Anakin and Luke Skywalker

A New Life

Type: Post ROTJ A/U
Rating: PG
Summary: Luke brings his newly healed and resuscitated father back to his friends.  But how will they, and the Alliance, react to Darth Vader suddenly becoming one of the good guys?

Luke sat down on his bed and blew all the air in his lungs. It had been even more trying than he had thought. Leia’s pain and torment had reverberated inside him and had torn him apart. But he had done his very best to soothe her conflict and make her understand, and he thought he had succeeded. He had put many of her heartbreaking doubts and qualms at ease. He could identify with his sister at so many levels! Her principles and morals were so deep-seated, so strong and right as he had never seen, and he admired her more than he thought possible. But she was always open to other points of view. She never shied away from new and disturbing questions with uneasy answers. The way she had faced and accepted those shades of grey both in herself and in her family, awed him. There were many things to admire in Leia Organa. More and more.

He had always known, but now he was certain beyond anything, that everything was going to turn out right. This family would survive, they would help the Alliance to rebuild the Republic and they would help to make of this galaxy a place where every single being could grow and reach their full potential freely and safely. They would do their very best to compensate everybody for their losses and make certain that no one’s, absolutely no one’s pain and sacrifices weren’t recognized and honoured.

Their task had just begun. And his father would be essential in the reconstruction of the Republic, he knew it. He had so much to give! The Alliance had to see that. They couldn’t allow such a brilliant person to rot in a brig for life. The mere thought brought him to a frenzy of panic. No, not his father! Not now when he had a chance to redeem himself, when he could help to heal the wounds between the Empire and the Alliance. There was so much to do and Anakin was so desperate to help, to be a part of it!

No, no! Luke cast aside the spiral of negative thoughts and looked for peace and calm. He had to think positive, concentrate on the Light. He took off his slippers and his top and sat on the centre of his bed, in a cross-legged position. He infused his mind with love and peace. With Light and calmness. He closed his eyes and let his mind wander aimlessly, wherever it wished to go. His father filled his thoughts almost immediately.

His mind had never left his father alone after he had left the mess. He had been ready to leave as soon as he felt his father breaking down past the point he had reached before they had met for supper. He had respectfully stayed away from his father’s consciousness then, but he had felt such strong emanations of grief, distress and torment, he had been about to throw all his scruples to the wind and barge into his father’s room to comfort him. But right after, Anakin had brought himself under control almost instantaneously, and a wave of exulting exhilaration and ensuing peace had descended upon him. He had successfully begun his spiritual and emotional cleansing. It was a process that would last forever, Luke was painfully aware of that, but he hadn’t forgotten his promise. Not for a minute! He wasn’t going to let his father go through this neverending agony alone. There was no way he could truly help his father, but if only by holding his hand, offering him a shoulder to cry on, or the loving embrace of his son, he would do his very best to help his father to carry the burden of his crimes whenever the memory of them became too much to bear.

When Anakin had wisely left them alone in the mess, a part of Luke’s mind had been permanently focused on his father, making sure of his state of mind once he found himself alone in his room. But Anakin had held himself together, perhaps a bit too brutally. He had immediately sought solace in the Force. He had begun meditating and that way, through the loving, all-encompassing warmth of the Light, he had managed to hang on.

Luke smiled with the clean, innocent smile of a little child. His father was a part of the Light again! It felt so good, so right! Father and Son, belonging together as it should have always been! The dream he had foolishly cherished since he had found out Darth Vader was his father, had come true! There they were, the two of them, together at last! Only the Alliance’s pardon remained to realize this beautiful dream completely. He had to be ready to try and convince Mon Mothma. He had to think of the right approach, the right words to say. His father’s life stood in the balance, because Anakin’s freedom was Anakin’s very life. And Luke knew his own life also depended on the Alliance’s decision.

Luke opened his eyes with a shudder. He had slipped too much into melodramatism. That scenario was highly unlikely, if not impossible. The Alliance was made of reasonable, pragmatical people. They would do the sensible, right thing. He was virtually certain of that.

With a tired sigh, he looked at the chrono. He arched his eyebrows in surprise when he realized an hour had already passed. He decided to put an end to his meditation and take a good night of good old sleep instead. The bed looked too inviting, cozy and comfortable to refuse it. He uncrossed his legs and opened the covers without getting off the bed. Once inside and when he was beginning to pull up the sheets, he felt a warm tingle in his mind. His father was very near. He grinned helplessly.

Right then, his doorbell buzzed.

"Come in," he answered the call.

The door opened and Anakin slowly moved inside his son’s room, looking endearingly bashful. He was still wearing the same silly clothes, several sizes smaller than his.

"Hi, Father!" the boy greeted him happily. He couldn’t believe the unconceivable joy that filled his heart to bursting with just saying hello to his father. He suspected he would never stop feeling like this. He had cried and longed too much for it. Ahhh, he had fantasized about mundane things like this for as long as he could remember!

"Hello, Son." Anakin looked around the room with too much curiosity, remarkably avoiding eye contact. "I ... uhmm... I just came to say goodnight properly to you. I felt you were still awake and ... that is ..."

Luke didn’t bother to hide his delighted chuckle.

"Come on, Father. It’s me! Your son, Luke Skywalker. Another Jedi like you. I can also read minds and all that mumbo-jumbo. I can see through lies ... even little prevarications like yours."

Anakin blushed and looked down. At that moment, his face didn’t seem older than his son’s.

"If you need my company, I think that’s very fortunate, because I also happen to need yours. You’re always welcome in my room. I want to make that point very clear, in case you still need to hear the words!"

Anakin met his eyes, still a bit shy, realizing his childish behaviour. But then he let out a short laugh and walked up to Luke’s bed. The boy patted the empty spot directly in front of him and Anakin gratefully flopped down on it.

"Thank you, Son. I do need your company. But I’ll only stay for a little while. We both need a good night’s rest."

"Nervous?" Luke prompted, conversationally.

Anakin sighed and looked away.

"More and more with each passing minute." He turned his head and met Luke’s eyes. "Maybe that’s why I want to spend as much time with you as possible. After tomorrow, we might not have the chance anymore."

"You’re oozing optimism, I see!" Luke gently chided him.

Anakin pursed his lips ironically.

"I’ve always believed in being prepared. That way, if the worst happens, it won’t take me by surprise."

"And you’ll be surprised as hell if the best happens!" Luke pointed out.

Anakin smiled and tilted his head.

"You’re always ready for good things," he shrugged.

"True," Luke agreed. "But then, you’ll have missed a good night’s sleep unnecessarily."

Anakin laughed. Luke’s wise practicality made him feel once again like the impatient, too often defeatist, padawan he had been. But with Luke it was all so different! Luke didn’t patronize him and he didn’t keep himself always a little step away from him, as he had felt Obi-Wan do in their master-padawan relationship. Luke had simply pointed out a trait in his personality in his usual carefree and so very refreshing way. Obi-Wan often told him he always focused on the negative, and he was right. And it was a weakness Palpatine and the Dark Side took good advantage of. But may it be good or bad, it was a part of what made him who he was, just like his height or the colour of his hair. And yet, Luke didn’t make him feel flawed or uncomfortable for it. He simply acknowledged the fact fondly, and he offered him his own strength and optimism in return to balance it. He stared at his boy, in awe. He couldn’t help but think once more how good they were to each other, how perfectly they complemented one another. He already felt better and stronger, just basking in his son’s healthy invigorating aura.

"I admire you, Luke," he said, impulsively. "I was your age when I turned and ... I see now I wasn’t, not even remotely, as mature as you are. Everything that has turned out right in your training, failed with me. I was at fault." He looked away again. He could feel the bitter taste of failure on his tongue. "I blamed Obi-Wan, the circumstances, people’s attitude that made me feel inadequate and foolish, the war, the losses ... but I never blamed the only one who was truly to blame: Anakin Skywalker." He made a long pause. "And to some degree, I still feel like that young misfit, out of place and awkward. It’s as if no time at all had elapsed. Right now I feel as if I was your age."

"In a way, you are," Luke replied softly. "You were my age when you turned. Right at that moment, you ceased to be the misfit you said you felt like, plagued with feelings of inadequacy and failure, and became a murderer with no past. You became a whole new person. You erased from your thoughts everything you had been before, everything that, in your opinion, had made you weak and flawed, and focused on what was to come. You only lived for the Empire, your master and your own bloodthirst. Now that Anakin Skywalker is back, it makes sense to me that you feel as if you were my age. You still have to reintegrate your entire personality, after so many years of ruthlessly subduing a big part of you."

Anakin listened to Luke’s words intently, and he nodded in agreement.

"You’re right. I’ve completely bridged the gap of time between the time I turned and today. It’s as if my mind wanted to delete from its memory all the years I was Vader. It’s shrinking from what I was and the atrocities I committed. It can’t cope with it. Maybe I’ll need professional help."

Luke gazed at his father compassionately.

"But there are some things a professional wouldn’t understand about me. They would never get the whole picture," Anakin suddenly realized.

"You mean the whole Force thing and how does it work in harmony with the mind?"

Anakin nodded absently, lost somewhere in his mind.

Luke reached out and grasped his father’s wrist. His touch brought Anakin back immediately.

"I will help you in any way I can. Until we train Leia, I’m the only one who really understands how you feel. I know I can’t possibly have the slightest idea about some of the things you’ve experienced and gone through, but I’m here, Father. You’re never alone. Remember that. And if I’m not enough, you can always ask for professional help. They’ll help the man, I’ll help the Jedi." He ended up with a disarming smile.

Anakin’s eyes regarded his son, in wonder. Everything seemed so easy at his child’s side! He covered Luke’s hand with his own.

"How can you have such faith in me, Luke? I feel so frail right now ..."

"Because I know what’s in here," Luke tapped his father’s chest with his fingertips. "This is a most stressful time for you. You’re racking your brains with worry and apprehension about the meeting with Mon Mothma, and it’s not helping you at all to cope with your shaky state of mind. It’ll pass when this situation’s over tomorrow."

"For the best?" Anakin let out his question like a little child, desperately wanting to believe the miracle was possible, but too afraid to hope at he same time.

Luke nodded, with all the certainty he was able to muster.

"For the best. I know the Alliance. I’ve been a part of it for over 4 years now. I believe in it and in its ideals with all my heart. Locking you up is useless, a waste of your potential, your wisdom, your knowledge, your experiences ... You have a lot to give. We have a lot to learn from you. We could benefit from each other. It’s a matter of common sense. It will turn out fine, Father."

"I pray you’re right, Son". Anakin closed his eyes and shook his head, as if he could make their wishful thinking come true with the power of his faith. "But if I’m convicted for life, I don’t want you to endanger your position in the Alliance on my behalf. You’ll accept Mon Mothma’s decision without question. I want you to promise that to me now, or I won’t accompany you to the meeting tomorrow."

"What?!" Luke’s eyes opened like two saucers at the non-sequitur, but he recovered amazingly fast. "You can’t seriously expect me to promise such a thing! You wouldn’t agree to this blackmail if our positions were reversed. It’s completely out of the question, Father! I’ll try to convince her for all I’m worth, I won’t stop until she realizes it makes no sense locking up someone who doesn’t represent a threat to anyone anymore. She’s never acted out of revenge or ill-feelings, she’s never bent to outward pressures. I’m counting on her integrity and understanding both as a person and as a leader. If she decides to lock you up, she’ll have to argue her decision in a way that sounds convincing. And I tell you, right here and now, that there’s no way she will EVER convince me of the convenience or the necessity of locking you up for the rest of your life. That’s why, deep down, I know she’ll support your pardon. It’s the only logical decision!"

Anakin smiled tenderly at his son. Luke’s face was flushed and his eyes shone with passion and vehemence. The proof he had involuntarily received of just how very far his son was ready to go in his defence touched him so deeply his entire body ached with an overwhelming feeling of love and gratitude, so powerful he thought he wouldn’t survive it. He couldn’t be worthy of such love! But he knew Luke’s integrity and he also counted on it. He grasped his son’s hands in his own and faced him, calmly and serenely.

"My son, you’re a soldier. You’ve had to go into battle many times. You’ve lost many good friends because you were aware that no matter how much you cared about them, there was a greater good to protect that was far above one single life, it didn’t matter how precious that life was to you. This time is no different just because it is my life. You know your duty, and you will obey your leader’s decision, whatever it turns out to be. You know I’m right. That’s what the upright, honest Luke who brought me back from the Dark Side would do. And he will."

Luke’s eyes were ablaze as they met his father’s during the few seconds his speech had lasted. But, in the end, the young man’s gaze dropped in defeat. Anakin had won this time. Never mind his heart had broken into a billion tiny pieces. He knew his father was right. He would do his duty. Although, if the worst happened and his father was convicted for life, they would have taken from him all the reasons why he had joined the Alliance. He would have nothing left to believe in. A helpless tear rolled down his cheek.

Anakin reached out and wiped the solitary tear away with the back of his forefinger.

"Will you?" he asked.

Biting his lower lip in a heartbreaking display of vulnerability, Luke nodded.

"Good!" Anakin’s heart was bursting with love and pride. "But we will worry about that possibility should it ever arise. That’s what I’ve learnt from you. From my bright boy!" He ruffled Luke’s hair, knowing the gesture would make his son smile. It had become something very special between them in the short time they had been together as father and son. It worked. Luke’s eyes raised up to his and he smiled poignantly at him. Anakin smiled back, aching all over.

"There’s so much to talk about, so much to say ..." Luke whispered, out of the blue.

"I know," Anakin said.

"I understand you so well now ... I think I can understand some of the reasons why you turned."

"Can you?" Anakin smiled sadly, looking away, not really wanting to talk about it right now. Especially after the brutal moment they had just endured. But he also understood Luke’s need to talk about as many things as possible ... tonight. He took a long breath, begging he could survive this.

"There were so many frustrations in your life ... You were impatient, quick-tempered, restless, and instead of explanations, patience and understanding, you only got discipline. You needed a different approach in your training, you needed to find your own space, your own path to follow and you only found rules and regulations. Your heart was bleeding with many wounds, many unanswered questions, torn ... you were hurting for too long, until you finally found a release from all your frustrations by venting all the anger you had accumulated. Hatred, anger and destruction can be cathartic, I know that. But there’s no turn back once you’ve abandoned yourself to them."

Anakin closed his eyes slowly. He felt dizzy, almost drugged. The way his son could read his very soul broke his heart apart. He hadn’t felt so in touch with another being for so long ... It was so beautiful to have someone reaching out to him, understanding him, caring about him ... Such a precious miracle to have love in his life again! Blessed boy! His love was healing scars that had hurt so deep no one had ever been able to heal. This boy understood him until the last corner of his tormented spirit. He was as close to him as only another Force sensitive could be. Even closer, because it was his son. His son! He gave his deepest thanks to every deity in the universe for being granted such a benediction.

"You’re partially right." He managed to answer. "Although not completely. It was nobody’s fault but my own that I turned. Nobody pointed a blaster at my head and forced me to turn. I did it willingly, I made the conscious decision to follow the Dark path." His eyes turned to his son’s. They were ablaze with a myriad of burning feelings. "Look at us. We’ve endured the same frustrations for most of our lives, we’ve both longed for a person we couldn’t have at the moment. We’ve both been hurt, we’ve suffered terribly brutal losses. We’ve gone through practically the same life experiences. And yet, I turned and you didn’t. Which proves beyond any doubt to me that one’s background is not determinant of that person’s future. I’m the only one responsible for what I did. I can’t use the excuse of how much I suffered in my lifetime or that Obi-Wan didn’t understand me or didn’t pay enough attention to me when I needed it. It’s unfair and untrue. I failed and that’s all there is to it." He stared at his son, infinitely grateful for his support and neverending understanding. "Face it, Son. Your father is far from perfect. I’m the living example of what a person should never do, of a path that should never be followed."

Luke shook his head stubbornly. He wanted to say so many things he didn’t know where to start.

"You deserve all the credit for bringing me back. You fought for me, you didn’t give up on me, not even when you saw Darth Vader had given up on Anakin Skywalker. You risked your life for me, out of blind faith. And here we are now. Together." He reached out one trembling hand and cradled Luke’s cheek in it, caressing it lovingly with his thumb. It felt so good to be a father! It had to be the most overwhelming, beautiful, all-encompassing feeling in the world! It filled him with peace and belonging. This boy came from him, he was a part of him. The best part of him! "How did you know, Son?" he suddenly rasped out. "How could you see the Light in me, when I thought I had exorcised it from me years ago?"

Luke smiled a bit self-deprecatorily and took his father’s hand in his own from his cheek. He shrugged.

"I don’t know. Just instinct, I guess. Everybody told me it was futile, that everything you had done for the last 20 years spoke for itself. That if I tried to turn you back, you would destroy me or you would use that weakness to turn me to the Dark Side. But I just couldn’t give up! You had been good once, you had loved and had been part of the Light. You knew how it was, how it felt. You couldn’t have purged it all from you. Something had to remain. Maybe it had lurked so deep inside you that you had forgotten it was there. Your memories, the happiness you had known with mum." He shook his head, trying to clear his mind from the overwhelming emotion. "I couldn’t believe you had renounced all that just for the sterile sake of greed and power. The little child in me reached out to his father for all he was worth, and a heartbeat later, all of me followed him blindly. I had no choice. The alternative was killing you. And that was never an option for me. If I had killed you, I would have soiled myself beyond redemption. I would have turned then, for certain." He let out a bitter smile. "How ironic! What everybody thought was the only possible choice for me, killing you, was exactly what I mustn’t have done. You were my price. You always were. Palpatine never understood that in sparing your life, I had saved us both, no matter the final outcome." Luke’s eyes opened wide, realizing right then and there just how true his words were.

Anakin’s chin trembled and his eyes filled with tears. He felt as if Luke’s words were clean, pure water that had completed the cleansing of his tainted soul. There was so much wisdom in those words!

"And I was about to condemn you forever, Son. I can’t forget that." He looked away and gritted his teeth against the unbearable thought. "When I think about all the harm I caused you and your sister ... Everything your sister’s going through now, is my fault. You were separated from each other and raised separately, never knowing the other existed, you never knew your mother, your sister had to live with her loss ... I am responsible for all that. For Leia’s anger, her ambivalent feelings towards me that are tearing her apart. I’m making her feel bad and I don’t know how to help her. I don’t know what to do. There’s nothing I can do!" He pursed his lips in helpless frustration, wishing he could change it all back. But he couldn’t. He had to live with that knowledge. The knowledge of having hurt his children far more than any other person in their lives, of having been their bloodiest enemy for over 4 years and being a burden to them now. The spiral of guilt and shame swept him away and Anakin felt like falling ... falling ...

‘Don’t, Father’, Luke intruded upon his thoughts, bringing a soothing calm and a shining light with his mere presence in his mind. ‘You’re making the same mistake Vader did, only the other way round. Vader put the blame on everyone but him, and Anakin’s blaming himself for everything. The truth has to be somewhere in between, don’t you think? Who knows what would have happened if you hadn’t turned? Maybe you and mum would have died during the Clone Wars and Leia and I would have ended up on Alderaan and Tatooine all the same. There are infinite possibilities, some of them far worse than what ended up happening. We could have been a happy family too ... we’ll never know. This is the reality we’re living in and we have to accept it. I, for one, couldn’t have wished for a happier ending. I got you back, my friends have forgiven you, and Leia also will.’

Anakin tried to say something, but Luke didn’t let him start.

‘She will forgive you because the love in her heart is too big. She’s feeling torn because she hates Vader and loves Anakin. But her love will win in the end, because hatred is a dead end, and my sister is no fool. She’ll survive this test stronger and wiser. And so filled with love you’re going to have your hands full of coddling children!’, he teased, quite intentionally.

Anakin let out a helpless laugh, despite himself. That was a prospect he was actually looking forward to! He wished! He reached out and dishevelled Luke’s hair again, who giggled happily.

‘I pray you’re right, Son. And that your sister will sort out her conflict as soon as possible. Not for me, but for herself. She’s entitled to find peace once and for all, after all she’s suffered.’ His eyes became infinitely sad for a moment.

Luke nodded, smiled at his father and squeezed his fingers. He stared down at their clasped hands for a while, fascinated by them. He had never been a person particularly prone to touch. He liked to touch his friends and he liked to be touched, when it happened, but that was all. He had never really thought much about it. To tell the truth, he had stopped thinking about it a long time ago. But today, everything had changed forever. It was as if a door that had always been closed, had suddenly opened wide. He realized they had been in physical contact throughout most of their conversation; since Anakin had sat down on his bed, practically. It had begun in the shuttle and ... no, it had begun before that, in the very throne room! Getting his father back had filled an emptiness so unfathomable inside him only now he was becoming aware of just how very deep it was. He felt as if an undiscovered part of him was blossoming through his father’s love. Anakin was filling a need he didn’t even know he had. How truly deprived of physical touch he had been. Anakin had opened Luke’s heart even more. He felt more spiritual than ever, with an ever increasing need to touch those he loved, for mutual reassurance, because they were human beings, they loved each other and they needed to express their love through touch. He looked up and met his father’s gaze, thanking him with all his heart for the new world he had helped him to uncover. Anakin smiled at him, and a little light kindled in his eyes.

‘You also need to find some peace of your own, Father’, the young man sent in a silky mental voice, ‘and we’ll all help you to get it. After tomorrow’s meeting is over, I’ll start thinking of new ways to motivate you.’

Anakin’s eyebrows skyrocketed. He had used those words from time to time when threatening his officers. He didn’t know whether Luke had used his exact words by chance or he had picked them up directly from his mind. The mischievous twinkle in Luke’s eyes confirmed him it had been the latter.

"You rascal!" he exclaimed out loud. He tickled Luke’s side once with one finger. Luke’s immediate jump was an irresistible temptation, and he started tickling his boy in earnest.

Luke lay down in a foetal ball trying to get his upper body in the bed too, giggling and slapping his father’s hands away, asking him to stop. It was then Anakin saw the patches scattered here and there all over Luke’s torso. They were so similar to Luke’s skin colour he had missed them up to that moment. The sight of them brutally brought him back to reality and he felt as if he had been kicked in his guts. He immediately stopped tickling Luke.

Luke peered over his arm, to verify his father had really ceased his ‘attack’, or if it was just a trick for him to lower his defences and start tickling him again. Anakin looked very serious, so he gathered the attack was truly over.

"See?" he boasted, letting his arms down. "It’s a good sign we can joke about it already!" That was when he saw the new, sudden sadness in his father’s eyes. He seemed to be staring at his body. Frowning, he looked down at himself. When he saw the patches, he sighed. Not again! He watched his father’s grief-stricken expression and he made a decision. He respected and honoured his father’s pain, but he couldn’t allow him to keep on beating himself like that. Not for his son, when Luke had forgiven him with all his heart. Besides, he knew how self-destructive guilt could be. This had got to stop. He sat up so impulsively he bounced several times and he also made his father bounce on the bed with him. "I’ll tell you what! You give me a credit every time your spirits go downhill, like just now. In a few months, you’ll be either as happy as an Alderanian lark or completely broke!" He smiled teasingly from ear to ear.

Anakin’s stare slowly moved up from Luke’s torso to his eyes. When he saw Luke’s smiling face and his words registered, he smiled helplessly despite himself. Luke’s smile, like his laughter, was infectious. But still, his son’s wounds were no joke. Not to him.

"How can you dismiss this and joke about it?" Anakin pointed at his son’s patches with a catch in his voice. "How can you dismiss everything I’ve done? To you and to so many people? I allowed you to suffer this attack ..."

"You stopped Palpatine! You stopped him from killing me! At that moment, I forgot everything you could have done before. Don’t you see?" Luke grasped Anakin’s shoulders vehemently. "When you saved me, you gave me my father back. You gave me back all the dreams I had cherished all my life, all the hopes I didn’t dare to hope. You gave me the gift of knowing I was right about you. That my dreams and hopes hadn’t been in vain! Blessed these wounds are because they brought my father back! How could I not love you forever for it?" he shook his head and plunged ahead even further. "Give yourself some credit for your turn, Father! It was your decision! The same way you decided to cross the line and turn to the Dark Side, you renounced it and returned to the Light! The merit is all yours. Start believing in yourself! You have a lot to give. To the Alliance, to your children, to the entire galaxy. If you don’t believe in your right to be reprieved, you won’t convince Mon Mothma of the rightness of reprieving you tomorrow. Help me to help you! You know how useful you can be, you know how many lives you can save from now on, how much good you can do. Think about the glorious future that awaits us. Helping to rebuild the Republic, the Jedi Order, your own life, our family. It’s quite a challenge, but you’ll be up to it. My father’s a very brave man. You’re my hero and you’ll snap out of this." He began shaking Anakin’s shoulders back and forth. "So, I order you to stop beating yourself and get a grip!" he couldn’t help finishing with a new explosion of humour. He knew very well of the therapeutic effects of humour. Indeed, where would he be without it? If there was something he had learnt throughout this merciless war, was not to take himself too seriously.

Anakin gulped, making a funny noise with his throat. Luke’s outpouring wasn’t only verbal, but also mental. His son’s pride and absolute faith in him, his absolute conviction that the Alliance HAD to reprieve him and his fierce love that went beyond anything he had ever thought to deserve, was imprinted in his soul by fire. For the first time, he saw himself through his son's eyes and what he saw in them made him feel worthy, truly worthy for the first time in over 20 years. If this wise, good and brilliant young man thought his father deserved a second chance, then he would believe him. Luke was right. If he doubted himself, it would be very difficult to convince the others. It was time to fight. For his children, for Padmé, for the memories of those who had ever believed in him, for all those who still could be proud of him ... one day. His Leia ...

‘Yes, Father. You understood at last!’ Luke’s triumphant voice resounded in his mind, full of joy. ‘And do not fear. Leia will forgive you. Don’t give up. Give her the chance to come to love you, to feel pride in you. Fight for her. Believe!’

Anakin closed his eyes and nodded. He felt suddenly light-headed, as if Luke had just injected him a massive dose of faith and self-esteem.

"Yes, Son. You’re right, again. If I don’t believe in myself, nobody will. I can’t change what I did, and it will haunt me for the rest of my life; but I can make a difference now and I will help in any way I can, if they’ll let me."

Luke’s smile was radiant now. He squeezed his father’s shoulders once and dropped his hands.

"I’ll never leave you, Father. Every time you feel yourself slipping, I’ll be by your side. We’ll help each other." He reached out with his hand.

Luke made it all sound so right and beautiful that Anakin shook his son’s smaller hand, sealing the oath.

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir!"

The two raised their eyebrows, surprised at Anakin’s reply, and next, they burst out laughing.

"Good display of discipline! Nice one, Father!" Luke laughed.

"I’m a Jedi. Discipline is my middle name!" Anakin replied.

They laughed to their heart’s content until they were breathless. They released a lot of pent up tension through their laughter. Anakin felt exultant and more alive than he could remember feeling. This boy was a balm to his torment and shame. He would be worthy of his expectations. He would make his son proud of him. And all those who had ever believed in him too. Even his Leia! It was then he realized he was slowly coming to Luke’s hopeful belief. Maybe the Alliance would reprieve him. He didn’t want to raise his hopes too high, but as long as the possibility existed, he would cling to it. He would cling to anything that made his son happy. With a relaxed sigh, he checked the time.

"Well! I guess it’s time for me to return to my room and give us both the chance to get some sleep," he reached out and messed his son’s hair goodnight. "Sleep well, Son. And thank you, for everything."

Luke smiled at him, just as contented and at peace as his father.

"You’re most welcome, Father, but there’s no hurry. It’ll take me quite a while to fall asleep. Unlike Leia, it takes me ages to fall asleep after a battle. I’m usually so keyed-up it takes me quite some time to settle down."

Anakin pursed his lips, apparently in deep thought.

"There’s an old-fashioned technique to treat those symptoms. I’ve never attempted it before, but maybe I should give it a try now, just in case."

"All right with me!" Luke lay down on his bed and rearranged the sheets, making himself comfortable. "Whenever you’re ready!"

Hiding his smile, Anakin moved over, until he rested his back on the headboard of his son’s bed. He cleared his throat.

"What’s this technique called?" Luke asked, curiously.

"Fairytale," Anakin was biting his lips by now to hold back his mirth.

"I beg your pardon?!" Luke blinked, completely taken by surprise. He was clearly expecting some sort of Force technique or a massage, like those his father had used on him several times already.

"Shut up and listen." Anakin held out his right arm and pretended to frame some invisible words in front of him between his thumb and forefinger, as he moved his arm from left to right while he spoke. "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away ..."

"Oh, come on, Father!" Luke nudged Anakin’s ribs with his elbow as he burst out giggling along with his father, who couldn’t keep up his precarious straight façade anymore. "I’m too old for fairytales."

To hear his son’s laughter was like music to Anakin’s ears, more so knowing he had caused that delighted laughter. Being a father was the most glorious feeling of all! He looked down at Luke’s smiling face and his heart almost exploded with love and tenderness.

"We’ll never be too old for a fairytale, Son. It’s never too late ... for anything. That’s what you’ve taught me."

Luke sobered and looked up at his father with an expression of sheer worship. Anakin smiled back at him and shifted his position on the bed again, until he was facing Luke.

"But a fairytale would take some time to tell, and you need to sleep as much as possible. So, this time, I think this will be better." Anakin slowly reached out his forefinger and touched the place between his son’s eyes, directly above his nose. Luke trustingly closed his eyes and relaxed fully. He thought he heard a soft whisper in his mind, but before he could grasp what the voice had said, he was sound asleep.

Anakin stood up very carefully so as not to disturb his son’s sleep and looked down at his boyish face. The few lines on his features had been completely smoothed away by sleep. Right then, he looked no older than 16. For a flying second, he thought he could see an 8 year old Luke, sleeping in his bed, holding a teddy bear. He felt a surge of love so immense it formed a lump in his throat. He ached all over. Impulsively, Anakin reached out and brushed away the fringe from his son’s forehead.

"Sweet dreams, my son. You deserve them." Anakin bit his lower lip as he watched Luke’s sleep. The surge of love grew and grew until it choked him. Even breathing hurt. His child’s face became blurry and he realized then he was crying. He bent down and softly kissed Luke’s forehead. "I love you, Son. Thank you for saving me." He straightened up with a final caress to Luke’s cheek. "You’re wiser and stronger than I’ll ever be. I admire you." He smiled sadly as he wiped his tears away. "You are my hero," he murmured, knowing just how true it was.

Luke smiled softly in his sleep and turned onto his left side.

Anakin smiled at the peaceful sight of his sleeping child and turning about, he slowly headed for the door. When he was about to reach it, he stopped. It felt cold to leave. He sighed. He didn’t want to return to his empty, lonely room, away from his son’s warm, comforting presence. Even asleep, Luke calmed and soothed his soul like nothing he had ever known. He looked around the room, looking for something, and then he saw the couch. It was only a double-seater, but it looked quite comfortable. It would be okay to sleep there, even in a sitting position. He quietly walked up to the closet and took out the spare blanket and a tiny pillow.

He had to admit the ship looked quite homely. Nicely furnished, and the rooms looked very much like comfortable hotel rooms. It certainly said a lot about the person who commanded it. He prayed for a favourable verdict the next morning. He didn’t want Mon Mothma’s decision to break his son’s heart. The boy had suffered so much! He wasn’t worried about himself. He knew that no matter what the Alliance’s decision was, he could live with it. Knowing he had his son’s love and forgiveness would see him through anything life threw his way. But he didn’t want his son to pay for his father’s sins.

Anakin sighed again. All these speculations led him nowhere. He dropped the blanket and the pillow on the couch. He wasn’t particularly sleepy. But he couldn’t start pacing the room or he would end up awakening Luke.

That was when it occurred to him. He had to prepare himself for tomorrow’s meeting. But being mentally ready wouldn’t really help him. There was something else he could do. He couldn’t allow his son to carry all the burden. He couldn’t just sit beside him and let his boy fight for him. He had to help his son in any way he could. As Luke had wisely said, Anakin had to help him to help himself; even if he wasn’t worthy of that help.

He hadn’t been the second leader of the Empire for nothing. He was a fine strategist and he knew that if he wanted to get something, he had to give something in return. Well, he knew where to start. He looked at his son’s sleeping form.

"I will help you, Son. You won’t have to fight my battles anymore," he softly promised him.

Resolutely, Anakin sat at the computer and activated it. He knew all Imperial codes, plus other secret codes and passwords only he and Palpatine knew. It would be a nice beginning.


Anakin had been working at the computer for almost one hour when he felt something strange. He looked around him, but there was nothing out of the ordinary in the room. Luke kept on sleeping soundly, although he had thrown aside the sheets in his sleep and they only covered him from his waist down now. With a smile, Anakin stood up and walked up to his son’s bedside. Carefully, he wrapped him in the covers up to his shoulders. He watched him sleeping for a few seconds before returning to the computer.

"Padme was right. Luke was the only one who could bring you back."

Anakin turned about with a start to the familiar voice he had thought he would never hear again.

"Obi-Wan!" His eyes opened wide. His legs began shaking and he had to fumble for his chair.

The two men stared at each other for a while. Obi-Wan looked as composed and serene as he had looked alive. Anakin was fidgeting, very nervous, not really knowing how to face the ghostly appearance of his former master. The master he had killed.

"Master, I ... I don’t know what to say," he ventured, almost stammering.

"You don’t have to say anything, Anakin," Obi-Wan smiled. "Your being here says it all."

Anakin blinked and swallowed. He felt as if he was 20 years old again, and he still was Obi-Wan’s reckless, impulsive padawan. His eyes turned to his sleeping son instinctively, in urgent need of his support and strength.

"Don’t worry, he won’t wake up," Obi-Wan reassured him. "I just wanted to tell you personally how happy I am that Luke has proved me wrong."

Anakin’s mouth fell open.

Obi-Wan looked at his former padawan for a while with a soft smile, before sitting on the couch, right in front of him.

"Many things have happened, Anakin. Many decisions were made. Some right, some wrong. We did what we thought best at the time. And many of those decisions led to some terrible events."

Anakin listened very carefully. Obi-Wan was staring at him with kind, gentle eyes. He suddenly realized that maybe for the very first time in his life, he felt completely relaxed and at ease in his presence. He didn’t feel like an impenitent youngster, but as an equal.

"I see now that many of my decisions were the wrong ones. I did what I thought I should do when I was your master. But obviously, it wasn’t what you needed. I made mistakes in your training that led you to the Dark Side."

"No, master!" Anakin protested. "I made the decisions that led me to the Dark Side. I should have trusted you and explained to you my frustrations, my doubts, how torn I felt. But I thought you wouldn’t understand, I thought you were holding me back because you thought I wasn’t good enough or you were afraid of my potential. I allowed my own resentment and arrogance to take me to the Dark Side. There were so many ugly feelings inside me at the time that it was all too easy to give in to Palpatine’s tempting reasoning. The war, all the losses, years of misunderstandings ... my anger grew and grew, until,..." he closed his eyes and clenched his teeth.

"Many different events made you turn. Many forces converged around you and tore you apart. We all tried to do our best, and the worst happened. It’s no one’s and everybody’s fault. But I’m bound to apologize to you for all the mistakes I made that led you to make that decision. I was too stern a master. I relied too much on discipline and following the rules. You were different. You were too emotional, you questioned everything. You needed more space to find your own path, your own answers. We inexorably pushed you to your breaking point. And before I realized what was going on, it was already too late." Obi-Wan’s voice sounded full of regret. "The times we lived in weren’t easy ones. The Republic was falling apart, we had too many things to deal with and no time at all to deal with them. And everything failed. I failed you."

"No, master, I failed. I failed everybody. From my mother to my children." Anakin looked down at his clasped hands.

"You shouldn’t call me master anymore," Obi-Wan gently reminded him. "You’re nobody’s padawan any longer. You’re a grown man, a master in your own right. You’ve passed your trials ... by fire ... and survived," the shimmering figure seemed to shudder and Anakin shuddered too in empathic reaction. Both of them knew what the older master was talking about. "I’m sorry I failed you, Anakin. I’m sorry I gave up on you. I should have known better." His eyes turned to the sleeping figure in the bed. "How ironic. Luke never knew you and yet, he was the only one who believed in you. You only met for a few minutes before you hurt him with a brutality beyond belief, and still ... he saw!" His gaze turned introspective. "I had known you since you were a 9 year old boy ... and I thought everything was lost." He nodded to himself. "Yes, I made some serious mistakes and the entire galaxy has paid for it. Millions of lives ..."

"Obi-Wan, you’re making the same mistake I made that Luke has helped me realize," it was Anakin’s turn to reassure. "What’s done, is done. We can’t turn it back. We can only move on and remember the painful lessons we have learnt. That’s what Luke has taught me. We always try to do our best with the information we have at our disposal at the moment. If we knew the consequences of our actions beforehand, everything would be so simple!" he sighed. "But that’s life. As inexorable and terrible."

Obi-Wan stared at Anakin as if seeing him for the first time.

"You have learnt," there was admiration and respect in his voice.

"I have, indeed. I’ve completed the circle." Anakin couldn’t help a shiver. "I only hope I’ll be given a second chance to try and do something good. A chance to be a good father for my children, someone useful to the Alliance. There’s no way I can atone for my crimes, but maybe I can help ... somehow."

"You can help," Obi-Wan said with conviction. "And you will."

Anakin looked at his master sharply.

"You mean ...?"

The older man shook his head.

"No. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. The future’s always in motion. There are too many variables at work. What I do know is that your children will have the chance to learn from you, from your experiences, and they will benefit from them, no matter what happens. They’re already learning many things." His eyes turned to Luke, who kept on sleeping, oblivious to everything going on in his room. "He looks more at peace now than I’ve ever seen him. Not having you at his side was a loss he could never get over. The emptiness in his heart was impossible to fill. Only you could give him what he needed so desperately."

Anakin watched his son, his breast filling to bursting with love.

"It works both ways. He fills me too. In a way I never thought possible. If I had known sooner I had a child ...," he sighed.

"Maybe that knowledge would have given you the strength necessary to renounce the Dark Side," Obi-Wan finished for him with a shadow in his voice. "Perhaps keeping that secret from you was another mistake. We only did it to protect them, you must believe me. They were the only hope for the Light to survive, especially after the Purges." He made a short pause. "We had to keep them from Palpatine at all costs. Padme knew how much you wanted a child."

Anakin’s eyes reddened at the memory of his wife.

"We both wanted. But the war didn’t make it convenient. Any or both of us could die at any moment. We agreed to wait until the war was over so we could give our child a safe home."

Obi-Wan saw Anakin was close to tears. He wished he could do something to mitigate his friend’s pain.

"She always harboured the hope that Luke would save you," he said.

Anakin’s teary eyes raised up to his.


Obi-Wan nodded.

"She trusted Luke to give you what she had failed to. She hoped for his love to be strong enough to bring you back. She told Luke not to give up on you. You had been good once, there was always hope," his eyes met his padawan’s. "She never stopped loving you, Anakin. Never. She always hoped you would return. You have no idea how happy I am she was able to transmit that faith to Luke. He was only a few days old when I took him to Tatooine, but I’m convinced she somehow managed to infuse that hope in his little baby heart," he turned his eyes, full of gentleness and compassion, to the sleeping young man. "There’s a great deal of his mother in him."

"Yes, there is. He’s got the best of both of us," Anakin sniffled softly. "I can understand you much better than I did then, Obi-Wan. I’ve had no choice but to grow up." The two men let out a dry, bitter laugh. "I can understand now many of the things you did and why. Sometimes, you need the objectivity of time to really understand people’s attitudes. I do understand now. You did what you thought you had to do and it didn’t work. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just the way things turned out to be. I don’t blame you, I don’t even blame Palpatine, and with all your help and in time, I’ll try to stop blaming myself; at least, to a point where it’ll stop interferring with my sanity. Luke opened my eyes and made me see it. And it is a most beautiful way to see things. I still had a destiny to fulfill." He smiled in his son’s direction, lost in thought. "Maybe that’s the reason why he brought me back!" It suddenly dawned on him with a flash of insight. "I wasn’t supposed to die today. Is that it?" Anakin’s eyes opened wide and he turned his face to his former master.

Obi-Wan smiled enigmatically.

"I suspected something of the sort when Luke resuscitated me in the Death Star, but somehow, I had forgotten about it." Something else came to his mind then. "And you were there, weren’t you? I could feel your presence ... right at the edge of my consciousness."

Obi-Wan’s smile became affectionate.

"A lot depends on you now, Anakin. On both Luke and you. And when you train Leia, on the three of you. The reconstruction of the Jedi Order will rest on your shoulders." His look intensified, full of passion. "Use your experience. Remember what worked and what didn’t work in your training and Luke’s. You won’t fail. Be patient. It will take a few generations, but Luke’s grandchildren will begin to know the splendour of the Jedi, as it was in their golden age."

Anakin’s mind became lost in the dream Obi-Wan had weaved. He could almost see that promise come true. It seemed possible. It could be possible! If only tomorrow ...

"Follow your heart, Anakin. It will serve you right. No matter what happens, I am so very proud of you!"

Anakin’s eyes became alive again and he looked up at Obi-Wan, moved to his very core.

"You accomplished a feat no one else survived from. You turned to the Dark Side, but you renounced it. You still had goodness and integrity inside you to pull out of the Darkness. All the others who preceded you never returned. But you were strong enough to hold onto Luke’s faith and love and allowed them to save you. It takes an incredible courage to do that! Pride is one of the trademarks of the Dark Side, but you were humble enough to admit you were mistaken and you risked everything to accompany your son back and face your destiny."

"I owe everything to Luke. Everything!" Anakin exclaimed.

"And to yourself. If it hadn’t been there, Luke wouldn’t have seen it," Obi-Wan reminded him. "Yes, Anakin, it was as much your deed as it was Luke’s. Give yourself some credit for your turn. If there had been nothing to salvage inside you, Luke’s efforts would have been in vain."

"Master ..." Anakin’s chin trembled.

"You’ve earned your title, Anakin. Jedi Master Anakin Skywalker. I almost envy your future padawan. No one will understand them and train them better than you. What a magnificent generation of Jedi you will breed!"

The two old friends remained there for a little while, absorbing this new, joyous reality, soaking in their reawakened friendship and in the beautiful feeling of peace it brought.

"Thank you, Obi-Wan!" Anakin exclaimed, infinitely grateful. "You’ve eased my mind and my soul in a way you can’t possibly imagine! To hear these words from you ..." his voiced choked.

"I know, Anakin; I know," Obi-Wan’s voice was full of unashamed affection. "It is all right, my friend. I understand. Rest now. You also need to be ready for tomorrow’s meeting."

Anakin took a deep, calming breath, and nodded. He pointed at the computer.

"I have to finish here first, but I’m almost done."

"In that case, I won’t delay you further." The shimmering figure got to his feet. "It’s been good talking to you again, Anakin. May the Force be with you ... and your offspring." The ghostly image began fading away.

"Master, wait!" Anakin impulsively called, standing up too. "Will I ever see you again?"

"Maybe," Obi-Wan smiled softly. "Take care of yourself, my friend." The figure disappeared.

"Take care, Master," Anakin replied to the emptiness before him, feeling a bit foolish. It felt silly telling a spirit to take care of himself. He shivered, not really knowing why, gazing into the distance. But then, the soft, rhythmic sound of Luke’s breathing filled his ears and slowly brought him back. With a shaky smile, he walked up to his son’s bedside once more, calming himself with the beautiful, pure sight. He reached out and caressed Luke’s hair. With every soft stroke, the feeling of peace increased. He sighed and looked up at the ceiling. His mind had been in such a turmoil! Foreboding, fear, exhaustion, anxiety, love, hope ... But Obi-Wan’s visit had lain to rest a lot of ghosts. He smiled at the words. He had needed to face his older master more than he thought. There were too many things that had been left unsaid between them. And it was so important they had been able to talk about it and forgive each other! Now he could face the Alliance’s leader tomorrow with a clearer conscience. He understood then that was the reason for Obi-Wan’s appearance tonight. He closed his eyes and whispered his most heartfelt thanks.

When he opened them again, he saw the flicker of the screen, still activated. He shook himself out of his reverie and, forcing his legs to walk, he sat down at the computer. He finished what he was doing a few minutes later and he saved it all in a disk. He took it out and carefully put it into its box. He turned the computer off and stood up. Slowly, he headed for the couch with the little disk in his hand, studying it. Then, he put it on the table next to the couch and flopped down on it with a groan.

He still was thinking of his conversation with Obi-Wan. Their mutual reassurances, their explanations, the revealed truths ... It felt so good to have taken everything off his chest, at last! So good to have finally released it all after a lifetime of bottling it up inside him!

Not really knowing why, his eyes turned to his sleeping child. A spontaneous smile came to his lips. There he was, the one responsible for this blissful peace he felt. So much like his mother! The words echoed in his mind time and time again. And then, it occurred to him. He jumped to his feet and activated the computer once more. He had to search for a while, but he eventually found what he was looking for. He stared at it with a lump in his throat and his eyes filled with tears as he saved it. He pulled himself together with difficulty and turned the computer off for the last time tonight.

He returned to the couch and improvised his sleeping arrangements. He stretched out his legs on the cushions and rested his upper back, neck and head on the small pillow in a practically sitting position. Next, he covered himself with the light blanket. It was comfortable enough! He turned off the lights through the Force. Complete darkness enveloped him, but he wasn’t afraid. He had survived it and emerged stronger than ever. He listened to the even sound of his child’s respiration. It seemed to lull him to a sweet sleep. He filled his senses with it, closed his eyes and gratefully let go.



Luke stared down at the sleeping form of his father, his chest bursting with love and gratitude. He had wakened a few minutes ago, and as he remained lazing around in his bed, getting used to his waking state and mentally preparing himself for the day that awaited him, he had felt his father’s presence in the room. He had left the bed and padded barefoot to the couch, where he found his father sleeping soundly. He smiled as his heart swelled and exploded inside him. His father had stayed over all night. He didn’t know why, but the knowledge made him feel so safe and cared for ... He felt like a son for the very first time in his life. Protected and taken care of. He hadn’t really needed his father to stay, but Anakin had done it all the same. Little fatherly gestures like this gave him a feeling of fullness and joy so immense, Luke felt like whooping for all he was worth and waking up everybody aboard the ship.

He studied his father’s features unabashadly. It was awesome how alike they were! He already knew how he would look in a few years! He couldn’t help but feel a distinct feeling of pride in his heritage. He knew now where he came from, who he was, who his parents were. He felt as if he had his feet more firmly on the ground, more focused, stronger than ever in his identity.

He felt happy.

His father looked much younger, the few lines on his face smoothed away by sleep. Luke could almost imagine a younger Anakin, Obi-Wan’s padawan, impulsive and reckless ... like him. Wanting to fly too soon, with stars in his eyes and in his heart ... Yes, like father, like son.

He felt a sleepy tickle in his mind and his eyes focused on his father again. Anakin was watching him through rheumy, slitted eyes, and a faraway little smile.

"Good morning," Luke greeted him.

"Good morning, Son," Anakin replied, rubbing his eyes with his fists.

"Did you sleep well?" Luke’s voice sounded mildly unsure. No doubt, he was implicitly referring to his father’s cramped position on the couch.

"Yes, I did," Anakin smiled up at his son. He moved his legs and put his feet on the floor. "No taut muscles and no stiffness whatsoever, I assure you. I’ve slept like a log!" He met Luke’s eyes, a bit sheepish. "I’m sorry I stayed over, but I just couldn’t bring myself to leave here. I hope you don’t mind."

"Mind?" Luke was so delighted he could hardly refrain from making a fool of himself in front of Anakin. "You just realized one of my most cherished childhood dreams, Father!"

Anakin smiled from ear to ear, just as delighted as his son.

"Thank you!" the boy seemed terribly moved and happy beyond belief.

"No, Son. Thank you," Anakin said, softly.

Luke dropped casually on the couch beside his father.

"Are you hungry?" he asked, sliding his fingers through his messed hair and rubbing it briskly.

"Yes, quite a bit!" Anakin answered, scratching his left sole.

"Me too." Luke tried to stifle a yawn. "In that case, I suggest we ..."

Whatever he was about to say, was interrupted by the buzzing sound of the doorbell.

"Come in!" he said.

The door slid open and R2-D2 and C3PO came in. It was obvious they had sustained a good adjusting since the night before. Both looked perfectly cleaned up and polished. They shone under the artificial morning light.

"Good morning, Master Ani, Master Luke! I trust you slept well," 3PO greeted them. He carried some deep blue clothes draped over his right arm. R2 carried a tray full of food and drinks, in a fashion that resembled his short time as a waiter in Jabba’s Sail Barge. He beeped something at his golden companion. "I see he’s here, Artoo," 3PO replied, in his usual mildly patronizing way. "Don’t be so self-satisfied about it."

The small droid made a noise that resembled a raspberry.

"What is it, 3PO?" Anakin asked.

"Oh, nothing important, Master," 3PO answered. "We knocked at your door first, but you wouldn’t answer. Artoo suggested we try to find you here instead."

R2 beeped something vehemently and 3PO dismissed it. Anakin and Luke looked at each other out of the corner of their eyes with a little smile.

"We’ve brought you some breakfast," 3PO went on, "I’ve also checked the limited number of sizes available at the ship’s wardrobe, and I surmised you would have difficulty in finding clothes your size," he told Anakin, "I found these and I thought you might need them."

Anakin’s eyes opened wide at the droid’s foresight.

"I do need them indeed, 3PO! Thank you very much. I wouldn’t want to present myself in front of the Alliance’s leader looking so ridiculous." He stood up and turned about for the two droids.

R2 began emitting some hilarious noises, that clearly indicated his opinion of Anakin’s look in that attire. 3PO was more diplomatic.

"I’m glad I found these clothes for you, Master," he simply said, a bit too dramatically.

Luke couldn’t help a snigger. After spending the night on the couch, Anakin’s clothes looked somewhat wrinkled and rumpled, which added up to his already amusing enough appearance.

Anakin looked around him, suspiciously. Luke put up his most serious look immediately. It looked so forced, especially since he was biting the inside of his mouth to hide his mirth, that Anakin smiled at it. Luke burst out laughing helplessly then. His infectious laugher triggered Anakin’s, who slumped on the couch beside his son.

"Oh, well!" Anakin sighed, when the laughter subsided. "It’s a nice way to start the day. Laughing at oneself is always a healthy practice!"

3PO put Anakin’s clothes on Luke’s bed carefully and approached them.

Luke was already chewing on some piece of fruit and drinking a glass of juice.

"I’m not as hungry as I thought I would be," he commented.

Anakin looked at him with compassionate eyes. He knew exactly what Luke was feeling. He had a knot in his stomach already. This was a feeling he had always hated. Dread. And he felt dread now, and frustration too. If only he could spare his boy the confrontation with his own allies! But it was unavoidable. They both had to go through this. With a sigh, he reached out and picked up a piece of fruit from R2’s tray. He couldn’t help studying it for a little while, in fascination, before tasting it.

When they had almost finished their breakfast in a comfortable silence, Luke’s doorbell buzzed again.

"Come in!" Luke said, already knowing who was coming.

The door opened and Han, Leia, Chewie and Lando entered.

"Good morning!", everybody said, practically at the same time.

When Leia saw her father in her brother’s room, she paled a bit, but she recovered pretty quickly.

"Had a good night’s sleep?" she asked them.

"Yep, great!" Luke nodded, with his mouth full.

"Me too," Anakin said softly, his heart bursting with love at the sight of his daughter.

"I see you’ve slept here," Han pointed at the pillow on the couch and the blanket father and son were sitting on.

"Yes, he did," Luke smiled up at his friends. "We talked for a while and then he stayed over."

"That’s nice, kid!" Han smiled at his friend. He knew how much Luke had craved for his father, and it was obvious Anakin was trying to make up to him for all the time they had been apart. Both of them seemed to need it desperately. What a pity Leia ...! He sighed. But he contented himself with the knowledge that she was already on her way. It was just a matter of time. Leia needed Anakin as desperately as Luke. And so did her father. Sooner or later, everything would be all right. And the Corellian wished it was sooner, in case today’s meeting didn’t turn out the way they hoped. He cast the negative thought aside, refusing to even consider the possibility.

"Did you sleep well?" Anakin asked them after taking a small sip at his juice. He still wasn’t completely used to drinking again from a glass, and he didn’t want to make a mess. But it was all coming back to him.

"Yes, we all did." Lando answered for all of them, sitting on Luke’s empty bed.

Luke noticed then his friends looked completely sharp and neatly dressed. They had been awake for quite some time now.

"How long have you been up and about?" he asked.

"Quite a while," Leia answered this time. "We’re coming from the mess. We just had breakfast there."

"Yeah," Han joined in. "We decided to let you sleep some more. You needed it. But since we still had no news from you, we decided to knock, in case you had overslept."

Anakin checked the chrono again. They had time enough, but they shouldn’t waste it. He finished his fruit and his juice. His stomach felt stuffed all of a sudden.

"Well!" he announced, getting up from the couch and picking up the disk he had left on the table beside it the night before. "I’m going to my room now to get ready." He patted R2’s dome gently. "Thanks for the breakfast, Artoo," he told the little droid.

R2 beeped happily.

"We’ll wait for you here, Father," Luke said.

"All right. I’ll be back in thirty minutes." Anakin picked up his new clothes from his son’s bed. "Thank you for finding these clothes for me, 3PO."

"My pleasure, Master!" the droid replied, almost glowing with pride.

With a shy smile at all those in the room, Anakin left.

"I’ve never seen this goldenrod acting so cocky," Han couldn’t help teasing the droid at the smallest opportunity. "Must be all that etiquette and protocol thing. He’s finally doing what he excels at, being an insufferable pest."

"Excuse me, General, I’m only trying to do my job in the most efficient manner," the droid defended himself.

"Sure you do," Han was smiling mischievously now. The droid had fallen into his game headfirst. "And doing it in front of your Maker adds quite a bonus to it, huh?"

"Taking into account the fact that my memory banks have been tampered with and I didn’t know who my Maker was up to a few hours ago, I definitely consider it a ‘bonus’, General Solo," was 3PO’s unexpectedly dignified answer.

Everybody gave a surprised start and looked at each other, really affected by the droid’s bitter comeback. Even Han forgot to think of an appropriate reply.

"I’m sorry, 3PO!" Luke apologized sincerely to the droid, realizing he had completely forgotten about the droid’s predicament. "I forgot to check your memory banks! I had too many things on my mind last night. If you don’t mind waiting until the meeting’s over, I’ll check up on you afterwards. I promise."

"Don’t worry, Master Luke! I understand perfectly. I can wait," the droid reassured him.

The young Jedi nodded and stood up.

"I’m gonna have a shower and get ready too." He opened his closet and began rummaging through it, looking for some appropriate clothes to wear. He finally chose a brown top, long-sleeved and crew neck, and matching brown bottoms.

"It’ll take me just a few minutes, if you want to wait for me here," he smiled at his friends as he headed for the bathroom. "I hope they’re my size!" he cracked as he disappeared inside with a wink.

When Luke was out of hearing range, everybody looked at each other.

"Do you see him as I do?" Lando asked.

"He’s nervous," Leia said immediately.

"And worried," Han added.

"And scared," Chewie barked.

"He’s trying to pretend everything’s going to be okay, but he knows it won’t be easy," Lando said, almost to himself.

"And he’s trying to spare us. As usual," Leia’s words were full of affection as she looked at the closed bathroom door.

"There’s nothing we can really do to help, but we are here to share. We’re all in this together," Han said.

"You know Luke." Leia raised her eyebrows, as if that explained it all. And it did.

"Yeah," the Corellian sighed, leaning back on his chair. "It’s not fair for him to go through this. He’s done nothing but almost giving his life for the Alliance ... several times. It almost feels like a court-martial."

"It’s not a court-martial," Leia tried to defend the Alliance’s side. "It’s a simple meeting for ... ‘him’ to explain himself and for the Alliance to decide what’s going to happen next."

"Whatever you say, sweetheart," Han’s ironical side surfaced. "But it still feels like a court-martial to me." He crossed his arms.

Leia looked at Han pointedly, but she ended up sighing too. Deep down, she shared his opinion. And she admired him for voicing it in his usual honest, straightforward way. That was one of the reasons why she loved him so fiercely. They had sacrificed so much in this war! Luke didn’t deserve to go through this. Leia felt like hitting something.

"And how do you see ... ‘him’?" she asked, needing to talk about something. Anything but the loud silence of her thoughts.

"Who, your father?" Han seemed to have woken up not mincing his words. "I see him just like Luke. They looked very relaxed when we arrived, but when they saw the time was coming..."

Leia nodded.

"He must be climbing the walls in his room right now. Like Luke." Han stood up and began pacing the room. "Damn it, it’s not fair!" he exclaimed.

"We can only give them all our support and trust everything will be all right," Lando said. "We haven’t been asked, yet. But if they ever ask me, I won’t hold my tongue. I’ll tell them that in my opinion, they should reprieve him and start taking care of more important matters, like putting an end to this bloody war once and for all!"

"Now you’re not being fair," Leia said. "Put yourself in Mon Mothma’s place. She has no idea of what’s happened here. All she knows is that one minute, Vader was the second bloodiest murderer in the galaxy, he had hunted us down for years, killed millions of people throughout the last two decades and tortured us all; and the next minute, he’s my father and Luke’s and one of the good guys. If I was her, my head would still be spinning! It’s understandable she wants to take care of the matter cautiously and by the book. It’s an extremely delicate political situation to handle here. There are a lot of implications involved, not to mention personal feelings. We’re sitting in the middle of a powder-keg about to explode."

"All right, Leia, we get your point," Han soothed her kindly, finally sitting down. "But I think you’re going a bit too far. It’s not the first time the Alliance has reprieved a particularly vicious Imperial. Remember Commander Thazzel? My, he was only 32 years old and he was already on his way to break Vader’s record! None of us would have given a credit for that bloodthirsty little sonofabitch!" Han remembered the couple fights he had engaged in with Thazzel, when he had had enough of his venomous threats and impossible attitude. "And yet, she was able to see beyond that and reprieve him. And it turned out she was right, as usual," he sighed. "The biggest problem here is that Vader personified the Empire almost as much as Palpatine himself. The Imperial officers the Alliance has reprieved, were strangers to the public and the media, and unfortunately for your father, he isn’t. But if she was able to see in Thazzel what no one could see, then there’s no reason at all for her not to see what lies in your father’s heart. It’ll require a lot of guts on her part, but it’s a matter of justice. It’s about being consequent on one’s actions until the end. It’s decisions like this that put a system to the test. There’s no merit in reprieving nobodies. The greatness of a system is measured by decisions like this. And I’m certain this one will rise to the occasion."

An awed silence followed Han’s speech. Only R2’s admiring whistle brought them back.

"I hope they have as much insight as you, my friend."

Luke’s voice startled them. They hadn’t heard him come out of the bathroom.

"Holy shit, kid! You’ll give us a heart attack!" Han gasped.

Luke smiled and squeezed the Corellian’s shoulder affectionately. He had needed to hear those words more than anything else. He was infinitely grateful for having chosen that moment to come out of the bathroom. Han’s impassioned speech had eased many of his fears. He felt strong enough now to face the Alliance’s High Command in full. He had truth and justice on his side and a clear conscience. There was nothing to fear.

Just then, Luke’s doorbell buzzed.

"Come in, Father!" the young man said.

The door slid open and Anakin came in. He looked impressive, dressed in a deep blue, long-sleeved top and matching bottoms, his size for a change, and boots. There was an aura of dignity and elegance around him that left everybody speechless. His gentle blue eyes shone with resolve. It was obvious he had also done some soul-searching of his own and he had come to Luke’s conclusions. It was time to believe in himself and hope for the best.

Leia couldn’t stop staring at her father. He had left her breathless! She could understand now what her mother had seen in him. But once more, she couldn’t help but wonder how such a brilliant, intelligent, able man had decided to renounce every moral and principle, and become an agent of evil. It was something she would never understand, no matter how many times they explained it to her. Everybody was entitled to make mistakes, it was part of being human and growing up. But to fall to such a degree ... She sighed, feeling helpless. Her conflicting feelings were tearing her apart again.

Anakin crossed the room shyly, aware of everybody’s eyes on him, and sat down beside his son on the couch.

"Are you ready?" Luke asked his father.

Anakin looked at him with an ironic smile.

"No, but I’m trying," he answered.

Luke smiled back and softly patted his forearm.

"Just like me! How fortuitous!" he commented.

Anakin reached out and rumpled Luke’s hair. It was a gesture they both desperately craved. They needed to convey a feeling of normalcy and unconcern, no matter the trepidation they were feeling inside.

A couple minutes passed in absolute silence. Then, father and son seemed to come out of their little trance at the same time.

"What do you say, Son?" Anakin’s voice sounded pleasant, and unexpectedly cheerful.

"Let’s go, Father!" Luke answered, rising to his feet.

Everybody stood up then. Strangely enough, it was their friends who were feeling apprehensive now.

Leia walked up to her brother and took his hands in hers. They looked deep into each other’s eyes. Leia tried to pass on to her brother all her strength and courage, everything he needed to help their father. She had decided her feelings weren’t important in this matter. Her little voice was telling her Anakin had to be reprieved. His freedom would be the cornerstone for the Alliance to start rebuilding the entire galaxy, for true forgiveness to have any real meaning.

Luke saw it all and smiled lovingly at her. He reached out and stroked her cheek with his fingertips. They bent forward until their foreheads touched, leaning on each other.

"Save him," she whispered to him. "Save him so you can save me."

Luke’s eyes filled with tears.

"You don’t need to be saved, Leia. The truth is inside you, and you will find it. You only have to let it out. We will help you. Our father will help you", he kissed her forehead. "Let him reach you. Let him touch your heart. He’s got so much love to give you and you have so much love to give him! Let it happen. Just ... don’t fight it and let it be."

Leia looked down and sniffed. She braved her brother’s gaze again.

"I ... I’ll try," she promised.

Luke smiled tenderly at her.

Anakin watched his children, his heart bursting with love for them both. It was so beautiful to see them together like this! ‘Oh, Padmé! Look at them! Our beautiful, precious children!!’ Anakin’s chest ached. And then, he remembered.

"Lu—" he croaked. "Luke, Leia," he said softly after clearing his throat.

They looked at him with heartbreakingly open eyes, their hands clasped again.

"There’s something I want to show you, before the meeting. I owe it to both of you."

"What is it, Father?" Luke asked, dragging Leia along by the hand.

Anakin turned about and activated the computer. He accessed the file he had saved the night before. He moved aside, so his two children could have a clear view of the image he was about to open.

The picture of a young couple filled the screen. The tall, handsome blond, blue-eyed young man wore a Jedi robe, and the thin plait clearly identified him as a Jedi padawan. His hair was short and mostly spiky. His right, mechanical arm, hung at his right side, and his left human arm was wrapped around the beautiful young woman’s waist, clasping her amorously to him. She was wearing the most delicately ornate white dress they had ever seen. It outlined her small, perfect, beautiful figure. She wore a long, white skullcap, that fell on her shoulders as a veil, with threaded pearls. The young couple was framed in the set of a lake, and white clouds hid the tops of the mountains behind. They were standing in what seemed a huge balcony, in the shade of a thick, leafy old tree. They exuded peace and happiness, but there was also an aura of excitement and endearing shyness about them. An unknown future lay before them, but they seemed ready to take on the whole galaxy ... together.

Luke forgot to breathe. He couldn’t stop looking at the picture. He was entranced by it!

Leia’s reaction was more dramatic. She let out a choked sob and her suddenly trembling hand reached out to the young woman. She brought her fingertips an inch away from her smiling face.

"Mum," she wailed. The tears rolled down her face, unstoppable.

Luke wrapped his arm around his sister’s shoulders, trying to give her a part of his strength. He felt dizzy. His chest ached, as if tiny needles were pricking his heart. He was seeing his mother’s face for the first time in his life. She was so beautiful! So delicately strong! He couldn’t quite see the colour of her hair, but a few long, wavy strands fell down her front, and they were clearly brown. Her hair, her eyes ... So alike Leia, it was awesome! Their father was right, both of them had inherited their mother’s physical constitution. Small, but strong. And their parents looked so in love, so happy, so full of life! A bright, promising future, full of possibilities opened before them. What had gone wrong? What had happened? He felt Leia cuddling up to his body and he hugged her to him. It had been an unexpected shock for her to face a picture of her mother after her heartbreaking loss, so many years ago.

Anakin furtively wiped away a lonely tear. When he turned to his children, he found Leia’s eyes on him. They were desperate, almost feverish in their intensity and he couldn’t escape them. He felt as if his angel was looking at him through their daughter’s eyes.

"You truly loved her, didn’t you?" she weakly asked him.

Anakin closed his eyes and hissed through tightly clenched teeth as he breathed.

"She was my entire life," he answered, just as weakly; but everybody in the room could hear him nonetheless. "She always was and she always will be." His eyes were as intense as Leia’s, and they glowed when the tears finally streamed down his cheeks. "And she’s here right now. In you. Your mother goes on living through the both of you. Never forget it."

Luke touched his mother’s face with his fingertips. Something was surging up from deep inside him. A sweet scent, the phantom brush of soft fingertips on his cheek. It couldn’t be! He was practically a newborn when he was brought to Tatooine! He couldn’t possibly remember ...! His face flushed and he brutally crushed the tears before they completely filled his eyes. He looked up into his father’s still misted eyes.

"When ...?" he swallowed the lump in his throat.

"Our wedding day. We got married on Naboo," Anakin answered.

"You mother was actually a Queen?" Han asked, his eyes popping out of their sockets.

Leia turned to her beloved and smiled at him softly.

"Naboo had an elected monarchy," Anakin explained. "Your mother was a Queen for the two terms the system allowed. They tried to change it so she could remain a Queen for a third term, but she refused to have the system changed on her behalf. She became a Senator then."

"Just like me," Leia said to herself.

Anakin smiled at his daughter, bursting with pride.

"Yes, just like you. You followed your mother’s steps unkowingly."

Leia met her father’s eyes.

"And Luke followed yours ... although, thank heavens, he didn’t follow it until the end."

Anakin and Luke shivered in reaction to her words.

"I’m sorry!" Leia immediately said, grabbing her brother’s arm. "I didn’t mean it that way. I ..."

"It is all right," Anakin soothed her with a shaky smile. "Don’t be afraid to talk about it. It’s not taboo. It’s not wise sweeping things under the carpet. Words cause no harm, silences do. It’ll do us good talking about it."

Another silence filled the room as everybody looked again at the young couple on the screen.

"I won’t let your mother become just a memory," Anakin said vehemently, clenching his fists. "I will share with you all my memories of her, and she will live in your memories too, as she lives in mine. There’s where true immortality lies."

Luke and Leia studied their parents’ picture for a very long time, committing to memory each and every one of their mother’s features. They absorbed every tiny sign they thought they could detect in her stance, trying to create an entire background from a single frame, frozen in time.

Luke tried to draw strength from the immense feeling of love the picture conveyed. His parents had loved each other. Fiercely, passionately, desperately. Maybe, deep down, they had always known their love was doomed, that it shouldn’t be. But they had been unable to fight it and they had simply accepted it. And he and Leia were the fruits of that love. Their parents’ love had been good. He found an immeasurable peace in the knowledge of that truth. And a surge of strength as he had never known. He was ready to defend and protect his father for all he was worth. He didn’t know where that sudden strength came from, but one look at that beautiful, smiling young woman, told him where the source of that strength was. He smiled and nodded at her, as if she could respond to him.

‘I will do everything in my power to save him, mother!’ he promised. He closed his eyes and suffused himself with all the peace and calm he could muster. When he opened them, he found himself staring into his father’s gentle, understanding eyes. He smiled softly at him and Anakin nodded.

They were ready.

"Let’s go, my son," Anakin said softly, with a smile full of peace and serenity.

With a deep intake of breath, Luke headed for the door. Anakin followed him after casting a final glance at his wife’s smiling face. She was his strength, now and always.

All those who still were sitting, stood up then and followed them out in silence. They had been as moved and shaken by the image of Luke and Leia’s parents as they were. R2 beeped something after a while, and Anakin smiled. He didn’t need any translation; he knew very well what the droid had said.

"Yes, Artoo. You and 3PO witnessed our wedding. How could I forget? It was good to have you with us."

"They were there?" Leia asked, astonished, looking at the two droids who walked beside her with a newfound respect. They were more linked to their past that she would have ever suspected.

Anakin nodded dreamily.

"Oh, I wish I could remember, Master!" 3PO moaned.

"You will, 3PO," Luke reassured him, looking back at him while he walked. "We’ll take a look at you after the meeting. There’s got to be something we can do. Don’t worry."

"I hope so, Master Luke!" the droid fervently wished.

They covered the remaining corridors in silence after that, until they stopped in front of two big double doors; it was the ships’s main conference room. Anakin turned to his newfound friends.

"Well, this is as far as you can go," he smiled at them gratefully. "Thank you for accompanying us here. I needed it."

Lando shook his head.

"It’s the least we could do. And I wish I could do more," he reached out his hand to Anakin. "Good luck."

Anakin looked down at Lando’s outstretched hand and next, he saw himself reaching out too, hesitatingly, and shaking it. Lando patted Anakin’s upper arm with his free hand a couple times, in total support.

"Thank you, General Calrissian!" Anakin’s voice trembled slightly.

Lando nodded and let go of Anakin’s hand. Han stepped forward then and offered his hand to Anakin. Speechless by now, Anakin shook it, more confidently.

"I hope you’re a free man when you walk out of these doors. May the Force be with you." His voice and his stance were full of intensity and conviction. He clasped Anakin’s hand between both of his and shook it more powerfully.

"Thank you very much, General Solo." Anakin was doing his very best not to be overcome by emotion.

"Call me Han. That’s what my friends call me."

Luke bit his lower lip. There was an incredible depth to the Corellian’s heart. How proud he was to have him as a friend!

Anakin covered Han’s hand with his own and shook it once, sealing the pact.

"Han." He sniffed.

The Corellian smiled softly.

Chewie couldn’t restrain himself any longer. As soon as Anakin and Han let go of each other’s hands, he clasped Anakin to him, in one of his famous, or infamous now, bearhugs. Anakin coughed a couple times, completely taken by surprise. He had almost swallowed his own Adam’s apple!

"All right, Chewie, all right; I got the hint!" he croaked, as his eyes popped open.

Chewie growled something vehemently, nodding time and again and shaking his head in a most expressive speech.

"Thank you so much, my friend," Anakin scratched the Wookie’s fur when he was finally released.

Chewie reached out and ruffled Anakin’s hair. Everybody spluttered in amusement. It seemed that the same way Anakin used that gesture with Luke, something that had become an expression of comfort and trust between them, Chewie had also adopted it with Anakin for the very same reason. He almost seemed to consider the older Jedi to be his pet!

Chewie finally stopped messing about with Anakin’s hair and things seemed to reach an impasse then. Anakin hardly dared to risk looking at his daughter now. On the one hand, he was dying to receive her support, a kind word from her, anything; but on the other, he was very aware of not deserving them. To his amazement, the solution to his dilemma sorted itself out when the Princess approached him, holding out her small hand, a bit too formally.

"Good luck ... Father," her voice was barely a whisper. "I know you’ve sincerely repented of the crimes you’ve committed. I hope Mon Mothma will also see the truth, so we can move on and start rebuilding our lives ... together."

Anakin stared at his daughter, not believing his ears and his eyes. His chin and his lips began trembling, and his eyes reddened helplessly. Holding back his emotions brutally again, he let out a shaky breath, took the delicate hand in his and softly squeezed it. This was the first time he was actually touching his daughter as a father. A shiver ran up and down his spine. He was very much aware of the privilege he had just been given and the effort Leia had made. He had never felt more honoured.

"Thank you, my daughter. Your support is everything I needed to enter that room feeling worthy. I know how much it’s cost you. Thank you so very much!"

Leia looked deeply into her father’s eyes and nodded. Many things had changed inside her, especially after seeing her parents’ picture. Many things had been changing since the night before. So many, she could hardly keep up with them. She saw in her father’s still youthful features the ghost of a 20 year old face, young and full of life ... and love for her mother. The same love she saw in his eyes now whenever he looked at her or at Luke. The same love she was feeling through their clasped hands. This man held no spark of evil inside him. It was as if she could see right through him every time she touched him. The same thing had happened when she had brushed past him in the Falcon. She couldn’t explain or understand how this could be so, but it didn’t change the fact that it was. And it frightened her. Not the fact that she could see right through her father’s soul, but the fact that everything inside her wanted to reach out back to him; and she still wasn’t ready. Oh, it would be so easy to let go! His touch was so comforting, so soothing, so ... fatherly! It was every dream she had ever held dear about her real father! She ached inside to hold on tight and never let go. But she couldn’t afford to let go. Not yet. She withdrew her hand from his grasp slowly, timidly.

Anakin accepted her need to withdraw and let her go. He felt a sharp pain in his chest, but controlled it. She was trying, and he had no right to ask for more.

"Don’t forget this," the words came out on their own, strong, firm, full of love and raw emotion. "You and Luke are my life, the best part of myself. If I didn’t have you, I would have no reason to go on living; I wouldn’t want to." He paused painfully and swallowed the lump in his throat. "I just wanted you to know," he smiled weakly.

Leia stared at him, not daring to blink. She felt a terrible pain in her chest. And gratitude too. But she didn’t know how to let it show. She was paralysed.

Luke’s hand settled on his father’s shoulder and squeezed it softly. Anakin took a deep breath and turned his head until he met his son’s caring eyes. He covered Luke’s hand with his own.

R2’s excited beeping startled them all.

"Yes, Artoo," 3PO translated almost immediately. "Both of us want to wish you all the best, Master. We both hope for the Alliance to make the only reasonable decision."

"Thank you, 3PO," Anakin smiled at his golden droid and his smaller friend. "I know it doesn’t sound very appropriate for me to say this," he was addressing all of them now, "but I also hope they have your compassion and understanding."

"They?!" Han suddenly exclaimed. He remembered then Luke had also used the plural when he had exited the bathroom. ‘I hope they have as much insight as you, my friend,’ he had said. "What do you mean ‘they’? I thought this was going to be a private meeting with Mon Mothma."

"No, Han," Luke explained calmly. "It seems there has been a change in the original plan."

"A change? What do you mean? When did that happen?" Han was looking from father to son, not knowing what were they talking about all of a sudden.

With an affectionate smile, Luke hugged him, drawing strength from his friend’s physical contact. It had become as necessary for him as breathing. The Corellian returned the hug, very confused. He had no idea what was going on there. He seemed to have missed something and he didn’t know what it was!

Luke hugged Lando, Chewie and Leia, who seemed to be in as much confusion as Han. His sister clung to him desperately and kissed his cheek, trying to pass on to him all her remaining strength and courage. She was trembling softly in his arms. Luke felt her intent and pressed her closer to him, trying to give back as much strength as he was taking.

"Keep the faith," they whispered to each other at the same time.

They moved back immediately, very surprised. They smiled at one another, very comforted by the knowledge they were thinking along similar lines. Luke kissed his sister’s cheek and let her go, very slowly. They held on tight to each other’s hands until Luke broke the contact by stepping backwards. Releasing all the air in his lungs in a quick blow, the young man turned to his father, who was already waiting for him right in front of the double doors. Anakin stared at him for a short moment before shaking his head and rolling his eyes in a pretendedly exaggerated, patronizing gesture. He reached out and combed through Luke’s hair with his fingers, until every strand was perfectly in place. Then, suddenly remembering Chewie’s equal liking for hair messing, he combed through his own hair thoroughly, until he considered he had to look all right. He looked at his son for verification and Luke nodded at him with a mischievous smile. The boy reached out and needlessly tweaked one lock of hair on the top of his father’s head, as if adding the final touch on his father’s hairdo.

"Okay, now!" he announced with an impish smile.

Anakin reached out again, intending to ruffle Luke’s hair, but he restrained himself in time. He grasped his son’s hand instead and squeezed it in a gesture of mutual support. Luke returned the pressure, grinning at him. At his father’s sharp nod, the boy reached out and buzzed for admittance. They let go of each other’s hand then, but everybody could see the invisible thread that stretched out between them and bound father and son together.

The double doors opened and Luke and Anakin entered, walking resolutely shoulder to shoulder. Their friends couldn’t help a gasp when they caught a glimpse of Mon Mothma, Generals Rieekan, Dodonna and Madine and Admiral Ackbar waiting for them inside. The doors closed after them with a definite hiss.

Han wrapped his arm around Leia’s shoulders and hugged her tight to his chest. She seemed frozen on the spot after what she had seen waiting for her father and brother in the conference room.

"There’s nothing else we can do now, except wait for them." He looked at the closed doors. "Damn it! It won’t be a court-martial, but it looks like it, now more than ever! And those two knew all along. Double damn!" He clenched his teeth in anger and frustration.

Leia buried her face in her beloved’s chest for a few moments. But then, she straightened up, took a deep breath and became the determined, indomitable leader of the Alliance she had always been.

"Let’s wait in there," she pointed at the little waiting room directly in front of the conference room. She didn’t want to be too far away from them. She wouldn’t let them down, not even now, when there was nothing she could do to help her brother ... and her father. But the time would come and then ... they would hear her out, all right! They would hear out all of them!

Han nodded and never releasing her, they entered the small waiting room. It only had a few seats, a small, unnecessary table in the exact centre of the chamber and four lovely pictures hanging from the walls. They flopped down on the surprisingly comfortable seats. It was going to be a long wait, but they were ready to wait for as long as it took. They exchanged worried glances in silence. They couldn’t stop thinking about what Luke and Anakin would be facing at that very moment.



Anakin and Luke Skywalker walked along the corridor that ended up in front of a long, old wooden table, beautifully carved. Mon Mothma was sitting at the centre of the table. On her right sat Admiral Ackbar and General Crix Madine. On her left, and staring at both of them unashamedly, sat Generals Rieekan and Dodonna.

"Good morning, gentlemen," Mon Mothma greeted them. She looked serious but cordial, and father and son felt a bit more at ease.

"Good morning," they answered courteously, almost at the same time.

"Please, sit down," she invited them.

Anakin and Luke complied and sat down on two comfortable chairs that were placed beside each other and right in front of the table, several metres away from it. They were in the spotlight, literally, for a beam of light illuminated them directly from above. It was a soft, light blue glow that didn’t hurt the eyes.

"First of all," Mon Mothma went straight to the point, as was her custom, "I want to apologize for not receiving you last night as I promised. Right after I talked to Princess Leia and she informed me of the startling news, I realized this matter had to be handled very carefully and by the book. That’s why I immediately sent for Admiral Ackbar and Generals Rieekan, Dodonna and Madine," she indicated them with a graceful wave of her hands. "A few hours’ wait was in order until they arrived." She made a short pause, looking at them. "And I also surmised you would welcome a good night’s rest, especially after what you must have gone through."

Anakin and Luke nodded once, acknowledging Mon Mothma’s foresight gratefully.

There was another pause. Mon Mothma couldn’t help staring for a moment at the strikingly handsome man who was sitting beside his son a few metres away from her. The physical resemblance between them both was uncanny. It was impossible to deny they were father and son. And even more impossible to believe was the fact that this good-looking, sweet-eyed man was the person beneath Darth Vader’s mask and armour, and behind the abominable acts he had committed in the name of his Master and the Empire. But she had lived enough to know that appearances could be deceptive.

Anakin met her eyes then and she felt an inner shudder running up and down her spine. His look of gentleness, compassion and infinite regret lanced through her heart like a knife. She knew right then and there and beyond any doubt that this man had to be reprieved. But there were some procedures that had to be followed first. A couple of her colleagues still had to be convinced and reassured of the necessity and convenience of having the former Darth Vader on their side. She had had a few disagreements with them in the past, involving some of her most outrageous pardons of several Imperial officers. She had always been right in the end, but that fact didn’t seem to matter right now. Every single being was different, and this particular one beat them all. This man was going to put the Alliance’s ideals to the test. But if they rose to the occasion, nothing would stand in their way then. They would be able to give the galaxy the lasting peace it had been denied for much too long.

"There’s much to discuss and much to understand," she began, interlacing her fingers and bending forward. "This Council’s decision is deceptively simple. To reprieve you or to convict you. The point is that we must be absolutely certain we will be doing the right thing. We’ve reprieved a number of Imperial officers in the past, but I’m sure you’ll agree with me your importance within the Empire was only inferior to Palpatine. You’re directly responsible for the taking of millions of lives. Justice for those who have been silenced forever cannot be forgotten. But, if we are going to reprieve you and back you up until the end, there has to be no doubt whatsoever in our minds about your intentions and feelings. And where your loyalties lie now. And those will be very difficult to establish."

Anakin blinked. He didn’t know where to start. He felt helpless. How could he possibly convince them of who he was, of what he felt? He had committed unthinkable crimes, he had hunted down and unmercifully slaughtered too many to present himself before the leaders of the Rebellion and say: ‘I’m good now, cross my heart!’ The Alliance’s president was right. To establish his good intentions was going to be almost impossible. A huge leap of faith would be essential on the Alliance’s part. And they would have to be ready to abide by their decision until its last consequences. He almost smiled at the implied irony. The Alliance, ready to defend Lord Vader from their own allies! The implications of a possible pardon were going to be too far-reaching. Maybe it could even endanger the Alliance’s position or backfire on them!

‘You keep on focusing on the negative, Father. Be positive; believe! Help me, help us!’ Luke’s soft mind-voice intruded upon his thoughts.

Anakin gave a small start and pulled himself together. Luke was right. He kept on forgetting himself. He had to believe in his right to be reprieved. He had to help those people see he could be useful and that his contribution could make the New Republic stronger. They had much to learn from each other. There was so much to be gained!

But where to start, what to say? He was completely at a loss.

General Dodonna spoke then.

"I’m aware this is a very difficult situation for you. You probably think there’s no way you can convince us of your sincerity or why you have changed sides so dramatically. You were Darth Vader, and the acts you have committed over the last couple decades speak for themselves. How could you possibly make us see beyond those atrocities?" he softly tore at his white beard and looked at Anakin with something akin to compassion. He had also looked into the big man’s gentle eyes, and he was old enough to recognize what there was in them. "To begin with, my question would be: "What was the catalyst for you to renounce that which you had faithfully served for so long? What was the reason for you to realize the crimes you had committed and your decision to turn back from your former way of life?"

Anakin sighed and closed his eyes. He was grateful for this questioning. It was going to give an answer to many pending issues inside him he didn’t know how or didn’t dare to face. He had the feeling he was going to learn many truths about himself this morning, just as many as the Alliance was about to find out.

"The reason why I turned is sitting here next to me," he began, looking at his son, who returned his brief glance with adoration. "For over 20 years I have been walking a path of blood and Darkness. When I found out I had a child, something inside me began to change against my conscious will. I resisted for as long as I could, but in the end, there was no escape."

"You mean that none of the thousands of children you murdered over the years ever moved your heart, but when you found out you had a child of your own, that made all the difference? As simple as that?" Madine asked, with brutal precision.

A sharp pain crossed Anakin’s chest, but he forced himself to recover. This was just the beginning and he would have to endure it. His past would return to torment him for the rest of his life. He had to accept the crimes he had committed and learn to live with them, as impossible as it could be.

"Essentially, yes," he admitted, his voice dripping shame and self-contempt. "You must understand that when I chose to become Darth Vader, I renounced everything I had been before. I had no past. Just present and future. There were no links to my earlier life. No love, no emotional attachments, none of that unwanted weakness ..." he bit his lower lip in disgust. "I killed, I destroyed in the name of the Emperor ... and my own. I didn’t think, I didn’t question my master because it felt the right thing to do. I was blinded by my own thirst of power, my hunger for revenge, my own mindless, insatiable greed for something that had no name; nothing existed beyond fulfilling those goals, never mind if I had to wipe out everyone who stood in my way. I existed this way for over 20 years. It was like a dark, narrow tunnel, full of dark promises of power at the end of it. I didn’t bother to look at what I was leaving behind me. I didn’t care." He swallowed nervously, and he tasted the vile flavour of the Darkness he had belonged to. "And when I found out about Luke, my past suddenly returned to haunt me. Memories I had buried forever resurfaced again. And ... feelings long forgotten began to torment me. I remembered how everything had been once, and how it could have been. And then I began questioning my way of life, wondering about the path I had chosen. And it angered me beyond reason", he looked down. He was very aware of what he was saying, and he knew his next words could very well cost him his son’s love. But Luke was entitled to know, he had earned that right a million times over. His son would have to accept him, being fully aware of who was the person who had sired him. How ugly, loathsome and hideous he had been. "I focused all that anger on my son. I blamed him for my sudden weakness. I longed to be with him and I hated myself for it. I was disgusted by my weakness and yet, I relentlessly searched for him, but for other reasons than Palpatine. Luke ... seemed to hold all my answers."

Luke was staring at his father with his mouth hanging open. He was listening to his words with fascinated horror. His father’s implacable search for him for over two endless years made more sense now than ever. He had been fighting against himself since the very moment he had learnt he had a son. Anakin had longed for him from the beginning. The goodness inside him had been struggling to come out again for that long. His heart seemed to swell and explode inside his chest. His father had wanted him even then! That was the only thing he could think about.

"Until everything came to an end in Cloud City," Anakin finished ominously. "When I finally found myself face to face with him, I ... lost my mind. I felt as if I was looking at myself in a mirror, at what my life could have been like ... at what I had lost. And my hatred returned, a million times more powerful. Luke had softened me, he had made me want ... He was to blame!" He clenched his teeth. "But despite my anger, I still wanted him beside me. My very blood was calling for him. There was no way out ... for either of us," he sighed. "I was too far gone to have any other choice left. My soul wasn’t mine anymore. Luke would have to turn and come with me," he looked down at his hands for a moment, before finding the courage to look up again and meet the eyes of those who were judging him. "But he preferred to die before joining me. And something inside me changed for good that day. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I felt old, tired, apathetic. The ensuing months I merely existed, waiting for the time our paths crossed again. And cross they did."

"I don’t understand," Madine interrupted Anakin’s words. "If you never intended to change, then how come you’re sitting before us today?"

Anakin took a deep breath and braved the General’s perplexed blue eyes.

"Because my son’s life stood in the balance," he replied passionately. "When it became obvious that Luke wouldn’t give in to the Emperor’s temptations and Palpatine proceeded to kill him before my eyes, I knew that the only thing that prevented me from joining him was ... myself. All I had to do was renounce to what I had been for over twenty years. If my son still could accept me and forgive me after what I had done to him, maybe I could come to live with myself ... one day." He met Madine’s eyes squarely. He looked much older then. "I suppose in the end it is that simple. I only had to find a reason to change, a reason strong enough to tear me away from the Darkness I had willingly abandoned myself to. And my son was my price."

There was a long, awed silence that Anakin broke some time later.

"I don’t intend to give you any excuses for my actions when I was Darth Vader. There is no justification whatsoever for my crimes. I was a mass murderer, I relished in every life I took and I became a master in several methods of torture. I took the lives of helpless men, women and children without second thoughts." He took a shaky breath. He disgusted himself so much right now he felt like throwing up. The shame and guilt were so immense he thought he would go insane. "I’ll have to live with what that monster did for the rest of my life. I’ll have to go to sleep every single day of my life with the screams of the people I killed, resounding in my mind; with the horrified cries of the friends and relatives of those I slaughtered before their eyes, with their faces imprinted in my mind." His eyes reddened helplessly then, but he was determined not to shed one single tear here today, and he would succeed! "Being alive is punishment enough, believe me. I wish I could die a dozen times for every life I took. I wish I could change myself for all those I murdered," he threw up his hands in an explosion of sheer despair. "But I can’t! I can’t and I’ll have to live with that forever!" His hands fell on his lap, dejected.

Luke’s hand slowly appeared before Anakin’s vision and tenderly clasped his. He held it back desperately. His son still wanted him. Even after this! Bless the child! He took the smaller hand between both of his reverently, cherishing their bond with all his heart.

"I feel helpless," Anakin’s voice sounded suddenly hoarse. "Words are so limited, they mean so many different things I know that what I’m trying to convey is not what you are understanding by them; it’s all so subjective." He felt infinitely tired. "There are moments when I think horror and guilt are going to kill me or drive me mad. And I wish I could die to release myself from the burden of my own life. It would certainly save you, and myself, a lot of pain and trouble. But then," he instinctively looked down at his and Luke’s clasped hands, "I look at my children and at their friends. They all have forgiven me! I’ve tortured them, chased them implacably for years. I’ve killed and taken away from them friends, relatives and people they loved. I’ve committed obscene, unspeakable acts towards them, towards thousands of people, that have defiled me as a sentient being. I’ve degraded myself to a degree that no one will ever know." He swallowed again and made a grimace at the bitter taste. "And yet, despite everything, I feel I still have something to give. There’s this warm, sweet light inside me that seems to indicate the right path. For the first time in my life, I know where my future lies, what I can become, with all your help." He squeezed Luke’s hand, desperately asking for his support. He needed it now more than ever. He immediately felt his son returning the pressure tenfold. "I need to atone for my crimes somehow. In any way I can! I know I can’t bring back all those I murdered, but I can save other lives, just as precious as the ones I took. I can help you to rebuild what I helped to destroy. I can help my son to bring back the Jedi Order I exterminated. We can find a way, all of us, together." He gasped for breath and went on. "I know you’ll be taking a huge risk should you decide to reprieve me. It’s an undeniable possibility. But if we succeed, it will be the best way to show the galaxy it can work out, that we all can coexist peacefully, working together for the greater good. We’re stronger together," he met Mon Mothma’s eyes and spoke with a passion as he had never known to possess. "I offer myself to you in any way you deem fit. I’ll accept anything you decide to do with me." He was unashamedly begging now. "Please, give me the chance to put right what I did wrong. Let me try to make up for my crimes. Allow me to be a father for my children. Let me redeem myself; help me to get my dignity, my humanity back!"

Luke closed his eyes and bit his lips. The pain he was experiencing was unlike anything he had ever felt. His father’s speech had broken his heart. His quiet acceptance of his destiny amazed him. He had just placed his very life in the Alliance’s hands. He stared at his anguished face and at that moment, he thought he couldn’t possibly admire him and love him more. He looked at the shocked faces of the people sitting in front of him. They had to see! Force, let them see! He squeezed his father’s hand tight.

Mon Mothma couldn’t tear her eyes away from Anakin’s. His words had moved her to her very core. He had touched her deeper than she thought she could be touched. His tortured soul and sincere repentance struck a chord with her. The empathy she felt with his plight and his feelings was almost eerie. And her determination grew in geometrical progression, only with a flash of insight now. Anakin would be vital for the reconstruction of the Republic. Somehow, she could see it very clearly. A bright future awaited them, if only they had the courage to reach out and take it. Yanking her look away from Anakin’s heartbreaking eyes, she turned to her colleagues. Some of them were swallowing hard, slowly recovering from Anakin’s heartrending plea.

Admiral Ackbar spoke then.

"You may think we haven’t completely understood your words, not the way you intended to convey, and I know what you mean. Every person’s experiences determine their way of understanding things and reacting to them. We’re all prisoners of our own subjectivity. But I’m sure we all here agree that you’re not the man you used to be. Darth Vader would have never spoken the way you have. I’m looking at you right now and I can’t believe you were that walking horror who left a path or murder and destruction behind him. You have changed. We all can see it," his big yellow eyes stared at Anakin for a long moment and he nodded to himself. Yes, he knew now what he had to do.

General Rieekan had been silent since Anakin and Luke had entered the room. He was a man of few words. He preferred actions to speak for themselves. But he had listened intently to Anakin’s words. He also was of the opinion that words could be misinterpreted and two people could draw two completely different conclusions from the same speech. That was why he had paid very close attention to Anakin’s every gesture. His eyes, the movement of his hands, his entire body’s stance. There was a language of the body that could be just as revealing as a full confession. As they say: an image is worth a thousand words. And through those unmistakable signs, he had come to the conclusion that Anakin Skywalker didn’t lie. He had honestly repented of the crimes he had committed and he was placing his future in their hands, in the hope they made the right decision. He was actually passing on to them the responsibility of his own life! He couldn’t believe what that man had just done, what his words really implied. When the shock began receding, he smiled to himself as he watched his colleagues’ faces. From completely different processes, all of them seemed to have come to the same decision.

But still one voice remained to be heard. He already knew what that voice was going to say, he only had to look at their tightly clasped hands to know, but it would be interesting to hear what Luke Skywalker had to say. There was a lot to respect and a lot to learn about that kind and gentle young man. He had grown up a lot since they had first met four years ago. He had paid the price of knowledge with the loss of his innocence. But somehow, the father seemed to have restored to the son the innocence he had taken away from him. He couldn’t imagine how such a thing could be possible, but they were the living proof that love could survive and conquer anything. Luke Skywalker could be in his early twenties, but sometimes, he looked as old and wise as Time itself. And now that he thought about it, the same could be said about his father. Both of them had survived something very few beings, if any, had ever been privileged or cursed enough to endure. But they had survived against all odds, stronger and closer than ever, and they deserved a second chance, together. He turned his eyes to the young man.

"Commander Skywalker, is there anything you want to say?" he softly invited.

Luke’s eyes shifted from his father’s emotionally exhausted form, to each and every one of them. He seemed to hesitate for a moment, but then, a determined look appeared in his eyes. He let go of his father’s hand with infinite tenderness and turned to them with something akin to open challenge.

"As a matter of fact, I do," he began softly. Too softly. "Forgive my bluntness, but I’m a soldier, not a diplomat as my sister." He stood up and approached them. "We all know what’s really being decided here today. We’re not only talking about my father’s freedom, but the entire galaxy’s, and what my father’s freedom could entail to both. I’m aware you’ll be taking a tremendous risk if you decide to reprieve him, but there were no qualms whatsoever when other Imperial officers were granted the same privilege. Vaughan Worthwing, Commander Thazzel or Lieutenant Urlitt come to mind. None of them regretted, at first, the crimes they had committed in the name of the Empire. But in time, they came to understand and they joined us willingly." His intense blue eyes met Mon Mothma’s. "You believed in them, you believed they had the potential to be redeemed; and you were right. You never cared about the amount of crimes they had committed, you simply looked at what lay in their hearts. You made brave and just command decisions. All I ask of you is that you are just as brave to reprieve my father. He deserves the same justice. Let’s not make an exception just because the name Darth Vader is too well-known across the galaxy and the decision to reprieve him could be unpopular and uncomfortable, even dangerous. My father has already changed. All you have to do is look into his eyes to see the truth." He looked down at his boots for a moment and took a deep breath. He faced them again. "We’re not only judging my father here today. On judging him, we’re judging ourselves and our deepest beliefs, the very principles the Alliance was founded on. Let’s not be fearful to make a decision so important! Let’s make our decision because we believe in it, not for its eventual repercussions. If we start compromising now, we’ll have no future. Let’s show the galaxy we’re not afraid to forgive our worst enemy. Implacable in battle, generous in victory. My father was the incarnation of the Empire. Through his pardon we’ll be conveying that true forgiveness is possible, that there is a place for all of us in this galaxy, even for those who have committed mass murder and repented for their crimes. And I’m not only talking about my father right now," Luke said, referring to himself quite intentionally. A second later, he saw the shocked expressions on the faces of the five beings he had before him, as the meaning of his last words registered. "His pardon could even be the hint for many reluctant Imperial officers and sympathizers to join us. If they see us working together side by side, they’ll see true cooperation is possible to rebuild our lives in peace, instead of prolonguing this destructive conflict forever. It is a huge, far-reaching decision, but it has to be made. And the time is here and now!" He finished, passionately. His eyes moved from one of his father’s judges to the other, trying to convey his deep belief in his words by sheer force of will.

A long, deafening, astonished silence followed the young man’s words.

"Nothing stands in our way," Luke’s voice was surprisingly softer. His speech had drained him completely. "Palpatine is dead. My father killed him to save my life. Please, don’t give up on him now! He’s abandoned everything to follow me, to be with me and with my sister, with all of us. The Alliance is his only home now. Let’s take him in, let’s embrace his future, the way we’ve embraced the future of all those we’ve reprieved in the past. He deserves our courage and our determination to defend him. Give yourselves the opportunity to get to know him and learn from him. He’s got so much to give! He’s bared his soul to us. His pain and remorse are so immense. Let’s heal him, let’s heal each other! It is the only way." He put out his hands, palms up, in a universal gesture of peace offering and understanding. He met his counterparts’ eyes one by one, openly pleading. He stepped back and collapsed on his chair beside his father. He felt so tired! He felt as if he had been fighting the Empire single-handed for days.

Anakin turned his head and watched his son with tears in his eyes. No matter if he lived a million years, he wouldn’t forget his words for as long as he lived. He never thought anyone could go so far in his defence. So brave, so upright and decent! What had he ever done to deserve such a son?

Luke’s eyes turned to his father and smiled weakly at him. Anakin reached out and grasped Luke’s forearm. The boy looked so young now! He seemed like a desperate lost waif, waiting helplessly for the proverbial other shoe to drop. Anakin smiled comfortingly at him. He would never be more proud of him than he felt right now. Beautiful, courageous child!

‘I don’t care what happens to me now, Son. What you’ve just done for me outweighs everything I never thought one being could possibly do for another. I only hope one day I’ll be worthy of what you did today.’

‘I do care about what happens to you! I won’t have peace until I see you walking out of this room as a free man’, Luke’s eyes were full of uncertainty and trepidation.

‘I already am. You just set me free.’ Anakin stroked Luke’s arm. He felt like crying of love. Luke had restored his dignity and his honour in front of the Alliance’s leaders. He had fought for them and he had given them back to him. He would never receive a more precious gift.

Luke’s eyes raised up to his father’s and slowly filled with tears.

‘Father ...’ he was at a loss for words, even within his mind.

‘My Luke ...’ Anakin smiled tenderly, knowing and feeling what Luke couldn’t verbalize.

The sudden silence in the room brought them back to the present. Until then, there had been the sound of soft whispers and the soft brush of clothes, but the abrupt, almost brutal silence, made them turn their heads and face the five people who were about to decide on Anakin’s future.

Mon Mothma adopted a serene, dignified stance. She interlaced her fingers once again in her accustomed gesture and bent forward, getting a little bit closer to the two men, whose hearts were racing in their chests.

"As you can see, our deliberation has been pretty quick." The familiarity of her words made Luke’s and Anakin’s hearts skip several beats. Were they detecting an undercurrent of ... amusement in her accent? "To be honest, we had practically made up our minds before you even got in here. Some of us still needed a little push in the right direction, but all of that has been already sorted out, thanks to your candid, honest, righteous speeches." She seemed to smile to herself then. "And, being honest until the bitter end, we also have a confession to make and a big apology to give you. Not only to the two of you, but also to Generals Solo and Calrissian, Princess Leia and our priceless Wookie." As unbelievable as it could seem, a soft flush covered her face, as if she was ashamed of her next words. "We must confess we have been spying on you. There were bugging devices in the mess and in Commander Skywalker’s room." She swallowed hard. "It has been an unforgivable and obscene thing to do, to intrude upon your privacy and listen to private conversations we had absolutely no business to, but we had to be certain of your true intentions. You are aware of just how very much is at stake here. The end will never justify the means, and you have my word we have never attempted such a dirty thing before. But we had no way to know Vader had truly turned back. Indeed, we had no reason to believe why he would do that, not even for his children, unless it was one of his well-known and perfectly designed plots to infiltrate the groups he intended to destroy. And what a better place than the Alliance’s very core?" she addressed Anakin now. "You could have perfectly manipulated their minds and made them bring you here. I lived in the Old Republic and I’m old enough to remember some Jedi mind tricks you were all so acclaimed for." The shame returned again. "The open, straightforward conversation you had in the mess, before and after you left," she looked at Anakin again, "and your conversation with your son in his room were enough to convince us, although some of us still had our reservations about the fairness of reprieving you. That was as far as we went in our spying. Please, understand we needed to have a little edge on you."

Anakin’s and Luke’s faces couldn’t possibly reveal more surprise and shock than they already did. They opened and closed their mouths like two fishes. They had to admit it had been yet another master-plan, devastating in its childish simplicity, on the Alliance’s part. One that they couldn’t, in good conscience, resent. Their feelings had been hurt and they felt betrayed and exposed, but both of them were intelligent enough to realize it had been necessary. Sometimes, you have to put yourself in the others’ place and put your own feelings aside before judging them. Mon Mothma was right. They had no way to know, from Leia’s startling transmission from Endor the night before to this very moment, they weren’t dealing with a very elaborate trap. They were at war, and unfortunately for the entire galaxy, that explained it all.

Father and Son looked at each other and in just a few seconds, they seemed to say everything to each other through their eyes. They nodded at one another with a soft smile, and turned to them.

"We understand," Anakin simply said. "We’re at war and in that state, we’re forced to do things and resort to tactics beyond our principles. War is immoral in itself. We understand what you did and why, and we agree it was necessary."

The five people at the table heaved a furtive sigh of relief. It was obvious none of them approved of such dirty tactics and they felt unworthy for having resorted to them.

"Thank you for your understanding," Mon Mothma smiled at them, gratefully. "All the bugging devices have already been disabled." She made a disgusted face that clearly showed her opinion about what she had been forced to do. "Now, back to the matter at hand," she met their eyes squarely then, "our decision was practically made since last night. Some of us were still reluctant, but humanly and morally, we are bound to treat you the same way we’ve treated all the other Imperial prisoners." She looked at the younger Skywalker with newfound respect and admiration. "You were right. I never cared about the number of crimes a person had committed, I just tried to look through them and see whether they could still recognize where truth and justice lay. I’ve reprieved people who, at first sight, were unredeemable, but I felt there was a core of decency and morality in them and I trusted that, eventually, truth would reveal itself to them and they would be brave and honest enough to acknowledge it." She took a deep breath and went on, addressing Anakin now. "From what I learned last night, it became obvious you had already travelled the same path as those officers." Her face darkened suddenly. "I won’t deny there’s a huge risk involved. Should we reprieve you, we could earn the enmity of many of our own allies, and it could seriously undermine our credibility within certain circles. It’s not fair, but ‘nobody’ Lieutenant Urlitt, with all due respect, doesn’t stir as many feelings of aversion, hostility and downright hatred in the public as Darth Vader. Many voices will rise against our decision. But justice has to be done, above all things. If we start compromising now, we will be compromising forever and we’ll be making the same mistake the Old Republic did, and we will suffer the same fate. Besides, it’s absurd, and impossible, to seek to satisfy everybody. We can’t make a decision because it’s politically correct or to satisfy the majority. We have to make a decision because it’s the right thing to do, come what may. The Alliance is not the galaxy’s avenger, but the galaxy’s hope. We want to put an end to this war as soon as possible and make of this galaxy a place of peace and tolerance." She took a deep breath. "They say the best way to demonstrate one’s intentions is to set an example. And we will be up to the challenge. I also have the feeling, as Commander Skywalker, that you could very well hold the key to this bloody war. It’s time for us to make a powerful decision we can be proud of, now and forever. To show all those who care to see beyond outward appearances the Alliance doesn’t shrink from making command decisions of this magnitude and significance when they consider them just and right. Time will prove us right. I am ... we are that certain of you and what lies in your heart." Her brown eyes met Anakin’s, and they were ablaze now. She looked at each of her colleagues and after receiving an energetic nod from every single one of them, they raised to their feet as one. Mon Mothma looked at Anakin, in full command mode now. She looked impressive, almost regal in her awesome dignity. At that moment, she became the spiritual and strategic leader of the Alliance, who had faced and fought the mighty Empire and was on the very verge of defeating it.

Anakin and Luke immediately stood at attention.

The time had come.

"Anakin Skywalker," her soft voice was full of authority and it seemed to echo on the hall’s walls, "it is the unanimous decision of this Council to reprieve you. You will therefore hold the same rights and obligations as every free being within the Alliance from now on. This Council will reconvene at a later date to decide on what rank you will be given in our fleet."

Luke had grasped Anakin’s wrist at Mon Mothma’s mention of his father’s name, and he almost crushed all the bones in it when the words of his father’s pardon came out of her mouth.

Anakin closed his eyes to hold back the explosion of feelings that surged up from deep inside him. He couldn’t sort them out, he couldn’t even put a name to them; he could only experience them one by one and rejoice, not only in his own emotions, but in the overwhelming tide of equally exultant feelings coming from his boy.

Luke felt dizzy. Every possible emotion seemed to have gathered together around him and they were choking him blissfully. Tears of never before known happiness filled his eyes and he swallowed them hard. This wasn’t the time to burst out crying. They would have time enough to cry to their hearts’ content later. This was the moment their entire lives had been heading for. The Alliance’s incredibly brave act of faith and courage had saved them both, and it had marked a new beginning, not only for the Alliance’s future, but for the whole galaxy’s. He could feel it now with as much certainty as he felt the soft tremor in his father’s body. Finally, for the first time in his life, or at least, since he could remember, he knew the true meaning of the word peace. Peace and contentment as no being could have possibly experienced before him.

But Mon Mothma wasn’t through, yet.

"Commander Luke Skywalker," she intoned, and Luke shook himself out of his musings and focused his complete attention on her, a bit surprised she was addressing him now, "it is also decision of this Council that you are to be promoted and decorated for bravery, not only in battle, something you have repeatedly demonstrated over the years, but for your even more awesome bravery in your decision to face Palpatine. Your action not only released us all from all the years of tyranny we had suffered, but it also made possible the redemption of the Alliance’s second worst enemy. Your heroism in facing and conquering your inner demons and the demons inside your father demanded an even greater courage than joining battle."

Luke gave a small start at the totally unexpected speech. This was the least he would have expected! His mouth fell open.

Anakin watched his son, bursting with pride. For the first time, he felt he had done right by staying alive, if only to help the Alliance to acknowledge the priceless value of this incredible young man he had sired. Just then, he remembered the ace he had up his sleeve, almost literally.

"This Council will reconvene at a more appropriate time, when a suitable ceremony can be performed," were Mon Mothma’s final words, that gave the meeting an unequivocal sense of closure. "Is there anything you want to say, before I adjourn this meeting?" she asked the two men who still stood at attention before her.

"As a matter of fact, I do," Anakin answered, raising his eyebrows when he realized he had used his son’s very words from a few minutes ago. "There is something I would like to give you." He put his fingers into a small pocket in his top and took out a small disk. He met Mon Mothma’s eyes, asking for her permission to approach them. At her immediate nod, he stepped forward.

"What’s that?" she asked.

"A detailed list of Imperial names, places and codes. Most of them were only known by Palpatine and myself. I am certain the information in this disk will help you put this bloody war to an end much sooner."

Mon Mothma stared at the disk Anakin held out to her with something akin to reverence. But when she reached out her hand to take it, Anakin surprised her by moving his hand away. She looked up at him in confusion.

"I have a request to make first," his voice was firm and unwavering all of a sudden, and everybody remembered then they were dealing with the former Commander of the Imperial fleet.

Mon Mothma met his eyes. Even with his apparently unyielding tone of voice, his eyes remained gentle and soothing, even somewhat apprehensive. She nodded her head slowly, inviting him to go on.

"I need your word that all Imperial soldiers will be reprieved." He made a short pause. "I know of several officers who relish bloodshed and have no qualms or guilt feelings about obliterating helpless civilian populations, and don’t know the meaning of the words remorse and compassion. Those are the names that are listed on this disk. I added them so that you know what to expect when the time comes. But most Imperial soldiers and officers are good people whose only crime is having no choice but to follow orders from the wrong Commander." A self-depreciating expression crossed his features momentarily. "I want your word that there will be no reprisals taken against them once the war is over."

Mon Mothma’s eyes never left Anakin’s and a soft, understanding smile appeared on her features. She knew very well what Anakin was talking about, and what his feelings were. At that moment, they were addressing each other as equals, two leaders with a huge responsibility on their shoulders and many innocent lives depending on them.

"You have my word," she promised solemnly.

Anakin nodded and with a little smile of relief and gratitude, he handed her the disk. Then, he reached out to her.

Mon Mothma looked down at Anakin’s proffered hand for a couple seconds and then, without hesitation, she shook it.

"Be welcome," she said, simply.

"Thank you. Thank you so very much," Anakin answered. His voice quivered with barely restrained emotion.

When they let go of each other’s hands with a parting glance full of mutual respect, Anakin reached out his hand to all the high-ranking officers sitting at the table. When he came up before Admiral Ackbar, he offered him the Mon Calamary salute, to the Admiral’s delighted surprise.

Meanwhile, Luke had also walked up to the table and he had stretched out his hand to Mon Mothma. His blue eyes shone with overwhelming joy and gratitude he couldn’t disguise. She took it between both of hers and shook it heartily.

"We all knew you have a heart of gold, young man, but it is obvious you have even more hidden depths," she softly said.

Luke tried to control his instinctive blush. He had never felt very comfortable around compliments, so he just looked at her, a bit dazed.

"Take good care of him," she told him softly, nodding in Anakin’s direction.

Luke’s breast filled with pride when he looked up at his father beside him.

"I will," he promised. "And he will take good care of me too. Of all of us." His voice was silky and full of affection for his father.

"I know," she replied with a smile. She was enormously pleased to see Luke so content. There had always been an air of melancholy and sad longing about him. He didn’t seem to notice and he had always looked happy enough amongst his friends, but that indefinite air of sadness was most definitely there, as if it was an integral part of his personality. Only now that it had completely disappeared from him, she understood what it was. It was obvious his father had fulfilled that desperate longing. And the most beautiful thing was that it worked both ways.

They looked at each other for another moment before letting go of each other’s hands. Luke then proceeded to shake the hands of all the other senior officers. When he walked up to General Dodonna, he found him engaged in a short, openly friendly conversation with his father.

"Ah, young one! Well done!" the old General smiled at Luke when he saw him at Anakin’s side. He shook Luke’s hand enthusiastically. "You are the living image of your father. The Alliance will be proud to back him up. This is the best decision we’ll ever make."

Luke nodded and braved the General’s eyes.

"Yes, it is. It is an amazingly brave decision that does us credit. I’ve never been more proud to serve the Alliance than I am now," his face was shining.

General Dodonna’s expression became suddenly serious.

"You know what?" he told Anakin and Luke as he gestured to them to come closer, as if he was about to reveal his biggest secret. When they bent closer to him, he dropped the bomb. "Me too!"

The three of them let out a gentle laugh.

"Oh, well!" the old General tore softly at his beard, lost in thought. "There is a lot to do now. This is the turning point of this horrible war. The information you gave us will help immeasurably to end it as quickly as possible. Our work as diplomats has just begun."

Anakin nodded and pointed at the disk Mon Mothma held in her hand.

"You will also find the names of the best Imperial officers to contact with. And I have the feeling it will be very soon now."

Luke stared up at his father, bursting with pride.

"The best officers, but not the best," the words came out of his mouth unbidden.

Dodonna laughed heartily then.

"Ahhh, hero worship! I recognize that look when I see it. I can understand why you couldn’t resist it, my friend," he teased.

Luke blushed and looked down. Anakin cast an affectionate glance at his son, placed his hand on his shoulder and looked at Dodonna.

"Is it really that obvious how much I admire him?", he said.

Luke raised his eyes immediately and looked at his father with his mouth hanging open. His face turned a bright crimson. His father had just turned the tables and placed himself as the subject of teasing. His eminently fatherly action spoke volumes. But the three of them could see Anakin hadn’t done it just to protect his son, he seriously meant it. Luke didn’t know where to look, so embarrassed he felt.

The commlink buzzed all of a sudden. Mon Mothma acknowledged the call.

"Mon Mothma here."

"Top priority transmission from the Empire, your Excellency. Code 000," announced the unmistakable voice of Areen Worzzlek.

Everybody froze on the spot. Such a transmission could only mean one thing. Their hearts started fluttering in their chests with the sweet hope of imminent peace.

"Acknowledged. We’re on our way," she cut off the communication.

"The Empire is falling apart. They have no leader to take over now that it has been doubly beheaded. A truce is the only way out before an internal conflict breaks out to take Palpatine’s place", Anakin summarized the situation impeccably.

Mon Mothma stared at him and nodded. She looked up at the ceiling, took a deep breath and released it in a blow.

"Their peace offering anticipated ours for a few hours." She looked down and offered them all a devastating smile. "Gentlemen, the moment we have prayed so much for has finally come." She looked at Anakin and Luke. "You may leave now," she told them gently. "We have a lot to do and time is precious at the moment."

Anakin stepped forward.

"If there’s something I can do to help ... Perhaps knowing I’m on the Alliance’s side will smooth the tension and bridge the differences."

Mon Mothma smiled at Anakin and nodded. She looked more focused and self-assured than they had ever seen her. The prospect of a cease-fire had brought a radiance and a liveliness to her entire stance that was incredibly compelling. Her charismatic aura was irresistible.

"You are the ace up my sleeve. I am more certain than ever that you will be the key to peace." She seemed to consider something very quickly. "I’ll send for you later. Now go and celebrate the news with your children and your friends," she smiled broadly in encouragement.

Luke and Anakin realized she was giving them a break before the exhausting negotiations and the nerve-wracking upcoming weeks of diplomatic give and take began. Four years of war had taken its toll on all of them, and the weeks that lay ahead would be just as distressing. But the promise of a bright, peaceful future made them face those trying diplomatic sessions with renewed strength and optimism. The two men bowed their heads respectfully and, shoulder to shoulder, they left the conference room.

When the doors closed behind them, Anakin and Luke stopped in their tracks. With their backs to the doors, they stood frozen on the spot. Their breathing rate accelerated suddenly.

"My legs are trembling," Anakin confessed, staring at the wall directly in front of him.

"Mine too," Luke replied, looking ahead at the same wall. He swallowed hard and summoned up his courage to ask for the only thing he needed, even more desperately than screaming for all he was worth. "Please, Father, hold me or I will collapse."

Anakin needed a hug as desperately as his son. All the accumulated tension had disappeared all at once and it had left in its wake a path of broken nerves and raw, naked feelings that cried out to be soothed and cradled. Blindly, he reached out to his child and crushed his smaller body to him.


At the sound of opening doors, all the beings in the waiting room practically jumped out of their seats as if burned. The wait had been unbearable. They had talked about banalities, they had cracked feeble jokes and, at the end, they had discussed the many possibilities. What would they do if the worst happened, how would they face it and how would it affect their loyalty to the Alliance. Leia felt nothing coming from Luke and she gathered he had closed their incipient link to spare her his emotions during the meeting. She didn’t know what had kept her sane during the intolerable wait. When they heard the doors closing, they held their breath, waiting to hear the sound of footsteps heading for the waiting room. When they heard no sound whatsoever, they looked at each other in confusion.

Never being one to waste a single second when there was an easy way to find out what was going on, Han stood up and went out to the corridor. The others followed him out immediately.

The sight they found made their hearts sink. Anakin and Luke were holding each other and crying openly. Luke had buried his face in his father’s chest and he was clinging to him desperately, his body shaking occasionally with helpless sobs. Anakin was stroking Luke’s head softly, his fingers sliding through his hair and pressing him close. He seemed to be in as much need of comforting as Luke.

They all looked at each other in despair. R2 whistled softly in his lower tones.

Finally, plucking up her courage, Leia was the first to start walking towards them. She didn’t know what she could possibly say to them, but she hoped her presence could help somewhat. She was terribly moved by the sight of ... her father holding Luke like that. It was a beautiful sight in its heartbreaking desperation. He seemed such a loving father, so tender and caring! It formed a lump in her throat, especially when she remembered all his gentle fatherly overtures to her since the night before. She hoped one day she could enjoy being close to him without stiffening or feeling uncomfortable as she did now. She was improving, certainly. Now she could think of Anakin as her father instead of ‘him’. She had even admitted how very much she needed him and needed to love him. She just needed time. But if they locked him up ...

A pang of fear and resentment surged up from deep inside her. A feeling of betrayal and disappointment towards the Alliance. She had expected they would rise to the occasion, but it was obvious they had opted for the easiest way out instead of making a true command decision that would show the whole galaxy what they were truly made of. She hadn’t expected such a terribly cowardly outcome. It was so unlike the Alliance she knew ...! It made no sense! Why to reprieve so many unrepentant Imperial officers and then convict another who had sincerely repented from his crimes beforehand? Just because his name happened to be Darth Vader? The Alliance had never ever used double standards when judging people. It couldn’t be! The more she thought about it, the more impossible it seemed.

She felt Han’s loving arm around her shoulders and she heard his enraged grumbling as he walked beside her. Behind them, Lando and Chewie weren’t bothering to hide their bitter disappointment either, and they were muttering angrily to themselves.

Somehow, her friends’ attitude heartened Leia. Maybe there was nothing they could do and maybe the verdict was irrevocable, but they would fight tooth and nail for her father’s freedom! They were going to fight for what was right! They wouldn’t just accept this decision as inevitable! They wouldn’t stop until justice was done!

As they got closer to them, Leia began noticing something strange in her father’s and brother’s attitude. They were crying, all right, but their crying didn’t have that despaired quality following some terrible news. It felt more like ... relief, maybe? They seemed to be laughing too as they cried. They were laughing and crying at the same time! But what the devil was going on there?

Leia looked up at Han and the others to verify she wasn’t imagining things, and indeed she wasn’t. Han, Lando, Chewie ... even the droids seemed as confused and befuddled as she was.

They gathered around them both, very respectful of their extremely private moment, not daring to draw their attention, just waiting for them to come out of their highly emotional state and cast some light on their million questions.

Some time later, Luke moved his head away from Anakin’s chest. His face was all flushed and wet. He sniffled and looked at his friends with an incomprehensible expression. He seemed devastated, but he was smiling through his tears at the same time. He took several calming breaths and looked up at his father.

Everybody looked at Anakin then. He was pretty much in Luke’s same state, his face full of tear tracks, but there was also a soft glow about him.

That was it! The situation was ridiculous! Han had no intention of prolonguing this torture one moment more.

"Well, what gives?! What the hell happened in there?!" he asked in his usual and always welcome straightforward manner.

Luke let out a choked laugh at Han’s vehemence. He looked at Anakin with a question in his eyes and his father nodded at him to break the news to his friends. Luke turned to them, his eyes blazing with barely restrained emotion.

"He’s free!!" he cried out, exploding at last. "He’s free and the war’s over!! Mon Mothma just received a transmission from the Empire. Code 000. The horror’s over!! We’re all free!!" Luke was completely beside himself now. Tears streamed down his cheeks and he felt as if his soul was about to burst with exultant happiness. He was aware this wasn’t the most appropriate behaviour for a Jedi Knight, but right now, he couldn’t care less. Millions of beings had died because of that abomination. If peace wasn’t worth a Jedi’s breakdown, then nothing was.

There was a second of silent, shocked disbelief. They had prepared themselves to expect the worst, and the best had happened. And not only as far as Anakin was concerned. The single best news the whole galaxy had known in many, many years, had happened at the same time. When Luke’s words finally sank in, complete pandemonium broke out. Chewie burst out growling at the top of his voice, R2 beeped and whistled until he almost shattered his friends’ eardrums, 3PO started babbling incoherently, Lando whooped like a madman, waving his fist in midair, Han looked up and shouted once, almost breaking his vocal chords, and Leia closed her eyes and bit her lower lip, almost drawing blood.

After such a spontaneously childish, but all-too-understandable release, all of them immediately sought each other’s warmth, to share and soak in the living presence of their beloved friends close to them, not only for mutual comfort, but also to make certain they were truly alive, safe and sound, and they had survived four endless years of sheer horror.

Their heartfelt embrace also honoured all those who hadn’t made it today. All of them were present in the laughing, crying and sobbing pile who desperately held on to one another. In a way, they went on living through them.

After too many years, what should have never been lost, had finally been found again. They had learnt the most painful lesson of all. None of them would take that precious concept for granted again. Too much depended on it. It was life, it was freedom. It was everything.

Its name was Peace.









Coruscant. Two months later. Terrace of the late Jedi Council. Sunset.

Although it had been thoroughly changed and refurbished after two decades of ruthless tyranny, everybody remembered what it had been and what it had stood for in the still recent past, and for many centuries before. That was the reason why Mon Mothma and her new goverment had chosen it to make their first public appearance before the entire galaxy. It was a statement in itself.

Millions of beings waited for them below. More beings than not even the oldest creature alive could remember ever gathering together for any event. They filled the streets to bursting, looking at the huge screens that covered what was about to happen from almost every angle.

Finally, right on time, Mon Mothma and her entire goverment put in an appearance in the huge balcony. All of them were in full-dress uniform, and they conveyed an air of self-confidence and integrity that felt like a promise to all those watching them this time peace was there to stay.

It was an explosion of joy, unlike anything Coruscant had known for much too long.

Softly placing her hands on the balaustrade, Mon Mothma looked down at the astounding sight, basking in the utter freedom it transmitted.

In a fan-shape one step behind her, Mon Mothma’s executive and all the top-ranking and recently promoted officers and heroes of the Alliance’s many battles against the Empire stood at attention, equally moved and exultant.

Filling her senses with the moment she had prayed so much for, Mon Mothma patiently waited for the shouting to subside, so she could deliver her first speech as the President of the New Republic. She hadn’t prepared it beforehand. She was going to improvise, although she had a very good idea of what she wanted to say.

When the crowd’s thundering clamour calmed down, she stood there, staring at them, with a lump in her throat. For a terrifying instant, she felt the weight of the monumental responsibility she now held. An entire galaxy’s wellfare depended on her and on all the people who formed her government. That terrifying moment brought with it a crushing feeling of vulnerability and instinct for protection towards all the billions of beings who were looking at her now from every corner of the galaxy, expecting her to protect them all, and not allowing another genocide like the one they had just survived to ever happen again. When the moment passed, she realized she wasn’t alone in this endeavour. She had the best possible team beside her to share that responsibility with. And the whole galaxy would help them to take care of itself. All of them had learnt the lesson. They would treasure and cherish this newfound freedom as the priceless privilege it was. They would protect it at all levels and everywhere, from every single little home to the galaxy’s higher instances.

She took a deep breath and swallowed hard. She was only human, and she was rightfully nervous. She instinctively looked behind her, at all the people who stood at attention, resolutely backing her up, and she didn’t feel alone anymore. She stared at each one of them one by one. Admiral Ackbar; Generals Calrissian, Dodonna, Madine, Rieekan, Solo; Areen Worzzlek, her counselor and voice of reason; Captain Thazzel; Princess Leia, her protegé and appointed successor ... all her staff, whom she trusted with her very life, and that included all the members from the defeated Empire. Her eyes covered them all until they finally settled on her new right hand and the New Republic’s Vice-President, General Anakin Skywalker, who stood, proud and gentle, right behind her, impressive in his navy blue dress uniform. Anakin’s eyes were already waiting for hers, full of support and wordless encouragement. She nodded at him and he responded with an intense look of his incredible blue eyes and a tiny smile that infused her with renewed strength. She nodded again, reassured, and looked at the last person in the line, Captain Luke Skywalker. The young man stood beside his father, like a smaller version of him, but looking just as impressive and dignified. The boy returned her look and risked winking at her in a respectfully mischievous, confident way that immediately managed the desired effect. Mon Mothma’s heavy state of mind lessened considerably. She smiled softly at him and turned ahead, facing the whole galaxy. She quietly cleared her throat.

"Gentlebeings," she began in a steady, confident tone of voice, "we have gathered here together to celebrate the recovery of that which we should have never allowed ourselves to lose. Peace." She took a deep breath. "Along with that peace, we also lost our freedom. Freedom to think for ourselves, to make choices, to change, to grow. This nightmare has reminded us of just how very much these concepts depend on every single one of us to survive. We must keep that in mind every day of our lives and never forget it. We must never take them for granted or we will lose them again. And next time, we might not be so lucky." Her vords were clearly meant as a warning, a reminder of just how very much was at stake. "This time we have survived. Stronger, wiser, humbler and more aware of our frailty, pettiness and the evil that resides deep within all of us. But, above all, it has reminded us of our profound commitment to each other, whether we want to admit it or not." She made a pause and looked down, weighing their reaction. They were listening intently, absorbing every thought and taking it deeply into themselves, recognizing themselves in her words, as she did. It was the only way to make people understand. To speak from one’s heart and from one’s most honest feelings and convictions. People recognized the truth and they identified with other people’s plights because, ultimately, everybody’s problems, thoughts and feelings were the same. "This galaxy was once a place of wisdom and understanding," she went on, "and it will be so again. But it won’t be easy. It’ll require a huge effort on our part. After so many years of war and so many losses, all of us have reasons to hate, to feel resentful and be unwilling to forgive. But that’s precisely what it’s all about, and everything depends on it." She intensified her look to get her point across. "Our mistakes, our unacceptable conformism and self-complacency took us to the point of no return and allowed evil to rise. Now, we’re the only ones who can close the wound and let it heal. Only our willingness to forgive can accomplish such a feat." She surged ahead with all her heart. "Let’s give an opportunity to all those who have sincerely and publicly repented from their crimes and begged our forgiveness." She made a short pause, knowing everybody had to be looking at Anakin Skywalker now. His speech five weeks ago had been one of the most, if not the most important, heartwrenching moment of the whole negotiation. It had most certainly marked a milestone in the entire process. Anakin had made a statement before the whole galaxy and confessed the crimes he had committed under his former identity. His revelation had been a shock, to put it mildly, and they still hadn’t heard the last of it. But Anakin had wanted no more secrets and after consulting his children and receiving their total support, he had gone ahead. And Mon Mothma could understand him. That was why right after his speech, she had made one of her own, declaring her unconditional support for Anakin and for all the Imperials who had also repented from their crimes, whether they were publicly known or not. She would make no distinctions. Next, she had revealed her intention to include Anakin in her goverment as a proof of her trust in him. Anakin’s face at that moment had been quite a sight, but she had been adamant in her decision. And her intuition had served her right. Anakin was a delight to work with. His kindness, patience, insight, his modesty and his wise advice to both parties had been vital to reach an agreement with the Empire in record time. Many openly distrustful and hostile Imperials had ended up embracing the peace treaty wholeheartedly. After that, she had always made a point of calling everybody’s attention to the fact that the achievement of the peace treaty had been mostly Anakin’s deed. There was a long way to go, but she was positive Anakin would win everybody’s hearts in time, the same way he had earned the respect of every single being who had met him in the last few weeks, even the most unforgiving ones. Her loyal and royally stubborn Areen Worzzlek could testify to that! It was just a matter of time. She had to admit that during the last few weeks Anakin had come a long way already as far as the public’s opinion was concerned, against all odds. And she would help him every step of the way until the whole galaxy saw what many had already seen. She never let an opportunity escape to make her point clear. As just now. "They just want a chance to redeem themselves and prove their worth to us. And we are bound to give them that chance, because in their redemption lies ours. We’ve also committed atrocities in our fight against the Empire and we’ve earned the rightful hatred and anger of millions. Mutual forgiveness is paramount. Seeking revenge will take us nowhere and we will be caught up in another spiral of violence that will never end. Releasing our anger against those who commited those crimes will only bring more pain and destruction, and it won’t bring our beloved dead back. We must learn to live with our losses and move on, in spite of how much we’re hurting inside and how much anger we’re feeling. We must let go of all those ugly feelings and work together rebuilding our lives, helping each other, comforting each other, being good to each other. It is the only way, and we know it." She looked at all the members of her government, a harmonic balance of Imperials and members of the Alliance, all lined up behind her. She smiled at them, bursting with pride. Then, she looked ahead again. "Look at us! We’re working together for the greater good." She opened her arms wide, encompassing all those in the huge balcony and those looking at them from everywhere in the galaxy. "We’re all sentient beings, we all care about the same things, we all want to live in peace. And yet, until a few weeks ago, we were seeking to destroy each other, taken to the brink of complete destruction by a madman’s delusions of absolute power. He brought out the worst in all of us. But we realized where this conflict was heading and we were intelligent enough to stop fighting. And when we sat down to talk, we found out how simple everything was in the end. We only had to yield a little to reach an agreement satisfying to both parties. Working together as equals is the way. The key to success lies in our hearts and in our hands. It resides within all of us. We only have to acknowledge this truth and abide our lives by it from now on. No more hatred, no thoughts of revenge. Only love, tolerance and forgiveness will do." Her face became suddenly serious under the weight of her responsibility towards those who had been silenced forever and couldn’t share in today’s celebration. "But justice cannot be forgotten. Countless millions of beings have died, and they’re looking at us now, judging us all in silence. Our debt to them and their sacrifices is immeasurable and everlasting. We will honour their memories forever." She raised her voice. "All those who condoned and supported Palpatine’s vision of control through subjugation and terror are already under arrest and they will be judged and convicted." Her tone of voice was firm, inflexible, and there was no doubt justice would be made. She indicated those behind her then, including herself. "What remains here is a group of peace-seeking beings who only strive to live and let live. Nothing more, nothing less. But we can’t do it alone. We need you to help us. Only you can make it possible." Her voice deepened as she delivered her last words. "Let’s bring out the best in us. Let’s learn to forgive and move on, together. Let’s help one another to make of this galaxy a place worth living in." She reached out with both hands. "Everything depends on you. It’s now or never!" she cried out.

After a long moment of deafening silence in which her words echoed time and again, seemingly all over the city, a thundering ovation answered Mon Mothma’s words. All of Coruscant came alive and vibrant in an explosion of jubilation and commitment to their destiny. They were ready to embrace their future and never let it slip through their fingers again.

Mon Mothma’s chin trembled and she bit her lower lip at the sight before her misted eyes. Yes, it was actually possible! Peaceful coexistance was an attainable reality. They were more than ready to face their new life, but never forgetting where they came from. She took a deep, shaky breath that burned a path down her lungs. She looked behind her and instinctively reached out once more. Immediately reading her intention, Anakin held her right hand and Areen Worzzlek grasped her left hand. Anakin held out his hand to Luke, who clasped it in his own. Areen Worzzlek grasped Captain Ylek’s hand, from the former Imperial fleet, Ylek took Princess Leia’s hand, Leia took Captain Thazzel’s ... and the living chain went on adding more and more links to it, until, at Mon Mothma’s eager nod, all of them stepped forward beside their President. Then, as one, they raised their clasped hands in an exultant demonstration of hope, commitment and unbreakable trust.

The triumphant explosion of joy reached epic proportions.

Fireworks, confetties and balloons of coloured lights filled Coruscant’s sky, in a promise of a future as bright and shining as the billions of souls everywhere in the galaxy who had just embraced their destiny with open arms.

The war was over. Long life peace.