Return to Naboo Part 9

Author's Notes: Thank you, again, everyone. It's been thrilling, and very rewarding, for me to know that other people are enjoying my story.

Disclaimer: I do not own Star Wars, etc.

"We'll keep trying," the medic assured them. "Don't give up hope yet." She hurried off, leaving them with King Tripday, who awkwardly offered condolences and left. Then they were alone.

"I must go back to Luke," Anakin's hoarse voice broke the silence. He stood and walked back to his son's room. Han and Leia followed. Han's arm was around Leia, supporting her. He suddenly, intensely missed Chewbacca. The gentle Wookie would have been a rock for them to lean on, and he loved Luke, too. If the worst happened, and Han couldn't imagine that it would, yet he saw no solution, either, then Chewie ought to be there. After all, Chewie had been there when they'd all first met.

For a moment, Han remembered the loud, shady cantina in Mos Eisley, and meeting a young, naïve farmboy for the first time. Luke had changed since then, but in some ways he had already been wise. He had known that the only true happiness lay in reaching out to others, caring for others. That was one thing Han had learned from him. Meeting up with the Skywalker twins was one of the luckiest breaks he'd ever gotten. He didn't want to think about where he'd be without them.

They reached Luke's door, and Leia, usually the strong one, suddenly turned and buried her face in Han's shoulder. "Wait. I can't go in there yet."

Han held her close as she wept briefly. He didn't fully understand the bond between Leia and Luke, but he knew they often seemed like two halves of one soul. He didn't know how Leia would survive without her brother. And Anakin-he couldn't even imagine the pain he must be feeling.

What were any of them going to do without Luke? To his own amazement, because he couldn't remember the last time he had shed a teaar, he broke down as well. Oddly, as soon as he began crying, Leia seemed to regain her composure. She patted his back as said softly, "It's going to be all right, Han. It has to be. Luke's not going to go like this."

Han choked back his tears. "You're right. We'll find a way to beat this. Nothing's ever stopped us before."

They gripped each other's hand and slowly entered the room.

Feeling that Luke might be able to breathe a smidgen easier sitting up, Anakin had gone to sit at the head of the bed and had Luke propped up against his chest. He was stroking Luke's arm and murmuring encouragements, "Keep going, son. That's my good boy."

Leia went to sit on the other side of the bed while Han took a nearby chair. She closed her eyes and laid her hand on Luke's. She didn't much experience using the Force, but she tried to summon all her strength and love and send them to Luke, hoping somehow that she could save his life by sheer willpower.

She didn't know how much time had passed when she opened her eyes again. It seemed like hours. She looked around. Han had fallen asleep, his head lolling to the side in a way that looked extremely uncomfortable. She could see tear tracks on his face again and felt a surge of love for him. Han had a tough exterior, but underneath he was the most sensitive person she knew. Luke was his brother, too, really, and she knew his heart would break as much as hers if Luke died.

Except that Luke wasn't! He couldn't! Leia looked at her twin and, despite her stubborn assertions, she knew he was worse. His breathing was ragged and uneven, and his fever raged out of control. His hand, the true left one, was burning hot to her touch.

Leia looked up at her father. His blue eyes, so much like Luke's, were bright with tears.

"He's worse, isn't he?" she whispered.

"He's dying," Anakin said flatly. "He's dying because of me, and I can't do anything to help him."

"Is there anything you could do with the Force?" Leia asked, although she knew that if there were, Anakin would have already done it.

"No. I'm not a healer. Some Jedi in the past were, but I have no idea what to do. I've been trying, but-" he waved a hand to indicate that she could see it wasn't working.

A group of medics entered and injected a bright liquid into Luke's arm. They studied the machines monitoring his condition, but nothing changed. After a while, they shook their heads.

"I'm sorry," one of them said. "We'll keep trying, but the shape he's in, I'm afraid we're running out of time."

When they had gone, Leia turned to find her father with his face buried in his hands. "What will I do without my Luke?" he asked in despair. "He saved me. He believed in me and loved me when no one else did. And there was no reason for him to. All I'd done was hurt him. I couldn't believe he could really forgive me and want me in his life, but he did. I owe everything to him, Leia, and all I've ever done is cause him pain."

Leia reached over to embrace him, and they clung to one another, weeping. Finally Leia spoke, "That isn't true, Father. Luke's been happier since you came than I've ever seen him before. You've given him a lot of joy as well." She leaned against him and realized that she loved him. She wasn't struggling to overcome the past anymore. She accepted him and she loved him. Luke would be so happy to know that. She could only pray that he could learn of the reconciliation he had done so much to bring about. What horrible irony if she and her father were finally brought together by grief.

"Thank you, daughter," Anakin held her close and stroked her hair, trying to comfort them both.

They huddled around Luke, seeking in vain for any sign of improvement in his agonized breathing. Anakin suddenly said, "Leia, I'm going to speak with Miret."

She looked at him in amazement. "Father, I'm not sure if-"

"I'm not going dark side again. I just have to speak with him."

"But what if Luke-what if something happens while you're gone?" she asked.

Anakin sighed. "I have to go, Leia. The Force is telling me to go to him. I don't understand why, but I have to do it. I don't want to leave you alone, though."

"I'm awake," Han's voice said. He came over to them. "You go on if you need to."

Anakin stood up, and Leia and Han together took his place at the head of the bed, holding Luke. Anakin kissed Luke's forehead. "I love you, son," he whispered.

Outside the medcenter, he commed Mak Panaka and got directions to Theed's only prison. As he drove along, he wondered why he was being led to do this. Zel Miret was the last person he wanted to see. He wanted to be at Luke's side. He couldn't bear to think of-something-happening while he was away. And what if he were somehow being of some help to Luke through the Force? Didn't Luke need him at the medcenter? He almost turned around and went back, but something told him to go to Miret.

Oddly enough, he didn't feel the uncontrollable rage he had feared. There was some anger, directed at both himself and Miret, but mostly he felt a heavy, disbelieving sorrow.

He parked the speeder, entered the jail, and met Panaka at the front desk.

"Master Anakin, I want you to know how sorry I am about your son," he said as they shook hands.

//He's not dead yet. There's still hope.// Anakin wanted to cry out, but he only said, "I want to see Miret."

As Panaka hesitated, he added, "I promise you, I only want to talk with him."

Panaka led him down a long hall to a closed door. "How much time do you need?"

"I'm not sure," Anakin admitted. "Ten minutes?"

"I'll return then."

The door slid open and Anakin entered. As the door closed behind him, he and Miret stared at each other. Gone were the finely-made, expensive clothes. Miret now wore a dark prison uniform.

"So you've come to finish me off," he remarked. "Go ahead. I have nothing to live for now."

Anakin shook his head. "I don't know why I came, but it wasn't to harm you."

"I've killed your son. Don't tell me you don't want revenge."

"Maybe a part of me does," Anakin replied slowly. "But if I gave in to that part, I would be denying the greatest gift I've ever received. I hurt my son in countless ways, and yet he chose to forgive and love me. I won't betray him by giving in to hate now. That's what I did when my wife died. I gave up on love and hope and compassion, and it led me to become Darth Vader. I can never make up for your loss, or for all the harm I've caused. You may not believe me, but my heart breaks every day remembering the terrible things I've done. I've dedicated the rest of my life to serving others, but nothing will atone for the past. Yet I have to forgive myself enough to carry on for the sake of the ones I can help now. I have to forgive you because one thing I've learned from Luke is that forgiveness is the only way people can live in peace and happiness."

Abruptly the door opened and Panaka came in. "We have to leave now. There's a mob outside trying to break in. I can't hold them off by myself." He slipped binders on Miret's wrists and led them to a side door. "We'll go out this way. My father's house is nearby. We'll go there for now."

As they came out, someone in the crowd spotted them and shouted, "There he is! He's killed Padme's son! Get him!" The mob of angry people, shouting and throwing rocks, ran towards them. Then blaster shots whizzed by. Anakin was able to deflect them, but he knew he couldn't last indefinitely. "We have to get out of here!"

The three of them raced around the back of the building where Anakin's speeder and a guard transport were parked. "Split up," Panaka called, heading for the transport. "I'll try to lead them away. You go to my father's house." He leaped in the transport and took off around the side of the prison. Most of the crowd chased after him, but not all. Anakin and Miret found themselves facing a dozen people, carrying torches, clubs, and blasters. A burly man raised a metal bar threateningly and stepped toward Miret.

"Put down your weapons and go home," Anakin called. "You're peaceful people. You don't want to do this."

"Luke Skywalker is going to die because of him! Let us have him. He deserves it!" a voice shouted.

"He deserves a fair trial. Let a judge decide his fate," Anakin countered.

The man with the bar came closer, and Anakin swiftly ignited his lightsaber. The man stopped and the crowd drew back.

"You're Luke's father. How can you say that?" someone demanded.

"Go home," Anakin repeated. "Enough people have died. Go home."

The crowd muttered, but reluctantly began dispersing. When he felt it was safe, Anakin deactivated the saber and motioned Miret toward the speeder. He looked at the printout map they had left in the speeder and located the elder Panaka's home three blocks away.

They found Panaka, senior awake and expecting them. Mak had called to alert him to Miret's arrival.

"Mak's lost the mob and is on his way here," Reth Panaka informed them. He carried a blaster and looked capable of handling the situation. Anakin said quietly, "Very well. I'm going back to the medcenter."

"I'm sorry to hear about your son," Reth said sympathetically.

Anakin could only nod. He turned to leave, but stopped when Miret called, "Skywalker!"

He looked at the man.

"You saved me," Miret said wonderingly. "Why?"

"It was the right thing to do."

Miret's eyes filled with tears that slowly ran down his cheeks. He swallowed hard and said, "In my room at Theed Palace, there is a safe hidden behind a landscape portrait. The password is 'Betta and Keren." Inside the safe is a vial containing something else I secretly developed along with the bysa virus."

"What is it?" Anakin whispered.

"The cure."

Epilogue:

Five days later.

Luke, Leia, and Han stood in the hanger of Theed Palace by the Falcon's lowered ramp. Han and Leia had delayed their departure until they were certain Luke was well on the way to recovery, but now they had to leave. Leia was needed on Coruscant.

Luke and Anakin were going to remain on Naboo a few more weeks. Thanks to Miret's miracle cure, Luke's lungs were regenerating quickly, and he felt stronger with each passing day, but the medics had advised that he recuperate for another week or two before undertaking the journey back to Coruscant. He and Anakin also planned to speak in Miret's defense at his upcoming trial.

"We'll call as soon as we reach Coruscant," Leia hugged her brother, saying a prayer of thanks for his recovery. Then she stepped back and gave him a stern look. "Now, Luke, you have a tendency to push yourself too hard. Remember the medics said to get plenty of rest."

Luke grinned. "With Father around, do you really think I've got a choice? He's beginning to drive me crazy. Every few minutes, it's 'Luke, you look cold. Go put on a jacket' or 'Luke, don't overdo it' if I walk across the room."

They all laughed, and Luke shook his head in mock exasperation. "He's like a Ralltir tiger with a five minute old cub."

Leia hugged him again. "Well, I can't blame him. You were dying, Luke. We were all terrified."

"I know," Luke said contritely. "I didn't mean anything by it. It is nice to be loved."

"Speaking of your father, where is he?" Han looked around the hanger. "We need to go."

"Trying to find the droids," Leia told him. "You haven't forgotten that 3PO is going back to Coruscant with us, have you?"

"I was hoping you'd forgotten, and we could leave him here," Han responded.

"General Solo, I must say that I do not find your little jokes amusing," 3PO said indignantly as he, R2, and Anakin approached right on cue.

Han rolled his eyes. "Who said I was joking?"

"Luke, you look tired. Are you sure you don't need a hoverchair?" Anakin called.

Luke sighed, "I think I'm in for a long recuperation."

"Well, the lake retreat is a good place for it," Leia said. "When do you leave?"

"Right after you guys take off. The medics agreed I could rest there as well as at the medcenter," Luke told them.

They all hugged, and then Leia, Han, and 3PO walked up the ramp. A few minutes later Luke, Anakin, and R2 watched the Falcon slip away through the clouds.

Anakin placed his arm around Luke's shoulders and hugged him close. "Come on, son. Let's go home."

The End

Author's Notes (again): I have loved writing 'Return to Naboo' and I hope you enjoyed reading it. I have almost finished a sequel, called 'The Lost Ones', which describes how Luke and Anakin search for Miret's missing family, and come to terms with some haunting memories from their past. It is both an angst/adventure tale, I suppose. I'm not sure if anyone would be interested in reading it because it seems like most of you like the Han and Leia scenes best, and they're hardly in 'The Lost Ones' except at the end. But if anyone is interested, I will probably begin posting it in a couple of weeks. Thank you, again, for the kind reviews. I'm so grateful to all of you who let me know that you liked my work.