Originally published in Back to Back, 1998

A Single Word

by MJ Mink

The Medical Frigate



His involuntary reply haunted him as he stood with his arm around Leia's shoulders, watching the Falcon speed away in search of her master. The conversation was still a mystery - not the simple word that had been torn from the depths of his heart, for that longing was old and clearly understood. It was the reality and clarity of the call that confused him. Ben had spoken to him that way three times; each time his life had been in jeopardy, and he'd attributed the word-visions to the extremity of his situation. But this time he'd been safe - nearly safe - and it wasn't his life that was threatened, merely his humble soul.

This time it hadn't been a Jedi who'd spoken to save him, it had been a Sithlord who'd spoken to...claim him?

Involuntarily his grip tightened, and Leia moved out of his grasp, drifting away as easily as a puffball on the wind. Without conscious intent, he brushed her mind, sensed her distraction. She thought of Han; her grief was much the same as his own. Her lashes lowered, and he caught a fleeting disquiet as she shivered.

Luke stared out the viewport. "I'll get Han back, Princess," he vowed, his voice ringing surprisingly strong in his ears. "I promise."

Her reply was lost as he concentrated on the skies, searching for constellations studied long ago, in another lifetime, and finding only masses of stars scattered across the blackness like particles of fine sand flying through a stormy night. Father...can it be that all my childish daydreams of you have come to this? The stories I invented and believed, the games I played, the lies I told to my friends as truths...come to this, come to haunt. Come to claim.

His legs were still wobbly, and he returned to the cot and reclined. With a small gesture, he brushed away Two-Onebee's concern and closed his eyes. His fingers traced the thin seam on his right wrist. The regenerated skin would cover it in time, the surgeon had reassured him, and he supposed that was true, though it gave him no comfort. What did it matter? A soul could not be repaired so easily as a hand, and that was what he feared he'd lost.

Frowning, he tried to relax into a meditative state. He opened his senses, allowed his mind to become receptive to his surroundings. First he heard the varying hums of medical equipment, the steady thrumming of the air handling unit, the ship itself; then came the whir of Two-Onebee's motor as he moved quietly in the next room. Whispers of conversations in the corridor flowed past his notice as his perception swelled. Laughter, tears, hunger, sleep - he rose beyond human concerns. He should be alone, it was the Jedi way; yet he reached out, wanting, needing someone, something that waited just beyond the darkness -


His head jerked, but his eyes couldn't open. No.


His name was a caress. Ben had never spoken to him thusly, and the Dark Lord never would. But there was no one else.... Who are you?

Someone who loves you... it replied in Leia's voice, and Luke knew it was a haunting memory of the future, come and gone in another dimension.

Father, he whispered in answer. Why have you done this?

A comet streaked across the skies that lined his closed eyelids.

There is no why. What is, is.

He tossed fitfully, finally curling on his side. Awake, yet caught in the throes of a living nightmare. Since Bespin he had often heard the voice of the Lord Vader, keening for him, filling his mind with insidious thoughts, brilliant possibilities, victory and heroics, adulation, praise -

All can be yours, my son.

No. Luke sat up and swung his legs to the floor. A moment of vertigo passed, and he inhaled deeply, wishing for the fresh, dry air of home instead of the humid, trapped air that had been breathed a million times by others before it entered his own lungs. A dream, another dream. Dreams were not to be feared; they were not omens or warnings, they were merely wishes and terrors.

You are awake, young one. You do not dream my presence. If you will just say the word, I can be with you always.

The Force will be with you...always.

He'd thought Ben had meant it as a blessing. Now he knew that it could also be a curse.

Father. It is you.

Words didn't reply, but a feeling filled him. It was rich with possessiveness and conquest, heady with victory and a wild kind of desire for flight, for freedom, for...owning. It was familiar; he had known such feelings, though not to this soaring extent. His own desires were weak compared to Vader's rush of emotions. Luke shuddered as knowledge of his empathy was taken from his soul and studied, a curious specimen for his father's contemplation.

We are much alike, young one.

My name is Luke, he replied oddly, then wondered why he felt the need to label himself.

I know; I named you.

His heart fluttered wildly as the stars framed by the observation port vanished and a scene appeared, clear but trembling as though broadcast from a faraway projector. A man, tall, broad-shouldered, fair of face and hair; a woman, petite and fragile, rich brown tresses cascading around her shoulders, her unseen face bent over the tiny bundle in her arms; a babe, rosy and golden, fat fingers curling on a blanket of soft, nameless pastels. I name thee Luke, for my father's father, a strong voice declared. Luke, femininity echoed, my little light. She turned her face to the side, and he saw a delicate profile. And what shall we name -

The vision exploded into a million tiny dots. Luke sighed.

I bonded with you at your birth, child, but we were torn apart too soon. Only now, when we reunited and you called for me, was the bond reconfirmed. Tell me you will accept me.

Bond? He leaned his forehead against the plastisteel window support.

You understand.... Tell me, Luke. Tell me that you want to know me.

To save you? To have you? Then...yes. Too tempting a lure to ignore, no matter the warnings his teachers had given him. To resurrect Anakin Skywalker, to save the Dark Lord from whatever hell awaited him - Yes, Father.

A smile from nowhere, a tingle that filled him. Excellent. And now I must leave you for awhile, my son. I will return.

There came a wrenching sensation of aloneness. He gasped and clutched the frame, waiting for it to subside. But the aching persisted, and he recognized it as the feeling he'd lived with all his life until Bespin, the awareness that his existence was unhappily solitary, the belief that he belonged elsewhere, someplace in the stars, the truth that he'd believed a fairy tale: that his mythic father was searching for him. How often had he spoken to that phantasm, just as he spoke to this one....

Was this new father but a fantasy, too? Did his wishes beget this chimera as he'd created his childhood companion?

Laughter echoed in his head.

What makes you think your childhood father was less than real, boy?

Luke wrapped his arms around himself and hugged tightly.

The Flight Deck

He chipped at the carbon scoring that was scattered across the belly of his newly-inherited x-wing. Flakes of black fell on his face.

"Why're you doing that?" Wedge asked finally, having spent five minutes watching him in silence. "First time there's a blast near you, it'll be all over the hull again."

Pride, he could have answered, but Wedge might take that as a personal reproach - his own x-wing was nearly totally blackened. "It's like wearing someone else's uniform," he answered with a shrug.

Antilles is correct - you are wasting valuable time.

"Oh, shut up," Luke muttered.

"I didn't say anything!"

"Sorry, Wedge, I didn't mean you. I was talking to myself."

Truer than you realize.

"Riiight," the Corellian drawled. "I think it's time for some R&R, Skywalker. Why don't you break off and come to dinner? You were off shift hours ago."

"I'll just do a little more. I'll catch you later."

"Yeah." With a half-wave, Wedge left, and Luke watched him cross the cavernous bay. There were few people in the hanger at this hour, and a strange peace settled over the ships as if they were resting in preparation for their next battle.

Flights of fancy.

Luke smiled slightly at his father's pun. These mental conversations were still disconcerting, and he wasn't truly certain if he wanted the Dark Lord to freely speak to him. Father or not....

Put aside your meaningless task and learn from me.

Why don't you learn from me for a change? He returned to his chipping job, the shiny metal of the tool sliding over the dulled, rough surface.

And what could you teach me, child?

I could teach you about loyalty, friendship, honor -

A wave of coldness swept through him, so real that he shivered. You think me without honor, boy? How dare you make such a judgement! You are a disappointing son.

He told himself it was absurd to let the words cut him, but they did nonetheless. He ran his hand over the grey hull, brushing away the last of the flakes.

And you sulk like an adolescent. Had I been responsible for your upbringing, you would not now be so immature and idealistic.

I can imagine. Ducking under the ship, he began working at the scorched spots that marred the port side. Evidently I was luckier than I realized, being abandoned by my parents.

Why do I waste my time with you? If you will not listen -

Father, he interrupted hastily, not willing to sever the contact. Do you have any friends?

Emptiness answered him, and he stopped his chipping and leaned his cheek against the metal. It felt cool, and he wondered if he was still running a fever. Father? You would have friends here, if you came with me.

Laughter echoed in his mind. Of course I would! Particularly your Princess and Captain Solo, I presume? They would be delighted to befriend me after we've been so intimate.

He squirmed uncomfortably. Maybe you could come as Anakin Skywalker, he offered, as if the Lord of the Sith guise was no more than a masquerade.

I could wear Obi-Wan's discarded homespun. He needs his robes no longer.

Luke frowned and returned to his work.

You admire the Princess and Solo, Vader said.

Was that a question? Yes. They're brave and loyal.

And I am not?

His arm dropped, and he stared at the knife. I guess it comes down to philosophies. I can't admire the Imperial government.

Then help me to overthrow Palpatine. Together, we will rule to the benefit of the galaxy.

What if it were true? What if he was throwing aside the chance to end the fighting, to save lives, to bring happiness to the peoples of all planets?

Tell me more about your two friends, his father said unexpectedly. Do they endow their loyalty and friendship to you as you do to them?

Of course.

And love?

He looked up, startled. Love? I...we're friends...we love each other like friends.


How far into his heart did the Dark Lord see? Luke ran his hand through his hair, shaking out carbon. Yes.

Then what of this?

In his mind, a vague, unclear vision appeared. Swirling clouds, darkness, people, Leia: I love you, she called, but not to him. I know, Han answered strangely. Somewhere was an embrace, and a kiss - not their first - then the scene vanished.

Luke stood motionless. It was not quite a surprise, but.... He felt them united, a tiny circle enclosing only those two, and he stood again, as he had with Owen and Beru, on the outside.

No one but I will ever love you, my son. Come with me.

No! He closed his mind and returned to his task, working with blind determination.


The desert had reclaimed the land surrounding Ben Kenobi's hut, but the structure itself was left intact, hidden from the eyes of passing strangers, avoided by superstitious sandpeople. Luke vaulted the giant dune easily.

You have formed an unfortunate habit of leaping...one day, you will face a truly endless depth.

"No such thing around here," he replied absently, ignoring the possible undertones. The constant awareness of the other's presence had progressed from an unbelievable dream to reality over the last few months, but he had learned less about his father than he had hoped. "Flats, dunes - the cliffs aren't high enough to compare with Cloud City." His mouth twisted in an ironic smile as there was no reply. He'd discovered that his father was disconcerted by references to their duel above Bespin; he wondered, fleetingly and with faltering faith, if the Dark Lord had a conscience.

"There's not much left." Hands on his hips, he looked around the hut and willed the old candles to light. "The power generator's been stolen - or it's buried under sand - but the interior of the house is intact."

Let me look.

He focused himself and allowed his father to see through his eyes. It was a disconcerting effect, peering through Vader's eyeshield as they looked through his own eyes. A visionary echo, something he hadn't gotten used to. He knew it was an act his father enjoyed; the undamaged eyes of his son saw with a clarity of color that his sensors couldn't detect. His own sensors registered motion, size, physical characteristics, but they were woefully lacking -

Stop, Luke said, rubbing his head. I'm getting confused. Sometimes his lack of Jedi training became dangerous, and he drowned in Vader's thoughts. It reminded him of being six years old again, the day he'd wandered off while exploring and fallen into a false dune that had swallowed him instantly. His mouth and nose had clogged with sand, it packed across his eyes, only a single hand had been left free, he'd screamed wordlessly Father! - and Owen had pulled him from the trap. He remembered the choking, suffocating panic -

Enough, young Luke. You worry too much about losing yourself in my thoughts, when it is your own mind that is your greatest threat.

Is it? He looked around the little house, straining for Ben Kenobi's presence.

He will not come while I am here.

He will not come while I am here.... Whose thought was that? Luke shook his head, weary with grief and tension. He scanned the room again.

Try the trunk.

He knelt on the floor and studied the dusty crate. Its latches were creaky from disuse, but they opened easily, if noisily. Dark fabric composed the first layer of contents. He unfolded it carefully. It was a long cloak of heavy wovens, topped with a generous hood. It smelled of - Luke sniffed it again. It smelled like...Leia.

Astebesias, a flower that died with Alderaan.

Your cloak? He stretched the fabric across his lap, draped it on the floor. It wasn't large enough to be Lord Vader's, unless he'd been very young. When you were a boy?

No. It belonged to your mother.

Your mother, your mother.... Laughter in musical notes. He nearly turned his head, convinced she was behind him. But he held the illusion steady, remained motionless. It's beautiful, my love! The lining is so soft.... It will keep you warm these cold nights.... Use a cloak? - when I have you, my wondrous Anakin? He caught her in his arms, buried his face in her fragrant hair. She was so tiny, he could pick her up with one hand, and he loved her with a wild, possessive passion -

Luke threw the cloak aside and ran fingertips across his brow. They returned, damp with sweat. Your thoughts, my thoughts - which of my dreams haunt you? Can you read my heart?

There was no answer. He looked sideways at the cloak. "What is my mother's robe doing in Ben Kenobi's house?"

Nothing but the wind answered: stole her stole her stole her away....

"Coward," he muttered. "Tell me yourself or not at all." Yellowed paper covered the next layer of the trunk. An old map, cracked and broken. The route from Bestine to Anchorhead, the hut, the Lars farm, the Darklighter farm all marked.

The Darklighters...did you know them, too? He frowned when there was still no reply, an unwarranted anxiety rising inside him. Surely he would know if anything happened to his father; their bond would tell him. Father? he called and reached out.

A wave of pain battered at him, and he gasped. He pushed it away, then hesitated. Father, is that you? Determinedly, he opened himself, accepting the agony, crushing it to himself until it subsided into a dull ache. His heart raced; panting, he forced his breaths to lengthen until they gradually became steady again.

He leaned against the trunk.

Forgive me, young one. I did not intend that you should ever share my pain.

His quivering sigh was filled with dismay. What is this pain? Have you been injured? - or is it - ?

It was long ago. But it remains....

"Tell me. Show me," he commanded, and used his newly-tested skills to probe Anakin Skywalker's memories.

- and sulfur burns my eyes, makes me choke. The Force is not with me, and I'm not strong enough to defeat both my master and this environment without Its help. Where is Palpatine, my protector - where is his strength? I've tried so hard - don't abandon me now! The clang and sizzle of blades as they meet through blind luck because I can't see, can't see - too many rocks, ground too uneven. Stumbling back, falling, scrambling to my feet, where is my lightsaber? there! reach for it! Too late, a slash across my arm, severing, Obi-Wan my old friend! help me! and I'm falling falling falling -

aaaaiiieeeee! sudden torment, pain everywhere, burning flesh, screams tearing from my lungs, straining for the Force to keep my face above this fire, lift me please the Sith lift me I'm drowning in horror Obi-Wan help me help me don't turn away now come back smell my burning flesh oh help me help me Dark Lords help me

empty of all senses but agony, floating high, molten liquid dripping from my arms and legs, pain doesn't stop doesn't stop kill me now make it stop let me die let me go

let me go


ohgods pain no world

but pain pain

ohgods who are you sithgodshelpme

Luke moaned in agony and rolled on his side, drawing his knees up to his chest. Sand floor cold under his cheek, welcome respite from the fiery torture. Sobs tore at his throat, but his face was dry. His tears had all burned up in the blaze of his tortured soul. How do you bear it?

The pain vanished, drawn from him and absorbed into the other. He was left with the dull ache of memory. Luke sat up slowly. "You've taken it back," he whispered, half-surprised.

Perhaps I should leave you such an inheritance to remind you of the folly of your impetuousness.

"No." He wrapped his arms around his legs and rested his chin between his knees. "Could you, though? Could you give the pain to me and rid yourself of it?"

No. I could...share it in the sense that I could force you to live inside me and accept the burden of my pain.

"Live inside you?" Luke echoed. "Is that part of what we're doing now?"

The lifebond is voluntary.

A babe doesn't have a choice about a lifebond, does he? Luke asked wryly.

It is tradition. The response held a note of defensiveness. When you called to me - that was voluntary. Let us not argue semantics. While our current...goodwill is voluntary, I could compel your pain-sense to live inside me and absorb my agonies.

Or I could volunteer.

There was an awkward pause. "I'm not volunteering," Luke added hastily. "But wouldn't the reverse also be true? Could your pain-sense live within me and feel my health instead of your wounds?"

Lord Vader withdrew so suddenly and completely that Luke gasped in bereavement. "Father?" he called, though he knew from past experience that the Dark Lord would not reply until it pleased him.

He returned to the trunk, putting aside small treasures and carefully wrapped holos, searching for the items he knew he would find. His fingers closed around cool, smooth metal, and he withdrew it. Pieces of a lightsaber hilt, what he sought. Quickly, he rose to his knees and bent over the trunk, retrieving all the components he could find. Metals, wires, immeasurably small beads and rods packed in a little case. A smooth pouch that held a raw, dulled crystal. He carried them over to the sandstone table and seated himself, his head bending over the task.

Hours passed unmarked. At last he rose and stretched, hands pressing into his lower back. Looking down at the table, he stared at the pieces, looking for the clue that would give him fresh hope. But his eyes blurred with weariness and his stomach rumbled with hunger. Too tired to eat, he stumbled to the bed and fell atop the rough cover. Before he could form a thought, he was asleep.

It is a deeper level of the bond, his dream said. It is total commitment unto death...and beyond.

I'm ready, Dream Luke answered, for he was still the reckless, foolish savior, daring to try what should not be tried, daring to do what no one would attempt. Dream Luke surrendered himself with joy, awash with the purity of giving and loving, accepting the pain that others had lauded from the impersonality of distance. Taking it into himself and giving it another name.

Knew a joy that was both within and without him.


He woke, refreshed, when the rays of the suns pierced his eyelids. Outside the small window, the immense dune was gone, blown away though he'd heard no storm in the night. He cleaned himself and retrieved a nutrisnack from his pack - discipline, this, because his mind no longer called for nourishment, though his body still required it. He ate the bar without pleasure, gulped a long draught of cool water from his canteen, and returned to the table. His fingers slid over the metal, warmed now by the rising heat of the day. Without effort, his hands quickly assembled the pieces, caressed the crystal - though it pricked his finger and he bled - and eventually he held a lightsaber in his hand. It was different from his father's old lightsaber, its style not as sleek, its grip smaller and more comfortable in his hand. He pressed the activation switch and it flared to life, a brilliant white-green that lit the darkest corners of the hut.

A fine saber.

"Thank you." He deactivated it and tilted his head. The voice had sounded strange somehow - younger, lighter. "Is that you?"

Why do you continually ask that question? Whom are you expecting?

"Ben, maybe."

There came a silence that filled the room with its affronted feelings. Luke laughed, knowing a moment of happiness. "Sorry, Father. But you sound...different."

I am different. You took my pain and set me free. I thank you.

"Then it wasn't a dream." He turned the saber in his hand and hooked it to his belt. Tension ebbed from him as he felt the familiar weight against his hip.

There are no dreams. There is only reality.

"Or no reality and only dreams."

That depends entirely on one's perspective.

He smiled again. "Yoda said something like that once. That there are two views of Jedi philosophy."

Only two? Yoda's vision has become limited.

"I wonder." He lifted his head. "Did you help me build this saber?"

Would it matter? It is your saber, whether or not I assisted.

Luke nodded. It was his, he could feel it singing to him. A sweet quiet lullaby now, a triumphant chorus when he'd ignited it. And if Vader had helped - "Thank you, Father."

He returned to the trunk. Its lid was closed, the latches refastened. He reached to unhook them.

No more, the Dark Lord said gently. Another time. You know enough for now.

Luke hesitated, but not out of disbelief. It both warmed and unnerved him that he so readily trusted Vader's advice. He lifted his mother's cloak from the chair where it was draped and wrapped himself in it. The fabric became her arms, holding him, drying his baby tears, sharing sweet whispers that stopped suddenly when another baby cried and she left him.

He raised his chin. Who is that crying?

His father didn't reply. Luke clutched the cloak more closely to him. The vision didn't return, and the life-shade drained from the fabric. It was a simple covering now, the sentimental ghost banished as if it had never existed.


Jabba's Palace

No whisper told him how to disable the guards and use Command on the pitiful creature who took him to Jabba. No whisper warned him of the pit that yawned beneath his feet for a brief second before he tumbled down. No whisper - yet he knew it was there, speaking to him when he could not hear. When the rancor's skull was split open, it was inside him, full of blood-lust and orgasmic triumph.

"That's the last mistake you'll ever make!" the voice sneered with calculated arrogance, and Luke snapped back into himself.

"I think you've got that wrong," Han muttered as they were dragged through the cavernous halls. "We're the ones making the mistake."

He blinked as they were ushered into the blinding light that reflected off the Dune Sea. Their captors shoved, and he leaned toward Han, longing for an old friend, an old comfort. "We'll be all right."

He followed Chewie and Han onto the skiff, Lando pushing gently as his back, his father pushing at his mind. Don't do that! I can handle this myself!

A hint of dark laughter, a flicker of angry pride - and he was alone again. He inhaled sharply and gazed across the dunes of home. Would it be so bad to die here, to take Vader with him and bury them both forever? If not for his friends....

Han spoke and he responded absently, focusing on a plan to free them. But his thoughts were lost when Han's words pierced his concentration -

" - you're gonna die here, y'know. Convenient."

He had no time to consider the uncanny timing of Han's words during the ensuing events. When the fight was over and the villain defeated, he directed their vehicle toward the Jundland Wastes where he'd hidden the Falcon and his x-wing. From the corner of his eyes he watched Han and Leia curiously. They touched each other covertly, hands brushing as if by accident, gazes meeting then glancing away after blushes and smiles. Lando and Chewie were deeply involved in a friendly argument, and the two droids were chattering between themselves. Luke was alone, standing outside as usual, but today the knowledge didn't hurt. Almost he felt paternal, as though he guarded over them and held their happiness in his grasp. The feeling warmed him, and he smiled contentedly, letting his gaze sweep over the dunes that were rushing past.

Home. Tolerated, hated for so many years, and now missed in a vague way that held no yearning. He might never return; or he might live out his life here. Either way, Tatooine was his history, and it was one place where he would always belong.


Yoda studied him silently. Luke raised one knee, careful not to disturb the indolent snake that lay across his other boot. He tried to remain quiet, but it wasn't possible. "Why don't you say something?"

"What need have you for my words? Another teacher do you have."

"My father," he said slowly, lifting his gaze. "He's not evil, master. I can feel the good in him. But the pull of evil is so strong for him...."

"What know you of good and evil?" Yoda scoffed. "A child you are. Told Obi-Wan I did! Reckless, impulsive - now matters are worse! You have gone too far."

"But what have I done?" Luke asked plaintively. "We have a bond that was made when I was a babe - there's nothing I can do about it. And if I can bring him back, isn't that a - "

"Bah!" Yoda dropped his stick and climbed onto his little rock bed, pulling the blanket over his shoulders. "Gone further than a parental bond you have. A lifebond you've accepted. Exist you within Vader and he within you until death - and how will you survive a death such as his?"

He shook his head, refusing to consider the possibility. "There is good in him," he insisted. "The part of him that was Anakin Skywalker the Jedi still exists."

"Part of him?" Yoda repeated testily. "Come in parts people do not. There is only one, many aspects. Fool you are, Luke Skywalker, hoping for the impossible. Lose yourself you will, if careful you are not."

"I'll be careful," he vowed.

Yoda's eyes opened slowly, glistening as they stared directly into his face. "Much of the father is in the son. Danger for you. Danger for the galaxy if you fall, too."

"I can save him," he insisted stubbornly.

Yoda shook his head, his gaze softening. "No saving possible for the One who embraced the Dark." The curved fingers waved him away with sudden weakness. "Go now. Mind what I have taught, help you it can. More than love you need to save the Sithlord. Strength to do what you must...." Yoda shuddered and moaned faintly. "Luke...." he whispered, scarcely audible. "Luke...there is anoth - "

Old fool. Why do you turn to his useless teachings?

Distracted by the voice, Luke's attention wavered. When he refocused on Yoda, the little figure was vanishing. For a fraction, the blanket held an image of the old Jedi, then it slumped onto the bed.

The fire on the stove died, the snakes crawled quickly outdoors. Luke followed them and returned to his ship, shivering in the sudden cold that swept through the trees. He ran his hand along the side of his x-wing, wishing he hadn't left Artoo behind. It would have been good to have the company.

You are never alone.

Before he could answer, a ghostly figure shimmered into view. "Ben!" Luke glared, his hostility unconcealed. "You lied to me," he accused. "You told me Vader murdered my father!"

"Darth Vader destroyed Anakin Skywalker and all that he held precious." Kenobi bowed his head. "What I told you is true - from a certain point of view."

This is beginning to sound familiar, Lord Vader commented dryly.

Ben frowned. "Luke, bar him from your mind. It was a mistake to allow him to lifebond with you - try to shut him out of your thoughts."

He clenched his fists and leaned against the body of his fighter, fighting the rage and frustration that flooded into him. "Why? So you can be in my mind again with your lies? What other lies did you tell me, Ben? And why? I should have known the truth from the beginning so I could decide for myself. Now what do I have - a mind that's a battlefield for disincorporated Jedi? It's my mind, not yours to use!" And not yours either - Father!

Obi-Wan sank onto a log and made a defeated gesture with his hand. "Perhaps I made an error in judgment with you, young Luke. I did not anticipate that Vader had any claim on you or that he would institute a bonding. It is not his way; he has always been isolated."

"What do you know of isolation?" Luke demanded. "You chose seclusion on Tatooine, but you know nothing of the isolation I feel within my own body."

The grey head shook. "That is Vader speaking, Luke, not you. He's manipulating you."

"He isn't." Disheartened, he pushed away from the cold metal and slid the ladder into place. "I can save him, Ben. Why can't you see that? Why won't you help me?"

"Luke...we need to talk further. Don't let Vader win!"

"Win? I'm not a contest - or a prize to be won or lost." He shook his head and climbed into the cockpit, pulling up the ladder and snapping it into the holds. "I have to get back to my friends. You're wrong about my father. There is good in him - and he loves me." He began the pre-ignition cycle and tugged on his helmet. "He's helping me, and I'm helping him. We'll be all right."

The spirit began to fade, tiny sparkles scattering and dimming. May the Force be with you, Luke. And be careful.

Another voice in his head. He wasn't sure which of them it was or if this time the words were a blessing or a curse. Mystified and a little infuriated, he lifted the x-wing from the ground and fled into space.


It is time.

His eyes unfocused, filling with dreamy dread. He turned and abruptly exited the Ewoks' hut, away from the light and laughter, wandering into the darkness. He stopped on a narrow bridge, head bent under the weight of sorrow.

Oh, Father.... What will become of us?

The reply came without words: Palpatine and an inferno of blue flames, then - nothing. Do we die with him?

Luke scuffed the toe of his boot against the thin wooden slats. There was no answer, either from within him or from his father. The months of learning each other were ended; it was time for the final confrontation when they would either ally or become enemies. And if they allied...would it be on the side of Darkness or the side of Light? If only it could be avoided, if only there was some way....

"Luke? What's wrong?"

"Leia!" He turned, surprised. For a moment, he'd heard another gentle voice saying those words, a voice that sang to him and used a tiny brush on his fine hair. "Do you remember your mother?"

"My mother?" She drew back slightly. "I...a little. Why?"

"What do you remember? Tell me." He closed his eyes briefly.

"She was...beautiful. Small, with very long hair. She laughed...and then she was sad. Why are you asking me this?"

He took her fingers, stroking them with his thumbs. Sweet Leia. "I remember my mother, though I never knew her."

She snatched her hands away. "What's wrong with you? Why are you acting like this?"

She's frightened of you, the voice said sadly. Your sister....

He gripped his right wrist and clutched the hand to his chest. He knew. Somehow he'd always known. "Vader is here, now, on this moon. He's come for me."

Why didn't you tell me?

Branches high in the towering firs made shushing noises as they brushed together: I didn't want to share you, they said.

Luke inhaled sharply, rigid with shock...and pleasure.

"For you?" Leia frowned. "Luke, if he's here, he's inspecting the installation - he's not here for you. If he knew we were here, the soldiers would - "

"They know we're here. He knows I'm here. I can feel when he's near - he's stronger then, inside me." Father, I'm afraid to be without you...but can I dare to be with you?

"What's going on?" The bridge quaked as Han strode across it. He stopped, hands on his hips. "Leia?"

She shook her head. "There's something wrong with Luke. He thinks Vader is here, come for him."

"Where?" Han looked around cautiously, fingers resting on the grip of his blaster.

"He's not here!" Leia said sharply. "Luke...come back inside with us." She took his arm.

"But I have to go. It's time - "

"Not now," she said pleadingly, and he knew he could not abandon his sister to the uncertain vagaries of fate.

"Yeah, c'mon, kid. You're not looking so good. Why don't you get some rest? If Vader's coming for you, he'll wait until morning."

To live awhile longer, all of them, to be free.... What harm could come from delaying the confrontation with his father for just a few hours? Luke allowed his friends to lead him away, staggering as weariness finally caught him in its heavy arms.


The battle was fierce and ugly. Luke used the stunrifle that had belonged to a stormtrooper to fire at the defenders of the bunker. His father tugged at his consciousness, urging him to flee before he was injured, but he dismissed the concern with the certainty that this was not the time of his death. Couldn't be, because something had changed, he'd caused a ripple in the Force that stabbed at his conscience like tiny needles, and Darkness hovered at the edge of the galaxy, waiting, hungry.

Always in motion is the future....

He felt anger and a touch of panic not his own as Han succeeded in opening the blast doors that protected the bunker. Another cataclysm of violence erupted, the dying minds screaming into his own, draining his will to continue the carnage.

A fiery explosion rocked the interior of the bunker, and Luke crumpled in agony, waves of pain washing through him, focused on his right leg. He forced himself on one elbow and looked at it. It was torn and bloody - no, it was there and uninjured. He rose, clenching his teeth against the pain, able to block it with a little concentration. Not his pain, then. It belonged to the other. He rushed forward, lightsaber drawn, slashing at those who stood between him and his father.

Smoke billowed from the damaged doors, and he pushed through it, choking. Twisted metal lay on the floor, but he climbed over it, following the sound of raised voices until he found what he sought.

Han Solo, his blaster aimed at the head of a crippled Darth Vader, his finger tightening on the trigger.

"Han - wait!" Luke called, stumbling in his haste to reach them. He stared at the fallen figure, opening his mind to the sensations. A rhythm pounded in his heart, steady and lethal. He blinked, focusing. Blood, pulsating, leaking...draining the life and the brilliant mind. With Force-lent strength, he pushed a split support girder aside. Saw the sheared metallic reinforcement of the black armor, the mangled limb that was nearly severed, the fast spurts of red that pooled and made the floor slippery. He reignited his saber.

"Go ahead, Luke. You deserve to be the one."

He looked up. Han, Leia, Chewie - a third of the strike team assembled and watching.

Luke...farewell, my son.

No! Carefully, he lowered the saber to the ragged wound and passed it across. The skin sizzled and smoked, the acrid smell making his nostrils twitch. His father screamed inside, but outwardly he barely flinched. Luke didn't falter, continuing the painful treatment until all the veins and vessels were fused, the bleeding stopped. He lent his strength to support the older man, soothing the unconscious mind.

"Luke!" Leia turned on him. "Why did you do that? It's Vader!" she said unnecessarily. "Let him die!"

"Not like this," he answered harshly. "Not yet."

"Forget it, leave him - let's get the hell out of here. The charges are set." Han grabbed his arm as he stood frozen into immobility. "C'mon, Luke, move it - it's going to blow!"

"I'm coming. Go on!" Help me, Father. He summoned the Force to give him strength, then heaved the Dark Lord over his shoulders. There was no weight to the man, and for a terrifying moment Luke wondered if he'd been too late - if the armor was empty. But he ran with it, ran with enhanced speed and agility, throwing them both behind the doubtful protection of a huge boulder as the bunker exploded.


"Whatever possessed you to capture Vader? An immediate execution would have been most expedient."

Luke stared placidly at General Rieekan. "I saved a life," he replied simply.

"Saved a life?" Rieekan exchanged a bewildered glance with Mon Mothma. "Jedi have never been known for saving lives - more for their skill in taking them."

In his head, Lord Vader chuckled, and Luke winced. But he waited, his fingers linked in a meditative pose.

The three of them stared at each other. "Do you have anything additional to add?" Mothma finally asked, breaking the silence.

"No, ma'am."

"Very well. You will be called upon to give your testimony at the trial. Until then - "

"Trial?" he interrupted, visions of a courtmartial dancing through his mind. But he'd resigned his commission before leaving for Tatooine. They couldn't courtmartial a civilian...could they?

"The Alliance Council will be trying Lord Vader for crimes against persons - war crimes."

"He'll be convicted and executed," Rieekan added wearily. "So you see, Comm--Jedi Skywalker, your heroics were for naught. Just as the Emperor died on board the Death Star, so Vader's fate had been decided - you should have left him to die in the bunker."


Executed? When he was dismissed, he walked on numb feet that didn't seem to be connected to his body. Executed, executed - the word fell over each step he took. Execute the father he knew so well, though they'd barely seen one another. Execute the father before he had a chance to be saved. Execute the father who dwelled in his mind, who spoke and laughed with him, who taught him. Execute the father whose pain he held in his heart -

And when his father died, would he die also? Was it his own execution he would attend?

Or would he live, the lifebond becoming a deathbond, his mind alone following his father into the realm of the Otherworld beyond life?

Luke shuddered. They'd come so far...maybe he could yet save his father, turn him to the side of righteousness.

He would not allow the Rebel Alliance to assassinate Anakin Skywalker.

The Medical Frigate

He felt.... He did not want to name the emotion. Far simpler to label other feelings: fear, anxiety, dread. There was a sickness lying in the pit of his stomach, and he could find no cure. He was stretched as thinly as a silken string, his every thought reverberating across tight nerves and shattering, tossing broken notes across his lifesong. He teetered on the edge of an abyss, with need and rebellion both waiting at the bottom, arms open, urging him to jump. And he didn't know which way to lean, how far to fall.

The mental bond was no longer enough. Luke felt his father's pain, his wariness and anger - and the need to have his son with him physically. "I've tried," he whispered. He hesitated to Force-compel his compatriots, but none of his ruses had worked; the Alliance Council refused to permit him contact with Vader no matter what reasons he gave. They were content to believe that the crippled limb immobilized Vader and that he was safely, helplessly, imprisoned in a private room, guarded only by a pair of grim-faced troopers and a bank of holocams. Luke was not entirely certain that the Dark Lord couldn't simply repair his leg - or fly away. "Is it for me that you stay?"

"What?" Han hissed under his breath.

Luke shook his head. "Talking to myself."

The shoulder pressed against his companionably, and he sighed. He'd lost interest in the Alliance's plans to form a government - he felt they were being precipitate, anyway - and this series of conferences had become simply a place to be alone with his thoughts. He wasn't expected to participate, so he didn't bother to listen to the proposals. But it was one of the few times during the day when he could talk with his father.

Han's elbow nudged his ribs. "C'mon."

He rose and followed the tall Corellian into the corridor. "What?"

"Drink," Han said succinctly.

Luke smiled, his spirits lifting. "A little early in the day, isn't it?"

"Kid, some days it's never too early."

He settled at a small table in the officers' canteen while Han procured two tall glasses of synthetic ale. He watched Han gulp two mouthfuls, then took a disinterested sip himself. It was chilled, and he'd never developed a taste for cold drink after being raised on the lukewarm liquids available on Tatooine. He stared at the wall, wondering why the canteen couldn't be on an outside corridor where it could have a distracting view of the ships of the fleet and the slowly passing stars. He touched his father's mind and found him asleep. With a resigned sigh, he returned to the canteen.

Han was watching him.

"What?" Luke asked again, curbing his defensiveness.

"You were a million lightyears away. Where is it you go?"

He shrugged and parried. "Here and there. Where do you go all those times I see you staring at nothing?"

Han's gaze darkened. "Carbon freeze," he replied shortly.

Luke flinched. He'd caught a sense of what it had been like for Han, buried alive, time passing - but the bond with his father had distracted him, and he'd deserted Han, withdrawn his support. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

"What for?"

For more than I can tell you.... "He was after me, not you. If it hadn't been for me, you wouldn't have been tortured, wouldn't have been frozen."

"Sith, Luke, that been botherin' you? I'm the one who decided to drop in on Lando. Not your fault I chose the wrong place."

"Yes, but - "

"Forget it. It's over." Strong hands cupped around the glass. "I'd rather hear what's goin' on with you now."

"Nothing much." Luke shrugged. "I'm not sure what to do with myself when we're not fighting."

"Don't brush me off." Han leaned back in his chair and frowned. "What about Vader? People are talkin', you know - 'bout you asking to see him."

"What are they saying?" he asked neutrally, and covered his nervousness with another swallow of ale.

"Some of them think you're plannin' on killin' him." Han glanced around the room and lowered his voice. "The Jedi-hater contingent think you want to join him."

"And what do you think?" he challenged softly.

"I'm not the enemy, Luke - don't play these games with me."

"There is no game. My only concern is that Lord Vader be treated humanely."

"Saint Luke," Han scoffed angrily. "You shouldn't have saved him. Now...it's like he's your responsibility. Damnit, Luke - "

Nausea churned in his stomach, and he pressed his clenched fists into his abdomen. "Han...he's the only Jedi left. If I don't learn from him, I'll be alone with these powers that I can't handle."

"You won't be alone, Luke."

You're never alone.... I am with you...always. His head bowed. "You don't understand."

"Then tell me."

Impatience was his natural reaction, and he struggled to suppress it. Han was his friend - until he learned Luke's true identity. Then what would he be? "I have to...." He choked, downed more ale to cover his anxiety. If he could confide in Han - but he couldn't take the risk of losing his closest friend. "I need to be with him, to see him. I need time...and it's running out too fast."

"Luke? What's wrong?"

He caught the raw edge of panic in Han's voice and knew it was a reaction to his own uncontrolled emotions. His breaths were labored, grabbing the air before it could refresh him, leaving him panting for life. He pushed back his chair and stood.

Han rose with him and grabbed his arm. "What the hell is wrong?"

He raised his head too quickly to disguise his disorientation. "I'm losing myself, Han," he whispered. "I'm losing myself."

"Luke - "

"No." Backing away, he held out both hands in a gesture of resistance. "I need to be alone. Please. I'll talk to you...later."

But later he would be composed, and there would be no need to talk, he thought as he fled the canteen. Later he could convince Han that he'd been exhausted, too stressed to understand what he'd said - There were always excuses, and Han would have to accept them because Luke had nothing else to offer. How could he tell his friend that he feared he couldn't save his father - and worse, couldn't save himself?

Father! he cried, knowing his pleas would pierce through the durasteel walls and awaken the wounded Sithlord. Father, help me - please! he called again

and surrendered to the temporary security of his father's suffocating love.


If the listing of atrocities had inflamed the Alliance Council, the holo-recreations of them were even worse. In the makeshift courtroom that had been erected in a corner of a hanger bay, Luke watched numbly at the cleverly-filmed reconstruction of Alderaan's demise. Technically, Vader had not ordered the destruction; but Governor Tarkin and the Death Star's crew were dead, and the only other man who could be held responsible was in the Alliance's hands. Payment for that world's annihilation would be exacted from Darth Vader.

The defendant's advocate had protested the admission of holo-recreations as evidence, but the Council had denied his request. For two days they and the small audience had been subjected to miscellaneous scenes of massacre and destruction; Luke's heart had shattered when the Purge of the Jedi had been spread across the duracrete. He'd sensed a sliver of remorse in his father then, and he'd pounced on the feeling, for it soothed his troubled soul. But now, seeing Alderaan, aware of Leia's mental lamentations, he knew it was also his own birthplace, knew he was Alderaani, and knew that his father was, too.

This time there was no feeling of regret from the Dark Lord, only triumph.

Don't you feel anything? Luke sent bitterly. It was your home. Tatooine was a lie, a myth; he belonged nowhere.

Search your feelings, my son. Like me, you feel nothing for the dead souls of Alderaan.

Luke looked inside himself and saw his revulsion for the deed, but his heart was empty, all emotions drained from him. Have you stolen my feelings?

I have stolen nothing. You are a Skywalker; it is our way.

Perhaps that was true. His life had been lived with a sense of abstraction, his sensitivities wicked away in the dry fire that was Tatooine. Another boy would have been devastated by the deaths of Owen and Beru; he was merely sickened by the sight of their smoking corpses and left with a vague sense of regret. The only parents he'd ever known and his best friend of many years had died within days of each other, yet he'd continued on without mourning them. Like an old ledger, he thought; one turned the page and what had been written passed into history.

Is coldness the Skywalker way?

No answer was necessary. He didn't want to believe it, but the evidence lay within his own heart: his humanity was dead, numbed by grief and guilt. Perhaps it was part of being a Jedi, this aloofness. Perhaps it was meant to protect the Jedi's neutrality, to save him from the crushing burden of endless sorrow that he could never alleviate. If that were true, then he needed that aloofness today, needed it desperately...for he was his father, they shared a common heritage, a common responsibility. His father's shame was his own, and he would never be pure again.

He divorced himself from the holos, watched them with eyes that saw nothing, listened with ears that did not hear. Understood with a mind that accepted the knowledge that his father had been responsible for the barbarous acts being displayed - and, he sensed through their bond, even felt a measure of enjoyment over the retelling of his deeds.

All his barriers were intact; but he sensed, with dreadful clarity, that the awareness was permeating his soul and leeching it of joy.

Beside him Leia made a small, inarticulate sound. He felt her pain, wishing it was his own - not to spare her honest grief, but rather to allow himself to feel again. To his left, Han shifted to look at Leia and send her a half-smile of encouragement, though his eyes reflected rage. Luke sighed faintly. He appreciated the gestures of support they made by literally surrounding him, but he felt uncomfortable, as though he'd come between them in another way he didn't understand. If he could have made himself invisible just then, he would have.

...do or do not....

His lips twitched. Did he merely have to believe himself invisible and it would happen? If that were so, then he would wish for something else, a miracle that would open his father's eyes and thaw his frozen heart.

"Still want to spend time with that butcher?" Han drawled under his breath. "Still think you can learn something from him?"

Luke started, but didn't reply.

"We won't let you." The Corellian folded his arms, his stern gaze facing the holo again as it flickered to a close before the stunned and restless audience.

Leia rose as the court recessed for a short break. Her face was white, her lips compressed into a thin line. "Excuse me," she said distantly and slipped into the aisle, disappearing as they turned to watch.

"I'd better - " Han began as he stood.

"Han?" Luke asked quickly, tugging at the Corellian's ivory sleeve. "Do you think I'm cold?"

"What?" Nonplussed, the older man stared down at him, glanced across the bay, then reseated himself. "You're cold? Are you gettin' sick again?"

Again? "No, I.... I mean cold. Aloof. Does it seem like I don't care about...things?"

"Who told you that?" Hazel eyes sparked with anger. "Sith-hell, Luke, why would you think such a thing? Because you're not in tears over these - these horrors?" Han waved at the wall that was blank and cleansed of the ugliness it had just displayed.

He shrugged. "Sort of. I don't feel...much. Not the way I should."

The Corellian snorted in disbelief. "Right. That's why you're pale as snow, with a little green around the edges. Kid - " Han sighed. "Don't let anybody tell you you're cold. You feel more than anybody I've ever known - more than you should, if you cared about what was good for you. This...Vader business should tell you that much. Now I'm gonna go check on Leia." He shook his head. "Babysittin' the pair of you," he grumbled, but Luke heard the fondness in his tone.

When Leia returned, her face set and stern, she patted his hand, and he knew Han had told her of his insecurities. To have friends who cared so much.... He didn't deserve them; yet he had to deserve them, he owed that debt. His eyes drifted toward his father, touched the dark mind with a whisper of his presence. What did he owe this father who had done nothing other than bring him into the world and name him? Too easy to listen to the voice that said, you owe him nothing, too simple an escape. Vader had no one else, and they each had come to accept the other's presence. Even now, he could feel the Dark Lord's hesitance to respond to his call, could feel the wondering question: Can you still care for me? After all you've seen...?

Yes, Father, I can, he answered, because if he turned away there would be no one to take his place, and his father had been alone for so very long.

Relief and delight replied, and he used them to weave a web of sanctuary, a cocoon to protect them from the inhumanity of the real universe.


He could resist the call no longer; there was no time left. He disabled the guards, not violently but rather with a simple suggestion that he was permitted to visit the prisoner. He felt when his father, more skilled, planted soothing thoughts into the minds of those who monitored the holocams focused inside the barren room.

Lord Vader sat at the small table, hands folded on its clean top. "Dark Son," he rumbled, openly pleased. "You have come at last."

Dark Son.... Beru had told him his name meant Light. "Father," he acknowledged and sat at the opposite side of the table, consciously mimicking the older man's posture.

"Names can be changed," Vader replied to his unasked question. "My former name, Anakin, indicated that I was the sum total of all my ancestors - so you see, boy, your heritage is the same as mine. You will be Young Lord Vader, and we will rule together."

Ideas flooded his mind with the clarity of the day's earlier holo-recreations. He, dressed in his familiar Jedi black, becoming all-powerful. Strong, admired, revered, even worshipped. A god to trillions of living beings. His every wish satisfied four-fold. His friends safe because he would protect them. Mothma and Leia, both members of the new senate. Glory and importance for all of his long lifetime. Why do you resist? his father questioned.

He pushed back at the images, turning them over to reveal their ugly underbellies. People, planets living in poverty, broken from supplying the tribute the new Emperors demanded. Temples built to the honor of Vader from the coins and sweat of laboring citizen-slaves. His friends, safely numbed, living as automatons to his will. And Han - gone, murdered for his resistance. "This is why," he replied sadly. "When I weigh your needs and the galaxy's.... Come with me, Father. Mend your ways."

"Pah!" Vader's only reply was a short and scornful snort.

"Then run away," Luke begged. "They're going to kill you - run! Build a life for yourself, a quiet life, an anonymous life - "

"Your heap absurdity upon absurdity. Do you believe I could lead a quiet life? I own all I see - including you. You will come with me, boy - or you will allow me to die and then you will join the Darkness alone."

"No, that won't happen!"

Vader laughed contemptuously. "How do you think your Light will reward one whose hands are drenched with the blood of his father?"

He contemplated the question and, with mounting horror, could find no safe harbor that would shelter him from his actions...or inactions. What had he done - and what could he do now?

The Dark Lord reached out and rested a black glove on his cold hand, squeezing lightly. "Perhaps you are correct; perhaps it will not happen. But know this: we are one, my son. Bound together forever."

The fingers stroked along his forearm. Luke shivered. Yoda was right. He'd gone too far; there was no sanctuary left for either of them.


The time of Pronouncement had arrived. Evading Han and Leia for the first time during the trial, Luke moved to sit as closely behind Darth Vader as he could. As he slid into the metal folding chair, he asked again what he had been asking for weeks: Why do you stay? Why not escape? Is it for me that you stay? Please run - run far away!

The black helmet turned partway around. I will not leave you behind again; you must come with me.


Then you will watch me die. The Dark Lord faced his judges, hands resting placidly on his knees.

Fear and uncertainty shivered through Luke, heating his anger at the declaration. He felt that Vader had no intention of dying; but he wanted his son to play savior again, to turn on his friends, to join him in the Dark, to be a reflection of him. And Luke felt the answering call within him, the desire for the power his father controlled. It would be so easy to acquiesce, to fill himself with the strength he'd felt last night and be rewarded with both power and love.

Maybe the Alliance Council would decide to banish Vader, imprison him, anything but declare a death sentence. If they would only give him more time, if he could only find Anakin Skywalker and save them both -

He was a fool! How could he save someone who didn't know he was lost? Twenty years of evil could not be swept aside, ignored, or healed. And there also stood Luke Skywalker with his potential to commit the same crimes. The Darkness poisoned him, he could feel it thrumming in his chest, answering the call his father sent, seducing him with whispered promises and soft caresses. Who was he to believe that he was strong enough to stand where his father had fallen?

He waited, heart pounding loudly in his ears, knowing this was the time of judgement for them both and that he could put off his decision no longer. When Vader rose to face those who judged him, weight supported on his good leg, and Mon Mothma spoke the words of condemnation, it didn't surprise Luke; he hadn't truly believed the verdict could be anything other than a very public execution.

Vader turned toward him, and Luke felt the full force of his power, majestic in its fully-flowered rage, passion streaming like ribbons of fire, the feverish desire to shed blood, the surety that his son would join him, the healing command surging into the wounded leg, strengthening it, making it whole, the Power, the universe-shattering Dark Power that their souls combined would create, nothing could ever stop them -

Luke raised his hand and concentrated. From the anteroom, from under the watchful eyes of the guards, his lightsaber raised and flew to him, landing in his palm with an audible slap. He curled his fingers around the hilt, turned his back on his father. Ignited the blade in the faces of his friends.

He heard a second hum and knew that Vader's blade had also been called. Blaster bolts were discharged and parried; then the Dark Lord's might fused all the weapons, and their bearers cried out in dismay and fear while Vader laughed triumphantly. Luke studied his father's mind, lingering on the fringes of Vader's awareness. The glory of domination and the lust for superiority nearly overwhelmed him; in Vader's soul, they far outweighed all other emotions, including the tiny bright light that was his love for his son. Luke tightened control over his own feelings, allowing his father to feel his support, his anguish at the decision of the judges. His promise of union.

People began to flee the small room, but Han approached them cautiously and held up his hands. "Luke...I know what you're thinkin'. You want to redeem Vader, you want him to turn into a Jedi because you don't want to be the last one. But he can't change. You saw the holos, you know what he is."

"I know what he is," Luke agreed evenly.

"Then why are you doing this?" Han demanded. "You can't change him, you can't join him - what's left?"

"I will not allow the Alliance to murder him; it is not their right." And it would break my heart, Father...to stand by and watch your death would break my heart....

Mothma's tense voice came from a distance. "Then it is the Jedi's right, Luke. Kill him yourself, on behalf of the Jedi he massacred."

He felt the stirring of apprehension in his father and soothed it quickly. He looked at Han. "I can and I will join him," he answered belatedly, "to save us both. I can do no less: I am his son."

At the declaration, a feeling of serenity filled him; the truth, finally revealed. His last words were for Anakin Skywalker, filled with the patient devotion of a child for his rebellious parent.

"I love you...Father." With that final word, he burrowed into the older man's mind, digging with claws like a womprat, hanging on despite his father's violent efforts to dislodge him. Linking them forever, secure in his faith that he was tearing the Heart of Darkness from the galaxy and setting them all free.

...How do you think your Light will reward one whose hands are drenched with the blood of his father?

Luke swung his lightsaber.

New Alderaan

Keir Darklighter waved the holoproj to a halt and adjusted the auditorium's lighting. As usual, he gave the audience a few moments to regain perspective for he knew how awed they were. As often as he'd seen the holo in his tenure as tour guide at the New Alderaan Museum of Cultural and Historical Effects, it still had the power to touch him. Last Jedi Skywalker making his sacrifice, eliminating from the galaxy both the evil of the Sith and the evil that had spawned it, the Jedi. He wondered if Last Jedi had truly understood the repercussions of his actions or if the assassination had been a desperate act. After the passage of so many years, it was difficult to know if the scholars had interpreted the old datatapes correctly.

He crossed to the center of the stage. "If you will all follow me down the aisle to your left, we will view the remains of Last Jedi."

The room was dimly lit, and he waited until the small audience had filed in, walking cautiously. They were very quiet, but that was typical of these audiences. Even schoolchildren who normally filled the cavernous Old Alliance wing with shouts and laughter became silent during this part of the tour.

Keir illuminated the existube. The silence was broken with gasps and smothered cries. He turned, trying to see what they saw, trying to remember what his first glimpse had felt like.

The large tube was filled with the sustaining golden liquid of life. Inside floated the body of Last Jedi, still dressed in the uniform he'd worn for hundreds of standard years. His hair was golden-brown, trimmed very short so it wouldn't float in the fluid and spoil the aesthetics. His pale eyes were open, staring with unending concentration at the star-spattered ceiling tiles. Remarkably, he bore a distinct resemblance to the man in the oft-recreated holo - a testament to the skill of modern-day holotechs. All that was missing in the existube was his lightsaber. Wherever it had gone - probably been destroyed, Keir thought privately - no one had ever found it.

He turned back to the people who watched the existube so intently. "It is conjectured that Last Jedi Skywalker assumed that, because of the Jedi Magical Lifebond he shared with his sire, he would also die when he killed Darklord Vader. But he did not."

A little boy who stood bravely in front of the crowd, his father's hands on his shoulders, asked querulously, "He's not dead? Then how come he's in there? What does he eat?"

Keir smothered a smile. "Only his mind died; his body continued to live. According to the superstitions of those times, they speculated that his mind was taken into Motherworld as soon as he beheaded Darklord Vader. In those days, they did not have the exislife-transfer that would have preserved his mind to be used in another body. But they did have the knowledge to sustain his body's functions."

The boy wrinkled his nose. "Yuck. What for?"

"It was all they could do." Keir shrugged. "They worshipped Jedi Magic and hoped someday Last Jedi's mind would return to his body."

"We're lucky those Jedi are gone," a woman near the back said softly. "Their powers...they weren't normal."

"It wasn't luck," Keir disagreed. "It was Last Jedi's sacrifice that allows us to live today under the Great Mother's Blessing. If you're ready, we will now proceed into the Mummolife Room where you will be able to view resurrected and preserved bodies of more Old Alliance heroes."

He stood aside as they filed through the archway indicated, turning for a last look before dimming the lights. Something about Last Jedi bothered him. It was as if.... But he was becoming fanciful; perhaps it was time to request a transfer to another wing.

Keir paused, waiting for the familiar tug. It came, a barely discernable touch, not on his body but in his mind. He couldn't quite define it to his satisfaction, but it made him...ache. It was sweet and pleading, yet underneath lurked something that frightened him, something he didn't want close to him.

...Come with me....

He shook his head. Definitely time for a transfer. He needed to get away from these spooks and spend his time somewhere like Ancient Vehicles, a place that wouldn't influence his wild imagination. His Mam always told him he was too much like his sire - reckless and fey, always pretending to be someone else, always feeling that he belonged elsewhere and had a great destiny to fulfill.

Maybe he did belong elsewhere. First chance he had, he'd request a transfer to - to Weaponry of Ancient Times. The study of obsolete weapons was something he enjoyed, and there'd be less opportunity for his imagination to run free.

Keir turned off the lights and locked the door behind him.