Luke Skywalker was dying.
The hush in the academy had become a living thing that stifled even the smallest sounds, as if the Force itself waited to welcome him. Students looked at each other uneasily, already grieving for their master. They had only a brief time remaining to bask in his warm, encouraging presence.
In his apartment, Master Skywalker was involved in the melancholic business of passing from this life to the next. They knew that his son Ben was at his side, doing what he could to ease his father's way into what waited beyond the mortal veil.
They all knew that they would be the witnesses to the birth of a new era, and the end of an old one. Just as his life had changed the galaxy, so would his death.
None of them could remember a time when Master Skywalker had not been there, a constant, reassuring presence that anchored them, even in the chaos of their training. He was the star about which they orbited - a still, quiet center of wisdom.
But their center was dying, as all stars do.
Even stars die out...
This maxim had been taught to them from the beginning. Master Skywalker always had a twinkle in his faded blue eyes when he told them this, hinting that death was not something to be feared, but to be welcomed, almost amusing in its own way. He did not fear death; some said he had been waiting impatiently for it for years.
Some of the teachers remembered him as a younger man, not yet stooped by age and grief. All of the young ones in the Jedi Academy, however, knew him only as a frail old man, whose spirit seemed much too large for the fragile body that contained it.
Luke Skywalker's exploits were the stuff of legends, of course. They had been raised on the stories of the Death Stars and the Emperor, of Lord Vader and his redemption, of the Vong and the Dark Nest. These tales were a family history of sorts, for every Jedi was part of a family. Theirs was a bond of the Force rather than of blood, but stronger than any outsider might have guessed.
In a quiet room, far from the bustle and usual activity of the students, an old man lay on his bed, his shallow breathing was the only sound that broke the deafening silence.
A younger man sat by the bed, his head bowed and resting in his hands, keeping a lonely and quiet vigil at his father's deathbed. It seemed impossible to him that soon Luke Skywalker would cease to exist.
His shoulders hunched against the pain brought about by that realization, Ben drew a shaking breath, seeking the calm that enveloped his father. Luke was not struggling to hold onto his failing flesh, he seemed eager and willing to let go of it, to move on to what awaited him. Ben sensed that his father longed to join Mara, for without her, he had never seemed complete.
He sensed that his father was ready to rejoin his love. He was done with this life.
Ben sometimes wondered how his father had lived these past ten years without his fiery wife at his side. Mara's death had shaken Luke, even tested his faith in the Force. But in the end, he had accepted the loss with all the graciousness that a lifetime of losing those he loved had given him. He had mourned and survived, though he had been forever changed by her death.
Now Ben would have to find a similar strength inside himself. He was not sure if he was up to the task and felt as if he had been cast adrift on a strange and alien sea that buffeted him from every direction. His father's serenity remained his alone, the son struggling to find it for himself.
A harsh breath from the bed made him sit up. He found Luke's blue eyes peering at him with gentle understanding.
"Ben..." he said quietly, his voice no more than a raspy whisper of sound. However, the voice was stronger than he had expected it to be.
"I'm here," he assured his father.
Luke smiled. "I feel your light..." There was satisfaction and pride in the frail voice.
"That is my gift from you," Ben replied, swallowing the lump of grief in his throat.
"And your mother," Luke reminded him softly.
"Yes," Ben agreed, seeing the ghost of a smile on his father's face.
"I was with my father when he died," the old man murmured, his eyes closing for a moment.
Ben did not know what to say, so he merely brought his father's hand to his cheek and pressed it there, momentarily reassured by the warmth of it. His father was still here, still alive. He felt a pang at the feel of the slim bones, the texture of the translucent skin of old age.
The son felt a sob well up in his throat; it escaped him before he could stop it.
Luke opened his eyes again and patted Ben's shoulder with his free hand. "The watching is harder than the doing, Ben," he whispered knowingly.
"I don't want you to go," Ben hissed. "I know it's selfish and terrible, but-" He cut off the flow of hurt and angry words with a flush of shame.
There was a brief squeeze from the thin hand before Luke let it drop and Ben heard a soft sigh. "I didn't want my father to go, either," he said. "But at least I've known you; that's something Anakin never had."
Ben's head bowed. "He loved you."
Luke drew in a shaky breath. "I know," he replied simply.
"What will we do without you?" Ben asked miserably.
"Go on," Luke said. "You will go on. Everyone will. That is the way of things."
Ben Skywalker, named for the last of the old Jedi Order, and trained by the first of the new, closed his eyes and let his forehead rest on his father's hand. They remained that way, neither aware of the passage of time; Luke too firmly focused on what was to come, and Ben too caught up in the agony of what he was about to lose.
At last, Luke moved his hand, drawing Ben from his silent contemplation.
Luke's head was tilted, as if he listened to a voice only he could hear. "It is almost time, Ben."
In spite of his determination to be strong, Ben shook his head in denial.
But Luke merely smiled and nodded once. "You cannot fight the will of the Force," he reminded him gently.
Then the old man lifted his arms. "Take me to the window to look at my life's work one last time."
Ben stood up and bent down to wrap his arms around his father. His breath caught in his throat when he lifted him up, for his father felt no heavier than a child in his arms. Gently, walking carefully to the window, he held his father as he looked out at the grounds of the Jedi Academy. Ben remembered countless occasions when his father had lifted him up so that he could see, too. Their roles were reversed now, he was the strong one, and he was the one to lift up his father.
Luke smiled faintly as he surveyed what he had helped to create. There was a lovely garden below, and in it were students keeping a vigil in their own way. Then he looked up at Ben. "I was wrong, you know."
His eyes curious, Ben made an inquisitive sound. "This academy was not my life's work," he whispered. "You were..."
When Ben made a movement back toward the bed, Luke shook his head. "No, just for a bit longer."
Father and son shared their last moments together; the father's heart at peace, the son's aching with the thought of losing his father. "It is a tradition among the Skywalkers to die in their child's arms it seems," the old man murmured. "Shmi Skywalker died in Anakin's arms. He died in mine." Luke looked up at his son once more, his eyes shining with love. "And now I will die in yours."
Ben could no longer see his father's features clearly, for tears were swimming in his eyes and blinding him. But he felt the pressure of his father's hand on his cheek, wiping away his tears.
"Do not grieve," Luke said. "Like my father before me, I go to the Force..."
Then his father went slack in Ben's arms. The blazing light in the Force that had always been there for Ben was suddenly dimmed and the galaxy seemed a cold and empty place.
We must accept the will of the Force, his father had often said. Ben's head fell forward as he acknowledged his father's wisdom once more.
Luke Skywalker had gone home. Ben imagined that even now he was at last reunited with his father, whom he had come to know too late. He could picture his mother chiding Luke for taking so long to join her. Like Shmi and Anakin, Luke had died in the arms of the one who loved him the most.
Ben turned with his precious burden and carried his father to his bed. Soon, the students would want to come and pay their last respects, to give homage to the man who had rebuilt the Order and rescued the galaxy from an everlasting darkness.
For now, however, it was only father and son.
Original cover by rhonderoo. HTML formatting copyright 2005 TheForce.Net LLC.