your Lightshiner is your servant--less in a domestic way than a servant to your will and to the Skywalker spirit. At your age, Laark may become closer to you than anyone else, but that is not necessarily friendship."
Luke hesitated. "Is there some kind of social barrier? A caste system that says he'll never be my friend?"
Anakin shook his head. "It's not that simple. It is more that he will become part of you rather than a separate entity. You will exist together, as a single being. Which is why it is imperative that you protect his life when you take him Outside."
"You mean...if he dies, I'll die?"
"No." The dark blond head shook again. "But you would find it extremely difficult to cope with his loss. While you are in the bonding stages, you must take him wherever you go. As the years pass, you may leave him behind as I leave Alin."
One word stood out. "Bonding?" With the weird customs on Sith, he was almost afraid to ask. "You mean like--?"
"No. Relax." There was laughter in Anakin's voice. "You will create a bond, a tie, a relationship with him much as you are doing with me. He will serve you for all your life and, in a different way, you will serve him."
"Serving you will fulfill all his needs. Soon he will wish to bond and produce a son."
There was a definite hint in that last statement. Luke looked sideways at his father. "And I'll have to produce a son to go along with his, right?"
He put his hands on his hips. "Then how did you get away with it? As near as anyone knew, you didn't have a son."
"It was quite a crisis," Anakin said with a sigh. "No one understood how Sith allowed it. Alin was criticized for producing off-schedule. The elders could not decide whom to blame. Finally, they decided it was Sith's will. Now, of course, they say that they knew all the time that you'd been born. No Lightshiner without a Skywalker, they say."
"Indeed." His father looked up at the huge moon. "It's time. Go along and meet your Lightshiner while Alin and I have a drink to celebrate. You and Laark may join us later if you wish."
"Thanks," he muttered, feeling like he'd just been pushed out the proverbial door. When his father retreated to the house, he ventured a few feet into the garden and waited under the leafy darkness of a spreading ebonwood tree.
A few minutes passed before a light glowed at the far end of the row of shrubbery that divided the Lightshiner house from the Skywalker manse. A door opened and closed. Luke felt both nervous and excited. It was like meeting a relative he'd never known. The idea of having a companion and never being alone again was very appealing. He drew back further into the shadows and watched the figure that walked hesitantly toward the center of the garden. It stopped, highlighted by the glow from the moon.
It was a young man his own age and of a similar height, Luke noted with relief. The hair was very long, past his shoulders, and appeared to be a brown shot with gold. The figure was trim and dressed all in brown from boots to high-necked tunic. Laark's hands were clasped behind his back. Luke reached out with his senses. Behind the calm pose, he felt taut nerves, stretched and quivering nearly to the breaking point, and an overwhelming excitement. A smile touched his lips. His Lightshiner. Laark.
The head turned directly at him, and the boy squinted into the shadows. "Lord?"
Luke grinned and stepped forward, not stopping until he was within touching distance. Instinctively, he took both Laark's hands in his own before the other youth had a chance to speak. "Laark," he repeated aloud.
Transparent relief filled the Lightshiner's face, and happiness made it light like a beacon in the middle of a great dark sea. A huge smile appeared. "Lord!" With a deft gesture, Laark freed his hands and flung his arms around Luke, squeezing him with surprising strength. "It's really you!"
Luke gasped for air. This was not the historically correct, dignified meeting he'd planned in his head. "Uh...."
He was shoved back to arm's length, hands still clasping his shoulders. "Let me look at you! Oh, you look wonderful! You look like your father! You look like me! My father said you did but I couldn't believe it! He was right! I'm so happy! I can't believe you're really here! And alive! After all these years! I waited my whole life for you!" The tone became slightly chastising. "Where have you been? Oh, I know--Tatooine--but what were you doing there? You should have been here. Do you know what my life was like without you? Everyone wondered what I would do--the children made fun of me! Whoever heard of a Lightshiner without a Skywalker? They said I was a freak, an aberration, but I said to them hah--just wait and see, there'll be a Skywalker for me, Sith says so! And I was right. And just in time! Any older and we couldn't have had any fun. It would have been better if you'd been here the whole time, of course, but that can't be helped, can it? Tell me everything about yourself--I want to hear it all. Your father said you were raised atrociously. Well, I'll take care of that. From now on, everything will be perfect. It is true you were raised ordinary--that's a crime! But your father said those who raised you were killed for their lack of respect, as well they should have been! Outsiders are disgusting, horrible creatures. But never mind, you're here now and I'll take care of you. You have to take care of me, too, you know, did your father tell you? I know everything because I was brought up to be a Lightshiner, but you don't know hardly anything. Don't worry, I'll teach you but it will take a long time, you've missed so much!"
"Laark--" Luke tried to squeeze in the word. The fingers on his shoulders were becoming uncomfortably tight.
"Is it true you joined the Rebel Alliance? That's so exciting--well, not that I'd want to, of course, but it's a way to-- What?"
A moment of silence; Luke hurried to fill it. "Do you always talk this much?" he blurted.
Laark drew back and stared at him. His hands dropped. "I don't have to talk at all, if that is your preference, lord."
He nearly groaned at the stiff tone. "No, that's not my preference. Just let me get a word in now and then?" As if in apology, his fingers brushed Lark's cheek; he surprised himself with the gesture.
The pale eyes softened. "I'm sorry, lord. I'm just excited."
"So am I." Luke stared into the eyes. He'd half-expected them to be blue like his own, but they weren't. It was difficult to tell in the darkness, but they appeared grey. Their depths were appealing, full of knowledge and understanding, and they drew him closer. He bent his head, and their foreheads rested together in silent communication.
This was his brother. No matter the complicated explanations his father gave, it was that simple. His brother, his twin. The other half that had been missing, the reason no friend could ever fill that emptiness, the reason that it was not filled even by his father. In their mixing flood of emotions, he felt their bond, Laark's recognition, his own acceptance. Then deeper feelings insinuated themselves, and he knew that brother was not the correct term. More than a brother, yet less than a brother. The missing side of his personality? Was this where his happiness was, his lightness, his cheerfulness, the contentment that had always been absent? And did he hold Laark's darkness inside him, the brooding, the heavy clouds that seemed to overshadow his days?
Luke slid his arms around Laark's waist, and they stood quietly for several minutes, each lost in his own thoughts. Finally Luke drew away.
"Shall we join our fathers? I believe they're toasting our meeting."
"Yes." Laark smiled at him. "We will share this moment with them. Because from now on, we'll be together, just us. Every day."
Oh. What a strange, frightening, comfortable idea! Luke grinned and grasped Laark's hand, leading him into the house. "Does that mean you have to come to all my meet-your-mate dinners?"
"Not on your life," Laark said firmly. "There are some things
a Lightshiner doesn't have to do!"
"I could have killed him." Luke finished the recital of his latest mating dinner. "If he doesn't stop trying--"
"You can hardly blame him," Laark said worriedly. "Sith was almost without a ruling family! Just because your father is anxious for you to reproduce--"
"I hate that word," Luke warned. "I am not a clone scientist. I am a human. I have children, I do not reproduce."
"Semantics." Laark reduced his concerns to a single word and looked around him. They had walked several miles from the Skywalker compound, over hills and through fields that looked the same, one after another. "A beautiful day."
"Is there any other kind?" His tone held a faint hint of sarcasm, but he really wanted to know.
"Yes." The grey eyes looked at him, huge and serious. "I remember one. I was very small, but I thought it was the end of life. I thought the world was going to explode. The skies grew black and loud noises shook the house. It was terrible."
"What was it?"
The other young man pulled a yellow blossom from the soil and chewed on its stem. "It was because of your father," he said finally. "When he left to follow Senator Palpatine."
"Palpatine was here?"
The head shook vehemently, long hair flying. "No! He would never be allowed on Sith! But your father defied the Order and left and that made Sith angry."
Luke lay back on the grass, considering the words. This was the first real confirmation he'd heard from anyone that Sith was more than a planet; It was a living creature. A creature that supported only the lives of humans and flora. There were no animals anywhere. He found that he missed birds; there had been none on Tatooine, but he had learned to love their calls and their songs when the Rebels' travels took him to other worlds. "Why did It allow my father to leave? Couldn't It stop him?"
"You tease," Laark accused gently.
There was something akin to pity in the expressive gaze. "Sith is Skywalker. It could not stop your father, just as It cannot stop you in whatever you wish to do. But you are Sith. You have an obligation to Sith and to all of us."
He closed his eyes against the glare of the sun. "An obligation to do what?"
"To care for us, of course. Don't you understand anything?" A breath was drawn sharply. "I'm sorry, lord. I didn't mean to speak that way. It is difficult to remember that you don't know."
"It's all right." He rolled onto his stomach and propped his chin on his folded arms. "I want you to feel free to say whatever you wish. It's the only way I'll learn." A thought drifted along the edges of his mind. "How old were you when that bad day happened?"
"When your father left? I'm not certain--just a baby. I only remember it because I'm a Lightshiner, and we have remarkable memories."
Luke hid his smile. "Then we must be about the same age."
"Of course! We're exactly the same! We'll celebrate our birth days together."
"Really?" He turned his head and watched a cloud gradually disperse and leave an unblemished blue sky. "I don't know when my birth day is."
"It's the same as mine. You really don't know anything, lord! The Skywalker and the Lightshiner are always born on the same day." With a sigh, Laark stretched out on his back beside him. "I can't imagine what your life must have been like. It was so unfair! To me, too. I spent my whole life worrying because I didn't know what I would do without a Skywalker to serve. And wondering if Sith would end if your father didn't return. Everyone has been so frightened for so long. Even when the Great Lord would come--"
"The Great Lord. Your father. Even when he would come back and explain and help us, we were still afraid. What if something had happened to him? Oh, I know he's Protected, but is he still Protected when he's Outside? Are you?"
Luke ran his fingers through the grass, searching in vain for an insect. "I don't know what Protected means."
"Protected." Laark sat up, gesturing with his hands. "Unable to be harmed."
"I don't think so." Luke raised himself, chuckling. "I got my hand chopped off. That's not very Protected."
"But your father did that, and he's a Force User," Laark said sensibly, which seemed to be a satisfactory explanation for him. "Has anyone else ever harmed you?"
"Yes. Not badly. But I can be struck and injured."
"But not killed."
"Not so far!" With a grin, Luke hauled himself to his feet. "Let's start back. I'm getting bored with all the great weather and beautiful scenery."
With a fluid, graceful movement, Laark joined him. "You make Sith laugh," he commented.
Luke stole a glance at his new brother. "I do?"
"Can't you feel it?"
He focused his senses inward, searching for a change in the usual monotonous pattern. There was something, though he couldn't quite grasp its import. "I'm not sure."
Laark shook his head. "In time you will learn. It's a good thing I'm here to teach you, lord. Or you would be hopelessly lost."
"That's the truth." He wondered: if he wished they were back at the compound, would Sith would deposit them there? How much power did he hold over this planet?
"It's a good thing my father insisted that I complete my Lightshining training," the other man continued. "If he hadn't made me, I would have given up in despair. I thought I'd never have a Skywalker of my own! But Father insisted, because he said you never know what might happen. I'm glad your father didn't have a late baby, though, because I wouldn't have wanted to be stuck with an infant. It happened once, thousands of years ago, and the poor Lightshiner nearly went mad."
Luke let the chatter wash over him in comforting waves. Laark Lightshiner would never be at a loss for words. He talked more than Threepio. "Did your parents teach you about sex?" he interrupted abruptly.
"Of course. They taught me about everything. Why--do I seem lacking in education in some area? Do I need more training to serve you properly? Do you wish to test my sexual capabil--"
"No, you're fine." He held up one hand in an effort to stem the flow. "I was just curious if you had a traditional Sith upbringing."
"There is no other kind. Except for someone like you, of course, who was born Outside."
Luke stopped. "On Tatooine I had a friend named Biggs Darklighter. Is he any relation--"
Laark was nodding. "Darklighter, yes, I heard. Died for you, he did, like he was supposed to. Regrettable, but he saved the family honor. Son of Byrne Darklighter, quite the renegade in his day. Left Sith for the life of a plain human. A real scandal for the Darklighters."
"Wait a minute," he interrupted again. "What do you mean, 'died like he was supposed to'? How did he know who I was? My father said no one knew that I even existed!"
"No one did. Your father discovered your consciousness during the destruction of that hideous machine, the Death Star--he just told my father and my father told me all about it," Laark added importantly. "He sensed the Force and traced your path. Would have accidently killed you if not for Darklighter's sacrifice. Darklighter must have sensed you, even though you were an Outsider. And so was he. A small mystery." Laark clicked his tongue. "What a pity. Siths die often when they leave Home. Not Skywalkers, of course--that's a relief! Still, I suppose you'll want to go Outside someday and back to that Rebellion, and what will become of me? I might die, you know, if you take me Outside."
"I won't take you. You can stay here."
Laark came to a dead stop, and Luke turned to look at him. A look of astonishment was spreading across the youngster's face, rapidly followed by one of hurt. "What have I done, master? How have I failed you already?" The youth dropped to his knees, head bowed in despair. "I shall die willingly if I've disappointed you!"
"Don't overdo it," Luke said uneasily, looking around. "Get up, will you? I just...I don't want you to die, that's why I said you could stay here."
"Oh, master!" Like a cork, Laark was back on his feet, beaming. "I won't die--you'll protect me! Even my father went Outside with the Great Lord for awhile. I'll go wherever you go. Maybe we will have an Adventure!"
He smiled and resumed walking. This was his Lightshiner, his Alin. But Alin didn't talk this much, Alin wasn't this irrepressible. How could he live knowing that the rest of his life he'd be haunted by this pixie? Luke laughed. Maybe Laark was what he needed to pull himself out of the depths in which he sometimes became mired. "You're okay, Laark." He punched the youth's shoulder. "Race you!"
He gave the other a ten second head start and still beat him back to the compound. At the gate they parted, and Luke hurried upstairs, panting with exertion. There was barely time for a shower and change of clothing before dinner--he hoped they weren't entertaining another hopeful. Still...he was growing used to the parade of girls and young women. They weren't quite as intimidating as other females he'd met, like Leia.
Leia. Han. Chewie. Wedge. Rieekan. It wasn't that he'd forgotten them; but somehow their images were becoming faded and small. They were his friends; he hoped they would still be his friends when he returned to them.
There was a tap on his door. "Come." He ran the comb through his damp hair, glancing in the mirror at his father's reflection. "Hi."
"Good evening. Did you have a pleasant day?" Anakin prowled the room, pausing to study the clothes Laark had laid out earlier.
"Yes, thanks. We explored the countryside. It's all the same."
"Yes." His father smiled and seated himself in a lounging chair. "There can be a certain comfort in that. However, many times I find it stifling."
"Yes!" Luke put the comb down and whirled. "That's what I was thinking--stifling. Is that why you left?" He knelt beside the chair, looking up at the older man.
"It was probably my primary motive. I sought adventure and excitement. The foolishness of youth. I reset the course of my life with little consideration."
"And you don't want me to do the same," Luke finished.
Fingers brushed through his damp hair. "You are becoming quite impertinent with your invasion of my thoughts."
Luke smiled absently, remembering his Lightshiner's words. "Laark says he and I were babies when you went with Palpatine."
"And?" His father's tone became wary.
He bit his lower lip. "I don't understand why you didn't know about me. Why couldn't you sense me? How was I-- Did you have a woman in every port?"
Anakin frowned. "I have said I had no knowledge of your existence. I would appreciate it if you would accept my word."
"Because it is my existence, I find it difficult to accept your lack of words," Luke answered quietly.
The cold fire that he'd come to dread burned in Anakin's eyes. "What do you want to hear? Your mother was probably a whore I fucked during a brief stopover in an open port--Sith knows where!"
He refused to look away from the anger. "Don't you want to know who she was?"
"Why?" His father laughed harshly. "Would you like me to pick her from the street, dust her off--if she still lives--and bring her Home as my bonded mate? You could do worse--at least you'd have a mother with a wide range of skills to instruct you in sexual matters."
The barb sent heat into his face. "I'm only half Skywalker. My other half is from her."
Anakin's fingers clenched the chair's arms. "You are entirely Skywalker. There will be no more discussion on this subject." He drew several deep breaths. "We must spend the next several days together. It is time you learned more of your future, instead of plaguing me with useless questions about your past."
The change in mood alarmed him. "It's time?" he repeated, temporarily dismissing his other concerns.
He curled his fingers around his father's hand and rested his forehead on it. Perhaps anxiety was out of place for a Skywalker; nonetheless, he felt more than a little. "Is everything going to be all right?" he asked, knowing a childish need for reassurance.
The hand caressed his face, an indication that his curiosity was forgiven. "As right as we can make it, young one. Now to another matter. Tonight's guests--"
Luke groaned. "Who is it this time?"
"Cheer up. An all male ensemble. Sith's dark lords are coming for a final inspection of you."
"Final." Unsmilingly, Anakin rose. "I'll leave you to dress."
"You worry too much."
That was probably true. Luke watched as the door closed, shivering without
The third morning dawned gray, and the air was scented with the rare perfume of rain. Anakin Skywalker studied the skies from the security of his room, silently asking Sith for guidance. His son was brave, true; but the elders had intimidated him with the inescapability of his life's purpose. And now, this morning, Sith was emphasizing the gravity of Luke's position. It did not wish Luke to leave as his father once had; yet It knew such an occurrence was inevitable. The only way to destroy Palpatine and his enormous threat to the safety of Sith was to confront him personally. They would draw his perverted Force power upon themselves and turn it back against him, killing him with his own raw evil. For nearly twenty years Anakin had served this purpose, cultivating Palpatine's trust, not strong enough, even with Sith's great power behind him, to destroy the monster he'd created, the monster who had resurrected the long-dormant Darkside on Sith. All he had been able to do was persevere and hold the enemy at bay, hoping to build his strength, never daring to dream that someday he would have an ally in the form of a strong, beautiful son.
He hoped his child would not have to die in order to destroy Palpatine.
He'd peered in Luke's room earlier, before the beginnings of dawn, and sat near the bed while the boy slept. He had grown to love this aggravating child he'd unknowingly created. He'd stroked the sleep-tousled hair, indulging himself in feelings that had always been strange to him. Silently, he'd thanked Sith for allowing him this precious time with Luke and prayed that it would not be cut short. If anyone could persevere against Palpatine, it would be this boy. His respect for Luke had grown as each day passed. Despite his provincial handicaps, the youngster had proven to be quick and bright, adept at every physical challenge he faced, brave even in the face of so many changes. He needed only to be brave awhile longer.
Anakin turned away from the window when Alin entered with a pot of hot mocha and two mugs. He nodded acknowledgement more of the concern Alin emitted than in thanks for the beverage.
"It's today, isn't it?"
"Yes." He lowered himself into the chair while Alin poured a mug.
"Laark has woken him. He'll be here shortly." Alin hesitated. "It will be all right. He is strong."
His servant reached into a deep pocket and pulled out a packet. "Dev came by earlier. He left this for you."
The package was dropped into his hand. Anakin unwrapped it carefully, fingering the familiar contents. It was a thin gold chain, with links as fine and strong as silk. He raised it in the air. At the bottom of the chain a small shape dangled, its matte finish almost sparkling off the firelight. Its contours were flowing and symmetrical, beautiful to his eyes, the symbol of Sith Itself. It was an ancient remembrance from the original elders, perhaps the only one left, and it had always belonged to the Starsinger family. Dev had given it to him when he had faced Darkside; that day, after accepting Temptation, he'd thrown it back in Dev's face, rejecting Sith and all It implied. Today he would place it around his son's neck; perhaps it would offer Luke the protection it had not provided for him.
Luke would have the advantage, though, with his father's strength at his side. Arron Skywalker had not lent his power to his own son, preferring instead to deny his destiny and hide in the safety of a coward. The cowardice had served him well for a short time; then he died in one of the inexplicable accidents that Sith occasionally dispensed.
He stared at Luke. The boy was more than ready. He glowed like the sun that was absent from the morning sky, glowed with an inner strength that could have only been bestowed by the blessing of Sith. "Good morning, my son."
Despite the months they had spent together, Luke was still emotionally affected when he used that designation; he could see it in the rush of love that filled the fair eyes. The boy touched his shoulder and then reached for the second mug of mocha. Alin gave him a tense smile and left them alone.
The youngster nodded toward the window, needing no speech to communicate his question. Anakin inclined his head. "It is Darkside," he said softly.
"So. There is a Darkside of Sith."
"On Sith," he corrected. "It is not precisely Sith, not...now."
"Then how can it exist?"
"It exists," he replied wearily. There was, after all, no explanation that his son was ready to hear and accept.
The boy sipped his beverage. "Am I going to die today?" he asked without emotion.
Anakin closed his eyes. "I will not let that happen."
"Can you prevent it?"
"It will not come to that. Your inner strengths will serve you well. And Sith will assist you, as will I."
"I wish I understood more," Luke said with a touch of despair.
"This is how you learn. Soon you will possess more knowledge of Sith and the galaxy than any living human save me." He leaned forward. "Then, with our combined strengths, we will defeat Palpatine and bring peace."
"I didn't think Siths cared about peace for the galaxy."
"These incessant wars affect us." He waved the comment away; it was too complex to deal with now. "Many Siths wish to travel. Like us, they feel stifled."
Luke smiled and set aside his mug. "Let's get it over with."
"Wait." Rising, he gestured to his son to approach him. He slipped the golden chain over the bright hair and let it fall into the open throat of the tunic. "It is a talisman from the elders. From Dev. It is an ancient symbol of Sith, from a time before Time."
Luke looked down and fingered the curving shape. "Thank you."
There was nothing more to be said. Anakin led the way downstairs.
Alin and Laark hovered near the front door, both of them peering worriedly at the sky before turning to meet their masters.
"Lord, please be--"
Laark flung his arms around Luke. "Please be careful, Luke! Don't die! I don't know what I'd do without you!"
Luke extricated himself from the embrace and patted Laark's back. "If anything happens to me, you will go back to University and finish your studies. I would want you to complete your training in architectural history."
"All right!" the youngster replied with remarkable resilience. "But you'll be back. I just know it!"
It was with surprise that Anakin heard his son laugh. It pleased him. "We will both return," he affirmed. "In three days, in time for dinner. And I daresay we'll be starving."
"We're not going to eat for three days?" Luke asked incredulously. "Can't we at least pack a picnic lunch?"
"Always thinking with your stomach, young lord," Alin said in a voice that trembled. "Be safe. We will wait."
When they left the property, he saw a small figure standing on a far hill. Dev Starsinger. He waved, and his son mimicked his gesture.
"Does everyone know where we're going?"
Anakin chuckled. The sky seemed to lighten. Sith loved Luke Skywalker.
That knowledge filled him with hope.
It was mid-afternoon of the second day by the time his father finally decreed that they could stop. Luke dropped to the ground and rubbed his calves. If he and Laark hadn't spent so much time hiking, he wouldn't have been able to come this far. He looked up at the sky. The rain that had threatened for two days had never become a reality. Guess Sith didn't let Skywalkers get wet.
He pulled his knees up to his chest and looked sideways at his father. Anakin was staring across the next rise of hills.
"Are we almost there?"
Not in a very talkative mood. Luke pulled out a handful of grass and studied it. It seemed ripe and full of juice, like the grass he'd touched on Dagobah; it seemed real, like the rest of Sith. In fact, the planet seemed too real at times; it was difficult to remember there was an entire galaxy just beyond its possessive embrace. "Doesn't the Emperor grow impatient for your return?" he asked suddenly.
"Why not? You command his troops. Surely without you they're--"
"I still command them."
"Maybe so, but when you're not there...." His voice trailed off. There was so much he didn't understand. Could this be another occasion? "You can still command them? Even when you're on Sith?"
"Yes. Distance makes no difference."
"Evidently your presence doesn't make any difference either." A tiny flush of anger crept into his cheeks. "So how goes the war? Are we winning or losing?"
"Depends upon whom you mean by 'we'." Anakin smiled at him and pulled at a tuft of the soft grass. "Your Rebels are not achieving a great deal of success at the moment. Your father, however, is succeeding brilliantly."
Luke laughed vexedly. Quite a conundrum in which he found himself. "My friends?"
"Are unharmed for the moment. Others were not so fortunate. On both sides." His father turned to face him. "Soon we will be able to end this destructive conflict."
"And rule the galaxy as father and son--I remember what you said. I still don't understand it."
He was very tired of hearing those words. "I don't understand you. You expect me to rule with you--yet you fight my friends, the people I care about. You torture and kill like some ruthless predator--"
Anakin chuckled, but the sound held no amusement. "You think I am not ruthless? You think that the simple fact of having a son has somehow neutered my methods? Make no mistake, precious child of mine, I am all those things your friends have named me--merciless, cruel, villainous, inhuman."
"No." He shook his head and pushed the long strands away from his face. "I know you too well to believe that."
"Then your knowledge is deficient. I suppose you also believe that you, by virtue of being my son, are protected from my evil intentions?"
Heart pounding, Luke stared directly into his father's eyes. "Yes."
Impotent rage darkened the dark gaze, but only momentarily. Then the shadows lifted. "You are quite right," Anakin said with an easy laugh. "I cannot fool you with my sinister Great Lord ways, can I?"
Luke grinned in uneasy response. "No. But now tell me what I'm going to face today. Tell me what happened when you came to confront the Darkside."
Anakin's gaze became focused inward, and a low-hanging cloud in the Sith sky seemed to hover over him and dim his face. "I faced Temptation, as you will. For me, it was Power, Darkside Power. The Power Palpatine unleashed and I harnessed. He was there and offered it to me, showed me limitless possibilities, the infinite domination I could achieve by perverting Sith's Force. It was more than I'd ever dreamed and--" He hesitated. Bowed his head. "I felt so alone. The Darkside offered me...a place to belong, a place where I truly ruled instead of acting as Sith's puppet. I accepted that which was offered."
Luke released the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "What happened?"
Bitterness was in the pale eyes that looked up at him. "It was a lie. Oh, not all of it. There was--is--power in the Darkside, an enormous amount. But Palpatine's price was too high. He demanded my soul."
"Did he get it?"
"If he had, you would be dead by my hand."
He accepted that as truth. "Yet you stay with him."
"If I leave, he would be unshackled."
Luke narrowed his eyes. "Do you somehow control him?"
"Not control. Inhibit."
"And he allows--"
"He does not realize." A small smile played at the corners of Anakin's mouth. "He thinks he knows all and controls all. But he does not control Sith. He thinks that with me at his side he has tamed us. He does not know that Sith is more than its resident sorcerers."
"He doesn't know Sith is alive?"
"No. It is beyond his comprehension. Not surprisingly, since there is nowhere else like it in our galaxy."
"Are you certain?"
His father shrugged ruefully. "Who can say anything with certainty?" He opened his knapsack and pulled out his long cloak. "Formal occasion. Put yours on."
"Then...we're here?" He stood and fumbled in his pack for the black cloak. "What's going to happen? I still don't--"
"You will face Temptation. It will appear in the form to which you are most vulnerable. You must be cautious. Do not believe your physical senses. Trust your heart. Use your feelings." Anakin assisted him with the cloak, pulled the hood onto his head until Luke felt hidden in its shadows. "Be strong but open to everything. Only that way will you find the truth. I will be behind you, and I will assist when I can. I do not know how much I will be allowed. I have already been inside and failed."
"Inside?" he echoed nervously.
"Inside the treecave."
Luke raised his head sharply. "I was in a treecave on Dagobah," he said.
He stared at the other man. "You were there. I killed your...ghost."
"I was there," Anakin agreed.
"Wait." He grasped his father's arm. "You mean...you know about that?"
"I was there," Anakin repeated. "I allowed you to kill my specter. I did not wish to fight you."
He felt as though he was losing his already-brittle grasp on reality. "But...I sliced off your head. And my face was--"
"I know. No more questions. I have no answers to give you. Are you ready?"
No, he wanted to scream, I'm not ready, I don't want to do this-- But it was his Destiny; the elders had made that clear, his own soul had confirmed it. Luke Skywalker was no Tatooine farmboy any longer, free to live a careless existence far away from the bright center of the universe. For Sith was the Bright Center, Sith was All. Sith held him in its grip, he held Sith. There was no difference. Just as Laark would care for him all his life, so would he care for and protect Sith. It was, quite inescapably, his duty. "I'm ready," he replied firmly.
The downward path was steep. At the end of a narrow ravine waited a seemingly impenetrable wall of thick vines and leaves. It parted at their arrival. Behind it was a familiar scene. The treecave of Dagobah. How much had Yoda known? Had he been part of this entire plot, part of this Destiny? Or was he merely tapping into Sith's Force, never quite understanding what he'd used?
As he had on Dagobah, Luke climbed carefully down into the maw-like entrance of the cave. His cloak caught on a branch, and he felt his father release it. There were snakes here, and lizards, the first signs of animal life he'd seen on Sith. If, indeed, they were still on Sith. Physical realities took on a curious dimension. He was traveling through the cave, miles and miles deep, yet he was still within the entry chamber. His legs grew weary from exhaustion, yet he hadn't walked a step. He could hear his father's breathing behind him, yet sometimes he turned and Anakin was gone. Finally, he saw a glow approaching, hovering in the air, lighting the murky corners of the cave. He stopped, closing his eyes and saying a silent prayer that it wasn't another doppelganger of Darth Vader.
But it was a small man, hooded and cloaked just as he was himself. He'd seen holos; this was the Emperor Palpatine. Could it be that his father's Temptation was his own? Was it Darkside Power that sang to corrupt Skywalkers? Luke clutched the hilt of his lightsaber, but did not draw it. He'd learned that lesson on Dagobah. The apparition spoke.
"Anakin. You've brought the boy to me. It has taken a very long time."
The elder Skywalker approached Luke's side. "I have not brought him to you. Together my son and I will defeat you and return the Darkside whence it came."
It was as though Skywalker had not spoken. Palpatine turned to Luke and held out his right hand. "Come, boy. You belong to me now. Come with me."
If this was Temptation, it was easy to resist. Luke shook his head. "I'll never come with you. I don't want Darkside Power."
"You will once you understand it. You will learn strength and control far beyond that which your feeble Light offered you."
Light. It was the first time he'd heard that reference in a long while. Luke hesitated, pondering its significance.
"You cannot have my son," Anakin Skywalker said.
"I have already had him. Night after night, I have raped his dreams." The hand touched his face, and Luke allowed it. It was not, after all, real. Yet it felt real. Cold. Sharp. It seemed to cut his flesh. He drew back. "I love you, boy. You are my son. Can't you feel it?"
Son? Love? Luke took another step backwards, bumping into his father. "I am not your child."
"You're not?" Palpatine seemed momentarily puzzled. "Strange. I thought I recognized you. Ah, well, if you're not my son, then you shall die." The flowing robes slid back as the specter raised its arms.
"No!" With an anguished cry, Anakin pushed him aside.
Luke stumbled and fell, rolling over and leaping to his feet in time to see blinding bolts of lightning arc from Palpatine's raised fingertips. For a moment he stood frozen in horror, gawking as the blue-white fire strafed his father, illuminated his skeleton, made his eyes glow like tiny suns. This was real--this could kill! Enraged, he flung himself at the Emperor, knocking him across the rocky floor of the cave. Before he could rise, he felt an indescribable pain that pierced through his teeth and crunched his bones. He was blinded for several seconds; when he could blink again, he saw that Palpatine still stood, that now the crippled fingers were aimed at him. Cackling laughter made him wince. All the hairs on his body seemed to stand straight out, and he shivered.
"So be it. If you will not join me, then you...will...die."
It registered that he had never heard so much pleasure expressed in so few words. Then his entire being was filled with agony. No illusion, this; he was dying. He reached out to his wounded father, saying good-bye and calling for help. Fighting to be heard through a world of pain.
Abruptly as it began, the pain ceased. Luke lifted his head. His father was standing, Palpatine balanced overhead in his iron grasp, lightning raining down on them both. With a fierce snarl, his father threw the smaller man. The wall opened, sucking the body inside, sealing behind it. All was quiet.
Luke blinked and sat up. His entire body ached. Was there a difference between illusion and reality? If there was, someone had neglected to tell his limbs. He looked at his father. "Is it over?"
"I don't know." Anakin pulled him to his feet. "I hope so."
He hesitated. "It wasn't much of a Temptation for me."
His father studied him. "Perhaps the Temptation was for me this time. To betray my master and save my son."
How could that be Temptation? Wasn't that Anakin's avowed intention? Luke frowned and looked around. The cave was still. "Can we leave?"
Anakin shook his head. "I think we should wait." He balanced himself against a rough tree limb. "You are correct. This was too simple. There was no Temptation for you."
Luke joined him. "Is It going to make us wait long?" he asked wearily. "I'm very tired."
"You are most vulnerable when tired." One strong arm went around his shoulders. "Try to rest. To sleep. I will wake you should anything occur."
But he was afraid to sleep. "Talk to me," he commanded. "Keep me awake."
"Very well." There was a smile in the beloved voice. "What shall I tell you? Dreams of our future?"
"Yes." His voice was thick, and he had to struggle to keep his eyes open. "Our future."
"Very well. We shall conquer Temptation together. You will be strong, my son, stronger than any Skywalker in generations. We shall return Outside and defeat Palpatine just as we did today."
He smiled drowsily. "Then what?"
"Then...we will rule. The Lords Skywalker will rule the galaxy in Sith's name, as was done thousands of generations ago. We will live for two hundred years and return glory to the name of Skywalker."
"Fairy tales," Luke whispered. "You're telling me fairy tales."
"I am telling you dreams," his father corrected. "But we are mortals and not all our dreams can become true. Dreams are goals, my child. With Sith's power and our love, we can achieve anything."
"Love?" He liked the word. For years, it had been an alien concept; now he found himself relaxing into its promise. "I love you," he said for the first time in his life.
One hand cupped his chin, lifted his face. "I love you also, my beautiful son." And Anakin Skywalker's mouth came down hard on his own.
For a paralyzing moment, Luke froze. A jolt of forbidden lust, a burning curiosity-- Then he wrenched himself away, gasping in shock. Involuntarily his fingertips rose to touch his mouth. It felt bruised from the heartlessness of the brief contact. He stared at his father.
Familiar amusement lit the rugged face. "You are Sith now, child. You understand our ways."
He shook his head. "You--I said I didn't--" His breaths were coming too fast; they cut off his speech. He'd told Anakin he didn't want that; Anakin had accepted it. More, had understood it. Then why now--?
Luke stared in horror as understanding dawned on him. "You're not my father," he whispered.
The dark brows furrowed perplexedly. "I beg your pardon?"
"You're not my father," he repeated. "My father would never touch me like that."
Anakin laughed. "Your naivete is touching but misplaced. I can feel your desire for me, your hunger to be possessed, to become part of me. To join with my might. I can fulfill all your appetites, my son. I can give you both power and pleasure like you've never dared dream."
Desire? That was not what his father had explained. Teaching, education--not desire. Luke drew his lightsaber and ignited it. "Begone, spirit!"
More laughter. "Where do you get your dialogue, boy? You sound like a bad vid."
"Go," he ordered sternly.
"Come with me." Anakin pushed himself away from the tree limb and held out his hand. "We will leave this cave and return Outside. You will rule your Rebel friends, all those you've loved and resented. Those friends who hurt you. Those who used you. Those who wanted your body while they destroyed your spirit. You will be under my protection. No one will ever hurt you again, my son."
He stared at his blade, trying to draw strength from its intense glare. What was he supposed to do--just stand here and listen? When would it end? Was there something he should say, some incantation that would slay this apparition? Some magic that would deny the truth of the words, the lure of hidden yearnings? To drink the wine of revenge, to never be hurt again, to have all the love he'd craved and missed.... "I'll never join you!"
"You cannot avoid it." The figure approached within striking distance. "Put down your weapon, my son. I have just saved your life; surely you do not intend to take mine."
His limbs trembled, his stomach quivered. What if he was wrong? What if this was his father--what if he killed him? What if Temptation colored his vision, what if the Darkside wanted him to kill Anakin? And if he refused this Temptation, did that mean he would never join his father to slay Palpatine? What if, what if, what if....
Luke closed his eyes, raised his saber, and swung. A scream ruptured the silence of the cave chamber, then a hollow thud. Slowly he lifted his lashes.
Blood splattered across the rocks. It ran like tears down the dirt walls and soaked his clothes. Luke choked, a sob wrenched from his throat. His father's body lay lifeless in the gore. Again. Wildly, he turned to search for the head. Found it where it had rolled behind a boulder. There was no mask his time, no different face. It was Anakin Skywalker, only Anakin. No ghost, no specter, no doppelganger.
He'd just killed his father.
He dropped his lightsaber in the dirt, then fell on his knees beside it. A terrible loss welled inside him, building until it tore a scream from his throat. "Father!" He began to sob.
"Here. Give me your hand. Luke--"
He looked up, chest heaving. He was-- He was in the entry chamber of the cave again, and there above him-- "No!"
"Give me your hand." Anakin Skywalker's own hand reached for him, grasping his wrist.
Mindlessly, Luke accepted the help, allowing his nearly limp body to be dragged from the cave. Blinding sunlight struck his face, and he closed his eyes. He collapsed, sprawling on the ground. Beneath his cheek, he felt the softness of Sith grass, felt the warmth of the soil. Yet he could not rest. Relentlessly, he forced himself to his knees, staring upward at the man before him. Was this another illusion?
"Great Sith, what happened?" Anakin's hands skimmed his arms, searching for damage. "You were gone just a moment--I couldn't get past the barrier. What happened?"
"A moment?" He looked at the hands that held him, then up at the man. "Are you real?"
"Yes." Fear and dismay were both displayed on the pale face. "Luke, what happened?"
He blinked and glanced around him. The clouds were gone, the sun had returned. But was it genuine? He hid his face in his hands. "I don't know what's real anymore."
"Luke." Strong fingers pried his hands away. "You know what is real. Use your heart. Don't trust your senses. Remember what I told you."
His heart. He stared at the fabric on the sleeves. His heart told him this was his father. Told him immediately, without doubt. He wound his hand around the fingers. "You're real."
"Yes." Anakin removed his own cloak and wrapped it around his son. "You are chilled. Rest against me. I will warm you."
This touch was father-love. He could feel the difference. This was not the father of the cave. Luke closed his eyes and relaxed. "It's over," he said finally, a faint question in his voice.
"You faced your Temptation."
"Yes. It was you."
Anakin drew a sharp breath.
"You loved me. You said we would rule. You offered...more than I wanted. And then I knew it wasn't you."
"What did you do?"
He lifted his head. Anakin's eyes watched him, and he drowned in their passageway to his soul. "I killed you," he whispered. "I had your blood on my hands." He lifted his fingers; they were cleansed. "I rejected everything you offered."
Anakin turned away from his intensity, but the arms that held him were not withdrawn. One finger reached up and touched the amulet that still clung to Luke's neck. Neither of them had more words. After a bit, they struggled to their feet. It would be a very long walk home.
To Part 3