Anakin and Luke Skywalker

The Hardest Test

Type: Post ROTJ A/U
Rating: PG
Summary: Anakin Skywalker is the Vice President of the New Republic.  An unknown menace will threaten not only the newborn peace, but the very core of Mon Mothma's government.
Acknowledgments: Thank you, Fiona, my wonderful beta.

Luke hardly had time to settle down after his second mission when he was summoned to the third two days later. Veltra’s new government was taking over, and as a deeply religious people, they wanted a Jedi to be present at the ceremony to give them their blessing.

Relieved beyond words for not having any problems to try and solve for once, Luke was happy to go. Veltra had been viciously bombarded by the Empire two years before. The capital was almost reconstructed and this act would mark a new start for all. The symbolism in it didn’t escape anyone.

Luke was packing his suitcase when there was a knock at his door.

"Come in," he called.

The door opened and Commander Vaughan Worthwing entered the young Jedi’s quarters.

"Hello, Vaughan, it’s good to see you!" Luke greeted him warmly, reaching out. "How are you?"

"I’m just fine, Master Skywalker. It’s good to see you too," the young man respectfully replied, shaking Luke’s hand and looking strangely self-conscious.

"Come on, Vaughan!" Luke burst out laughing. "How many times have we flown together? Don’t let all this Jedi mystique inhibit you. I’m still the same. If you call me Master Skywalker I turn about, looking for my father."

Reassured by Luke’s easygoing charm, Vaughan smiled, feeling immediately more at ease.

"I heard that you’re going to Veltra to witness their new government’s take-over."

"That’s right," Luke confirmed to him, holding back a smile. The same old Vaughan, always straight to the point.

Taking a deep breath, Vaughan straightened up, plucking up his courage to make his request.

"I’d like to ask permission to accompany you."

Luke’s eyes opened wide.

"Why?" he asked.

The young man’s features twisted for a second in a searing expression of pain and guilt that was all too familiar.

"I bombarded the capital when I was allied with the Empire." He swallowed the lump in his throat. "I took hundreds, thousands of innocent lives." He met Luke’s eyes, torment and remorse plaguing his own. "I need to be there and beg their forgiveness. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t. If they want to judge me, I’ll willingly surrender myself to their authorities."

Luke’s gaze softened.

"All war criminals have been judged and convicted already, my friend. We all took innocent lives. That is what war is about. Killing, murdering, destroying. The President enacted a universal pardon for all those who repented of their crimes, and that includes us."

The fact that Luke counted himself as a war criminal moved Vaughan to his very core, and he looked away, feeling terribly unworthy. Next to that man, he was nothing.

Then, he felt a hand on his shoulder.

"I will be honoured to have you accompany me. I understand your need to ask forgiveness. That gesture does you credit," Luke smiled fondly.

"Thank you," Vaughan managed to utter, holding back tears, feeling as if the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders.

Luke just shook his head.

"Hurry up now and pack your things. We’ll be leaving in two hours." He smiled playfully, the way he used to do when encouraging his squadron before going into battle.

A big smile spread across Vaughan’s features.

"Yes, sir!" he exclaimed, turning about and leaving Luke’s quarters at the double.


Luke’s mission to Veltra might have looked simple and uncomplicated, but it turned out to be emotionally devastating for all those involved.

The government’s take-over was especially emotive, with the new President’s heartfelt remembrance of all those who hadn’t made it that day, and all those whose lives had been marked forever as a consequence of the merciless bombing.

It had been agreed beforehand that Vaughan would deliver a short speech the young man had written. With a trembling but unfaltering voice and a broken heart, Vaughan courageously read the most moving declaration Luke had ever heard. He begged forgiveness of all those he had killed, their families and friends. Then, in a totally spontaneous gesture, he faced the survivors present in the Chamber and Veltra’s government, and offered them his very life to do with as they pleased.

The young Jedi could hardly hold back the tears when Veltra’s President stood up, turned to Vaughan and enfolded him in his arms, in an embrace that truly embodied the forgiveness that would be the basis for all of them to begin their healing. Together.

The deeply felt ovation that accompanied the embrace was interrupted by Anakin’s sudden irruption in the Chamber.

Luke stared at his father open-mouthed, unable to believe his eyes. Anakin had said goodbye to him on the landing platform and wished him luck, as was becoming their custom. His presence there was completely unexpected.

Dressed in a combination of Jedi robes and Vice-Presidential clothes, that clearly indicated he was representing both sides of himself, Anakin walked up to the stand where Vaughan, Luke and Veltra’s government stood. He placed his hand on Vaughan’s shoulder meaningfully and with a respectful bow of his head, he addressed the Chamber. The whispers and soft exclamations of astonishment slowly died down.

"Mr. President, members of the Government, gentlebeings," he began. "I apologize for my abrupt appearance here today." He briefly met Luke’s eyes, and the young man immediately realized his father was trying to summon up his courage to go on. Not having the slightest idea what Anakin was up to, Luke sent all his love and support. Anakin’s eyes softened and he faced the audience that looked at him, still in shock. "When I was informed of Commander Worthwing’s intentions, I knew I could do no less, for my crimes against this galaxy are countless." He swallowed hard, took a deep breath and continued. "This ceremony is a homage to your courage, a testimony to your integrity and your capacity to move on, despite everything the Empire subjected you to." He straightened up and his bright blue eyes encompassed them all. "As the former Commander of the Imperial Fleet, I am responsible for every life that was taken here that fateful day. I am responsible for every orphan, widowed and maimed citizen of Veltra’s capital." His eyes reddened helplessly, but Anakin firmly held his emotions in check. "I cannot bring back the dead. I can’t take your pain away. Nothing I can possibly say or do will ever erase the massive damage and destruction myself and the Empire caused you." He bit his lower lip and reached out to every single being in that chamber with everything he was, and everything he had. "I can only beg your forgiveness and hope that you allow me to try and make up for all the atrocites I committed. I promise, on my honour as a Jedi and father of my children, that I will serve you, and every being in this galaxy, with my very life; and I will be ready to give it up for any of you, with no hesitation, anytime, anywhere and anyhow."

With another respectful bow of his head, Anakin stepped back, his hands crossed in front of him, suddenly looking so singled out and isolated that Luke could hardly restrain himself from walking up to his father and wrapping him in his arms.

The young Jedi’s every pore could feel his father’s infinite repentance, and he prayed with all his heart for Veltra’s people to feel it, too, because Anakin’s future depended on how Veltrans took his appearance here today, on this his first venture off Coruscant. If they rejected him, his days as Vice-President of the New Republic would be numbered. Even more, his father’s chances of redeeming himself would be thwarted before even starting.

There was so much at stake all at once, that Luke felt momentarily light-headed with fear and trepidation. He fixed his eyes on his father, sending him all his positive thoughts and all his hope. There was nothing else he could do. His love was all he had to give.

And something in the soft tremor that shook Anakin from head to foot, told him he had felt it all.

Luke fleetingly wondered if there would ever come a time when he wouldn’t admire his father more and more with each passing day. He strongly doubted it.

The silence stretched for seemingly endless moments, and Luke felt like screaming. But then, somewhere in the back corner of the Chamber, someone began applauding, almost timidly. And that seemed to be the cue for people to shake themselves out of their stupor. Seconds later, the Chamber was shaking with the thunderous applause that truly marked the beginning of the former Darth Vader’s redemption.

Anakin couldn’t believe it. He watched the people he had ordered to be massacred two years ago rising to their feet and giving him a standing ovation, absolving him of his heinous crimes. He didn’t know what kept him from collapsing, but if only to honour that miraculous display of forgiveness, he would stand, for as long as it took. He paid no attention to the tears that streamed silently down his cheeks that made Veltra’s people redouble their efforts.

Veltra’s President approached Anakin and reached out his hand. Anakin took it in his own and the President shook it between both of his, emotion evident on his face. They bowed to each other respectfully and turned to their audience, still holding hands.

Luke looked down, losing the battle with his own tears. There was hope for them all. Blessed the Force, there was hope!


Veltra’s capital was one of the most beautiful cities Luke had ever seen. Most of it was brand new and whoever their architects were, they had impeccable taste. Tall buildings blended with gardens beautifully. There were wide sidewalks and open spaces everywhere, and still, they had found a way for vehicles to pass unhindered. Everything was full of light and exuded peace and calm, despite the hundreds of people walking up and down the quite busy streets.

Veltra’s President had insisted on accompanying them for a brief tour of the most relevant parts of the city, to show them what they had accomplished and how proud they were of their achievements.

Luke and Anakin didn’t stint their heartfelt praises for Veltra’s citizens and Government. It was indeed an effort to be proud of, that said it all about Veltrans as a people.

Walking a few steps behind them, Han, Chewie, Lando and Vaughan also admired the city. Scattered here and there, droids controlled the traffic, tended the bushes, trees and lawns, and advertised sales and shows taking place in the capital’s theatres.

The happy group ventured into one of the most important parks of the city. It was divided in green areas for children to play with their toys safely, and a central recreation area full of slides, swings and other simple gear for children to enjoy themselves.

It was a bright and sunny day and the park was packed with families that had taken their little ones to have a good time there.

Anakin watched poignantly the children playing there surrounded by their parents, envying the grown-ups their chance of playing with their children, taking care of them, seeing them grow, safe and certain of the love of their parents.

He couldn’t go any further with his thoughts, because a coloured ball hit him squarely on the head. It didn’t hurt him because it was very light, the kind of ball for a small child to play with. He bent down and picked it up as hurried footsteps approached him. A little girl who couldn’t be more than six years old ran up to him. She had dark brown hair tied up in a ponytail, and almost black eyes. Anakin’s heart ached, because he couldn’t help but picture Leia at that age.

"I’m sorry I hit you, sir," the little girl said, looking very contrite and blushing to the roots of her hair.

"It’s all right," Anakin shook his head with a smile. He squatted down and gave her back the ball, studying her fondly. She took it in her tiny hands and blinked, puzzled by his close scrutiny.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked, her blushing deepening even more.

"Because you remind me a lot of my own daughter," Anakin replied, unable to prevent a hint of sadness in his voice. "She’s got brown hair and dark eyes, just like you."

The little girl seemed to pick up the undercurrents of sadness and regret in his accent.

"And why are you so sad? Is she dead like my brother? He died in the bombings two years ago, you know?" her voice started fading away from the mention of her brother, as if she was used to talking very quietly about certain subjects.

The searing pain in his chest made Anakin close his eyes and take a deep breath through his nose. It was unbearable. Being face to face with the consequences of the evil he had done. He couldn’t stand it. But he had to. If he had been capable of ordering the deaths of so many people, he had to be capable of facing the aftermath of his actions.

It was obscene, listening to a little girl talk about bombings and death and a suffering so deep. And yet, he had brought this to her. Him!

"What’s your name?" he suddenly found himself asking.

"Kara," the child answered shyly, looking down.

Anakin placed a finger under her chin and softly forced her to meet his eyes. The eyes of her brother’s murderer.

"No, Kara. My daughter is not dead, but I couldn’t be with her when she was a little girl like you. I missed all the years she was a child. And my son’s, too." His eyes began misting.

"Why? Where were you?" The little girl seemed a bit confused by Anakin’s words. In her mind, parents and children belonged together. The notion that a child could grow up apart from their parents was too scary to contemplate.

Anakin looked away, trying to find a way to explain the inexplicable.

"I was allied with the Empire, ordering the destruction of this city," he finally managed to utter, braving the innocent gaze that silently accused him with its purity.

Kara stiffened, as the implications of Anakin’s words became clear to her.

"You... You did it?" She paled visibly and moved back a step.

Anakin nodded, fighting the impulse to take off running and not to stop until he collapsed under the weight of his crimes.


There it was. The question that no one could answer. Anakin least of all. But how to explain that to a child who had only known death and loss since so early an age, because of him? Besides, what was there to explain? His actions spoke for themselves.

"Because I was evil," he choked on his words, unable to hold on any more. But then, an unmistakable hand settled on his shoulder and squeezed it passionately, conveying so much love and fervent support he disgusted himself. He couldn’t deserve the touch of his son’s hand. The hand he had severed.

Yet, something inside him clung desperately to the love and absolution that touch offered. He reached up and grasped the bionic hand on his shoulder, interlacing his fingers with it.

The little girl watched the two men’s wordless exchange, soaking up the love they exuded.

"He’s your son," she stated, seeing it with her heart more than with her eyes.

Luke smiled down at her tenderly and nodded, too moved to speak.

Kara studied Anakin’s features. She was in front of the man responsible for her brother’s death, responsible for her family’s pain and the pain of her neighbours. Feelings too powerful and complex for her to understand, twirled inside her in a rising tide. But on looking into Anakin’s infinitely sad and tormented eyes, she couldn’t find it in her to hate him or get angry at him. She didn’t know why. She tried to dig deeper, struggling to understand...

"You’re not evil anymore. You’re very sorry you did it," she said, reading Anakin like an open book.

Anakin let out an agonizing sound, looking away again, unable to bear the intensity of those sweet, warm eyes that regarded him with no trace of malice or hatred, even after knowing he was responsible for something that no one would ever be able to heal. And he prayed for those beautiful eyes to never be touched by those ugly feelings, because that would mean that their innocence would be gone for good.

He was taken completely off guard when a pair of little arms wrapped themselves around his neck and soft lips kissed his cheek. Gasping, he held on to the tiny body and looked into the child’s eyes when she moved back and met his gaze, a puzzled expression on her face. She seemed as surprised as Anakin by what she had just done.

"Why did you do it?" Anakin asked her.

The little girl shrugged.

"You looked like you needed it," she simply said, a hopeful smile appearing on her face for the first time.

Anakin closed his eyes, totally at a loss to understand why Fates were being so lenient with him. He reached out and cupped the lovely face in his quivering palm, speechless.

Out of all those present, only Vaughan could understand what Anakin was going through, what he was feeling and how terribly hard it was. So hard that he had attempted to take his own life, desperate to find merciful oblivion in death, before living one more day with the burden of being alive when so many were dead because of him.

In an eerie way, he felt as if that child was absolving him too with that kiss, proving to him that real forgiveness was truly possible. But what he was seeing in Anakin’s eyes was too familiar, it hit too close for the young man to bear. He had to look away.

Vaughan looked up at the bright blue sky and took a deep breath, filling his lungs with much needed air. It was clean and fresh. He let the sunshine fall on his face and warm his chilled body. His eyes then roamed the streets surrounding them, drinking in the life unfolding around them.

He took in the vehicles speeding past the park; the pedestrians walking up and down the streets, minding their own business or engaged in animated conversations; the children playing on the lawns and in the recreation areas, closely watched by their elders; the traffic and gardener droids abandoning their posts and approaching the park...

Something in the droids’ suddenly coordinated movements made Vaughan prick up his ears. It made no sense, and it was a dangerous move in the traffic droids’ case, because on leaving their duties unattended, speeders could crash into each other in intersections.

The young man looked around him, realizing the droids had created a perimeter around the area of the park where they were. In unison, they opened a hatch on their bellies and drew out... blasters?

"LOOK OUT!" He cried out instinctively. "Get down!" he ordered without thinking, drawing out his own blaster.

And then, hell broke loose.

Blaster fire filled the park in a millisecond, before most people had time to react.

Reacting like a well-oiled machine, Anakin and Luke threw themselves to the ground, Anakin covering Kara with his own body. Han, Lando and Chewie responded like perfect bodyguards and covered Veltra’s President and his small entourage, while drawing out their own blasters and beginning to repel the surprise attack.

‘The civilians!’ Anakin thought desperately. The civilians were always the first to die, because they were untrained in situations like this. It was paramount to protect all the children and their families who had come down to that park to have a good time with each other, and were totally helpless to defend themselves now.

Knowing that the specially equipped team that Mon Mothma had assigned to protect them had to be only a few seconds away, but maybe a few seconds too late to help them, the older Jedi began crying out orders.

"Han, Lando, Chewie! Take the President to safety! We’ll hang on in here!"

"No way, your Excellency!" Han immediately shot back, pushing the President and his entourage to a nearby tree. "There’d be only the two of you!"

"The President’s safety comes first. Do it!" Luke joined in, drawing out his lightsaber and beginning to deflect the fire.

"Don’t you know me by now, kid?" Han yelled above the deafening sound. "Besides, the moment we leave here, we’ll be sitting ducks," he grumbled.

Just then, a dozen heavily armed guards arrived, and created a wider perimeter around those ambushed.

"The cavalry!" Lando announced, blowing up a droid directly in front of them. "How timely!"

"For once. So, what do you say?" Han asked him.

"I say we hand over the President and his people to them and go help those two heroes," Lando yelled, nodding in Luke and Anakin’s direction.

"My thoughts exactly, buddy," Han replied, blowing up another droid. He took cover behind the tree trunk when a blaster shot missed his nose by five centimetres.

Anakin couldn’t draw out his lightsaber because Kara was lying on it. The child was paralysed by fear, trembling under him.

"Don’t move and hold on to me, Kara, all right?" Anakin whispered to her.

The little girl nodded and her little hands grabbed his robe, clinging to it for dear life.

Anakin looked up and absorbed everything that was happening at a glance. Luke stood beside him, deflecting blaster bolts like a maniac, and at the same time barking orders at the security team.

"Protect the civilians in the park!" he cried out. "Get them out of here! We’ll manage!"

Freer now that half a dozen guards were taking Veltra’s President and his entourage to a building close by, Lando, Han and Chewie concentrated their efforts on covering Luke and Anakin. The fact that the droids paid no attention whatsoever to the team protecting the President, made it obvious they were their intended target. Han communicated his intentions to Chewie and Lando with just a look, and the three of them continued blowing up droids from different angles. The more they blasted the more there seemed to be.

"We’ve got to get to them!" Lando yelled, frustration evident in his voice. "They’re in the open!"

"Any suggestions?" Han asked.

"Got any hand-grenades, by any chance?"

"Bad luck!" Han retorted.

"Typical!" Lando muttered, blowing up yet another droid.

Anakin and Luke had already surmised that the droids were after them, not after Veltra’s President or the civilian population. The security team had split up and most of them were evacuating all the men, women and children from the park, careful of the crossfire. The rest had stayed, protecting the Peace party.

"We’ve got to get out of here, Father. I won’t be able to hold them off much longer," Luke warned Anakin, deflecting the relentless fire with increasing difficulty.

Anakin cursed his inability to back up his son. But he didn’t dare to stand up, because that would leave Kara unprotected.

"Help your son, help your son!" a terrified and muffled voice reached his ears amongst the deafening noise.

Anakin met Kara’s eyes. The child was clinging to him for all she was worth, but in her frightened dark eyes, he saw a fierce resolution rising. Instinctively, Anakin knew where that awesome courage came from. She didn’t want him to experience what herself and her parents were going through.

"Help him. Help him!" the little girl ordered. For a second, she looked older than her years. And her courage infused Anakin’s heart with a savage determination.

"All right, Kara. But you’ve got to help me with it. We have to do this together. At the count of three, okay?" He tried to sound cheeky and casual, knowing it would calm her fear, if only a little bit. "You hold on to me when we stand up. My son and I will protect you."

The child nodded, looking deep into his eyes one last and intense moment.

Anakin closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

‘Luke,’ he called through the Force.

‘Yes?’ Luke’s reply was immediate.

‘Let me be your partner now?’ Anakin asked meaningfully, knowing his son would understand.

‘Always and forever,’ came the exultant answer.

With his soul bursting with all the love he had inside, Anakin turned now to the child in his arms.

"All right, little lady. One... Two... Three!" he cried out.

The two stood up at once, as if they had rehearsed that movement for years. Instantly, Luke and Anakin met back to back, keeping the child safely sandwiched between them.

Unhindered now, Anakin’s lightsaber flew up to his hand, igniting halfway.

‘Try to deflect the bolts back to the source. That way, we’ll use their shots against them,’ Anakin instructed.

‘Yes, Master,’ came Luke’s reply, full of love and admiration for his father’s quick and clever thinking.

It took a while until they sharpened their aim, but soon enough, more and more droids fell to the ground, disabled.

When it seemed they were turning the tables in their favour, the unexpected happened. A woman began crying out, escaped the guard who was dragging her along, and took off running towards them recklessly. At first, no one could make out what she was saying, until she was close enough for her screaming to be heard above the mayhem.

"Kara! No! Kara!"

The little girl put out her head between Luke and Anakin’s bodies and saw her mother running toward them. The woman was a perfect target for any deflected bolt to hit her or be caught in the crossfire.

"Mommy! Mommy!" Kara cried out, beginning to squirm, trying to free herself.

"No, Kara! Don’t move!" Anakin yelled, pressing himself back against her, trapping her small body between his and Luke’s even harder. He felt his son pressing back, too.

But somehow, Kara slipped from their joint pressure and set off running toward her mother.

Without stopping to think, Anakin hurled himself at her and brought them both to the ground as he felt a burning, searing pain in the back of his right shoulder. Grinding his teeth against the pain, he saw in abject horror how the screaming woman got hit too and collapsed like a puppet when they cut its strings.

"MOMMY!! MOMMY!!!!" Kara cried out, fighting Anakin with all the strength her tiny body could muster.

In the midst of the child’s endless screaming, Anakin suddenly noticed everything was silent around them. With his heart hammering against his ribs, he dared to look up. The remaining droids had stopped firing and they stood frozen, with their arms hanging at their sides and their blasters on the ground beside them.

Tentatively, everybody abandoned their cover behind tree trunks and bushes. Luke reached out to his dizzy father. The young man was shaking now that everything was over, and the hole on his father’s back only rattled him more. He squeezed Anakin’s arm, as the shock of what had just happened, settled in.

Anakin rose to his feet slowly, holding Kara in his arms despite the pain. The child was almost catatonic now, her eyes fixed on her mother’s fallen body twenty metres away.

Han, Chewie and Lando surrounded their friends and the little girl, squeezing each other’s arms and shoulders, reassuring themselves of their unharmed state.

"You okay, kid?" Han asked Luke, grabbing his friends’s forearm.

Luke was deathly pale, but otherwise whole. He nodded.

"Anakin?" The Corellian made a grimace at the nasty wound on the back of the Jedi’s shoulder.

Anakin looked at him and nodded sharply. The pain was more than evident on his face. But it wasn’t only physical pain. He couldn’t stop looking at Kara’s mother, lying face down on the ground.

This attack had been against them. Maybe even against him alone. If he hadn’t been here today, this family wouldn’t have lost another member because of him. His body started trembling in shock.

Then, Kara began chanting. A soft murmur, devoid of any hope and full of infinite anguish.

"Mommy. Mommy. Mommymommymommy..." her despaired moaning was more than Anakin could bear.

"Don’t cry, Kara. Your mommy’s all right," a young voice reassured them all.

Everybody turned and saw Vaughan walking up to them, with a blaster in his right hand and some sort of device in the left.

"Vaughan!" Luke exclaimed, without relinquishing his hold on his father’s arm. "What do you mean?" he asked.

Vaughan shrugged apologetically.

"When I saw her running up to you, I knew she was an easy target, so I did the only thing I could think of," he brought up his right hand, "I shot her myself in the leg to bring her down and move her out of the crossfire. She must be unconscious."

A stunned silence fell on them all, as they digested Vaughan’s words. Then, as one, the group hurried to the woman’s side. Luke kneeled down beside her and touched her temples with one hand. A second later, he sighed out loud and turned to his friends with a vastly relieved smile on his face.

"She’s alive," he announced.

Anakin fell to his knees by the woman’s body, and softly put Kara down. The little girl took her mother’s hand.

"Mommy? Mommy!" She shook the unresponsive hand.

"Let me," Anakin smiled down at her. After Han and Lando softly turned the child’s mother on her back, he reached out and placed his palm on the woman’s forehead. A few seconds later, she began to stir.

Anakin withdrew his hand and allowed the woman to come round on her own, which she promptly did. She looked up at all the people bending over her and a dazed expression crossed her features.

"Mommy!!" Kara cried out, throwing herself at her mother and wrapping her arms around her neck.

The woman’s arms returned the embrace instinctively, until her memory returned and she remembered what had happened a few minutes before.

"Kara! Oh, my goodness, Kara! My baby!" Tears streamed down her face, as she crushed the tiny body to her.

No one said anything and they looked away respectfully, not wanting to intrude on the private moment between mother and daughter. When the two calmed down just enough to let go a little and verify they were alive, the woman let out a moan of pain, reaching down to her left calf. Her hand came up stained with dried blood.

"I’m sorry I had to shoot you," Vaughan apologized, offering the woman a handkerchief he carried in a pocket. "But you could have easily been killed by the crossfire or any deflected blaster bolt."

The woman was trembling, shaken by the whole experience, but she managed to remain calm. She took the proffered hanky and applied it to the wound.

"You did right," she excused the young man. She looked up at him and smiled tremulously. "It was a stupid thing to do. I put Kara in danger. She was safer with you." Her eyes shifted from Vaughan to Luke and Anakin. "If she had..."

"It’s all right." Anakin placed his hand on the woman’s wrist, not wanting her to wallow in the guilt he knew she was feeling. "I am a parent too, and as far as our children’s safety is concerned, we just can’t think rationally."

The woman smiled sadly, understanding Anakin only too well.

Noises began filling the air, as Veltra’s security forces and sanitary services arrived and took charge of the situation.

Kara’s mother held Anakin’s hand first and Luke’s second.

"Thank you for saving my daughter. I will never be able to..." she choked on her words. "I can’t..." she tried again, losing the battle with her tears.

Kara clung to her mother’s neck, crying softly, and the woman hugged her child to her, helpless to express her gratitude.

"This is our reward. This is all we need," Luke answered for all of them, stroking the top of the child’s head affectionately, looking deep into the mother’s eyes.

The woman closed her eyes and nodded, seeing the truth in the young Jedi’s sweet blue eyes.

A couple orderlies arrived out of nowhere, placed the woman and the child clinging to her on a floating stretcher, and took them away.

The terribly moved group watched as the two women disappeared from their sight. Then, shaken to the core, they turned to each other unable to say a word, still trying to grasp everything that had transpired.

"W-what happened? Why did they stop firing at us?" Lando asked at last in a trembling voice, looking at the inexplicably immobilized droids.

Vaughan brought up the device he still carried in his left hand.

"What’s that?" Han asked.

"A jamming device," Vaughan explained. "When I saw the amount of droids attacking us, I knew we couldn’t possibly destroy them all. Then, I remembered that Veltra’s Defense Department was only two blocks away. So I hurried there and asked them for a jamming device." He nodded in the droids’ direction. "I simply discharged their batteries," he smiled impishly.

The silence stretched for so long that Vaughan looked at his friends, in confusion. They were staring at him as if he had just grown another head.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Do your parents still live?" Anakin finally asked.

"Yes. Why?" Vaughan’s eyebrows arched, in puzzlement.

"Because if they didn’t, I’d adopt you."

Anakin’s extravagant praise shook everybody out of their collective stupor, and they burst out laughing in sheer relief, patting Vaughan’s back and congratulating him riotously.


Luke walked down the main corridor of the medical centre where all the wounded people in the ambush on the park had been taken a few hours ago. Considering the massacre it could have turned out to be, the actual number of casualties was a true miracle. Three dead – one of the members of their security team and two citizens of Veltra, husband and wife, who left two orphan children – and 36 wounded, 6 of them in critical condition.

The young man had been battling his instinct of healing them all. But he knew only too well that as soon as his healing gift was discovered, his life would change for good. With so many billions of beings sick and suffering all over the galaxy, he’d spend his existence going from one planet to the next, healing; which added to his duties as a Jedi, Captain of the Fleet and member of the Government... no being could lead such a life. Still, he felt torn, because should any of the wounded die, he’d feel horribly guilty.

He needed some answers, he needed guidance.

He needed his father.

Walking past the busy doctors and nurses, the young man entered his father’s room. It was empty.

"Excuse me, sir" a robot-nurse told him when she saw him walking out of the room with a perplexed expression on his face. "Are you looking for the man occupying that room?"

"Yes, I am," Luke nodded.

"He’s visiting the woman they brought here first and her daughter. They’re one floor up, room 515."

"Thank you," Luke smiled kindly, berating himself for his stupidity. He could have followed his mind-link with his father in the first place. It was a testimony to his current state of mind that he had totally forgotten about it.

With a sigh, Luke climbed up the stairs leading to the next floor. The medical centre looked brand new, as did most of the city, and it was as homey and comfortable as such a place could be. It showed everyone involved had taken the utmost care to make it look like a place where people came to be healed and get better.

He was so lost in his musings that his feet surprised him when they stopped walking right in front of door 515.

Luke buzzed softly for entrance and the door immediately opened. The sight that greeted his eyes was so heart-warming that the young man couldn’t help but smile. Kara’s mother was holding his father’s hand between both of hers in a gesture that said it all. Both of them looked so moved that Luke had to look away. He could guess what had happened there, and his heart swelled in his chest with joy.

"Luke! Hello, Luke!!" A child’s voice greeted him, and a blur dashed for him.

Opening his arms automatically, Luke let out an exclamation when Kara jumped at him and flung her arms around his neck, hugging him enthusiastically.

"Ouch! Hello, Kara!" he greeted back happily. "It’s good to see you again."

The little girl pecked his cheek with a giggle and Luke pretended to blush as he approached the bed.

"Good evening, ma’am," he politely greeted the woman in it.

"Rayka, please," Kara’s mother told him with a sweet smile, wiping away a tear furtively.

"Rayka," Luke smiled back, stopping next to his father’s chair by the bed. "How’re you feeling?"

"As good as new," the woman replied cheerfully. "My calf hurt like hell at first, but with the painkillers I don’t feel a thing right now. That young man shot me in the place where he was likely to cause least damage to my leg. Doctors say I’ll heal soon."

"Vaughan’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever met, and he can remain calm in almost any situation. Bless the Force for his quick thinking." Luke felt all of them were in Vaughan’s debt after what he had pulled today.

"Indeed," Rayka nodded earnestly. "He was here an hour ago, apologizing again for shooting me. I told him I’d rather limp for the rest of my life than miss a second of my daughter’s life." She looked at Anakin and smiled meaningfully.

Anakin smiled back, a bit shaken. Rayka reached out and squeezed the Jedi’s hand again.

"Did your father really cut off your hand?" Kara asked Luke out of the blue.

"Kara!" Her mother chastised her daughter, shocked at the child’s question.

"It’s all right," Luke said calmly, looking not in the least upset by the little girl’s bluntness. He put Kara on the floor and kneeled down in front of her, at eye-level. "Yes, he did," he just admitted, looking deep into the girl’s eyes. "He was lost by then. And angry. He lived in a black, dark tunnel, and he didn’t know how to get out. He didn’t even know there was a way out."

"And you’re not angry with him for what he did to you?" Kara asked innocently, her eyes shining with unusual intensity.

"I was, for some time," Luke confessed. "I didn’t understand how could a father want to hurt his child, no matter how angry and full of hatred he was." He closed his eyes momentarily, remembering that time of madness and pain. "But then, I realized there was a way to help him and help myself out of that dead end."

"What way?" Kara’s eyes opened wide in anticipation.

Luke smiled softly. "Love. I only had to love him with all my heart. Love him so much and so hard that he had no choice but love me back." Luke’s misted eyes turned to his father, who looked at him biting his lips, tears beginning to roll down his face. He met Kara’s eyes again, grinning in delight. "And it turned out he already loved me, he always had. But he had buried that love so deep inside him that he had forgotten it was there." He swallowed the lump in his throat. "We helped each other, and we found out love is the only answer. Love and forgiveness are the most powerful forces in the Universe. They give true peace to the soul." He reached out and framed his father’s cheek in his hand, wiping the tears away.

Anakin could only smile weakly at his child, speechless, snuggling his cheek up to the warm palm. Praying that his son could see his heart full of love, and understand what he couldn’t verbalize.

And Luke smiled back, tilting his head to one side endearingly.

Unnoticed by the two men, Rayka nodded to herself and reached out to her daughter, who promptly climbed the bed and cuddled up against her.

"And sometimes, some of us only need to hear the right words to open our hearts and let go of our hatred as well," she muttered out loud, her fingers combing through her daughter’s hair, in a soothing motion. "It’s easier when there is peace inside; there’s no greater truth." Her hand halted her rhythmic movements and reached out to Luke.

The young Jedi held it in his own and rose to his feet. Anakin stood up, too.

"Thank you, for everything. I..." Rayka was beyond words.

Luke placed his other hand on top of Rayka’s reassuringly, and then blinked, looking down at her body. He made a weird face.

"What is it?" Rayka asked, curiously.

"C-could you... could you please lie down?" he asked, rubbing his forehead with his fingertips, trying to clear his thoughts and reach out with his feelings, as he had been taught.

"Sure," Rayka obeyed.

Luke grabbed the bedcovers.

"May I?" he asked.

The woman nodded, and Luke pulled back the sheets. Then, he put out his hands, palms down, and began moving them up and down, a few centimetres above her body, as if scanning it. They stopped right above her stomach.

"Have you... Have you felt anything strange about your stomach lately?" he asked.

"Well, now that you mention it..." Rayka’s eyebrows skyrocketed. "I feel as if my digestions took longer than they used to, and my stomach feels like... as if it burned sometimes, and I feel slightly nauseous every time I eat spicy foods. I guess it’s just acidity. Why?"

"Excuse me." Luke placed his palms on the woman’s stomach then, and a small shudder ran up and down his body. He closed his eyes and concentrated.

Rayka frowned when a strange tingling sensation began in the pit of her stomach and spread all over her abdomen. A few seconds later, she smiled, feeling vaguely euphoric, not knowing why.

"W-what are you doing?"

Luke’s eyes opened, a bit unfocused, but he blinked a couple times and the spark returned to them.

"Should you feel that acidity returning, give me a call," he cracked, imitating the voice of a broadcaster well-known across the galaxy.

They burst out laughing.

"Whatever you did, thank you," Rayka sat up and reached down to scratch her wounded calf. "Damn, it’s itching now," she commented.

Luke looked up at his father and Anakin shrugged, the twinkle in his eyes more than evident. Smiling back at him, the young man sat down on the bed and pointed at Rayka’s leg.

"May I again?"

"Of course," the woman nodded, expecting him to put his hands on her leg and make the itching stop. That’s why it puzzled her when he began untying the bandages, until he exposed the wound. It never crossed her mind to stop him, and she wondered offhand at her total trust in him. He placed his palms under her calf and closed his eyes again. The warm tingling didn’t take her by surprise this time.

As before, a few seconds later, he opened his eyes and moved his hands away.

There was no trace of the wound. None whatsoever.

Rayka and Kara looked at the healed leg, unable to believe what they were seeing. Finally, Rayka’s eyes looked up into Luke’s.

"I-I—I..." she couldn’t go on; she was too overwhelmed for words.

Luke smiled and shook his head.

"You healed mommy!" Kara exclaimed at last, exploding with joy and throwing her arms around Luke’s neck in a crushing hug. "Thank you, thank you!" She kissed his cheek time and again.

"It’s all right, Kara. It’s all right," Luke laughed, hugging the child back and messing her hair fondly. When they separated, he looked into the girl’s eyes. "I have a favour to ask you now," he dropped his voice, as if he was about to tell them a big secret.

"What favour?" Kara asked, dropping her voice instinctively, too.

"Please, don’t tell anyone about this," he got serious.

"Why?" the child asked, her eyes opening like two saucers.

"Because if people knew, his life would be a mess, Kara," Rayka explained to her daughter, immediately understanding Luke’s reasons. She began bandaging her healed calf, hiding the evidence of Luke’s powers. "The media would know, and they’d go after him, and he wouldn’t be able to go on healing people and living a normal life. Besides," she met Luke’s eyes with a smile full of admiration and respect, "he’d rather keep this a secret, so people won’t feel in his debt. He’s that generous."

Luke blushed to the roots of his hair and looked down.

"Do well and dread no shame?" Kara summed it up perfectly.

"That’s right, baby," Rayka hugged her daughter and kissed the top of her head.

"Okay, I won’t tell," the child promised. "I hope I can keep my mouth shut. Sometimes, I get so excited that I can’t help it, you know?" She looked down, feeling very self-conscious.

Luke laughed softly.

"I know how it is," he confessed. "When I was even shorter than I am now, I had the same problem." He bent down and kissed the little girl’s forehead. "Take care, brave Kara. And take care of your mommy, too."

"I will," she promised him, her sweet face lighting up.

The young man reached out his hand to Rayka, who took it between both of hers and squeezed it.

"Thank you, so much," she said, her voice betraying her emotion.

"You’re welcome. Any time," Luke smiled and winked at her casually, letting go with a parting squeeze.

Anakin took Rayka’s hand in his and held it intensely, his mind reliving their devastating conversation of a few minutes before. He had been terrified, but he owed it to her. He owed it to every single being in the galaxy whose life had been affected by his decisions, or decided firsthand by his crimes. It had been unbearable, and ultimately, the most beautiful lesson in forgiveness and compassion. For both.

Rayka’s eyes met his and Anakin felt blessed by their selfless gift of absolution and peace. His eyes filled again.

"You’ve got an angel," she whispered to him, looking at Luke, who was heading for the door, giving them the privacy they needed to say goodbye to each other properly.

Anakin looked at his son’s retreating back, and all of him seemed to illuminate from within as he looked back at Rayka.

"He is an angel. My guardian angel. So much like his mother." A shadow of infinite sadness and pain crossed his features.

A warm hand on his shoulder brought him out of his memories.

"And his father, too. A fallen angel redeemed by the love of his son." Rayka felt a lump forming in her throat.

Anakin let out a strangled sound, too moved to say anything that could convey all the feelings choking him.

But sometimes, there was no need for words. Sometimes, the eyes said it all; as just now.

Nodding to each other one last time, Anakin shifted his gaze to Kara and with a smile, he bent down and kissed the top of her head. Kara flung her arms around his torso and buried her face in his chest, hugging him as completely as only a child could. Anakin returned the embrace tenfold, immediately thinking about Leia and daring to make a wish. When they let go, he found the presence of mind to speak.

"Bless you."

And then, he rushed to join his son and the two left, after looking back one final time by the doorway.


The walk back to Anakin’s room was made in silence, occasionally broken by soft, meaningful touches when their arms brushed against each other as they walked.

When they reached Anakin’s door, the older Jedi turned to his son with a soft, knowing smile on his face.

"It wasn’t ‘acidity’, was it?" he stated more than asked.

Luke got serious and shook his head, unable to help a sigh of relief.

"No," he said simply.

Anakin squeezed Luke’s upper arm, unthinkably relieved, too, and without saying another word, they entered the room. The big man flopped down on his bed, emotionally exhausted.

Luke sat down beside him, lost in thought.

"Any news by now?" Anakin’s voice was clipped.

"Han, Lando and Chewie are due to pick us up in an hour or so," Luke informed his father. "When I left them, they were contacting the President and the emergency cabinet, and giving them a brief account of what happened." He took a deep breath and continued. "Veltra’s Security Forces have got to finish their investigation on the site, and prepare a preliminary report we can take with us. Mon Mothma thinks we have to take immediate action and we need to gather all possible data first."

"In that case, there’s no time to lose." Anakin jumped to his feet and took off his robe. He opened the small closet by the bed and took out his already clean clothes.

Luke winced at the sight of the dressing covering the wound on his father’s back. The blaster bolt had hit the back of his shoulder at such an angle that it had caused severe damage and tearing of the flesh.

But Anakin seemed totally oblivious to it. He had withdrawn into himself, obviously brooding. His agitated state of mind swept Luke away like a wild sea.


His accent was enough to bring Anakin out of his gloomy mood. He turned to his child, his top in hand.

"Come here." Luke patted the bed and smiled his special smile, the one he reserved for his father only.

Drawn to the peace and warmth of his child’s aura like a moth to a flame, Anakin complied and sat down on the bed next to his son.

Luke moved up behind his father and placed his hands on his back, very gently. His fingers began to undress the wound.

"What are you doing?" Anakin asked, perplexed.

"What do you think I’m doing?" Luke asked back, in amusement. He couldn’t believe his father had forgotten about his healing gift. That in itself said it all about Anakin’s frame of mind.

"Oh!" Anakin remembered then.

Shaking his head fondly, Luke couldn’t help a grimace at the extent of the damage. Not knowing why, his eyes filled with tears. His father had been ready to die for that little girl. That notion both scared him to death and made him feel terribly proud.

He covered the wound with his palms and focused all his love on the torn tissues and burned flesh. He smiled to himself when he felt his father squirming a little.

"It’s true. It tingles," Anakin commented, a smile in his voice, too.

"That’s good to know," Luke replied. "That means I must be doing it right."

"You do everything right, Son," Anakin leaned back against his child’s strength. His agitation vanished as if by magic.

"Careful, or it’ll go to my head," Luke joked. But without looking, his father could feel him blushing.

"You’re a big head already," Anakin pursued the joke.

"You want me to heal you, don’t you?" the young man mock-threatened.

Anakin burst out laughing, delighted at their exchange.

"Yes, I do," he admitted.

"All right, there we go," Luke announced, moving his hands away. "As good as new!" And on impulse, he bent forward and kissed the healed area.

The gesture was so unexpected that Anakin froze for a second. Then, he turned about and looked at his son, who looked at him with the happiest expression on his face. The same expression that had lit up Anakin’s.

"Your grandmother used to do that for me when I was a child," he said, a dreamy quality in his voice.

"Aunt Beru did it for me, too," Luke smiled merrily.

Anakin reached out and messed up the blond hair thoroughly.

"We’re a pair of hopeless saps," he commented, triggering their laughter at the slang word.

Luke tried to comb through his hair with his fingers and then handed his father’s top to him.

As Anakin put on his top and his boots, Luke remained silent, studying his own boots, feeling the heavy mantle of his responsibilities falling on his shoulders again.

"And now that you patched me up, allow me to do the same for you, if I can?" Anakin entered his son’s field of vision, sitting on a small armchair right in front of him.

The young Jedi looked away, smiling sadly.

"I can’t hide anything from you, can I?" he asked, rhetorically.

"Do you want to?" Anakin asked back.

"Never!" The vehemence in Luke’s voice surprised them both. "It’s just that..." He sighed in defeat. "...I always seem to come up against some conflict between my Jedi powers, my obligations as a member of the Government and just plain time!" He pounded the mattress in sheer frustration.

"In what way?" Anakin edged closer instinctively. His son’s nearness was his light in the dark, and somehow, he seemed to have the same soothing effect on Luke. Damned if he knew why, but he did.

"This healing gift of mine..." Luke began with some difficulty, "...what’s the point of having it if...?"

"If?" Anakin prompted, edging even closer.

"There are six people in this building in critical condition. They could die any minute," Luke exploded at last. "There are lots of medical facilities on this planet with people dying or suffering. Millions of people across the galaxy..."

"And there’s only one of you," Anakin finished for him.

Luke met his father’s eyes and nodded, his misery plain to see.

"And what if my healing gift became known all over the galaxy? Can you imagine how much my life would change? My privacy, my... Force, I’d become a freak. I would..."

"Easy, easy, my child," Anakin reached out and placed his hand on his son’s shoulder. "Calm down," he squeezed lovingly.

"I’m scared, Father. This gift is too much for me to bear. I already feel guilty for all the things I’m not doing." Luke’s wide open eyes reflected how torn and divided he felt.

Anakin moved from the armchair to the bed and sat down beside his son. He wrapped his right arm around the young man’s shoulders and cuddled him. When Luke’s mind got all topsy-turvy like that, he awakened his mother-hen instinct with a vengeance.

"Take it easy, my boy. Take it easy." He shook the strong shoulder soothingly.

Luke took a deep breath, trying to relax, and sought his father’s warmth and the peace only he could give him when he got so rattled.

Anakin chuckled helplessly.

"You really should give your brain cells a break, Son, or they will short-circuit. I think I smell smoke already."

Luke laughed despite himself and pressed up closer to his father.

"You’re almost perfect, Luke. But I think this is your only flaw. You think too much." The older Jedi kissed the top of the blond head resting on his chest.

"Master Yoda said that, too," Luke commented. "I was always asking him the why of things. Why can I do this but I can’t do that? I was a handful."

"I bet you also made him grow a few more grey hairs than he already had."

The two laughed at that.

"I didn’t count them," Luke joked back.

"I doubt he would have let you."

The two remained silent for a minute, enjoying their closeness and basking in that moment of peaceful quiet, smiling softly.

"Look at me," Anakin said at last, placing his fingers under his son’s chin and raising it up until their eyes met. "You have an incredible gift, Luke, the gift of giving health and relief to those wounded or hurting. But wielding such power can also be a double-edged sword." He held in his palm the trusting face that looked at him with heartbreaking openness. "I can’t possibly understand what you’re going through, but I’m trying to imagine how it is. I wish I could offer you a way to cope and be happy with it, but I can only answer with my gut instinct."

"Help me, Father," Luke asked, in a way that shattered Anakin’s heart.

Anakin closed his eyes and prayed for his next words to be of any use for his child’s tortured mind. He opened them again and looked down into the crystal blue that had a direct line to his soul.

"Trust the Force, my son," he found himself replying. "We are Jedi, but we are human, not superhuman. We have to live healthy lives that keep our minds sane. Only then will we be able to help others. Outer and inner pressures are our worst enemies. Accept the fact that to help others, you must help yourself first. If you start living at the limit of your possibilities, travelling from one side of the galaxy to the other without sparing a thought for yourself or your own well-being, you’ll self-destruct."

Luke looked away, drinking in his father’s words, and seeing the wisdom in them.

"You wouldn’t have been given this gift if you weren’t destined to do your best with it. Use it wisely, but learn to ration it, no matter how much it hurts, because in the long run, it’ll pay off." Anakin made a sympathetic face. "You’re not all-powerful, only a limited man with a priceless gift. You just can’t help everybody. You’ll help those you’re destined to help; nothing more, nothing less."

Luke closed his eyes and let the words seep into his being.

"I’ve also been meaning to talk to you about this way of life you’ve been leading lately, Luke," Anakin continued, a bit cautiously now. "As soon as you’re back from a mission, you’re already taking off for the next. You’ll be able to endure this implacable rhythm for some time, but sooner or later, you’ll break down. A period of rest is advisable in between missions. You’re the only Jedi available, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to milk you until you fall apart. The Government should assess the number of missions they assign you, and not send you to right wrongs in every corner of the galaxy. In the Old Republic there were thousands of Jedi, so they could afford to send some of them to more ‘frivolous’ missions, so to speak. But there’s only one of us now and we should proceed more thoughtfully." He looked away, making up his mind. "We have to talk to Mon Mothma about it, although we have more important matters to take care of now." His voice lowered noticeably, conveying the seriousness of their actual problems.

Luke sobered instantly.

"You’re right. As usual, Father." He moved his head away from Anakin’s shoulder. "I can’t bring myself to think about what would I do if I didn’t have you by my side. You’re the voice of reason in my heart and my mind. You make everything simple when I only see problems and complications. Bless the Force I have you with me, to show me the way in this mess I have for a brain."

Anakin smiled fondly.

"Oh, I wouldn’t call it a mess. You get a little wound-up occasionally, and it’s my privilege to help you. Otherwise, I’d feel rather useless."

Luke eyed his father suspiciously, trying to ascertain if he was having him on. Sometimes, it was difficult to tell, especially when he put on that straight face. He decided Anakin was being serious about it.

"Don’t tell me. You got a little ‘wound-up’ just now, right?"

Anakin’s face broke into a loving smile.

"Caught!" He winked at his child impishly.

Shaking his head with a grin, Luke stood up, rearranged his clothes and headed for the door.

"Son," Anakin called, still sitting on the bed.

Luke turned around.

"Yes?" he asked.

"What about the six people in critical condition?"

"I was on my way to heal them," Luke replied, as if it was self-evident.

"You’re willing to risk being discovered? They’re likely to be monitored, you know."

"They risked their lives to protect us, Father. I couldn’t bear not helping them."

Anakin smiled sweetly.

"I’m not telling you not to heal them, Luke. But there are... other ways."

The look of sheer mischief on his father’s face immediately let Luke know that Anakin was up to something. He walked up to him. "What do you have in mind?" he asked, a smile already forming on his lips.

"Can you control your level of healing?" Anakin began. "I mean, can you make it stop at a certain point, if you so wish?"

Luke thought about it.

"I think I can," he nodded. "I only have to move my hands away before feeling that the process has been completed."

"In that case," Anakin smiled, "you can put your hands on them in an apparently comforting gesture, and strenghten their systems so they can fight their wounds on their own. Just get them out of their critical condition. That way, no doctor will suspect that you had anything to do with it." He made a short pause and shrugged. "What do you think?" he asked.

Luke stared at his father, his mouth hanging open. It took him some time to react, so blown away he was.

"Father, you’re a GENIUS!!" he exploded at last, throwing his arms around Anakin and hugging him enthusiastically. When he moved back, he grabbed his father’s shoulders. "Where did you learn to be so sneaky?"

Anakin chuckled.

"I must be catching your tendency to sit on the fence," he joked, unashamedly.

Luke punched his father’s shoulder in mock-indignation.

"I’ll take that as a compliment," he said, recovering quickly.

Anakin laughed out loud and stood up.

Shoulder to shoulder, Father and Son left the room.


The Peace party greeted the small delegation that had just arrived to say good-bye to them, Veltra’s President at the head of it.

"I want to thank you once more for saving my life and the lives of my entourage," he said. "We will be forever in your debt. Please, count on our total cooperation." He reached out his hand to Anakin, who took it in his own and shook it warmly. "Our Security Forces will have a report for you shortly."

"Thank you, Mr. President." Anakin bowed his head respectfully. "We appreciate your assistance."

"And we appreciate your kindness in visiting our wounded. It was a gesture our people will never forget. All those in critical condition are already out of danger. I want you to know that before you leave."

"Thank you for letting us know, your Excellency. That’s the best farewell present you could possibly give us." Anakin did his best to hide his knowing smile.

"I wish you a safe flight home," the President told them. "The bravery you showed when you made your appearance at the ceremony has been a momentous breakthrough for the entire galaxy. And we are honoured to have been the first. Live in Peace, Anakin Skywalker." The President gave the older Jedi the holiest Veltran salute, his eyes conveying a genuine sincerity.

Moved beyond words by the unexpected gesture, Anakin didn’t know what to say. He opened his mouth but no sound came out of it.

"Live in Peace, Mr. President. You and your courageous people." Luke took over, stepping forward, repeating the salute and bowing his head, respectful of the true forgiveness his father had been given. His eyes conveyed the personal gratitude he felt for the priceless gift, and for what it meant to the man who had sired him.

They shook hands, and then the President addressed Lando, Han and Chewie and thanked them solemnly for protecting him during the attack.

It was a very emotive farewell and Anakin promised to return as soon as possible, to spend some quality time on Veltra’s capital and enjoy its many wonders and its people’s warm and caring hearts.

In a gesture of friendship that said it all, the delegation remained on the landing platform until the Falcon took off and disappeared from sight.


"We’ll arrive at Coruscant at 14:25 PM," Han announced after they jumped to light speed. "The flight will last 5 hours and 35 minutes." He rose to his feet, leaving Chewie in the copilot’s seat, taking care of the final adjustments. Six months on drydock had given the two friends all the time necessary to leave the old ship as good as new. Now, it almost felt wrong not having anything to fix in the middle of the flight, as they used to do for years.

"A game of dejarik, Father?" Luke asked Anakin with a smile.

"Sure! I’m a glutton for punishment." Anakin made a face of infinite suffering.

Luke spluttered and nudged his father’s ribs with his elbow, as the two of them took seats facing each other. Lando sat beside them and set himself to watch their game with interest, as an improvised audience.

Han took his usual seat by the Falcon’s computer, and punched a few buttons, verifying their coordinates. Next, he sat back and took out the carving he had been working on for a few days now; a present for his beautiful Leia.

The four friends had been engrossed for a few minutes, when Chewie arrived from the cockpit and entered the ship’s pit, with the intention of putting away all the tools that still lay scattered everywhere. He had bought a complete tool-kit a few weeks ago, and he wanted to make a full inventory of all the other tools they had, what were still useful and what could be disposed of.

He had been engaged in his task for quite a while when he found a box he had never seen before. He turned it around, trying to remember what could it be, but there were no distinctive marks on any side. He couldn’t open it, so he shrugged and put it aside, continuing with his clean-up.

Once everything had been put away and with his right arm wrapped around several old tools that had no use anymore, Chewie’s gaze settled again on the unknown box. He grabbed it too and exited the pit.

His curiosity aroused, he returned to it after disposing of the useless tools. It was locked, so he took his special picklock and opened it, looking inside.

The first thing that greeted his eyes was the numbers. Red and big. It couldn’t be a clock, because it was counting backwards.



Chewie’s eyes opened like two saucers as the meaning of that ‘clock’ became evident. But what totally paralysed him was the numbers themselves.

00:22... 00:21... 00:20... 00:19...

At last, a terrified moan left his throat.

The stark fear in it made Han look up at him from his carving.

"What is it, Chewie?" he asked, alarmed.

Chewie held out the box to him, his shaking hands almost dropping it. He moaned again.

"A BOMB?!" Han, Luke, Anakin and Lando cried out at the same time. They stood up and hurried to the Wookie’s side. Petrified, they watched the counter, realizing it was too late to do anything. They were about to die.

00:10... 00:09... 00:08...

All of a sudden, it was as if time had stopped for Anakin. This couldn’t be happening! He couldn’t be standing here, watching that clock sign their death sentences! Chewie’s, that fiercely loyal, one-of-a-kind, priceless Wookie friend! Lando’s, whom he had met under the darkest of circumstances, and a man he had come to respect and care about as one of his best friends. Han’s, the bravest pirate, and more upright and decent than many Kings and Princes. That young man was halfway between a friend and a son to him.

His children! Luke couldn’t be about to die with him! He wanted his precious son to have the brightest future. He wanted his children to live long, happy, fulfilling lives, and make this galaxy a safe and beautiful place to live in.

His Leia! What would become of her? It was always toughest on the ones left behind. She would be left alone. Totally, utterly alone! She would never survive this.

No, NO! This couldn’t be happening! It was wrong! They couldn’t die today. They just couldn’t!

00:05... 00:04... 00:03...

"NO!! STOP!!!!" he cried out, releasing in a torrent of emotion all the feelings storming inside him.

And the counter stopped. Just like that.


The five friends looked at the frozen numbers, gasping, as if they had been running for hours. Their ragged respirations were the only sound in the central hold area for quite some time. Until, little by little, they dared to look up into each other’s eyes, still not believing what had just happened.

"I-it was you, wa-wasn’t it?" Han asked Anakin.

A drop of sweat rolled down the side of the older Jedi’s face.

"I-I guess," was all he could say.

"Let’s sit down?" Lando asked, afraid to move a single muscle, lest the slightest movement set off the bomb.

As one, the group walked up to the table, and Chewie put the bomb on it with the utmost care.

The counter didn’t move.


All five slumped down onto the vacant seats, blowing out all the air in their lungs.

Immediately, Anakin grasped his child’s sweaty hand in his own, and then, he squeezed Han’s forearm with the other. He needed to verify all of them were safe and sound.

"Well, I suppose we finally uncovered your ‘special gift’," Lando commented, in pretended nonchalance.

"So it seems, thank heavens," Anakin smiled tremulously.

None of them could look away from the box with the bomb inside.

"And what now? Is it disabled or did you just stop the counter?" Han asked, daring to blink.

"I’m not sure," Anakin replied honestly, trying to concentrate on his feelings. "I... I think I disabled the counter only, but the mechanism is intact." He felt Luke squeezing his hand, and he returned the pressure.

"Then, as long as we don’t touch it, we’re safe," the Corellian said, standing up gingerly. "I’ll call home. They’ll have to clear all the landing platforms before we arrive, and have the bomb squad waiting for us there. I doubt there are any fingerprints or any clues in that baby that can lead us to whoever are behind this, but it’s worth a try."



"So! Did Veltra's report and the bomb squad come up with anything useful?" Mon Mothma got straight to the point, once everyone was seated.

"They came up with several things, but none of them very useful, I'm afraid," Lando replied, dejectedly.

"Let me be the judge of that," the President replied sternly.

"The traffic droids received a signal from somewhere in close proximity to the park where everything happened. The Security Forces have got no idea how all those droids ended up with blasters in their bellies. All droids undergo a thorough overhaul once a week, and there's no way anyone could put those blasters inside them without someone noticing it before the overhaul. Whoever did it, slipped in the warehouse where the droids were kept by tampering with the security system, so they could have all the time in the world to arm and reprogram them after the overhaul. Then, once in the street, with thousands of signals coming and going, they only had to use a remote to activate the droids' new programming and either stay there to watch the show or leave, as any normal pedestrian or driver. Right now, Veltra’s authorities are investigating all those who had access to the warehouse in question, but there are literally hundreds of people. Frankly, I doubt that lead will take us anywhere," Lando ventured to say.

"I agree," the President nodded. "What about the bomb in the Falcon?"

Lando couldn’t prevent a shiver from running up and down his spine at the too recent memory. He licked his lips and swallowed.

"The bomb squad disabled it after we landed, and even though their plan was apparently foolproof and we shouldn’t have found the box by any means, there were only Chewie’s prints on it." He made a brief pause. "We’re dealing with pros here, no doubt about it. The bomb itself is an old but not uncommon TX-101 model, used in the mining business everywhere in the galaxy. In short, another dead end."

Mon Mothma looked down and let out a soft sigh. But a moment later, she looked up, her eyes flashing again.

"What do you get from all of this?" she asked everyone sitting at the table.

"All the weapons they’ve used so far ‘seem’ to indicate they’re short in the resources department. They’ve been using old models of land-mines and bombs, and tampering with traffic droids. Nothing too costly and with a minimum risk for them. This method ‘seems’ to point at the typical guerrilla group," Areen Worzzlek suggested.

"As you said, it ‘seems’ to indicate a typical guerrilla method," Anakin promptly intervened the conversation. "But a guerrilla only seeks to throw out some occupier army or military force, and they soon make their demands known, so they can win over as many sympathizers to their cause as possible. The fact that we still don’t know who’re behind this shows they’re misleading us deliberately."

"Only a fool would suggest the idea of a guerrilla," Han said, a bit too aggressively. The bomb in the Falcon had upset him greatly and it was taking him some time to calm down, contrarily to his usual way of handling things like that.

"I didn’t suggest anything," Areen Worzzlek defended himself with the utmost dignity. "In case you didn’t notice, I put the verb ‘to seem’ in quotation marks quite intentionally."

"I see no point in mentioning a theory that no one at this table takes seriously," Han argued.

"Please, let’s calm down." Captain Ylek tried to soothe the two men’s understandable, but still disturbing outbursts. "We’re only thinking out loud and trying to come up with some answers."

Leia reached out and squeezed her beloved’s hand. She could understand how Han was feeling, and through touch, she received the barrage of his raw emotions. She used her newly-developed Jedi powers to try and assuage her beloved’s inner turmoil.

Han squeezed back and turned his head, smiling at her shakily. He took a deep breath and nodded.

"I’m sorry. I apologize," he addressed Areen with a sincerely contrite face.

Areen swallowed hard and nodded once, still a bit upset.

"Let’s not allow this situation to disturb us more than it already has," Mon Mothma advised them all. "We survived years of war against the Empire because we were able to stick together in the darkest of circumstances. This time is no different. Let’s contribute with everything we can think about, no matter how irrelevant it may seem. In any passing comment could lie a clue or a lead that could help us to put an end to this unwelcome challenge."

There was a short silence, as everybody regained their composure.

"I am convinced we’re facing a very dangerous threat," Anakin continued in a firm voice. "They’ve targeted the very people who embody the former Alliance’s cause against the Empire. Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian... they’re more than just names or people, they’re symbols. Kill them, and you’ll have destroyed the New Republic’s very core."

"Wait a minute," Captain Thazzel interrupted the older Jedi. "Many other people also embody the former Alliance here. Princess Leia, our President, Areen Worzzlek... blast it, even you embody the Alliance and the Republic now as much as all of them. If they had wanted to kill them off, why use guerrilla tactics, and off Coruscant at that? They could have tried it here first, and with more chances of success. We’re all more vulnerable at home, especially when we’re not expecting an attack."

"True," Anakin agreed, his eyes conveying his admiration for the young Chiss’ reasoning powers, "but on attempting a terrorist attack on Coruscant, in this building, the heart of the New Republic, there would have been no mistaking their intentions. It would have made it crystal clear the Republic was their target. On the other hand, by using guerrilla tactics, they create confusion and even though they’re not as likely to succeed, they have their possibilities nonetheless. As you can see, they’re still way ahead of us, since we’re sitting here, still trying to come to an agreement about who they might be," he pointed out cleverly.

An ominous silence befell them all.

"They’ve made Captain Skywalker, Generals Solo and Calrissian, Chewbacca and incidentally myself their objectives because we were the easiest and most conspicuous targets; but I am positive they will strike here, if they can." Anakin went on relentlessly. He needed all of them to be aware of the grave danger they were facing. "We must take extreme security measures and make it as difficult for them as we can."

"I completely agree with our Vice-President," Luke intervened for the first time, nodding at his father respectfully. "This is no personal vengeance, or some terrorist group trying to vindicate some unknown revoked privilege or whatever. This is a thoroughly meditated and flawlessly executed plan to bring down the New Republic."

"If I didn’t know better, the Empire would be my prime suspect." The words left Mon Mothma’s lips before they actually formed in her brain.

Anakin raised an eyebrow and a little smile formed on his lips. His neverending admiration for the absolutely outstanding person they had as President increased yet another notch.

"Mine too," he said, a funny quality in his voice.

"The Empire doesn’t exist anymore," Areen Worzzlek reminded them all unnecessarily.

"That we know of," Vaughan Worthwing spoke for the first time. "But there’s something about this whole scheme that smells vaguely of some twisted tactics I still remember very well." The young man’s eyes turned to Captain Thazzel, who looked back at him and nodded. They were well-acquainted with the Empire’s methods. They had used them for years.

"All twisted schemes resemble each other in some way or another," Admiral Ackbar pointed out, a sad edge in his voice. "But feelings make poor evidences."

"Does this mean we’re supposed to sit here and wait until they strike again, until there are more innocent victims, like that married couple on Veltra and their now-orphan children, and Lieutenant Dobson and his family?" Han’s voice resounded in the silent chamber.

"No," Mon Mothma replied firmly. "We’ll take all necessary measures to ensure the civilian population’s safety; and ours, as well."

"It’s difficult to take any security measures when so little is known about the threat itself," General Madine observed.

"It is indeed, but we can only do our best," Anakin replied kindly. "At least, our Fleet, buildings and staff already have the latest, best security measures. We’ll resume the drills until they’re 100% successful. Let’s pray we never have to put those lessons into practice."

There was another short silence, broken by the President’s determined voice.

"For the present, Jedi Skywalker’s assignments are suspended, unless an unexpected crisis that requires his urgent mediation arises. I’m aware of the fact that this implacable rhythm we have been imposing on him lately wasn’t healthy, and I thank him for his efforts," she smiled softly at Luke. "I regret we have been abusing our only available Jedi’s abilities, but it’s understandable when he performs his duties so exceptionally well." She made a short pause. "Now, it’s time for all of us to think carefully what our next move will be." She couldn’t help a small sigh from escaping her. "We’ll sleep on it and discuss any ideas we come up with tomorrow morning at eleven hundred hours." She rose to her feet and everybody followed her. "Dismissed."

Little by little, the Great Hall became gradually empty as people left, discussing the situation in small groups.

Leia approached Areen Worzzlek and softly touched his arm, drawing his attention. She wanted to apologize again on Han’s behalf and share a few pointers with him. The two of them left.

"Captain Skywalker," Mon Mothma addressed Luke.

"Yes, your Excellency?" The young man walked up to her.

"I read your report, along with Generals Solo and Calrissian’s, and the Vice-President gave me a detailed account of what happened on Veltra. I intend to follow all your recommendations and give Commander Worthwing a commendation for his actions."

"I am delighted to know that," Luke smiled. "His quick thinking saved us all."

"He addressed me before the meeting started, requesting to be reassigned as a member of the special team that’s acting as your personal escorts."

"He’s one of our best pilots and I wouldn’t want him to waste his abilities as a bodyguard. But at the same time, if he hadn’t been with us on Veltra, we wouldn’t be here today," the young Jedi pondered.

"I know," the President nodded. "I told him he would be allowed to accompany you, as long as it didn’t interfere with his duties in the Red Squadron."

"Wise decision," Anakin approved, walking up behind his son and placing his hands on his shoulders.

Mon Mothma half-closed her eyes when she saw Han Solo, Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca approaching her, too. She looked from one to the others, taking in the serious expressions on their faces.

"Why do I have the feeling that you’re about to tell me something I’m not going to like?" She tried to relieve the tension, in an easygoing but still dignified manner.

Right then, the doors opened and Princess Leia walked in, engaged in the last stages of a conversation with Vaughan Worthwing, and followed by C-3PO and R2-D2.

"The remaining family member makes her entrance!", she commented fondly. "If all of you are in on this, I fear the worst."

Anakin smiled, understanding her need to bring some levity to the moment.

"We’re not here to suggest any outrageous course of action, but to inform you of some highly disturbing suspicions."

Mon Mothma’s face lost all colour for a second, but she pulled herself together with an admirable self-possession.

"In that case, I suggest we take a seat. I can guess this won’t be easy for any of us."

Quietly, everybody sat around the big round table, next to each other.

"So," the President cleared her throat and interlaced her fingers on the table, "what did you find out?"

After exchanging a meaningful look with his children and his friends, asking their permission to act as their spokesman, Anakin took a deep breath and began his exposition.

"From the beginning, this threat had a peculiar method of working. They’ve been mysteriously elusive, striking only when it was safe, and using old weaponry. They distracted us by leaving us wondering at their unusual style and motives; that way, keeping us from focusing on what was really important. The attacks themselves. The land-mine on Ansion, the ambush on Veltra and the bomb in the Falcon not only indicate they were thinking ahead of us, but they knew exactly where we were, what we were going to do and when we were going to do it."

Mon Mothma nodded slowly.

"And your conclusions?" she asked.

"There’s only one conclusion," Anakin replied with a kind and sad smile. "Someone from the inside. Someone with access to everything they need. Logistics, Communications, Security, Records... Someone who was with us on Veltra. Someone capable of improvising in a matter of hours when the ambush failed. Someone close to us, who probably sat at this table only a few minutes ago."

Mon Mothma raised a hand immediately, putting a stop to Anakin’s speech.

"Now wait a minute!" She was honestly shocked by what her Vice-President was implying. "I’ve been working with these people from before the Alliance was even born! There’s absolutely no chance of a traitor lurking in our Government. I refuse to admit any shadow of a doubt about anyone’s commitment and integrity!"

"It’s also very difficult for me to admit that trusted people I recommended to you when we formed a Government, could be involved in this," Anakin said, knowing only too well how she felt. "But we’d better take this suspicion seriously, before it’s too late."

Mon Mothma shook her head, as if trying to reason with a stubborn child.

"I’m telling you Anakin, there’s just no way."

"Mrs. President," Leia spoke for the first time. "I’ve also been part of the Alliance from the very beginning. It has been terribly hard for me to accept the possibility that a trusted friend, someone I’ve known for many years, could be trying to kill my brother, my father, and the people I love. But sooner or later, there comes a moment when we have to put our feelings aside, and open our eyes to the truth."

"What truth?!" Mon Mothma exclaimed. "You’re asking me to consider the possibility that people who’ve been ready to die for our cause, with me and for me, are trying to bring down the New Republic, when they could have killed me, all of us, these past years, and spared themselves this scheme now?"

A loud silence resounded all over the room.

"I’m afraid you’ll have to come to me with something more than mere ‘suspicions’ and ‘feelings.’ It’s easy to slander and plant the seed of distrust, but to pull it up after that is next to impossible," she reproved them all with a wounded look.

"The seed of distrust was planted the moment a land-mine almost killed my son and my friends," Anakin’s soft voice echoed in the Great Hall’s walls, awakening them all to the simple truth in his words. "There is no turning back now."

The President set her jaw and looked down at her entwined hands, lost in the turmoil her Vice-President and her counselors’ speculations had stirred in her. And yet... her little voice was already beginning to whisper into her ear, telling her to listen to them.

But it hurt. It hurt too much to accept it. It was too terrible to contemplate.

"As I said, come to me when you have proof to support your suspicions. Not a moment before."

Her words were clearly a dismissal. Reluctantly, everybody stood up and headed for the door slowly, casting hesitant looks behind them, at their unyielding leader.

Anakin remained sitting beside her in silence, trying to soothe the agitation their words had caused. Several minutes passed thus until, seeing there was nothing he could do, he rose to his feet. He looked down at her fondly, and placed a warm hand on her shoulder.

"You’re the most open-minded and intuitive non-Force sensitive I know. Listen to your inner voice and make the right decision. They’re already one step ahead of us. Don’t let them take another, or it will really be too late."

With a gentle squeeze and a compassionate smile she couldn’t see, Anakin left the Great Hall with soundless foot-steps, leaving her alone with her destiny.


Anakin came out of his bathroom and prepared himself to get into bed. He took off his robe and put it on the back of an easy chair next to his bed. Then, he sat down cross-legged on the covers, and prepared himself for his customary few minutes of cleansing meditation before going to sleep.

For some reason, he felt restless and uncomfortable, as an animal anticipating an earthquake. But the restlessness came from inside him, not outside, and he knew what that meant.

The older Jedi sighed in resigned defeat. Nightmares would plague him tonight again. With quiet acceptance, he prepared himself. He raised a mental block, separating his subconscious from his son’s, that way preventing him from being awakened by the bleeding of his father’s psyche onto his own.

He had been doing it since the first, and hopefully last, time, when his vivid nightmares had brought Luke at a run to his bedroom months before, after he had awakened, distraught and soaked up in sweat, crying out mentally for comfort.

Luke had been so shaken by what he had seen in his father’s mind, that Anakin had resolved right then and there never to subject his child again to the horrors and fears that lurked in his memory. He had no right to make his son go through that, never mind Luke’s claims that it was his right, as his child and someone who loved him.

Since that night, every time he felt that a certain night would be one of those nights, he raised a mental shield that kept his subconscious apart from Luke’s. Not his conscious, because Luke would feel it, then. Fortunately, he knew some mental techniques that allowed him to keep those shields raised even in his sleep, when he had no control over his thoughts and dreams.

And thus, he had existed these past six months. Mercilessly chased by his past crimes, but content, because he was keeping his beloved son from them.

Anakin shook his head, disdainfully. The galaxy had much bigger problems than former Darth Vader’s psychic traumas. He set his mind to analyze and consider all the facts they had currently at their disposal, and try to come up with an answer or at least, a clue. It was amazing what the brain could do during deep sleep. From solving the greatest mathematical equations to more mundane matters of the heart. If he could coax his mind into reflecting on the threat looming on the New Republic, perhaps he would be spared a night of sheer horror.

The big man smiled sadly. Whom was he trying to fool? Certainly, not himself. This was the price he had to pay for being alive. And he was more than willing to pay it. His head turned to the small holograph on his bedside table. Himself, Luke on his right, laughing at a joke his father had told, and Leia on his left, looking at her brother adoringly, trying to control her mirth.

Anakin’s heart filled to bursting with love. Yes, those two little angels were worth the most terrifying nightmares. They were worth his sanity, every drop of his blood. They were worth his very soul, unworthy as it was.

He reached out to the holograph, but his hand stopped a few inches away from it. He drew Luke’s face with his fingertips lovingly and then, he reached out to his daughter’s smiling face. He hesitated and turned his hand into a fist.

Even in the privacy of his quarters, he was wary of touching his daughter’s holograph.

Force, what would he give to have a normal father-daughter relationship with Leia! He needed her so desperately!

He knew she was trying, and they had come a long way already, but still, it was not enough. It wouldn’t be until he had her in his arms and they could embrace, not only physically, but also embrace everything they had been, everything they were, and everything they would ever be. Their past, their present, and their future.

With a throbbing ache in his heart, Anakin moved his hand back, opened the bedcovers and got into bed. He tucked himself up and as he always did, he looked at the empty spot beside him.

"Good night, my angel," he whispered into the now dark room, "take care of us from wherever you are. I love you, and I always will, my love."



It was hot. Very hot. But not around him. That burning heat came from inside him.

And that foul smell was somehow familiar. It was like...


In a flash of insight, he knew it was his own burned flesh he was smelling.

Anakin’s panic rose like a tsunami, and he began writhing helplessly on the hard surface where he lay. He tried to raise on his elbows.

He had no elbows to support him. He was nothing more than a head and a trunk of roasted flesh. At the ends of his four extremities there were only stumps.

He cried out the name of his beloved wife.

But he had no wife anymore. He had nothing left. Padmé and his unborn child were dead. His life was over.

He cried out to be allowed to die. He didn’t want to go on living when there was nothing worth living for.

‘Yes, there is. You can live to take your revenge. Revenge on those who caused this,’ a soothingly dark and ominous voice whispered to him. ‘There’s an immense comfort in hatred and evil. Destroy as much as they’ve destroyed you. Release all the anger you’ve rightfully accumulated all these years deep inside you.’

No, no! He clung to the remaining love inside him. Padmé wouldn’t have wanted him to surrender to hate and destruction. She would have wanted him to go on living.

But what kind of life lay ahead of him? A life of pain and madness. Of being permanently attached to a life-support system that would never allow him to lead a normal existence. A life of mourning the loss of the only beauty and perfection he had ever known.

Any remaining goodness in him had died with Padmé and his baby.

His baby! What would it have been like to hold it in his arms, as he had dreamed of? To cradle it, to soothe its crying, to see it smile and coo, and feel its tiny hand grabbing his finger and never letting it go? How would it be to hear its first word? To see it walk? To see it running on its short little legs, swaying unsteadily and falling into his arms, giggling and clinging to his neck? How would it be to feel its touch? How would it feel to hear it say "Daddy" for the first time?

He cried out, insane with grief.

"LET ME DIE!" he screamed, leaving what was left of his vocal cords all raw and torn. Blood gurgled in his throat and he choked on it.

‘No,’ the voice whispered into his mind. ‘You can still be useful, if you want to. The Jedi took away everything you loved. Make them pay for it. You’ll see how fulfilling it can be to give back as much as you got. Let me show you a whole new way. No love, no weakness, no softness. The Dark Side will realize all your dreams of revenge and power. Power as you’ve never known. Immediate and satisfying as you can’t possibly imagine. Surrender to the darkness in your soul and join me. This galaxy will never be the same. We’ll show them all. We’ll wipe out all those preaching hypocrites who made so much harm for so many centuries. All those who oppose us will be annihilated. No mercy, no compassion. For anyone. Me and you, together.’

The lure of that voice was almost irresistible.

‘Yield to the Darkness. Nothing will hold you back, then. In the Dark Side, everything is possible. The power will be IN you. YOU will be the power. Let it dominate your destiny. Come with me, my young apprentice, and I promise it won’t hurt ever again. Leave behind a lifetime of maudlin self-sacrifice and unrewarding abnegation that took away everything from you and gave nothing in return, and give yourself to the passions that could never be satisfied. You always knew this was the way. You could feel it. This galaxy doesn’t need any unsufferable do-gooders, but someone who knows how to dominate all those who can only be led, but still dare to tell what’s best for themselves and the others. We know. We’ll obliterate all those little cynics with small minds. Only the strong will survive. Come with me. This is just the beginning, Lord Vader. I will be your guide in your new life.’

A wave of invigorating evil and hatred seemed to fill his bloodstream, as the new light dawned on him. Anakin felt it strengthening him, giving him a new purpose for his wretched life. If this was his reward for following the rules, obeying and always trying to do the right thing, it was high time for a change. It was time to take control and impose what was truly right; by force, if necessary. In the end, people would understand. And if they didn’t, too bad... for them.

‘Yes, yes, that is the spirit, young one. That is the way. The only way. Give me your soul, hand me your destiny, and I will fill them with a glorious greed and thirst for power that will never end. An eternity of Dark fulfilment. Give in to me, and you will never feel empty and alone again.’

‘Yes. I will follow you, my master. From now on, nothing else will matter. I will be nothing but yours to lead. Show me. Show me everything. There is nothing else for me.’

‘Good, my young apprentice. Excellent. Let my droids complete their work. Soon. Very soon...’

A thrill of greed and thirst for revenge boiled in Anakin’s blood. He bared his teeth and snarled, like a wild animal waiting to attack and relishing the wait. He eagerly anticipated the ways he would get his sweet revenge, each of them bloodier and nastier than the last.

And before he knew, the task was completed.

‘See?’ The voice was obviously pleased with him. ‘The Dark Side already helped you to make the time go faster, it kept the physical pain at bay, and now it is done. Are you ready to begin your new life, Lord Vader?’

‘I am, my master.’

A soft noise above his head made him raise his eyes. A black mask loomed above him, ready to be his shield and his protection against the outside world for the rest of his life.

‘Say the word, and it will be done,’ the voice said.

‘Proceed,’ he replied unhesitatingly.

As the mask was lowered over his face, there was a flash of light in his head. He saw a young face, very similar to his own, looking down at him. A young man in his early twenties. He had blond hair, blue eyes, noble features, and a warm and caring smile.

And then, he knew. It was his son’s face he was contemplating.

How could that be?! He had no son!

But he had! He had a son named Luke! And a daughter named Leia! He had friends, and allies! He belonged! He wasn’t alone anymore!

‘You are alone. You will always be, because no one will ever understand. No one, except me. Come with me now, and everything will be forgiven and forgotten.’

‘NO! This isn’t really happening! This is a nightmare. It’s got to be! I love and I am loved. I only have to open my eyes and I will be lying in my bed in Coruscant, with my children and my friends!’ he fought back, struggling to wake up.

But he couldn’t wake up. That dark presence was restraining him with a superhuman strength, and the black mask was closer and closer to his face.

And then, it was Luke’s face that was being covered with the mask.

NO!! Not his son! Not his Luke! His beloved son!

‘Nooo!! Take me!! Take me, but don’t take my son! I will do everything you want, but don’t defile my child, I beg you!’

‘You have no son. He is mine now. Just like you. You both belong to me and I will do with you as I please. I will kill him before your eyes. I will dismember him slowly, delighting in his pain, as his blood falls at my feet.’

Rotten teeth framed in a twisted smile edged closer. So close that he could smell the foul stench he had almost forgotten.

He couldn’t breathe, sheer terror had gripped his soul and wouldn’t let him go. He wanted to react, he wanted to grab that thin neck and squeeze the life out of that evil creature, but his very soul would be forfeit to the Dark Side again if surrendered to his hatred. He was caught between a rock and a hard place, frozen on the spot by more fear than he had ever thought it could possibly exist.

‘You cannot kill me. I will take away from you everything you ever loved. I will turn your son, and your daughter, and then you will beg me to kill you. But I will not. You will live, and belong to me again. For all time. The entire Skywalker family will be mine. Mine!’

‘NOOOOO!! Leia! Luke! My little angels! Don’t! Don’t! Take me! Take my heart, my mind, my soul. Take all you want! I will give it freely to you, but don’t touch them!’

And then, Luke’s face began to change. It aged horribly in a heartbeat. His face became ashen, his yellow eyes filled with hatred and looked at him, devoid of any warmth and innocence.

He had lost his little one for good.

That was more than Anakin could stand. His soul fled from his body and he cried out until there was no spark of sanity in his mind. He wanted to forget he had ever existed. He wanted to die.


His own silent scream awakened him. His throat was all raw and sore, and he sat up with a jerk, his arms flailing in the darkness of his room. He searched blindly for the lights and heard a loud crash. He couldn’t find the wall, he couldn’t even remember where he was. He was in that blurry place between dream and reality, where everything’s so vivid that death seems a welcome relief from so much horror.

His mind cried out his son’s name, the only goodness in his life that had remained steady and firm; his only constant when everything around him was falling apart.

And then, he was being wrapped in strong, warm arms. His head was pressed up to an infinitely protective chest that sheltered him, and enveloped him in more tenderness and love than he had ever known. Soft, loving fingers buried themselves in his hair and began a soothing, rhythmic stroking, massaging his scalp and relieving the pressure there, that was more than he could bear.

Helpless as a baby, Anakin clung to the person who was holding him, recognizing him at a purely instinctive level.

"Luke. Luke. LukeLukeLukeLuke...’ he chanted, unable to stop. Only that name could scare the fear away. Only that name was the light in the dark, the sanity in the bottomless pit of madness that was swallowing him alive.

"Yes, Father," the most beautiful voice in the universe calmed him. "I am here, with you. You are safe in my arms now. Nothing and no one will harm you, and certainly not him," the voice oozed venom then. "He’s dead and won’t touch you ever again. Don’t be afraid."

But Anakin was beyond reasoning. Logic had deserted him and he could only be reached through feelings, through touch. Through love.

"I could smell my own burned flesh. He... He turned me again and then he... he threatened me with turning you and your sister if... if I... and then..." he moaned, incapable of saying the words, and hid his face in his son’s chest, wanting to disappear there.

"I know, he turned me. I felt your dream," Luke said, holding back a shiver. But he had to be strong for his father now. For the two of them. He held Anakin tighter. "I am safe. You are safe. We all are. Everything’s all right."

"There was so much hatred in your eyes when you looked at me... I had lost you. I had lost my little one forever!" Anakin cried, grabbing his child’s pyjama top and almost tearing it.

"You will never lose me, Father. I loved you all my life, and I will love you

beyond forever. Nothing will take me away from you. No one will take this away from us!" Luke exclaimed passionately, nuzzling the hair on the top of his father’s sweaty head and kissing it. He began rocking the brutally trembling body, caressing the long back up and down with one hand, and sinking the other in the blond strands. His father was keeping his hair longer than usual these days, and he liked it. It was slightly wavy, and it was wavier now that it was soaking wet. "Shhh, it’s all right. Everything’s all right. Hold on to me. I will keep the fear away. Shhhh."

Anakin obeyed the soft commands trustingly, and little by little, the searing, mindless terror began receding. He wrapped his own arms around the body holding him, completing the circle of love.

"That’s it," Luke smiled, his heart bursting with tenderness. "Relax, breathe deeply. Let the Light soothe you."

"You are the Light, my Light; my beautiful, little angel," the words left Anakin’s lips of their own volition.

"Oh, Force!" Luke exclaimed, his own tears streaming down his cheeks. He wiped them away with his father’s hair, and then, he let go. He rained dozens of devoted kisses on the precious head he held, and pressed it closer to his chest, almost crushing it.

"I love you, little one." Anakin whispered, closing his stinging eyes and rubbing his face against his child’s breast, all of him crying out for more comfort.

"And I love you, Father. Try to sleep now," Luke coaxed, leaning back against the padded headboard and accommodating his father more comfortably against him. Anakin followed him blindly, like a defenceless puppy, his long arms tightening their hold around his son’s torso. "There will be no more nightmares, I’ll make sure of that." His fingertips searched in the darkness for his father’s face, and when they found it, they wiped the tears away and caressed the burning eyelids. Then, he bent down and kissed them, making the stinging go away.

Anakin moaned softly.

"What would I do without you?" he let out in the weakest voice.

"Quite probably, you’d still be scaring the shit out of everybody," Luke joked outrageously, and quite intentionally.

Anakin let out a sound halfway between a laugh and a sob.

"Watch your mouth, young man. I’m still your father," he mock-chided.

"And I wouldn’t change you for any other," Luke replied immediately.

A big hand reached up, in a heartbreaking display of need and vulnerability. Luke took it in his own and interlaced his fingers with it.

"Not even after...?"

"Not even after," Luke didn’t let him finish, and hugged him for all he was worth. He grabbed the rumpled bedclothes and covered his father with them. "Are you comfortable?" he asked softly.

Anakin nodded.

"The child comforting the father," he whispered to himself.

"It is my honour, even if I’d rather not have to do it." Luke resumed his caresses, needing this as much as his father. "But that is the deal, and we can only accept it."

"And be grateful for it," Anakin said, meaning it with all his heart.

Luke closed his eyes and swallowed the lump in his throat. Now that the worst was over, the delayed shock of his father’s nightmare and being awakened by his distraught mental scream, was beginning to settle in. He understood right then and there what his father had been doing these past months, and it infuriated him. He focused on his anger, that way keeping himself from thinking of the horror they had just gone through.

"Never, ever shield your mind from mine again. Don’t you dare to deny me what you would take from me without second thoughts, you hear?" he ordered, his voice strained and edgy. "Yes, I’m shaken and terrified at what I saw in your mind. Just like I was the first time it happened. How could I not be? Our lives have been everything but a bed of roses. But we’re stronger together. Only together will we get over this, sane and whole. You are my strength, Father, as I am yours. Don’t do this to us again. Please?" He looked down at the flushed face, and his anger dissipated as if by magic at the sight of those wounded eyes.

Anakin pursed his lips and nodded his head in acquiescence.

"I just wanted..."

"To protect me, I know," Luke smiled compassionately. "But we can’t hide from each other. We should know that by now. Our destinies are inextricably bound. What happens to you, happens to me. Your fears are my fears." He took a deep, calming breath. "Please, promise that you won’t shield from me ever again."

Anakin looked up at his son, a pleading expression on his face.

"Luke, I have nightmares almost every night. Your mind couldn’t possibly..."

"Promise!" Luke demanded, his unyielding eyes boring into his father’s.

Anakin’s eyes opened wide at the stubborn firmness and fire in those blue orbs, so much like his own. His child would never give up. With a resigned sigh, he reached up and wiped away the tear tracks on the soft cheeks.

"Is this what you want to be subjected to, night after night?" he asked, with haunted eyes.

"More than anything," the young man replied, sweeping his father away in a blissful tide of love and tenderness.

Anakin’s tormented mind cuddled up to the warm sanctuary his child offered, never wanting to come out. Relinquishing all control to his son, he allowed Luke to cradle and soothe him, until he thought he would pass out from so much peace.

‘Where does so much peace come from?’ his mind asked, too blown away to speak.

‘From you,’ was the immediate reply. ‘Getting you back gave me the balance I had been searching for all my life. You are my peace. My every dream come true. Let me hold you, Father. Let me be your shelter. It’s easier to carry the burden when there are two sharing the weight. You don’t have to go through this alone. Let me accompany you on your journey. It is my destiny, too.’

‘Force, you’re crazy! You know that?’ Anakin exclaimed, surrendering against his will.

‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ the young man cracked, with pretended arrogance. ‘But it is time to sleep now. Close your eyes, Father. I will be here, watching your sleep. You are safe, don’t be afraid.’

"I can’t, I’m still too shaken. It’ll take a while for me to relax enough to fall asleep," Anakin said out loud.

Luke’s gaze was drawn toward the windows. Dawn was very close. The sky wasn’t black anymore, but dark blue. A new day was breaking, and for some reason, the young man felt a ray of sweet hope making its way from deep inside him. His arms drew his father closer, and he rested his cheek on the older man’s head, his eyes never leaving the increasingly lighter sky.

"Tell me something happy," he asked all of a sudden.

"Happy?" Anakin asked back, not quite understanding what his son meant by that.

"Yes," Luke nodded, his hand caressing the wavy hair soothingly, maternally. "Something peaceful. Something that makes you smile, just thinking about it."

Anakin’s mind wasn’t in the mood for wallowing in memories that could turn out bad all too easily. The only thing that made him smile just thinking about it was his children.

And then, his face broke into a smile.

"I named you," he said simply.

"Really?!" Luke’s heart skipped a beat and jumped in his chest at the totally unexpected bit of information that meant more to him than all the riches in the universe. His mouth went dry, and his limbs softened as the most delightful tingling spread all over him. "Tell me!" he asked, unable to hold back his impatience... and his emotion.

Pressing closer against his child’s breast, Anakin’s voice got all soft and dreamy, lost in the sweetest memory from so long ago.

"One night, when your mother was six months pregnant, something awakened me. A vague feeling of disquiet and fear. I couldn’t shake it off, until I realized that those feelings didn’t come from a nightmare your mother was having, but from you."

"Me?" Luke asked.

"Not you, exactly. The baby. We never knew there were two of you. We wanted to be surprised when you were born. We didn’t even want to know the baby’s gender," Anakin explained. "So, when I realized the feeling of restlessness came from the baby, I slipped down in the bed, uncovered your mother’s belly and I did what I used to do quite often. I talked to you."

"You talked to me? To us?" Luke was too moved to form coherent thoughts. He couldn’t believe what he was finding out. He felt as if with every word that left his father’s lips, he was becoming more and more real, more attached to his past. A past he and his father had shared for several months, before he was given to Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. His parents, his sister and him had actually been a family before everything went wrong. Just knowing that, gave him a sense of belonging like he had never known before. The four of them. His mother, his father, his sister and him. His eyes filled with tears.

"I tried to soothe you through the Force," Anakin continued, apparently oblivious to his child’s state of mind, "and it worked. I told you that you only had to worry about growing healthy and strong, and your mother and I would do the rest. Then, a few bulges appeared in your mother’s stomach, and I kissed them."

Luke shuddered.

Anakin reached up and took hold of his son’s right hand lying on his head, brought it down to his lips and kissed the wrist. A smile lit up his features.

"Then, I asked you whether you were a girl or a boy." There was laughter in his voice, and it pulled Luke together immediately.

"And what did we say?" he asked, smiling helplessly too.

"You teased me like two little devils," Anakin laughed softly at the remembrance.

"We did?! In what way?" Luke was excited like a little boy. He wanted to know everything about the moment their father and them had shared, so many years ago.

"You told me you were a girl, only to deny it later and tell me you were a boy."

Luke spluttered in bashful amusement.

"We did that? How?"

"By kicking," Anakin replied fondly. "But the funniest thing was that you were telling the truth. You weren’t only a girl or a boy. You were a girl and a boy, but had no way to tell me. And it never crossed my mind that we were expecting twins."

"And what happened then?" Luke asked, looking in utter fascination at the shades of pink and gold appearing in the sky, as the images his father was planting in his mind filled his heart to bursting.

"I told you that I loved you even if you were a tease, as I absently drew a pattern on your mother’s belly. And then, you drew it back at me."

"WHAT?!" Luke exclaimed, tearing his gaze away from the splendid vision of Coruscant’s horizon, to look at his greatest treasure in his arms, who was already looking up at him, his face shining with joy.

"Yes, we communicated empathically that night. The three of us," Anakin said, with the wonder of the Universe reflected in his eyes. "At first, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, but you drew back at me every pattern I drew on your mother’s stomach. I felt your love for me reaching out and enveloping me completely. For the first time in my life, I felt I belonged to something bigger than me. Something meaningful and eternal; the only thing truly worth dying for." He looked down at the hand he held, and pressed it to his cheek needfully. "The most beautiful part of me, that would go on living when I ceased to exist; I understood right then and there. You and your mother were my life, but that night was the night I truly felt the connection between all living things that the Masters talked about, and I couldn’t quite comprehend. It was Love. My love for my wife and my unborn child, and Padme’s and my precious baby’s love for me were the Force. You were my Love, my Universe. My everything." He took a deep, trembling breath. "I pressed my face against your mother’s belly, and I felt you pressing up against me. We touched for the very first time then, my son."

Luke let out an indescribable sound. Half moan, half sob. He had never felt like this before. Every empty place inside him was full for the very first time. It overflowed with lights and colours. He was soaring in a cloud of love and fulfilment. It was perfection and joy beyond anything he had ever experienced. He felt as if his insides were liquefying. It was neither warm nor cold. It was like floating in lukewarm waters, soothing and purifying. Lukewarm... his eyes almost popped out of their sockets.

‘Yes, that’s when I knew what your name would be, if you turned out to be a boy,’ Anakin’s voice whispered into his mind. ‘That was the feeling you evoked in me. Never alone, never unloved. Belonging forever. With you. For you.’

‘Oh, Father!’ Luke exclaimed, almost boneless, as the happiest tears he would ever shed, rolled down his face. ‘Thank you for sharing something so private with me. I feel... Oh, I feel...’

‘I know how you feel, Son. I feel the same,’ Anakin smiled lovingly.

‘Lukewarm,’ both minds sang in unison.

The two Jedi laughed and hugged fiercely.

"I awakened your mother, then, and told her what your name would be," Anakin finished his tale out loud. "She loved it too, and your name immediately triggered your sister’s name in her mind. But she refused to tell me."

"She knew when to be a tease, too," Luke commented, adoring his mother for that.

"You have no idea," Anakin smiled. "It took me more than twenty years, but I found out at last."

"Yes, at last," Luke sighed in total contentment.

"We fell asleep holding your mother’s belly," Anakin reminisced with a bittersweet feeling deep inside; but he quickly snapped out of it. "That was the most perfect and meaningful moment of my life. Until then." He made a self-deprecating face. "What a pity I didn’t learn anything from it."

"You did," Luke corrected him, "although you only became aware of it decades later."

"That’s my boy," Anakin smiled fondly, "always finding the positive side of the darkest side of life."

"Yep, that’s me!" Luke admitted unashamedly. "And I bet you’re feeling more relaxed now." He pinched his father’s nose playfully.

"I am," Anakin acknowledged with a chuckle. "You can go back to bed now, Luke. I will be fine," he said after a short pause.

Luke didn’t move and didn’t say a word.

"Luke?" Anakin looked up at his child curiously. "I’m all right now. You can return to your quarters. You can’t be comfortable like this, Son."

"I’m perfectly comfortable and I’m exactly where I want to be," Luke settled the matter. He sat up a bit straighter and leaned back against the padded headboard again. He pulled his father’s body closer and placed Anakin’s head on his heart, feeling instinctively that the rhythmic beating would lull him to a dreamless sleep. "Let us sleep now, and let’s hope for a brain-wave to hit us in the next few hours. We’re in desperate need of some clues."

Anakin bit his lower lip. He felt a bitter remorse for not insisting, but sleep tonight without that blinding source of Light and Love rocking his tortured soul would be impossible.

‘I need this as much as you do, Father. Allow me this honour and this sweet, quiet joy. I love you so much!’

Anakin closed his eyes and took a deep, searing breath. He winced. Force, it hurt to breathe through so much love! He enveloped his son’s ribcage with his arms, desperate to give as much as he was receiving.

‘My precious little angel!’ he sent, before succumbing to the most restful sleep he had had in decades.

Luke remained awake a few minutes more, drinking in the peace and contentment emanating from the sleeping form in his arms.

He was shocked at the wall his father had been putting up between them at night for months, to protect him from the horrors that lurked in his mind. He wondered how his father had held on all this time without going mad.

And this was what Anakin had willingly agreed on, when he had returned to him in the Death Star? More guilt and remorse that he had ever known, overwhelmed the young man then.

But that was what the Force had decreed for his father. For them. He could only try to ease the horrors that would plague Anakin for the rest of his life.

Looking down at his father, sleeping so trustingly in his arms, and with a sweet little smile on his face, Luke felt his heart shattering into a million tiny pieces. If only...!

If only.

He took his father’s hand in his own, and felt Anakin returning the pressure automatically in his sleep.

Biting his lips and so moved that his insides ached, Luke wrapped the covers more securely around his father and held him intensely. No more nightmares for him tonight, even if he had to fight them one by one.

With a last look at the slowly rising sun and burying one hand in the soft wavy hair, Luke joined his father in the realm of sleep.


The beeping noises in the background were getting louder and louder. Luke made a face in his sleep and tried to shut them out, but they only became more insistent.

Opening his eyes reluctantly, Luke squinted at the light that illuminated the room. That meant the day was in full bloom already! He looked at the alarm, realizing that it was an hour later than they usually got up. How...?

A short beep made him turn his head and he saw Artoo a couple metres away from the bed.

"It was you, wasn’t it? You turned it off so we could sleep a little bit more," he stated more than asked, with a little smile.

Artoo admitted it with a soft beep.

"You did right, Artoo; thank you." Luke nodded at the droid, gratefully. "We needed it." He looked down at Anakin, sound asleep in his arms, totally oblivious to their conversation. "I don’t want to wake him up," he muttered to himself. "After the night he had, he’s sleeping so peacefully for once..." he unconsciously tightened his hold, as if trying to keep his father’s demons away by sheer force of will. "I wish I could do more. How will I go to sleep from now on, knowing that for my father, almost every single night is a time of horror and madness? How will my love be strong enough to keep him sane and whole?" He let out a helpless sob. "Force, help him! I know how much destruction he caused. I know how many innocent lives he took. I know first-hand what a monster he was, and I know it is too much pain for it to ever be put aside as if it was of no consequence. But how will he accomplish his mission in this realm, if his very sanity is compromised? There must be a balance inside all of us, or we will be forfeit." He cupped Anakin’s head in his hand, cradling it as if it was a baby’s. "Help him to find that peace, or at the very least, a semblance of peace, enough for him to carry on. Please!" He bent forward and rested his forehead on his father’s, closing his eyes in fervent prayer.

A vague feeling of vertigo and dizziness came over him, and he gave a little start, opening his eyes and moving back slightly.

Anakin’s open eyes were looking back at him, just as surprised.

"W-what did you do?" the older man asked in a hoarse voice.

"I don’t know," Luke replied, blinking in obvious confusion. "Did I do anything?"

"I felt as if... as if a soft breeze had brushed my soul," Anakin said, struggling to find the right words. "And it felt like you."

"Do you feel any different?" Luke asked, not knowing why.

Anakin blushed and looked down shyly.

"I feel loved, but I always feel loved when I’m with you, Son."

Luke felt his insides melting at the endearing sight and voice.

"I also feel more rested and refreshed than ever, or so it seems to me," Anakin said, tilting his head to one side.

Luke arched his eyebrows.

"Maybe it’s because you’ve had no more nightmares," he suggested.

Anakin just stared at him knowingly.

"Seriously, Father. I don’t know what happened," Luke insisted. "I felt a bit dizzy when I closed my eyes, but that was all."

"You changed something inside me. You... passed on something to me. I can feel it," Anakin said, the sweet warmth inside him fading away slowly.

"Maybe it’s something you needed, or you will need in the future. Or maybe it’s just..."

"Whatever it is you did for me, we’ll find out in its own good time," Anakin smiled at his son, reaching out and holding his cheek in his palm. "Thank you, Luke. I wish I could find the words to tell you... Forgive me if I’m a burden sometimes. I just..."

Luke put up his own hand and covered his father’s.

"Don’t you ever call yourself a burden!" he exclaimed, outraged. "Do you have any idea how my life would be if I didn’t have you? I would be lost, and lonely, and missing you with every beat of my heart! A big part of me would have died with you. I would have been unable to dream again. You are my strength, and it means everything to me to know that I can comfort you when you need me; that I can give back a portion of what you give me every day, every hour. Don’t you see? You’ve taught me so much these past months. You teach me something new every day. About being a Jedi; but more important, you teach me about life, about accepting my limitations and shortcomings, and living with them. You’re completing my training as a Jedi and as a person. I’m the best person I can be thanks to you. I owe you everything, Father."

Overwhelmed beyond words, Anakin held his son’s body to him for all he was worth. The young man returned the hug with more intensity and need than he thought possible.

‘I love you!’ both minds cried out as one.

They remained in each other’s arms until it didn’t hurt to let go. Then, swallowing the lumps in their throats, they moved back and looked into each other’s eyes, their hearts so full they feared they would burst.

"Ready to face the day, General?" Luke asked with a playful wink.

"Ready, sir," Anakin replied formally, winking back.

Laughing out loud, Luke waited until his father moved off him to get up. He stretched luxuriously.

"Oh, no!" Anakin exclaimed from the other side of the bed.

The regret and loss in his voice brought Luke to his side at the double.

Anakin was looking down at his Alderanian sculpture on the floor, broken into a few dozen pieces.

"Oh, Father! I’m so sorry!" Luke squeezed his father’s shoulder, in a useless attempt to comfort him.

"I must have knocked it over last night. When I woke up I couldn’t remember where I was. I couldn’t even remember where the lights were. I began fumbling around in the dark and I remember now I heard a loud crash." Anakin looked at the irreplaceable work of art on the floor, totally devastated. The unique piece of work from a world that didn’t exist anymore, and he felt as if he had destroyed it all over again.

Luke ached for his father, knowing only too well what was crossing his mind, and his heart. He squatted down and began picking up the pieces with the utmost care.

"Maybe it can be fixed," he offered. "It broke in a lot of pieces, but it didn’t shatter."

Anakin squatted down too beside his son. He picked up a small piece and held it in his palm reverently.

Artoo rolled up to them and beeped soothingly at Anakin.

Luke went to his father’s closet and returned with a medium-sized padded box. He began putting the pieces in it very carefully. A few seconds later, Anakin joined him.

"I think we’ve got them all, I don’t see any more pieces. Do you?" Luke asked his father.

"No, this is the last," Anakin replied, putting the fragment he had found on top of the others. He looked at the now full box and sighed dejectedly.

Artoo beeped suddenly and rolled a couple metres, right beside the foot of the bed. He opened a hatch on his belly and extended his mechanical, pincer-like arm. He grabbed something the two humans had overlooked and handed it to Anakin.

It was undoubtedly a piece of the sculpture, but it had something attached to it. Anakin frowned and brought it closer to his eyes, studying it intently.

"What’s that?" Luke asked, edging closer to his father.

Using his fingernail, Anakin removed the black, perfectly square object from the piece of the sculpture. It was one centimetre long, and half a centimetre thick.

The older Jedi’s eyes opened like two saucers when he recognized it.

Beside him, Luke gasped out loud as he too, recognized the bugging device.

"Father..." he began.

‘Shh, be quiet!’ Anakin commanded, immediately resorting to mind-speech. ‘Don’t say a word! I think this model only records sounds, not images. Maybe we can fool whoever are listening into believing that we didn’t find it.’

Luke nodded slowly, trying to control his accelerated respiration and heartbeat.

‘Since it was in the sculpture, it’s logical to assume it only records sounds,’ he pointed out.

Anakin nodded, smiling softly at his brilliant child. He placed the device on his bedside table gingerly, just where the sculpture had been.

"Just another piece," he said out loud, for the listeners’ benefit. "I hope it can be fixed now."

‘There will have to be a thorough search of the entire building, including our private rooms. It is obvious that there will be others,’ Luke suggested.

‘If we do this by the book, we might as well start talking out loud,’ Anakin commented ironically.

‘You’re right,’ Luke admitted sadly. ‘We’ll have to do it ourselves, but very inconspicuously.’

‘And pray that none of those devices records images too,’ Anakin sighed mentally.

Father and son immediately looked at each other, realizing there could be other bugging devices in the room that did record images. If that was so, their little charade would be useless, because they would have been discovered already.

In any case, they would need a detector to find them.

‘Maybe not,’ Luke’s mind touched his father’s again. Both of them knew what the young man meant by that. They had reached a stage where not only words were unnecessary between them, but some bridge thoughts, as well. ‘Maybe you could try that wondrous gift of yours to locate any other bugging devices in this room, and in all others, too. Think you can do it?’

Anakin stared at his son with his mouth hanging open. It would have never occurred to him to try his gift out! Admiration poured out of him in waves.

‘I don’t know if I can make use of my gift for that, but I’ll most certainly try, my bright one,’ he answered, his chest bursting with pride in his child.

Anakin stood up and began walking around his room, looking at every piece of furniture, picture, lamp and even the floor. He tried to concentrate on his feelings, as he had done in the Falcon. He scanned every corner of his quarters, and then he entered the bathroom.

Luke watched his father curiously, wondering what it felt like to have such a gift. All of them were so fortunate that Anakin had uncovered it just in time!

Then, Anakin came out of his bathroom and shook his head. Apparently, his search had been negative. There were no other bugging devices.

The two Jedi stood side by side, with Artoo beeping softly behind them, looking at their totally fortuitous discovery that represented a quantum leap in the conspiracy threatening the Republic.

‘I guess this will convince Mon Mothma that we do have a traitor inside the Republic’s very core.’ Luke’s eyes met his father’s with a look of searing regret and betrayal. Something died inside him right then and there. Just like all of them, he had still clung to the impossibility that this could be an outside conspiracy.

‘Even worse.’ Anakin’s eyes were haunted. ‘Remember who gave me this sculpture four months ago?’

Luke’s gaze turned inwards for a moment and a second later, his eyes almost popped out of their sockets. He brought up his hand and covered his own mouth, preventing himself from letting out the exclamation that fought to escape his chest.

‘But Father, that’s purely circumstantial evidence!’ he tried to argue. ‘The fact that he gave you this sculpture doesn’t mean he...’ the young Jedi’s mental voice trailed off, as his father’s infinitely sad but understanding eyes looked at him compassionately. The possibility was next to zero, and they both knew it.



"Well, I guess that will be all for now, gentlebeings," Mon Mothma announced, putting an end to the morning’s meet. "Thank you all for your contributions and ideas. We will meet again tomorrow morning at eleven hundred hours. It will be better to keep our meets daily, as long as this crisis lasts."

Everybody agreed with curt, sad nods, and stood up reluctantly. As usual, some gathered in small groups and left the Great Hall discussing the situation, and others stayed, talking about it among themselves.

Luke, Han and Vaughan gathered in a small group; Mon Mothma, Generals Rieekan, Ackbar and Madine in another; Captains Ylek and Thazzel and Lando in another; Anakin, Areen Worzzlek, Leia and General Dodonna in another; and Chewie and Wedge chatted animatedly in another, closer to the doors. Other members of Mon Mothma’s staff, and members of the equipped team that had been assigned as Luke’s personal escorts, stopped a moment to comment something to some of them and then left. Little by little, some members of the Government left, too.

Anakin nodded his head at his daughter, Areen Worzzlek and Dodonna, excusing himself, and approached his son’s group. The three young men were engaged in a spirited discussion right behind him.

"Excuse me for interrupting, but I have something to ask you," he said, addressing Vaughan. "I think your family owns a restorer business, am I right?"

"Yes, my father and my uncles own the best restorer business of the entire galaxy," Vaughan nodded proudly. "If you broke something, I’ll talk to them. They’ll make a special price cut for you," he smiled teasingly.

"That’s good to know," Anakin looked honestly relieved, "because what they’ll have to restore, is something beyond price."

The sadness in Anakin’s voice sobered Vaughan instantly.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Last night, fumbling in the dark, I knocked down my Alderanian sculpture." The older Jedi couldn’t disguise the pain and regret in his voice.

"Oh, no! That priceless sculpture," Vaughan commiserated with Anakin. "I’m very sorry!"

"Me too," Anakin made a grimace. "It broke in a few dozen pieces, but it didn’t shatter. If there is a chance that it can be restored, I want to try, never mind the price."

"If anyone can do it, my father and my uncles can," Vaughan reassured emphatically. "Don’t worry. I’ll contact them right away." He headed for the doors.

"The sculpture’s in a padded box in my quarters. Want me to give it to you?" Anakin asked, raising his voice a little.

"Not now. I’ll go pick it up later. See ya!" The doors closed behind the young man.

"Getting clumsy in your old age, huh?" Han ribbed Anakin.

"Very funny." Luke cast a reproachful look at his friend.

"Hey, kid, if I can’t tease my friends, then whom?" Han smiled naughtily.

"Too right," Anakin said, placing one hand on his son’s shoulder and the other on the Corellian’s, and squeezing them both warmly. "And as far as I’m concerned, the day Mr. Solo stops teasing me, that will be the day I’ll start worrying."

"I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive you for calling me Mister. That really hurt my feelings," Han frowned at the older Jedi.

Anakin laughed out loud.

"Bless your sense of humour, Han," he commended, gratefully. "Oh, well! I’m in dire need of some meditation. I had a restless night and it’ll do me good before lunchtime."

"I’ll go meditate with you, Father," Luke said. "Where will you be?" he asked his friend and his sister, as she joined them, after finishing her conversation with Areen Worzzlek and patting his arm in farewell.

"The mess, of course," Han replied, watching Chewie’s hungry expression as he approached them with Lando and Wedge in tow. "We’ll meet you there."

"And if you need us, we’ll be in the Observation Hall," Luke indicated, referring to the huge room which his father, Leia and himself used to train.

"Okie-dokie." Han gave the two Jedi the thumb-up sign and a wink.



Very carefully, a dark shadow entered the Vice-President’s quarters. The man beneath the brown cloak scanned the room, and his eyes settled on the padded box on the bedside table. A soft sigh escaped his lips.

With silent but now confident steps, he headed for the sleeping alcove and his gloved hands began searching the broken pieces of the Alderanian sculpture.

"I didn’t think they’d send you personally, Areen," Mon Mothma’s voice resounded in the chamber.

The cloaked figure gave a start and turned to the source of the voice.

Mon Mothma, Anakin and Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and Chewbacca came out of their hiding places and surrounded the now cornered man, caught red-handed.

The President advanced with awesome dignity, until she was face to face with the man she had considered a brother for so long.

"It is a task more appropriate for a minion than the President’s confidant and trusted friend." She pinned the now slightly trembling man under her stare. "But I guess that’s your rightful place, not beside me, serving the New Republic."

Areen Worzzlek swallowed audibly.

"I won’t bother asking you why. The reason is obvious. Obviously petty," she spat. "That old, ugly feeling called jealousy. And envy. You felt displaced by a man who’s worth a billion times more than you, and conspired to destroy what took us, US, including you, years to build up, and millions of innocent victims from both sides."

Areen’s green eyes moved back and forth, from one accusing set of eyes to the next, his agitated respiration resounding in the chambers.

"Who else is involved, Areen?" The warm brown eyes flashed now with more anger than they had ever reflected. "Let’s not waste any more time asking irrelevant questions, like why or what for. Time is precious and I don’t want any more lives to be lost. Not even yours."

Areen’s face reflected more panic than any of them had ever seen. He stepped back, as if wanting to escape, but he bumped into Chewie’s impressive bulk, blocking his only way out. The Wookie’s dangerous growl made every hair on his body stand on end.

"How many, Areen?!" Mon Mothma demanded, raising her voice.

Beads of sweat rolled down the man’s forehead and his teeth began chattering.

"WHO!?" the President cried out, making him cringe.

A sudden feeling made Anakin look at the huge windows that afforded an impressive view of the capital. A small droid floated there, pointing a tiny infrared shaft at them.

"DOWN!" he yelled, grabbing his President and throwing himself to the floor with her.

With their reflexes thoroughly trained to ‘surprises’ like this after years of war, everybody threw themselves at the floor.

Everybody, but Areen Worzzlek.

At the same time, the doors opened and two members of Luke’s personal escort burst in, blasters in hand. They opened fire.

Areen was the first to fall, as hell broke loose in a matter of seconds.

Igniting his lightsaber and jumping to his feet, Luke began deflecting blasts.

Anakin had other plans. Spurred by a memory from the past and making sure his President was safe on the floor, he jumped through the windows right after one of the deflected bolts unarmed the little droid.

"Father!" Leia cried out, as she saw Anakin latch onto the droid and disappear from sight in the wink of an eye.

"Drop your weapons!" Lando ordered, barging into the Vice-President’s quarters with Vaughan Worthwing and Wedge Antilles in tow, all of them also blasters in hand.

The two soldiers froze, and a moment later they raised their hands in surrender.

"I said drop them!" Lando called.

The two men looked at each other knowingly and obeyed the General’s order.

Something was amiss there, Luke could feel it in his blood as he turned off his lightsaber. It was too easy. He half-closed his eyes and reached out with the Force. His eyes were immediately drawn to the two men’s mouths.

They had swallowed something.

"Poison! They’re committing suicide!" he cried out, hurling himself at the nearest man, catching him in his arms as he fell. The other man collapsed to the floor when there was no one to prevent his fall.

Instinctively, Luke called upon his healing gift, to no avail.

"Don’t try, Luke," Lando said, after checking the second man’s pulse on his neck. "They ingested SiKrah, don’t you smell it?"

Sniffing softly, Luke recognized the soft acid smell of SiKrah, the most potent poison known to date. There was no antidote for it, and death was almost immediate. He bent his head over the dead body, offering a silent prayer for the two men.

Han knelt down beside his friend and squeezed his shoulder. He felt no compassion at all for the two traitors who had just died. They had tried to kill them all in a cowardly fashion. But he respected and admired his friend’s regard for all life, even as worthless as these.

"Areen! No, Areen!" Mon Mothma’s anguished voice cried out.

The two friends rushed to their President’s side, who cradled in her lap the head of a badly wounded Areen Worzzlek. He had been hit several times all over his torso. His eyes were closed and he didn’t seem to breathe.

"Don’t let him die. Please! Don’t let him die!" she begged Luke, raising her wet face to the young Jedi in fervent plea.

Oblivious to the mayhem around her, Leia looked out of the smashed window, trying to calm down her wildly beating heart.


Anakin tried not to look down, as speeders flew past him at an impossible speed, from his point of view. He was hanging from the little droid, his cheeks all dragged back, hundreds of metres above the ground.

‘Don’t look down. Don’t look down,’ he told himself like a mantra. ‘You followed an impulse, now’s time to think. What would Obi-Wan do if he was in my place? Again?’ he closed his eyes and concentrated on his feelings, shutting out the scary reality around him.

Then, it hit him. His newly-discovered gift.

Opening his eyes, he focused his attention on the droid, using the Force to try and change its programming, persuading it to take him back to the place it had been sent from.

A few seconds later, the little droid turned about. Anakin’s eyes bulged when he realized they were returning to the Government’s headquarters.

‘Of course,’ he nodded to himself bitterly.

The droid was moving at top speed, and seeing they were about to crash against a huge window panel, Anakin summoned the Force to break it with an impressive kick, bursting into the Great Hall feet first.

He let go of the droid, his feet touching the carpeted floor with a dull sound. He drew out his lightsaber and ignited it defensively, just in case. He projected his senses, searching the room. It was empty. Turning off his weapon and attaching it to his belt, he grabbed a knitted centre-piece off one of the decorative tables in a corner, and wrapped it around the little droid. The only fingerprints on the droid would be his, he was almost positive, but if they didn’t check it out, they would never know for sure.


The sun was setting when Anakin entered the Observation Hall. His eyes immediately turned to the huge windows and the impressive view of Coruscant’s capital. It was a view that left him breathless. It always had and always would.

A tiny figure, looking out of the windows immediately drew his attention. Her drooping shoulders and her totally dejected stance broke his heart. He walked up to her and stopped one little step behind her. He ached to touch her. Squeeze her shoulder, stroke her hair, anything. But even after so many months, he still was unsure of how to approach her, especially when she was so withdrawn into herself.

"Can I help you?" he simply asked.

"I wish you could," was the soft reply several seconds later. "But I’m afraid no one can. Not even myself, and that’s the problem."

"Can I stay and keep you company?" the older Jedi almost begged.

Leia’s head turned to him, and her lips formed a poignant smile.

"I’d like that," she said, looking back ahead.

They remained in silence, looking out of the window at the life unfolding all around them. Beings with their own problems, their own lives, coming and going, living and dying...

Anakin studied his child’s profile, drinking in her lovely features, so much like her mother’s. Her upturned nose; her long, wavy hair; her...

"It’s so ironical." Her sudden words brought him out of his enraptured reverie.

"What?" he asked.

"Everything," she said with a shrug. "Us, life..."

"In relation to what?" Anakin found it difficult to follow his daughter’s convoluted train of thought sometimes.

"Trust. In the end, everything comes down to that little word, doesn’t it?"

"I guess it does," Anakin agreed, beginning to see what his child was really talking about.

"I’ve known Areen since I was 17 years old. He was kind and loyal, and with a funny sense of humour. I always liked him. War brought us all together. We formed a strange little family, but a family nonetheless." She tilted her head to one side. "After I lost my adoptive father and most of the people I loved on Alderaan, they were all the ‘family’ I had left. We all clung to each other. We were the only ones we could trust. If there was one thing we could count on, it was our absolute loyalty to the Alliance and one another. Nothing and no one could break that." She looked down and sighed. "After so many years, you take many things for granted. Your friends’ loyalty is beyond question, and you automatically suspect anyone who dares to question that loyalty." She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, opening them next. "People change, we all know that. It’s a fact of life. But if people you’ve trusted with your very life can betray the holiest gift a person can give another, then..."

"...who can you trust?" father and daughter said at the same time.

"I know there are no certainties in this life," Leia went on, letting it all out now that she had started, "but it hurts so much! I feel like a fool. I’m angry, and disappointed. I feel..."

"Betrayed." Anakin summed it up with just one word. "Your feelings have been hurt. The betrayal of someone deeply trusted is one of the hardest lessons anyone can learn in their lifetime. Especially because there’s nothing to learn from such a lesson. You can only react to it either by shutting everybody out and never fully trusting anyone again, or by keeping an open heart, and risking being betrayed again. In the end, there are only two kinds of beings, I think. Those who choose to keep on trusting despite everything, and those who choose to build up a barrier around their hearts and live a safer but more barren life. The question is, which path will you choose?"

Leia made an ironical face.

"There are many more questions than that."

"What questions?" Anakin asked curiously.

The Princess bit her lips, as if struggling with something inside her.

"Questions like: ‘I trusted Areen and he betrayed us all. I opened my heart to him and he broke it.’ ‘I refused to fully open my heart to you and you saved all our lives, proving that you have more integrity and you’re far more trustworthy than all the judgmental, self-righteous... like me...’" she trailed off, looking away.

"Oh, Leia." Anakin’s heart went out to his beloved daughter. Unable to help himself, he reached out and placed his hand on her shoulder, squeezing it with all the love in his soul. "I... I don’t know what to say. I wish... I..."

"It is all right, Father," Leia reassured him softly, reaching up and squeezing his fingers in return. "That’s why I was saying that no one can help me but myself. But these questions have no answer. I have to learn to live with them without letting them interfere with my life."

"Yes," Anakin nodded. "But you’re not judgmental or self-righteous. You have your own convictions and beliefs, just like any of us. It’s more difficult for you to come to terms with all the grey areas of life. That’s the way you are. But you’re intelligent, and sensitive, and just, and loving, and a beautiful person." He inched closer instinctively. "I love you. I love you more than you will ever know. In these few months I’ve come to know you, and I love you, respect you and admire you for who you are, not only because you’re my daughter. You’ll let go of the barriers you’ve built up around your heart when you realize you don’t need them anymore." He risked stroking her hair once. "Areen’s betrayal was a temporary setback, but you know that there are people around you who will die before betraying you or hurting your feelings intentionally. Don’t let one big and painful disappointment destroy your faith in others. Trust your feelings, reach out to the Force. It will give you balance and comfort."

Leia remained silent for some time, taking in everything her father had said. She nodded slowly to herself and continued looking out of the windows.

"Do you think Areen will recover?" she finally asked.

The big man let out a bitter sigh.

"I don’t know. It’s impossible to tell. Physically, he’s completely healed, Luke made sure of that. There is no reason at all for him to be in a coma. There are no traces of poison in his system, there is no brain damage... it’s as if he had suffered such a severe trauma that he has shut himself out totally from the outside world. It’s as if... as if he didn’t want to return." Anakin rubbed the bridge of his nose, trying to soothe the beginnings of a monumental headache. He had tried to meditate, but he was exhausted after spending hours by Areen’s bedside, trying to reach his mind with every single technique he knew, after relieving an even more exhausted Luke.

"I’ve never seen you trying so hard." Leia turned to him and searched her father’s drawn features. "How long have you been trying to bring him back?"

"Over three hours," was the dejected answer. "Maybe I should try again. The longer he stays in a coma the more unlikely his recovery will be."

"You don’t know that," Leia pointed out. "Besides, Luke is the family’s official healer, not you," she smiled at him compassionately.

"I know." The Jedi’s voice was full of regret and pain. "But still..."

"Still what?" Leia asked, facing her father. "What’s wrong?" She looked into his eyes.

Anakin looked away, swallowing the lump in his throat. He made a move, as if beginning to walk away.

Leia immediately reached out and grabbed his wrist.

"You feel guilty!" she exclaimed, as her father’s emotions flooded her through the contact.

Anakin froze on the spot and looked at her with his eyes wide open.

"You feel guilty for Areen’s betrayal," the Princess stated, in complete astonishment. "Why?"

"Isn’t it obvious?" Anakin replied, his voice full of bitter irony. "I am the reason why he turned against the Republic."

"The reason why he turned against us is exclusively his own. Nobody forced him to do it," Leia said, adamantly.

"Nothing is that simple and you know it. I am the living example of that," Anakin reminded her. "You just said that he was a good, kind and loyal man. He undoubtedly felt that the principles the Alliance was founded on, had been betrayed when I was made Vice-President. Perhaps he thought he was serving a better cause..."

"A better cause, land-mines, bombs and ambushes in public parks? A better cause, the murdering of innocent civilians?" Leia almost cried out. "Any cause that resorts to such tactics, automatically loses all the credibility it could have. They’re nothing but criminals and murderers! And you know it."

"Yes, I do," Anakin replied, walking away and collapsing on one of the soft leather floor cushions. He covered his face with his hands. "But I was also the reason why a good man went astray. I cannot forget that."

Leia contemplated the disconsolate figure and her heart swelled with love and tenderness for that man. She walked up to him and sat down beside him.

"Father, there are many reasons why a good person can go astray, but ultimately, it’s their decision and no one else’s," she told him in a soothing voice. "I know there are mitigating circumstances. There were in your case, and there are in Areen’s. That’s why it hurts so much, in a way. He’s still a good, caring man. I felt it when I touched him this morning. But he allowed his feelings of envy, jealousy and resentment to dominate him and lead him in the wrong direction. That’s what I don’t understand. He refused to trust us and tell us he disagreed with our decisions. He chose to withdraw from us and join them instead, whoever they are." She looked away with a pensive expression. "You think you know someone, and after so many years..." She shook her head with a sigh and focused again on the man who had sired her. "You mustn’t blame yourself for all the bad things that happen around you, even if you were the catalyst. You’re not responsible for other people’s choices. You can only try to do the right thing and never hurt others intentionally, as you so wisely told me a moment ago. There is no perfect solution for every problem. There are too many factors and variables at work most of the time."

"I know, Leia. I know that in my head, but my heart tells me different." Anakin ground his teeth.

"What does your heart tell you?"

Anakin’s head snapped up and looked at his daughter with utter surprise in his eyes at the eerily familiar way she had phrased her question. He blinked a few times as he pulled himself together and searched for the right words.

"It tells me that sometimes, with our best intention we can cause a lot of harm. It tells me that despite your feelings for me, everything would have turned out better if I had died on the Death Star. At least, you would have been spared this threat." He looked down and his shoulders sagged in defeat.

Leia pursed her lips, trying to control her sudden anger. She knew her father couldn’t help feeling the way he did, and that calmed her down somewhat.

"First," she said in a clipped voice, "you don’t know that for sure. We still don’t know the true nature of this threat, and quite probably, it would have arisen anyway, whether you’d survived or not. And second, how dare you say that everything would have been better if you had died? Are you a total moron or what?"

Anakin looked up at her, shocked at her words.

"Can you look at me in the eyes, and tell me that you honestly believe that our lives would have been better if you had remained dead? That Luke would have been able to smile again the way he does every time he looks at you, so full of pride and love? Do you think that Luke and I would live fuller and happier lives without you? Not to mention Han, Lando, Chewie, and the entire Red Squadron, who admire you and respect you as if you were the coolest thing on two legs."

Anakin smiled sadly.

"You would have found a way, somehow. No one’s irreplaceable."

"No, but some are more irreplaceable than others. We’d have found a way, yes. But not the best way possible. Luke would be a great Jedi. He would have trained me right. The Republic would still be strong and just. But something would have been missing. Something only you could give us all. Yourself." Her stare intensified. "Your wisdom, your life experiences, your compassion, your understanding, your insight... everything that you are. There is a difference between good and best. And you make that difference, Father." Leia reached out and rested a hand on Anakin’s shoulder. "Don’t you see? You bring out the best in all of us."

"I brought out the worst in Areen," Anakin reminded them both, tears streaming down his cheeks.

"Because he allowed it to. The difference lies in the way he allowed his feelings to be twisted and corrupted, instead of bothering to see how upright and decent you are. Instead of accepting his role in the New Republic, he chose to believe he had been displaced and you were responsible for it. It’s no one’s fault but Areen’s." Leia’s voice trembled with emotion as she wiped away the tears on her father’s face. "Our good deeds don’t always spawn good deeds, but it doesn’t have anything to do with us."

Anakin sniffled and took a deep, shaky breath.

"I know you’re right, but..."

"If you still think that our lives would be better without you, you only have to look at Luke and me," Leia went on relentlessly, determined to help her father out of his defeatist mood. "Look at the way we’ve grown and matured these past months. How much we’ve changed, for the better. Especially me. I consented to start training, and that’s a miracle in itself. You’ve taught me so much! About my own prejudices, that were blinding me to a higher truth. I’m still halfway, but I’m trying. With your help and Luke’s, one day I’ll be that which I’m meant to be. Hopefully." Her face illuminated. "And Luke... he would be lost without you. He’d have looked for you in everything and everyone, wherever he went. He’d never have been able to reach his full potential, as a Jedi or as a person. He’d have been miserable and empty for the rest of his life." She smiled lovingly. "And the same goes for you, Father. Luke’s giving you everything you need to reach your full potential. It’s the most beautiful, perfect sharing, and the sight of the two of you together is awe-inspiring. You bring out the best in each other." Her look turned inwards and her voice dropped an octave. "Luke’s not the greatest Jedi ever and neither are you. The two of you are the greatest Jedi ever."

"Oh, Force!" Anakin exclaimed, devastated by his daughter’s words and the dawning truth in them.

"You give each other something that neither of you would be able to accomplish on your own. You bring out the best in me and in all those around you who care to see. If some can’t see it..." she shrugged, "...well, their loss!"

Anakin bit his lower lip. He couldn’t believe it. His daughter’s fierce defence of him rocked him to his very soul.

"I also think there are two types of beings," Leia smiled somewhat playfully. "Those who blame themselves for every disaster that happens around them, and those who believe that they’re not responsible for anything, and it’s the others’ fault. Truth has got to be somewhere in the middle. But most of us tend to one side of the spectrum or the other, and we spend our entire lives looking for the perfect balance."

"You and your brother are my perfect balance," Anakin whispered from the bottom of his heart. "You are everything to me. My hope, my joy, my Destiny, my Light, my Love..."

Leia blushed and looked away shyly.

"...and I pray that one day I can give you even half of what you give me, day after day, just by letting me be a part of your lives, by letting me love you, and allowing me to try and make up for my crimes. My unforgivable crimes..." he choked on his words.

Leia turned her head and looked at her father, full of compassion.

"You’re doing much good, Father. You’ve touched thousands of lives and saved hundreds by now. The past cannot be changed, but you can change the present and the future, and you will. For the best. The best possible future for us all."

Anakin’s blue eyes bored into his daughter’s and Leia smiled back at him.

"Bless you for saying that. It helps so much!" he said, with an infinitely grateful smile.

"It helped me too," Leia admitted, taking a deep breath. "My conflicted feelings are still there, but I think I’ll be able to cope with them better now. It felt good letting it all out and getting your insight. I guess it’s useless to struggle with what it is, isn’t it?"

"Quite," Anakin nodded, raising an ironical eyebrow. "But even if we can’t change it, talking about it with those who care truly helps."

Leia looked down.

"Yes, it does. A lot," she agreed, keeping silent for a moment, lost in her own musings. "So," she said, coming out of her short reverie, "what do you wanna do now?"

Anakin rolled his eyes a bit, apologizing in advance for what he was going to say.

"Illogical as it may seem, I want to visit Areen again. I know there is nothing I can do, but I want to keep trying. I need it."

Leia nodded in understanding and squeezed her father’s shoulder.

"I know what you mean," she smiled softly. "Thank you for your help, Father."

Anakin’s gaze turned to the huge city outside. The sun had already set.

"Ah, Leia," he said with soft, dreamy eyes, "thank you for letting me try and help." His eyes settled on his daughter, adoringly. "It was..." he stiffened and his head immediately tilted to one side, as if listening to some inner voice.

"What is it?" Leia asked.

"Your brother needs me," Anakin said, standing up.

"Is he all right?" Leia got immediately serious.

"Yes. He’s having a nightmare," Anakin reassured her, heading for the door. "Later!" He waved his hand good-bye, striding out of the Hall.

Leia shook her head with a smile. There was nothing more endearing to her than her father entering "Big Papa" mode. She felt a momentary pang of sadness in her heart, that also had a suspicious tinge of jealousy. But it was all her fault and she knew it. Anakin was desperate to have an equally loving relationship with both his children. It was she who still wasn’t prepared to fully open her heart to him. Her fist hit the floor cushion where she was sitting in sheer frustration, and her upper body slumped in defeat.

She still needed more time, that was obvious. She had to accept it and be patient.

There were moments... there were moments when she ached to wrap her arms around her father. Those sweet and gentle blue eyes broke her heart. She had been about to hold him a while ago, at the sight of the tears rolling down his face. But every time she began to reach out, she saw Darth Vader’s mask looming over her as he ‘interrogated’ her in the first Death Star, or she had flashbacks of a badly tortured Han on Bespin, or a battered and mutilated Luke, and something inside her froze. She wanted to learn to see past those terrible episodes of her life. But those episodes, among others, had made her the person she was today. She couldn’t change that.

Even so, the shy, almost fearful touch of his hand on her hair, his warm hand on her shoulder, the searing love and regret that poured out of him every time she touched him... Oh, how she prayed for a day to come when her heart finally came to a decision about this conflict!

She had to let Destiny take its course. She had gone a long way already. One day, there would be peace inside her, and she would be free of this pointless need to hold back in front of a man who would rather die than cause them all a second’s pain or unhappiness.

She looked at the closed doors and rose to her feet. She needed her beloved’s arms around her, reassuring her that everything would be all right.

She had indeed gone a long way. Now she could allow herself the freedom to be vulnerable around those she loved, knowing that it wouldn’t make her weak and they wouldn’t be put off. Quite the contrary, they would welcome her with open arms, loving words and a warm and soothing heart.


It was hot, very hot. He tried to breathe through the suffocating heat. It was all around him. No, not quite. It was around him, but also inside him. He burned. He struggled to open his eyes, but his eyesight was blurry. He made out the forms of people herded around him, and he recognized them by sheer instinct rather than by what his eyes could see. His father, Han, Leia, Lando, Chewie... and he could faintly hear Artoo’s beeping sounds in the background.

He was afraid. Terrified. He had never been so frightened in his entire life, but he knew he had to be strong for some reason. He blinked hard, needing to see their faces more desperately than anything he had needed before.

It was so hot! And he couldn’t breathe. He opened his mouth, trying to take a deep intake of breath, but it was useless. He wanted to cry out, to say something, but he couldn’t anymore.

And then, the unfocused faces looming above him disappeared, and he was in flames. He tried to grasp the tiniest ray of sanity he had left, but it was hopeless. He was losing it, losing it...

"NOOO!!" He cried out, sitting up on his bed with a brutal jerk. His hand fumbled in the dark, found the lights and turned them on with a slap.

He was trembling from head to foot, his whole body bathed in sweat, and he buried his face in his hands, unable to hold back the racking sobs exploding from him.

He felt a rush of air beside him and the weight of something hollowing the bed. Without thinking, he reached out and clung to it; to him.

Long, strong arms brought him close and held him in a crushing embrace. He felt small and insignificant, as if anything could hurt him. And at the same time, he felt as if nothing could ever harm him. Not as long as he had those arms wrapped around him.

"Oh, Father!" he moaned in between gasps.

"I am here. I’m right here, little one," replied the gentlest voice, so full of love and focused intensity that he almost forgot why he was so terrified. "Hold on to me. It will pass. Don’t be afraid. Shhhhh." Soft hands stroked his back up and down soothingly. The body he was clinging to began a slow rocking motion, and he surrendered to it like a baby who depended on his parent’s strength to survive. A hand slid through his soaked, dishevelled hair, and loving fingertips massaged his pounding scalp, easing the splitting headache that even made his ears buzz.

Luke’s own body blindly followed the rhythm of his father’s rocking motions, and seconds later, an overwhelming sense of peace suffused his being. He swallowed hard, trying to relieve his dry, burning throat.

"Please, don’t let me go," he begged with such despair and raw need that he felt as if his very flesh was being torn apart.

"Never, my angel. Never!" was the impassioned answer as Anakin’s lips kissed the top of his head. "I will never let you go."

Luke returned the embrace for all he was worth, burying his face in his father’s chest, wanting to disappear there. This was the only place in the universe where he was safe. Truly safe. Where no evil and no pain could touch him. And yet... some terrifying knowledge lurked right at the edge of his consciousness, as if trying to warn him, to force him to see...

He recoiled from that shadow and sought refuge in his father’s love. No. No! He wasn’t ready for it...

"Easy, easy, my baby," Anakin cooed, rubbing his child’s tense shoulders. His son’s body felt about to snap, so unbelievably rigid it was. "Nothing will harm you for as long as I live. Shhh, shhhh..."

They both knew it was a lie. No one could keep their loved ones from all harm. But the promise of it was so comforting and they both needed it so much, that they suspended disbelief for these blissful moments when it seemed possible.

Several minutes passed thus, with Luke trembling like a leaf and his father all wrapped around him, fighting the horror engulfing his son’s soul.

Finally, Anakin felt Luke’s body relaxing a little and his mind opening up to him.

"Can you talk about it?" he asked with a last kiss on his child’s forehead.

Luke pressed up against him one last desperate time, before swallowing the lump in his throat.

"I-it was hot. All around and inside me. And I couldn’t see clearly," he explained, his voice muffled against Anakin’s chest. "I think you were there. And Leia, and Han and Lando, and Chewie and perhaps Artoo... but I’m not sure. Everything was so unclear... And I was slipping somehow. I was losing my mind in a burst of flames. I was burning!" He brought one hand around and grabbed a handful of the front of his father’s top, burying his face in it again.

"Shhhhhh," Anakin held him tight once more. "It is all right. It’s all right, Luke. I’m here, don’t be afraid."

"What is this? What does it mean?" Luke moaned in anguish.

"Dreams don’t have to mean something necessarily," Anakin pointed out candidly. "Most of the time, they’re projections from our subconscious that we mix up with fragments of events that happened in our waking lives."

"This one looked like it should mean something. It was too vivid," Luke insisted. "It felt as if... as if it was real."

"All dreams, and especially nightmares, feel like they are real. That’s why they scare us so much," Anakin smiled, his fingers combing leisurely through the wet strands of blond hair. "I could write a study of it." He made an ironical face.

"Then, is that all it was?" Luke asked, looking up at his father trustingly, like a little boy.

"Only you can tell," the older Jedi looked down at his son, deadly serious all of a sudden, their eyes meeting in shared understanding. "Personally, I think your mind made it all up, throwing in some pieces of the nightmare I had last night."

Luke looked away, his mouth open wide, realizing it just then. He nodded absently.

"You’re right. I had forgotten about your nightmare." His body sagged against his father’s in sheer relief.

And still, something kept nagging at him. Something he should figure out...

"I’ve had this nightmare before," he uttered, almost in a trance, his muscles tensing a little again. "Several times. Recently. But I forgot about it soon after waking up."

"Recurring nightmares are very common," Anakin said, moving a stray lock of hair away from his child’s forehead. "From my own personal experience, I can tell you that if they’re visions of the future, you just know. If not, they’re just that. Nightmares."

"I’ve had those visions before and I know what you mean," Luke nodded. "But this one had something to it that was too scary to contemplate. I felt like running and crying out..." He shuddered helplessly again and sought his father’s warmth, swallowing the lump in his throat. "Also, I don’t know if all visions are literal or if they can be metaphorical too..." He raised his eyes and met his father’s in silent question.

"Mine have always been literal," Anakin replied, paling a bit and wrapping his arms around his son’s body as a reflex action.

"Mine too," Luke said, cuddling up to his father’s strength like a defenceless cub. "And always about terrible events."

"Just like mine." A shiver ran up and down the older Jedi’s spine. "But let’s not think about that now. If it was a premonition, you would know. Try to go back to sleep, my son. Everything will be all right."

"I find that hard to believe, after what happened today," Luke replied, with uncharacteristic despondency.

"I know," Anakin sobered, the bitter pain in his heart returning at the thought of Areen’s betrayal. "I talked to your sister about it and she helped me a great deal."

"That’s good," Luke smiled happily. It filled his soul with the sweetest joy to see how the rift between his father and his sister was slowly closing. He had decided not to interfere but to let things happen in their own good time. And it was working.

Anakin smiled hopefully and they maintained a companionable silence for a little while.

"I tried to heal him, but..." Luke said, out of the blue.

"I know." Anakin’s attention was totally focused on easing his child’s guilty feelings. "Don’t blame yourself for something that is beyond your ability to heal. You tried and it didn’t work. There must be a reason why Areen’s not coming back. Keep the faith. Trust the Force."

"I saw you trying, too. For hours," Luke said softly, his eyes regarding his father adoringly.

Anakin made a self-deprecating face and looked away.

"I know there is nothing I can do. But I had to try, even if it was useless. Don’t ask me why."

"I understand." Luke held Anakin’s hand and squeezed it, pressing their palms together. To the older man, it felt as if his child’s life-giving hand was blessing his own sterile, useless flesh.

"Go back to sleep now, Father. I will be all right."

Something in Anakin was achingly reluctant to comply with his son’s wishes. But Luke had a right to his independence. He wasn’t a child who needed his father to stay by his bedside, until he fell asleep again after having a nightmare. Never mind how close their relationship was, those times were gone for good. Times he had missed that would never return.

Anakin nodded bitterly, and burying the poignant pain deep in his heart, he stood up after mussing up his child’s hair.

"Sweet dreams, my son," he smiled down at his offspring, unable to resist tucking him up and stroking one soft pink cheek with his fingertips.

Luke grabbed the caressing hand.

"Sweet dreams, you too. Love you." His gentle blue eyes shone.

Anakin’s heart flip-flopped in his chest at the naturalness with which Luke uttered those two words that were the most precious gift and honour he would ever receive. His son’s love. Something that couldn’t be coerced or bought. It was freely given, from that pure and innocent heart. And it was his. He didn’t know what had he ever done to deserve it, but it was his. The trembling Jedi wrapped that love around his own needy heart, wrapping himself around it at the same instant, protecting it and holding it to his soul, a treasure beyond compare.

"My beautiful little boy," he whispered, the words leaving his lips before he could stop them. Tears filled his eyes, and he blinked them away desperately, before turning on his heels and leaving his child’s room.


His consciousness surfaced from the depths of slumber. As he did every single morning, he waited a few seconds until he was fully awake. Then, he opened his eyes slowly. Tiny shafts of light filtered through the blinders, and he concentrated on them, until he willed them open through the Force. Shining light fell directly on him, and he smiled luxuriously at the feel of the sun warming his skin and filling his body with invigorating vitality.

Now, it was time to sit up cross-legged on his bed and meditate. But for some reason, he felt uncharacteristically lazy this morning. He turned onto his left side, grabbed one pillow and hugged it to his face, looking out of the huge windows.

Coruscant never rested. Life hurried at a manic speed on the other side of the windows, with ships and speeders flowing in every direction, busy and noisy, in a colourful testimony to life, to a cycle with no beginning and no end.

That was life, fortunately for them all. Some went and some stayed. Parents died but children lived, and when children became parents in their turn, they left too, leaving behind them a better world (if they were clever enough) for their own children to enjoy and improve in their turn.

The circle of life.

He sighed, feeling strangely at peace that morning. He would die one day, but his children would live. The best part of him. They’d have learnt from their faulty father’s mistakes, and they would be wise and kind. They would use their own gifts to make their neighbours’ lives easier. They would fight for justice and what was right and...

Anakin’s wandering mind put the brakes on all of a sudden. There was something there, something about his musings that was worth reconsidering. Something that was a key, a vital key...

Anakin let go of his pillow and turned onto his back, studying the ceiling as he struggled to concentrate.

What was his subconscious trying to tell him?

He reached for the Force, looking for clues.

There was something about... Leia. His precious daughter. Something about... yesterday’s conversation with her, that made him prick up his ears as she said it, but he had forgotten about as their talk progressed.

Anakin relived it, unable to help smiling at his mental picture of her. She reminded him so much of her mother! That long, soft brown hair; that upturned nose; those kind and lively eyes, so full of strength and determination, but so upright and honest at the same time... when she wore her heart on her sleeve, he could hardly restrain himself from crushing her to his chest. But he had to hold back. She still wasn’t ready to welcome his embrace, and it would break his heart beyond repair to feel her rejection.

But he was digressing, as he always did every time he thought of his children. His beautiful, bright and perfect...

No, not again. He had to concentrate and think of their conversation. Of all the things she had admitted. That was where his instinct was leading him. Her feelings of betrayal, disappointment and sadness. Oh, how he wished to be able to help her! To take those feelings away and replace them with the promise of a better, more honest reality, where people meant what they said and the others didn’t have to guess whether they were lying or telling the truth; or, if they were Force-sensitive, resort to...

He sat up on his bed with a brutal start.


It had been right before their eyes all this time and they had missed it! The perfect solution, a clean and unbelievably simple way to find out who the traitors were. It was no wonder none of them had thought about it sooner. Most of the time, the things in plain sight are the most difficult to see.

He fell back on his bed, and burst out laughing.

Children indeed were the hope for the future!


"If that is all, gentlebeings, this meeting is adjourned."

Mon Mothma seemed to have aged ten years overnight. Areen’s betrayal had hit too hard, and she doubted she would ever recover completely. She tried not to look at the empty seat beside her, and at the even greater hole in her heart. She was on autopilot, carrying on with her duties. Hopefully, there would be a quantum leap in the investigation of these terrorist attacks very soon, she had to hold on to that. There was a whole galaxy to protect, and her personal problems and feelings meant nothing compared to the higher scheme of things.

"Well, not quite, your Excellency," Anakin intervened, before anyone could stand up. He looked at his family and friends for a moment, asking their consent for what he was about to do, which they gave with sharp nods. "We have an annoucement to make. It has to do with the reason why we arrived late to this meeting." His eyes sparkled with more joy that he could contain.

"What announcement?" the President asked, feeling a tiny ray of hope making its way through her broken heart, in spite of everything. Something in Anakin’s smile felt like a promise. Of what, she didn’t dare to guess.

"In the middle of so much disappointment and gloom, we would like to share with you a piece of news that, even if it’s got nothing to do with our current situation, and won’t shed any light on the investigation, is a promise of a brighter future for us all, besides it being an indescribable joy and source of delight for me personally." The Jedi’s eyes sparkled with untold happiness.

"Well, what is it?" Mon Mothma asked excitedly, despite herself.

Exchanging a last look with his family, Anakin took a deep breath, his chest bursting with pride.

"It is my honour to announce my daughter’s engagement to General Solo."

There was a moment of shocked silence in the Hall, as everybody absorbed this totally unexpected news. But a few heartbeats later, the whole room exploded into exclamations of heartfelt congratulations to the couple, their family and their friends. Han and Leia were forced to stand up and shake everybody’s hands, as they babbled clumsy words of gratitude in the spontaneous madness of the moment.


The news spread like wildfire and before lunchtime, Han and Leia’s hands were sore after shaking the hands of the entire Red Squadron, Luke’s personal escorts and dozens of people they didn’t even know.

Luke, and most especially Anakin, couldn’t hold back the overwhelming happiness bubbling in their hearts. Anakin felt giddy. A mere year ago, he didn’t even know he had a daughter, he was a willing slave of the Dark Side, and he had nothing to look forward to in his life, except for his ambitions of power and greed that had diluted over time. Now, he was a loving and devoted father, and his little girl was engaged to the best man he could possibly imagine, who was like a second son to him.

Blinking hard to get rid of the moisture filling his eyes, he turned his head when he felt the soft brush of his son’s fingers touching his own. Luke’s eyes were misty too, but they were smiling up at him, his beautiful face shining with so much joy that Anakin’s heart sang.

But they couldn’t ignore the threat looming over them. Any or several of the smiling people shaking hands with his daughter and his soon-to-be son-in-law, could be conspiring at this very moment to bring down the New Republic, and get rid of them along with it. Yesterday had revealed two traitors in the crack team assigned to ensure Luke’s security.

Anyone could be involved. That was the only, bitter truth they could count on.

The older Jedi tried to keep his mind from dwelling on the justified feeling of helplessness and betrayal settling in his chest. They couldn’t allow it to prevent them from trusting people’s innate goodness and integrity. Most beings in the universe were good and honourable, and tried to abide by what was morally right. They couldn’t let these terribly painful acts of treachery to take away their faith in people.

Thank heavens, they had a winning card at their disposal. The Light.

The Light had ultimately defeated Darth Vader and Palpatine. Nothing and no one could stand against it. Against Love. Against their sense of belonging and determination to keep the galaxy and those they loved safe. There was no stronger instinct. They would prevail.

It was poetically fitting that it was Leia who unmasked the traitors lurking in the Republic’s very core, using it to overthrow it from within, much like Palpatine had done almost a quarter of a century earlier. She was unveiling them one by one just now, just by shaking their hands and following her empathy gift. It was so beautifully simple he couldn’t stop smiling.

As a young man, he’d have considered this resolution as a sort of anticlimactic one. But two decades later, he’d had enough of fighting and battling, and maiming and death. This was a clean and smooth way to spot and later bring the traitors before justice, without shedding any needless blood.

Intelligence over mindless violence. Just perfect.


Captain Ylek was sitting at his computer when his door chime buzzed. He quickly entered his personal password and encrypted the file he was working on, before switching off his computer.

"Come in," he called, standing up to receive his guest.

The door opened and Mon Mothma, followed by Anakin Skywalker and two security guards entered his quarters.

"Mrs. President," he greeted her politely. "And company," he nodded his head to the other visitors. "To what do I owe the honour of your visit?"

Mon Mothma answered with a feral smile.

"We have come to ask you to please let us search your quarters. Including your computer."

The bland expression on the Twi’lek’s face gave way to one of shock.

"And what do you expect to find here?" he asked.

"Evidences of high treason."

"Excuse me?!" The green eyes almost popped out of their sockets.

"Please, Captain, save us your performance," Mon Mothma cut off, raising her hand as if she was dismissing a child’s attempt to deny he had been caught red-handed with both hands in the cookie jar. "We know you are involved beyond any reasonable doubt. So, if you will be so kind as to take a seat and make yourself comfortable, these two security guards will search your quarters, and Artoo will take care of your computer."

She moved aside, and the little blue droid rolled in. He stopped by the terminal and plugged in his computer arm. A few seconds later, he let out a very revealing whistle, that let everybody know he had found something.

Anakin activated the computer screen and searched through the files Artoo was decrypting. Some time later, his big body stiffened. He swivelled around slowly in the chair and faced the immediately paling Twi’lek. The Jedi’s features were contorted with hatred and anger. Anger that was only a heartbeat away from being released.

"So, my son’s X-Wing was your next target," he hissed. His nostrils flared as he bared his teeth. "A little short-circuit that would make the fuel tanks of his ship blow up. And ‘good riddance,’ in your own words."

"ANAKIN!" Mon Mothma cried out.

Anakin blinked, to find himself on his feet and reaching for the recoiling man with a clawed hand. His President’s hand was on his chest, restraining him with only the power of her authority. And it was enough. He swallowed hard several times, forcing his runaway emotions in check once again. He reached for the Light with fast and deep intakes of breath.

"I apologize for my lack of control," he uttered breathlessly.

"It is quite understandable." Mon Mothma put down her hand, seeing it wasn’t necessary anymore. "I don’t know what would I do if I found out that some bastard had been plotting my child’s assassination." She turned to the now emotionless face of the Twi’lek, not bothering to hide all the sickness and contempt she felt. "Take him away," she told one of the security guards. "He will be the first of several."

When the doors closed after Captain Ylek and the security guard, Anakin collapsed on the chair. He buried his face in his hands and let out a dry laugh, a soft tremor enveloping his body.

"And to think I recommended him to you when we formed a government," he shook his head, amazed at his stupidity.

"Just as I recommended my Security Chief, who’s being arrested just now."

Anakin bit his lower lip, shaking his head non-stop in total disbelief.

"Force, there are traitors everywhere!" he exclaimed, unable to believe the sequence of events unfolding at that very moment. Things were happening faster than his brain could process. "I will never learn," he muttered to himself in sheer dejection.

"I could say the same thing," Mon Mothma pointed out practically. "But I will not. I won’t allow a bunch of traitors to undermine my trust in people. I’d rather be overconfident than distrustful of everyone."

Anakin kept worrying his lower lip for a while, pondering the wisdom of his President’s words. He ended up nodding, in heartfelt agreement.

"Yes, you’re right. I know I shouldn’t be like this. But it’s in my nature." He looked at the computer screen. "The mere thought of someone, anyone, conspiring to commit murder in such cold-blood... It’s so inhuman, so against every moral... Oh, my Luke!" he closed his eyes tight, shivering to his very core. A sob of anguish and fear escaped him.

"I know. I know, my friend." Mon Mothma reached out and squeezed the tense shoulder affectionately. "Life will never stop teaching us painful lessons. But it is up to us how to take those lessons. Either for the best... or the worst." She smiled down at the vulnerably bent head. "But there is still much goodness and love in the galaxy. We mustn’t forget that. You’re keeping my faith in goodness, Anakin. I don’t know what would I do without you; especially now, after Areen."

The choked voice made the Jedi master look up and see the misty eyes of his President. No, not his President right now. Just a friend in need of comforting. He smiled up softly at her and held the smaller hand on his shoulder.

"It is too late for Captain Ylek, but not for Areen. Leia saw it." His gaze turned introspective. "I think that’s the reason why he’s not returning. At sometime, he must have realized he had made the biggest mistake of his life, but he was too far gone to trust us, and show us to what extent he had allowed his feelings of resentment and jealousy to twist his perception of others, and to what they had led him to. He probably thought we would never trust him again." He shook his head, amazed at his own level of understanding. "He was caught between a rock and a hard place. And he still is, wherever he is."

Mon Mothma blinked several times, in awe at so much wisdom.

"How did you get so wise?" she asked, with more than a bit of self-deprecation.

Anakin smiled ironically.

"Been there, done that. And it took me over twenty years and a certain blond-haired young man to make me see there is always a chance, for all of us. I only had to believe I deserved that chance... and forgive myself. And that was the hardest part. It always was." He sighed, feeling old and weary. "It was my inability to forgive myself 23 years ago that convinced me I was beyond redemption. And when you think there is no absolution possible from your crimes, you only sink deeper into your own infamy. You glory and relish your crimes, that much you hate yourself." Quiet tears ran down his face. "I will never truly believe I deserve forgiveness. It was Luke’s love for me, despite everything I had done, that made me see things differently. If my son could still forgive me, perhaps I could try to forgive myself; or at least, try to live with the weight of my crimes and not degrade myself any more."

Mon Mothma’s fingers slid through her Vice-President’s hair, in a lovingly maternal caress.

"I will never thank your son enough for turning you back. This galaxy needs you far more than we know," she said, solemnly.

"I wish I could compensate you all for everything I did. But I can’t. I never will." Anakin stared at the wall with unblinking eyes. "My past will catch up with me one day, and then... everything will be over." He sighed again. "I pray that the day that happens, my children and everyone else will be spared."

"Don’t think that way," Mon Mothma whispered, kneading the back of his neck. "Don’t let this situation break you. We need your strength and your insight, now more than ever."

Soft beeping and whistling made them look at the little droid. Artoo rolled up to Anakin and let out some soothing sounds of support and caring.

The older Jedi smiled bitterly and placed his hand on the droid’s dome, patting it affectionately.

"You’re biased, Artoo. The fact that you’ve known me since I was nine years old has clouded your judgement."

The next raspberry sounds resembled offensive tones too much, if not outright rudeness. Anakin ended up laughing despite himself.

"All right, all right. You made your point." He put aside his impractical feelings of self-pity and stood up. "Did you collect all the evidences here?"

Artoo beeped assent.

Anakin turned to his President and bowed his head courteously.

"Shall we, my friend?" his blue eyes shone with gratitude and affection.

Mon Mothma smiled fondly and nodded.