Anakin and Luke Skywalker

The Hardest Test

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

Luke Skywalker looked at his father’s long, slender fingers, deftly putting together the final pieces of his new lightsaber. Watching his father work was like witnessing the finest act of craftmanship. The way those fingers handled every tiny piece and attached it was mesmerizing. It seemed as if he had spent his whole life making lightsabers for a living. Quite a contrast with all the painstaking hours he had spent in Obi-Wan’s hut making his own.

At last, Anakin looked up at his son with a boyish triumphant smile and held out the finished lightsaber to him. Reverently, Luke took it in his hand. It was lighter than his own, but also compact and, in short, a work of art. The handle was longer also. No wonder, since his father’s hands were bigger than his. He had maintained the proportions perfectly and adapted them for his bigger than usual size. He caressed the bright, silver handle, and with a look of admiration, held it back to his father.

Anakin shook his head with a smile.

"You do it," he invited.

Luke blinked in astonishment when he realized his father was inviting him to ignite the lightsaber. He shook his head, almost in shock.

"No, it’s yours. You should do it. A lightsaber must be first turned on by its owner."

Anakin arched an eyebrow in amusement.

"Don’t tell me you also believe in that age-old superstition," he chided fondly.

Luke blushed.

"Well, I was told that a lightsaber should be ignited by its owner once it’s been finished, so that both of them can attune to each other through the Force and..."

"Come on, Luke," Anakin grinned. "A lightsaber is just a weapon. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s not alive. Of course, after a time, the owner gets used to it, especially since they manufactured it to fit their body proportions and special needs; but that’s all. The Force helps to keep both weapon and owner in tune, but it’s got nothing to do with the lightsaber itself."

Luked looked down, feeling embarrassed.

"Besides," Anakin’s voice was suddenly full of unashamed affection, "who better to ignite my new lightsaber than the best part of me?"

Immediately, Luke’s eyes met his father’s and Anakin smiled tenderly at his son, his eyes reflecting all the love and pride he felt for his child.

Not knowing how to react to such words that had disarmed him completely, Luke took a deep breath and, stepping back a little, he ignited his father’s lightsaber.

The weapon surged to life with a soft, electric buzz, and the room filled with an orange glow.

"WOW!" Luke couldn’t hold back an exclamation of surprise. His father most certainly had eclectic tastes. The lightsaber’s totally unexpected colour threw him for a loop. The blade was yellow, with a soft orange glow about it. He swung the weapon from side to side, looking at it in fascination. "What kind of gemstone did you use?" he asked.

"A yellow topaz with ruby incrustations," Anakin replied.

Luke whistled in admiration. The skill necessary to forge such a weapon went far beyond anything he would be able to master in several decades. He swung it around for some time, amazed at the lightness and ease with which the weapon responded to him. Finally, he extinguished it and handed it back to his father.

"It’s awesome, Father. Just awesome. And I like the colour. It’s cool."

Anakin let out an impish smile.

"I like it, too. In the final years of the Republic, most Jedi had either green or blue lightsabers."

"Why?" Luke was interested in every little story about his parents’ everyday life in the Old Republic. He wanted to know everything about that time, how it was to live back then.

"I have no idea," Anakin answered honestly. "Fashion."

"Fashion?" Luke asked. From what his father had told him, the Jedi didn’t seem like a group that even considered something as frivolous and materialistic as fashion. They were the closest thing to ascetic, with their practically monastic lives, celibacy and all.

Anakin shrugged.

"It wasn’t like that centuries ago, from what I read. Everything was more colourful, more open in every way. But in the end, it seemed as if we were all clones of each other. It became a sort of unspoken agreement between all of us, lightsabers included. The only one who didn’t fit the others’ choice was Master Windu." A fleeting expression of searing pain and guilt crossed Anakin’s features, but it passed as quickly as it appeared. "He had a purple lightsaber. I liked it a lot. I thought it was..." he looked at his son and mischievously qualified, "" It was a word that had become very popular among the Coruscant youth lately, and Luke had ended up picking it up. Anakin loved it whenever his son used that expression. He sounded like the typical young man of his time. Which was exactly what he was. Anakin was untold happy for the fact that his son had had a normal youth and teenage years. Quite the opposite to what he had.

Luke blushed a bright crimson at his father’s playfulness. It had been over four months since the birth of the New Republic. In that time, they had come to know each other so well that from the outside, it was impossible to tell where Anakin ended and Luke began and vice versa. And Luke’s respect and admiration for Anakin had increased exponentially. Not only as his father and a Jedi Master, but as his superior officer in the Fleet and his Vice-President. Anakin had encouraged him to call him "Dad" several times, because he claimed that "Father" was too formal. But Luke simply couldn’t bring himself to call him anything but "Father." He just loved that word. He had practised it since he was a little boy, dreaming of a different life, time and place where he could have a father to call by that precious word. Now that his dream had come true, he just couldn’t stop saying it, both out loud and in their mental exchanges. And he thanked the heavens every single day for having that wondrous honour and joy in his life.

It had taken him four months to convince his father to make a new lightsaber. Anakin had been procrastinating all that time, but Luke had insisted, and persisted, knowing only too well the reason behind his father’s delaying tactics, and only too aware of the fact that the longer it took, the more difficult it would be for Anakin to wield a lightsaber again.

Today, Anakin had taken the first step. Now Luke had to help him to take the next, and hardest, step of all.

"Now that you have a new lightsaber, what do you say to a sparring partner?" he softly asked, drawing out his own lightsaber.

Anakin paled and stiffened at that.

"No, Son, I’m sorry. I can’t."

Luke stepped closer to his father and put his hand on his shoulder.

"Come on, Father. I can’t use a ‘seeker’ forever. I need a real person to practise with. My abilities with the lightsaber will rust at this rate."

Anakin shook his head, trembling now.

"Father, please. It’s high time to leave the past behind, where it belongs," Luke sat down beside the quivering man, wrapped an arm around his shoulders and squeezed lovingly. "I know you’ll never hurt me. I trust you with my life. If I can do this, why can’t you?"

Slowly, Anakin’s pain-filled eyes met his son’s.

"I-I’m afraid," he stuttered. "The memories... I can’t shake them off. I just c-c..."

Luke bent forward and leaned his forehead on his father’s temple.

"Shhhh, it’s all right. I’ll help you. We’ll help each other," he whispered. "We need to do this and you know it. The first step’s always the hardest. We only have to be strong enough to take it," he squeezed his father’s shoulder again. "I’m here with you. We can do this, together. Trust me. Trust us. We can do it. We can do it!"

Anakin sought the warmth of his child’s blue gaze and lost himself in its love and infinite trust. Luke really wasn’t afraid of doing this. He had the utmost trust in him. He could see how eager his son was to practise with him, to feel free to spar with his father as a team, not as enemies. Luke needed this badly to put those terrifying memories to rest for good and replace them with new memories of sparring with his father, not fighting against him. Luke wanted to learn from him, he wanted his father to teach him, to be the master he had so longed for. But if they let Anakin’s fear win, it would always stand there, mocking them, reminding them of the nightmare they had failed to conquer.

Anakin swallowed the lump in his throat and biting his lower lip, he nodded once, acknowledging the truth in his son’s words.

Luke smiled and, with a final squeeze on his father’s shoulder, he stood up and walked to the centre of the big room.

They were in the late Emperor’s Palace, that had been the Old Republic’s Jedi Temple. The evil tyrant had redecorated it to suit his dark tastes, but thankfully, he had respected the high ceilings and the big-spaced rooms that would be most welcome now. Mon Mothma, following Anakin’s heartfelt suggestion, had agreed for the building to be remodelled as it had been in the Old Days. A place of Wisdom, Light and Peace. They were still halfway, but a third part of the old Temple was already as it had been only three decades ago.

Anakin rose to his feet and crossed the room until he stood facing his son. He still trembled, but he made a valiant effort to suffuse his spirit with calm. He loved his child, he was one with the Force. It would be all right. For the two of them. They would soothe each other’s remaining fears and nothing would ever stand between them. Not even the memories.

He ignited his lightsaber, and Luke responded in kind. They stood there, immobile, the buzzing lightsabers and their owners’ breathing the only sounds audible in the room.

Luke’s eyes softened at the sight of the sweaty, shaking hands holding the yellow weapon. This wasn’t easy for him, either. His own memories of attacking his father in the second Death Star, his soul infused with hatred and fear, and cutting off his father’s mechanical hand, returned to him in a sudden, brutal flashback, and his lightsaber trembled in his grasp.

To anyone who didn’t know better it would look comical. Two formidable adversaries facing each other, both of them trembling like leaves, not daring to make a move.

Acting on a sudden impulse, Luke stepped back a little and started swinging his lightsaber in basic warming-up movements. Getting the hint, Anakin followed him suit and they started circling each other, describing harmless arcs around each other’s form with their lightsabers, almost like two dancers, working in instinctive, eerie harmony. Their bodies moved lithely, noiselessly, as they ‘danced’ around one another, studying each other with ever-increasing admiration. Fear evaporated like a bad dream as they observed one another, mesmerized by the other’s gracefulness.

After several minutes of perfectly synchronized movements, they slowed down until they stopped altogether, in a classic salute. Their eyes met beyond their blades and they smiled. Extinguishing their lightsabers, they let out a long breath and put their arms down.

They were speechless. It had been infinitely better than they had imagined this first time to be. Fear had been replaced by a soft hum of joyful excitement running up and down their spines. They could do this. It was good and right. Their different styles had blended beautifully, complementing each other to perfection. And they had been only warming up!

"Incredible," Anakin managed to blurt out, not daring to breathe, lest he broke the magical spell.

Luke just nodded, his eyes wide open in wonder and boundless joy.

"What if you attack me now, so I can study your technique and your movements better?" Anakin asked, amazed at his own courage to make such a request.

"Only if you attack me later so I can do some studying of my own," Luke replied, a teasing twinkle in his eyes.

"I can make no promises," Anakin said, his voice dropping an octave. "But I’ll try," he muttered, taking a long, deep breath.

Luke stood still for a moment, closing his eyes and relaxing noticeably. When he opened them, he winked at his father, in an obvious attempt to ease any lingering fear in both of them, and with a respectful salute, he ignited his lightsaber. After asking his father’s permission through his eyes, he surged forward with an impressive somersault. Anakin stepped back, giving his son a place to land before him. When he did, the big man blocked Luke’s half-hearted blow effortlessly.

Luke displayed all the range of blows and pirouettes he had been taught, holding back the power of his lunges as much as possible. He gathered momentum as he progressed, until Anakin thought he was fighting a spinning top. Luke was bouncing on every place his feet touched and flew off in the opposite direction. He became a blur that reminded Anakin of Yoda when he had fought Count Dooku on Geonosis. He deflected his child’s strokes by sheer instinct, since he couldn’t see his form clearly and had no idea where the next blow was going to come from. If Luke could do that six months ago in the second Death Star, Anakin was learning a lesson in humility now. Luke could have killed him easily back then. Only now was he truly aware of how much his son had (mostly) held back before him and Palpatine.

When Luke had had enough of jumping and spinning around, he slowed down and showed off his most refined sword technique. Anakin could hardly keep his jaw from hitting the floor. He recognized movements out of all Seven Forms of Jedi fighting. In this lightsaber-to-lightsaber workout they were having, Luke was favouring Forms IV, VI and a bit less of Form VII, since this wasn’t a fully-fledged fight. Even so, Anakin had the feeling that most of Luke’s fighting was instinctive. From what his son had told him, Ben had only had time to teach him the basic movements of Form I, so that Luke could get used to the feel of a lightsaber and how to handle it. It was also obvious that Yoda, a Form IV master, had decided on a mixed Forms training. He had picked up movements out of all Seven Forms and put them together so Luke could have the most complete possible training. Luke had started training at 20 and it was no wonder Yoda had chosen this shockingly uncharacteristic approach. Consenting to train someone as "old" as his son had been miraculous enough, so it made sense that Yoda had no choice but to break his own rules all the way, given the limited time they would have at their disposal. Still, it was impossible that Luke had learnt all those things from Yoda. He had been by himself most of the time, especially when fighting him on Bespin and on the second Death Star. Luke had improvised for the most part then, as he was improvising now; he could feel it.

Luke’s instincts would never cease to amaze him. He was attuned to the Force and his own resources and abilities to a level Anakin couldn’t even begin to fathom. Luke was sheer instinct, with a childlike innocence and curiosity that broke his heart; and with an endless hunger for improvement and betterment, with every possible meaning of the words. His boy was Goodness personified. And he tapped from that Goodness in everything he did. Anakin had never felt so safe and protected as when he basked in his child’s heart-warming, soothing aura of selfless love.

When Luke had had enough and stopped, extinguishing his lightsaber, Anakin remained standing before him, gasping and staring at him as if seeing him for the very first time. Luke’s respiration was mildly agitated as he looked at his father with barely restrained eagerness to know his opinion.

"Well?" he asked, excited like a little kid.

‘Let me catch my breath first,’ Anakin sent through their mental link, unable to speak out loud.

Luke arched an eyebrow in amusement, clearly indicating he wasn’t buying his father’s apparent breathlessness. Anakin’s health was perfect. He had made sure of that. The young man blushed furiously in awe and humility at the thought, as he did every time he realized the magnitude of what he had done. And he thanked the heavens once again for granting them that miracle.

"Would you mind telling me how do you do that?" Anakin asked, his voice dripping with admiration and wonder.

Luke’s face turned a bright red. It seemed to him that he spent around 70% of his time with his father blushing.

"Your fighting style’s simply fascinating," Anakin went on, making a great effort to pull himself together. "I would dare to say you’ve created a whole new Form of Jedi fighting. A blending of all Seven Forms into one perfect, harmonic style. Every new movement complements the one before in a never-ending crescendo. At this rate, you will be virtually invincible, Son."

Luke didn’t know how his father did that. Whenever he spoke to him in that tone of voice, he couldn’t stop blushing. It was so difficult to ignore his father’s all-encompassing love and admiration! Well, it was his father, so he guessed that explained it all. The same could be said about him, anyway. Luke considered his father to be the wisest, gentlest, most admirable and loving person in the Universe.

"Ahhh... I didn’t know about those Seven Forms of fighting," he managed to say. "Master Yoda simply told me that there were several forms of Jedi fighting, so, he was going to try teaching me the most relevant movements from all of them, so I could have the widest range of assets possible."

"And he succeeded," Anakin nodded. "I could see movements out of all Seven Forms. But you seem to favour Form IV most of all. No wonder, since it was Yoda’s fighting style. But it suits you, too. It fits your physique."

"What’s Form IV?" Luke asked.

Anakin made a very expressive gesture, waving his forefinger in the air in circles.

"It’s the most acrobatic form of fighting. Somersaults, jumping, spinning, cartwheeling and such."

"And what’s your favoured Form?" Luke questioned, walking up to his father, vividly interested.

"Form V," Anakin answered. "It’s pretty aggressive, but I’ve always preferred to put an end to any fighting as soon as possible. You render your opponent useless and you can move on to more practical things." Anakin made an ironical, self-deprecating face. "As you know, I was never good at that special virtue known as patience."

Luke smiled at his father affectionately, sitting down on the chair Anakin had vacated a few minutes before. That might have been true in the past, but his father had learnt a lot in the last few months. Both of them had.

"And what does Form V consist of?"

Luke looked so much like a pupil in a classroom that Anakin had to smile at the gleam in his son’s eyes. Such hunger for knowledge! He felt humbled all of a sudden. To have the honour of teaching such an amazing and extraordinary person! He prayed to be up to such precious task.

"It focuses on physical strength. You basically use your opponent’s movements against them. Deflecting their blows and attacking relentlessly."

Luke nodded slowly, absorbing every word.

Quietly, Anakin sat down beside his child. Immediately, Luke turned to him, his eyes flashing with excitement and insatiable curiosity.

"Tell me, Father!" he asked, almost bouncing on his chair with enthusiasm.

Anakin burst out laughing in amusement. His son’s eagerness was contagious. He looked so much like a little boy sometimes that Anakin had to hold back the impulse to hug the stuffing out of him.

"All right, Luke. I’ll tell you everything I remember," he relented.


The two Jedi extinguished their lightsabers once more. They were somewhat breathless, but admiration and wonder lingered in the air like a warm and soothing bubble.

Luke stared at his father, speechless. The way Anakin had mastered his greatest fear and consented to spar with him, despite his stark terror of playing the aggressive party, filled him with more respect than he thought he could possibly feel for any being. It had taken him some time to see past his admiring filial feelings, and start studying his father’s technique from an objective point of view, but he found it to be the most perfect, polished, elegant style he had ever seen. His father’s tall, slender and graceful physique balanced his eminently agressive approach in an odd, fascinating way. Not one gratuitous movement. He was precision personified.

‘You fight like a dancer,’ he sent through their link.

Anakin’s eyes opened wide. It was the first time anyone defined his fighting style with such words. They were so honest that he blushed.

"I have a lot to learn," Luke said out loud now.

"We both have." Anakin reached out, mussing his child’s hair in their favourite gesture of affection. "But I’m in no hurry. It’s the journey that’s important, not the ending."

Luke nodded, seeing something in his father’s eyes. A sort of sad longing that broke his heart.

"What is it?" he asked.

Anakin closed his eyes, chastising himself for being so careless. He had forgotten that his son could read his soul. Nothing escaped those caring, sweet eyes.

"It is nothing. I just remembered something from when I was young, that’s all."

"Something from your fellow Jedi?" Luke guessed.

Anakin nodded, looking away.

"Two fellow Jedi, to be exact. Luminara Unduli and her padawan, Barriss Offee."

"Tell me about them," Luke coaxed, feeling there was more there than met the eye.

Anakin looked up and took a deep breath.

"They had the kind of relationship I would have liked to have had with Obi-Wan." His gaze softened. "They were a team in every sense of the word. When they fought together... they were one. A bubble of togetherness seemed to envelope them, and nothing and no one could stand against them."

The tremor in his father’s voice brought Luke closer to him.

"I guess I envied them for what they had. I longed to have such a partner. I always felt so lonely deep down. In the core of my being, I had no one... no one to connect with... to be free to share all the fears that haunted me, all my dreams and hopes. On the occasions when I managed to connect with Obi-Wan and we allowed our friendship to show, those were the most fulfilling moments for me. But I craved for more. I wanted to belong. Loneliness was my biggest fear. I... I needed... I just needed..."

Luke’s heart ached with infinite pain and longing. The void in his father’s soul resonated deep within him.

The only disadvantage of such a precious bond, if one could call it disadvantage, was that when his father was struck by the pain and horror he carried inside, the young man practically doubled over from it. It got magnified by his own love for his father and his hopelessness to heal something that would never be healed. Oh, he helped; he knew he did! But it was terrible to know that those feelings would accompany Anakin for as long as he lived. It was a lost battle, right from the start. And Luke’s respect and veneration for his father knew no bounds. For his resignation and willingness to endure that torment for the rest of his life. It would make the sanest man go mad, and Luke didn’t know what to do when that searing agony threatened to crush his father’s soul.

His own pain and longing were more than a match for his father’s feelings, though. Since he had been old enough to remember, he was seized by these bouts of fathomless need that no one and nothing could calm. An emptiness that threatened to swallow him alive. He woke up screaming in the middle of the night, and nothing Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen did, was enough to calm his shattered soul, always reaching out to a ghost that couldn’t give him that which he was so desperate for.

Anakin felt responsible for all the things his children had lacked. Within their minds there was no deceiving, and Anakin felt like dying every time he shared Luke’s memories and saw the depth of need his son had suffered for so many years.

But they had each other now. They could heal each other’s pain and soothe those inconsolable feelings.

"Father," Luke whispered, his shaky voice filled with wonder, "are you asking me to be your partner?"

Anakin shook himself out of his painful reverie. He smiled self-deprecatingly and looked down.

"You know me too well, little one," he replied, resorting to humour, as he usually did whenever his emotions were on the verge of overwhelming him.

Luke prayed for the day to come when his father wouldn’t need to resort to either irony or humour to admit he needed something. He seemed to feel guilty for needing anything. Especially because he knew his need would be satisfied, and he didn’t consider himself worthy of it. He, who had denied people’s very life.

He reached out and placed his hand on his father’s shoulder. He squeezed gently.

"It will be my honour, Father," he responded, his voice conveying the depth of his feeling.

Anakin looked up at his son and shook his head.

"I can’t ask you to do that. It’s a completely different technique and one that I barely remember. It would take us years to make our different styles fit, and then learn to work as a team. And in the meantime, we would neglect our training. We could be caught unawares at any time. And I will never put your life at risk, Son."

"You don’t have to ask, I’m offering," Luke replied. "Besides, it would be a shame for such a technique to be lost needlessly. The day we feel confident enough to train others, we’d better have as much knowledge to pass on to them as possible. And I for one, don’t want any technique to be forgotten."

As usual, Luke disarmed him with his flawless logic. Once again, Anakin felt like a padawan in front of his son. He met his child’s eyes, and the boundless love, trust and pride he saw there almost made him feel worthy of them.

"As you wish," he conceded, feeling undeserving of everything he enjoyed in his new life.

Luke returned the soft stare.

"Let us start," he encouraged happily.

Anakin took a deep breath and looked up, reaching into long-forgotten memories.

"First of all, each of them assumed a position and they maintained it in battle at all times, always protecting each other and not allowing anyone to trespass on the Force bubble they created. On one occasion, I witnessed their fully-fledged fight against a whole squadron. They started spiralling at top speed until they became a blur, a tornado that wiped out everything in its way. I couldn’t even make out their forms. Somehow, they even managed to alter their molecular structure through the Force. I can’t explain or understand how they did it. Even today, it awes and humbles me."

Luke was mesmerized, watching his father tell that incredible story. The emotion attached to his words struck a deep chord within him. A partner. Someone to trust with your very life, knowing that they’ll protect you until the end, that they’ll die with you and for you. An unbreakable bond made of love and respect, not necessity or obligation.

Anakin blinked and looked at his child.

"Do you really want to do this, Son? I don’t want to impose on you."

"I do want it, Father. I need it as much as you do," Luke replied, from the bottom of his heart.

And in those gentle blue eyes, so like his own, Anakin saw the truth. He smiled, his soul exploding with more gratitude than he would ever be able to express.

"All right, then. My lessons will be very disjointed, since I don’t remember much, only the few times I saw them training and the scattered conversations I overheard throughout the years. But I’ll do my best." He took a deep breath, realizing for the first time he was actually training his son.

For a split second, he wondered if he would be up to such a responsibility. That young man’s very soul was in his hands now. Oh, Force!

But then, he saw Luke’s eyes sparkling with such joy and absolute trust that all fear and trepidation simply vanished.


Half an hour later, a sweaty Anakin turned to his son with a soft smile.

"Very good. That movement was exactly as I remembered it."

An equally sweating Luke smiled from ear to ear.

"And the fact that you’re left-handed and I’m right-handed makes it even better, since we’re covering opposite flanks and defending 100% of the field that way."

Luke nodded happily. This was just as perfect as he had imagined it to be. His father and him, training together, being a team. His heart was so full it couldn’t be healthy!

"Now that we can manage to keep our positions, what do you say to throwing a few ‘seekers’ in to the mix and seeing what happens?" Anakin winked at his son, his eyes flashing youthfully.

Luke nodded enthusiastically, unable to believe the change in his father. He looked so young, so exuberant and full of life! It was amazing. There was a mischievous look in his eyes that told him this was how Anakin had been 25 years ago. Lively and in a permanent state of excitement. Enjoying life and milking it to the fullest. It was new to him, to see his father like this; but it was contagious, too. He wished it could be like this forever, although he knew only too well it just couldn’t be.

"Four of them?" he suggested, with a smile.

"You got it!" Anakin replied, sounding too much like Han.

Luke’s bulging eyes followed his father, as he returned with four ‘seekers’ and activated them. They remained suspended about two metres above the floor as Anakin assumed his position, back to back with his child.

They took a deep breath and concentrated deeply.

‘Ready?’ Anakin asked, through their mind-link.

‘Ready, Father,’ Luke replied eagerly.

They ignited their lightsabers in unison and the four seekers came to life, firing at will, just like Anakin had programmed them.

Anakin intended to absorb most of the attack this first time, instinctively protecting his child, but he found Luke wouldn’t let him, literally pushing him out of the way, struggling to keep this between equals.

Anakin realized that in real battle, there would be no time for chivalrous behaviour, and that each of them would have to take care of his own problems while fighting to keep their space impregnable, always trusting their partner to keep their half of the field safe. If any of them doubted the other’s ability to protect them both and tried to help him, it would be their undoing.

It took some time and it was the hardest thing of all, but little by little, Anakin granted Luke his half of the space. Cringing inside, he imagined how this would be for real. He shook the image off, praying he would never have to face it.

Only when he was finally capable of minding just two of the seekers, trusting Luke to take care of the other two, did the technique start working, and shining.

Anakin lost track of time and space, and feeling eerily in tune with his son’s mind and movements, he concentrated on their joint efforts with everything he was.

Somehow, everything came to a dead stop and he found himself back to back with his child, his turned-off lightsaber in hand.

"Ho-ly shit!" An unmistakable voice echoed in the big chamber.

Father and son turned about and saw Han and Leia standing by the closed doors, staring at them as if they had grown another head.

"What?" Luke asked, somewhat dazzled.

"How in hell do you do that?!" Han asked back, walking up to them, followed by an open-mouthed Princess. "I’ve never seen anything like that in my whole life! You were spinning and moving so fast I couldn’t make out the shape of your bodies. They were all..." He paused, unable to find the words.

"Blurry," Leia provided, totally stunned.

Father and son looked at each other out of the corner of their eyes and nodded imperceptibly.

"Right, blurry," Han nodded at his beloved.

Blushing and feeling suddenly awkward, Luke tried to change the subject.

"Well, if you agreed to train, you would find out for yourself what it’s like," he told his sister, looking at her pointedly.

Leia shook her head in frustration.

"Luke, with all my obligations I hardly have free time for myself and my family. Days just aren’t long enough."

"That’s an excuse and you know it," Luke challenged her, with an intense stare.

Brother and sister exchanged a long look, until Leia finally looked away, throwing up her hands in defeat.

"All right, all right, I’ll try as soon as I can," she relented.

"Good!" Luke smiled happily.

"But please, not now," Han butted in. "We came here to tell you it’s lunch time. You’ve been here for over four hours."

"Four hours?!" Anakin and Luke exclaimed in unison.

"You know, honey?" Han began conversationally, wrapping his arm around Leia’s shoulders and holding her close. "Sometimes, I think these two are the real twins, not you and your brother."

"Really," Leia agreed, pursuing her beloved’s joke.

Luke punched Han’s arm lightly, in feigned offence.

"Very funny," he teased.

"Well, maybe you’re triplets," Han winked surreptitiously at Leia, who looked away to hide her mirth.

"Han, you’re asking for it," Luke warned his friend.

"And what are you going to do? Levitate me, tie a thread around my ankles and carry me like a balloon?" Han challenged.

"Don’t tempt me," Luke mock-threatened, following him and his sister out of the room.

Han looked back at him and stuck out his tongue.

Of course, Luke answered back accordingly.

Anakin followed the youngsters with a big smile on his face and shaking his head patronizingly.


Lunch progressed uneventfully. Luke and Anakin were quite hungry after all their exertions that morning, and they ate with gusto.

Sitting right in front of them, Han and Leia were once again lost in their own private world, staring deep into each other’s eyes.

Chewie and Lando joined them shortly after, but the two lovers didn’t hear their arrival or their greeting.

Luke made a pretended disgusted face and looked at his father, sitting on his left.

"Disgusting, don’t you think?"

Anakin shrugged in amusement. He was very happy to see his daughter so in love with such a noble, caring and brave young man. He couldn’t think of anyone more worthy than Han Solo.

His musings were interrupted by Luke, asking his sister to please pass him the basket with the bread.

Leia didn’t even turn her head.

Luke turned his head and shrugged helplessly at his father, who shrugged back.

"What do you think? Hell froze over!" he commented. Next, he turned back to his sister and best friend. "Can any of you please pass me the bread?" He asked for a second, and then for the third time. "Bread-please."

No answer.

Lando chuckled and Chewie snorted hilariously.

Finally, Luke resorted to using the Force, and he levitated the basket up to his hand.

The two lovers saw the basket flying past them and they immediately turned their heads and watched Luke helping himself to a slice of bread.

"You could’ve asked instead of showing off," Han bugged.

"I did, three times," Luke replied tiredly.

"Well, you could get up and pick it up like the rest of us," Leia joined in Han’s bugging.

"You’re just jealous because you can’t do it," Luke teased.

"Nya-nya-nya," Leia made a face, getting into the banter headfirst.

Luke looked up in an exaggerated display of patience and waved his hand, dismissing his sister’s remark as one would a child’s.

Leia watched her brother through slitted eyes.

Luke was calmly sipping at his juice when his glass suddenly tipped over, and spilled its remaining content all over his front. The young man yelped in surprise and jerked back, but it was too late already. He was soaking wet.

Everybody at the table jumped too at the realization that it hadn’t been Luke’s clumsiness that had tipped over the glass. Anakin’s eyes opened wide in astonishment.

"Very good, little sister," Luke commended Leia, instantly knowing what had happened there. "I see you’ve been practising on your own."

Leia arched one eyebrow and looked at her brother smugly. But her self-satisfied expression was very short-lived, for a flying drop of sauce splashed her right on the tip of her nose, leaving it all red.

"Hey kid, you’ve got great aim!" Han congratulated Luke, earning his beloved’s furious stare. He put up his hands soothingly, palms out, still unable to hide the twinkle in his eyes.

"A lot to learn, still you have," Luke gave a flawless impersonation of Yoda, that left Anakin with his mouth hanging open.

Leia had no idea whom her brother was imitating or if he was mocking her, but fuming now, she tried it harder than ever. An apple went flying aimlessly and Luke dodged it easily.

"Tsk, tsk, tsk," he told his sister as the little potatoes on her plate rearranged and formed a smilie.

"You... You..." Leia pushed with her mind. The bowl containing all fruits overturned and a dozen pieces of fruit rolled all over the table, ending up on the floor.

Right then, her napkin floated up to her face and wiped away the sauce mark on her nose, and then wiped her mouth in an elegant sweep.

"Careful, little sister, or you’ll end up in a mess," Luke told her patronizingly.

"That’s it!" Leia exploded. Plates, pieces of fruit and cutlery went flying and everybody sitting at the table ducked their heads, trying to avoid the flying objects.

Han and Anakin managed to maintain an unflappable stance while still trying to dodge flying spoons, salt shakers and napkin rings.

"Picture them as children like this," Han told Anakin, as if they were the only two adults in the room.

Anakin rolled his eyes exaggeratedly, but inside, he would have given anything to witness such a scene with his beloved Padmé beside him, while their eight year old children ‘fought’ like this.

"Ouch!" he exclaimed when a spinning fork pricked his right forefinger.

Luke felt the sensation of being pricked on his finger, and he immediately stopped throwing things about and stilled all the flying objects at once, that fell to the floor, clattering.

"Father! Are you all right?" he asked, in immediate regret. It seemed that every time he gave in to his childish side, someone got hurt. But he needed it occasionally. The weight and responsibility of being a Jedi Knight were too heavy sometimes.

"I’m all right, Son, don’t worry," Anakin reassured his boy, sucking off the drop of blood on his fingertip.

Leia’s eyebrows skyrocketed.

"I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have... I’m too old for this..." Luke babbled.

"Easy, Luke, easy," Anakin placed his hand on Luke’s arm, trying to calm him down. "It’s okay to play, it’s good to let one’s hair down from time to time. Being a Jedi is too intense a task not to vent our feelings once in a while in a healthy way. I wish I had been allowed to play a little when I was young." He squeezed his child’s arm. "Accidents happen. We may be Jedi Knights, but we can’t control everything, nor should we. It is all right." He smiled, inwardly reminding himself to have a long chat with his son about the ideas he had been imbued with about not using the Force in a frivolous way.

"OW!" Leia groaned, drawing everybody’s attention.

"What is it?" Luke asked.

"My head," Leia replied, rubbing her temples in circles, "it’s throbbing all of a sudden."

"You’ve expended a lot of effort levitating all these objects and your mind’s not used to it. Until we train you properly, you should take it easy," Anakin rose to his feet. "I know a technique to soothe the pain."

"No!" Leia exclaimed immediately. But she composed herself pretty quickly. "I’d rather have Luke doing it, if you don’t mind." She made an apologetic face at her father. Truth was, she was wary of trusting her mind and thoughts to Anakin, even though she knew he would never pry into them. She felt guilty for hurting him, but she couldn’t help it.

Anakin didn’t show any outward signs of being hurt, but everybody knew better.

"By all means," he complied, sitting down again as Luke stood up and approached his sister, squeezing lovingly his father’s shoulder in passing.

Luke stood behind his sitting sister and applied the tips of his forefingers to her temples and began a soothing and thoroughly relaxing technique his father had taught him. A technique he had experienced firsthand more than a few times now and he considered a real blessing.

"Did your head throb too when you first tried levitating things?" Leia asked her brother in a soft whisper, so relieved she felt already.

"At first," Luke replied. "But mostly because I tried too hard. I closed my eyes tight and I reached out desperately to whatever object I wanted to summon. Little by little, I discovered I only had to calm down, relax and sort of ‘coax’ things into moving or floating up to my hand. Detachment was the key. The Force is always there, you only have to learn to recognize it and find the method that works for you."

Leia absorbed every word and nodded to herself.

"And what’s easier for you? Levitating things? Touching people’s minds?"

"I find everything easy." Luke replied honestly. "In the beginning, I was too impatient and emotional, and I wanted everything now. It took me some time to overcome my impatience and control my emotions. And especially, opening my mind to concepts I considered impossible and giving up things I had taken for a fact all my life. Being an adult was a hindrance to my training in most aspects." He let out a soft sigh. "But back to your question, when I learned just how things were done, everything became equally easy for me to do. I don’t know if it’s just me or if it was the same for the other Jedi back then..." The young man looked at his father questioningly.

"Well, my personal experience when talking to my fellow Jedi was that most of them found some things easier to do than others," Anakin replied. "All of them could levitate things and were more or less proficient in sword fighting. But most of them were better at doing something. Some of them got a headache after trying to levitate too many things at once, even after years of training; others weren’t quite capable of reaching the deepest levels of meditation... That led me to believe I was better than most because I could do everything without batting an eyelid." He looked away, shame colouring his features. "One of the reasons for my downfall." He sighed dejectedly. "I became arrogant and conceited. I thought the Masters were jealous or afraid of my potential and they were trying to hold me back, Obi Wan included. Especially Obi-Wan. And Palpatine took advantage of my frustrations, stroking my ego and manipulating me expertly. I was such a naïve, pathetic, spoiled brat! I thought that just because I was more skilled than most, I was wiser than most too, and I knew exactly what had to be done, for the people’s own good. I thought they were inferior and blind, that’s why they couldn’t see what was plain for me to see." He shook his head sadly, looking down. "When there was no one more flawed and imperfect than me."

Incredibly, despite all the wrongdoings he was confessing, Anakin felt everybody’s heartfelt compassion and understanding.

"But that’s the most important lesson I’ve learnt." Anakin looked up suddenly, covering them all with his eyes. "No matter how powerful we think we are or however many things we can do, we’re just as imperfect and faulty as any non-Force sensitive." He pinned Luke under his stare. "Son, don’t feel guilty for being able to do things other beings can’t do, for there’s nothing wrong with that. Feel free to levitate objects and let your friends see all the things you can do. Make use of your gift, because what we have, is a gift, nothing more, nothing less; and it should be used to make people’s lives easier and more bearable. Chewie can reach places we can’t, and he doesn’t apologize or feel guilty for it, since being so tall is not wrong, it’s just what he is; and sometimes, he can use his size to his advantage. If you can levitate things up to your hand instead of getting up and picking them up, then do it, because it would be silly not to. Refusing to make full use of our gifts is foolish." His face darkened then. "What is wrong is considering ourselves superior for it, hurting others and making them feel inadequate and inferior. We have telekinetic, empathetic and telepathic abilities, but that is all. Non-Force sensitive beings are scientists, painters, architects, musicians, and they’re better than us in those areas. We’re all different, with our own strengths and weaknesses. Every single being has got their own blessings. And we’re all equals. As long as we never forget that, this galaxy will be a place worth living in."

An awesome silence followed Anakin’s speech, as everybody in the room slowly digested his words. The big man, realizing all of a sudden he had everybody’s eyes on him, blushed endearingly and looked down again.

"Thank you, Father." Luke was the first to react, his voice sounding infinitely relieved and grateful, as if a heavy load had just been lifted from his shoulders. "You have no idea how much you’ve eased my mind."

"That’s what parents are for," Anakin smiled, trying to bring some levity to the moment.

Luke smiled back, putting his hands down. "Are you feeling better?" he asked his sister.

"Yes, thank you," Leia nodded. "So, does that mean I’ll be better at something other than levitating things?"

"Quite the contrary," Anakin replied. "You’ve had no training at all, so the fact that you can throw things about already means that you have a great Force sensitivity, and you’re developing it already. Once you’ve mastered the techniques, you’ll be able to tell whether you find some things more difficult to do than others."

Leia turned inwardly and half-closed her eyes.

"What is it?" Luke asked, curiously.

"I think I’ll be much better at empathy," Leia answered, in a faraway voice. "Since I can remember, every time I touched someone, even brushed past them, I could tell whether they were good or bad. Something told me they weren’t to be trusted, or they were bluffing or they were sincere and meant what they said. I didn’t know why I knew, but I know now." She made a face. "If only I had known sooner!"

"You’re aware of it now, so you can learn to develop your gift to the fullest," Anakin encouraged her with a proud smile.

Leia stared at her father for a few moments and then she nodded slowly, as if she had just made up her mind about something.

"Yes, you’re right," she conceded.

Right then, the doors opened and R2-D2 and C-3PO rolled/walked in.

"Oh, dear goodness, what happened here?" 3PO exclaimed, at the sight of the floor all scattered with cutlery, pieces of fruit and several other objects.

Everybody looked at each other with tiny little smiles of amusement and by silent mutual agreement, Anakin, Luke and Leia levitated the objects back on to the table.

"Yes, 3PO?" Anakin asked when the chore was completed.

"Her Excellency the President wants to meet Master Luke, Generals Solo and Calrissian and Chewbacca immediately," the droid announced ceremoniously.

The four in question quickly rose to their feet and left the room, followed by the two droids.

Anakin looked at the closed door for a while with a pensive expression.

"Something wrong?" Leia asked.

Anakin returned to reality with a deep intake of breath.

"Mmmm? Oh, no. Nothing really," he smiled at his daughter, realizing this was one of the very rare occasions they were alone together.

Now it was the Princess’ turn to study her father with an appraising look.

Anakin noticed his child’s scrutiny and looked at her quizzically.

Finally, Leia seemed to make up her mind and changed seats, sitting right in front of her father.

"I was thinking..." she began.

"Yes?" Anakin prompted after a while, when his daughter didn’t take the plunge and ask him whatever was preying on her mind. She had come a long way in the past few months, but they still hadn’t the kind of relationship Anakin was dying to have. The final barrier inside Leia refused to give in. He was aware of the fact that he might never have with his daughter the type of relationship he had with his son, and he had resigned himself to that possibility, even though it broke his heart. He knew he had no right to ask for more, but it hurt nonetheless.

"I was thinking about the wedding picture of you and Mother," Leia finally blurted out.

"Oh," Anakin nodded, trying to hide the ache in his heart every time he thought about his beloved Padmé or someone mentioned her. "Is there something you want to ask me?" he invited, struggling to overcome the emotion and talk past the lump in his throat.

"Yes," Leia said softly, as if looking for the right words. "I remember that when you showed it to us, I noticed you had a prosthetic right arm. A mechanical one."

"True," Anakin nodded, unaware of where this conversation was leading. "I had lost it a few weeks earlier fighting Count Dooku, a renegade Jedi who turned to the Dark Side," he explained.

Leia nodded again and looked straight into her father’s eyes, plucking up her courage.

"Then, how come you bled when that flying fork pricked your finger a while ago? Prostheses don’t bleed," she asked at last, her eyes flashing.

Anakin paled at his daughter’s question, not because he had something to hide from her, but because he wasn’t certain about how would she take the truth. Their relationship was still on shaky ground, and he didn’t want to scare her off. Besides, Luke was also deeply involved in that truth.

"W-well, ahhh, you see..." he stammered, not knowing how to begin.

"Luke did something else besides healing you, didn’t he?" Leia put her father out of his misery with a kind look. "He regenerated your limbs," she stated.

Anakin met his daughter’s gentle eyes, so like his sweet Padmé’s, and yielding, he nodded.

"What else did he do?" Leia asked again, softly.

Anakin bit his lower lip, in a most explicit gesture that said it all.

"I don’t want to pry if it’s too personal," Leia offered her father a way out, seeing this was becoming increasingly difficult for him.

"It’s not too personal," Anakin immediately reassured her. "Well, it is, but not so that I can’t tell you. Only..." he trailed off.

"This isn’t the right time to talk about it and you’d rather have Luke present when we do," Leia finished for him.

Anakin nodded once more.

"All right," Leia accepted it nonchalantly, letting the matter drop.

"Can I ask you something in return?" Anakin asked tentatively, still unsure about how to approach his daughter at times like this.

"Of course." Leia leaned forward, crossed her arms and rested them on the table, looking at her father with a receptive and open expression on her face.

"You’re quite wary of being trained in the ways of the Force, aren’t you?" Anakin asked kindly.

Leia’s eyes opened wide momentarily, but she quickly brought herself back under control.

"Is it that obvious?" she finally said.

Anakin tilted his head to one side with a soft smile.

Leia looked down and sighed dejectedly.

"You’re right, I don’t want to be trained." She admitted, at last.

"Why?" Anakin asked, with infinite tenderness.

Leia let out all the air in her lungs in a blow and rolled her eyes, most expressively.

"Too many reasons," she answered at last.

"Tell me. Maybe I can help," Anakin offered.

Leia looked away, reluctant to talk about it. But she knew that silence would get her nowhere, so she tried to articulate her motives as best as she could.

"It’s part laziness, because I think I’m too old to start with this; part uneasiness, because this is new territory for me and I don’t know what am I getting into. Also, I don’t know how much my life will change once I start walking this path. I don’t know how much this will change me, and I fear my friends won’t recognize me anymore, or worse, I won’t be able to recognize myself. I don’t know if I’ll be able to dedicate all the time necessary to my training. I have responsibilities within the Government and I can’t take that lightly." She took a deep breath and forced herself to voice the biggest reason of all. "But most of all..." she raised her eyes and met her father’s, "...I’m terrified of what I’ll find on the other side. I’m afraid of opening that door and what lies behind. I wonder if I’ll be strong enough to take it, if I’m ready for it." Her eyes regarded her father with sad compassion now. "And above all... if you turned, how can I be safe from suffering the same fate? How do I know...?" She pulled herself together swiftly. "Luke told me once that fear leads to the Dark Side, and right now, that’s the primary emotion in my heart at the mere thought of being trained." She shrugged in defeat. "I’m not good material right now, I’m afraid."

"Powerful reasons, all of them," Anakin agreed in a surprisingly light tone of voice, that eased the heavy atmosphere around them. "Reasons I share and understand."

"What do you think I should do?" Leia arched her eyebrows in astonishment when she realized she was actually asking her father for advice.

Anakin looked up, as if asking for help from someone beyond this realm.

"That’s a question only you can answer, my daughter," Anakin replied lovingly. "But I’ll try to shed some light on your doubts and questions."

"Please do," Leia pleaded. "Perhaps the most honest answer is that I just don’t know what to do."

Anakin interlaced his fingers and tried to put some order in his thoughts.

"For what it’s worth," he began, "I’m just as scared as you are. I’ve never trained anyone, and the past twenty odd years are not a good résumé for any Jedi Master. I’m terrified of making mistakes in your training that could cause you to..." He couldn’t bring himself to say the words.

"Like you and Obi-Wan," Leia summed up perfectly, in her usual practical way.

Anakin nodded.

"But I have to accept the fact that there are no certainties in this life. I can only do my best and hope it will be enough, even if those odds are not enough for me, as far as my children are concerned. We can only embrace the Light in us and abide by it, trusting it to guide us, trusting we’ll be able to tell when we’re straying from it."

Leia considered her father’s words and nodded to herself, seeing the truth and wisdom in them.

"Just like we do in our ordinary lives. We always try to follow the good path. We try to be fair, not to hurt others intentionally, always think of the common good first... this is no different."

"Exactly," Anakin smiled proudly. "Now, back to your reasons. Laziness. I know what you mean by that. It’s always hard for an adult to embark on a journey whose end is a long way ahead, and from where there’s no turning back. A journey that’s bound to change you on many levels. You’re feeling lazy about starting, but that laziness is also inextricably bound up with all your other reasons. Uneasiness about where will this lead and how much it will change you." He paused and smiled at his daughter. "Take your brother’s example. Has Luke changed so much that you can’t tell today’s Luke from the young man you first met? Has he become a ‘weirdo’ or someone you can’t relate to anymore?"

"No," Leia instantly replied. "He has changed, as we all have. Life’s a constant change. We all mature and evolve. But Luke’s essence will always be there," she said softly.

There was a short silence as Leia started putting the pieces together in her mind.

"Another issue you mentioned. Time," Anakin continued, bringing Leia back with a little start. "There’s no schedule to follow, no deadline set for this. This is a training for life, for both Master and padawan. We’ll take it slowly, dedicating only the time you can afford. No rush, no pressure, no hurry at all. And if you ever feel your personal life is suffering for it, we’ll take it easier."

Leia smiled, relieved.

"Now, the biggies," Anakin said, using slang quite intentionally. "What lies on the other side?" He took a deep breath. "That’s something you have to find out for yourself." He looked away and his voice got a distant, mesmerizing quality. "It is a whole new world, a higher consciousness of what we are, what we mean; how everything is bound together, how every single being in the Universe is part of a greater whole, more immense and all-encompassing than any of us could possibly fathom. It’s a deeper understanding of our limits, our weaknesses and flaws; but also, how in those flaws lies a strength and a compassion beyond belief. It’s the comforting knowledge that Love is the only answer. Love’s the intimate connection between all creatures, and nothing, not even death, will ever break it. Love is immortality, it’s what will keep us going wherever we go; but at the same time, it will keep us rooted to our loved ones forever. There’s no beginning and no end. It’s the miracle of Life; neverending, peaceful, eternal. More beautiful and fulfilling than anything we can imagine."

Anakin’s face had transfigured as he spoke, as if all the love he had inside had suddenly surfaced. He exuded peace and calm. He had finally found the answer he had been seeking all his life.

Leia stared at her father in awe, as if she was seeing him for the very first time. She couldn’t believe this could be the man who had spread mayhem on the galaxy for over two decades.

Her heart constricted with an instinct for protection she had never experienced before. Her father looked so vulnerable right now! But at the same time, he seemed bigger-than-life, certain of his Destiny. She was so moved by the sight, it hurt. She felt a part of her unlocking and opening up like a flower to the warmth of the sun.

"Don’t be afraid, Leia." Anakin’s eyes turned to her, brighter than she had ever seen them. "There’s nothing to be afraid of. Yes, I turned, but don’t let that lingering fear hold you back. My sins don’t have to soil you. Thank heavens, you and your brother are wiser and smarter than I’ll ever be. You have inherited the best of me and your mother. You’ll rise above the Darkness that witnessed your birth and you’ll make of this galaxy a safe home for all its peace-seeking beings. Nothing will ever be the same, for anyone."

Leia swallowed hard, not quite certain of what was going on there. She felt as if she was contemplating something... transcendental.

Anakin smiled bashfully and looked down, a bit embarrassed at having revealed perhaps too much of himself.

"All right, Father. You and Luke can start training me as soon as I can find the time," came Leia’s strangely hoarse voice.

Their eyes met across the table in a new and deeper understanding of each other, and for the first time, Anakin felt there had been a meaningful breakthrough in their relationship.

"I’ll only be able to spare short periods of time, and that will make my training even slower. As if I wasn’t old enough already!" She sighed out loud. "But I’d rather take it slowly," she confessed.

"So would I," Anakin agreed, "and I’m positive so would Luke. You’re going to be our first padawan, and the two of us will be feeling our way through the whole process. You’ll have to tell us when you think we’re doing something wrong, what things work for you and what don’t. You’ll be teaching us just as much as we’ll be teaching you."

"I prefer it," Leia said, unashamedly. "We’ll be teaching each other, then."

"Yes." Anakin nodded once more. "But don’t feel pressured because you think you’re too old. I was considered too old to start training, and I was nine years old."

"N-nine?" Leia gulped audibly.

"But Luke was twice my age when he got started, and look at what an incredible Jedi he’s turned out to be," Anakin reminded his daughter.

She nodded, still uncertain.

"True. But that doesn’t mean that just because Luke..."

"You know?" Anakin interrupted his child, knowing already what she was going to say. "In some aspects, I think it’s an advantage to start training as an adult. You know what you’re getting into, you’re aware of the commitment you’re making and the sacrifises it will entail. In the Old Days, children started training as soon as their Gift was uncovered. They weren’t given any choice in the matter, and by the time they grew up, their whole life had been decided already. To me, a conscious decision is paramount before starting any training." He made a brief pause. "Disadvantages? An adult has got lots of years of experience, they think they know everything that’s possible and impossible. They take many things for fact. And the Force is never restrained by our limited mental patterns. That’s what Luke found out. Through the Force, the impossible is often possible, and it took him some time to unlearn what he had come to learn, so he could make a fresh start. But once he truly opened his mind, he learned faster and deeper than any child could, because he was using his intellect as much as his feelings and emotions." He smiled warmly. "Everything’s got its advantages and disadvantages, but I honestly think it’ll be better for you to be an adult in this lifetime project." His smile widened.

And Leia couldn’t help but smile back.

"You convinced me. I’m still a bit wary, but I guess it’s mostly fear of the unknown."

"It’s not an unknown. Believe it or not, you’re quite familiar with the Force already. You’ve been using it subconsciously and tapping from it all your life. You only have to learn to recognize it consciously and get used to its constant presence, around you and inside you. There’s nothing to fear, my daughter, believe me."

The Princess took a deep breath and released it loudly with a shaky smile.

Right then, the doors opened and Luke, Han, Chewie, Lando and the two droids came in.

Anakin immediately met his son’s gaze and was startled when he saw a flicker of uncertainty and uneasiness in his eyes.

"What is it?" he asked, his heart skipping a beat.

Luke sat down beside his father, instinctively seeking his nearness.

"I just got my first assignment as a Jedi," he announced, with a tremor in his voice.

"Really?!" Both Leia and Anakin exclaimed at the same time.

"The President just asked me to go to Ansion and try and mediate in a border dispute that’s arisen there. They’ve explicitly asked for a Jedi to arbitrate between both parties, and give them an objective point of view."

Anakin’s eyes almost popped out of their sockets. "Ansion, you said?"

"You’ve been there before?" Luke asked back.

Anakin nodded. "I was there with Obi-Wan about 25 years ago. Not a very pleasant experience, I may add. They made me so fed up that Obi-Wan could hardly keep me from voicing my opinion about their petty squabbles." He made an ironical face. "Nice to see some things never change."

"Indeed they don’t," Luke agreed. "But at least, whatever Obi-Wan suggested back then, managed to work for the past quarter of a century."

"Make no mistake about it, Son," Anakin corrected Luke, "it worked because the Clone Wars broke out soon after. And later, with the coming of the Empire, they had more urgent matters to take care of than their childish disagreements."

"I see," Luke sighed, resigning himself to a quite unsavoury first mission. "Still, even though this seems to be a minor problem, I want to make a good first impression. It’s difficult to live up to a legend. If I fall short of their expectations, our reputations as Jedi could end up seriously undermined. I might not be summoned to mediate in any other conflicts." He looked away. "I wish you’d accompany me! If they remembered you, perhaps they’d welcome your input more than mine."

"If they remembered me, the whole assignment would be doomed right from the start, trust me," Anakin smiled at his child, trying to shake him out of his fears with a little bit of humour. "I regret these daily meetings with the Senate are keeping me so busy right now. Maybe next time I’ll be able to accompany you."

Luke ground his teeth and looked away, obviously reluctant to tell him something.

"What?" Anakin’s heart sank in foreboding.

"When I asked Mon Mothma to let you accompany me on this first mission, she made it pretty clear that all Jedi assignments will fall on my shoulders," Luke explained, visibly upset. "You’re the Vice-President of the Republic and your place is on Coruscant, unless it involves an official trip, representing our Government."

Anakin’s mouth fell open at that.

"B-but I’m a Jedi!" he stammered. "My children and rebuilding the Order are my first priorities. How am I supposed to...?" He trailed off, so off-balance had he been caught.

Luke’s eyes met his father’s, reflecting the same helplessness and disappointment Anakin felt.

And it was the underlying apprehension in those eyes that brought back Anakin’s resolution.

"We’ll talk about this when you return. Somehow, we’ll find a way to make it work," he promised his child.

"If I survive this assignment," Luke exclaimed dramatically, trying to cheer himself up. "If I fail, maybe I won’t be summoned again for a very long time, and that will solve our problem."

"I doubt it. You will make it, Son; I know." Anakin smiled proudly.

Luke made an ironical, sceptical face.

"Well, I should start packing. We’ll be taking off in two hours. Han, Lando and Chewie will be my escorts," he explained, looking at his friends with an expression that left pretty clear his opinion of protocol procedures like that. His gaze returned to his father, dead serious now. "Wish me luck, Father."

"There’s no such thing as luck," Anakin replied automatically, grasping his child’s unexpectedly sweaty hand in a comforting gesture. "May the Force be with you, my son. May it guide you and inspire you on this your first mission."

Luke let out a quivering smile, and turning on his heels all of a sudden, he quickly left the room.

There was a short silence, full of meaning, as everybody digested what was happening and shared the same feelings about it.

"Take good care of him," Anakin asked Lando, Han and Chewie, unable to help himself.

"Hey!" Han replied immediately. "Need you ask?"

Everybody grinned at the familiar crooked smile, that always seemed to promise a happy resolution to any predicament.

"True," Anakin admitted contritely. "I apologize."

"Well, we should start packing too, if we want to be ready in two hours," Lando suggested, bringing them all out of their highly emotional state.

"Right," Han agreed, walking around the table and saying goodbye to his beloved with a loving kiss. Their eyes met and a silent message flashed between them. Han nodded and strode out of the room, followed by Chewie, Lando and a self-invited R2.


Luke was closing his small suitcase when he felt the most comforting presence about to knock at his door. He took a deep breath, relaxing instinctively, and waited for the buzz. They were far beyond this, but they always respected the privacy of each other’s quarters, even if there were no boundaries between their minds. It was a tacit agreement they rejoiced in, despite its incongruency. Maybe because of it.

Anakin entered his child’s room and grinned at Luke’s greeting smile.

They stared at each other for a little while, reluctant to be the first to speak. Mind-talk was so easy that words felt too clumsy more often than not.

Finally, breaking eye-contact, Luke picked up his suitcase and put it down by the door. Next, he slipped into a light green jacket. He squared his shoulders and faced Anakin.

"Too informal for a Jedi Knight?" he asked. "Do you think I should wear something more... traditional, closer to the clothes the Masters used to wear? Will they take me seriously if they see this runt dressed like a teenager taking his girlfriend to the holo-movies?"

It was obvious that as soon as his father’s soothing presence filtered through his defenses, the dams had broken and Luke’s fears had poured out of him like a flood.

Swept away by a wave of affection he was incapable of holding back, and also unwilling, Anakin stepped forward and wrapped his arms around his child, hugging him tight.

Luke relaxed immediately, returning the hug tenfold.

"If you think you’re a runt, think of Master Yoda," Anakin teased, knowing exactly what to say to ease his son’s fears after all these months.

Luke laughed out loud helplessly, relaxing even more.

"Still, Master Yoda’s reputation would have made him look like a giant before anyone’s eyes," he argued.

Anakin moved back and grasped Luke’s shoulders, looking down at him intensely.

"All right, you still have to earn that reputation. But you will, right from this assignment," he assured him emphatically.

Luke looked down, shaking his head with a sigh.

"I don’t know if I find your faith in me encouraging or disturbing."

"Think positively," Anakin simply said. "Just as you’ve been teaching me all this time."

Luke raised his eyes to his father’s and contemplated him with sheer adoration. He shook his head again and flopped down on his bed dejectedly.

"You’ll have to try harder than that, I’m afraid; because I’m so uncertain of..." he threw up his hands, "...just everything!"

"That’s why I’m here," Anakin replied cheerfully, messing his child’s hair and sitting on the bed beside him. "First of all, I think you need some background on the people you’re going to visit."

"That’s what I was about to ask you," Luke admitted.

"From my experience 25 years ago, I came to the conclusion that they were thoroughly irritating, self-centred, petty and childish," Anakin said. "Of course, Obi-Wan and I only met their politicians, so we can’t generalize. Peoples tend to be far more advanced and intelligent than their leaders. You’ll have to bite your tongue, muster your patience and make full use of your diplomatic abilities."

"Help!" Luke groaned exaggeratedly, wondering how would he accomplish all that. "What diplomatic abilities? And just how do I do all that?"

"Keep calm, and when you think you’re about to explode, reach for the Force. It’ll give you balance," his father advised.

"I wonder if that will be enough," Luke muttered to himself, looking away.

"There’s something else that’s troubling you," Anakin stated, after a short pause. "What is it?"

"Everything." Luke was the living image of helplessness. "I’m a soldier, not a diplomat. I don’t know the first thing about how to approach these people, how to help them solve their dispute. I don’t have the knowledge. I..." he dropped his hands on his lap, in defeat. "...I’m not ready for this."

"Jedi were the keepers of Peace in the Old Republic, not soldiers," Anakin explained. "All your adult life, you’ve been exactly what Jedi never were, and I understand it's very difficult for you to make the transition from soldier to diplomat. But the only way to learn, is by trial and error. That’s life."

"And if I fail? I’ll feel responsible if..."

"A wise man is the man who admits there are things beyond him, beyond his capacities." Anakin didn’t allow his son to wallow in his fears and his exaggerated sense of responsibility. "If you feel you can’t help these people to reach an agreement, just say so and leave. It won’t be your fault. It will be everybody’s fault. And believe it or not, you’ll learn from the experience. Unfortunately, we learn more from our mistakes than from our achievements." His eyes bored into his son’s. "You’re excellent material, my son. You only need to hone your abilities. The gift is in you. Time will make it perfect." He made another pause. "And it is time to start."

They looked at each other for a very long time, and Anakin felt Luke’s confidence strengthening in a steady boost.

The young man shook his head.

"What would I do without you, Father?" He asked rhetorically, in a voice full of wonder and admiration. "Thank you!"

Anakin smiled, his heart growing too big for his chest. He reached out and held his son’s hand.

"Follow your heart, your instincts and your intellect, in this order."

"Why in that order?" Luke asked, curiously.

"Because it was your heart that redeemed a Dark Lord. Even against the dictates of what reason told you." Anakin’s voice was soft and sweet. "And I’ll trust your heart blindly for as long as I live. It will never lead you wrong."

Luke’s eyes misted with tears, and he blinked rapidly to clear them. He looked away, too moved to face his father’s naked love and faith.

"Even if you’re very good at flattering me..." he began, drawing a little shaky laughter from the two of them, "...I’ll never stop needing you." He looked back at Anakin, pulling himself together. "I wish you could accompany me. It’s not fair for you to stay here, either." He sighed. "You wouldn’t have to do anything, just having you there would help me."

"I know," Anakin cradled his son’s cheek in his palm. "This is too unexpected, and you’ve had no time to prepare. But I will be here, always," he pointed at the left side of Luke’s chest. "We’ll figure out something when you’re back. I’m not too happy with this arrangement, either."

The two sensed that their friends were on their way to Luke’s room, so the young man stood up and headed for the door. He bent down to pick up his suitcase.

"Oh, by the way..." Anakin began nonchalantly.

"Yes?" Luke asked, stopping in mid-gesture and looking back at his father.

"Anything but that jacket, please," Anakin pleaded dramatically.

"Why you...!" Luke exploded, in pretended outrage. He grabbed a small cushion and threw it at his father, who caught it when it impacted on his chest, doubling up with laughter.

Right then, the doorbell buzzed.

"Come in," Luke said.

His door opened and Luke greeted Han, Leia, Lando, Chewie and the two droids.

"Hey, kid, are you ready?" Han asked his best friend.

"Yep!" Luke said cheerfully, grabbing his suitcase.

"Nervous?" Leia asked kindly.

"Oh, well, you know... the usual," Luke replied ironically. "But Father put some of my fears to rest."

"Good," Leia smiled, looking past her brother at Anakin, and nodding to him in gratitude.

Luke took a deep breath and squared his shoulders resolutely.

"Let’s go!" he exclaimed, as ready as he could be.

"Luke," Anakin’s voice was infinitely gentle, and the young man turned about without thinking.

Anakin walked up to his son and placed his right hand on the top of his head, the ball of it pressed up against his forehead. He closed his eyes and started muttering some indistinct words.

Somehow, Luke realized his father was giving him his blessing and summoning the Force to give his child the focus and guidance he would need. He closed his eyes, too, trying to keep the tears at bay. Untold peace filled his heart to bursting.

When Anakin finished his silent prayer, he put down his hand and looked down at his son, his eyes shining with pride and love.

"Good luck," he simply said when Luke met his eyes, drawing a short laugh from both of them.


"We should be back in four or five days," Luke told Anakin and Leia by the ramp of the Millennium Falcon. It had undergone a leisurely and thorough repair for the past six months, and it was as good as new. Although it would always look like a hunk of junk to everyone’s fond eyes. "Are you sure you don’t want Father to start training you in the meantime?" he asked Leia. "It would help to make your days go faster, and by the time I’m back, you’d already have some notions of it."

"No, Luke," Leia shook her head adamantly. "I’d rather wait for you to be here. I want to be monitored by the two of you at all times, especially now that I’m threading into unknown territory. Once I start getting the knack of it and I feel more confident, I’ll be able to handle just one of you."

Luke laughed out loud, delighted by his sister’s cheekiness.

"I’ll teach you some basic relaxation and meditation techniques, so you can set your mind to the right level of concentration when we start training you," Anakin offered.

"All right," Leia agreed, nodding. "We can do that." She looked at her brother and hugged him impulsively. "Good luck, Luke. You’re going to make it, I know it," she assured him confidently.

"I hope so," Luke replied, returning the hug, still a bit uncertain. When they moved back, he smiled at her lovingly. Next, he reached out his hand to his father, who took it between both of his and squeezed it.

"May the Force be with you, my son," Anakin said one last time, smiling broadly.

R2 beeped impatiently at them and Luke turned his head.

"I’m coming, Artoo," he told the little droid. "Take care of them for me, 3PO," Luke said to the protocol droid standing slightly behind his father and sister.

"I will, Master," the droid promised eagerly. "May your trip be a successful one."

"Thank you. I’ll do my best," Luke winked at his family and with an impish smile, he walked up the ramp, disappearing inside the Falcon.

Anakin and Leia stepped back a few metres when the engines slowly roared to life. Little by little, the ship rose into the air.

Leia was watching the Falcon getting smaller and smaller, when she felt her father’s body shuddering from head to foot. She immediately turned to him. Anakin’s face was ashen and his breathing was uneven and ragged.

"What is it, Father?" she asked, placing her tiny hand on his arm.

Anakin looked down, and closed his eyes momentarily, trying to grab the elusive feeling that had suddenly come over him.

"I-I... I don’t know," he said, tilting his head to one side, as if listening to some inner voice. A new shudder made him look up at the slowly fading ship. "Luke!" he exclaimed, paling even more.


For the next few days, Anakin hardly knew peace. He tried to pretend around his daughter, but Leia knew better. She tried to coax him into talking to her and sharing his fears, but he refused to tell her.

He was totally absent during his daily meetings with the Senate and when someone’s direct question brought him out of his reverie, he answered in monosyllables.

Mon Mothma suspected what was wrong with Anakin, and although she considered he was worrying a bit too much, she kept it to herself. She wasn’t a parent, so she didn’t really know.

Anakin got in touch with Luke twice a day, and things seemed to be progressing smoothly. It had taken some time for Ansion’s government to take such a young man seriously, and they tried Luke’s patience to breaking point several times.

Right from the first transmission, Anakin told Luke to proceed carefully and watch out for anything strange or suspicious. And even though he didn’t know the reason behind his father’s request, Luke promised to follow his instructions to the letter.



On the morning of the fourth day, Anakin was awakened by an uncontrolled feeling of euphoria filtering through their mind-link, and he knew his child had made it. He sent back all his pride and joy at his son’s achievement, and asked him once again to be careful and take care of himself. Luke assured him he would, and broke the communication with an infinitely grateful and heartfelt, ‘Thank you for your faith in me, Father’.

Too keyed up to remain in bed, Anakin got up, washed up, got dressed and left his room, heading for the mess.

He had barely started on his scanty breakfast, when Leia burst into the room, grabbed a chair, sat down on it beside him and faced him with the same authority that had earned her her reputation as a righteous and implacable Senator.

"All right, Father. I want you to tell me what the devil’s going on with you, and why are you refusing to trust in me."

Anakin blinked stupidly, staring at his daughter, unable to believe how such a tiny person could be towering above him.

It took him some time to react, but when he did, he realized he couldn’t keep this from her any longer. They were a family, and family stuck together. In good times and in bad.

He put down his fork and turned to her.

"You’re right, Leia. Please, forgive me for trying to keep this from you. You have a right to know."

"Well?" She asked, her eyes flashing. "Something’s wrong with you since the Falcon took off. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out you’re worried about Luke, his assignment or both. So, spill it out."

Anakin looked down and shook his head. What a fool he had been! He had underestimated his child’s capacities, forgetting she had been one of the brightest tactical leaders of the Alliance, tough and resilient when others had fallen apart. He had sold his daughter short. He would never make the same mistake again. He looked up at Leia with bright, intense eyes.

"When the Falcon was leaving, I had a feeling."

"What kind of feeling?" Leia asked.

"Foreboding. I felt that something would happen on Ansion."

Leia stiffened and her look hardened.

"Something dangerous?"

"Quite possibly," Anakin nodded, looking down.

"And you let Luke, Han and the others go, knowing they...?!" Leia exploded; but she immediately realized the blunder she was about to make and brought herself back under control. "No, I can see why you did it. Things have to be done, even if they’re dangerous. I had to send Luke into battle many times, knowing he could be killed. The fact that this is a time of peace doesn’t make any difference. He’s a Jedi. It’s his job, and he can’t shirk his responsibilities just because there could be some kind of peril involved."

Anakin had recoiled from his daughter’s rightful wrath at first, shrinking from her anger. But when she brought herself back under control, getting it on her own, he risked a glance at her.

She was looking at him contritely, as if she had just realized the power she had over him. The power of breaking his heart and hurting him beyond reason.

Leia reached out and placed her hand on her father’s shoulder, squeezing it affectionately. He looked like a lost waif sometimes, so needy and desperate for love and approval that her heart ached for him. The wave of overwhelming love that surged up from deep inside her was almost scary, and it was becoming more and more difficult to hold back.

Sometimes, she wondered why she felt the need to hold back her feelings for this man in the first place. And then, she remembered. It broke her heart to see so much pain reflected in Anakin’s face. And every time she touched him, as just now, and she felt everything he was feeling, the wall she had placed between them cracked a little bit more. It was a matter of time before it crumbled, she knew that. Both of them knew. But until the right time came for her to feel safe allowing that to happen, she had to learn to control her temper. There was no reason to hurt her father any more than she already did.

"I’m sorry, Father," she apologized, her voice soothing and gentle. "Next time I’m about to dump all this crap on you, I’ll count to ten first."

"No, you’re partially right," Anakin shook his head in a gesture of helplessness. "I didn’t know what to do." He looked away. "I feel as if they were pulling at me from a thousand different directions and I couldn’t decide what to do. And I know that doing nothing is just as bad as making a decision. Any decision."

Leia squeezed her father’s shoulder one more time and rolled her eyes, knowing the feeling only too well.

"I know how it is, believe me," she sighed dejectedly.

"My first reaction was preventing him from going. But then, I realized it’s useless to try and interfere with Destiny. Whatever is destined to be, it will be; it doesn’t matter how much we try to stop it." Anakin rubbed his eyes with his fingertips, tiredly. "Then, I thought that maybe I was overreacting. I felt that something would happen on Ansion, something potentially dangerous. But somehow, I knew that if Luke’s life had been in mortal danger, I’d have felt it. Luke is a Jedi Master now, and he’s got to earn everybody’s respect, independently of me. He’s got to be able to stand on his own."

"And you also want to protect him from your former identity. You don’t want his reputation to be soiled by associating with you in these assignments." Leia voiced what Anakin didn’t dare to say out loud.

Anakin’s eyes reddened and he nodded, looking away.

"But Father, you’re a Jedi Master too. Sooner or later..."

"I’m also the Vice-President of the Republic," Anakin reminded himself as much as his daughter. "I can’t cross my President’s wishes for personal reasons. I can’t question her decisions just because they’re in conflict with my personal wishes. I have a responsibility to billions of beings, too. I let them down once, and I won’t do it again."

Leia pursed her lips, understanding her father’s feelings and motives, but she also realized something else. Something that had to be buried deep inside her father’s psyche and he either didn’t dare to acknowledge out loud, or wasn’t consciously aware of. The fear of turning to the Dark Side again.

The fierceness of her feelings about that took her by surprise. For she knew, without the shadow of a doubt, that her father would never turn again. She didn’t know how she knew, she just did; with everything she was and everything she felt. And she knew Luke also knew. But Anakin had been thoroughly traumatized by his past, and he couldn’t see himself as objectively as his children and friends could.

Still, it was only a matter of time before her father saw it.

"I warned Luke as soon as he landed on Ansion’s capital." Anakin’s words shook Leia out of her musings. "I didn’t tell him everything because I didn’t want to worry him and distract him from his mission needlessly, in case it didn’t turn out to be that serious. But that faceless danger, along with... all those other considerations, is unsettling me greatly. If I can’t prevent it from happening, then I should be there with him!" he exclaimed in anguish.

"What I don’t understand..." Leia interrupted the downward spiral of her father’s thoughts quite intentionally, " why can’t Luke feel the danger. Logically, the person who’s going to face the situation should be the one to feel it."

"Those are the ways of the Force," Anakin explained, cryptically. Apparently, there were no answers to those grey areas.

"Don’t worry then, Father." Leia patted Anakin’s forearm reassuringly, "I have the feeling that you wouldn’t have been warned beforehand if you couldn’t prevent somehow what’s bound to happen." She grabbed a little olive from her father’s plate and put it in her mouth. "Hurry up with your breakfast." She stood up, pointing at his plate. "The meeting with the Senate was moved forward to 11:00 hours, remember?"

Anakin’s jaw hit the floor, amazed at his daughter’s self-confidence. Her total trust in him and his abilities to keep Luke safe, even from Coruscant, left him speechless.

"Oh... oh, right!" He stammered, unable to react in a more intelligent manner.


As usual, the daily meeting with the Senate was as boring and unnecessary as it had been for the last week. Anakin honestly saw no reason for his presence. He was only there to ‘swell the numbers.’ He couldn’t shake off the feeling that he shouldn’t be there, that this wasn’t the place he was meant to be. The past few meetings had been a mere formality, and he knew that if Mon Mothma had allowed him to accompany his son, no one would have noticed and the galaxy would still keep on turning.

Sitting beside him, Leia could feel the uneasiness coming out of her father in waves. He was squirming in his seat like a Rivan eel.

As soon as the meeting was adjourned, Anakin practically bolted from the Hall, whispering to his daughter he needed to meditate and please do not disturb him.


Anakin sat cross-legged on his bed, his favoured place for meditation, facing the early evening sunshine entering through the large window. He took a few deep breaths, closed his eyes and tried to slip into the first level of meditation. It happened so easily this time that he allowed himself a brief moment of surprise. For the past five days, he had been so restless he had been unable to go beyond this state, even after hours of trying it repeatedly.

His mind wandered aimlessly, and Anakin let it roam free, wherever it wished to go. He felt a sort of acceleration and then an abrupt halt. He opened his eyes and looked around him.

He wasn’t in his room anymore, but in a lush forest. In a daze, he started walking in no particular direction, as something vague nagged at his mind. He knew this place. He had been here before. But he couldn’t quite pinpoint...

All of a sudden, he heard something on his left. He turned his head and saw Han Solo and Chewbacca walking beside him.

What the...?

"Hey, kid, I hope today’s success won’t go to your head."

And then, he found himself answering!

"I’m not sure, Han. After all, you bet with Lando that they would ‘trounce me.’"

"You know it was nothing personal, Luke. But a bet is a bet."

And he answered again.

"In that case, you’ll be happy to make Lando a rich man now, my friend," he smiled mischievously.

A familiar laughter let him know Lando was walking on his right.

Awestruck, Anakin watched how they were arriving at a clearing where the Millennium Falcon waited for them, one hundred metres away.

It was then he recognized the landing platform. Ansion! He was on Ansion!

Suddenly, everything happened so fast he felt a fleeting sensation of vertigo and dizziness. As if through a stroboscope, his sight moved at lightning speed until it settled on a dug up spot on the ground, directly in their way. A tiny metallic wedge sticking out of the soil drew his attention.

And then, in a horrifying flash of insight, Anakin knew. A land-mine! His son was about to step on a land-mine!

His blood ran cold in his veins and a blood-curdling scream tore his throat, leaving it raw and bleeding.

"Luke, stop! No, my son!! NOOOOOOOOO!!!!"

Next, he heard a robotic beeping and an explosion, and everything went dark.

Anakin was thrown out of his vision and back to the reality of his quarters. He was sweating heavily, panting, trembling from head to foot; and his chest hurt so much he feared he was having a heart attack. His stomach churned with nausea and he covered his mouth with his hands, as the bitter flavour of bile filled his mouth. He dashed for the bathroom and vomited his guts out there, before passing out.


"He’s coming round," said a faraway voice. "Talk to him, let him hear the sound of your voice."

"Father, Father, can you hear me? It’s Leia, Father. Wake up, please. Open your eyes and look at me."

The urgency and worry in that kind voice were so compelling that Anakin obeyed it without question. He followed the caring concern in the soft accent and let it rouse him to consciousness.

His eyelids seemed to weigh a ton, but he forced himself to open them. A blurry spot greeted him and he winced. He tried harder, focusing on what appeared to be a rounded shape right in front of his line of vision. Little by little, the shape started rearranging until it became his daughter’s lovely face, who was looking down at him, her brown eyes filled with worry.

"Hello, Father," she smiled shakily. "Welcome back."

Wearily, Anakin looked around. He was lying down on a bed in the Temple’s infirmary. 2-1B was on his right and Leia stood beside the bed on his left, the warm touch of her hand on his wrist a soothing balm for his soul.

"Leia, what am I do-" Right then, his vision came back to him in a terrifying flash. "Luke! Oh, my goodness, Luke!! NO! No, my son!!" he cried out. His spirit was fleeing his body in sheer horror as his worst nightmare came alive for the second time in his life.

"Shhhh, it’s all right. Luke’s all right, Father." Leia’s hold on his wrist intensified reassuringly.

"W-what do you mean? How do you know?" Anakin asked, tears streaming heedlessly down his cheeks.

"Because I talked to him 30 minutes ago," Leia smiled tenderly. "Everybody’s all right and they’re already on their way to Coruscant."

Anakin blinked in total confusion. His heart was hammering so hard in his chest that his ribs almost hurt from the pounding. The room was spinning.

"30 minutes? H-how long I was out?" he demanded to know.

"Two hours," Leia replied.

"Two HOURS?!" Anakin exclaimed.

Leia nodded gravely.

"We couldn’t bring you back. Your heart stopped beating several times, and every time 2-1B resuscitated you, your heart stopped beating again. It was as if you were refusing to return." She bit her lips in anguish, and her cheeks lost the almost healthy colour they had a moment before. Her grip on his wrist became stronger. "I..." she looked down self-consciously, "I tried to enter your mind and tell you that Luke was alive. Only then you returned to us. It was hell, because you pushed me away all the time."

It took a while for Anakin to comprehend what was happening and what Leia was trying to tell him. But his heart and soul could only think of one thing.

"Is it true?" he practically moaned. "Is Luke all right?"

Leia’s eyes filled with tears and with something else Anakin was unable to fathom at the moment. She reached out and wiped away the wetness on his face.

"Check it out for yourself," she said in a trembling voice, touching his forehead with the tip of her forefinger.

Anakin met his daughter’s smiling eyes, and his heart jumped with both joy and dread. He didn’t dare to believe...

"I’d never lie to you." Leia got serious, reading her father’s fear. "Besides, I’d be incapable of holding on so nicely if something had happened to my brother." There was a slight rebuke in her words.

"I’m sorry. Please, forgive me," Anakin apologized, feeling infinitely tired all of a sudden. His mind was exhausted, like his body, and it took him some time to concentrate enough to achieve the barest hint of serenity. He closed his eyes and tentatively reached out with his mind. He was terrified of receiving no answer. He didn’t want to live if the purest, most beautiful part of him had gone for good.

‘Luke?’ he timidly sent.

As if it had been waiting for him to open that tiny window to the outside world, an infinite wave of love and affection swept him away in an all-encompassing tide.

‘Father! Oh, Father!’ came the sweetest mind-voice.

Tears rolled down Anakin’s face again. He almost blacked out for the second time that afternoon, only this time with happiness and indescribable joy.

‘Luke! My precious child! Are you all right, Son?’ he sobbed in absolute relief. His soul soared, he felt as if he could fly. His life had been handed back to him.

‘Yes, Father, I’m fine. We all are, thanks to you,’ Luke replied, sending a grateful mental caress.

‘Me?’ Anakin asked, uncomprehending.

‘Yes. I’ll explain everything to you when we return home. We’ll be there in six hours. Rest now, Father. You’ll see me beside you when you wake up.’

‘But...!’ Anakin was reluctant to break the contact. It had been too unthinkably horrendous to...

‘Sleep,’ Luke insisted, almost irresistibly. ‘I’m in one piece, I promise.’

‘All right,’ Anakin relented, his heart aching inside. ‘I’ll see you soon, my son.’

‘Soon, Father,’ came Luke’s loving promise before the contact was softly broken.

His mental equilibrium just barely regained, Anakin turned to his daughter.

"What happened?" he asked matter-of-factly.

Seeing that her father wouldn’t take a ‘later’ for an answer, Leia cast a swift look at the medical droid.

"His condition is stable now," 2-1B answered her unvoiced question.

"There was an explosion on the landing platform," she began, hesitatingly. "Someone buried..."

"A land-mine, I know," Anakin took a deep, painful breath. "Who? Why?" He inquired flatly, exuding authority.

"We don’t know, yet." Leia’s expression was rightfully troubled now. "Mon Mothma has already been informed and an emergency cabinet is meeting right now. Of course, I have been excused from attending," she smiled softly and reached out, holding her father’s hand. "I was so worried about you. I thought..." her voice cracked and she looked away.

Anakin’s hand settled above her own and squeezed it lovingly.

"I know, my daughter. I know." He respected Leia’s need for some distance, although her genuine caring and affection for him were unmistakable. Her physical and emotional emanations were incredibly powerful.

"I heard your screaming from the corridor and I found you unconscious in the bathroom," she confessed in a weak and vulnerable voice, looking back at him, her eyes fearful and frightened.

"It mustn’t have been a pretty sight," Anakin remembered his condition before passing out only too well. "I’m sorry you found me in that state, Leia."

The Princess shook her head, dismissing her father’s words as inconsequential. The depth of her feelings for that man had taken her by surprise, and she wasn’t prepared for it. It was... unsettling. To think she could have lost him! And Luke, and Han and all her friends! Her legs began trembling and she had to sit down on a stool beside her father’s bedside.

"Leia!" Anakin felt his daughter’s lifeforce wavering and he reached out to her.

"I’m... I’m all right now, Father," she assured him, recovering quickly.

"You should lie down as well, your highness," 2-1B intruded on the father-daughter conversation.

"No, I’m fine now," Leia insisted, stubbornly. "How is he, 2-1B?" she asked the droid.

"Stable and improving," he replied. "But I will inject him with a mild sedative. He needs to rest."

"No!" Anakin exclaimed. "I want to be awake when Luke arrives. I need to..."

"Father, it’ll be another six hours until Luke gets here. What’s the point of you lying here all that time, wide awake and fretting with impatience?" Leia tried to reason with her highly emotional parent. "Let us take care of you. You’ll be awake before Luke arrives."

Anakin acknowledged the wisdom in his daughter’s words. He yielded, albeit grudgingly.

"A very mild one," he demanded.

"You got it," Leia smiled, not bothering to hide her relief. "Proceed, 2-1B."

"Yes, your highness."

A few seconds later, his child’s face started becoming blurry and Anakin clasped her tiny hand tighter, in sudden irrational fear. He felt her returning the pressure tenderly.

"Can you-can you please... raise my bed... a little?" he requested; and then, he let go.


It was a very pleasant dream. He could hear voices in the background. He strained to listen to what they were saying and he realized they were talking about him. He could feel their concern, their sincere and heart-warming caring, and a sweet joy suffused his being.

"He’s waking up," said a kind female voice.

"I know," replied another voice, very close to him.

The unashamed love in the second voice tore at Anakin’s heartstrings and in a sudden rush of brutal, desperate need, he opened his eyes.

The bright light in the room made him close them again with a painful wince, and he immediately felt a soft but intense pressure on his hand.

"Shhhh, easy, Father. I’m here, with you."

"Luke," Anakin said the word like a prayer, like a gift from the heavens. He struggled to open his eyes again.

"Yes." The naked emotion in his child’s voice was overwhelming. The pressure on his hand intensified, and another hand settled softly on the right side of his face, the thumb caressing his cheek with heartbreaking gentleness.

Anakin’s eyes filled with tears as his son’s mind softly touched his own. He finally opened them a tiny slit and saw Luke’s smiling face, leaning over him. There was a gash on his forehead, a swollen bruise on his left cheekbone and several cuts and abrasions scattered all over his face. But none of them seemed to bother him, as he grinned down at him, love written all over his boyish face.

Unable to help himself, Anakin reached out and hugged the young man to him for all he was worth. This was all he needed, even more than all the smiles and reassuring words in the world. The warm and sweet presence of his son’s breathing and living body in his arms.

"Oh, Luke! Luke! Bless the Force you’re safe, my child! If something had happened to you...!" He buried his face in his son’s shoulder, trying to hide the tears streaming down his cheeks.

Luke returned the embrace, holding on to his father’s top just as desperately. Even though he had been unconscious at the time, somehow he felt his father had ‘died,’ and when he had awakened aboard the Falcon’s rudimentary sickbay, he had cried out for him, his mind trying to reach him frantically. Only when he had touched his father’s lifeforce again, had he calmed down enough to let his friends tend his wounds. It had been the second time he felt his father’s essence slipping through his fingers and for a moment, he thought he could die with pain and need. It had been devastating losing him on the second Death Star, but losing him now would be unbearable. He vowed to himself he would never know such a pain again. Never again!

The young man’s eyes misted too, but he knew he was among friends, who knew how very much his father meant to him. It was safe for him, for them, to release their emotions. It had been their worst nightmare come alive, and they needed this to convince themselves of the other’s cherished life in their arms.

They clung to one another for a very long time, literally feeding from the contact, unwilling to let go. Until, little by little, they lessened their hold and moved back, their eyes roaming each other. They smiled bashfully and reached out at the same time. Luke wiped away the tears on his father’s cheeks, and Anakin fingered the cuts and bruises on his son’s face with the utmost tenderness.

Suddenly, they seemed to notice they weren’t alone and they turned to their friends.

"Sorry!" they exclaimed in unison.

"What did I tell you?" Han told his friends. "Twins."

Anakin studied the others. Han’s face was also covered with cuts and bruises. He had a deep cut across his upper lip, a bruise on the right side of his forehead and several abrasions. Lando’s jaw was raw and swollen and his face scattered with cuts, and Chewie had no visible wounds, but his hair was singed in several places.

"What happened?" he asked, dead serious.

"There was a land-mine buried in he ground on the landing platform," Luke explained. "I was about to step on it, but I heard you in my mind yelling at me to stop, so I did." He took a deep, shaky breath and continued. "R2 detected it with his radar also, because he started beeping like crazy. Apparently, this land-mine also had a short-range sensor and I must have stopped within its range, so it exploded anyway."

Anakin shuddered inside at the mental image Luke sent him. He hissed and pressed his palm hard against his son’s cheek. Luke covered his father’s hand with his own, reassuring him.

The infirmary’s doors opened and C-3PO and a visibly damaged R2 entered the room.

"Excuse me," the golden droid announced, "the President sent me to ask after you. The emergency cabinet just finished its session, and Her Excellency wants to know if all of you will be ready to meet up with her tomorrow at 10:00 hours."

Everybody looked at each other and they nodded, in silent mutual agreement.

"We will be ready, 3PO," Leia answered for them.

"Also, Her Excellency asked me to tell you that she’ll come down to visit you all shortly," 3PO said, placing his hand on R2’s dome protectively.

Anakin looked down at himself and made a grimace.

"I’d like to wash up and change first. Is it all right for me to return to my quarters?" he asked 2-1B.

"I would advise you to be careful for a couple days, sir," the medical droid replied. "Your system suffered a severe trauma and it will take a few days for it to recover. But if you want to rest in your quarters instead of the infirmary, I have no objection."

"Deal!" Anakin practically jumped out of the small bunk. A fleeting dizziness made him freeze when he rose to his feet, but it passed quickly. He felt Luke’s arm wrapping itself around his waist, steadying him, and he squeezed his child’s shoulder reassuringly.

A long session of meditation was in order now. There were a lot of things to sort out inside his head. Issues he had been avoiding and putting off for months, that were screaming at him to make a decision once and for all. His indecisiveness had been about to cost his son’s life today, and he would never forgive himself. Tonight, those issues would have an answer, for better or worse.

"Well!" Leia began, making an effort to sound cheerful, snuggling up to her beloved’s body, desperately needing Han’s touch. "I suggest we all wash up, change our clothes and meet at Father’s quarters, to wait for Mon Mothma."

"Good idea, honey," Han agreed, holding her close and nuzzling her beautiful hair in a heartbreaking needful gesture. It had been a terrible day. The first time since the birth of the New Republic they had faced their own mortality again, after years of war against the Empire. They had gotten used to the safety Peace seemed to promise, and today, they had been reminded brutally of the work there still was to be done. But right now, he just needed to bask in his beloved and his friends’ soothing presence, and celebrate life.

Everybody headed for the door, but Anakin’s soft voice stopped them in their tracks.

"Han, Lando, Chewie," he called.

The three in question turned about. Curiously, all of them had remorseful expressions on their faces.

Anakin approached them with a kind smile on his face.

"I want to thank you for protecting and taking care of Luke."

The three looked at each other, as if they couldn’t believe what they were hearing.

"W-what are you talking about?" Han stuttered, in astonishment. "We failed miserably in..."

"You protected my son." Anakin insisted. "You couldn’t prevent what was destined to happen, but you were there beside him when it happened; you got hurt trying to protect him, and I’ll be forever in your debt. I thank the Force you’re all safe." He reached out and placed his hand on Han’s shoulder, squeezing it gratefully. "I’m so happy Luke’s got such good friends. I am so blessed to have you all in my life!" he said from the bottom of his heart. He reached out his other hand and squeezed Lando’s shoulder. When the man moaned and flinched, Anakin realized he was hurt there too, so he moved his hand away with an apologetic face. Lando smiled and nodded, indicating it was all right. Then, Anakin scratched the Wookie’s fur, already expecting what happened next. Chewie ruffled his hair thoroughly with his big paw.

As one, the deeply moved group left the infirmary, with a lot of bruises to heal and an extremely disturbing unknown to face.


It was 08:30 hours and Anakin was watching over his son’s sleep. He had been unable to separate from his child’s side all evening, and when it was time to retire for the night, he had procrastinated as much as possible in Luke’s quarters.

Understanding the reason behind his father’s reluctance to leave, and inwardly craving for his nearness, the young man took out a blanket from his closet and the second pillow from his bed, and put them on the couch. Then, he turned about, a shy smile on his face, his invitation more than obvious.

As he rejoiced in his son’s peaceful sleep, the sight of his noble, boyish features scattered with cuts and bruises, made Anakin feel such a deep, searing pain that he had to sit down on his child’s bed. Luckily, Luke didn’t awake.

It wasn’t the first time he had felt like this. As a matter of fact, he was thoroughly familiar with the feeling since he had become a father. It was a constant pain in his chest that had many names: worry, uncertainty, need to protect, downright fear... but all those separate feelings coalesced in one single word. Love. The most immense and sublime feeling in the Universe.

It was a pain he knew would accompany him for as long as he lived; but he wouldn’t change it for anything, for it gave meaning to his existence. It was the feeling that defined him as a sentient being. He was a father. A Father. He was meant to protect his children, to provide for them, to love them beyond reason and sanity; to die for them happily and with a smile of contentment on his face.

As a father, he lived in a perpetual state of alarm and trepidation. A parent never knew peace, for the world out there was never safe enough and good enough for their children. And unfortunately for them, the kind of life they led, didn’t make it any easier.

Major conflict there, no question about it. He wanted his children safe, but he couldn’t interfere with their destinies. They had chosen that path, it was what they were meant to be. He could only pray and shield them from any harm as best he could, knowing it would not always be possible.

He bit his lower lip at the notion of either of his children getting seriously hurt, or worse. He shook his head sharply, casting away the unthinkable thought. All parents lived with those fears. He was no different.

He could learn to live with those fears, but that didn’t mean he had to accept it. He never would. And the sight of it before him now was too painful to bear.

Anakin reached out a suddenly trembling hand and cradled Luke’s cheek in it. He was instantly drawn to the swollen bruise on the left cheekbone, and he touched it with his fingertips. It was slightly hot and throbbed a little. He winced.

Remembering how his child had healed his body on the Death Star, Anakin closed his eyes and concentrated hard. His other hand blindly parted Luke’s fringe, and he rested his palm on the warm forehead, covering the deep gash there. He summoned the Force, trying to detach himself as much as possible, trying to coax the torn, raw tissues into regenerating.

A couple minutes passed and nothing happened. Frustrated, Anakin tried it with every single technique he remembered, plus others he was inventing as he went along; but none of them worked.

"Damn!" he cussed in sheer helplessness, taking a break to catch his breath.

"Annoying, isn’t it?" came Luke’s soft voice, making him jump and open his eyes like saucers.

"I tried it aboard the Falcon, but it didn’t work," Luke went on, grabbing his father’s hand from his forehead and squeezing it fondly. "Apparently, my healing gift doesn’t work on me."

Anakin watched his son silently, inwardly cursing his inability to heal even those minor wounds.

"I considered healing Han, Lando and Chewie, but... I chickened out. I guess..." Luke trailed off.

"You were afraid that your healing gift would put them off," Anakin finished for him.

The young man looked away and nodded.

Anakin sighed.

"I see we still have some things to set straight inside this nut of yours, my boy," Anakin chided affectionately, knocking softly on his son’s head.

The unexpected slang took Luke by surprise and he laughed out loud, despite himself.

"Your friends’ love for you is not subject to your abilities, never mind how awesome they are. They love you for who you are, not because of the things you can do. I think you’re selling them short, even after all the years you’ve known them. Their jaws’d have dropped in astonishment, certainly, but a moment later, they’d have thanked you for healing them and that would have been the end of it. Deep down, you know it."

Luke nodded, acknowledging the truth in his father’s words.

"We talked about this the other day after the fork incident. But I feel this issue runs deeper." Trusting his instinct, Anakin edged closer to his son. "Why are you so reluctant to use the Force around your friends, even your sister? Why do you feel the need to control your feelings and emotions so much?" Tentatively, he dared to voice the question. "Is it because of what happened between us on the Death Star? Are you afraid of falling, should you allow yourself the tiniest bit of anger or any negative feeling?"

Luke’s eyes flashed with something akin to fear, shame and something else Anakin was unable to identify. He sat up on his bed, crossed his legs and reached out one hand. Anakin immediately took it between both of his, answering the silent plea.

"Partly," Luke admitted, staring at their joined hands as if they held the mysteries of the universe. "But also because of... other issues."

"What issues?" Anakin pressed gently.

Luke bit his lower lip and remained silent. Anakin felt this was the core of his son’s fears he was about to uncover.

Finally, Luke took the plunge, not meeting his father’s eyes.

"Since I can remember, I was the kind of kid who was sort of the son of Chaos, if you know what I mean. When I got excited about something, I was dangerous. I was so desperate to please that I always made a mess. And the harder I tried the worse things turned out to be. On one occasion, I burned out the electric installation of the farm, while trying to fix the water piping. It took three days for Uncle Owen to repair the damage I caused. I still don’t know how I did it."

Anakin smiled fondly, knowing only too well how his child felt. He had been a bit clumsy as a teenager as well, trying to please Obi-Wan, Master Yoda and all the other Masters. The difference between him and his son was that Obi-Wan and the others had exhibited an amazing amount of patience and understanding, every time his attempts to please resulted in chaos and mayhem. Thankfully, as he grew up and gained self-confidence, he also grew out of that phase. Mostly.

But the pain in his son’s eyes told a whole different story. He squeezed the smaller hand in his, offering all his support.

A self-deprecating expression crossed Luke’s features momentarily, before he continued.

"I was a bit of a whine, too. But looking back now, I think it was because I wanted to draw people’s attention. I wanted them to look at me, to pay attention to me and... well, pamper me."

Anakin smiled, barely holding back the impulse to do just that.

"I wanted them to be proud of me. I wanted them to see how hard I tried, to encourage me and tell me they were there for me if I failed. That I wasn’t alone." He closed his eyes, a searing expression of pain coming over him. "And I always felt alone... deep inside.. so utterly alone..." he confessed, his eyes filling with tears at the remembrance.

Anakin felt as if a thin dagger sliced through his heart at the raw pain in his child’s voice.

"Owen wasn’t too kind to you, was he?" he stated, a wave of brutal resentment rising in his chest.

Luke tilted his head to one side and pursed his lips, in a bitter gesture of melancholy.

"He wasn’t my father," he summed it up perfectly. "His attitude to me puzzled me more often than not. I knew he cared about me. I could feel it. But he held back a lot in front of me." He frowned, as if trying to understand even now. "Sometimes, I could see... apprehension in his eyes when he looked at me. I didn’t understand why. There was no one on the planet as simple as me, I always seemed to fall short of his expectations, and still, he feared me?" He shook his head. "He didn’t behave like that towards Aunt Beru, his friends or anybody else. Just me." He took a deep breath. "Now I know why, but back then, it hurt me. And the harder I tried to please him, the harder I failed. Until I quit trying, and resigned myself to the fact that I’d never be whatever he wanted me to be."

Anakin closed his eyes and cursed himself once more, for being the cause of his child’s unhappy childhood.

"Last week, when I was meditating," Luke went on suddenly, "I remembered something that happened when I was almost five years old and I had forgotten all these years." He swallowed hard and proceeded, his voice unusually low. "It was Uncle Owen’s birthday and a few days earlier, quite by chance, I had found out I could levitate things. So I practised alone in my room and prepared a surprise for him. When we were in the kitchen, I told them to pay attention because I was going to do a trick. I levitated the cutlery and started cutting up the cake, serving it on plates, filling cups and such. Out of the blue, Uncle Owen began crying out to me to stop it. He scared me so much that I dropped all the objects at once, and the knife slashed through Aunt Beru’s arm." He made a pause, hissing softly. His eyes filled with tears. "The moment he saw the blood on Aunt Beru’s arm, he lost it. He grabbed my arm and slapped my face time and again, telling me to never ever do that again, because it was evil, and I was evil for doing it. That I was a ‘little monster’ because I had hurt aunt Beru with ‘those powers from hell.’" Luke began trembling helplessly, deep in the grip of that terrible memory.

Anakin inched closer and wrapped an arm around his child’s hunched shoulders.

"I thought he was going to kill me. I had never seen him like that. And thank heavens, that was the first and last time he did such a thing. Aunt Beru cried out to him to stop hitting me, that I was only a little boy. Then, Uncle Owen realized what he was doing and released me. I ran to my room and hid under my bed." He closed his eyes and the tears fell at last. "I wanted to die. I thought I shouldn’t have been born, that no one really wanted me. That I was bad."

Tears streamed down Anakin’s cheeks, and he leaned his forehead on his son’s, sharing his pain, wishing to take it upon his soul.

Soaking up his father’s all-encompassing love, starved for it, Luke found the strength to finish his story.

"I don’t know how long I was hiding there." He bit his lower lip nervously. "Some time later, my door opened and Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru came in. They saw me under my bed and talked me into coming out. Uncle Owen looked awful. He begged me to get out of there. He told me he got scared when he saw me doing that, and that it had been his fault that Aunt Beru got hurt, because he startled me into dropping the cutlery. I felt he was truly sorry and he needed my forgiveness, so I came out and they hugged me. Uncle Owen apologized over and over, swearing he would never hit me again, and asked me to please never levitate things again, because people could think I was weird and they could give me the cold shoulder for it." He made a sarcastic face. "Many kids already called me weird and gave me the cold shoulder when we played, so I figured Uncle Owen was right. I never did it again and the whole thing was forgotten." He let out a trembling sigh. "I guess that besides being too small to remember, I got so traumatized by that event that I blocked it completely from my memory."

"Until that flying fork pricked my finger," Anakin said, understanding now only too well.

Luke nodded and sniffled, wiping away the tears on his face with firm determination.

"Every time I let my hair down, someone gets hurt," he affirmed.

"That’s not true and you know it," Anakin cut him short. "Accidents happen; but your feelings, your awesome capacity to love and forgive, are what makes you the noblest, kindest, most generous and honourable being I’ve ever known. Your feelings saved me. I owe you my life, I owe you my very soul," he softly kissed Luke’s temple, so moved he could hardly speak. But he forced himself to go on. "I can’t change what happened back then, and I’ll curse myself forever for not being there for you when you needed me the most." He swallowed the lump in his throat with great difficulty. "You must not let those past hang-ups hold you back. I know that in time, you’ll get over them." He squeezed his child’s shoulder. "If you trust your instincts, your inner voice, you’ll never be wrong. Even if you fail."

Luke didn’t move, and remained silent.

Anakin reached out and turned Luke’s face, forcing him to meet his eyes.

"Don’t hold back, my son, because it’s the restraint of emotions that is wrong. Sooner or later, they blow up, and usually in the most unhealthy way. I’m the living example of that." He sighed out loud. "It’s good, and desirable, to control our ugly feelings, our ‘dark side,’ and behave like civilized beings; but such a brutal restraint is unnatural." His gaze intensified. "You’re still very young, you’re still growing, leaving your childhood and teenage flaws behind. There’s no trace in you of the whiny person you claimed to be. You’re strong and resilient."

Luke bit his lips and looked up at his father, his eyes wide open, clinging to every word he said.

"All of us need to vent our feelings once in a while, and although it’s not a pretty sight, it is good for our emotional health. It’s normal to be angered by the injustices of life, it’s human to hate evil in any form. Anger and hatred lead to the Dark Side only if we allow them to corrupt our morals and rule our lives. Love and hate create a balance inside us, but we make the decision to let either Light or Darkness guide us."

Luke looked aside, opening his eyes to a whole new way of facing his greatest fears he hadn’t considered.

"You’re so afraid of getting angry and growing to hate something or someone, because you think that it will automatically lead you to the Dark Side, as it almost did on the Death Star." Anakin could see right through his son’s soul, and smiled at him. "But I know better. You could never turn, Luke. Then or now. And you know why?"

Luke shook his head, holding his breath.

"Because you’ve never hated anyone. You hate evil in people, you hate their actions, their opinions, their morals. But not them as sentient beings. You respect life too much to take it unremorsefully. It doesn’t matter how angry you can get or how much hatred you come to feel. You will never turn because love is what you value the most, not material things. You don’t crave power, you harbour no feelings of dominating others and bending them to your views, you don’t presume to know what’s best for them. You only aspire to love and be loved, to live and let live." Anakin shrugged apologetically. "I’m sorry, but you’re just not good Dark Side stuff, Son. You never were and never will be."

They laughed softly at that.

"And you did crave those things?" Luke asked, getting serious. He was honestly curious to know what was the big difference between them, that had meant his father’s downfall in the end.

Anakin looked up regretfully, trying to find a way to explain himself.

"Not at first. But I was very disappointed with the Old Republic. It didn’t work anymore. Any system that was so self-complacent that it couldn’t see the dangers that were so plain to see, wasn’t a good system anymore. Just because something has worked for centuries doesn’t mean it has to work forever. Peoples change, and the system has got to change too, adapt itself to the beings it is supposed to protect and serve, not the opposite. Also..." he looked down, in deep shame, "...I was so arrogant that I thought I knew what was best for people. I thought beings were too dumb to know what was good for them. They only cared about their little, insignificant lives, and couldn’t see the bigger picture. I could. We needed someone wise to make the decisions and watch for our rights and best interests."

"And you thought that man was Palpatine," Luke smiled compassionately.

Anakin nodded.

"The Clone Wars broke something inside me. Years of carnage and massive killing, of being misunderstood by my fellow Jedi, and above all, the pressure of knowing I had committed the ‘crime’ of getting married to your mother when Jedi weren’t supposed to feel any kind of attachment, were taking their toll. I was caught up in a spiral of suspicions, insanity and violence that Palpatine made sure to stir up inside me. I became paranoid, I thought they were condemning me, I was certain they were conspiring behind my back. I got angry at Padmé, too. I... I just lost it." He squeezed his eyes shut, shame and guilt eating away at his soul. He shook his head, his expresion conveying a scathing self-contempt. "If beings were so stupid not to see what was best for them, then they should be forced to see it and take it, whether they liked it or not. They ceased to be people in my eyes. Just dumb creatures who couldn’t put two and two together. Years of pent up hostility, misunderstandings, unfair rules and emotional repression blew up at last, and turned me into a monster. Not even your mother’s love could save me then." He bent his head. "I would make my own destiny, I would be the judge of what was best for people, not the other way round. And all that accumulated anger, hatred and need to control lasted for over 20 years," he finished his tale with an air of hopeless finality.

There was a long silence after Anakin’s speech. Luke slowly digested what his father had just poured out and he nodded to himself, understanding Anakin’s feelings better than he thought possible.

"That is the main difference between you and me, Luke," Anakin suddenly said, in a soft, self-deprecating voice. "You can’t hate people. I can. I hated people instead of my own faults, instead of all the ugliness and darkness in me. I was too self-centred to put the blame on me."

"I disagree, Father," Luke immediately rose to his defence. "You were given no choice in the rules that were imposed on you, and you knew there was an alternative, that it could be possible. But you weren’t allowed to question anything. And so, you were inexorably pushed to your breaking point. Sure, you had faults and flaws, like all of us do. But those faults shouldn’t have led you to the Dark Side. If that was so, half the Jedi would have turned throughout their History." He made a sad face. "How’s that old saying: ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions?’"

Anakin smiled ironically and patted the back of his son’s hand.

"Yes, something like that." He took a deep breath, wanting – needing - that subject closed for the present. "It took me decades, but I learned my lessons." He closed his eyes, as the weight of his crimes fell on him in a killing blow. "No learning process is worth a single life, and mine took millions."

Luke held his father’s hands now.

"As you wisely told me days ago, we learn more from our mistakes than from our achievements. Pain, guilt and regret are the best teachers." He reached out and held his father’s cheek in his palm. "I am here, Father. I am here for you, forever."

Anakin’s chin started trembling and he bit his lower lip.

"You are the wisest man I have ever known and the best Jedi Master I, or anyone, could possibly have. From the places you ventured into, places that no one had ever visited before, you uncovered certain truths that no other Master would have ever unveiled. From your own personal experience, you can teach me now that all feelings are valuable because we can learn from them. Even from the negative ones I fear like the Sullustian plague." Luke smiled widely, as all those truths blossomed inside him. "You have taught me that in holding back my emotions, I’m forcing a control on an important part of me I shouldn’t restrain, or it could backfire in the long run." He wiped away the tears that started to roll down his father’s face. "I feel that your teachings will save millions of lives in the future."

Anakin let out a strange sound, halfway between a moan and a sob.

"Thank you, Son. You know how to soothe my soul." He pressed the smaller hand to his cheek. "You are the Light in my life. Bless you, my child."

"No, Father," Luke shook his head, moved down to his very core. "Bless you."

Father and son stared at each other, finding an immeasurable comfort in their wordless sharing.

"Time’s running short," Anakin finally said. "The meeting’s in an hour, so we should get ready."

"Yes," Luke nodded, wishing he could help his father to carry the burden of his past. Sometimes, he wondered how could Anakin bear it and still remain sane.

He rose to his feet and searched his closet, looking for the appropriate clothes to wear for the meeting.

Anakin was about to leave the room when Luke suddenly turned about and grabbed his arm, stopping him in his tracks.

"You will never turn again, Father, so fear not."

Anakin’s eyes bulged, taken aback by his child’s insight. He had been very careful to hide his deepest, most rooted fear from his offspring and friends, or so he thought. But it was obvious he had failed all the way through.

"You’ve known both sides intimately, and your mind and your heart chose to love instead of hate. You know love is the only way."

"In a way, love led me to the Dark Side," Anakin reminded himself as much as his son, with infinite regret and more than a hint of self-contempt.

"Because your love was somehow betrayed by those who should have cherished and nurtured it inside you, not crushed or forbidden it," Luke reasoned. "You were allowed to care, but not become too personally involved. And there’s a contradiction in terms in that. Any caring is a personal thing. It is impossible to care and detach yourself from that caring at the same time. Love led you to the Dark Side because you were forbidden the physical and emotional expressions of your love. Repression is a mutilation of the spirit’s wings, and as you said, those feelings twisted and rotted inside you; and along with your growing resentment, and your guilt feelings for knowing you were doing something strongly disapproved by those you admired and aspired to imitate, turned you into a time bomb. It was just a matter of time before you exploded."

"Oh, Force!" Anakin groaned. He never thought he would ever be understood to such a deep level. He had never been given a more precious gift. And this angel he had sired, his own son...

"You are free to love and be loved now, Father." Luke’s eyes filled with tears. "You are free to grow and become that which you were meant to be all along. There is no need to hold back or be afraid, not anymore. You can start training a new generation of Jedi who will be given the best of both times. You cannot fail now."

"Luke..." Anakin whispered, feeling as if the burden of a lifetime was being lifted from his shoulders.

"But it’s more than that, Father." Luke went on, unwilling to stop, "We all know you’ll never turn again. And you know why? Because you can’t. You’re stuck with our love; your soul is one with the Light. Goodness is in you, it always was, even in your darkest times. Darkness is not strong enough to stand up against your integrity and your love. You are brave and Darkness is cowardly. It took advantage of you when you felt alone and bereft, betrayed by everyone. It fed you with the only things left that could fill the emptiness inside you. It gave you a purpose, something to hold on to when everything else had deserted you and you had nothing else to believe in. But you know better now." Luke smiled and squeezed his father’s arm lovingly. "I read a poem once. It said that Evil will never touch again those who have known it intimately and managed to free themselves from it. Somehow, they emerge purified by the battle against it, and they will be free forever."

Tears fell down Anakin’s face as his child cleansed his soul with his healing love and wisdom. He had never known such peace and total validation of who he was and who he was meant to be.

Eerily, it connected perfectly with all the things he had seen and felt during his meditation the previous night in that room, lulled and cradled by the sound of his son’s breathing. Now he knew he would do the right thing, it didn’t matter how hard it was or how much authority and firmness he had to display.

Casting his son a look and a smile that felt to the young man like a baby’s first laugh, Anakin left the room.


The usual bunch was gathered together at their table, enjoying a hurried breakfast, prior to the meeting with their President.

"Hey, with all this mess we didn’t get to tell you the trick Luke pulled back on Ansion," Han mumbled in between mouthfuls.

"Han, you promised!" Luke immediately jumped, looking daggers at his friend.

"That was before I lost my bet. Now this is my little revenge, kid," Han replied, unflappable. "Besides, I don’t think that hiding the truth is a proper thing for a Jedi to do."

"You’d be surprised at all the things proper for a Jedi to do," the young man threatened.

Han ignored him completely and continued.

"You should have seen him at first. All tall - so to speak - and dignified, addressing Ansion’s politicians, or should I say schoolchildren? Anyway, he was all diplomacy and good manners the first couple days. It seemed the whole thing was beginning to work out, until the leaders of the two main opposite parties started fighting each other over some arable lands that were going to end up in no man’s land. Both families claimed to have the rights back to a million generations." He made a funny gesture with his face. "So, there we are, all of us, the whole government included, watching these two guys yelling at each other over a piece of land. It turned out that ‘the border dispute’ was a personal litigation between the two families, and they had involved the Republic and the only available Jedi to arbitrate in an irrelevant personal affair."

"Oh, dear!" Leia shook her head and hid her face in the palm of her hand, just imagining the scene.

Anakin listened to Han’s tale intently, somehow feeling that something outrageous was coming, knowing Luke. It didn’t surprise him, though. In certain aspects of their personalities, Luke and he truly were the twins Solo accused them of being.

"The two guys had been tearing each other apart verbally for 15 minutes when, Mr. Jedi here, stands up and ceremoniously leaves the Hall without saying a word. Of course," Han pointed at Lando, Chewie and himself, "we hurried to follow him as formally as possible. We returned to our quarters and Luke instructed us to not come out until they came back looking for us. Something they did half an hour later. Well, through the commlink, he claimed to have a terrible headache, so he wasn’t to be disturbed until they learned to speak quietly."

Leia spluttered her juice all over her plate.

"The next morning," Han went on, "he woke up early and went to take a stroll, happening to return from the lands in question, two mako fruits in hand. When we were politely invited to return to the negotiations, with the promise of a more civilized talk, he agreed, just as civilly. Once back in the Hall, all serious and composed, he took out the two mako fruits and started eating one deliberately. When he finished eating it and he was licking his fingers, and I mean licking his fingers, and everybody was looking at him, he said, more or less," Han sat up straight in his chair and did his best to imitate his young friend’s voice and attitude. "You know? These mako fruits are really delicious and after eating one, I can understand why you two are at each other’s throats, trying to keep that blasted land. But you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to recommend to the President to requisition the land. This fruit is too good to not be shared with the rest of the galaxy. As compensation, you’ll receive the equivalent in money of the best possible harvest, and also, a monthly shipment of Gungan onions, free of charge, until you grow up."

This time, Anakin choked on his breakfast and Lando slapped his back until he started breathing normally again.

"Next, he stood up and threw this final pearl: ‘I pity your poor citizens, having to cope with such childish politicians.’ And then, he turned about and left the Hall again, munching on the second fruit, in no hurry whatsoever." Han made a short pause. "I tell you, we couldn’t walk fast enough to get out of there."

The silence stretched longer than usual, and Luke realized everybody was looking at him.

"Hey, what’s the matter?" He put out his hands, palms up, shrugging innocently. "I meditated all night and I knew the Force was with me. I did what I had to do." Everybody could see the twinkle in his eyes.

"And judging from the results, you most certainly did," Anakin managed to utter, his mouth still wide open.

"Sure he did!" Han exclaimed. "We had no news from them until 24 hours later. In the meantime, he refused to contact here and tell Mon Mothma he had messed up the assignment."

"And that’s when you made the bet." Leia could see it all as clearly as if she had been there.

"Yeah," Han nodded, clearly annoyed. "So, the morning after, we were once again politely invited to a final meeting. You should have seen him when he showed up, wearing those elegant robes! He outclassed all those petty simpletons and put them in place with only his clothes!" Han’s admiration for Luke was taking over his tale now, but the former pirate didn’t seem to notice, and if he did, he didn’t mind showing it. "For the first time, an older man, who had remained mostly quiet all the previous meetings, stood up and made a short speech. He admitted they had no right to involve the Republic in a personal dispute. He acknowledged they had made a mistake that could disgrace them in the eyes of the whole galaxy, but they deserved it, and if it was really our intention to requisition the land, we were entitled to do it."

"Well, at least there was one grown-up there. That’s a relief!" Anakin commented.

"So, what did you do?" Leia asked Luke.

"The only logical thing I could think of: I told them to split the land in two halves, as any five-year old would have suggested," the young man replied.

"And he’s quoting himself verbatim," Lando pointed out.

"I also told them that the requisition threat was still in the air, just in case there were any more fights in the schoolyard."

Anakin covered his mouth with one hand, trying to hide his amusement. It was clear that Luke had inherited many things from him. Thank heavens, he hadn’t inherited his quicksilver temper, that had gotten him into more troubles than he could think about. He had mocked and insulted Ansion’s goverment with such class and fine irony that no one had been able to refute him. He had somehow managed to make his irony and his temper work in his favour. If this was an example of what Luke could do as a mediator, then he had the brightest future ahead of him. Sure, he hadn’t been asked to make any life and death decision, but silly missions like this put a mediator’s capacities to the test, and quite often showed the stuff they were made of.

The older man shook his head, remembering what he had been about to do when he visited the planet with Obi-Wan, 25 years ago. Thank heavens, Obi-Wan had been able to restrain him, and prevented him from voicing his opinion, in a far less refined fashion than his child had shown. Still, his attitude and killer looks left pretty clear his opinion of Ansion’s government.

"So," Han took over his tale, "the spokesman, speaking in the name of the government, promised to consider Luke’s suggestion and apologized for summoning him over such an irrelevant matter, and the meeting was adjourned."

There was a short silence that was broken by Lando, who absently massaged his left shoulder, trying to alleviate the soreness and pain there. The shockwaves of the explosion had thrown them all backwards, and he had landed on his shoulder in a very bad position.

"I’m curious, though," he said. "What did that old man tell you when we were leaving?"

Luke smiled impishly, with a blending of pride and mischievousness, as he cast his father a quick look out of the corner of his eyes.

"He told me several things," he replied. "That he was impressed by the way I had handled such a slippery and embarrassing situation for all the parties involved. That he considered I was very mature for my age. He also apologized for the way some of them had looked down on me, jugding me only by my youth." For a second, it seemed as if he was going to say something else, but he closed his mouth and a soft flush covered his cheeks.

"And?" Leia prompted.

"Well," the blush became even more noticeable. "He also said that it had been very refreshing for him to see the resemblance between father and son."

Everybody’s eyes bulged in surprise.

"He remembered *me*?" Anakin was too astonished for words.

"Vividly," Luke replied. "He said that he considered it a shame that Obi-Wan didn’t allow you to speak your heart out 25 years ago. He was certain that your words would have snapped more than one out of their ‘intellectual stupor’. But it was worth waiting so many years to see his colleagues ‘beaten hollow’."

They burst out laughing at that.

"Oh, my!" Anakin exclaimed, wiping his eyes. "Let’s hope that the seed you planted there will come to fruition one day."

"And the sooner the better for all of us," Han crowned, going cross-eyed expressively and making his friends laugh again.

"That’s my boy," Leia applauded her beloved, planting a smooch on Han’s lips.

Han moaned in pain and flinched, the cut on his upper lip reminding him of the wounds that still were to heal.

Leia made an apologetic face and squeezed Han’s hand comfortingly. He caressed her cheek lovingly, telling her it was okay and conveying his regret that they had to limit their displays of affection for a while.

Immediately, Luke turned his head and looked at his father, asking him a question with his eyes. Anakin nodded and gave his child an encouraging smile.

Taking a deep breath and trying to control his sudden nervousness, Luke reached out his left hand and placed it on Lando’s injured shoulder very gently, aware of its soreness. He closed his eyes and concentrated.

Lando watched Luke’s unexpected gesture curiously, but let him be, not knowing what was the young man up to. A few seconds later, he made a strange face and looked at his friend suspiciously.

"What the...?" he asked. He felt a funny tingling in his shoulder that could only be of Luke’s doing.

Some time later, Luke opened his eyes and moved his hand away.

"How’re you feeling?" he asked, in trepidation.

Lando brought his hand up to his shoulder and gingerly squeezed all over the formerly aching and bruised area. Nothing. There was no pain at all. He started rotating the articulation back and forth. Nothing!

"It doesn’t hurt anymore!" he said. "What did you do?"

Luke smiled, happy that it had worked.

"It seems I didn’t lose my ‘touch’, after all." There was an intentional double meaning in his joke that only Anakin got. It still worried him that his friends might look at him differently because of something so big, but there was no turning back now. He turned his eyes to Han, a hint of apprehension in his blue eyes. "Han, do you want me to try?" he asked softly.

"Uh, oh, er... Sure!" Han babbled.

Luke rose to his feet and walked up to the other side of the table, sitting down beside his friend. He reached out both hands, placing one of them softly on the deep cut on his upper lip and the other on the bruise on the right side of his forehead. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

The warm tingling took Han completely by surprise and he jerked back a little. But he quickly pulled himself together.

A little while later, Luke blinked his eyes open and put down his hands.

There was a collective gasp when Han’s face emerged completely healed from both wounds. Not even a little scar remained. It was as if the wounds had never existed.

"L-Luke!" Leia exclaimed, more moved than words could express. "How do you do that?"

"I don’t know," the young man replied, looking down at his hands as if he was seeing them for the very first time. "I just do, through the Force. I didn’t know I could do it until I healed Father on the Death Star."

"The healing gift is extremely rare," Anakin explained, seeking to distract his friends’ attention away from Luke. "It’s shrouded in the veil of legend. Every Jedi is supposed to have a special gift, something they truly excel in, but very few ever find it."

"And what’s your gift?" Lando anticipated everyone with his question.

"I still don’t know," Anakin answered. "Just like Luke, I’m equally good at all the gifts Jedi were usually known for: telepathy, telekinesis, empathy, premonition... but nothing ‘out of the ordinary’, so to speak."

"And how did you find out you could heal Father?" Leia asked her brother, "It is my guess that he could have gone on living with his suit and mask for the rest of his life, as he had been doing all these years. What inspired you to try and heal him, if you didn’t know you could do it?" She was honestly curious to know.

Luke paled visibly, and his eyes became elusive. The time of truth had come and he didn’t know what to do.

"Palpatine’s counter-attack damaged my respirator beyond repair," Anakin butted in, before their friends started wondering about Luke’s weird reaction. "I was a dead man already. It was sheer despair that made Luke try it."

Luke couldn’t help a short, dry laugh at his father’s clever choice of words. Only the two of them knew he was speaking literally.

But a part of him rebelled and was sickened by the fact that his father was essentially lying. For him, to protect him. And it felt wrong. It was wrong. He couldn’t let his father lie for him, even if it was out of love.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trusting the Force to guide him through this. In a rush of inspiration and insight, he stopped his father’s misleading explanation.

"No, Father. No more lies. Never again," he let out with surprising authority and in an unaccustomed deep voice.

"Luke..." Anakin was well aware of his son’s fear. He felt Luke wasn’t ready yet to make such an awesome revelation, and he didn’t want him to feel forced to disclose such a personal bit of information, that could change his friends’ perception of him forever.

"No. It is time. I can feel it. It’s all right." Luke grasped Anakin’s hand on the table and squeezed it reassuringly. He took another deep breath and braved his friends’ puzzled expressions. "You see, Father wasn’t lying when he said he was ‘a dead man already.’ He meant it literally."

It took a while for his words to sink in.

"You mean... He was already dead? Really dead?" Han asked, his eyes almost popping out of their sockets.

Luke nodded gravely.

"He died on me in the hangar. And there was nothing I could do." His face twisted in pain and despair. The same pain and despair that had consumed him back then. "I broke down. I had craved for my father all my life, and I lost him right after getting him back. I felt so empty, so alone that I couldn’t stand it." His eyes misted helplessly. "I just wanted my father back!" he exclaimed, for a moment reliving those terrible memories. "I began daydreaming, imagining I could heal him, so we could be free to get to know each other and have a bright future together. And suddenly..." he closed his eyes and his features illuminated, "...I felt his hand caressing my head. I looked up and..."

"...And there he was, alive and healthy," Leia finished for him, swallowing hard, moved to her very core by her brother’s story. Her skin filled with goosebumps at the mental emanations Luke was unconsciously sending. She felt like reaching across the table and holding him tight.

"I didn’t know it was possible, I just thought about it and... and it happened," Luke tried to explain himself.

There was a long silence, filled with awe.

"Does this mean you can... resuscitate people?" Lando asked, tentatively.

"No, it means I was able to bring my father back," Luke corrected him. "Somehow, he wasn’t supposed to die that day. I was merely the instrument for the Force to set right what had gone wrong. When your time comes, nothing and no one will bring you back. That I do know."

There was another pause, as his friends absorbed what he was saying.

"I have the healing gift, which means I can heal wounds, but I can’t bring back the dead at will. You understand the difference?" He looked at them anxiously.

"I think I do," Han slowly replied, staring at his friend with big, shining eyes.

"Yes," Lando nodded, squeezing his own shoulder, still unable to believe the miracle. But he was touching it. Touching it!

Leia watched her brother with a mixture of all-encompassing love and admiration beyond belief.

The final piece of the puzzle had fit at last. This was the intimate connection between her father and brother she had felt right from the start. They had been joined beyond their very existences, beyond their very souls. Their lives were inextricably bound, for each of them was the source of the other’s life. Anakin owed his life to Luke and Luke owed Anakin, not only his life as his child, but also his happiness, his every dream and hope come true.

But this wasn’t about debts. It was about love. The most generous, selfless love. A love so deep and abiding that had given Luke the self-awareness to drag his father from the clutches of Death itself.

And whenever she looked at them together, at the bubble of love and mutual devotion that pulsed around them both, everything made sense. Beautiful, perfect sense. And she knew her friends felt it, too. This was just meant to be.

At that moment, Chewie growled a warning.

"You’re right, pal!" Han stood up as if he had springs on his feet. "The meeting! We had forgotten about it."

Everybody shook their heads, as if coming out of a dream. Little by little, they stood up as well, preparing themselves mentally for the upcoming meeting with their President, and the important matters that had to be discussed.

When they were heading for the door, Han stopped Luke by putting a hand on his shoulder.

"Hey, kid."

Unthinkably relieved by the nickname that said it all, Luke turned to his friend, still a bit uncertain.

"Why didn’t you tell us about it sooner?" Han asked. "We’ve known each other for years and I think we deserved to know."

Luke looked down, not knowing how to answer. He could see he had hurt his friend’s feelings by not telling him, telling them, sooner. But he couldn’t help how he felt. He looked into Han’s eyes, begging for understanding.

"You thought that once we found out, we’d treat you differently; that we’d look at you differently, right?" Han answered for him, squeezing his shoulder.

Luke looked down, and nodded.

Han felt his heart melting with love for that young man, so full of doubts and insecurites, even though he was the most powerful being in the galaxy. He had never met anyone so intrinsically good and pure, and he thanked the gods that the little Jedi was a major part of his life.

"If you don’t know better after all these years, your Jedi abilities need some serious honing, little brother. Come here." And with that, he held Luke in a crushing hug.

Luke returned the hug instinctively, wrapping his arms tight around his friend, not believing his good fortune and his many blessings. He looked up, thanking the heavens, for no being could possibly have better friends.

When they moved back, Han ruffled his hair playfully, making them both let out a shaky laugh.

Lando squeezed Luke’s arm, making him turn his head to look at him.

"The same goes for me, Luke," he said, smiling softly. "Thank you."

"Thank *you*, Lando," Luke replied, reaching up and shaking warmly the hand on his arm.

"Luke," Leia called softly.

The young Jedi immediately faced his sister, reaching out to her. She threw herself into his arms, and they clung to each other for all they were worth.

"It’s all right. Everything’s all right, Luke," she whispered to him, trying to hold back her tears. "Thank you for bringing him back. For returning him to the Republic, to our lives... to me," she finally admitted, choking on her words.

"Leia," Luke was beyond words and he held her closer.

It took them a long time to release each other, and when they did, they looked into each other’s eyes and smiled, leaning on each other’s foreheads.

Chewie’s furious growling brought them back to the present with a start.

"What is it, Chewie?" Luke asked in alarm, for he had understood the Wookie’s apparently angry calling of his name.

Chewie pointed at his left hand exaggeratedly, demanding something of him.

Finally, Luke realized what his friend was asking him, and burst out laughing delightedly.

"I’m sorry, Chewie. Of course I intended to heal you, too!" He held the big paw in his hand tenderly. "Where does it hurt?" he asked.

Chewie pointed at the inner part of his wrist, so Luke closed his eyes and wrapped his hand around the Wookie’s wrist, concentrating deeply.

"Better now?" he asked some time later, opening his eyes. "No!" He cried out when he saw those long, massive arms reaching for him.

But there was no stopping Chewie’s grateful bearhug and the muffled laughs around them.

When he was released, Luke smiled fondly at his big hairy friend, and scratched his singed fur happily.

"Question!" Han suddenly said.

"Yes?" Luke turned to his friend.

"Why didn’t you heal yourself?" Han asked, quite logically.

"Because I can’t," Luke replied, shrugging. "Apparently, my healing gift doesn’t work on me."

"That’s not fair!" Lando complained.

"I find it somehow fitting. Don’t ask me why," Luke said, shrugging again. "Well!" He squared his shoulders and pointed at the doors. "Shall we, my friends?" he invited.


"So," Mon Mothma said, once everybody had taken their seats around the huge round table in the centre of the Great Hall. "Yesterday’s emergency cabinet didn’t really cast any light on what happened on Ansion. Their government claims time and again they had nothing to do with it, and although we’re conducting a thorough investigation, I’m inclined to believe them." She looked around her. "Do we all agree on this?"

"Yes," Han spoke for all of them. "They’re too dumb and self-centred to kill an offworlder."

There was a soft rumble of amusement.

"Thank you, General Solo, for your always refreshing assessment of the situation," Mon Mothma replied in her usual display of dry humour.

"My pleasure." Han just couldn’t resist it.

"Still, I think we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of it," Areen Worzzlek reminded them all. "Whoever did this, didn’t choose Ansion just because. Either they wanted us to believe that there is some side connection with the planet..."

"...Or they’re misleading us deliberately," Lando finished for him.

"Exactly," Areen admitted with a nod.

"I know it is too soon to offer any candidates," Admiral Ackbar spoke for the first time. "There have been no violent outbursts of any kind anywhere in the galaxy since the birth of the New Republic. Just the inevitable smuggling business that will always be there, I’m afraid, and other smuggling-related operations. But nothing on a bigger scale."

"What do we know about the land-mine itself?" Mon Mothma asked, to no one in particular.

"From what’s left of it, our experts concluded it came from the Kessel mines. It was an old TK-1 model, used mostly in illegal prospecting in the Outer Rim. The sensor that set it off is actually an infrared sensor, since they’re usually detonated with a remote. But this was not the case." Lando explained.

"Any ideas about who or why? At this point, a long shot will do," Mon Mothma encouraged her staff.

"It is too soon to tell, I agree with Admiral Ackbar," Anakin said. "Any theory we come up with at this point might be plausible. However, there are some facts we cannot overlook." He sat up straighter in his seat. "One: they were after either one of the Peace party or all of them. That indicates it was an attack against the Republic, since all members of the party are either members of the Government or they work for it. Two: they failed. Three: logically, they will try again."

An ominous silence befell them all as the implications of Anakin’s words sank in.

"The way to real Peace is still a way to go," Mon Mothma summarized everybody’s thoughts. She took a deep breath and plunged ahead. "Suggestions? Recommendations?"

"I would suggest we didn’t change our schedule in the least," General Madine advised. "Next time Jedi Skywalker is asked to mediate in any other conflict, I’d assign him a heavier escort, some especially equipped team. But it’s paramount we don’t change our ways. We must let whoever it is know that they didn’t succeed in their efforts to intimidate us. We’re sticking together, strong and firm."

"I totally agree, especially on the heavier escort idea," Leia approved.

"So do I," Anakin said, in a strange tone of voice.

"Me too," concurred Lando, Han and Chewie.

"Intelligence is still correlating all data supplied by both our experts at the site and Ansion’s Security Forces," Captain Ylek reminded them. "If they come up with anything new, they’ll let us know."

There was a long pause.

"Well, this is when the New Republic will show what it is really made of." Mon Mothma’s decision and authority rose above the gloomy mood. All of them had fallen too easily into the safe routine of Peace, and the belief that everything would be smooth and easy. This attack had proved them all wrong. It proved there still were dangerous elements out there, ready to blow up the foundations of newborn Peace. Well, it was certainly unfortunate, unwelcome and discouraging news, but they would take courage from their own inner strength and they would survive, stronger than ever. "We already know we have an enemy and they know we know. I am afraid we have no choice but take all necessary precautions and wait."

"And that’s usually the moment when innocents start to die," Captain Thazzel pointed out angrily.

Everybody at the table knew just how right Thazzel was and they remained silent, quietly agreeing with him and swallowing their own anger and feeling of helplessness.

"But before we suspend this meeting, I want to congratulate Jedi Skywalker for his successful, albeit unorthodox mission on Ansion," Mon Mothma suddenly said, in an obvious but dignified attempt to boost her staff’s morale. "Your gift as a mediator is not a promise anymore, but a reality, young man. Well done. I have the utmost confidence in you."

"Thank you, Mrs. President," Luke managed to blurt out in the midst of his fierce blushing. It was obvious from Mon Mothma’s words that she was aware of the highly unconventional approach he had taken, but it also showed she approved of it, if her knowing, kind smile was anything to go by.

The President’s gaze turned from the young Jedi to all the people gathered around the table.

"This is all for now, gentlebeings. We shall meet again when Intelligence has finished their investigation and they have a report for us. Thank you." She bowed her head to them, in her usual gesture of respect, and stood up.

All the others followed suit. Little by little, either alone or in small groups, they left the Great Hall.

All but Anakin.

Luke realized his father wanted to speak alone with the President, so he nodded to him and followed his sister and friends out.


Mon Mothma looked up and saw her Vice-President standing opposite her on the other side of the table.

"Yes, Mr. Skywalker?" she asked, inviting Anakin to speak.

"I hope we can apprehend those behind this scheme with as little bloodshed as possible. Because we all know, as Captain Thazzel voiced out loud, that there will be innocent victims sooner or later," Anakin opened the conversation.

Mon Mothma nodded, a shadow clouding her features.

"There’s something else I wanted to talk to you about," Anakin went straight to the point, as was his custom.

"Yes?" She raised her eyebrows, immediately interested in anything he had to say. She had been thoroughly impressed by all the wise and bright input she had gotten from him from the very beginning. "What is it?"

"It’s about my son."

"He handled this slippery mission remarkably." Mon Mothma didn’t bite her tongue as far as commending her staff’s abilities was concerned. "He’s an incredibly resourceful and clever young man. And intuitive, also. He’ll carry on with his assignments brilliantly, I am certain of that."

"I am, too," Anakin let out a little smile that couldn’t hide his fatherly pride in his child. "But that’s not what I wanted to discuss."

"Well?" She shrugged slightly.

"It’s about your decision to not allow me to accompany him on his missions as a mediator. That was the function of the Jedi in the Old Republic. And I am a Jedi," Anakin reminded her with an intense look.

"You’re also the Vice-President of the Republic," Mon Mothma reminded him back.

"I am aware of my oath to this Government and the galaxy," Anakin said in a deep voice, dead serious, that left no doubt about where his loyalties lay. "But I’m also well aware of the fact that my role in the Government is mostly a supportive, secondary one, with no actual duties; only to take over when you’re off-planet on an official trip, or when I’m carrying out an official trip of my own. The rest of the time, my presence here serves no practical purpose. Therefore, it hurts no one that I..."

"Ah, I see what’s the bottom line of this," the President smiled, in gentle understanding.

"Do you?" Anakin asked, rhetorically.

"Of course. It doesn’t take a genius to see how much you care for your children." There was no accusation or mockery of Anakin’s feelings in her words. If anything, her voice was even gentler. "Yesterday’s terrible incident awakened you to the fact that you could have lost your son, and your fatherly instincts have taken over. You don’t want to let young Skywalker out of your sight."

"You’re partially correct," Anakin admitted. "But that’s not all, not in the least. I am not only Anakin Skywalker, Vice-President of the New Republic. I am also Jedi Master Anakin Skywalker. It is mine and my son’s intention to rebuild the Jedi Order, and we can’t undertake such a project if we have to dedicate 100% of our time to our duties as members of the Government. You said it was also your intention to bring back the Order."

"It is," Mon Mothma nodded vigorously. "But first of all, the New Republic must have settled enough for us to feel safe giving you two other responsibilities. I think you agree with me about this."

"I do," Anakin agreed. "And I concur that the reconstruction of the Jedi Order will have to wait for some time. But I think you’ve forgotten that my first and greatest duty in this life is to my children. They are my top priority, now and forever. Any member of the Government is granted leaves of absence to take care of their personal matters. All I ask of you is to grant me those leaves of absence to accompany my son."

Mon Mothma realized Anakin had made up his mind about this and she knew how stubborn he could get, especially where it concerned his children, so she tried a different approach.

"Anakin," her features softened. "Children must live their own lives sooner or later. We have to accept the fact that we won’t be able to protect them forever. It’s the only way for them to learn and develop their full potential. Agreed, your son’s way of life is far more dangerous than most, but it’s the life he has chosen, just like you did. Besides, there’s no guarantee that your presence could be of any help, should something like what happened on Ansion take place again. Give some credit to his escorts and the team I intend to assign to back them up."

Anakin’s face couldn’t hide his disappointment when he saw she was totally missing the point.

"Besides, I expect Luke’s missions to increase exponentially, once his reputation as a Jedi becomes well-known across the galaxy," she argued. "I couldn’t grant you constant leaves of absence. Your duties as Vice-President would conflict." She smiled apologetically. "I am sorry."

Anakin closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them again, his face was calm again, as he made a new attempt to reason with his President.

"We could find a way to make it work. We only have to be willing to be more flexible in our positions," he began. "Just let me..."

"I don’t see how could that be possible; at least, for now." There was finality in Mon Mothma’s words. "This sudden crisis demands from us to be at our posts, and in the future, your son’s number of missions will be so high that leaves of absence will be out of the question." Her tone of voice clearly indicated that this was the end of the discussion. "I am really sorry, but you will have to accept my decision, and trust your child and his friends’ capacity to take care of themselves. They’re overqualified in that department, after four years of war against the Empire."

Anakin withdrew into himself for a few seconds, touching the Force and verifying he was doing the right thing.

"Is this your final decision?" he asked.

"Yes, it is," she stated.

With a last intake of breath, Anakin made his own decision.

"Then, I hereby offer you my resignation as the Vice-President of the New Republic," he declared, in an unfaltering voice.

Mon Mothma’s face lost all expression for a moment.

"What?!" she asked at last, in a less-than-presidential manner, not believing what she had just heard. "You can’t do that!" She recovered quite nicely, considering how shocked she was inside.

"I just did," Anakin said, unflappable.

"Members of the Government can’t resign whenever it suits them!" Her voice couldn’t disguise the outrage she felt.

"It’s not a question of it suiting me or not. You gave me no other choice," Anakin shrugged regretfully. "`Incompatibility of schedule in regard to family matters.’ Many politicians are forced to resign when there’s a long-term issue within their families, that won’t allow them to dedicate the necessary time to their job."

"But this is not the case and you know it," Mon Mothma accused.

"It most certainly is," Anakin corrected her. "My family is infinitely more important to me, you always knew that. If forced to choose, then my decision is already made."

"Mr. Skywalker, you’re not exactly a worker in an engines factory, where another workmate can cover your post. You have a responsibility to billions of beings." The President was back full force, speaking with all the authority she could muster.

The wounded expression on Anakin’s face showed the searing impact of her words. His features hardened immediately, in an instinctive attempt to cover the deep hurt.

"It is quite unfair to try and coerce me with the billions of lives I am supposed to protect. You know you have the best possible hand just brandishing the guilt card on me, because of my past. The past I cannot change or compensate, never mind if I lived a thousand lives. But I happen to know I’m doing the right thing. It doesn’t matter how much guilt you dump on me, you will never give me more than I already give myself. Still, I will not change my mind about this." He bowed his head, respectfully. "And now, good day, your Excellency."

Something snapped inside Mon Mothma, then. She wasn’t only losing the best member of her Government, she was losing her emotional support and anchor, her voice of reason. For she had come to depend and rely on Anakin’s judgement and understanding in the past six months, at least as much as she had confided in Areen Worzzlek for the past four years.

"You are the Vice-President of the Republic!" she exclaimed, her voice echoing in the Hall’s walls, in a final, angrily desperate outburst.

"I am a Father!" Anakin’s voice immediately followed hers, just as strong, even though he hadn’t raised his voice. "First and foremost."

They stared at each other, in a contest of wills that neither could win, for both of them were right, and both of them were wrong.

"The Republic needs you." Mon Mothma yielded first, not bothering to hide what the two of them knew. "I need you," she admitted at last. It didn’t feel like a weakness to admit such a thing, because it was the truth. Anakin was the kindest, gentlest being she had ever known, and she knew those vulnerable words would never be used against her. It was also the greatest gift of trust and friendship she could offer. "If you leave..." she trailed off.

"I do not want to leave," Anakin reminded her softly, his own outburst fading away. "I wanted us to find a way around this issue and solve it to our mutual satisfaction."

She sighed out loud and offered him a seat at the empty table. He nodded and waited until she took her seat first. They sat facing each other.

"What do you suggest?" she asked.

"I am aware of the fact that Luke’s missions will increase in time," Anakin began. "And it was never my intention to accompany him on all his assignments, only on those where I felt I should go, to offer him all the backup and experience I have from the time I was a Jedi in the Old Republic. These first missions are the trickiest for him, since he has no experience whatsoever as a diplomat. When he’s garnered enough skill to handle himself in all situations, I’d stop accompanying him. Besides which, I’d never go with him should you be off-planet on an official trip. My leaving Coruscant would be subject to my presence here not being indispensable."

"Is that all?!" Mon Mothma couldn’t believe that was all Anakin wanted, judging from the way he had resisted her decision. Until she realized she had never given him the chance to explain himself. She tried not to flush.

"Well," Anakin hesitated for a moment, "I must admit I have an ulterior motive."

She raised her eyebrows questioningly.

"It would also be a good time for me to start... venturing out. So people could start seeing me as Anakin Skywalker, not..."

The other name resounded all over the Hall, despite it was left unsaid.

Mon Mothma’s features softened, as Anakin’s intentions became awfully clear all of a sudden. He didn’t want to remain ‘locked up’ in a tower, apart from the world. It could convey the wrong impression to the people. The impression that he was too afraid or too self-centred to take the chance and venture out, as he had so aptly put it. He wanted the galaxy to see him as someone accessible, someone who didn’t represent a threat anymore. He wanted them to see it and touch it. To feel that certainty. To know this was their Vice-President, someone who cared about their problems and would always be there for them.

He was taking a huge personal risk, too, as far as his own safety was concerned, but she also knew Anakin knew.

"There is something else you’re not telling me," she said, in an unexpected flash of insight. "What is it?"

Anakin jerked back a little and took a deep breath, taken by surprise. She might not be Force-sensitive, but she had shown them all time and again she didn’t need it to see right through people.

"There’s another possibility you haven’t considered for the attack against the Peace party."

"Really?" She straightened up in her chair as a chill ran up and down her spine. "What possibility?"

"The possibility that I am the real target," he revealed calmly.

"You?!" She almost cried out. "How could you possibly be the target? You were here on Coruscant!" For a second, she almost doubted Anakin’s sanity.

"Exactly," he nodded. "And what better way to destroy me than murdering my son instead? I’d be as good as dead, then."

The absolute horror in his intense blue eyes awakened Mon Mothma once again to the depth of that man’s love for his children. A love that was no secret anywhere in the galaxy after all these months.

She nodded, as the implications of Anakin’s words became hideously clear.

"You’re correct. This could be a personal vengeance against you, for all the crimes you committed under your former identity."

"Your decision to make me your Vice-President could be backfiring already," Anakin pointed out, his voice sounding infinitely old and sad. He didn’t say ‘as I told you,’ because he didn’t have to.

"No!" she exclaimed, as if wanting to make that possibility go away by sheer force of will. "I made the right decision, and we both know it," she stated. "Whatever it is, there is more to it than that. I can feel it. And you feel it, too."

"True," Anakin agreed, looking away. "But if my supposition is even partially correct, and they’re somehow after me, I should be out there; not risking my son’s life while I’m staying safe at home, like a rotten coward."

"I understand," Mon Mothma nodded gently. She withdrew into herself for a little while, considering everything Anakin had told her and her own feelings about it. His request was reasonable and it posed no immediate conflict with his duties as Vice-President. With a little goodwill, they could work it out. She smiled softly. "Very well, Mr. Skywalker. Request granted. I leave it to your discretion when to accompany your son."

Anakin’s answering grateful smile lit up the Hall.

"Thank you, Mrs. President," he said from the bottom of his heart.

There was a short pause as they stared at each other, feeling as if they had just fought a stampede of reeks and survived. They smiled at each other knowingly.

"May I be excused?" Anakin asked at last.

She nodded at him and watched him stand up. When he was heading for the door, she called out to him.

"Anakin," her voice was incredibly gentle.

He turned about and looked at her as she rose to her feet.

"I didn’t intend to coerce you in any way," she stated adamantly.

"I know." Anakin’s features filled with shame and regret. "It was my own susceptibility that made me answer without thinking." He looked down for a few moments before braving her gaze again. "I humbly apologize."

"No need," she shook her head, understanding him only too well.

He smiled softly and turned about again.

"By the way, would you mind telling me why General Solo and Calrissian’s faces look so healthy today, but your son’s doesn’t?" Mon Mothma asked out of the blue.

Anakin froze in his tracks and turned about sharply, meeting his President’s smiling, full of mischief countenance.

The man’s reaction was all she needed to see her suspicions confirmed.

"Ah, I see. Your son healed them; because if it had been you, young Skywalker’s face would be healed, too."

Anakin blinked a few times and ended up looking aside, letting out a soft, short laugh.

"Very perceptive of you, Mrs. President," he commended her.

"I always enjoyed reading mystery stories," she shrugged, in pretended modesty, pursuing the light mood between them. "And I also presume that he can’t heal himself."

"Also correct." Anakin looked dejectedly at his hands, hating them for a second. Those hands, that had taken so many lives, couldn’t even heal the cuts and bruises on his son’s face. He dropped them at his sides, with a despondent sigh.

Then, he felt a warm, comforting hand on his shoulder.

"Don’t worry, Mr. Vice-President. You have many other gifts, also."

Anakin met the caring brown eyes that regarded him with so much compassion. But it wasn’t the kind of compassion that hurt. Quite the contrary. He felt unthinkably comforted by it.

She had also accepted him completely right from the start. Her fierce defence of him these past few months showed just how much she trusted him, and relied on his judgement. Her trust had been determinant in his decision to accept the Vice-Presidency of the New Republic. And so far, he didn’t regret that decision. With such an indomitable, fair, capable and intelligent leader, it was easy to trust himself.

Yes, this was his Destiny. At last, he was what he was meant to be.

He smiled down at her.

"Thank you, for everything." He could say no more.

She nodded at him and squeezed his shoulder.

"Tell your son that if I have some ailment sometime, I will send for him," she cracked.

Anakin laughed softly.

"I will."

They looked at each other for another moment, and with a nod, she put down her hand and watched him leaving the Hall.

When she was left alone, Mon Mothma turned about and faced the big round table. She bent forward and rested her hands on it, taking a long, deep breath. She released it in a quick blow, the heavy mantle of duty falling once again on her shoulders. And along with it, the latest challenge to Peace. She looked up, begging for some help and inspiration.

On the other side of the great doors, Anakin practically mirrored her gestures, reaching for the Force instead. He prayed to be up to the threat they were facing. Threat that was about to strike again and take its first casualties.

He could feel it.



For the next few days, things seemed to reach an impasse. Nothing out of the ordinary happened.

Making the most of their sudden free time, Luke and Anakin decided to start training Leia, and the three of them locked themselves up in the hall where Master Yoda used to train all padawan children, in the hope they could find some inspiration there on how to train the Princess properly.

Leia couldn’t hide her wariness at first, and it took hours for them to calm her enough to get her to the right level to start meditating.

She kept on opening her eyes to verify they were there and she was doing it right, and it suddenly occurred to them that she might feel pressured with them hanging around, watching her, so they began training apart, while Leia tried to meditate in a comfortable corner. When that didn’t work either, they decided to leave the room, so she could find her own way, undisturbed.

Then, she told them to return, because their presence was soothing and she felt more focused when they were near.

Little by little, her mind got used to reaching deeper and deeper levels, until it became relatively easy for her.

Next, they thought this could be a good time to teach her to handle a lightsaber.

They decided to show her all the range of possibilities the Force had first, so she knew how all of it was, how it felt and what to expect. Then, they would train her, one category at a time.

Since they only had two lightsabers and Leia refused to have one of her own for now, they trained her in turn. She was a very agile, athletic person, so in no time she was swinging the sword around, getting the feel of it, and learning the basic moves of Form I.

When she decided she was ready to use a seeker, Luke just couldn’t stop smiling, seeing himself that day in the Millennium Falcon, listening to Obi-Wan’s instructions and getting repeatedly hit by the blasted little thing.

Curiously, it was when Luke suggested they’d cover her face with a helmet that she began feeling the Force, learning to recognize it and deflecting the seeker’s blasts instinctively.

Father and son looked at each other and nodded with a smile, feeling quite satisfied with how things were progressing. At least, for now. Leia was their first padawan, and leaving aside the fact that they were personally involved in that project, since they were training someone they both loved fiercely, they couldn’t forget the fact that they were basically feeling their way through the whole process. It was doubly stressing for them, especially because of the risks involved should they fail.

They encouraged Leia time and again to tell them whenever she felt they were doing something wrong, to make all the suggestions she wanted, and let them know what worked better for her and what took her more time to understand. Constant communication was the only way for the three of them to learn and improve as masters and padawan. They couldn’t afford the tiniest slip here. This was the only exception to the ‘trial and error’ axiom.

They were inventing a new way of training, picking up the lessons that had worked better for them; but that didn’t necessarily mean they had to work for Leia, as well. So, depending on what she told them, they switched to Luke’s way, Anakin’s, Yoda’s, Obi-Wan’s or whatever lesson Anakin remembered from the other Jedi Masters.

Leia had to admit she felt more and more comfortable about her training. Most of her fears evaporated the more she delved into the disciplines, and got in touch with the Force inside and outside her. It was the most illuminating experience, and she felt like a child venturing out into a whole new world. One that had been there all along, right at the edge of her consciousness.

She got used to meditating a little while every morning, after waking up, and spending her free time with her father and brother, learning a little bit more every day.

She found an inner peace she hadn’t realized she needed until then.

An entire week passed thus. In the meantime, Intelligence reported that their investigation on Ansion, on the site and the information provided by Ansion’s government didn’t cast much light on the attack on the Peace party. The ensuing meeting ended almost as fast as it began, the only conclusions being the assignment of an especially trained and equipped team to protect Luke and his escorts in his upcoming missions. Everything else would remain the same. Their schedules wouldn’t change. They would show no weakness or fear.

Two days later, Luke was assigned his second mission: to mediate in a territorial conflict on Uzkida, whose moon’s delegated government had suddenly decided to become independent from the planet. Diplomatic meetings had been useless and the growing hostility between the moon and her mother planet was dangerously leading towards a civil war.

When Luke learned of his mission, he panicked. He knew only too well how much hatred and violence separatist movements had brought to the galaxy, and he felt totally incapable of handling such a unstable situation.

Anakin agreed to accompany him and offer all the help he could, but at the last moment, his presence was required in an urgent meeting that would decide the security measures the Government would take to ensure the maximum protection of its staff, buildings and ships. His advice was essential, given his past as Commander of the Imperial Fleet and his priceless knowledge about Security, Strategy and Intelligence.

It took hours for Anakin to calm down his child and assure him he would handle his mission well. Anakin’s blind faith in his son’s gift was contagious, but it took a lot of hugging and pampering to reassure Luke.

Privately, Anakin asked Han, Lando and Chewie to support and help Luke with all the knowledge and experience they had. Any help would be valuable, because should they fail, his son would take it as a personal failure.

Luke was deadly pale when he bid his father and sister goodbye on the landing platform, but he bravely swallowed his fear and faced his destiny, determined to do his very best.

Once again, Anakin watched the Millennium Falcon getting smaller and smaller as he let out a dejected sigh, wishing he could be there, giving his child the help and support he would need. But he couldn’t shirk his own responsibilities, and this time, they had gotten in the way.


The next few days were very hectic for the Skywalker family and friends. Anakin was quite busy helping to design strategies, alternate exits and evacuation plans for the Republic’s most important buildings; plus, he was assigned the drills that would put those designs to the test.

Compared to the slow pace and terribly boring meetings with the Senate of a few days ago, Anakin could hardly keep up with all his responsibilities now, and at the end of the day he was dead beat. He flopped down on his bed, craving for its warmth and softness. He had to admit he had been mistaken. His duties as a Vice-President were anything but dull. At least, now.

Still, it didn’t matter how exhausted he was, every single night he reached out to his son’s mind, asking him how he was and how his mission was progressing.

Luke’s mind clung to his father’s, desperate for his comfort; needing the certainty of his love to see him through the dishearteningly painful meetings. As days went by, he was becoming more and more frustrated, as the failure of the negotiations became evident. It came a point where he didn’t know what to do anymore, but a part of him refused to surrender and abandon these people to their increasingly dark fate.

Anakin suggested then a different approach. To leave logic and diplomacy aside, and appeal to feelings instead. That was something everyone could relate to. Maybe it would do as a last resort.

Luke’s weary mind accepted his father’s advice and sent all his love and gratitude. He couldn’t have him beside him, but communicating like this was the next best thing.

Anakin sent all his love back, along with the mind-suggestion to ‘sleep now’. He smiled when the mind-contact was abruptly broken, as his child instantly succumbed to his father’s loving command.

As he lay in bed, ready for some sleep of his own, Anakin marvelled at the bond they shared. As far as he knew, mind-touch between Jedi was possible when in relatively close proximity. After all these years, he was well aware of the fact that the Force wasn’t impeded by any limits; but Luke was hundreds of parsecs away right now, just as he had been on Ansion, and yet, they still could speak mind-to-mind. He didn’t know if mind contact over such a vast distance had any precedents, but something told him this was another miracle they had made possible.

Incredibly comforted by such a nice thought, Anakin fell into a restful asleep.

Two days later, Luke contacted his father’s mind to tell him the meetings were over and he was returning home. When Anakin asked him gingerly how everything had gone, he received a bittersweet feeling as an answer. There would be no immediate war, but nothing had really changed.

Anakin empathized with his child’s feeling of helplessness, and tried to soothe his sentiment of failure by reminding him that these kinds of conflicts had no solution, unless both parties really wanted it. It wasn’t Luke’s fault, because he had been the only party there who had truly worked to find an alternative.

Luke agreed with his father regretfully, and told him he couldn’t wait to return home, to his family.

Anakin was looking forward to having his son back. He missed Luke dearly. He could feel his child’s lifeforce through their mind-link at all times, but he craved his presence, so warm and loving beside him. There was an emptiness in his heart and soul that nothing could fill when he left.

He was right in the middle of a drill when the Falcon arrived, so he swallowed his wish to greet his child at the landing platform. His son’s mind was in awful need of rest, so Anakin told him to sleep a little. He would visit him as soon as he was over with the drills.


It took three hours, but the procedures ended at last for the day. Exhausted, Anakin washed up, changed his clothes for something more informal and entered his son’s quarters without knocking, for once.

Luke seemed to have barely made it to the bed. He had taken off his travel clothes and put on a white short-sleeved top and light bottoms. He had lain down on his bed diagonally and fallen asleep on the spot. The sheets were rumpled around his legs and only covered him up to his calves.

Anakin’s heart ached as it had never ached before at the endearing sight. Luke was hugging the pillow to him, his face half-buried in it. He looked so much like a little boy that the older man bit his lower lip, his eyes filling with tears.

He cherished that beautiful pain in his chest. All of him was filled with something immense, ineffable, impossible to describe. Peace, joy beyond belief, tenderness, love. Oh, Force, so much love!

Carefully, he sat down on the bed and contemplated his sleeping child through misted eyes. His ruffled hair and tousled appearance made him look so much like a cub that Anakin could hardly keep himself from hugging him silly.

Reaching out without thinking, his hand stopped when it was only a few centimetres from his son’s cheek though, afraid of waking him up.

Luke’s reaction to his nearness was immediate. A soft smile formed on his lips, and he instinctively huddled up to his father’s warmth.

Smiling back, Anakin settled his palm on the side on his child’s face oh-so-gently. Contentment poured out of his son in waves, making him sigh.

‘I wish you and your sister were five years old,’ he thought, stroking the disheveled head and burying his fingers in the shiny blond hair. ‘I wish your mother was alive and sitting here with me, watching your sleep. I wish I hadn’t missed your childhood and I could have been the father you deserved. I wish...’ He sighed again, wistfully this time. ‘I wish...’

Rising slowly from the depths of slumber, Luke’s consciousness became gradually aware of his father’s presence, and his body stirred a little. The smile on his face grew, and he shamelessly soaked up his father’s caresses. If he was too old for it, he didn’t give a damn. He needed it. Both of them did. They had witnessed, experienced and performed enough violence to last a million lifetimes. But this, it would never be enough.

Minutes passed thus, until Anakin began scratching Luke’s scalp Wookie-style, making his son chuckle.

"No Chewie bearhugs too, please. I’m beat," the young man asked, unable to disguise his amusement.

"Okay," Anakin complied, shrugging casually.

Luke opened his eyes and met his father’s smiling ones. He grinned back, his heart bursting with happiness. He reached up lazily and grabbed his father’s hand in his own. He squeezed it, reaffirming their bond.

"How are you?" Anakin asked kindly.

Luke rolled his eyes and sighed.

"Tired, depressed, frustrated, angry, sad... Shall I go on?"

"I get the picture," Anakin shook his son’s hand from side to side, affectionately. "Wanna talk about it?"

Luke let his father pull him up and he sat cross-legged on the bed. He rubbed his face briskly, trying to clear his head and gather his thoughts.

"Everything was so complex, they made it so difficult... My head was spinning!"

Anakin pursed his lips and nodded. He mirrored his child’s posture, and he also sat cross-legged on the bed, facing him.

"I had to tread very carefully, watching every word I spoke, mindful of not offending either of their points of view. I’ve never watched my language so much, making sure I used the right terminology: nation, region, community, people, supranation, extraplanetary rights... I never had so many headaches in so short a time." He shook his head, as if still trying to get rid of all those words and concepts. "I’m just a farmer, all these things are beyond me," he complained, to one in particular.

Anakin smiled lovingly and waited for his child to continue. He was there for him, so he could share all his frustrations and use him as a sounding-board. The expression of pride on his face was unmistakable. His son would be the greatest Jedi ever. And it was his honour to guide him, nurture him and help him develop all his abilities. Could there be a more beautiful destiny?

"I have to admit that I never gave the notion of nationalisms the smallest thought. This is a galaxy, for gods’ sake, we’re all in this together. How can there still be peoples out there who want to become independent from their mother planet or wherever, only to join the Republic as an independent entity? You’ll still belong to something bigger than you. You’ll still have obligations and laws to abide by. If no one’s coercing you, abusing you or repressing you; if you’re all equals and depend equally on each other, what’s the big damn problem?" He sighed. "I just don’t get it. So at first, I was more on Uzkida’s side, so to speak. I could understand them better."

Anakin nodded, wordlessly encouraging his son to continue.

"But after a time, Uzkida’s stubborn refusal to give an inch began getting to me, too. If they wanted to reach an agreement, both of them would have to give a little. But soon, it became clear that the moon’s nationalism had stirred a similar reaction in Uzkida’s people."

"It always happens like this. That’s a scenario you will face every time you have to deal with this type of situation. There is nothing new across the galaxy, Son. You’ll find out soon enough," Anakin advised him.

Luke nodded sadly.

"The talks got very nasty at the end and I got caught in the middle, not knowing what to say or do. I felt I was invisible, watching them exchange threats, quoting articles from their Constitution back and forth, plain insulting each other, defiling their own history and using it against one another." He shivered at the memory. "I could smell war in that room, Father. It was..." He shook his head, his paleness saying it all.

There was a short pause, as Luke pulled himself together. Anakin patted his child’s hand. He knew only too well how it was.

"That’s when I asked you for help and you told me to appeal to feelings," Luke went on. "I felt I was the only one there who really wanted peace. I told them I didn’t understand their desire to hurt each other, even after surviving the most devastating war this galaxy had ever known. That even after dozens of centuries of venturing out into space, they were still centred on their petty insular problems, unable to see beyond that and grasp the vastness, the beauty and diversity out there. I told them I refused to think they were ready to kill again, to bring more pain on each other. To destroy families and places they all knew. Because that’s what war was about, in case they had forgotten already. It was about destroying whole families and being ready to lose their own, because once they started killing, they’d have to accept the fact that they would do to them the same thing they would be doing to the others. Did they really care that little about their loved ones? Were they really that short-sighted?"

Anakin squeezed his son’s fingers, quietly conveying his total support in the approach he had taken. There had been no other choice.

"These type of conflicts do bring out the worst in peoples. I found that out on Uzkida," Luke admitted dejectedly, looking down at their joined hands, realizing all of a sudden the symbolism in that gesture. What they were doing, holding hands, was exactly what Uzkida and its moon had refused to do for far too long, and that was the end result. Impulsively, he reached out his other hand and covered his father’s with his own. It was a totally irrational gesture, but he couldn’t help it.

Anakin smiled, not needing the Force to know what was crossing his son’s mind. He brought forth his other hand and placed it on top of theirs, completing the circle.

Luke’s gaze raised from their hands to his father’s face. It was extraordinary how well they understood each other. They didn’t have to say a word, use the Force, anything. They were on the same wavelength all the time. In mind, heart and soul. He took a deep, shaky breath, and his chest felt so full he was momentarily dizzy. He offered a brief prayer of thanks for having this sanctuary to seek refuge from the ugliness and pettiness out there. His eyes returned to their entwined hands, drinking from the comforting sight desperately. He didn’t know what would he do if he lost this. The mere notion was...

‘You will never lose me, Son, don’t be afraid,’ the softest mind-voice touched his thoughts. ‘Suns will explode, planets will die, galaxies will collapse, but you will have me beside you forever. Protecting you, advising you. Taking care of you, if you’ll let me.’

Luke closed his eyes, struggling to keep the tears at bay. His father’s love was stronger than anything he had ever known. It awed and humbled him. He never knew that love like this could exist and sometimes, he didn’t know what to do with it. He felt unworthy, somehow. He felt... not uncomfortable, but the immensity of his father’s love made him feel extremely self-conscious, and he just wanted to hide his head under the pillow, so he could blush to death in private.

It was totally illogical, but he actually believed that nothing bad could happen to him as long as this incredible man was near. So, this was how a child felt around his big daddy. This absolute feeling of security.

"Will you ever call me ‘Dad’ out loud, not only in your thoughts?" Anakin asked, for the umpteenth time.

Luke laughed shyly, grateful for the comment that had relieved the highly emotional moment, that was bound to be short-lived anyhow.

"Calling you ‘Father’ is my greatest honour. It’s what I’ve prayed to say for as long as I can remember. Anything else is not good enough for you."

"Oh, Luke!" It was Anakin’s turn to blush now. "If you had called me ‘Dad’ since your childhood, I’d still be ‘Dad’ today."

"Do you have something against ‘Father’?" Luke asked in pretended outrage, with a twinkle in his eyes.

"Force, never!" Anakin exclaimed from the bottom of his heart. "But sometimes, it feels more a title than an affectionate term. As if you called your sister ‘Princess’ or ‘Your highness.’"

"To me, ‘Father’ encompasses everything. I’ll never get tired of saying it because all my life, it was my most cherished dream. An impossible dream that Destiny realized for me; so I will say it forever, forever, forever!" On an impulse, Luke flung his arms round his father and hugged him so hard that he almost broke his neck.

For a second, Anakin remembered his son’s words about leaving chaos in his wake as a child. But it was a tiny price to pay for the privilege of having this small glimpse at the little Luke he had never known. The fact that his son felt confident enough to let his hair down around him spoke volumes, and he inwardly prayed for lots of small moments like this, never mind if he ended up with kinks in his neck for a month. Their relationship was evolving, growing, encompassing more and more levels, and to see his child feeling free to behave like a little boy, if only this once, was a victory. A victory they had won over death itself.

The older man threw his own arms round the smaller body, crushing it to his chest and thanking the Force for this moment that was worth a lifetime.

"My little one." He whispered to himself. "What did I ever do to deserve this?"


The reverence and adoration in Luke’s accent filled Anakin’s skin with goosebumps.

No words, no thoughts, nothing was necessary. Only the pure feelings they were transmitting through the sheer physical contact. They clung to each other for a very long time, drinking in their closeness, knowing how much it had cost them.

"Thank you for this moment, Father," Luke choked on his words.

"No, Son, thank you," Anakin replied, holding him tighter.

They couldn’t let go, so they remained thus until they lost track of time. Anakin cradled the blond head in his hand and messed up his child’s hair playfully. Luke’s helpless laughter made him smile.

When they finally moved back, they looked into each other’s shining eyes, unable to say a word.

"I’m so happy right now!" Luke said at last, needlessly.

"So am I," Anakin replied. "And I owe every single moment of peace and happiness in my life to you, your sister and your friends. I still can’t believe that you..."

"Shhhh," Luke put out his hand and hushed his father’s words. He shook his head, an infinitely loving expression crossing his features.

Anakin bit his lower lip and nodded in acquiescence. They knew, Leia knew and their friends knew. That was enough.

They took a deep, quivering breath and recovered their composure.

"So," Anakin continued with their previous conversation, his voice still a bit unsteady, "how did Uzkida and its moon take your speech?"

Luke rolled his eyes sadly.

"No one said anything at first, but it seemed to move them, if only a little. They suspended the meeting for an hour and when we returned to the Great Hall, both parties said that they could see ‘the wisdom in my words’. They agreed to wait until nerves steadied, to resume their talks and give peace a chance."

"You accomplished a lot then, my son," Anakin complimented his child sincerely, placing a hand on his shoulder and squeezing gently.

"Come on, Father," Luke raised pain-filled eyes to his equally blue counterparts. "We both know I only bought them some more time, that is all."

"Maybe, maybe not," Anakin shrugged. "Only time will tell. Let’s give peace a chance, as they said. Trust their goodwill; but above all, trust their fear. Fear of another war and its devastating consequences. Unfortunately, that’s the only reason strong enough to prevent some peoples from killing each other."

"As long as it works and it saves one single life, that’s enough for me." Luke allowed himself a tiny ray of hope.

Anakin smiled compassionately and nodded.

"That was all Jedi could do in my time, Son. We were mediators, we offered alternatives, we suggested and advised; but ultimately, it was the peoples’ decision and no one else’s. At some time, we could only admit defeat and leave, feeling just like you’re feeling right now."

Luke sighed and looked away, accepting his father’s words, but still unable to help the bitter feeling of failure.

"You tried with everything you had. No one could ask for more." Anakin squeezed the slumped shoulder once more.

Luke met his father’s gaze and absorbed all the support and caring he found there.

"Are you hungry or would you rather go to sleep again?" Anakin asked out of the blue, a kind smile on his face.

"I’m a bit hungry," Luke admitted. "Is it dinner time already?"

"Just barely," Anakin replied. "I’ve had no dinner either. When the drills ended, I went directly to my room to wash up and change, and then I came here."

"Let’s go then," Luke jumped to his feet and put on his slippers. "Things will look better on a full stomach, I hope."

Anakin stood up and followed his son out.

"How did the drills go?" Luke asked.

His father’s agonizing moan was all the answer he needed before the doors closed after them.