"Luke!" The sharp voice made him start in surprise. "What have I told you about playing with that?"
"Aww, Uncle!" Luke protested, hiding his hands - and his prize - behind him. "I was just -"
"Don't 'Aww, Uncle' me. You were just doing something I distinctly remember telling you not to. How many times will I have to tell you it's dangerous before you listen to me?"
"At least one more?" Luke offered with a wheedling smile. But when that failed to faze his uncle, he sighed. "I'm sorry, Uncle Ben," he said, and when Ben held out a hand in command, Luke reluctantly placed the lightsaber in it. "I know it's dangerous. It's just...holding it feels right, somehow."
Something in Ben's face softened, and he placed the lightsaber on a nearby table before putting a hand on Luke's shoulder. "I know," he said. "Believe me, I know. I felt the same way, before I was allowed a lightsaber of my own."
"But you were younger than I am when you got to use one!" Luke protested, with all the weight of his fourteen years. "Uncle Ben, you're going to have to start training me sometime. Why not now? I promise I'll be careful."
"It's not a matter of you being careful," Ben replied, though he touched Luke briefly with the Force, a gentle brush endowed with understanding. "If the Emperor and Vader should find you because I started your training too early..."
"I'll have a better chance of surviving and getting away if I at least have some training," Luke finished firmly. He and his adopted uncle had had this argument before, and Luke always lost. But the scratched and dented metal of his father's lightsaber felt right in his hand, as if it was meant to be there, and that sense of rightness grew and grew as Luke got older. "You can't shield me from everything," he continued, though softer than before.
"I couldn't save your parents from the Sith," Ben murmured, his eyes closed, the calm sea of his Force presence just barely beginning to break with the waves of his emotion. "I couldn't save your real aunt and uncle from the Tuskens." Then, suddenly, he reached out and drew Luke into his arms, and Luke let himself be drawn. He might be fourteen, but he felt his uncle needed this. "I wasn't supposed to get so close to you," Ben said into Luke's hair. "But I can't take it back now. I don't want to lose you, Luke."
"You don't know that you will," Luke replied, around the lump in his throat. Uncle Ben rarely got emotional, and Luke hated it when he did. Luke knew his uncle felt things strongly, but he was almost always so in control of himself that nothing leaked. When those leaks happened, Luke's own control began to break apart as well, as if in sympathy.
"If Vader should find you..." Ben whispered, but didn't finish. It was not the first time he had almost voiced that thought, and as always, Luke felt himself wondering just what Ben was so afraid would happen if Vader found Luke. Dread tinged the air, but Luke could never figure out what Ben dreaded so much.
"He might not." Luke stepped back, out of Ben's embrace. This wasn't the time to huddle next to his uncle like a child, not if he wanted to seem ready for the responsibility that the lightsaber represented. "I want to be a Jedi, Uncle Ben. It's right. Something's telling me that it is."
"The Force." Ben sighed. "You remind me so much of your father sometimes." There was an old pain in his eyes, when Luke looked at him. "I don't want you to end up like him."
"Everyone dies someday," Luke said, leaning forward, trying to show his uncle how earnest he was. "I could be killed by Tuskens tomorrow. You don't know how frustrating it is, feeling the Force around me but being unable to do anything with it...please, Uncle Ben. I want to be a Jedi, like my father before me."
Ben closed his eyes and was silent for a moment, and it seemed even the air around him grew still. Luke felt a tickling in his mind, a strange querying sensation, though he knew he was merely its focus and not its target because he recognized the sensation of his uncle touching the Force.
Then everything seemed to breathe again, and Ben opened his eyes and looked at Luke, a calm acceptance in his presence. Without saying anything, he turned, picked up the lightsaber on the table, studied it for a moment, and then offered it to Luke.
Luke was solemn as he took it, but no sooner had he clipped it to his belt than a wide grin split his face. "Thanks, Uncle Ben! You won't regret it!"
"No, I don't think I will," Ben replied with a wistful half-smile, almost too quietly to be heard.
"Commander Skywalker?" His report interrupted, Luke looked up to see the lieutenant standing at attention in the open doorway of his quarters. "You've been summoned before Command, sir. Conference room three, as soon as possible."
Luke frowned. He wanted to ask why, but he was sure the lieutenant didn't know. Besides, he was supposed to obey without question. "Thank you, Lieutenant. I'll be right there."
The lieutenant saluted, then swiftly turned around and left. Luke sighed, tempted for a moment to just put his head in his hands and ignore the summons. He didn't want to go. But he didn't want to stay here, either.
How had he gotten himself into this?
I'm sorry, Uncle Owen...
But he shouldn't put it off; he didn't know why Command wanted him, but being late wouldn't help him any.
However, when he reached the conference room, there was only one person there - one very recognizable person. Luke froze in the doorway, and felt his heart skip a beat.
What'd I do? he thought, frantically trying to remember if there was anything he'd done that was bad enough to warrant this. They can't read minds. They don't know I've wanted to defect since before I got my commission and only haven't because of lack of opportunity. I've done well enough that they promoted me to Commander of my own squadron at only twenty-three. What'd I do?
"Commander Skywalker," the other said. "Come in. Have a seat." He gestured toward a chair not far from where he was standing.
His mouth dry, Luke tried to swallow. "Yes, my lord," he said, and hoped his voice didn't betray his nerves. Would he be invited to sit down if he was going to be killed? Gingerly, he took a seat, and waited.
"I have heard glowing accounts of your performance, Commander," Darth Vader said, surprising Luke completely. "Your superiors, including Baron Fel, report that you are the best pilot they have seen since they first watched me fly."
Luke grasped for control. "I'm flattered, sir," he said, his voice as steady as he could make it. Vader was here to...compliment him? No, that couldn't be it. But would he compliment him and then kill him? Still, it was flattering, since it was well known that Lord Vader was the best pilot in the Empire.
Then Vader placed his hands on the table that dominated the room and leaned forward, staring at Luke with that unnerving masked gaze. Luke was surprised into staring back. "Who is your father, Commander?" Vader asked.
My father? Luke blinked. What did his father have to do with anything? "I - he was a navigator, sir," Luke answered, finally. "On a spice freighter. He died before I was born. His name was Anakin Skywalker."
Vader's hands clenched around the edges of the table, and Luke could feel his growing anger. What's going on? Why would Vader be getting angry about a dead man? And perhaps more importantly, what was he going to do with that anger?
Then Vader let go of the edges, and spread his hands on the surface again. "Your records state that you were raised on Tatooine," he said abruptly, "by your uncle and aunt, Owen and Beru Lars."
"Yes, sir," Luke replied. Uncle Owen, Aunt Beru...if I'd listened to you, would I be here now? Probably not. But I'd probably still be back there, which isn't much better.
"I presume they were the ones who told you about your father?"
His father again. Why did Lord Vader care about Luke's family? "Yes, sir," Luke said, despite his confusion.
"A navigator. On a spice freighter. How...ignominious." Luke felt his mood darken again.
"Sir?" Should he even bother asking? This whole conversation was making no sense.
But suddenly Vader's attention seemed to sharpen. "To have achieved your rank at such a young age is no mean feat," he commented, after a brief pause. "Especially considering your background."
Back to compliments? Luke was lost. What does he want? But he only said, "Thank you, sir."
"You came to the Academy on a scholarship, I understand. And without the approval of your guardians." His tone invited elaboration.
Despite himself, Luke flushed. They'd noted that? But he cleared his throat and replied, "Yes, sir. My uncle wanted me to remain on the farm, but I sent in my application myself. When I was admitted with a full scholarship, I requested transportation, because I wouldn't have been able to pay for a shuttle to Carida on my own, and my uncle wouldn't pay for me."
"Why go to so much trouble?"
He sounded genuinely interested. But he'd also sounded genuinely interested throughout the conversation. Why? What was Luke to him? Still, he was Luke's superior officer, and had to be answered.
"I wanted to get away from Tatooine," Luke said, remembering the dreadful monotony of the desert, and the feeling of being stifled despite the clear skies and the sweeping dunes. "And I wanted to fly. I had a T-16 Skyhopper back home, but...it wasn't a starfighter."
"You wanted more than what you had."
Luke blinked, taken aback. "I suppose you could put it that way, sir," he said cautiously. He felt some sort of strange...anticipation...in Vader now. He couldn't feel any more, but even just having this strange extra sense, this ability to feel others' emotions, was useful enough.
"Your guardians lied to you," Vader said abruptly. "About your father."
"Sir?" Not that he'd never thought the same, but...what did Vader know about his father?
"I am not surprised they lied," Vader continued. "I would have been more astonished had they told the truth. I am sure they wanted to keep you away from me."
"Away from you, sir?" Luke asked, resisting the urge to bury his head in his arms. Was Vader normally this cryptic? Surely not - his bluntness was infamous. Then why this circular conversation?
"Yes," Vader said. He stepped closer. "Your father is not dead, nor was he ever a navigator on a spice freighter." He made a vaguely disagreeable sound at that last, and Luke remembered Vader's earlier statement of how ignominious.
"He's not?" Luke asked. His heart was starting to beat rapidly. Not dead? And Vader was talking like he knew him, like he knew exactly what happened to Luke's father, but Luke was just a former farmboy from Tatooine so how would the second-in-command of the entire Empire know his father?
"No," Vader said, as if savoring the word. There was a pause, full of delayed importance, and Luke almost wanted to shake the rest out of him, but refrained. He didn't want to give Vader an excuse to kill him, and besides, this was obviously something Vader wanted to say, or he wouldn't have begun this conversation.
"No," Vader said again. Then, with a burst of emotion that Luke could not decipher, "I am your father."
"Luke! When did you get back?"
Grinning, Luke stepped into the study and closed the door behind him. "Just now," he said. "But I wanted to surprise you."
Bail Organa laughed, then walked out from behind the desk and slung an arm around Luke's shoulders. "I am duly surprised. How was Coruscant?"
Luke frowned. "Full of Imperials," he said in disgust. "Pretty much everyone was looking down on me for being from Alderaan and your son."
Bail sighed, and his arm dropped away. "I warned you about that," he said, sounding tired. "I no longer have a very good reputation in the Senate, I'm afraid. Too pacifistic for those warmongers."
Luke smiled, then. "Well, I've stepped straight into your shoes," he said. "I've already been called a traitor for speaking out against those new refugee laws about to be legislated." Then the smile dropped. "I just wish I could be as eloquent as you. Maybe then they'd listen to me."
"They never listened to me, when I was the senator," Bail pointed out. "Though you know how proud I am of you for stepping up to the position. I know you've never felt right in it."
Luke ducked his head. "It's not so much that it doesn't feel right," he explained, looking at his shoes. "It's more that I feel there's something else I should be doing. I just don't know what. And what I'm doing now is important, anyway."
Bail nodded soberly. "It is," he agreed. "And it's getting more so, as the Emperor and Vader take more and more liberties away."
Luke looked up then, suddenly remembering something. "That reminds me," he said. "The Emperor and Vader..." Luke bit his lip, wondering how to put this.
Bail's eyes widened, and he put his hands on Luke's shoulders. "The Emperor and Vader what?" he asked, urgently. Luke could feel tendrils of fear beginning to swirl around his adopted father. The fear wasn't surprising, but the strength of it was, especially when he couldn't know what had happened, when Luke himself didn't even understand it.
"They seemed very interested in me," Luke said, finally. "Like they recognized me from somewhere. But I've never seen either of them in person before now, so I don't know how they could have."
Bail's hands tightened on his shoulders. "Tell me everything," he urged. "Don't leave anything out." His stiffened posture screamed of fear, but Luke didn't blame him; he couldn't remember what happened without a chill running down his own spine.
"It was in my presentation to the Emperor as a new senator," Luke began. "When I was giving my loyalty oath, he looked at me and told me to look at him, then he told me to wait until he was done because he wanted to talk to me later."
And Luke shivered, remembering the Emperor's gaze, cold yellow eyes staring into him from a face full of wrinkles and sagging skin. The thought had arisen that the Emperor looked like a shriveling corpse, hooded and cloaked all in black and sitting so still on his throne that he might have been arrayed for a funeral.
"I wanted to say no, but I couldn't," Luke continued. "So I waited. When everyone there was occupied with something else, he called Vader over to him and told him to look at me."
Look at his eyes, Lord Vader, the Emperor whispered in Luke's memory. Do they not remind you of someone we both once knew?
"Vader looked at me and then got really angry and stormed off," Luke finished.
Bail's eyes were closed now, though Luke knew if they'd been open he would have seen pain in them.
"I should not have let you go," he murmured. "Too risky...and now the threat is realized." Then he opened his eyes and looked straight at Luke, and Luke felt almost safe under Bail's warm gaze. "Is that all that happened?"
Luke shifted uneasily, and hesitated. Judging from Bail's earlier reactions, this was not going to make him happy. He distantly heard someone approaching the study door, but his mind was on other things. "They...took a blood sample," he said, finally. He raised a hand and rubbed the crook of his right elbow. He could still remember the needle sliding smoothly into his skin, himself too confused to protest.
"Oh, Luke..." Bail whispered. The door opened behind them, but Luke barely noticed.
"Does this have something to do with my birth parents?" he asked, though he didn't think it could be anything else.
"Yes," a deep, mechanical, familiar voice said from the study entrance. Bail straightened as Luke whirled around to see Darth Vader standing in the doorway. "This has everything to do with your birth parents, Senator Organa." Vader spat out the surname as if it was something distasteful.
"Lord Vader," Bail said calmly, though Luke felt he could almost hear his adopted father's heart beating faster. "This is a surprise."
"It shouldn't be," Vader hissed. Luke peered behind him, and saw a squad of stormtroopers in the hallway. "I would not have suspected even you of kidnapping, Organa."
Kidnapping? Luke thought, looking from Bail to Vader and back again. What?
"It was not kidnapping," Bail replied, still calm - almost fatalistically so. Luke sensed a sort of resolution in him - to face his death with dignity? No, Father...! "He was entrusted to me."
"By whom?" Vader stepped forward, threatening, and Luke wanted to take a step back, but stood his ground, determined not to let Vader intimidate him.
"Someone who tried to save his mother," Bail said, with a sad smile. "But her husband broke her heart, and she lost her will to live." And that sounded almost accusing, even said as mildly as it was.
"Do not mention her!" Vader roared, pointing at Bail. "She was a traitor, as you are a traitor -" Vader's hand closed, and Bail paled, one hand reaching up to hover above his throat. A strange rasping noise escaped him, and Luke could almost feel a phantom hand choking the life from his adopted father.
"No!" Luke shouted, and for a moment wanted nothing more than for that phantom hand to disappear. He could feel Vader's anger and Bail's pain, and he closed his eyes and wished things would just stop.
The silence made him open his eyes again, and both Bail and Vader were looking at him. Then Vader turned back to Bail and said, lowly, "He is not your son."
Bail said nothing. "In every way that matters, I am," Luke said instead, since it appeared Bail would not speak. "Maybe he's not my father genetically, but he raised me and cared for me. Even if my real father were standing here right now, it wouldn't matter. Bail Organa is my father."
Bail choked, and Luke looked anxiously up at him, laying a hand on his forearm, almost worried that Vader was trying to kill him again. But Bail looked at him, his gaze soft and clear, and covered Luke's hand on his arm with his own. "Thank you, Luke," he said, and squeezed Luke's hand. "That is an incomparable compliment."
"And an undeserved one." Vader sounded venomous, and when Luke turned to look at him again, he thought for a moment he could almost see the aura of anger that surrounded him. And was there an undertone of...pain? Luke flinched, as if the pain was his own. "Were it not for him, you could have grown up with your real father, Luke."
Luke blinked in surprise, then raised an eyebrow. "Senator Organa, please, Lord Vader," he said coolly. What right does he have to call me by my given name? Especially after he just tried to choke my father in front of me?
For a moment, Vader's pain seemed to overwhelm his anger, but then the anger came back in force. "Are you not curious about your real father?" Vader asked then. "Do you not want to know why the Emperor wanted me to look at you - why I am here?"
Did he? Luke looked from Vader to Bail, and could not help but wonder. He was curious about Vader's reaction and presence, yes, but somehow he was sure that if he asked the expected question, he wouldn't like the answer, and that it was knowledge he wouldn't be able to take back.
And he didn't care much about the idea of his real father. Perhaps if he had not grown up as he did...but Bail was his father in all but blood, and Luke was content in that.
So Luke said, steadily, "No. I don't think I want to know. I meant what I said about my father. I don't need to know."
Bail rested a hand on Luke's shoulder and squeezed. Luke felt his pride and happiness, and could not help but smile.
But Vader stood there, still, his large black form a reminder that all was not yet well. And Vader did not share Luke's contentment or Bail's happiness, and rage and hurt suffused his posture and presence.
"Yet you will know, Senator Organa," Vader said, strangely calm despite the swirl of emotions Luke could feel around him. "The Emperor first noticed it, and brought it to my attention, but you do look much like your real father. You have his eyes."
Look at his eyes, Lord Vader, the Emperor whispered again in Luke's memory, and Luke fought away a flinch.
"The blood sample confirmed our suspicions," Vader continued, "but what happened here, when you stopped me from choking Organa, cemented them. You are heir to your father's power." He stopped for a moment, then said, suddenly, "Ask me who your father is, Luke."
Luke shook his head. "But -" he started.
"Ask me!" Vader roared, interrupting his protest.
Luke's mouth dried. He looked at his adopted father, but Bail just looked sad, and didn't offer any guidance. So Luke asked, hesitantly, "Who is my father?"
There was no hesitation in Vader's voice as he replied, "I am."
No. "That can't be..." Luke whispered, then whirled around to look at Bail, hoping that his father, his true father regardless of blood, would denounce the obvious lie. But one look at Bail's tortured, resigned face made the request for reassurance die in Luke's mouth. It can't be true, it just can't be. Vader, of all people.... Father, tell me he's wrong. Tell me he's lying.
Tell me I'm not his son!
But Bail could offer no comfort - and, deep inside, Luke knew that Vader was not lying to him.
Vader paused a moment, then said brusquely, "You are coming with me, Son."
Luke flinched. "Don't call me that," he said. "And I won't leave." He stepped closer to Bail, then turned to face Vader. "I meant what I said before. Bail Organa is my father, not you."
Vader breathed, in and out, the respirator a horrible rhythmic presence. "I do not recall giving you a choice, my son," he said, after a moment. Then he gestured with a hand, and two stormtroopers marched in from the hallway and pointed their blaster rifles squarely at Bail. "But if you want a choice, here it is. Save Organa's life by coming with me willingly, or refuse and watch him die."
Choice, Luke reflected, bitterly. That's no choice at all. "If you want to get me on your side," Luke warned, "this is hardly the way to do it. You don't honestly think that threatening my father's life is going to make me want to be with you, do you?"
"You will change your mind, and eventually will stay with me of your own will," Vader said, full of damnable confidence. "Now choose."
Luke closed his eyes. I won't change my mind. I will go with him, but I won't change my mind. I will never want to stay with him. He opened his eyes again and turned to look at Bail, who was standing straight and tall, calmly facing the stormtroopers. "I love you, Father," he said, loudly enough for Vader to hear.
Bail smiled, his eyes swirling with warmth and agony. "And I love you, Luke," he replied, with a rough edge to his voice. "No matter what. Remember that."
Luke nodded, then let out a deep breath. "Don't shoot him," he said to the stormtroopers, though his eyes were on Vader. "I'll go."
Vader took a step to the side, gesturing for Luke to leave the room first. As Luke stepped into the hallway, he heard Vader say, casually, "Don't think that you can keep your kidnapping to yourself, Organa. The galaxy will know that you took my son, and your house will be disgraced...as will the Rebellion you secretly associate yourself with, when the people realize it has a kidnapper in its ranks. Do not think I am doing you any favors by leaving you alive; I simply will not allow you to be made into a martyr." A pause, then, "And do not try to contact Luke. He is mine now."
Vader left the room and strode ahead, and Luke fell into step behind him. Luke felt his eyes burn, but he would not let any tears fall, and he vowed that he would never call this monster Father.
"Leia!" Luke jumped off his branch and landed lightly on his feet. "Leia!"
He ran to her, and fell to his knees beside her, taking her hands in his. She lay crumpled in the grass and did not stir. A bloody gash on her forehead sparkled in the sunlight.
"Leia, wake up!" Luke let go of her hands and took her shoulders instead, shaking them gently. She was limp in his grip, and didn't move except where he moved her.
"Luke? Luke, what happened?"
He looked up, though he still didn't let go of Leia's shoulders. "I - we were climbing," he stammered. "I dared her to get to the top faster than me, but I guess she slipped and hit her head on a branch when she fell." Luke felt tears pricking the corners of his eyes, and angrily scrubbed at them. He was too old to cry when his sister was hurt, even if it was his fault, even if he felt her sharp pain at the branch's impact. "And now she won't wake up."
"Oh, Luke." Padm? settled to her knees beside Leia and touched two fingers to her wrist, then gently brushed across the gash on her forehead. Then she twisted around slightly and took Luke in her arms. He buried his face in her shoulder and sniffled. But even the comfort his mother could offer didn't distract him; soon he was wriggling out of her embrace, and sat down next to Leia's head.
"She'll wake up soon, won't she?" Luke reached out, let his hand hover above her hair. Wisps of it were escaping her braid and flying everywhere.
"She'll be fine." Carefully, Padm? gathered Leia into her arms, cradling her close for a moment. She stood up gracefully, despite her six-year-old burden, and Luke scrambled to his feet as well. "She just hit her head. She'll probably have a concussion, but she'll be fine."
Luke looked up at his mother anxiously. "Are you gonna take her to a doctor?" he asked.
But Padm? sighed, and shifted Leia in her arms. "I wish I could," she murmured. "But it's too dangerous. If someone should trace her medical file.... We're better off treating her back in the apartment."
Privately, Luke thought his mother was jumping at shadows, especially since she would never really explain the danger to him. I'm not too young! he thought indignantly. She keeps saying when we're older, but six is older.
But he still loved his mother, and he could feel that she really was scared of something. He hated having done anything to make her more scared, but Luke and his sister rarely had the opportunity to climb trees, and they wanted to take advantage. But if Luke hadn't raced Leia to the top, then their mother wouldn't be so worried...
Though perhaps there was something he could do...
"Mom, wait," he said suddenly. Padm? stopped, and turned to look at him. Leia looked very pale in her arms.
"Yes, Luke?" she asked, voice and face weary.
"I think there might be something I can do," he said. He hadn't tried with anything but bruises, but it was sort of the same thing, wasn't it? Just a bit more serious?
But Padm? was shaking her head. "I don't think that's a good idea, Luke -" she began, but Luke interrupted her.
"Just let me try," he said. "Please?" He looked at her, eyes wide, trying to show how earnest he was.
"We'll treat her back at the apartment," Padm? said again. She looked down at Leia and brushed a soft kiss across her cheek. "And the sooner we get there, the sooner Leia will be healed."
"But you'll let me try, won't you, Mom?" he persisted. "I can help her, I know I can. Probably faster than bacta, too." The bruises always went away quickly when he tried this, and he wanted Leia better as quickly as possible. A part of him always felt hollow whenever she was hurt...
"I'm not sure I should," Padm? said, weaving her way through the throngs of people on the streets. Luke picked up his speed to keep up with her.
Why not? "I'm not gonna hurt her," Luke said. "Really."
Padm? stopped for a moment, smiled and put her hand briefly on his head, smoothing back his hair, before shifting Leia in her arms again. "I know you wouldn't hurt her," she said softly. "But if you do what I think you're going to do, someone might be watching."
Luke frowned in confusion as his mother started walking again. "But it's not something you can see," he said. "I mean, you can see what happens, but you sorta have to be there. And it'll only be us three there, won't it?"
"It's not that kind of seeing, Luke," Padm? said absently. "Not from what I can tell. But I'm not sure I can explain it, since I barely understand it. I wish your father -" But then she stopped and compressed her lips, and didn't say anything else until they reached their apartment, when she quickly punched in the door code and shooed Luke inside before taking Leia to the room she and Luke shared and laying her on her bed.
"I'm going to go get the bacta," Padm? said, then squatted down next to Luke and took his shoulders in her hands. "Don't try anything, Luke. Please." Then she stood again and left, her skirt swirling behind her.
But Luke looked at Leia, lying so pale on the bed, and couldn't leave it at that. He looked around to make sure no one was watching - he would make that much of a concession to his mother, at least - and then he reached out and took Leia's hands in his, and began to concentrate.
How had he done this before, again? Picture the bruise, and picture it getting better, and touch that strange energy that seemed to surround him all the time...except that this was more than a bruise. A concussion, his mother said. Luke frowned, not knowing exactly what a concussion was, but surely that wouldn't matter? Her head was hurt, and he could fix that.
He reached for the Leia-sense in his mind and found it easily. It was tinged with pain, and he recoiled slightly before steeling himself and touching it again. Leia? he called. Leia?
Hurts, she replied. Head hurts.
I know, Luke soothed. I'm gonna try and fix it, or at least help you. Remember that trick we found, with healing bruises?
Yes. Leia's sense in his mind brightened. Then, How?
You know where it hurts, right? Leia sent a wordless affirmative. Concentrate on making the hurt go away. I'll give you energy.
Okay. Her presence brushed against his like a kiss on the cheek. Then her attention turned away from him, and he concentrated on feeding her energy. When he felt her become quieter, focused, he pulled back, opened his eyes...
...and saw his mother standing in the doorway, a tube of bacta gel in her hand, tapping one foot with a carefully stony expression on her face.
But still her first words were gentle. "How is she?" she asked, coming forward to sit in the chair beside the bed. She squeezed some of the gel onto one finger and rubbed it on the gash on Leia's forehead.
"Getting better," Luke replied, warily. "I think she'll be fine in a couple of hours."
Padm? stroked Leia's hair for a moment, then brushed a strand away from her mouth. "I distinctly remember telling you not to do that," she said, very reasonably, not looking at him.
Luke gulped. That meant she was angry. "But she was hurting," he protested anyway. "This is better."
"Bacta works," she said, still in that reasonable voice. "And it's safer." She sighed. "We're going to have to move again."
"Again?" Luke said immediately. "Why? No one saw me, promise! I looked!"
Now Padm? turned to look at him. "You might not have seen them," she said gently. "They still could have seen you, and we can't take the chance. You shouldn't use these abilities you and Leia have, Luke. They can be traced."
"Don't know how," Luke sulked, scuffing one foot against the floor. "Do we really have to move just 'cause I helped heal Leia?"
Padm? nodded, then closed her eyes, the lines on her face deepening for a moment. "I'll start making the arrangements," she said. "You start packing for you and your sister."
"I'm sorry, Mom," Luke whispered, hanging his head. He hadn't thought this would happen. He'd thought that maybe they'd stay in one place for more than a few months, finally. Why do we have to keep moving? he thought, with a sudden burst of anger at whatever was scaring his mother. It's not fair! "I just don't like it when Leia's hurt."
Padm?'s expression softened. "I know, honey," she said, reaching out and cupping his cheek in her hand for a moment before standing up. "I understand. I don't like it either. But it's because I don't want you or Leia to be hurt that we're moving again. Now start packing."
She disappeared through the doorway, and Luke, with a heavy heart, moved towards the closet.
Their wedding was to be a public ceremony, held in Coruscant's largest outdoor garden. The spot was chosen both for its practical value in that it could hold a very large amount of people and include holocasts from almost every angle, and for its symbolism, of life and new growth and flourishing.
"Do you ever wish to be a private citizen? Or wonder about how things might have turned out, if certain events hadn't happened?" she asked him, two weeks before the wedding.
"Private citizen? What's that?" he answered wryly, with a slight smile.
She swatted him lightly on the arm. "I'm serious," she said.
He shrugged. "I wouldn't know what to do with myself," he replied. "I've been too long in the public eye. I wouldn't miss how my every move is scrutinized, but I am what I am. There's not much point in wondering about might-have-beens." Then he eyed her. "You're not having second thoughts, are you?"
She leaned over and kissed him, warmly, and her lips lingered close to his as she whispered, "Never." He felt her smile as he pulled her closer to him again, one hand on the back of her neck and the other on her hip.
When they came up for air again, he asked, "Then what brought that up, if you still want to marry me?"
She sighed, and leaned her forehead against his as she closed her eyes. "I want to marry you, Luke," she said. One of her hands buried itself in his hair. "I'm just not as sure about wanting to marry the Emperor."
He sent her his understanding. "I don't blame you," he told her. "I know you like your privacy, and I've never had as much as I would like." Then he took a deep breath. "But if you--"
But she didn't even let him finish the thought before she leaned forward and kissed the words away from him. "Don't say what I know you're going to say," she warned. "Don't even think it. I've no regrets about saying yes, not really. Privacy's a small price to pay for being able to have you and have a family with you without scandal. Besides, if your father hadn't found you as a child, we probably would never have met."
He laughed, a light, carefree, and rare sound. "Is that the might-have-been you were imagining?" He knew his eyes were dancing as he looked at her. "But you're right. Not many assassins snooping around my uncle's moisture farm, that's for sure."
She snorted, prompting another laugh. "I wasn't snooping," she said primly. "I was gathering intelligence." He smiled, because she'd made that distinction before, no matter how many times he dismissed it as being the same thing. "Just be glad I didn't fulfill the second half of my mission."
He raised an eyebrow at her. "You didn't?" he asked in feigned astonishment. "I seem to quite clearly remember you knocking me dead."
She groaned. "That was horrible, Skywalker," she said, shooting him a look, half amused and half disgusted.
"I know," he agreed, and grinned when she chuckled.
But she sobered quickly. "Still," she said. "Do you ever wonder where you'd be, if not here? If your father had never found you, or if he and Palpatine hadn't killed each other when you were seventeen?"
"Sometimes," he said slowly, thinking about it. "If I'd stayed on Tatooine, or even if my father had finished my training before he died...maybe I'd even be a true Sith, with no room for love in me." He closed his eyes and sighed, then opened them again to look at her. "But there are too many things to wonder, and thinking about them isn't very productive. I am where I am."
"And I am where you are," Mara said softly. "I will be where you go."
"Getting romantic on me, Mara?" he teased, but he knew the look in his eyes was not teasing. He saw it reflected in hers, full of solemnity and promise. There was no room for regrets where they stood, so close to each other that nothing could get between them.
"Just making sure you don't forget." She cupped his cheek in her palm, her gaze steady on his.
"How can I, when you're here to remind me?" He smiled and leaned into the softness of her hand.
He closed his eyes again and took a deep breath, took in the quiet and the softness that his duties rarely gave him. Everyone else required him to be the Emperor, but she gave him room to be himself, as she always had since their mutual curiosity about one another led them to seek each other out in early adolescence, and beyond. She had held him when his father died, and dried the sparse tears he'd shed with her sleeve. She was his and he was hers; they were each other's.
He turned his head slightly and pressed a kiss to her wrist, on the skin just above her pulse. He felt it begin to quicken beneath his lips, and smiled.
"We are where we are," he said, drawing back but holding out a hand to her. "But we choose where we go."
She smiled at him, and took his hand. "Do you have a place in mind?" she asked; something in her eyes sparkled with mischief.
"I might," he said, and raised an eyebrow in invitation as he started walking backwards, drawing her after him. "Come with me, and I'll show you."
"I'll come with you," she said, even as her fingers curled around his. "But you already knew that."
"Yes," he agreed as they walked. "I did."
Original cover by boushh2187. HTML formatting copyright 2006 TheForce.Net LLC.