Author's Notes: After four and a half years, I'm back with what may very well be my final Star Wars story, if not my final story in any fandom. My swan song, although it feels more like an ugly duckling, that unsatisfied I am with it. I started writing it in October, 2015, so that will give you an idea of the hell I've gone through.
I'm older, my parents are also older with all that it implies, and my quality time at the computer is all too brief.
As the years went by, my merciless nitpicking has ended up choking my creativity to the point of utter paralysis. Nothing feels good enough, I'm constantly editing and re-editing and making it worse. Writing like this is torture, and I'm too much of a hedonist to hurt myself over something like this.
Rereading this story from the beginning, all the characters feel off, and I truly can't tell if it's real or it's all in my head.
Yeah, it is that depressing.
As I wrote the first third of the story, I was surprised by the fact that Leia was the true protagonist, a first for me. Picture my immense sadness when Carrie Fisher died in December, 2016. So, this story has become a sort of unintended homage to this remarkable woman and the unforgettable character she created, quite ahead of the times.
I want to dedicate "At a Crossroads" to my friend Barbara, who passed away last September at 42. Our fandoms rarely coincided, but she was a fanfiction enthusiast, always encouraging, always supportive. In her last few years, Steinert disease left her confined to a wheelchair, and reading, fanfiction and tv series/movies were her only escape. Wherever she is now, I know she's got a cosmic-sized library for her to enjoy to her heart's content. Farewell, my dear friend. Forever in my memory.
This is my longest SW story page-wise and the second longest word-wise, so brace yourselves for the slowest paced story you've ever read.
I also apologize for any typos and/or grammatical errors/oddly constructed sentences you come across. I still don't have a proofreader.
Now, considering what I just told you, proceed at your own risk, as they say.
May the Force be with you all, and thank you for your time.
'Release your anger! Only your hatred can destroy me!'
'You'll find I'm full of surprises!'
'You are beaten! It is useless to resist!'
'I'll never join you!'
'Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.'
'He told me *you* killed him.'
'No, *I* am your father.'
'Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as Father and Son.'
'Anakin, you're breaking my heart.'
'I'm doing it for you. To protect you.'
'You're going down a path I can't follow.'
'It seems in your anger you killed her.'
'It seems in your anger you killed him.'
'You killed him.'
'YOU KILLED HIM!'
Vader's eyes popped open in his hyperbaric chamber. His breathing was fast and erratic, and his heartbeat was out of control. Anxiously, he looked around, as if expecting to find someone in the chamber beside him; but of course, there was no one.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd had such a nightmare. A nightmare capable of throwing him off balance with its overpowering feeling of foreboding.
Why? And more importantly, why now?
What was the nightmare trying to tell him? What had changed since the last time - eons ago - for him to even remotely give a second thought to a dream like that?
'YOU KILLED HIM!'
His heart skipped a beat when he remembered the subtle difference in the last part of his dream. His mind lit up with the image of a young face, full of bravado and foolish determination, and a pair of light eyes that looked at him full of scorn and revulsion, that gradually transformed into horror and shock.
'Come with me,' he had said.
And the youth had chosen certain death over him.
Vader snarled with barely controlled rage. The child had escaped, but couldn't remain hidden forever. He had his best agents and bounty hunters on his trail, and one of them would eventually come up with something.
It was inevitable. Luke Skywalker's destiny was deeply entwined with his own, and neither of them had a choice in the matter. They would be together sooner or later.
'YOU KILLED HIM!
'YOU KILLED HIM!'
The bitter, angry words brought him back from his musings with a start; and at that moment, he knew that something was amiss.
"Do you have any idea what's wrong with him?" Leia asked the droid.
"I'm afraid I don't, your highness," 2-1B told the fidgeting Princess. "The hand implant was completely successful, and he's mostly recovered from the wounds he sustained. I venture to say that his ailment is more psychological than physical."
Leia pondered those words for a minute.
"Yes. Of course it is," she muttered.
"I suggest seeking psychological advice before his condition worsens," 2-1B recommended.
Leia worried at her lower lip, gauging all her options.
"I'll talk to him first," she finally resolved.
"Very well," the droid acquiesced.
Casting 2-1B a sad look, Leia turned about and strode into the adjacent chamber. Once inside, she headed directly for the small bed, where a half-reclining and despondent-looking Luke Skywalker stared off into the distance, oblivious to the two droids keeping him company. Threepio stood by the bed, trying to offer all the awkward comfort a protocol droid could, and Artoo emitted low and sorrowful beeps, commiserating with the young man's silent grief.
As she got closer, Leia's steps shortened and slowed, and her heart broke when she saw a lone tear sliding down a pale cheek. Luke didn't even try to wipe it away. He was there in body, but not in spirit. He didn't even acknowledge her presence when she stopped by his bedside. The two droids moved back respectfully, giving her space.
Seconds passed, and Luke didn't react. Shaking her head, Leia reached out and wiped the little tear away with the back of her finger. The young man blinked once, but remained as he was, totally withdrawn into himself.
Leia sighed when a second tear followed the first. It rolled all the way down and fell on the light gray robe Luke had been wearing the last few days.
"Luke, we need to talk about what's happening to you. About what happened in Cloud City." Her hand settled on top of the blond head and began to caress it up and down, up and down.
Luke's only response was turning away from her and shrinking into his bed, almost in a foetal position.
"I won't presume to know what happened between you two up there, because the answer is self-evident," Leia's voice shook with pain. "But I'm intelligent enough to guess there was more to it than your wounds and the utter shock of facing that monster."
Luke's left hand grabbed the coverlet and brought it up, covering his chest in a child-like fashion. His full body shudder made Leia choke up.
"Please, share with me," she begged him. "You know you can tell me everything. Even if I can't understand because it's got to do with... your special gift, you know I'll do my best to help. I care, Luke," she bit her lips. "I love you."
An anguished moan left Luke's throat.
"Don't you trust me?" Leia's heart broke a little bit more, if that was possible.
"Always!" Luke's head snapped back and looked at her for the first time, holding the coverlet to him. "But I will never tell anyone what happened. You'd hate me," all his strength seemed to desert him, and he sank into the bed once more. The Princess saw how yet another part of him died right before her eyes.
"I could never hate you!" she exclaimed, tears finally flowing from her eyes. "How can you say that after all these years?! You're my anchor, you're the joy in my heart whenever I feel I can't go on. You're... you're a part of me, Luke. What happens to you also happens to me. Let me help you. Please!"
His lifeless eyes contemplated her like a haunted soul would look at the living from the other side of the grave.
"No one can help me, Leia. I'm cursed. Tainted. It's... in my blood, and it's marked me for good. Nothing will ever be the same. I will never be the same."
Leia shivered from the very depths of her being at the look in those eyes. There was something in them... A horror beyond comprehension, beyond anything she could imagine or experience. And she hated Vader with all her soul for the light he had extinguished forever from those eyes. All the innocence, all the... purity Luke had embodied since she'd first known him, had been thoroughly crushed, turned to dust and left to rot in the rain.
She swallowed the lump in her throat, summoning the strength to say what she had to say.
"You will need help to get through this. You know that, don't you?"
The most poignant smile grazed his cracked lips and reaching out, he wiped the tears from her eyes.
"How could anyone help me, Leia? How could anyone possibly help me... from myself? From what I am? I'd have to die and be born as a different person," his eyes turned to the ceiling, devoid of all hope, of everything that made him the person he used to be. "I wish I was dead," he muttered to himself. "I wish... I wish..."
The Sith Lord walked into the bridge of the Executor and headed straight for the recently promoted Firmus Piett.
"Anything, Admiral?" he asked without preamble.
"No, milord," was the subdued reply. "The Rebel Fleet has scattered. Skywalker could be anywhere."
"His first priority should be rescuing his friend Solo from Jabba the Hutt," Vader ground his teeth before saying the name. "The Tatooine system and its vicinity is the logical choice."
"Our agents have spotted Lando Calrissian and the Wookiee already on the planet, but no trace of Skywalker as of yet," Piett informed.
Vader nodded to himself, deep in thought.
"One thing is certain, the rebels do know the concept of loyalty."
Piett's eyes opened wide at the value judgement coming from the ruthless Dark Lord.
"Keep searching," Vader ordered suddenly in his usual commanding tone. "Skywalker will show up sooner or later... and I will have him."
"Yes, milord," Piett nodded curtly.
"Well?" Leia stood from the couch where she'd been sitting the last 30 minutes.
Dr. Senna, the chief psychologist, walked up to the Princess and shook her head.
"He refuses to speak about the subject. He keeps saying that no one can help him, that no one would understand," she sighed and shrugged helplessly. "I can't help him if he doesn't want to be helped."
Leia's gaze lost into the distance.
"What did that bastard do to him?" she clenched her fists in outrage.
"I'm afraid we'll never know," the doctor said. "But I can tell you this."
The tone of Dr. Senna's voice was enough to make the little hairs on the back of Leia's neck stand on end.
"He's showing clear signs of depression and Post Traumatic Stress. He's got to open up and talk, or it will only get worse."
Leia's eyes fell closed.
"I can't let him do this to himself," she said. She opened her eyes and fixed them on the middle-aged, kind-eyed woman in front of her. "Can you come back tomorrow and try again?" she asked.
"I will," Dr. Senna nodded. "But I strongly doubt he'll open up to me."
"Why?" Leia asked.
"Whatever happened between him and Vader, I'm positive it was of a very personal nature. Vader did something to him that changed his perception of himself. It made him question the very... foundations of his being." She shook herself out of her introspective mood. "He's been broken in every way, and he's got to admit that before he can take the first steps for the healing process to begin."
Leia's stomach churned.
"And... if he doesn't?"
The look in the gentle eyes made the Princess' heart sink.
'You die in childbirth.'
'And the baby?'
'I don't know.'
'It was only a dream.'
'Our baby is a blessing.'
'Are you an angel?'
'You killed him.'
'You killed him!'
Vader woke up once more in his hyperbaric chamber all breathless and sweaty. His heart seemed about to beat out of his chest, and the feeling of anxiety was a fetid, stinking shadow looming over him.
"Blast. Blast it!" he exclaimed, breathing deeply until his vitals were once again under control.
'What is happening to me?' he asked himself. 'What... What is happening... to him?'
TEN DAYS LATER
The Princess stormed into Luke Skywalker's private quarters unnanounced, ready to bite his head off. Ten days, and Dr. Senna still hadn't made any progress. He was uncooperative, moody, sinking deeper and deeper into a place where no one could reach him. The good doctor was seriously considering to put him into medication.
It had been the last straw.
"Luke!" she called, when she came face to face with the empty bed.
Awful retching sounds coming from the bathroom brought her running to her friend's side.
Luke was kneeling on the floor, vomiting his guts out in the toilet. Without thinking, Leia grabbed the towel from the sink and dabbed at the back of his neck, kneeling down beside him.
Seconds later, Luke raised his head, breathing heavily. He coughed a couple times.
"Are you done?" she asked gently, wiping the sweat from the side of his face.
The young man nodded, turning his head aside.
"Can you stand?"
Luke nodded again, taking the towel from her hands and wiping his mouth with it.
Leia clasped his upper arm and held him steady while they rose to their feet. His skin was cold and clammy to the touch.
It was only when Luke brought down the towel that Leia got a good look at his naked torso. His ribs were visible under his skin.
"My goodness, how much weight did you lose?!" she cried out, alarmed.
"It doesn't matter," was the weak reply.
"What do you mean 'it doesn't matter'? Just look at you!" she shook her head in horror. "Haven't you been eating?"
"I can't hold anything down," Luke said matter-of-factly, shrugging her off and returning to his room a bit unsteadily.
Leia watched him go, studying his gaunt body, his stance, the resignation in his every step. It was as if he had given up.
A shiver went up and down her spine at the thought.
Luke climbed into bed and covered himself up to his waist with his left hand. He just lay there, unmoving, staring at the ceiling.
For the first time in her life, Leia was at a loss what to do. She had always been a strong and resolute person. She had always known what had to be done, what the best course of action was. But now she felt like a child, totally alone, facing a no-win situation.
Helplessness ate at her heart. She had already lost Han. He had been torn from her just when they'd finally admitted their love for each other. And now Luke - to whom she and Han had served as a bait - had been so savagely brutalized, physically and emotionally, that he was fading away before her eyes.
Her world was falling apart. She was losing it all.
Darth Vader stood still before the windows of the bridge, looking out like an untamed force of nature; inescapable, unyielding. Unforgiving. Lethal.
But even the most lethal force of nature has something to fear. A greater power to answer to.
Piett walked up to the Sith Lord with brisk, nervous steps.
"Lord Vader," he addressed the black form, "the Emperor wants you to communicate with him at once."
For long, inexorable seconds, Vader didn't react. He remained staring out, demanding the Universe to give him what he wanted.
Finally, he conceded temporary defeat and left the bridge.
"What is thy bidding, my master?"
A light blue holographic image flickered into view and looked down at the kneeling cyborg at its feet.
"I have felt an unsettling disturbance in the Force. Did you feel it too, my friend?"
"Yes, my master," Vader raised his head and faced the deformed, hooded creature.
"And what do you make of it, Lord Vader?"
Vader considered carefully his answer to the question.
"I cannot be sure, my master," he said at last. "Everything is unformed, uncertain."
"Do you think young Skywalker is the source of the disturbance?"
Did that question mean his master wasn't having any visions like he was? If it was so, then it was better to keep him in the dark... in more ways than one.
"Maybe," he replied noncommitally.
"I know you are eager to continue your search, but you must be patient. He will need time to recover from... your sweet fatherly attentions," an oily, guttural laughter gurgled in Palpatine's throat.
Something in Vader recoiled from those words and the twisted delight they conveyed.
"When the time comes, his full blossoming into the Force will make it inevitable. He will learn there is no choice. He will join us in the Dark Side, or die."
And for the first time in decades, Vader felt sick. Sick at the prospect of the monstruosity his master was - the monstruosity he himself had become - touching the purity and innocence he had briefly tasted.
"Yes, my master," he bowed his head, grinding his teeth at his own gesture of submission.
When the holographic image faded away, Vader remained kneeling on the floor, deadly still, hands tightly clenched at his sides.
"I'm sorry, but I can't allow this situation to continue," Dr. Senna said. "If we make no progress today, I'll have him medicated and intravenously fed. His health is in the balance."
Leia bit her lower lip, looked away and nodded in compliance.
"Could I walk in on my own?" she requested all of a sudden, meeting the doctor's eyes earnestly. "Maybe he'll feel compelled to open up to me this time, instead of a complete stranger."
"I suppose it's worth a try," Dr. Senna nodded at the suggestion. "After all, nothing's worked so far." She set her jaw in firm determination. "But you musn't go on in there as just his friend. Your bearing must be supportive but uncompromising. Don't let him shut you out and withdraw. Make it clear to him that this is his last chance, or drastic measures will have to be taken. You understand?"
Leia nodded sharply.
The door opened and Leia barged into Luke's quarters like a whirlwind. Unceremoniously, she grabbed a chair and placed it right beside the young man's bed with a loud sound.
Luke observed her with a sad, ironical and detached look, but didn't move from his reclining position on his bed.
Leia sat on the chair and did her fair share of staring, not allowing the mounting feeling of worry to show. Luke's eyes seemed to have sunk into their sockets, his cheekbones were more prominent and his nose looked sharper - horrifying testament to his tremendous weight loss and his ravaged psyche.
And in that moment, she knew she couldn't afford to fail. She wouldn't leave this room without knowing what had turned that beautiful man into the shell of the person he used to be.
"No Dr. Senna today?" Luke asked hoarsely. He sounded like he hadn't used his voice in weeks.
"No," Leia replied drily, tilting her chin up. "We decided to try a different approach. You and I are going to talk. And talk. And keep talking, until I get an answer that makes sense out of you," her eyes blazed passionately. "Your life is at stake here and I'm not playing with that, you hear me?"
Luke's eyes dropped to the floor, revealing a soul deep weariness that only rivalled the melancholy he oozed through every pore. And for the first time, he looked old, really old, as if his lifeforce had been sucked out of him.
His left hand clutched the coverlet, as though bracing himself for the upcoming battle of wills. Leia studied it for an instant and something nagged at her mind. There was a definite pattern here, a very telling pattern...
"Leia, this is useless," Luke's infinitely tired voice diverted her from her thoughts. "Please, I'm begging you. I can't..."
"Oh, you can't. You can't?!" the words were out of her lips before she could hold them back. Something in her snapped. "Do you think what happened to you was bad? Well, let's take a look at me for a change, shall we? I was tortured, and while I was being tortured I could hear the screams of the man I love from the end of the corridor, knowing he was with him," her eyes blazed furiously. "And as you'll remember, I know firsthand the kind of tortures Darth Vader is fond of," tears of anger and delayed shock started to brim in her lower lids.
Luke flinched, shaken out of his lethargy by her bluntness.
But there was no stopping Leia. Unbeknownst to her, she had been needing this catharsis as much as he had. She had her own personal traumas to deal with, and she was dealing with them right here and now.
"Then I found out we were being used as a bait to lure you in, so that... sadist could capture you," the tears finally slid down her face. "I saw Han being frozen in carbonite, not knowing if he would live, wishing I could take his place," she slapped her chest once, trying to release the pain she had been bottling up for weeks now.
Luke reached out to her, but Leia put out her hand forbiddingly. His breathing then started to come in short, quick gasps. He was awakening with a vengeance.
"Then I saw him being handed over to a bounty hunter, who took him away to a revolting crime lord holding a years-long grudge. To someone who could be doing anything to him this very moment," Leia was on a roll now and refused to stop, for Luke had to see, had to understand he wasn't to blame for anything. He was a victim, just like all of them. She wiped away her own tears. "I feel anger, and guilt, and hatred, and helplessness; but I can't let those feelings win. I have so much to fight for! For those who're not here anymore, for the ones who suffer, for my friends... for you."
Luke sank his head. He couldn't face Leia's eyes. He couldn't face her deep love and concern. He couldn't let her draw the truth out of him, for if she did he would lose her; and if he did... it would kill him.
'Ben! Yoda! Why didn't you tell me? Why did you lie to me?'
But only silence answered his call, just like all the other times he had shouted out his pain and despair into the Force.
He squeezed his eyes shut, biting his lips mercilessly.
"Leave me. Please, Leia. Please, leave me!" he implored, moving his head from side to side.
That was more than Leia could take. Lunging forward, she grabbed his chin and forced him to meet her eyes.
"I won't leave you. I can't leave you, don't you understand? It wasn't your fault! You did nothing wrong. You tried to save us, but there was no way you could succeed! You engaged that beast trying to protect us. There's no shame in losing to him! There's nothing to be ashamed of!"
Luke tried to disengage her hand but Leia would have none of that. She cupped his face in both hands, effectively preventing an easy escape from her eyes and her passion.
"What's going on inside you, Luke? Did you have to tap from some dark place deep within to face him? Are you afraid of what you felt? Is that it?" she didn't know where that insight was coming from but the look in his eyes told her that she had hit a nerve. "Oh, my!" she exclaimed. "No, NO, Luke! Whatever you felt, whatever that monster made you feel, it wasn't you! He's everything you're not, everything you could never be! Don't start doubting the goodness in you now cause you're the purest being I've ever known. You are nothing like him! Vader is..."
"...MY FATHER, LEIA! HE'S MY FATHER!" the truth exploded from the young man's soul like a demon that's exorcized at last. His bloodshot eyes opened wide and bore into hers. "HE'S MY FATHER, DON'T YOU SEE?!"
Leia jumped back as if she had been physically hit by the revelation. What...? Father...? Vader... Luke's father? Luke's father?! What was Luke talking about?
"Your... Father?! No, h-he's not... It c-can't be true," she stuttered, still holding the young man's contorted face in her hands. "That's impossible!" How could that... thing they'd been fighting all these years engender a child, let alone...? No, it wasn't true, as simple as that. Vader must have been playing mind-games with Luke. There could be no other explanation.
"He *is*!" Luke exclaimed. Now that his secret was out in the open he was frantic for Leia to believe him. The notion that she thought he was believing a lie was even worse. "I felt it through the Force! I felt it in my heart. I knew it was true the moment he said it," his eyes burned with horror, anguish, and a pain beyond belief.
All of a sudden, Leia's hearing began to fade away. She blinked, trying to clear her head, but the feeling of disconnection only grew stronger.
'There is no escape. Don't make me destroy you.'
'Luke, you have not yet realized your importance. You have only begun to discover your power.'
'With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict, and bring order to the galaxy!'
'Come with me. It is the only way.'
Leia shook her head roughly and just like that, everything returned to normal. What...? What had just happened?! She'd heard those words in Vader's voice, as clearly as if he was in the room with them! She had even caught a brief mental glimpse of him, standing on the edge of a gantry, his cape billowing wildly behind him, left hand reaching out.
It was Luke's memory that she was seeing! She was reliving that moment through his eyes! How come...?
"My father, Leia. My father!" Luke cried out one last time, falling apart. He buried his face in the crook of her neck, sobbing hysterically. He felt he had surrendered the last vestiges of his sanity in his confession. "Force help me, what will I do now? How will I be able to resist him next time? PLEASE, SOMEBODY HELP ME!"
Deep in shock, Leia's automatic response was enfolding the trembling young man in her arms and holding him tight. She couldn't hear his panic-stricken words anymore; all she could hear was the noise, the buzzing noise in her ears...
Darth Vader... Luke's father! How could it be? HOW? And what about Anakin Skywalker, dashing young hero, fearless pilot and noble Jedi Knight who had died before Luke was born? The man Luke idolized and worshipped... and loved with every fibre of his being?
"They lied to me, Leia! Everyone lied to me! Ben, uncle Owen, aunt Beru, master Yoda... they all lied to me! My whole life has been a lie and I want to die. I'm losing my mind, Leia! I want to die!"
Leia felt one of his hands grabbing desperately the back of her jacket and almost tearing it. She looked down just as Luke's head moved back a little, and their eyes met.
And Leia knew she would never forget the look in those eyes for as long as she lived.
"They used me... I've been a puppet in their hands and I don't know who I am anymore. I just want to die! Die! Die!" an endless stream of tears rolled down his deadly pale face, and he looked up at her beseechingly, as his last chance at hope and life.
Swallowing the immense lump in her throat, heedless of the tears that ran down her own face, Leia brought one hand around and framed the wet cheek in it. She caressed it with her thumb, uselessly wiping the tears away, for they were immediately replaced by more tears, and more and more...
Neither of them heard the soft whooshing sound of the door opening, and the light, quick steps approaching.
Suddenly, Dr. Senna appeared beside them.
"You need this now, Luke. Rest," she whispered tenderly, injecting something in the side of his neck.
Luke gave a brutal start and hardly had time to turn his head. Unconsciousness was already upon him. He didn't see Leia and Dr. Senna lying him back and covering his thin, emaciated body with the bedspread.
TO BE CONTINUED...