by MJ Mink
I hide in the shadows, ever watchful. The slightest tilt of his head, the sound of his laughter, the sweeping, elegant gestures-- these things and more I note. Carefully, I tuck each one inside my heart to be safely sheltered, so I may take them out at a later, more private time, and examine them minutely for any changes and any new knowledge. Anakin Skywalker. The smallest discoveries are my legacy, my heritage...and most importantly, my treasure. Movements to be emulated, words to be echoed, the attitude, the natural power, the charisma.
I sip Corellian brandy that is surprisingly rich and mellow for the product of such an aggressive society. My father laughs at something Leia says, and I curse myself for being distracted by the drink. What did I miss? I would join them or call out a question, but I prefer to watch from a distance. It's simpler to remember and catalog Life when I'm not participating.
The years since the victory over the Empire have been good to Anakin Skywalker. He reconciled with the new union of Alliance and Empire. Extensive surgeries gave him implants and freed him from the terrifying black livery. Finally, the reunion with his family completed the transformation from Vader to Skywalker. We are all happy about it, of course.
My face wears a mask, not unlike the ebony camouflage Anakin Skywalker left behind. My restless emotions are concealed behind invisible walls that protect my deepest feelings from the probings of my father and sister; my thoughts belong solely to me, too Dark and terrifying to be inflicted on anyone else. Behind the privacy of my protective barricades, I can consider them carefully, lingering in each painful moment, in all the wrongs that I have done and those that were done to me. There is a rage behind my walls that sometimes rips hairline cracks through the polished veneer of their surfaces. There is frustration at the injustice-- the unfairness of it all. I was the one to save Anakin Skywalker, physically and spiritually. I pressed Leia to forgive our father, I fought the Alliance Council on Anakin's behalf and persuaded balking medical teams to do their best work. I did everything. I devoted my life to the yearning, pursuit, and salvation of my father. And what I've gotten in return is a father who loves her best.
Hurt, frustration, anger-- how petty my emotions seem. But underlying the feelings is a great, pulsating pain that surrounds me no matter which way I run. I down the rest of the brandy in a single gulp. Tension vibrates through my body and finds an outlet in the sudden snap of the delicate crystal stem. Blood wells from a deep cut across my palm. I stare at it stupidly, wondering what has happened.
"Are you all right?" Leia, playing her role as concerned sister. I wish I could hate her, but like everyone else in our little family, I love her too much. You have everything. Why did you take the father who should have been mine?
My mask twists in a simulation of a smile. "Fine. Sorry. I was...distracted." I drag my eyes away from the blood and look up. Anakin Skywalker is staring at me. I feel his concerned mental touch. My mind darts away to hide behind its walls. I don't want his pity. "Don't worry about it. It will heal quickly enough."
"Shall I help?" Anakin Skywalker asks neutrally. Awareness of my psychic rejection is evident in the stiffness of his offer.
"I can heal myself." I hear my words from a distance. They're too sharp, I can tell by the glance Leia and Han exchange. I must be more careful. I apologize with a smile. "But in the meanwhile, how about a napkin so I don't drip blood on your carpet."
Wrapped in the makeshift bandage, my wound pulses, and I feel alive for the first time this evening. Perhaps I will leave it open and bleeding. Black clouds swirl around my mind, and I struggle to separate them so that I may find my path through their fog. Darkness will not find me an easy conquest, though it tries. It hammers incessantly at my defenses, days, nights, all the times in between when I'm uncertain whether I wake or sleep. ...forever will it dominate your destiny.... "I'd better go home and do my mystical, magical, Jedi healing thing. Thanks for dinner, Leia, Han. Father. Good night."
Sometimes the shrewdest exits are simple amputations-- fast and clean. Let them talk about me after I'm gone. The conversation won't last long. Anakin Skywalker won't enjoy hearing about the problems of his only, unreachable son when he can share in another precious Leia story or another Han-the-Scoundrel saga, or when he can submit another teasing plea for a grandchild. I have no riveting tales to tell. The only adventures I had were in the war, shattering events that are painful for Anakin Skywalker to recall. My memories, my father's memories, Palpatine entwined throughout-- their nexus is too raw for Anakin Skywalker to bear. Outside, I pause in the cool night, lifting my face to the dampness in the air, straining to remember how this estrangement began. It started sometime after the confrontation with the Alliance Council when we were all still high on our victories. I'd begun to notice...
* * *
... a certain awkwardness entering into his conversations with his father. Luke wondered what was wrong. The closeness he'd felt since saving his father from the destruction of the Death Star seemed to be fading. It was natural, he realized, that his father would want to know Leia now that her shock and anger was fading. But that knowledge didn't do anything to ease his anxiety. Luke frowned. What did he have to be anxious about? Everything was going well, better than well-- miraculously! And it was a miracle that he, Anakin Skywalker's son Luke, had pulled off.
He grinned. How he loved that designation. Finally, he was a son. He'd found his father and saved his father. The impossible had happened. The years of loneliness, of wordless, unsatisfied cravings, of chafing under the critical gaze of someone who hadn't understood him, were all gone. He had his father; he had the miracle he'd dreamed of since childhood.
He watched his father circulate through the room, exchanging brief words with the distinguished guests. Once again the galaxy had Jedi, the returned expert and the eager novice, though Luke was piqued by the "novice" label people tagged onto him. He had, after all, changed the face of the galaxy.
Leia approached his father, and they began a private conversation. His father smiled down at the tiny woman, his formal expression softening. Luke felt a small twinge of jealousy that he pushed aside as being unworthy of a Jedi. Now he had another Jedi to compare himself with, and a higher standard to reach. Still, seeing father and daughter together made him feel left out.
"Hey, kid." Han nudged his arm. "Aren't you going to eat? The spread's amazing."
He relaxed and smiled at Han. Leia's mate, performing what he thought was one of his missions in life, looking after "the kid". He felt warm when he was with Han; that was the feeling he longed for with his father. "I ate earlier," he lied easily. The sumptuous banquet food held no appeal; it was too rich, there was too much of it. It was an ostentatious display of wealth that turned his stomach. He could hardly bear to look at the heavily laden table.
"Yeah, right." Han eyed him skeptically. "It wouldn't hurt you to put on a few inches around the middle."
"Skywalker the Roly-Poly Jedi?" Luke chuckled. "Image is everything, Han. You know that."
Leia's laughter cut across the room like a diamond on glass, and Han and Luke both turned. Her fingers rested on Anakin's arm. Luke flinched. His father always withdrew from his touch, whether because of a disturbing Force disruption that Luke could not sense, or for a less esoteric reason. Whatever the cause, the detachment didn't apply to Leia.
He sensed Han watching him and turned his head to meet the brown gaze. He shrugged an acknowledgment; his feelings never seemed as well hidden from Han as they were from Leia and his father. Or maybe he didn't bother to hide them around Han.
"Tough, isn't it?" Rough sympathy edged Han's voice.
Luke looked down at his drink. "I can handle it."
"Hey, I'm feeling hungry after all. Why don't we hit the table?"
"Sure." Dark eyes said that Han recognized a change of topic when he heard one, and the rueful grin said that whenever he wanted to talk, the Corellian would be available. Luke nodded his thanks, and they left the room where his father and his sister were becoming ever closer... where his father was becoming ever more distant from his only son.
* * *
The rainy, cloud-filled afternoon was brightened by finding his father standing at his door. Luke smiled delightedly. "Hi! Come in-- you're wet. Can you do a Force thing and dry yourself?"
"A towel would be considerably more efficient," his father said wryly.
Quickly he procured a thick towel and handed it to his father. He would have rather blotted the damp hair himself or draped the towel around the broad shoulders, just to have some kind of contact. But it didn't take a genius to know that his father wouldn't be receptive.
He wondered why his father was there. Anakin was not one to habitually drop in unannounced; in fact, Luke couldn't remember him ever doing it. "How about a hot drink?"
"Thank you, no. I can't stay."
As if he had pressing business elsewhere. "Have a seat then."
His father paced to the window. Evidently he was too busy to sit, too. "Han came to see me this morning."
"He is concerned about you."
Anxiety twisted a knot in his stomach. "What did he say?"
"Specifically, he is concerned about our relationship. He feels that you view it as unsatisfactory and that you require some sort of reassurance from me."
Heat flooded his face. Luke stared at the floor. "I ... don't know what he means." Right. As if his father couldn't see through that lie. "I mean ... I don't think my feelings are any of his business."
"Do you consider his assessment to be accurate?"
His humiliation faded when confronted with that cold question. Somehow those simple words hurt him more than anything that had happened in the last year. The Dark Lord's demand to an officer under his command. But Luke guarded his sadness from his father's awareness and met the dispassionate gaze. "Partially. While I don't feel our relationship is ideal, it is adequate. I require no reassurance from you."
There was a pause and slight indication of-- surprise?-- then Anakin nodded. "Excellent. If there is anything you need from me in the future, you may speak with me directly."
Instead of going through an intermediary? Anger fueled hurt and humiliation, but Luke only inclined his head. "Thank you for your concern," he said dismissively.
"Very well. Good day."
As he closed the door behind his father, he knew he'd never had such feelings-- betrayed by both Han and Anakin Skywalker. Why had he trusted Han to be his confidante? How had he been so naive, believing that having a father would make him happy?
To hell with both of them. Luke Skywalker could take care of himself without their help.
* * *
That was the end of everything except my silent litany of regrets... that I was somehow inadequate, that my father wasn't what I expected, that Han betrayed my trust, that my pride made me reject Han's attempts at amends.... Now it is far too late, and I'm empty of all emotions except hurt and anger; the hurt I can hide, but the anger constantly rages to be released.
The hardest thing for me to watch are the changes in Anakin Skywalker. He's warmed, softened his stiff exterior, and opened himself to Leia and Han. Han has become the son I failed to be.
I am more alone than I have ever been in my life. The dinner at my sister's house tonight had been a rare occasion; invitations are issued infrequently. When they are, I always make a point of behaving politely and leaving early. And, generally, I don't shatter the crystal.
Alone in my small house, I pour a glass of wine (a nightly ritual, it seems) and then decide to take the bottle with me to my rooftop hideout. It's going to take a lot of wine to get drunk enough to forget tonight's miserable scene and the memories it brings back. Memories and dreams, my precious lost dreams of family and heroism. With a tired sigh, I settle back against the cinder-block wall and stare up at the stars for long moments before closing my eyes and indulging those dreams. My father and I, Jedi working side by side, saving the galaxy from indeterminate dangers. My father teaching me Jedi ways. It's so unfair! I did everything I was supposed to. I saved my father, we destroyed the Emperor-- what more could I have done? To my mind, there's a link between accomplishment and reward, so if I'm being punished, then I've done something wrong. Perhaps I've been guilty of false pride-- so is this the appropriate punishment for a Jedi? Love is the cost of pride. Or maybe a Jedi isn't supposed to have either.
Not that I know a Jedi I can ask. The only Jedi left is the one man to whom I can barely utter a pleasantry. "Damn you," I whisper to Anakin Skywalker, but I don't Send the mental message, because it is simply another lie that I tell myself.
What am I doing? This is an irresponsible
indulgence, no way for a Jedi to behave. But I finish the bottle and pass
out on the roof and sleep the dreamless sleep of the wicked and the lost.
There are times when I could commit fratricide quite cheerfully. For one thing, I blame Luke for Han's reluctance to have a child. One brat in the family as apparently all he can handle. And I blame Luke, too, for the unhappiness he causes both my lover and my father. The Brat is totally selfish, and I long to shake some sense into him. Most days, I am so angry that I can't bring myself to speak to him beyond mundane social pleasantries.
One of those so-called pleasantries is having him over for dinner at least-- at most!-- once a month. I dread these occasions-- in fact, I can hardly believe an entire month has passed since Luke was last here. It's a pleasure dining with Anakin Skywalker, and we try to do that a couple times a week. But the monthly dinners that include Luke are agonies-- everyone watching what they say, being careful not to send him into a sulk or an icy rage. At our last dinner, he shattered one of my precious heirloom goblets, one of the few remnants of Alderaan that I had left.
However, I was trained to be a gracious hostess and therefore tonight I smile at him and see to his needs as I would any other difficult guest. I refill his glass with Han's most cherished brandy-- for the third time-- but let Han and Anakin handle the uncomfortable conversation. I wonder why Luke accepts these invitations; he has to be aware of how difficult his presence makes the gathering. Or perhaps not. Perhaps his Jedi ego is so inflated that he doesn't notice the discomfort of mere mortals.
I re-attune myself to a conversation that at the moment centers around children. Anakin must have brought up the topic again. I listen with a polite smile that warns, don't drag me into this argument.
"--but children can be such a joy, Han," my father is saying. "Look at my beautiful twins-- I must have done something right."
"Or at least half right," Luke drawls in that offhand, cutting way he's begun to affect.
My father looks at him. "Totally right," he corrects quietly. "Perhaps, my son, you might consider bonding and children as a path to personal fulfillment."
That I'd like to see! Imagine some poor woman suffering through Luke's moods!
Luke shrugs. "I'm hardly motivated to do so. After all, my only inspiration is the shining example of my parents' love-- at least, I assume you adored my mother before you had her murdered?"
My father's lips thin; other than that small movement, his expression doesn't change as he slaps Luke across the face. I draw a sharp breath at the harsh sound (though a part of me cheers). No matter what provocation the Brat has issued, Anakin has never before struck him.
"Take it easy," Han interjects uneasily.
Luke's face changes as rapidly as an oncoming storm. First dumb shock, then a brief, shattering look, followed by a thundercloud like I have never seen. It fills the room with an oppressive heat, the air itself seems to crackle-- and then it literally crackles as a bolt of blue fire flashes from Luke to strike my father. Anakin cries out sharply and falls to the floor. Han and I rush over to him.
Han pulls my father into a sitting position, and I kneel beside him, taking his hand. "Are you all right?"
Anakin seems dazed. He blinks several times, shaking his head. "I am ... uninjured. Help me up, daughter."
When he is on his feet, I whirl toward Luke. He's frozen, staring, his face as white as my gown. He tears his gaze away from my father, looking down at his hands, then up at me.
"'I don't know what you did," I say icily, "but I want you out of this house."
"Leia, don't--" Anakin approaches, his hand raised. "Luke-- let me help you."
"Help him? He almost killed you!" I fume at the injustice-- it's so unfair!
"Let them work it out," Han murmurs in my ear, his fingers digging into my shoulders.
I don't want to be placated.
"Not in my house," I snap. To hell with diplomacy. "Get out," I order my brother.
Luke doesn't protest. He disregards my father's anguished call of his name and leaves, the slamming door jarring a delicate Alderaani pottery vase from its shelf. It shatters on the floor. I burst into tears, hating my weakness, and Han holds me close, whispering in my hair. I hear my father's voice saying he's going to follow Luke. It doesn't matter what the Brat does, Anakin always defends him. My tears flow heavier. Tears for my father, for me, and--
--yes, damn him, tears for my sad, lost
His rooftop has been his only sanctuary for so long now. He is crying like a child, frightened... of me, of himself. Does he truly believe that I do not Hear his thoughts? He doesn't know what he's done, or how to save himself, and wishes he could turn back time and start over. He does not know how to fight the Darkness that swells within him.
There is familiarity in his terror. I understand it too well, and I recoil from approaching it.
But I must.
I arrive on the roof, and his body curls into a tight ball. He thinks I have come to kill him, that I must kill him because he's a danger, a menace, totally worthless--
No, I Send. You are not worthless.
My arm curves around him, prying his rigid limbs apart. An alien feeling, this, holding another so closely. I draw him into a protective embrace, feeling abruptly... paternal. The sensation makes me smile. Luke clutches the soft fabric of my tunic with his fists-- he did that as a babe, I suddenly remember-- surrendering himself to his grief. Eventually his sobs slow as he becomes aware of my gentle strokes through his hair and my mind-touch that comforts him. Warily, he lifts his face and meets my eyes. His eyes, blue as the lakes of Naboo... full of grief and regrets, the way I used to see mine in the mirrors of long ago. Luke utters a hollow, mournful sound and rests his head against my chest in despair.
"I am sorry I allowed this to happen," I say with more formality then I intend, but I seem unable to modify my tone.
"It's not your fault." He gulps down a sob. "You didn't do anything. I did it-- I did it all. I'm so--"
"Child, child." I shake my head. "You need guidance. I have not offered it. I apologize. It was not my intent to deliberately hurt you."
Luke draws away, smoothing his jacket, wiping his streaked face, composing himself once more. He turns his back on me and looks across the roof at the cloak of stars flung across the night sky. I look too.
"I apologize for being so...juvenile. And for what I said tonight. I won't ... won't bother you again. I'll ... leave. You won't have to see me anymore. None of you will."
I dare not laugh and hurt him further, but I cannot prevent some of my amusement from coloring my voice. "There is no need to martyr yourself, my son. Despite what your emotions are telling you, you are not a burden to me. I regret that I was so unused to close contact that I did not know how to approach or console you. I am learning. Perhaps you would care to give me some advice."
A rueful grin tugs at the corners of his mouth. "On relationships? I hardly think I'm qualified to give anyone advice in that area."
"On your feelings. On what you need me to say and do."
Oh, but he doesn't like that! Do you honestly expect me to tell you what to say? he wonders petulantly, still secure in his certainty that his pitiful shields hide his thoughts from me. "I can't."
I squeeze his shoulder. "You wish to hear that I care for you. I do."
He wants to accept it, but he is greedy. "More than Leia?" he asks sulkily.
"More than anyone," I tell him, which is true, from a certain point of view. "You remind me of myself. I too was controlled by my emotions, and you know the result-- I Fell. It was careless of me to allow our relationship to deteriorate to the point where your emotions endangered you and others. In my defense I will say, my son, that you have built walls to conceal your truest feelings."
He turns his head. "How else could I protect myself?"
"Do not protect yourself." I reach for his hand. "It is ultimately better to allow your fears freedom than attempt to repress them. I know it is not an easy thing to be wounded, but it is far more difficult to live with imagined pain. Generally, one's imagination is more lethal than reality."
Luke stares at our entwined fingers. "You never wanted to touch me before."
"It magnifies the emotional closeness that I was not ready to accept."
"You could touch Leia. And Han." He raises his eyes briefly. "I thought that Han--" He chokes and can't finish the sentence.
I stifle a sigh. I would not have been a good parent to a youngster, and I am glad that my children were grown before I found them again. "Han is not my son. Nor is he a substitute. As I said, I was unable to cope with the depths of my caring for you. It ... distressed me. It was a threat to my independent soul. And there is some danger in relationships between Jedi. They have a tendency to...."
"What?" He curls his grasp around my wrist, transparently fascinated by this turn to the conversation.
I smile. "I am not exactly certain. I have seen Jedi-- in the old days, of course." A shadow falls across my voice, and I pause until it passes. "I saw Jedi become enmeshed in complex attachments which they neither meant nor wished to have. I have seen uncontrolled jealousies and rivalries, possessiveness, violent antipathies-- you and I can attest to some of that. Emotion can lead to all manner of strange behaviors. The calm, dispassionate side of the Force, my son, is extremely difficult to maintain by anyone other than a lone Jedi. As you saw, both Obi-Wan and Yoda were self-exiles."
"Did you ever have any of those problems?" he asks, his eyes those of a child, huge with wonder.
A ripple of laughter flows through me. "And would I tell you, if I had?"
Luke nods eagerly.
"You are incorrigible. Very well. Yes. I did. The end result of which was becoming Vader. And that is all the detail I shall give you." I free my hand and ruffle his hair. "Your emotions are strong, and I worry that such things are happening to you because of my presence. Given that, I now believe that my attention and instructions could not make matters any worse for you."
"You like me," Luke interprets freely, "and you want to spend time with me?"
"I find you an interesting young man," I acknowledge carefully. "I also find myself indulging in an embarrassingly immodest amount of fatherly pride."
He grins, satisfied. "Tell me more."
Laughter is easier this time. "Your powers are immense. I wish to give you some Dark Side training, however, so you can control your abilities."
"What just happened," he says slowly, soberly, "the lightning. I don't know how I did that."
"Exactly. If you will trust me with that training, I will show you both how to do it and how to avoid it." I hold my breath; his survival rests on his acceptance.
"Do you trust me to learn it?" Doubt quivers in his voice.
"We do not have a choice. You have done it once. It becomes easier upon repetition." I stand and reach down, pulling my son to his feet. "I have many regrets," I confess, "and some of them regard you."
"Don't hide your feelings, Father." Luke gives me a smile so bright that I am startled. "That's what you told me. Put aside your regrets and teach me. I trust you." Visibly, he gathers his courage and adds, almost shyly, "I love you."
I chuckle, flattered yet unsettled. "I know, young one. That is one thing you have never been able to disguise."
His happiness hesitates. "What about Leia?"
"Do you wish to repair your relationship with her?"
"More with Han than with her," he says candidly.
"Good." I catch his look of surprise. "That you are honest with yourself," I clarify. "You and Leia will eventually work things out to your mutual satisfaction, but I sense Han is important to you in a different way."
"Yeah." He shrugs. "I've always admired him."
"Ah, yes. A Corellian pirate, my son's role model."
"Well, you weren't around to be my role model," he teases easily. It is amazing, how his mood has lightened. He can barely remember his agonized feelings of the past year.
But one day I fear they will return tenfold.
The shadows in his mind intrigue and disturb me.
My hand cups his cheek. "Jedi resiliency," I murmur, though the knack is more easily acquired from the Dark than from the Light. "Now eliminate those painful feelings entirely. Let me show you how. Open your mind to me."
Luke closes his eyes and whispers, "I trust you...."
He inhales, nearly choking on the words. Like me, in that way. Reluctant to reveal vulnerability. But now... Luke does not wait. He reaches out for me. Touches my mind. A tentative gesture, sweetly skittish. Afraid still...of the experience or of me?
I give him no quarter; I encourage his exploration by leaving my defenses lowered. I wait to see what he does.
His feelings wash over me in great tidal waves until I am drowning, suffocating in them. He is triumphant, desperate, yearning, hungry, devouring. I am shaken, I am afraid...of him. Of these feelings that grab me with trembling fingers. I try to twist away, but he holds me firmly, digging with mental claws of steel. So I...drink.
My son, my heir...
I open my eyes to watch the beautiful face of my child. It glows with the fever of redemption...for which of us, I do not know. He smiles at me. He rules me. He is my master and my slave. I am his son; he is my father.
My words return to me: There is no danger.
But there is danger. I am terrified, yet my heart soars with the temptation that I might respond in kind and repossess him and the Darkness he offers. Falling would be such a sweet, pure song. His love contaminates me, bitter and tender.
I love him.
I hate him.
I tell him neither.