by MJ Mink
Between father and son, there is a bridge that neither Time nor Death can shatter. Each stands at one end, needing to cross, needing to meet....
(attributed to Master Po, Kung Fu)
"Come with me," Biggs urged. "You can't stay here forever."
"My uncle needs me," Luke replied sullenly. He swung his legs, digging his heels into the wall they perched on, wondering if he could knock down the entire structure if he kicked hard enough. "Only one more season, he says. Then he'll find someone else to help him."
"That's what he said last year." Biggs jumped off the ledge. Puffs of dirt and sand shot upward from his feet, scattering and blowing away in the mild breeze that did little to cool the heat of the evening suns. "I have to take off."
"Wait for me!" he called and ran after his friend whose long legs had already carried him halfway to his speeder. "Look, can't you stay until next season? Then we could get a ship and explore the galaxy like--"
"Get a ship?" Biggs echoed. "We can't just 'get a ship'! You know what your problem is, Luke? Your head is in the clouds. You're always dreaming instead of facing reality."
"Yeah, you do." Biggs whirled to face him, the long cape snapping against Luke's leg. "You're the best bush pilot I've ever seen. You could apply to the Naval Academy and have a career--"
"I can't believe you'd suggest that! It's bad enough you're going there!" Furious, he stalked away, kicking at the sand. "You're going to become one of them. It's like you're a traitor, Biggs. They're evil. Look what they've done to the galaxy! There are civil wars all over, more breaking out every day. Krit, there're even clone troopers stationed in Anchorhead! We're all going to become slaves of the government!"
"Ah, that's your uncle talking, Luke." Biggs made a dismissive gesture with one hand. "You're not him. Start thinking for yourself. Start living for yourself. You can't stay here forever."
"I'll stay as long as he needs me. I have to." Resigned, he looked across the barren landscape toward home. "I'm all he's got."
Biggs began to say something, then stopped and shook his head. "We've been over this too many times. I didn't come to argue, just to say my good-byes. Best of luck to you, Luke. I hope we'll see each other again one day."
A hand was thrust into his line of vision. Luke bit his lip. It would serve Biggs right if he didn't take it. They couldn't be friends any longer, not if Biggs was going to join the Navy and become one of them.
But he and Biggs had been close since childhood, getting in and out of scrapes together, covering for each other, racing, laughing, teasing, fighting. That counted for a lot. Luke turned and clasped the offered fingers, and their handshake turned into an awkward hug. "Be careful," he mumbled, and the words held many meanings.
"You, too, hotshot." With a grin that wasn't reflected in his troubled gaze, Biggs gave a mock salute and headed for his speeder. With a final wave, he was on his way.
"Damnit, Biggs," Luke grumbled. He climbed into his own speeder, making no move to start it. He was in no rush to return home. His uncle would have more chores and lessons for him. More lectures. More reminders about what to do and what not to do. More of the same things he'd heard all his life.
Why couldn't he leave? Whatever stopped him was something more than simple loyalty to his uncle. Sometimes, desperate, he wanted to flee his home, even the entire planet, though he had no destination and few dreams despite what Biggs thought. But there was a heaviness weighing down on him, a gray pall encircling him, waking and sleeping. Everything was an effort, everything was tiring, even living. His thoughts were clouded, and nothing was as clear to him as it seemed to be for Biggs. He wanted to leave, but he could barely make himself move. It seemed like the only times he had endless energy was when he was angry. Then he felt powerful, invincible and somehow… wrong. If only his life had been different. If only he hadn't been an orphaned baby, dependent on the charity of distant relatives.
It wasn't that he hated his uncle; he didn't. But neither did he love the man. His uncle needed him and depended on him. His uncle was just there, an immovable object that stood between him and his life.
"This is your life, idiot!" he muttered, switching on the speeder and depressing the pedal to the floor.
Hot wind whipped through his hair and slapped his face as he sped across the desert. Occasional grains of sand landed in his eyes, making him wince with pain and blink tears until the sand was washed away. Stars, how he hated sand! He wanted a rich, lush landscape. The soft feel of grass, the rustling noises that trees made in the wind, the heady scents of rain-laden flora... they seemed almost tangible to him. But how could something he'd never known feel so real?
The arid Tatooine surroundings vanished, replaced by a pastoral scene: a dozen shades of green, all the green he could wish for, and azure skies spotted with cotton clouds. A woman with sad dark eyes, whispering against his cheek. Always remember who you are, Luke. Always remember…. His mother, he thought. She had died bearing him and he had no memory of her, yet he was certain it was she who frequented his dreams; who else could it be? Always remember who you are.... she told him.
But he'd forgotten.
It was nearing sunset when the lights of the homestead appeared, a beacon in the wilderness. Home, despite his unhappiness there. Luke parked the speeder in the garage and went outside. The twin suns were near the horizon, the first sitting atop distant mountains like a ripe, juicy pomerand. If only he could follow the suns like the old legend of the boy Itharin, then he could escape. Flee from this planet, this home, this uncle who bound him here with guilt and promises. If only he could escape....
Come inside. I need you, boy.
He sighed and closed his eyes. Coming, Uncle Sidious.
Turning his back on the suns, he descended the stairs into the depths of their underground home.
* * *
"No other possibility there is." Yoda's aged body was rigidly upright. "Palpatine it must be."
"Impossible! Not after so many years," Mace Windu snapped. "Besides, I was there. I saw Anakin kill him."
"So certain, are you?" The shrewd gaze slid around the circle of Jedi Masters until it rested on Anakin Skywalker.
Anakin remained motionless, though his feet wanted to push him up and out of the Council Chamber, running and running until he faced the nightmare that haunted him. He kept his face impassive. To his left, Obi-Wan squirmed, sensing his former padawan's anxiety.
"Are you questioning Master Skywalker's word?" Kenobi asked, his distress not masked behind the gentleness of his voice.
Yoda did not reply, choosing instead to continue gazing silently at the youngest member of the Jedi Council.
"Not so young," Anakin said dryly. "But you will always see me as an impetuous youth, won't you, Master Yoda?"
A small smile flashed across the other's face but vanished as quickly as it had appeared. "Long have I sensed the existence of a Sith. Wounded him, you did, but perhaps not mortally. Through the window and into the streets he went, but found, no body was."
"We've discussed this before," Windu said sharply. "He would have been stripped of clothing and jewels-- and we all know what would have happened to his body beneath the city."
Eyes were averted. No one cared to pursue such thoughts aloud. The underbelly of Coruscant was a blight on the planet, one that not even the Army of the Jedi Republic had been able to eliminate.
"If not Palpatine," Yoda whispered, "then... another there is. A threat to the Jedi Republic."
A silence grew. Around the circle, heads bowed and surreptitious glances were exchanged. Another Sith? It was improbable… and perhaps inevitable. Anakin hid his doubts deeper, reinforcing the thick shields around them. The time was long past when he should have told them... but he could not now confess that he had known his former master had survived the fall from his office. He couldn't admit that he'd tracked down Palpatine on Mustafar but had not been able to execute the final blow against his mentor of so many years. Hideously scarred, blinded, burned, crippled beyond restoration.... Pity stayed his hand, though he was certain Palpatine would die.
But after, when it was too late, Anakin had felt the life-force struggling to hold on, like an ember seeking wood. Evidently Palpatine had indeed found a way to survive, but he would not be the man-- or the Sith-- that he had been. At best, he would be a parasite, relying on others to keep him alive. What threat could the former chancellor be in such condition? None, Anakin had always believed.
Until recently. Until the Unease had returned, clouding the famed Jedi vision. Nothing was clear any longer. It was as if a blanket of chaos had fallen upon the galaxy, causing unrest and confusion. As if someone was growing in power. As if...
...the Sith were back.
* * *
His uncle's room was shadowy and fetid. Luke hated going into it, but Sidious had been spending more and more time in bed as his already poor health deteriorated further. There might not even be a "next season" for the old man, and Luke wondered what would happen to him then. He would be alone, but he would have the freedom to go wherever he wanted.
Leaving…. It was too tiring to consider. Maybe he would stay here forever and remain a moisture farmer, leading a quiet, simple life. He didn't think he had the strength to start anew. Or the courage.
"Come over here where I can feel you."
He pulled a stool beside the bed and sat. A claw-like hand reached out and rested on his knee. "So… you wish my death, do you?" Before Luke could utter a quick denial, Sidious continued. "Wish no more. The end is upon me." A world of bitterness was reflected in those words, and instinctively Luke offered reassurance.
"You'll be okay. You've been this bad before and-- "
"No!" Surprisingly strong fingers squeezed, then released, falling alongside the bed as if all Sidious's energy had been spent in the small gesture. "I never told you the truth," he said in a low voice, "about your father's death."
After a moment of bewildered surprise, Luke stilled, unwilling to take a breath or utter a word for fear of halting the older man's revelations. He clenched his fists as if he could physically restrain his curiosity. Aunt Beru had hinted about a secret surrounding Luke's father, but she had refused to say anything specific, and he had felt her fear without understanding the cause of it.
"Patience, good. Revenge is best served by patience. It is a trait of the Sith." Sidious's grin was repulsive, but Luke didn't look away. "The Jedi believe they are the owners of patience-- as they are owners of all that they label 'virtues'-- but they are novices in patience as in all else. They sought to destroy me and nearly succeeded. It was a Jedi who crippled me and left me for dead, forcing me into this life support suit that both has kept me alive and held me prisoner on this plane of existence."
Luke's gaze flickered over the familiar black mechanics that encased Sidious's torso. The machine was impressively large and appeared strong, in bleak contrast to the withered neck and single arm that grew out of it. Finally he knew the reason his uncle was so maimed and disfigured-- a Jedi!
"The suit is failing. If I were in my proper place, I would survive, for I alone know the secret of creating life, preventing death, even… resurrecting those long dead." From beneath the hooded lids, the empty eyes glittered. "If I lived, I could teach you that and more. You could bring back your parents. You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
In his imagination, he could see them, nebulous ghosts without faces. Maybe Sidious could revive them, but Luke was not willing to pay the price he demanded. "We've talked about this before. No clone, no laboratory-- and definitely no 'borrowing' my body! It's not right."
"Not right?" Rage filled the two words, and spittle ran from the corners of his uncle's twisted mouth. "You mewling, ignorant brat! I should have turned you out into the desert! You're worthless, a disappointment since the day you were born! I could have taught you so much, you could have inherited my power, my knowledge-- but you refused it all! You refused a power that you can't even begin to understand!"
Luke's breath caught. Uncle Owen had urged him over and over to ignore Sidious's teachings and to avoid anger whenever possible, no matter how tempting. It was anger that nearly destroyed him. You must always be on your guard, for what happened to Sidious could happen to you., "I learned a few things. Tell me about my father. You said he died when his freighter collided with an asteroid. That's not true?"
Uncle Sidious stared toward him, his throat constricting visibly as he struggled to breathe. It took a long minute before he was calm enough to speak. "Your father. Of course." His voice was raspy and purring. "I've told you about Anakin Skywalker, do you remember?"
"The evil Jedi you fought," Luke confirmed. "Is he the one who mutilated you?"
"Yes." Thin lips twisted in a grimace that was supposed to be a smile. "Skywalker was a pupil of mine until he turned to evil. He allowed the Jedi to corrupt him. He would have been a brilliant Sith." Sidious paused, his sightless gaze fixed toward the ceiling, lost momentarily in his memories.
Luke felt his patience slipping away. "My father," he prompted.
The head turned slowly on the pillow until the blind gaze looked into his eyes with uncanny accuracy. "Your father was not a Lars. His name was Darth Vader. He was also a pupil of mine… until Skywalker betrayed and murdered him."
Skywalker. One of the Jedi betrayers of the fledgling Empire, part of the evil ruling Jedi Republic that was destroying the galaxy. Luke had been taught to despise the Jedi, and now-- "Skywalker killed my father?" he whispered, struggling against the astonished fury that rose in his gut.
"Yes. Skywalker betrayed both of us. Your father defended me as best he could." Sidious sighed pitifully.
"What happened?" Luke demanded.
The blind gaze was sorrowful. "Skywalker struck him down, then he left us both for dead. And now he truly is the death of me." The claw grabbed his shirt and pulled him close, foul breath impossible to avoid as mourning turned into fury. "Avenge me! Avenge your father! Kill Skywalker!" Sidious released him abruptly, fumbling under the edge of the mattress. His hand returned clutching a silver tube that he held out. "Here."
Luke took it. "What is this?"
"Your father's lightsaber. He wanted you to have it when you were old enough." Exhausted, Sidious fell back against the pillow. "The weapon of a Sith warrior. An elegant weapon, from a more civilized time."
Standing, Luke thumbed the button. A beam of pure energy, deep scarlet, appeared instantly. The saber was heavier than it looked. Power vibrated up his arm, and somewhere deep inside he felt an echoing shudder, a strange feeling that he couldn't identify. It felt good.
He held the saber with both hands and swung the blade experimentally, striking a steel chair. Instead of the shattering noise he had expected, there was a loud hum as the metal was cleaved neatly in half, the edges as smooth as if they had been fashioned that way. He focused on the sight, trying to calm the surge of anger that had sent his heart racing. "A weapon to kill a Jedi."
"Yes… good. Now learn how to use it. Finish me. Strike me down."
Icy cold washed over him, quenching the flame of rage. He turned off his father's lightsaber and looked dispassionately at his uncle. "I'm not going to kill you."
"I'm already dying," Sidious hissed. "Finish it! Accept your heritage!"
Luke poured water from the sealed pitcher into the cup on the bedside table. "I'm patient," he reminded. "I'll wait." And he tipped the cup to his uncle's mouth.
Sidious turned his head away and gave a disgusted sigh. "You don't deserve the name 'Vader'," he mumbled, and died.
* * *
"It's Palpatine," Kenobi said in a low voice as they strode across the landing pad.
"It can't be."
"Anakin!" His mentor caught his arm and forced him to stop. "You didn't kill him. I've known that for a long time."
He shook free and turned away, staring at the multiple lanes of speeding traffic that flowed around them, warning horns sounding, drivers shouting at other drivers. It reminded him of podracing, but with fewer restrictions. "I followed him to Mustafar. We fought. He should have died! His legs were severed, he was burning-- Burning," he repeated, unable to shake off the memory of the horrific sight. "I should have finished it, but...."
"I know. I don't blame you. In your position, I doubt that I could have done it either." For a moment, Obi-Wan shared his nightmarish vision, then the older Jedi moved beside him. "But now we have to finish it."
"We? The Council won't-- "
"The Council doesn't need to know the details."
Anakin turned his head and looked at the other man. "Where did you get this rebellious streak? Master Yoda would not approve."
"I think a bit of you has rubbed off on me." Obi-Wan smiled ruefully. "We'll have to split up. I don't have a lock on where he is-- do you?"
"I think so."
"Let me deal with him." He quelled Kenobi's unvoiced protest with a stern look. "He's my responsibility. I'm going alone."
Though Obi-Wan's taste for fighting had diminished as he aged and he had come to enjoy politics more than battles, Anakin knew that as a matter of principle Kenobi hated to be left behind. "All right," Obi-Wan agreed grudgingly. "But at least tell me where you're going."
"In case you need to follow and pick up the pieces?" Anakin grinned. "I'm going home, my friend. To Tatooine."
* * *
The night had been less than comfortable. Knowing that his uncle was dead in the next room and almost positive that there was no such thing as ghosts, didn't prevent Luke from hearing strange noises and feeling as though someone else was in the house, hovering just out of sight, waiting. Patient. It was close to dawn when he fell asleep, but he rose in a couple hours, full of atypical energy, and set to his task.
The work was not as distasteful as some things his uncle had instructed him to do over the years, but Luke was glad when the job was finished: his uncle rolled carefully in a sheet and laid on a pyre that he fueled with furniture and bedding. He watched only long enough to be sure the body would burn, then returned indoors. Strange, it was only yesterday that he thought he'd never leave, and now here he was, on the verge of departing the only home he'd ever known. He didn't know what had changed in him so suddenly. Today was the same as yesterday and every day before it; the only difference was that Uncle Sidious was dead.
He packed a few changes of clothes and some personal belongings into his bag, stuffing their few 'valuables' at the bottom, though he doubted any of them was worth much. To his belt he clipped his father's lightsaber and into his pocket went the credits he'd earned from occasional jobs at Tosche Station. Then he bundled everything into the speeder and he was ready to leave, his life here finished. Almost.
The fire was dying low. Though the thin fabric offered meager protection from the stench, Luke wrapped a kerchief around his face. With a shovel, he scraped his uncle's remains off the fire, dug a hole and buried them. He stomped down the sand, then scooped up handfuls and drizzled them over the makeshift grave so the Tuskens wouldn't find it. Standing, he took a last look around. The Raiders and Jawas would strip the homestead, but that didn't bother him. There was nothing worth remembering here, not for him or for anyone.
Hesitating, he pulled off the lightsaber and ignited it. The color of the crimson blade was darker than the dying heart of the fire. He stared at the saber, thinking that it should feel familiar. After all, it had belonged to his father. Was there no connection between father and son? If this weapon was any indication, there was not, because he felt nothing. Disappointed, he raised it in a half-salute before shutting it down and re-securing it to his belt.
He sent a terse message to the Darklighters, then began the long drive to Mos Eisley.
The speeder would fetch a decent price, enough to get him off Tatooine with credits to spare. He would manage the trip to Coruscant somehow. He was free... and he now discovered that 'freedom' was a relative term. His uncle's death released him from the twin weights of farming and caretaking, but Sidious had left him an even heavier burden, the truth of his father's fate.
Luke Vader would not be truly free until he extracted justice and avenged his father's murder. It wouldn't bring his father back; it wouldn't change the past and maybe not even the future. But it was necessary, and it gave him a purpose.
Anakin Skywalker had to pay for Darth Vader's murder with his own life.
* * *
Anakin took the old Nubian starfighter to Tatooine. It was both a comfort and a painful reminder of all he'd lost when he'd followed Palpatine's trail to Mustafar. He should have told the other Jedi that the chancellor lived and let them go after him. He should have stayed with Padme and kept her safe.
The mystery behind her disappearance had never been solved. The only clue had come from Threepio ("I don't know! She said she was going after you!") and that had led nowhere. It made no sense. After the fight in the chancellor's office, he'd gone to Padme and told her everything. When he returned from Mustafar, his first thought was that she had fled from him, horrified that he had nearly Fallen. But as the days passed and there was no sign of her, he had been frantic. Searches of Mustafar and Coruscant proved fruitless, and he had received no word until the terrible message from her distraught parents.
The word they sent was dying.
He had raced to Theed, pushing his ship beyond its specified limits, as if speed alone could keep her alive. He had arrived too late to save her. Too late, just like in his dreams.
She had never looked so beautiful, and that beauty was etched on his mind forever. The accident had not scarred her exquisite face. He could close his eyes and see her as clearly as if she were smiling at him at this moment…. Her hair cascaded around her face, just as it had on the pillow beside him, but now pale flowers scattered over the dark flames like fallen stars. Ivory hands that had caressed his face were still, clutching the japor pendant he'd carved for her so long ago. Lips that had spoken words of love were silent. She lay there, exquisite and perfect, and he thought that if he could just take her in his arms, he could wake her with a kiss. But she was dead, and his dreams and his hopes and his child were dead with her.
If only he could have gotten there sooner... or if he had obeyed Palpatine's atrocious order to invade the Jedi Temple, perhaps he could have learned the skills to save her. And his mother… if he'd left earlier, he could have saved his mother. If he'd followed Palpatine's urgings and remained faithful to the Sith Lord's commands, he could have brought both of them back--
The raw edges of grief, mended years earlier and mellowed into melancholy, awoke a litany of regrets that could not be amended and questions that had no answers. Look to the future, for the past cannot be changed, Obi-Wan used to scold him over and over, until he stopped telling his secrets to his master.
He should have known that Kenobi would sense them anyway. But all these years... only their friendship could have prevented Obi-Wan from confronting him about his failure to slay the Sith Lord.
He brought the starfighter down near the Lars farm. There was no logical reason for Palpatine to be there, but Anakin had never been a great believer in logic and here was where his awareness led him. He could no longer sense the former chancellor's lifeforce, only a lingering, fading essence. Was Palpatine dead or simply fled?
A sand-crested wind blew up, stinging his eyes, and he clutched his cloak over his face, shielding it as he hurried toward the pit that protected the homestead. He used to hate the sand, until travels to less hospitable planets made him yearn to return to the harsh, spare beauty of his homeworld. Here there were few speeders, no pollution, none of the endless noise created by living beings; here it was pure and quiet, with only desert melodies to be heard… the whoosh of sand as it drifted, the distant calls that came from far-off banthas and krayt dragons.
"Can I help you, stranger?"
The call roused him, and Anakin blinked at a dark-haired, portly man below in the courtyard who stood with one hand on his hip, the other shading his eyes as he looked upward.
"Yes." He hurried down the stairs. "Does Owen Lars no longer own this 'stead?"
"Owen is years dead, Beru with him." Brown eyes narrowed. Their expression was guarded, but not unfriendly. "I'm Huff Darklighter, neighbor. Are you kin to Owen?"
"His step-brother. Anakin Skywalker."
"Jedi!" Darklighter's gaze scanned him up and down as if evaluating the worth of a commodity. "Owen and Beru used to speak of you. Come inside and we'll talk. Are you here to claim the farm?"
"No." He followed the shorter man into living quarters that looked much the same as he remembered. The room was clean, but it was obvious that it had not known the touch of a woman for a long time. "What happened to Owen and Beru?"
"Raiders," Darklighter said briefly as he poured two small glasses of a pale beverage. "Leastwise that's what we suppose. Not much left of them. 'Bout five years back."
They settled at the table. "Have you been living here since then? I expected someone else, an older man, crippled-- "
"Sidious." Darklighter nodded. "Dead two days ago. The boy left us a message before he took off, said we could take what we wanted. Unless you want something...?" An anxious frown creased his face.
"I'd like to look around." Two days! For once, he was glad he hadn't arrived in time to prevent a death. But what of Palpatine's apprentice? "Who's the boy you referred to? The Lars's son?"
"So they treated him, but they called him their nephew. He arrived with Sidious, evidently kin to him. Luke called him 'uncle', too."
Luke. Anakin forced the glass to his lips, swallowing without tasting. There was a young padawan at the temple whose name was Luke, and Anakin could never say it without the painful reminder that it had been one of the names he and Padme had short-listed. "What was he like?"
"All right. Something odd about him, couldn't tell you what. Never saw him smile. Friendly with my boy, though. Not a bad sort, just... odd."
I'll bet! Damned Sith. His mouth tightened. "Do you know where he's gone? Or if he'll return?"
"Don't know why he'd want to return. Hell of a life for a young one, caring for that old-- for Sidious." Darklighter pushed his chair back and stood. "Look around all you want, take what you want, though I doubt there's anything left worth taking. The boy did the proper thing, burned the old man, buried the bones. Nothing for Raiders to find, I checked."
Anakin rose and nodded. "Thank you for your hospitality. I won't be long." He paused as another thought struck him. "Your son, would he have any idea where this Luke might have gone?"
Darklighter shook his head. "Biggs went off to the Republic Naval Academy, hoping for a military life. Force knows why, he'd have a good life here without any of that political nonsense. No offense, sir," he said quickly.
"None taken." Anakin inclined his head, waiting for the other man to leave before beginning his explorations.
But Darklighter hesitated. "You aren't the first to come looking."
Anakin's danger-sense ignited. "What do you mean?"
The man paused again, as though he was reluctant to speak. "Another was here yesterday," he said slowly.
"Who was it?"
Darklighter shrugged. "Didn't give a name, and I didn't care to ask. Something didn't seem quite…. Maybe one of Sidious's relatives," he added without conviction.
Maybe another Sith. Anakin nodded, and Darklighter left.
The Jedi stalked impatiently through passageways, barely noticing the refreshing coolness of the rooms. Could Palpatine have had more than one apprentice? There should have been only two, Master and Apprentice, Sidious and the Boy. The possible existence of a third Sith did not bode well for the Jedi, and he knew he would have to share this information with the Council. It was not something he was looking forward to.
Palpatine's room had been stripped; nothing remained of the Sith Lord except a faint essence of his corrupt power. The walls of the boy's room were covered with posters of distant planets, but there was nothing else to be found. The youth must have taken his possessions with him-- unless he had nothing to take. Anakin closed his eyes, remembering the day he had left his own home. A small satchel had carried everything he wanted-- except his mother.
"Enough!" The haunted atmosphere threatened to send him into a past that was full of painful reminiscences. He pushed them away. He had a job to do. Palpatine was finally dead, but his apprentice-- or apprentices-- had to be tracked down and arrested. He would need help to find the Boy and the Other. It was time he returned to Coruscant and faced the Council.
* * *
Luke got off the transport and came to a dead stop at the top of the ramp, ignoring the beings who pushed past him, grumbling that he was in their way. He stared, trying to take in everything he was seeing.
He wasn't sure exactly what he'd expected, but Coruscant was nothing like the beautiful holo-scenes on the vid. It was crowded-- and so loud! Flying vehicles of every make and model filled the skies, engines screeching, drivers shouting, horns blaring. They seemed to be traveling in every direction, layers upon layers, as high as he could see, and he squinted until he figured out the patterns. There were invisible roads that went left and right and up and down, some that hosted faster traffic than others, some that curved, some that ran in straight lines. If the vehicles ran into each other would they crash onto the people below?
There was a balustrade next to the platform, and he leaned over it-- and, shocked, drew back immediately. It was a canyon of buildings! If anyone fell….
He edged away, bumped and jostled by passersby until he was able to back flat against a building. How could anyone live this way? It was terrifying. And yet… it was exciting and alive in a way that Tatooine wasn't. Music came screaming out of open doorways, creating a cacophony of sounds, and he could hear dozens of different dialects being spoken. Laughter, shouting-- And not only was it crowded and noisy, it stunk! It smelled of a million things, sweat and spice and unfamiliar foods and alcohol, and lots of odors that he couldn't identify and probably was better off not knowing. There were mostly humans, other species he had read about but never thought he would see, and still others that were completely alien to him.
His heart was pounding so loudly that he could almost hear it. He was scared and thrilled at the same time. Fear was not a new emotion to him, of course, but he'd never known the excitement of so much new. The streets were like an endless maze, and he wandered aimlessly along them, content to delay his pursuit of Anakin Skywalker in favor of exploration.
A brightly lit establishment drew him closer with its throbbing music and shrieks of laughter that were clearly audible from across the street. He stepped into the doorway and was immediately confronted by a gigantic, multi-armed creature that blocked his entry with one tentacle.
The being growled horrifically, then: "Underage!" it squeaked in a tiny voice, and the limb pushed him away, right into the center a swarm of people who were all headed in the same direction.
"I am not!" he protested, but the crowd had already swallowed him, and he was pulled along. Was it a parade? A protest? Or just part of this teeming city-planet? It was a block before he could push to the fringe of the determined group and free himself.
Panting, he backed up until again he felt the smooth marble of a building at his back. He made himself as thin as possible, dangling the backpack along his legs and turning his feet sideways so they wouldn't get stepped on.
What a way to live! Where was the grass? The trees? Was the sky even blue? He squinted, but couldn't see it very well. The buildings were so high; if there was a sun, it was blocked by towering structures that left everything in the gloom. There was no air, he couldn't breathe, he had to get--
Something jerked him to one side and he was suddenly lighter.
"Hey! My pack!"
It was everything he had. Even his father's lightsaber was tucked securely at the bottom of the bag. Luke took off after the human male who had grabbed it. "Stop! Thief!"
The robber raced away, zigzagging around corners with the dizzying speed of someone who knew his territory, but Luke stayed close behind, instinctively anticipating when the man would zig or zag. He reached out and grabbed the edge of the thief's jacket-- and then scrambled to a dead stop as the alley opened up into a cul-de-sac and he was confronted with the sight of four armed men, dressed in ragged black, smiling and swinging metal clubs.
"Well, what do we have here?" A bearded man tossed his club aside and drew a very long knife from inside his coat. "Dinner!"
The others laughed uproariously. "He's a runt!" one exclaimed. "Too small for a decent meal. He'll have to be dessert!"
Oh, you have no idea what I'll be. Luke smiled faintly and held out his hand. "Return my pack and you won't be hurt."
Judging from their reaction, the men found his warning even more amusing than their cohort's feeble witticism. He waited until they finished laughing, then deliberately relaxed as they began moving forward in a half-circle, intent on surrounding him.
Despite Uncle Sidious's sneering condemnation that he'd never learned anything, Luke had picked up a few tricks from the old man, and this seemed like an excellent time to put one to use.
"I warned you," he whispered. Gathering all the new sensations-- the shouting, the music, the talking, the roaring vehicles, the crowds, the general strangeness-- and all his confused emotions, he crystallized them into a sharp point in his mind. Then he raised his hands and pushed.
It was a good trick, though he was never exactly certain what would happen. His imperfect powers might have sent them stumbling backward or flying into the wall... but this time, it was the one thing that always startled and frightened him: bolts of blue lightning shot from his fingertips, crackling and sizzling.
The men screamed and fell to the pavement, their bodies writhing with pain. "Jedi!" someone called from the small crowd that had gathered behind him.
Luke snatched his pack and ran.
* * *
It was one thing to let Anakin go off to Tatooine by himself, but it was quite another to remain at the Temple and do nothing. Idleness made him anxious. So when the Knight Abu passed on the report of a supposed Jedi sighting in the Kawan District, Obi-Wan decided to investigate. It might be nothing, as these reports generally were. Then again, it might be the Sith apprentice trying to hide his existence among the Force-strong population of Coruscant.
Not for the first time, Obi-Wan decided to take an example from his former padawan's less than stellar behavior: he told no one his purpose or where he was going. It was most likely a false alarm, but if it was the Sith apprentice, perhaps he could take him down before the Jedi Council learned of Anakin's failure to kill Palpatine. Just what he meant by "take him down" was not clear in his mind. It was not the Jedi way to slay if a suspect could be arrested without loss of another's life, but the memory of the long-ago battle with Dooku was clear in his mind. Sith were ruthless, dangerous, and needed to be eliminated. They would neither surrender nor remain contained in a prison. Arresting one would be pointless.
The Kawan District was on the opposite side of the planet, but he settled into a high speed lane, so the journey took considerably less than an hour. He pulled into the full public lot and parked his speeder in a "Reserved" slot. The attendant approached him.
"Master Jedi," the Rodian greeted politely. "May I be of service?"
"Indeed you may." If anyone knew the latest rumors, it was the lot attendant who saw everyone and heard everything, while remaining an anonymous figure in the background. "A tale has reached my ears about a Jedi sighting."
Antennae bounced as the small male nodded, eager to pass on the gossip. "Blue lightning, they say. A massacre, men screaming and bleeding, lightning bouncing off walls, brighter than from any club, quite an amazing sight! In an alley in the SkyPark District," he added, anticipating Kenobi's next question. He smiled expectantly.
Obi-Wan was tempted to use a Force suggestion, but the Rodian's information might prove useful, if somewhat exaggerated. He dug into his pocket and dropped a credit chit into the extended hand. "Thank you, my friend," he said, and left while the other exclaimed in satisfaction over his good fortune.
The location of the incident was not difficult to find; lingering traces of Dark energy pulled at his senses like a sour perfume. Obi-Wan stood, arms folded, studying the deserted corner where the attack had occurred. "Abu," he murmured in greeting, sensing the District Head approaching from behind.
"Master Kenobi," the other responded. "I wondered whom the Temple would send."
"I wasn't sent, I'm here on my own," he answered mildly.
"You know what they say about curiosity."
He nodded slightly, then gestured. "What do you know of what happened here?"
"After struggling through the exaggerated descriptions from witnesses, I have determined that a gang stole a man's pack. He gave chase and struck them down with Force lightning. You can see the indicators there, on the wall."
The scattered splotches of black soot were evidence that the reports of an electrical display were not exaggerated. Obi-Wan frowned.
"A renegade Jedi?" Abu shifted his weight from foot to foot.
He turned and met the nervous gaze. "More likely a Sith."
Abu's lips compressed. "I suppose it's to be expected. There's always another," he said with a touch of weariness.
Obi-Wan looked aside to hide his involuntary expression of disgust. This young Jedi had never met a Sith, yet he assumed the mantle of one who had confronted the deadly enemy. "Do you have any other information on the man?"
"The physical descriptions varied wildly, as you might imagine. However, what I sensed in most minds was a male human, blond, dirty white clothing. Not enough details to broadcast a description."
"We don't broadcast this at all," Obi-Wan corrected. "We don't want civilians going after a possible Sith."
"Of course." Abu flushed. "Sorry. I didn't think of that."
"Next time, think," he replied shortly, wishing the Council was concerned more with ability than connections when it came to filling important posts. "I'm going to see if I can get a location on him. Let me know if you receive any more sightings, and keep this area cordoned off. I may return to take more readings."
"Yes, Master Kenobi," Abu said, bowing politely as he left.
Remnants of energy left at the scene… how very careless. This Sith must be inexperienced, with no idea how to cover his tracks. Such ignorance would prove his downfall. Unless, of course, his carelessness was simply a ploy to lull any pursuing Jedi into a state of inattention.
Kenobi turned and began to trail the apprentice out of the alley and into the city.
* * *
He was being followed. The intense attention focused on him scratched along his nerve endings like the long claws of a sand lizard.
Luke slipped into a loud, crowded cantina. It wasn't another thief after him; no, this was different. Could the Jedi have found him so soon? How did they even know to look for him? Maybe Anakin Skywalker had always known about him and had planned on confronting him after his uncle's death. Maybe Uncle Sidious's Force strength had been the only thing that kept him safe from the evil Jedi.
He pushed his way through the throng. If he kept moving, no one would notice that he didn't buy food or drink, and maybe the Jedi couldn't track him in a crowd. He needed time to think and figure out what to do. How could he stop a Jedi intent on killing him?
When the Force-feeling got too close, he left the cantina and headed back into the streets, taking an erratic path, walking as fast as possible. He needed transport so he could escape--
And go where? To avenge his father's death, he needed to find the Jedi, not run from them. It could be any Jedi tracking him, or it could be Anakin Skywalker intent on finishing off the bloodline.
But what he felt now was familiar, like something he'd sensed infrequently over the years. Maybe Skywalker had been spying, watching him grow, waiting for the day he would come for the kill. Still, it seemed unlikely that the Jedi could find him so soon, and Luke knew well enough to follow his instincts. Their confrontation would happen his way. He would be the one to track Skywalker, not the other way around, and he knew just where he had to go to find him. He squeezed through a group clustered around a tourist kiosk. Holomaps of the city floated above it, but he couldn't pick out his destination.
"Excuse me," he said to the single clerk in the kiosk. "Excuse me!" he repeated louder when he was ignored. "Can you tell me where the Jedi temple is?"
The clerk was busy answering other questions, but a Twi'lek in front of him turned. "It's on the other side of the planet, boy. You must've got off at the wrong exit."
Half a planet away?! Now what? How would he get there? It was impossible! Troubled, Luke turned sideways, trying to edge out of the thick crowd of beings. He struggled free, running through streets and alleys until he was well off the main thoroughfare, panting with exertion and overwhelmed by the emotions of others. This Coruscant was a horrible place. The Jedi temple was probably nothing like the rest of the planet. Jedi would take care of their own.
Of course! He had some kind of power; maybe it really was the Force. He wasn't sure if it was the same thing that Jedi had. Uncle Sidious had never explained the power in anything but the most obscure terms, and he had always been disappointed that Luke hadn't inherited his father's abilities. But even though he did not have enough power, the Jedi still might think he was one of them and offer to train him. Then he'd be in their evil temple where he could find Skywalker and kill him.
It was as if his brain flared suddenly to life. Despite the crowds and noise and strangeness, he felt more alive than he ever had on Tatooine. He was invincible, full of confidence that he could do anything he wanted. He could walk to the other side of the planet if he had to. Feeling reassured, he hiked the pack higher on his shoulder and turned around, ready to begin the trek. A white-bearded man stood in the center of the alley. Before the sight of him had sunk totally into Luke's brain, the man said mildly:
"Ah, there you are. I've been looking for you."
The man wore Jedi robes.
* * *
The Sith was not what Obi-Wan had expected. True, youth didn't necessarily equate to innocence, but this one's eyes appeared untainted by Darkness. There was an aura of Dark around him, but it fluctuated, changing shapes as gently and unexpectedly as clouds blowing in the wind. He was dressed in the clothing of a Tattooinian, his skin darkened by two suns, his hair bleached pale gold.
"Why? Who are you?" The young man shifted his backpack into his hands and opened it, searching inside, seemingly oblivious to the threat Obi-Wan presented.
"Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi," he replied with a touch of amusement, though he wouldn't allow the other's apparent naiveté lull him into forgetting this was a Sith apprentice he was facing.
The head lifted and blue eyes widened in recognition of his name before the lad returned to sifting through the contents of his pack, oddly detached from the danger of the moment. The Sith should be angry or afraid or, at the very least, passionate about the coming confrontation, but Kenobi could sense no emotions at all. Finally the boy found what he'd been looking for. A silver cylinder was clutched in his hand and the pack tossed aside.
Obi-Wan tilted his head. "Are you planning on fighting me without the courtesy of an introduction?"
Uncertainty flashed across the young face, and while Kenobi felt a moment of regret that he would have to destroy one so unformed, he knew it would be a clean, quick kill. "Luke... Lars."
Lars. He felt a flash of vague recognition and wondered when and where he had heard that name, and if it was of any significance that it was familiar. "Hello, Luke Lars. Are you planning on fighting me?"
The lightsaber hilt raised, but the boy did not ignite the blade. "Not fighting," he said grimly, "I'm planning on killing you before you kill me."
"A logical progression," he observed. "Who is your master?"
The question caught Luke Lars by surprise. "I'm not a slave!" he snapped in his first show of open emotion, and Obi-Wan was transported back in time, seeing another, much younger boy dressed in similar sandplanet clothing, defiantly announcing that he was no longer a slave and daring anyone to brush him aside because of his past status.
"I meant your Force master, your teacher. Jedi or Sith?"
"I don't have a teacher, not really. Just my uncle." The bold spark was gone, and the youth was withdrawn again. "He died."
Palpatine. "We felt his passing."
"Those of us at the Jedi temple."
"Anakin Skywalker, too?" the boy asked, and Obi-Wan frowned.
There was something unique about this one. Was there anything to be done with him, any way to salvage him? The youth was too old to train as a Jedi, yet too strong a Force presence to be allowed to wander the galaxy untrained. It was an unfortunate waste of potential, but there was little choice.
And... still carved into his mind was the memory of Qui-Gon, struck down and dying in his arms. Though this boy had not been born when that murder occurred, he was a Sith, and no Sith could ever be forgiven.
"I am sorry," he said, almost but not quite regretfully, and ignited his saber.
Startled, the boy jumped back, then quickly recovered and activated his own blade. It flamed to life, blood-red, but he held it awkwardly, unaccustomed to its weight. They circled each other cautiously, Obi-Wan averse to beginning the grossly unfair fight, the youth pale but determined.
"I see you have Palpatine's lightsaber," Kenobi said. "Was he your uncle?"
"Who?" The question appeared to confuse Luke. "I don't know any Palpatine."
Obi-Wan frowned. "That is his weapon. If not Palpatine, then who was your uncle?"
The youth made a clumsy feint with his saber, but Obi-Wan merely stepped out of the way and Luke did not pursue him. "His name was Sidious."
"Darth Sidious," he repeated, sighing heavily. "Also known as Palpatine, Chancellor of the Republic before you were born."
"Really? We studied him in school! How could he be my-- " The lightsaber lowered fractionally, then the boy raised it again. "Anyway, this isn't my uncle's saber, it's my father's."
"Oh, it's Palpatine's lightsaber, all right. So he was your father?"
A look of distaste passed fleetingly over the youth's face. "My father was a brave warrior. He was murdered by Anakin Skywalker. And I will avenge him."
Not likely, lad, Obi-Wan thought. "I can't allow that." He attacked without further warning, forcing the boy into a defensive position as he swung his saber. His blows were stopped repeatedly by surprisingly strong two-handed blocks from Luke. Their blades sizzled together until Kenobi broke off and prepared a new attack. "If Anakin killed your father, it was necessary."
"No! They were both Sith!" Luke shouted, and it was enough to make Obi-Wan pause. "Skywalker betrayed my father, he betrayed Uncle Sidious and tried to kill them both!"
Pain cracked the boy's cool facade, and Obi-Wan felt misery leak through the formerly impenetrable mental wall. He backed away, holding his saber at the ready. "Who was your father, young one?"
For a moment, it seemed like the lad wouldn't-- or couldn't-- answer, then his mental shields shattered. Confused emotions exploded and scattered like fireworks, as visible in the Force as storm clouds rumbling across the sky. When Luke finally shouted the answer, "Darth Vader!" Obi-Wan felt shock waves reverberate through his own mind.
The name was an unwanted ghost from the past, one he had thought he would never hear again. The name Anakin had taken, briefly, before Obi-Wan and Mace had helped him turn from the Darkness that threatened to consume him.
"Vader?" he whispered, shocked into stillness.
"Yes! I'm Luke Vader, and I'm going to avenge my father's death!"
"How--?" A train of confused thoughts raced through Obi-Wan's brain. It wasn't possible, Padme and her child had been killed, he'd attended her funeral and seen….
No. He'd seen what the Sith had wanted him-- and the rest of the galaxy-- to see. How could they have been so blind? Though near death himself, somehow Palpatine had used his Dark powers to steal Padme's child.
Obi-Wan sagged. He and Yoda had spirited Padme away, both for her sake and for the sake of the Jedi Order… or so he had convinced himself. The Chosen One, the Hero Without Fear, had to maintain his untarnished reputation and remain forever the symbol of the best and purest of the Jedi. Then had come the accident that had killed Padme, an accident he had questioned only in the hidden recesses of his mind. But it hadn't been a Jedi ploy as he had feared, it had been a lie-- a vile Sith lie! Palpatine killed Padme and stole her baby. Her child lived and here he was, Force-strong and Sith-corrupted. Anakin's son who should never have been conceived.
Luke could not be allowed to live and revive the Sith. He had to die.
But Obi-Wan hadn't the heart to kill Anakin's son, not after years of watching his friend grieve, seeing the bright spark in blue eyes fade into horror, despair and, finally, flat resignation. It was not only Padme who had died that day.
And for Kenobi there had been a lifetime of guilt, always wondering if he had done the right thing, always worrying that one day Anakin would discover that his closest friend had inadvertently caused the death of his beloved.
It would have been simpler, as Yoda had instructed, to look upon the tragedy as another lesson about the miseries of attachment, but he had failed to achieve that level of enlightenment.
He saw a blur of motion as the glowing crimson blade came at him. But its wielder hesitated, the attack paused, as if waiting for him to dodge the blade or fight back. Kenobi was so startled by the apparent mercy that he did nothing, and Jedi and Sith simply stared at each other for a long second.
Then, behind the boy, another figure appeared, one that he hadn't seen in many years, an old enemy he'd assumed was long dead.
Suspicions and speculations raced lightning-fast through his mind, but before he could utter a word, a powerful Force wave came shuddering through the air, one that sent the boy stumbling forward… and pushed the lethal blade against Kenobi's chest.
He saw it, but felt nothing other than a slight pressure. The hilt pressed into the loose folds of his tunic, and he thought that his flesh remained miraculously untouched… until a rush of heat followed by cold air at his back whispered that the blade had pierced him clear through.
He met the stunned gaze of young Luke... Luke Skywalker. "Luke..." he whispered. "Your father… your father…."
Luke disappeared. Obi-Wan reached for where he had stood, but there was nothing to touch. The buildings were gone, the pavement, the bright lights and loud noises of Coruscant blurred and shimmered like stars, and then--
To be One with the Force... it was what all Jedi expected... what he expected... it wasn't quite the way he'd expected it to be, but still....
* * *
He hadn't expected this to happen. A lightsaber duel with a famous Jedi-- Luke knew he should have been the one to die. But the famous Jedi was standing frozen, staring straight ahead, with the glowing blade piercing his chest. Luke turned off the lightsaber and the Jedi fell to the ground. His eyes were surprised.
Luke drew a long, shaky breath. He turned around to see whoever it was who had pushed him. There was no one to be seen or sensed. It seemed that crowded Coruscant could be as empty and lonely as the Jundland Wastes.
Maybe there had never been anyone there. Maybe he only thought someone pushed him. Maybe it had been his imagination.
But that feeling remained, thought not as near, and he couldn't help thinking that someone was watching him. It couldn't be Kenobi, because Kenobi was dead, and if it wasn't Kenobi... then who was it? Another Jedi would have come to Kenobi's aid.
Well, there was no point in looking for someone who didn't want to be seen. He turned back to the fallen man.
He'd heard stories about ancient times when Jedi bodies vanished after death, but this one was lying on the pavement, his robes singed, a hole ripped through him.. Luke knew he should run, but he couldn't help staring. This was Obi-Wan Kenobi, member of the ruling Jedi Council. He was famous. How could he have died without much of a fight? Jedi were supposed to be invincible.
Why did Kenobi have to come after him anyway? Why couldn't it have been Skywalker? He didn't mean to declare war against all Jedi, only Skywalker. Sure, the Jedi were evil, but what could he do about them, he was only one person. His insides were clenched, like they were tied in knots. He stowed the lightsaber into his pack. After a moment's hesitation, he took Kenobi's lightsaber. It might not be good if the Jedi caught him with it, but he couldn't leave it for scavengers or thieves.
He retraced his steps through the network of alleys, looking once over his shoulder at the body of the Jedi. Uncle Sidious would have been pleased with this day's work... and Luke was relieved that his uncle wasn't around to rejoice.
* * *
The Jedi temple shuddered. Not in the physical sense, though it may have seemed that way to its occupants. Each Jedi, from younglings to masters, felt the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
In his chambers, Yoda cried out and staggered, as though the saber had been run through his own heart.
In the Great Hall Mace Windu slammed his fist against a marble column, startling a group of younglings who huddled together, confused and frightened by the unexpected flood of emotions that spilled around them.
In the Hall of Records, Adi Gallia said, "We should rejoice. Master Kenobi has passed into the Force," but no one answered her.
In the skies above Coruscant, in old Naboo starfighter, Anakin Skywalker cried out in anguish: "Can I prevent nothing?"
* * *
It was strange and, Luke thought uncomfortably, maybe even a little obscene that he was feeling so good. And not just good-- he felt terrific! Vibrantly alive, happier than he'd ever been, full of hope-- and he was on a killing mission.
Aunt Beru would not have approved of his task.
With a sigh, Luke leaned his forehead against the transparisteel window of the transport, trying to ignore the press of bodies against him. Coruscant "scenery" was monotonous, one dark building layered across another and another, up, down, and sideways, wherever a centimeter of empty space could be appropriated. It was the total opposite of Tatooine. Back home, there was wide open space, and he only had to worry about Tusken Raiders and krayt dragons and scorpions. But Coruscant was filled with the most dangerous predators of all, sentient beings who would kill for a backpack or for a moment of amusement.
Or who would kill a Jedi tracking them.
He clutched the backpack to his chest and pressed as close as he could toward the window, trying to get away from the people crowded into the car. All that served was to leave a space that was filled by another humanoid who was orange and smelled peculiarly. Luke closed his eyes. His sense of smell became more acute as it compensated for the absence of sight. There were many strange odors, some pleasant, some not, and one that reminded him of Aunt Beru, the scent of cardoman that she used for baking. Unbidden, his last sight of her leaped to his mind. She and Owen, their clothes and skin shredded, dead in the courtyard of their home.
He straightened and thrust his elbow into the side of someone who was getting much too close. The man grunted and turned away. Unwilling to close his eyes again lest the heartbreaking scene return, Luke stared out the window as the transport descended, watching the buildings rise around them. But deliberate ignorance didn't stop the memory of coming home from school, seeing the 'vaporator container on the ground, its contents spilled and dried into the sand. He'd known immediately that something was terribly wrong.
The neighbors said it must have been Raiders, but Luke had never believed it, though he had no idea who or what else could have committed such terrible slaughter. It was ironic that Uncle Sidious, helpless in bed, had been spared. Ironic and…unfair.
Life isn't fair. How often had Uncle Owen said that? But Luke thought that he hadn't even had a chance at fairness; his life had been ruined from the beginning… by Anakin Skywalker. The evil Jedi would have killed him, too, even though he was only a newborn, if Uncle Sidious hadn't hidden him after his mother died. "I wish I knew something about her," he whispered to his mirror-self who stared at him from the window.
Uncle Sidious hadn't been able to tell him anything about his mother's fate since he'd been near death himself, so not only had Skywalker taken his father, he'd indirectly taken any knowledge of his mother. The more Luke thought about it, the more the injustice grated on him. He tried to be angry, but all he felt was miserable. Anger had never come easily to him, another thing that Uncle Sidious had criticized him for.
"Next stop, Galactic City central terminal," a mellifluous computerized voice declared, barely audible over the chatter of the passengers.
He wondered if Galactic City had more than one terminal. Probably, but he'd get off here just to be certain that he didn't end up halfway across the planet again. It had been a stressful trip, and he wanted nothing more than to sit down and eat. Maybe sleep, if he could find a place that was both cheap and safe.
Tomorrow he would find Anakin Skywalker. And one of them would die.
* * *
"I didn't kill Palpatine."
Anakin met Yoda's gaze, then looked at each member of the Council in turn, waiting for their reactions.
Predictably, Mace Windu was the first to burst out with: "What are you saying? He was dead when-- "
"I knew he was alive after he went out the window," Anakin said calmly. "I followed him to Mustafar and we fought. I was almost certain he died then, but later I sensed him."
Mace shook his head. "Well, thanks to your... inability... to kill your old mentor, Obi-Wan is dead."
"Not Anakin's fault is Obi-Wan's death," Yoda chided sharply, glancing around the circle. "Is there one of you who sensed Palpatine's demise? Always uncertain was I. Guilty we all are, of not pursuing and eliminating him."
"It is unproductive to debate past actions," Sta Ruwen said quietly. "All our concentration must be focused on finding the Sith apprentice."
"I'll take care him," Anakin said sharply before anyone could agree with Ruwen. "It's my responsibility."
"Your motives, are they clear?" Yoda asked. "Revenge is not a path you should take. None of us," he added warningly.
"Maybe it's time for the Jedi to take a little revenge," Mace declared. "We need to show the galaxy that we avenge our losses. To do otherwise only encourages more assassination attempts."
"Dangerous thought that is, Master Windu."
"The time for philosophical discussions has passed," Anakin interrupted. "The apprentice is from Tatooine; he'll stick out here like a bantha in a pool of water. I can find him quickly. Whatever course we decide to take with regard to this man's fate, we can't allow the Sith to grow strong again."
"A voice of reason in this time of strife, the Chosen One is." Yoda smiled slightly, and Anakin gave him a nod. "Our blessing you have, Master Skywalker. But remember, what you think is right, you must do. No matter what it is."
You always have to be cryptic, he thought, but aloud he said: "Of course, master. I'll begin the search immediately."
"Wait until after Obi-Wan's memorial service," Depa Ballaba said softly.
For a few minutes he'd forgotten. The pain hit him afresh, and he felt it answered in the other Council members. Anakin bowed his head. His mentor, his best friend, the one who had looked out for him after Qui-Gon died and for the decades that followed. It was a void no one could ever fill.
It made him hate the Sith apprentice even more. To hell with philosophy and reasoning! I will find you and kill you, Luke Lars, he vowed. For Obi-Wan.
* * *
This was more like it. This was the Coruscant he'd seen on posters and in vids. It looked like there was even something green down there! Luke leaned over the rail of the observation platform and gazed in awe at the sight spread below him. The vista appeared to stretch endlessly, miles and miles until it disappeared into a haze. Here it was not crowded with skyscrapers; instead there was a wide-open panorama with only a couple huge buildings: a round, domed structure that the observation sign named the Senate Building and the ugly monolith of the Jedi temple. Its spires rose even higher than the official Galactic City Viewing Platform where he stood. Speeders and transports whizzed around the sky, but they steered clear of the airspace above the temple. He wondered if that was the law, or if the Jedi had built a special invisible wall around it.
"Wow," he whispered, impressed despite his dislike of the Jedi rule.
"It's something else, isn't it?" a gray-haired man beside him said. "We'll have a good view of Kenobi's processional from here."
Luke leaned forward and rested his chin on his hand. Scrolling news update signs around the city repeated what little information there was about the death of the Jedi and the funeral cortege schedule. Some of them even had erratic pictures of Kenobi's face drawn with lights. Citizens actually seemed to be mourning, which seemed strange to Luke, considering how despised the Jedi were. "I think I'll try to get closer."
"You're better off here. Security won't let you close, and you won't be able to see over the heads of the crowd. I'm staying put."
"It's so far away," he complained. "I can't see anything!"
"You can borrow my binocs now and then," the oldster offered.
Luke looked at him. "Thanks," he said, surprised, before turning back to the scene. "So, what do you think of the Jedi?"
The man snorted. "Where're you from, boy? The Outer Rim?"
"Tatooine. We don't get any Jedi out that way." They just send troops to do their dirty work. "I never saw a Jedi before I came here."
"No? Well, I hear the Chosen One himself is from Tatooine."
"Really?" He'd never heard this before. "Who's the Chosen One? Who chose him? For what?"
"You really don't know anything, huh?" a small girl piped up from his other side. "A'kin Skywalka, of course!"
"Skywalker?" he repeated. His enemy was from Tatooine? Odd that Uncle Sidious hadn't mentioned that. He wondered where Skywalker had lived. Obviously nowhere near Anchorhead, since he'd never heard the name locally.
"The Hero Without Fear," the man chanted. "The noblest Jedi who ever lived. My grandson has all his holocards. We couldn't ask for a better role model for the boy."
"Yoda's my favorite," a woman declared loudly from somewhere behind him. "Such a cutey!"
"I haf a yoda doll." Luke looked down to see the little girl holding up a green stuffed figure with very large and floppy ears. "See?"
"Very nice," he said politely, wondering what sort of creature a "yoda" was. He turned back to the older man. "So people here like the Jedi, do they?"
"They're the government!" The man snorted. "What's to like or not like? As long as they keep us prosperous and out of wars, they're fine by me."
Luke frowned and stared blindly at the Jedi temple. What he was hearing now differed from what he'd heard while growing up. Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru had never contradicted what Uncle Sidious said. That didn't necessarily mean they had lied. Maybe they agreed with Uncle Sidious's perspective on the Jedi, which was (understandably) negative. Still, he remembered Biggs's excitement about going to the Jedi Republic Naval Academy. Biggs thought the Jedi were okay. Then again, Biggs's father hadn't been killed by a Jedi. "Well, they sure didn't make Tatooine prosperous," he said, "and their troopers allow Jabba the-- "
"Here they come!"
He raised a hand to shade his eyes and stared toward the distant processional that was approaching the temple. White armor flashed in the sun as a formation of troopers marched in slow cadence. They were followed by drummers, too distant to hear, then by various beings bearing the colorful standards of their respective planets. A large group of black-cloaked figures appeared, surrounding a raised bier that was draped in ebony, making the pale shape resting upon it stand out in stark relief.
"Ugh." Luke made a grimace of distaste. How barbaric, parading a dead man through the streets! He should be properly burned and buried. "The ones in black-- are they Jedi?"
"Yes. Take a look, backplanet boy."
Luke brought the binoculars up to his eyes and adjusted them to see as closely as possible. No faces were visible; the Jedi were hiding inside their hoods as usual. He wondered if Anakin Skywalker was among them. His gaze slid to Kenobi where it lingered only long enough to confirm that it was indeed the man who'd attacked him. The man he'd killed. Sort of.
"Thanks." The sight was unnerving. Handing the binocs back, he stepped away from the rail. His place was immediately filled and he had to struggle to break free of the crowd, squeezing through until he was able to exit the observation platform.
The "ground" was not as crowded, and he avoided the viewing spots where beings were congregating to watch the funeral march. He'd seen enough of that macabre display. As he headed in the direction of the temple, he came upon a flat area of short green stalks. He stopped and stared, momentarily distracted.
Was this grass?
Squatting, he touched it cautiously. It was softer than it looked. He'd thought it would be sharp and bristly, but it was flexible and cool. Looking around, he saw people were sitting on it. That seemed extreme, so he straightened and gingerly put one foot on it. The grass flattened and he immediately lifted his boot, worried that he'd broken it. There was an imprint of his foot, almost like sand would make, but as he watched the grass rose and stood straight again.
Grinning, he took another step and another, until he was striding across the grass heading for what could only be a real live tree. Grass and trees-- this was just like the holoposters!
What a shame the Jedi were around to spoil his exploration.
* * *
There he was, Luke Lars. Jedi-Killer.
Anakin was tempted to reach out with the Force and choke Obi-Wan's murderer as he sat on a low wall, swinging his legs and staring at the Jedi temple, plotting more killings.
But that would not give him the satisfaction he craved. No matter what the teachings to which he'd devoted his life, he yearned for revenge. He wanted to kill Palpatine's apprentice the way he'd killed Dooku. He wanted to sever the Sith's head.
Lars was unaware of his presence, of that he was certain. Anakin stalked him as he would a crazed animal, circling cautiously, tightening his snare step by step, drawing closer and closer, using the trees and the Force for cover. Enjoying the final moments of the hunt, postponing the moment when he would have satisfaction.
The Jedi Council wanted the Sith eliminated, and this death would be a noble act that even Obi-Wan would approve of.
* * *
From his perch on the wall bordering the park, Luke couldn't see the tops of Jedi temple's towers because they disappeared into the clouds. The temple itself was big and squat and probably very ostentatious inside. What a waste of credits! Uncle Sidious was right about the Jedi being arrogant. This temple confirmed it. They didn't help anybody with it-- it was just for them to live in. And all the empty space around it when everywhere else was so crowded! It was a wonder that the Coruscanti didn't revolt and throw out the Jedi! Then again, why should they? Coruscant had more wealth than Luke could imagine. "Yeah, just try moving your temple to Tatooine," he muttered under his breath, "and see how long you last there!"
There was a movement behind a nearby tree. From the corner of one eye, Luke saw a shadow, then a black-cloaked figure. Jedi. How weird that he hadn't sensed this presence when he'd been able to sense... whoever it was who had been following him. He slouched on the ledge, hugging his backpack close, hoping he wouldn't be noticed. In his mind, he pictured himself getting smaller and smaller until he turned into a tiny dot and disappeared.
Apparently that trick didn't work on Jedi. The figure moved closer, stopping alongside the wall a short distance away. Luke felt the man watching him.
He said nothing.
The Jedi said nothing.
He wanted to jump off the wall and run. Or speak. But he remembered patience and remained still. Except for his heart, which was racing as fast as his legs wanted to.
The Jedi took another step, and another, then stopped close enough to run him through with a lightsaber.
Enough was enough.
Luke looked up, straight at the Jedi, hoping his apprehension wasn't apparent.
"Hi," he said.
* * *
Thought he knew the apprentice was not quite an adult, Anakin hadn't expected him to be this... youthful. Not a child, but certainly not yet a man. His blue eyes were wide with trepidation, and his aura was anxious, seemingly innocent, and somehow... familiar. Anakin scowled and the boy blinked.
"Hi," he said unexpectedly. His voice trembled, though a casual observer would not have heard the fear in it
Anakin didn't move. He was prepared for a threat, even an outright attack, but this Sith was devious, hoping to lull him into relaxing his guard and becoming vulnerable for a moment.
So why wasn't he sensing any duplicity? "Hello," he answered slowly, disliking the feelings he couldn't shake. Puzzlement, confusion, indecision.... He couldn't kill someone, not even a Sith, when he wasn't certain.
The boy tilted his face. "You're a Jedi, aren't you?" he asked in the never-forgotten lilting accent of Tatooine. The sound brought memories of home, of his mother....
"Yes." When was the last time he had been thrown off balance like this? It must have been with Padme, for she was the only one who had ever had such an effect on him.
How dare this boy remind him of Padme! Anakin tensed, reaching for the rage he had felt toward Obi-Wan's murderer. But it eluded him, and his righteous anger retreated, denying him the justice he craved.
Tanned fingers released the bag the boy was clutching and patted the ledge. "Join me? The view is great."
Despite his ill-concealed apprehension, the boy had so much composure! This youth must be a talented Sith indeed. Such self-assurance made him all the more dangerous and it was all the more imperative that something be done with him. If he was this treacherous and conniving so young, what might he grow into? He could become stronger than Palpatine.
If he could be turned, he would make a powerful ally.
"Do you live there? In the temple?"
He followed the boy's gaze to the serenity of the temple's fluid lines. "Yes."
"It's very big. Was it expensive to build?"
There was a surrealism to their conversation that he was finding bewildering. "I have no idea. It's been here for a long time." He would not lower his defenses. He was no longer a naïve youth and the Sith would not find him an easy target. In the years since Palpatine's betrayal he'd become wiser and more cautious. Some call him skeptical and a pessimist, and perhaps that was true. The Jedi Order had changed, and he with it. Not all, he thought, for the better.
Still, the Order was the only life he had, and if that was not enough, it was his own failing. He had never been able to surrender his entire self to the Jedi. But he could not give the Order the part of him that had belonged to Padme and his child, for it was no longer within him to give.
"Oh. I was thinking that it was a waste of money that could be better used elsewhere." The disconcerting blue eyes focused on him again. "But I guess I can't blame the Jedi of today if it's been here awhile."
"That's a relief," he said dryly, deciding that he had to take control of the conversation. "I know who you are and why you are here."
"You do?" Luke Lars looked surprised. "Why am I here?"
"To kill Jedi." His mouth thinned. "And you've done it."
"No, I didn't! At least... not exactly."
It felt as though Coruscant was spinning around him. Had the boy not killed Obi-Wan? Was this not the Sith apprentice they feared? Or did the child lie-- despite the ring of truth in his words? No matter. There were mysteries to be solved before the Sith's future would be decided.
"I'm taking you to the temple. There you will stand before the Jedi Council."
"Okay." Luke sighed and slid off the wall, landing lightly as a Force user should. "I guess I don't have much of a choice."
"None whatsoever," Anakin said grimly, his hand resting on the hilt of his lightsaber as he directed the Sith to walk several paces ahead of him.
* * *
Too bad the park was so small. Luke would have liked to have taken a very long walk to stall for awhile, but all too soon they were facing a plain steel door on the lowest level of the temple. Luke was disappointed; he had looked forward (sort of) to marching up the broad steps, through the huge, ornate doors and into the heart of the temple. His captor did a magical Jedi wave and the door slid open. Luke made a mental note to remember that if he needed to escape.
They stepped directly into a small cubicle. "Is the Council going to kill me?" he asked, then gasped as the door closed and the room hurtled upward. He scrabbled for a hold on the slick wall. "What-- ?"
"It's an elevator. A lift," the Jedi said, and Luke appreciated that the man didn't laugh at his ignorance.
"Oh." For a Jedi, this guy seemed okay. Still, he was part of the evil ruling class. "So are they? Going to kill me?"
The older man was silent for a moment, then: "I don't know what will be done with you. Your existence is something of a problem."
"It's not the first time I've heard that," Luke muttered. The elevator came to a smooth stop, and he dared a quick glance at the solemn gaze that remained focused on him. "Maybe they could teach me Jedi Force things. How to control what I can already do. I'd like that."
He didn't receive a reply and, when he saw the enormous space they entered, forgot he was waiting for one. "Wow."
It was the biggest room he'd ever seen in his life. Floors, ceilings and walls were made of a shiny dark material that he supposed was marble. Luke touched one of the fat columns, sliding his hand down its smoothness. There must have been a hundred columns, and they made a forest that stretched upward several floors to a geometrically-patterned ceiling. "You Jedi must have a lot of money, just like everybody says." He looked at the silent man. "Do you think that's okay? To spend so many credits on maintaining this building when there are people starving in the galaxy?"
The Jedi sent him a quizzical look. "Are you sure you're a Sith?"
"I never said I was." He shrugged. "Uncle Sidious said I was an uncooperative student and that I'd never learn much of anything."
"You learned enough to kill a Jedi."
Luke sighed. "That was an accident."
"Hrmph." The Jedi frowned at him. "Stop dawdling and come along."
"You sound like my Uncle Owen." This Jedi was being almost nice to him. Civil, anyway. Maybe he'd have to revise his opinion that all Jedi were evil. There might be an exception or two. There was something about this man that he instinctively trusted.
He probably shouldn't. A Jedi was a Jedi, after all. Uncle Sidious said none of them was honorable.
They approached a door with a strange round symbol carved into it, and this time the Jedi pushed a panel to open it. "Why didn't you use the Force like you did with that other door?" Luke asked.
"The Force is not to be used frivolously," the man said as if he was reciting a lesson. But Luke saw his eyes roll. "Get in the elevator."
"Where are we going now?" He rooted his feet firmly outside the door, determined not to take another stomach-dropping ride before knowing his destination. "And whose rule is that? What's wrong with frivolous? I think we should discuss this before we-- "
"Stop talking, child." The man tried to take his backpack, but Luke hung onto it. They engaged in a brief, silent tug-of-war, which the Jedi won. "Get in." A hand firmly on his shoulder steered him into the lift.
He would have objected, but the sensation of the Jedi touching him was distracting. It was so... strange. But not unpleasant. It made him feel safe, protected... and when the hand withdrew, the feelings lingered, warm and soothing. Confused, he looked at the older man and found the Jedi staring at him, his eyebrows drawn together in a frown.
They were both subdued for the duration of the ride. It seemed to Luke that they were traveling very high, so he was unsurprised when they exited into a room that had a single large window with a magnificent view of the surrounding city.
"Oh, wow!" This was the highest he'd ever been, even taller than the biggest cliffs around Anchorhead and way above the viewing platform where he'd been earlier. He headed for the window, pressing his palms against it as he stared out at the crowded scenery. "Why's the sky such a weird color? It didn't look that way from the ground."
"We're high enough to see the pollution."
"What's that?" he asked, embarrassed that he didn't understand. "I mean, I'm sure I know, but right this second I can't think of what-- "
"Stop." The Jedi sighed. "You are not here for sightseeing or education-- or for procrastinating. I am taking you to the Jedi Council for judgment."
"Judgment?" He turned and faced the one who looked back at him impassively. "They way I see it, they'll either train me, kill me, or let me go."
"They won't let you go."
"Oh." It had been his bright idea to come to Coruscant and search out the Jedi, but evidently not one of his better ones.
"And you're too old to train."
When the meaning of the words sank in, Luke looked at the older man, studying him closely for the first time. He looked like Luke wished he would look when he got a little older: tall and strong, with golden-brown hair that was wavy and thick. His eyes were as blue as Tatooine skies, and there was both wisdom and weariness in them. Sadness, too. But his face had few lines, and Luke sensed kindness and a sort of restless serenity in his manner. He seemed like a nice man who wouldn't kill anyone, let alone a kid.
Maybe that was wishful thinking.
"So, then... what are they going to do to me?" he whispered, subdued.
The man looked grave, which was not reassuring. "The first time I stood in front of the Council," the Jedi said softly, "I was nine, and they declared that I was too old to be trained."
"At nine?" Shocked, Luke realized that if a nine-year-old was too old, Uncle Sidious must have told the truth-- the Jedi did steal babies.
"Yes. But a wise Jedi defied the Council and promised to train me. Unfortunately," the Jedi sent him a baleful look, "shortly afterward he was killed-- by a Sith."
Absurdly, Luke felt guilty and looked at the floor.
"Later," his captor continued, "a young Jedi spoke for me, vowing that he would be responsible for my training and my actions. He was true to his word, and so I was trained as a Jedi."
"Really?" Luke perked up. "Would he speak for me, too?"
"He cannot speak for you." The bright eyes darkened. "You killed him."
Dismayed, he stared at the Jedi, but the man turned away. "I didn't mean to. I was just-- "
"Enough!" The Jedi pressed a panel on the wall. "Come."
"Okay, but maybe you could speak for-- "
The door to the Jedi Council chamber slid open.
* * *
Luke swallowed and took a few cautious steps inside. The council chamber was much smaller than he'd expected, and its magnificence came from the large windows that adorned its perimeter rather than from its furnishings. He followed the Jedi into the center of the room where a ring of chairs encircled them. And in the chairs....
This was the famous Jedi Council, the beings who ruled the galaxy. Luke's fingers curled into balls and he took a few deep breaths, deliberately relaxing. He wouldn't let them see he was nervous. Somehow he had to convince them to train him.
His gaze drifted around the circle, not recognizing any of them from school lessons or vid programs. Publicity releases and news bulletins always showed them cloaked, their faces obscured by hoods, but here they were, revealed for him to gawk at. There were several different types of beings, some that were ghosts! -- although on closer inspection, he decided they were holos-- and then there was-- "You're a yoda!" he exclaimed.
The ears on the little green man (if it was a man) curled down. "Master Yoda is head of the Jedi Council," his captor said sternly. "Address him with respect."
"Sorry." Luke ducked his head sheepishly. "I just... there was a little girl with a doll.... Never mind."
Yoda sighed. "This is the boy?"
"Not very impressive," muttered a voice from his left.
Luke folded his arms and frowned.
"Certain are you this is the one who killed Obi-Wan? The Sith apprentice?"
"Yes. This is Luke Lars," his Jedi captor replied, "though I am unconvinced that he is a true apprentice. While he has a strong Force presence, he has not been trained and has few skills."
"He had enough skill with a lightsaber," someone behind them said sharply.
"And to generate Dark Side Lightning," one of the holos added.
Luke turned to look at the holo but stopped when Yoda spoke again. "Blocking us he is."
He could feel all the Jedi focusing on him, trying to pry his mind open like Uncle Sidious used to do. Luke made his thoughts very small and still, which had always angered Uncle Sidious.
"He's good at it," a blue woman commented. "Did Palpatine teach you how to block?"
"The other Jedi," Luke began, hoping he was being tactful by not using Kenobi's name, "told me that my Uncle Sidious was also called Palpatine. Is that right?"
There was a silence, then someone said, "Yes."
"Oh." Luke realized he had to unclench his fists again. "Then, no, he didn't teach me. Sometimes he'd do what you're doing, and I didn't like it. So I made it stop."
Nobody spoke for what seemed like a long time. He supposed they were carrying on a silent conversation, so he took the opportunity to study them. They didn't look much different from anyone else. Unlike his black-garbed captor, the Council members all wore the same long brown robes that didn't look expensive, which was surprising. They didn't look evil, but he supposed he shouldn't judge by appearances since they were apparently willing to kill him for no good reason. He glanced back for his Jedi captor and saw him sitting in a chair. There was an empty chair next to him, so Luke walked over and sat down.
He felt a jolt of shock travel around the room.
"Get out of Obi-Wan's seat! How dare you take his place!" a very large bald man shouted, leaping to his feet and approaching to tower over him.
"Calm," Yoda said, and the man glared at Luke a moment longer before returning to his place.
That hadn't been the best move on his part, but how was he to know that he'd taken the seat of the man he'd killed. "Well," Luke said recklessly, determined not to show any weakness, "it's not like he's going to be using it."
Amid the agitated murmurs of the others, his captor rose and clasped his upper arm. "Stand up," he commanded, pulling him to his feet, and again Luke had that oddly comfortable feeling. He looked at the Jedi, who released him immediately and glanced away, but not before Luke had seen pain in his eyes.
"Sorry," Luke mumbled, regretting that he'd hurt someone who'd been decent to him. Besides, he shouldn't antagonize the Jedi if he wanted them to teach him the ways of the Force. And he still had to find and kill Anakin Skywalker, a task that he tended to forget. He looked around the circle of Jedi Masters, wondering which of them was his enemy. Maybe Skywalker was that holo figure that looked so alien and mean that Luke was having a hard time believing he/she/it was sentient.
Another being with an exceptionally big head said, "You appear unskilled. How were you able to defeat Obi-Wan Kenobi, one of the greatest Jedi of our time?"
"I didn't mean to, it was an accident," he answered honestly. "He drew first! I was just trying to defend myself, and he kept fighting and talking, and talking and fighting... then he stopped doing both and I had my lightsaber pointed at him and... somebody pushed me."
Their incredulity was palpable, but Luke didn't flinch. It was the truth; there was no other way to describe what had happened.
"Who pushed you?" a voice to his right asked.
"I don't know." Luke looked at Yoda since he was the leader. "I checked, but there was no one around."
"What about the lightning? You had to be trained to generate Sith lightning."
"It was an accident," he answered, turning around in a futile attempt to figure out who was speaking.
"You seem to have a lot of accidents," the blue woman commented.
After a few moments, the small green Jedi asked, "A lightsaber you have?"
"Uh-huh." He turned to his captor. "Can I have my bag? I actually have... uh, two lightsabers."
"May I have my bag," the man corrected, giving him an Uncle Owen look before handing him the satchel. Luke squatted on the floor and rummaged through it, trying to free the lightsabers from their entwinement with his clothes.
"Here's the one Uncle Sidious gave me." He stood and ignited the ruby blade, feeling a sort of Jedi mental alarm signal go off in the room. The lightsaber extinguished and flew out of his grip, landing in Baldy's hands.
"Palpatine's," Baldy stated after close inspection.
"And then I have this one-- " Luke began, but was immediately interrupted.
"That's Obi-Wan's!" his captor snapped and held out his hand. "How could you take it? Have you no respect?"
Luke wondered why this Jedi didn't use the Force to snatch the lightsaber from him like Baldy had. Well, Aunt Beru had taught him to be courteous whenever possible, so he handed it over. "That's why I took it," he explained quietly. "I couldn't leave it there for scavengers to steal. Or Raiders... or whatever you have here. I've already been robbed once, I know the kind of people who live here. Poor people," he added, casting a reproachful look at the silent figures. "People who don't have credits to waste on building fancy temples."
"A champion of the underprivileged," Big Head said, but his tone was sarcastic and Luke flushed.
"It is obvious that he is too old to be trained," Baldy said. "This discussion is pointless."
Luke looked at his captor for support. The man glanced briefly at him, then spoke. "You said that about me, Master Windu, if you will recall."
"He is a Sith," Big Head pointed out, "and therefore a threat. He must be eliminated."
"It's a drastic step you're suggesting," the blue woman said. "Are there no alternatives?"
"There are always alternatives, and I think I should have a say in this," Luke protested. "I want to be trained, but if you won't do that, let me go. If you kill me, you'll be as evil as everyone says you are."
"Evil, are we?" Yoda murmured. "Lied to you, someone has. Palpatine, no doubt."
"Maybe." Luke folded his arms. "But if you kill me, then his words won't be lies."
"There is no reason to kill him," a familiar voice said, and Luke turned to see his captor had moved closer to his side. "He's just a boy. Palpatine can no longer help him."
"He never helped me in the first place," Luke muttered.
"Dangerous to train him, it would be." Yoda sighed and shifted in his chair, but he shot a keen look at Luke's captor and his ears wiggled.
"More dangerous to leave me running around," Luke mumbled in a low voice.
"Shut up," his captor replied, equally quietly. "I'm trying to save your life."
"Oh. Right." He paused. "Why?"
"There's no choice," his new friend said, louder. "We can't kill someone who is innocent."
"Innocent?" a holo echoed. "He admitted to killing Obi-Wan!"
"He's explained that, and I believe him. I can sense that he has no malicious intent-- why can't you?" His captor sounded almost distraught, and Luke gave him an astonished look. "Obi-Wan didn't kill this boy, but chose to sacrifice himself instead. There must be a reason. We cannot dishonor Obi-Wan's actions by resorting to murder!"
Yoda's ears curled again and his mouth turned down. Several minutes of silence passed during which Luke tried not to squirm. Finally, the odd little Jedi said, "A passionate defense you make. Very well, young Luke Lars. For the time being, you will stay here-- "
Big Head groaned, but was silenced by a look from Yoda.
"-- but not a padawan will you be."
"What's a padawan?" Luke asked.
Yoda didn't reply, but his captor murmured, "A Jedi student."
"Oh." So they weren't going to kill him, and maybe they would change their minds and teach him about the Force so he could become a Sith like his father. Even as he thought it, it didn't sound right. Maybe after he avenged his father's death and killed--
"Master Skywalker," Yoda said, as if he was reading Luke's mind, "Vowed, you did, to accept responsibility for this boy's fate. So shall it be. His guardian you will become, responsible for his actions until the Council decides his destiny. But no training is he to be given."
Luke gasped. Skywalker! What!? Was this good luck or bad luck? "Which one of you is Skywalker?" he demanded, turning around and staring at each Jedi in turn, waiting for the Evil One to identify himself.
"I am," a voice said evenly, and dismay rattled through Luke's veins.
His captor. The Jedi who spoke for him and kept him safe -- and killed his father--
Speechless with shock, Luke could only stare open-mouthed into the blue eyes of Anakin Skywalker.
* * *
He had never taken a padawan, and Yoda had never pressed him, sensing, perhaps, his feelings on the matter. Guiding a young student would have been too painful, too much like raising the child he had lost, though he was certain that Yoda was not aware of his reason. But now, for whatever motive, Yoda had pressed this youth on him, a boy from Tatooine who reminded him of everyone who had been torn from his life. His mother, Obi-Wan... Padme.
Maybe it was the Yoda's way of eradicating the last of his regrets and teaching him how to be close to someone without attachment.
Anakin was not sure he could accomplish either goal.
"You can't stay in the padawan dormitory." He stalked down the long corridor, Lars trotting to keep up.
"You would contaminate them." He had to keep the child at a distance with whatever emotional weaponry he possessed, even curtness or unkindness. Anakin grimaced, appreciating the irony of using emotions to cultivate detachment. "You've been trained by a Sith."
"Right. We wouldn't want to ruin their Jedi brainwashing."
He ignored the small defiance. "You will have quarters near mine, where the masters can monitor you."
Luke was silent until they began descending a wide staircase. "When I was outside, somebody told me that you're from Tatooine, too."
He didn't answer, hoping silence would forestall any further conversation.
"And that you were chosen for something. For what? To be a Jedi?"
Why was it difficult to ignore this young one? "An ancient Jedi prophecy said that the Chosen One would bring balance to the Force."
"And that's you?"
"Apparently," he replied, his word clipped, his tone harsh.
At the bottom of the stairs, Luke darted in front so he had to stop. "So what did you do? How did you balance it?"
A question he had asked himself many times. "Perhaps by halting the takeover of the Galactic government by the Sith. Or perhaps I haven't done it yet."
"Huh." Luke turned and they walked for a few paces, the boy's brow furrowing as he thought. "Well... eliminating Sith and having only Jedi doesn't seem very balanced."
Out of the mouths of babes, as Mace would say. Since he couldn't disagree, Anakin ignored the comment. "Less talk and more walk," he ordered.
"What's the rush? You're just going to lock me in a room. I have a lot of questions. You could explain why-- "
"This is why I never wanted a padawan!" Immediately he regretted his loss of control, but it was too late to take back the outburst. "I don't have time for your questions."
The boy was silent for a moment before he said, very gently: "It's okay that you don't have all the answers. I don't mind. No one knows everything."
He wasn't sure what irritated him more, the boy's reasonableness or his perception. "This wing houses the masters and their attendants. You will-- "
"Attendants? Are they servants or slaves?"
Anakin pushed a door panel that revealed small but adequate quarters. "They are attendants. This will be your room. My suite is next door. However, you are not to disturb-- "
"Are you from Mos Eisley?"
"No. You are not to disturb me. I will...." Truth be told, he had no idea what he was supposed to do with the boy if he was not allowed to train him. "Remain here until I return for you."
"What should I call you? Anakin? Or Mr. Skywalker? You can call me Luke."
Anakin slapped his palm on the panel. The door slid shut, muffling the boy's continuing chatter.
They couldn't keep the youngster locked up like a condemned prisoner, waiting to learn his fate. A decision needed to be made. He headed back to the council chambers to speak to Yoda.
* * *
When the door closed, Luke heaved a great sigh of relief. It had been quite a strain to pretend that nothing had changed since he'd learned the name of his captor/guardian. He spared the plain room only a brief glance before he flopped on the bed and stared at the gray ceiling.
So that was Anakin Skywalker. Jedi, fallen Sith, killer. The man who had changed his life, the reason his parents were dead and his uncle had spent his life in pain. The reason for his journey to Coruscant.
Now what? He had been prepared, or at least resigned, to kill a faceless, brown-cloaked Jedi, but nothing had readied him for a man with sad blue eyes who saved his life. Of course, Luke reminded himself, Skywalker only knew him as Luke Lars, not as Luke Vader, the son of the man he had betrayed and murdered. When he learned that--
Luke sat up. There was no reason for Skywalker to discover his identity. He would never know that Luke was waiting for the opportunity to take revenge. Patient.
He slid off the bed and walked into the 'fresher, where he stared into the mirror, studying his reflection. Was that the face of a killer? When the time came, could he complete his mission or would he falter?
The answer was not to be found on his face. He turned away and sat by the table, thinking and waiting for Anakin Skywalker to return.
* * *
"I'll do a blood test to measure his midichlorian level. And also check his parentage," Anakin added. "Perhaps he is Palpatine's offspring. Or Dooku's. There's definitely Sith blood in him."
Yoda stood by a window, gazing out, hands clasped behind his back.
"If we can turn him, he will make a powerful Jedi," Anakin persisted. "I believe he is sincere and talented enough to be a padawan, but I'm on the Council, I don't have time to supervise a student. One of the other Jedi should do it."
The elderly being turned and stared at him, his ears drooping. "Anxious to be rid of the boy, are you?"
"No other Council member has ever taken such an inexperienced padawan. He will require much training. Plus, he's very inquisitive and-- "
"And patience has never been your strength," Yoda finished. "Nurturing the boy, a good education it would be-- for both of you."
Anakin felt his cheeks flush. "I don't want to train him," he said flatly.
"The decision to train him has not been made. A Council decision it is, not yours or mine alone." Yoda walked slowly to his chair and sat. "If trained he is to be, a strong hand will he need."
This was not a battle he could win today. "I'll administer the blood test then."
"The results to come to me, not you," Yoda said with sharpness in his tone.
"Yes, Master." Hiding his surprise, Anakin bowed and left the chamber, wondering at Yoda's odd demand.
* * *
"Ow!" The prick into his thumb was only fleetingly painful, so his protest was simply for effect. "Next time, warn me when you're going to stab me. What's this for?"
"We're determining your midichlorian levels," Skywalker replied. "Doctor, the results are confidential, for Master Yoda's eyes only."
"Yes, sir." The woman busied herself with processing the data into a computer. In a few seconds, a datachip emerged, and the physician sealed it in a small container.
"What are-- "
"Midichlorians," Skywalker anticipated Luke's question, "are microscopic organisms in your blood cells that indicate the level to which you can communicate with the Force."
"Really? The Force is in my blood?" Luke was fascinated by the idea.
"In your cells." The Jedi watched the physician closely and when she walked across the room, Skywalker pressed a button and another datachip popped silently out of the computer.
"What's that?" Luke eyed it suspiciously.
"Doctor, if your assistant would escort Lars to his quarters, I have other business to attend to." Skywalker looked at Luke. "Your behavior reflects on me, and I have high expectations."
Luke nodded, accustomed to living up to the strict expectations his aunt and uncles had placed on him, especially Uncle Sidious. He watched Skywalker leave and, when the physician went to fetch her subordinate, Luke pushed the same button the Jedi had and was rewarded with another datachip. Maybe it was a blank, but then again, maybe it had some interesting information on it.
It wouldn't hurt to check.
* * *
Yoda slid the datachip into his handheld pad. The boy's midichlorian count was very high, as he had suspected, but that was not the information that most concerned him. He scrolled through the readings, dreading what he might find....
And there it was. Luke's DNA confirmed his parentage, and the mistakes of the past rose to confront the present.
Uncustomary anxiety flowed over him as he considered Anakin's response if he were to learn of this. Yoda sank into a chair and closed his eyes, banishing the unwanted emotions and turning to the Force for guidance.
* * *
Anakin slid the datachip into his computer. True, he was disobeying Yoda's command, but if he was to be responsible for this boy, he needed to know everything he could.
The midichlorian count was high, nearly as high as Yoda's, and slightly more than half of Anakin's own, which was the highest ever recorded. Quickly, he scrolled down, anxious to learn the identity of the boy's parents. If Palpatine was his father--
He froze, staring at the screen. He recognized the words-- his name and Padme's-- but his brain wasn't functioning. It didn't make sense. What the words were saying didn't make sense.
"That's not true," he murmured. He closed the chip, reopened it, scrolled down... and the answer remained the same. "That's impossible." It must be a forgery, a clever forgery perpetrated by Palpatine--
Mother: Padme Amidala
Father: Anakin Skywalker
His chair made a loud clatter as it fell to the floor, but Anakin was barely aware that he had leaped to his feet. "That's impossible!" he shouted to the screen, overwhelmed by confusion and anger and a pain that slashed through his chest.
But when he looked into his heart, he saw that it was true.
And he also saw that somewhere inside him, buried so deeply he had never detected it, was an awareness that he should have known. Part of Padme lived on; that was why she had never allowed him to bury her ghost. And part of him, the part he could not give to the Jedi, had lived and grown and called out for him.
For eighteen years, someone had kept his son from him. Someone had known the truth of Luke's identity.
And Yoda had ordered him not to view the DNA results.
Struggling to contain his immediate reaction of rage, Anakin whirled around and stormed into the corridor, heading for the Council chamber to confront Yoda.
* * *
In the privacy of his room, Luke slid the datachip into the computer and stared at the readings on the screen. "Midichlorian count: 14.5, whatever that means," he read aloud. "Blood type, cholesterol... yeah, like I need to worry about that... blah, blah, blah-- parents?!"
Would he finally learn his mother's name? That had been a question none of his guardians could-- or would-- answer. Eagerly, he scrolled down very slowly, one line at a time, wanting the information bit by bit, like a dessert to savor.
Mother: Padme Amidala
There was something familiar about that name. He was sure he'd heard it before. Quickly, Luke switched to the Galactic Database and searched. There it was-- of course! She had been a senator from Naboo. Many times Uncle Sidious had mentioned Amidala as one of the senators who had conspired to overthrow the government and place Jedi in the role of rulers. Amidala, Organa, Mothma... his uncle had chanted, his voice heavy with loathing and bitterness.
There was an image of her with a painted white face that had red spots on it. Luke frowned and searched until he found a brief vid of her speaking to the Senate, and he leaned close to the screen, trying to get a better look. She looked beautiful and elegant and composed, her voice sweet and strong. The bio said simply that she died in an air crash.
"I wish I'd known her," he murmured, slumping in his chair.
Idly, he flipped back to the datachip. He already knew his father's identity and fate, and long ago he'd discovered there was no mention of Darth Vader in the Galactic Database. So the information on this chip, as meager as it was, would be--
Father: Anakin Skywalker
Luke blinked. Obviously the doctor had made a mistake and entered the Jedi's name on the wrong line. He scrolled back up. Yes, there was Skywalker's name as "witness" and his own name as "subject". He scrolled back down.
Mother: Padme Amidala
Father: Anakin Skywalker
Something was very wrong. Maybe every bit of this information was wrong. Maybe Senator Amidala wasn't his mother because Skywalker certainly was not his father! That was crazy. Uncle Sidious wouldn't have lied to him about something so important, would he?
Luke stared at the screen a few moments longer, his mind awhirl with questions and emotions that he couldn't begin to confront. He pulled out the datachip and hid it under his mattress, then headed into the corridor to find Anakin Skywalker. He wasn't sure what he would say to the man, but somehow he had to find out the facts.
* * *
In the hall, Anakin nearly ran into the boy. Luke Lars looked up at him with wide eyes.
Blue eyes. Like his own.
"Are you, uh... all right?" Luke asked, and his voice shook.
Anakin realized that he was transmitting his rage, and he struggled to rein it in. He didn't want to frighten....
He stared at the upturned face, searching for Padme's features. The nose, maybe... or the shape of the face... but he couldn't tell, couldn't distance himself enough to see the boy clearly. "I'm going to-- I'll return shortly. Wait for me."
He brushed past the lad, his heart racing so fast that he thought he might collapse. If this boy truly belonged to him....
In the lift, he pressed the button and turned for another look. Luke was still standing in the center of the corridor, watching him with an odd expression on his face.
* * *
No way could Skywalker be his father! Just because his DNA said so and they were both from Tatooine and they had the same blue eyes and the Force and both knew Uncle Sidious and Uncle Sidious knew his mother, too.... None of that was proof. His father was Darth Vader, a Sith. And a Sith was not a Jedi. The Sith used their passions; they didn't deny them the way Jedi did.
But just now Anakin Skywalker hadn't been a cool Jedi; he had been very emotional indeed. Maybe even angry. But Jedi weren't allowed to marry and have children, so if Anakin Skywalker was his father, that meant he had abandoned his bastard son. He would have been banished from the Jedi Order, so when it had come to a choice, he hadn't chosen Luke and his mother. He didn't want Luke then and didn't want him now, not as a son or a padawan. Luke would never have known the truth if he hadn't taken the datachip, because Skywalker had no intention of telling him. No wonder Skywalker was upset! He must have just learned Luke's identity and realized he was stuck taking care of the bastard he'd ignored for eighteen years.
Luke frowned, considering his options. Skywalker didn't know that Luke knew, and maybe it was better that way. They could both pretend they weren't related: Skywalker, because he didn't want a son, and Luke, because... well, because he didn't want it confirmed that he wasn't wanted. And who needed a father anyway?
He sighed heavily. Maybe there had never been a "Darth Vader". Maybe it was a name that Sidious had created because he intended Luke to be his tool of revenge against Skywalker. Even Uncle Sidious wouldn't have expected Luke to kill his own father, so he had decided to lie.
But wasn't patricide the way of the Sith? Uncle Sidious had told him a story once about that very thing, about another son slaying another father....
Had Sidious told him nothing but lies, or had truths been intermingled? Maybe Skywalker really was as evil as his uncle said. The Jedi had certainly been angry a moment ago. Angry enough to hurt someone. Luke's lips curled and he thought scornfully: How un-Jedi-like.
But what if.... No. No, it wasn't possible that Skywalker had just learned he was a father. A man couldn't have a child and not know it. Unless Amidala had been a short affair and he had left her. Luke tried to picture his mother: alone, pregnant... and serving in the Galactic Republic Senate. He shook his head. It was all very strange.
Pensive, he sat on his bed and wondered if he should just wait for whatever would happen next or if he should take some sort of action. He was getting tired of uncertainty and upheaval. Life for Luke Lars was--
He sat up very straight. Maybe his real name was Luke Skywalker. There was only one person who could confirm that, but he wasn't ready to talk to Anakin Skywalker. Maybe he never would be. Uncle Sidious taught him to consider all his options and decide which one would best serve his plans.
The trouble was, Luke didn't have a plan any longer.
* * *
"Expecting you, I have been."
The Council chamber had been empty, but Anakin tracked down Yoda, finding him in the humid, terrarium-like retreat that the old Jedi favored. Yoda sat on a rock, leaning forward with his hands clenched around a carved ebony cane.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"To learn this, you are not ready."
"Not ready?" he repeated, crouching in front of the master. "It's been nearly two decades, how long were you planning on waiting before telling me that I had a son?" Rage, hurt, betrayal-- they curled like a venomous snake in his stomach and he felt ill. "What happened to Padme? Did you take the child and kill her?"
"No!" As agitated as Anakin had ever seen him, Yoda climbed off the rock and clutched one hand against his chest. "Hid her, protected her, we did, for her safety and for your good. For the good of the Jedi Order."
He closed his eyes and sank to his knees. The cold, moss-covered floor felt warm compared with the ice in his heart. "For the good of the Order?" he repeated in a low voice. "You knew that we were married? That she was carrying my child? And still you took her away from me?"
The old head bowed. "At the time of your marriage, told me you were wed, Palpatine did, pretending to be concerned for your Jedi status. I did nothing, told no one, kept your secret. Then years later, when we learned he was Sith...."
"This is a feeble story." His lips tightened grimly. "Who is 'we'? Was the entire Council involved in this deceit?"
"They knew nothing. Just... me."
But Anakin heard the hesitation and realized there was only one reason that Yoda would lie about it. "Obi-Wan?" he asked in stunned disbelief, willing the other to deny it.
There was no answer, so he knew it was the truth. Obi-Wan had taken Padme from him. His best friend....
Fast on the heels of that awful realization came another: Obi-Wan must have discovered Luke's identity and decided to spare his life.
Or perhaps Obi-Wan had needed to salve his conscience.
Deliberately, Anakin unclenched his fists and drew a long breath.
"Hide her we did, to keep her and the unborn child safe," Yoda reiterated. "The Chosen One, you were, but could not continue to be if your marriage was discovered. A Jedi you could not continue to be, and needed you we did. A perilous time for the Jedi it was, with the Dark Side lying heavily upon us."
He listened, numb and aching, unable to fathom the depths of this treachery. They were his friends and they had done this to him....
"Defeated Palpatine we thought you had. Then came the accident. Dead Padme was, her child with her-- we believed it as all the galaxy did. How she gave birth, how Palpatine came to live on Tatooine and have your son-- I know not." One hand laid on his arm. "Anakin, please believe. A son, we did not know you had."
"And if you had known?" Anakin rose and backed away, unable to bear Yoda's touch. "Palpatine raised my child! Of all the people in the galaxy--" He stopped, the horror of Luke's upbringing rendering him mute.
"What will you do?" the little Jedi asked anxiously.
Anakin shook his head. I don't know. He folded his arms, trying to warm himself. "You've always claimed that you listen to the Force, but it wasn't the Force that told you to rob me of my wife and child. It was you-- your craving for power, your desire for the Jedi to control the galaxy." He shuddered and gasped as if a wave of ice battered against his heart. "Answer this: was it worth it? Has it turned out the way you'd hoped?"
Yoda sagged and didn't reply. He didn't need to; they both knew that power meant compromise and eventual corruption, and even the Jedi were not immune to its effects.
He spun around and walked out, leaving the Jedi Master and the dark, musty room behind, taking in the clean air of the corridor in harsh, rasping breaths. "I don't know what I'll do," he repeated to the empty hall, bending over and hugging himself as the pain finally overwhelmed him. Padme, Palpatine, Yoda, Obi-Wan, Luke.... It was a nightmare, but this time he wasn't asleep and it was no premonition. It was years too late to stop this event from unfolding... not that he had ever been successful in diverting the course of a loved one's fate.
And he didn't know what to do, where to turn....
My son.... What will I tell you? Should I tell you the truth? Should I tell you anything at all? And what if you reject me? You've grown up without a father. Why would you need one now?
The idea that his son might rebuff his affection devastated him. The only thing he knew for certain was that he couldn't risk talking to Luke until he had these erratic emotions controlled. He would leave the temple and seek privacy to meditate, hopefully to find peace in the Force. Maybe It would tell him if he should continue to live as a Jedi and if he should raise his son in the Jedi tradition... or if he and the Jedi should part ways...
...or even, perhaps, if the lifespan of the well-intentioned reign of the Jedi was over, their aspirations distorted by too many concessions and attempts at conciliation.
It would be ironic, he thought with dark humor, if Palpatine's plan for a galactic empire had indeed been the answer to controlling the chaos of warring factions.
* * *
"What are you doing here?"
Luke started. He'd been concentrating so hard on separating Anakin Skywalker's angry aura (or whatever Jedi called this strange feeling) from everyone else in the temple that he hadn't heard footsteps approaching. He turned.
It was Baldy. "Nothing," Luke said.
"What have you done to Master Skywalker?"
"Me?" He folded his arms and scowled. "I haven't done anything to him."
"Something has agitated him," Baldy murmured, though the words weren't directed to anyone but himself. He looked at Luke. "If he told you to stay in that room, then stay. You won't last long here if you don't do as you're told."
Luke pressed the door panel and stepped inside. "I always do as I'm told," he grumbled. Yes, that was the story of his life, doing what people told him to do. Obeying orders.
Well, he'd had enough of that.
He gave Baldy thirty seconds to disappear, then poked his head out the door. The corridor was clear. Skywalker's "aura" was fading fast, and Luke suspected the Jedi had left the temple. Maybe he couldn't track Skywalker with Force hocus-pocus, but he could start hunting the old-fashioned way. Skywalker had gotten in that elevator at the end of the hall, so that seemed as good a place as any to start his search.
There were several buttons on the recessed panel inside the lift. Instead of numbers, they had symbols that were not helpful. "Take me to Anakin Skywalker," he said to the ceiling, in case the elevator was voice-activated. It wasn't, so he pressed a button near the bottom that had a rectangle on it that he hoped depicted a door.
After a quick trip, he was deposited in the huge forest of columns that he'd been in earlier. He wandered around, trying to find an exit. After a few moments, he stopped. "Sithspit!" he grumbled.
"You shouldn't talk like that," a small voice said.
He turned and looked down. A tiny Twi'lek wearing Jedi brown was staring curiously at him. "Who are you?" he or she asked.
Luke arbitrarily decided it was a girl. "I'm Luke and I can't find my way out."
"Are you a Jedi? I'm a padawan. You're dressed funny."
"That's not very nice," he said, then felt guilty when the little one hung her head. "I'm not a Jedi, I'm a visitor and I'm lost. Can you point me to the door?"
A thin arm lifted and pointed-- obediently. "Thanks, kid," Luke said, and walked away before he got into a deeper conversation. This meeting was another confirmation that Jedi took Force-strong children from their parents. The Twi' couldn't have been more than four or five years old.
A realization hit him so suddenly and so hard that it took his breath away. Had he been stolen from his parents? By the Jedi? Or did the Sith steal babies, too?
He paused near a pillar, trying to sort the possibilities into some logical order. Uncle Sidious couldn't have taken him, not in his wounded condition... unless he had stolen Luke first... and that's why Luke's father, whoever it was, had fought him. But if Anakin Skywalker was his father, he would be happy to see Luke. Unless what Uncle Sidious had told him was true, that Skywalker really had killed his father, Darth Vader.
A large door slid open as he approached, and he blinked, dazzled momentarily by the brightly colored lights of Coruscant at night. Then he headed down the broad stairs, more determined than ever to track down Anakin Skywalker and learn the truth.
* * *
Mace didn't believe that the boy intended to escape, because he made no attempt at stealth. No, the youth had another plan, and the Jedi intended to discover what it was. If this youngster had evil intentions against the Order, he would be stopped.
Trailing several blocks behind the lad, using his skill to track the Force signature, Windu paused on a pedestrian bridge, wondering at the other's erratic, wandering path. It seemed purposeless. Briefly, he sensed Anakin's presence, but it vanished. Was the boy trying to track Skywalker? He was certain that Lars was not foolhardy enough to attack Anakin-- at least not without a lightsaber. So what was his--
"Stop following me," a voice growled in his ear.
Mace smiled slightly. "I'm not following you," he replied mildly. "I'm following him and he's following you."
Anakin stepped beside him, not reacting to his attempt at humor. His fingers clenched around the railing, and he watched the boy in silence, openly brooding.
"What has happened?" Windu asked quietly.
The Chosen One shook his head. "Too much. I haven't... sorted it out yet." There was an undertone of agonized desperation in his voice that disturbed Mace.
"Is there anything I can do?"
"Protect him as you would one of us."
"You mean Lars?" Confused, he studied his morose friend. "He could be dangerous."
"No--" Skywalker's head snapped up, his entire body radiating a sudden tension and alertness that set Mace's nerves on edge.
"What--?" Then he sensed another presence, and his questions about Luke Lars were answered.
The boy was meeting a fellow conspirator.
"Not a conspirator!" Anakin snapped. "An enemy!"
He leaped off the bridge, leaving Mace no choice but to follow.
* * *
In the middle of the crowded walkway, Luke stopped. Passersby jostled him, but he remained motionless, trying to gain a tighter hold on the vaguely familiar feeling. It was the one he'd felt occasionally on Tatooine. This time it was close, and it belonged to a real person-- the person who had pushed him and caused Obi-Wan Kenobi's death.
He turned, concentrating on the aura. It was stronger than Anakin Skywalker's aura... or maybe it was easier to follow because it was familiar. It felt nothing like what he'd sensed in the Jedi's temple. Was it a Sith?
His path led into an alley. Cautiously, he walked its length. The farther along he went, the narrower and darker the alley became. The smells were distasteful, but he forced himself to ignore them and focus on his tracking. Or maybe he wasn't following; maybe he was being led into a trap. He hesitated, wishing he had a blaster-- or even one of the lightsabers.
The alley ended in a brick wall. He looked over his shoulder, not wanting to confirm his dread that the darkness was deliberately closing around him, but needing to know.
It was. He could no longer see the walkway at the entry to the alley. Above his head, the sky had vanished, replaced by a heavy, dark miasma. Luke clenched his fists and swallowed. "Where are you?" he called. "I know you're here somewhere. Show yourself!"
High-pitched laughter answered him. Accompanying it came a clearing of the swirling fog. The bricks in front of him shimmered and vanished, revealing an open doorway. "Welcome to my home, boy."
Luke cast one look back down the alley, hoping against all reason that someone would come. His father, maybe. But just as had happened all his life, there was no one to help him.
He took a few steps into Darkness.
* * *
Anakin paused at the entrance to the Force-heavy alley. "Asajj Ventress," he said under his breath, adding a whispered curse.
"What? Impossible! She's long dead." Mace struggled to sense her presence through the thick cloak of Force invisibility that the Chosen One had extended around them. "Are you certain?"
"Yes. That explains a lot." He shot a grim look at Windu. "She must have rescued Palpatine. And she hated Obi-Wan-- Ah, it was she who killed him-- pushed Luke, just as he said-- Sithspit!" His eyes glazed over with a grief that alarmed Mace. "She knew about her...."
"Padme." The younger Jedi appeared dazed. "She hated Padme. And me. Did she...?"
"Anakin!" He grabbed the other's arm, squeezing it tightly. "What are you talking about? Padme Amidala? What does she have to do with any of this?" He knew Anakin had loved Padme; their relationship had been obvious to anyone who had bothered to look.
Skywalker shook himself free, snapping awake again. "There's no time! We have to help Luke!" He took off running.
Why? he wondered, but was willing to wait until later for a reason. Anakin needed him; explanations could wait.
* * *
"Who are you?" Luke squinted, trying to see the figure-- a woman, by the sound of her voice.
"I'm a Jedi, like you," she said, unmoving, remaining almost out of his sight.
He could see a small white circle that might have been a head. "I don't think so."
Her chuckle held a wicked edge. "Then... I am a Sith, like you."
"You're not like me." His feet wanted to back away, but he managed to hold his ground.
"Then..." Her mouth became v-shaped, and he supposed it was a smile. "...consider me your savior. I saved him... and you, because he wanted you."
He couldn't suppress a shivering reaction to the venom in her voice. Despite that, he wanted to keep her talking, both to learn something of his history and to prevent her from attacking, for he had no doubt that an attack was what she intended. "I don't understand. When did you save me?"
A snarling sound came from her, and it seemed to curl around his feet like an animal. He shifted uneasily. "Saved you from your useless, mewling mother, crying, too helpless to save her-- you."
His eyes narrowed. "What happened to my mother?"
She approached, slinking like a womprat stalking prey, closer and closer until he was able to see her clearly. She was stick-thin, nearly bloodless if the color of her skin was any indication, and her face was horribly scarred. He recoiled involuntarily.
"Hideous-- that is what you think of me? Skywalker did this-- Skywalker and his evil master Kenobi. Left me for dead, just as Skywalker left Sidious. Why have you not avenged us? It is your destiny to kill Skywalker."
"I don't know you. Why should I do anything for you?" He nearly retorted, Kill him yourself, but bit back the words in case she took the suggestion. "Who are you? Are you a... a Sith apprentice?"
"I am no one's apprentice!" she roared. "I am Sith! I am the Dark Lord, not you!"
This time he acted on his impulse to walk backward. "Fine, be the Dark Lord, you're welcome to it, I don't want it."
"Weakling!" she sneered. "Like your mother. He was wrong! He thought you were the strong one, the one who would learn his secrets and become the new Dark Lord. So he took you, and I ended up with her-- "
"With who?" Curiosity overcame his fear, and he felt like this was information he needed. "My mother?"
She moved closer. He could see her dark, slanted eyes glittering with madness. "Avenge me," she hissed. "Avenge Sidious. Avenge your father. Kill Skywalker!"
"What does my father have to do with this?" he asked, stalling. "He died before I was born."
"Vader!" she shrieked, nearly spitting her rage. "Darth Vader! The Chosen One still lives! His line must end! If you won't kill him, then you will die!"
Luke figured that was her plan for him anyway.
* * *
Vader? Mace questioned silently. But that was your--
Anakin turned his head to meet the brown eyes and saw comprehension dawn in them.
You and Padme-- Luke is your son!
He nodded, feeling a curious mixture of pride and shame. Mace had been his friend for many years, and he wanted to explain everything: how much he had loved Padme and how badly they had both wanted their child-- and how the Jedi destroyed it all. But before he could tell Mace any of it, his danger-sense exploded, and he looked down three stories at the bright red blades that had ignited.
"Now!" he shouted, shattering the window by jumping through it, activating his own saber as he flew through the air. Landing lightly on his feet, he somersaulted once to place himself between Ventress and Luke.
"No!" she raged, using her twin lightsabers as a blinding fortress of protection while she danced away.
"Coward," he hissed. "You're afraid to face me again-- just as you were afraid to face Obi-Wan! You used Luke to kill him-- Damn you, you're not going to use him again!"
She laughed wildly, leaping to an upper landing. "And you'll not mutilate me again, Skywalker! This isn't over-- I'll return and destroy both of you!"
With Mace at his shoulder, Anakin prepared to follow her. But faster than he could complete his jump, she snapped her two sabers together and hurled them into the air. They turned into a deadly windmill, racing straight for Luke.
"Nooo!" Anakin shouted. He twisted in mid-air, desperately trying to move in front of the spinning sabers. He could not be too late again-- not this time! "Luke!"
But his son didn't need his help, for he had already acted. Luke thrust both hands outward, sending white lightning into the oncoming blades. The lethal whirlwind froze in the air, then clattered to the floor, blades shutting down. When the lightning ending, Luke call the hilt to him, staring at the double-ended saber as if he couldn't quite believe his accomplishment.
Anakin and Mace rushed to him-- Mace more warily, not yet ready to trust Luke. But Anakin had no fear of the weapon held by his son. "Well done," he said quietly, though his voice trembled with the realization of what he had nearly lost.
Luke looked at the dual lightsaber for a moment, then snapped the hilts apart and handed them to Anakin. "Who was she?"
Anakin looked up at the landing where the Sith had been. She was gone for now but not, he knew, conquered.
"Her name is Asajj Ventress," Mace said. "Long ago she was a Jedi, but she fell to the Dark Side. She has a history of confrontations with Jedi."
"Obi-Wan and I thought we had slain her long ago. Before you were born." Anakin didn't look away from Luke, though the young man's gaze was relentless and unreadable.
"Who is Darth Vader?" his son asked.
Anakin hesitated. The adrenaline and worry of the last few minutes had pushed aside his anger and disillusionment with the Jedi-- temporarily. He did not believe he could ever forgive Yoda's actions, but he could not hold a grudge against Obi-Wan. His friend and master had paid the ultimate price for his deception; Yoda had not. Yoda had suffered no remorse but, Anakin could now see as he looked back over their shared past, Obi-Wan had.
"Let's get out of here," Mace suggested. "I must return to the temple... and you two need to talk."
* * *
"Darth Vader," Anakin Skywalker began, "was me."
Luke's expression didn't alter, and Anakin realized the boy sitting beside him didn't understand the implications of that revelation. He stared up at the tree that loomed over them, here in the park where they had first met only hours earlier this very day. The brilliance of the night sky was muted, its stars dimmed by city lights and obscured by pollution.
"I was nearly lost to the Dark Side. I became Palpatine's apprentice for a short while. Mace and Obi-Wan... saved me." A too-simple explanation for the agonies of that time, but he didn't want to overburden his child.
"Do you know how I came to be on Tatooine?"
He shook his head. "I can only guess. I knew Owen and Beru Lars, and Palpatine was aware that we were related by marriage."
"Really." The voice was flat, the eyes expressionless.
"They were good people."
"Then how did we end up with Sidious?" Luke snapped.
That was a question he too wanted answered. "Judging from what Ventress said, she took you from your mother and... killed her. Palpatine was in no condition to harm anyone, so it had to be Ventress who did it."
Luke folded his arms. "So the story about a shuttle accident was a lie?"
"Perhaps. Or it was the means to-- " All the breath left his lungs at once.
"H-how...?" Astonishment robbed him of words.
The youth made a scoffing sound. "You're not the only one who can steal a data chip," Luke said, sounding pleased with himself.
"I see," he murmured automatically, struggling to find something more adequate to say. But his mind was numb from too many shocks. "Then you know that I'm your father."
"I guess." The boy shrugged and looked aside. He bent over and pulled up a few blades of grass, spreading them in his palm and staring as if they were the most interesting things he'd ever seen. "Pretty inconvenient, huh? A Jedi with a kid." He threw a challenging glare at Anakin. "No wonder you didn't want me or my mother."
"What?" He half-rose, then caught his anger and squashed it. His hand brushed tentatively against Luke's shoulder. "I thought you had died with her. I had no idea.... Luke, I didn't know until today that you lived. When I read your DNA results-- Ah, I was overwhelmed."
"Overwhelmed." Luke kept staring at his hands. "Right. So... were you happy about it or ...?"
"Gods." Anakin rubbed his forehead wearily. "I was angry," he said honestly. "Furious that you had been kept from me. That I had a son and didn't know. That you lived eighteen years without me... that I had lived eighteen years without you."
"Oh," Luke said, his voice small and quiet.
Anakin wondered if the boy was disappointed by his reply. "I wanted a life with you and Padme. I would have walked away from the Jedi Order if that's what it took. And Yoda knew it."
The wide blue eyes glanced his way only briefly. "What happened?"
He wanted to omit mention of Kenobi's part in the deception, but his son did not deserve more lies. "Yoda and Obi-Wan sent Padme away-- to be safe, they told her, and that was part of the truth. But Yoda also feared that it would be a blow to the galaxy's faith in the Jedi if I were to leave."
"Because you're the Chosen One."
"Yes. A poor excuse, but...."
Luke's hands curled into fists that crushed the delicate grass stems. "Then the Jedi killed my mother."
"No," he said sharply. "Yoda denied it, and now that I know Ventress was involved, I am certain it was she who killed Padme. She nearly admitted it. On Palpatine's orders, she killed your mother and took you to him."
His son mulled this over for a few minutes, and Anakin remained silent, letting the boy digest the new information. Finally Luke asked: "Am I a Sith or a Jedi?"
"That's a choice you may make, if you wish."
"The Force is neutral. How you use it determines your destiny."
Luke turned his hand upside down and brushed the crumpled grass from his palm. "What if I don't want to be either one? I don't think I like the Sith or the Jedi."
"That, too, is your choice." Anakin smiled tightly. "I'm not particularly pleased with the Jedi Order either."
"We could be renegades!" A spark of animation suddenly appeared. "Wandering the galaxy, freeing slaves, righting wrongs-- That is," Luke faltered, "if you want to be with me. Or I could just go away. I can get along fine on my own."
There was a lump in his throat so large that he could barely breathe around it. Anakin swallowed and stood. "You're not going anywhere without me, Son. Now that we've found each other, I'm not letting you go." He held open his arms.
Or at least he intended to open his arms. But somewhere between thought and result, he faltered and ended up with his hands palms up, asking for acceptance.
Luke blinked several times, then rose. "I, uh...." He ducked his head, peering up at Anakin through heavy lashes. "Okay, I guess. If you want." His mouth curved slightly, hesitant, as if it didn't know quite what to do.
Never saw him smile, Huff Darklighter had said.
Anakin couldn't wait longer for the boy to move. He grabbed Luke and pulled him against his chest. There was a token resistance, then the blond head pressed under his chin and, after a few seconds, his son's entire body relaxed and arms wrapped around his back in an answering hug.
* * *
"Always remember who you are, she said," Luke whispered, his words muffled against the dark cloak.
Despite that, his father heard him. "Who said that?"
"I guess... my mother. I thought it was a dream, but... maybe not." He wished his mother could know that he remembered.
"That sounds like something Padme would say." The chest heaved under his ear as his father sighed. "And now you know. You're Luke Skywalker."
"Mm-hmm." He sighed and lifted his head.
"We both have new futures," Anakin Skywalker said, "and they are full of possibilities. We can choose for ourselves. I will not let the Jedi dictate my path any longer."
"Maybe that means you'll end up doing what you were 'Chosen' for."
His father shot a sharp look at him. "You have some very interesting ideas," he said slowly, "and unusual ones. I wonder-- "
"There is one other thing," Luke interrupted, lifting his head.
"What?" His father's embrace loosened marginally, only enough to allow him to look down at Luke.
"Ventress said that she 'ended up' with someone other than me. She said 'her'. I thought she meant my mother, but if Mother was already dead-- who was Ventress talking about?"
His father stared at him, his brow furrowing. "I don't know. There was...." His eyes closed and, whether he meant to or not, he shared his memory with Luke.
...she smiled, her eyes full of mischief. "I have another surprise for you, Anakin."
"I don't have time now. I have to see Chancellor Palpatine. We'll talk when I return, my love. Save your surprise for then."
She just kept smiling in a pleased, secret way. And that was the last time I saw her....
"Twins," his father said, his voice amazed. "She was carrying twins! By the gods, you have a twin sister!"
"Huh. Well then," Luke said practically, thought he was wondered if a Sith sister would be a welcome addition to his new family, "we'd better go find her, hadn't we."
"A grand idea." Anakin Skywalker grinned, and Luke couldn't-- and didn't want to-- stop looking at him. "What a team we're going to make!"
"Yeah." Luke felt an answering grin stretch his face in an unfamiliar way. "Father."
Between father and son, there is a bridge that neither Time nor Death can shatter. Each stands at one end, needing to cross.... The bridge is your love for him.
(attributed to Master Po, Kung Fu)