Chapter Three – Crests of Waves*
"Brother - what exactly do you think you are doing?!"
Senator Leia Organa-Solo had a particular manner of asking open-ended questions: a manner of baleful curiosity and unabashed critique; that of temperament, and intimidation.
Luke, however, did not flinch.
The words were flung at him with all the heated, crackled restraint of a well and truly enraged diplomat. They grazed his Force-bared heart about as smoothly as the caress of a laser-bolt from an overheated blaster would have; and he suddenly became aware of how his inner shields were down, all down, his mind still blurred with the blissful aftermath of meditating.
Luke took a deep breath and silenced his thoughts. Leia had enough trials and tribulations to overcame without having to bear the burden of his mortification; there was no need for her to fully understand just how deep between his ribs the blade of bile had run. After all, he knew that he merely happened to be at the receiving end of Leia's fit of wrath – initially reserved to a multitude of recipients, varying from Han to the ambassador of Carida, who hadn't even bothered to offer the minor courtesy of informing the Senate about his change of take on intergalactic policy.
Now here she is, baleful, wide-eyed, dangerous, and yet scared… and she asks, no, DEMANDS what I am doing – as if she was so certain about it herself.
Luke quelled his revolting heart and relieved himself from all emotions. They were slowly, tactfully hidden behind a veil of hard-earned control: no longer painful, no longer forced like a chastity belt around his mind. Still, he could have devised many answers to his sister's question (not all of which lacked venom).
He took another centering breath, as if mere oxygen held power enough to wash pain and tension out of his body, his very self.
Whatever inner maelstrom had transpired behind his mask of frugal quietude, it did not perturb the Jedi Master's face to the slightest; only his eyes flickered with the shadow of some shady, half-acknowledged emotion.
"I seek to execute the order my master gave me with his dying breath," he offered cryptically. His composure solidified to the unbreakable, and for one fleeting second, the Living Force flew through him in all its capricious elusiveness, and he was ethereal; focused, unmoved, yet strangely light, almost nonchalant, as if he was merely talking about the weather. "And you?"
The fire hissed, then smouldered, then died out entirely. A fissure ran through Leia's mask of polite indifference; and the patterns of the Force changed around her, shaping into a tight-knot maze of vicious temperament, ivied with pride and deference. For a heartbeat, the Princess, the Senator, the insolently bright woman, the sister Luke knew was gone; and Leia seemed fragile, tired, and so very ancient that Yoda himself would have probably offered her his stick if he were only there.
Strangely enough, this drop of guard, this moment of unwillingly offered truce made Luke's temper rise again.
"And you?" He pressed, he spat once more, his voice betraying him for a moment. He was no longer naïve enough to think of Leia as the fiercest potential supporter of his ambitions, but he did expect her to back him, at least a little, instead of rolling new obstacles before the already jolty-looking course of his Jedi legacy.
Then, it was Leia's turn to show composure that put him to shame.
"I? I'm trimming above – and between – ten thousand different lava pits." His sister sank into the chair beside him, adjusted a cushion to her waist, and gave him an exhausted look. "One foot wrong, and I'll fall, dragging half the Galaxy down with me in one pitiful avalanche. Unlike the Jedi, I can't fly, I can't float rocks, and I can't walk through fire. Neither can I ride the wind of your empty euphemisms to some cosmic paradise when we can all live in peace, and our conflicts are magically solved with a snap of my fingers. So, if you ask me what I'm doing – I manage."
Another pang of pain reverberated in the Force, another truth slammed against his unprotected core, stripped before the Light; and with it came heavy understanding.
"You don't believe me."
It wasn't an accusation; not really. It was no more than a horrified whisper, an echoing plea for confutation, an unconscious gasp of guttural pain.
"You don't believe I can do this."
Leia buried her face into her hands. There was it again: raw, naked emotion. Feebleness. All visible, all bared, all vouched for and validated; yet Luke could not validate the wildfire in his own chest, not he, never he. Never a Jedi.
There is no emotion.
Only the Force.
Yet emotion was no stranger to his sister, his other half, his extension, and therefore, he felt it, too: echoing ripples in an overfilled pool; the draining of raw, thick energy into a far-away black hole; the rustle of leaves in the gardens of Alderaan as the coming of the short autumn season frayed nature's stubborn virility.
"There will be time to realise what you've envisioned," Leia said in a voice of liquid steel. "But not now. Later."
"You don't think I'm ready."
"You may be, but the Republic isn't. There hardly is any true Republic to speak of – today, at least. So many things have happened… so many wounds have been inflicted… so many wrongs should be righted. You cannot even imagine…"
"You are exhausted," said Luke, and he huddled further up in the armchair, so uncharacteristically soft for his ascetic lifestyle, so warm and inviting. He shrugged off the feeling of unbecoming homeliness and hugged his knees, tightly, as if the mere strain of his muscles could keep him together.
"…and you are delirious."
Luke pressed his lips into a thin line before he could say something he would later regret. Leia noted the gesture and made a soft noise under her breath: too short to be a sigh, too sharp to be a sob, too faint to be a chuckle.
"Jedi Master or not, there is still so much you need to understand… We are committed to our duties, above all, despite love or wrath, despite personal preferences and misgivings. Diplomacy and politics are fragile tools – you can't dash through a path at lightspeed if there is a deadly pit gaping at every turn. Your strength will not carry you. I have failed to see this several times before… and what tires me now is to continue looking for pitfalls before it's too late. I thought Jedi did the same, and more – this is why I never wanted to be a part of their endeavours."
There was a long silence. Then, Leia sealed the accord she made with herself.
"Luke, when the Senate deems that the time is ripe to establish a new Jedi Order, you shall have all the support I can give, and more. And that time will come. Shortly. But it isn't here yet."
"Then I must ready myself until that time comes," Luke said, but both brother and sister knew that their words were no more than another rhetorical façade for prying eyes. They nevertheless allowed themselves a few heartbeats worth of exhilarated abandon.
"The kids are bound to return in a week," Leia suddenly said, her tone suddenly light and conversational. "If Han doesn't plunge himself too deep in casinos and rackets, he'll be back by the time Winter's ship arrives."
Luke glanced up from his folded hands. "Where is your scoundrel now?"
"Off to a diplomatic mission on Kessel… meeting acquaintances there, the way he puts it." A small crease appeared between Leia's brows, deepening with every uttered word. "We don't know if the system shall be willing to cooperate with our Senate, but their current situation could only improve if they sided with us. Never was there a cheaper way for the leaders of an undercover drug operation to get away unscathed, with legal ID passes…"
Luke grinned at the echo of indignation in Leia's voice. It was truly no more than an echo, though.
"Well, this has every reason to work, eh? Han is a smooth talker. And Chewie will drag him out of your proverbial lava pit if he happens to fall in."
The Force made him feel the enormous effort Leia needed to produce a small, snarky smile in return.
Luke shied away from the wisps of misgiving that escaped the vice-like grip of his sister's mental shields, and cleared his mind. There were many things left unsaid; but he wasn't sure that he wanted to hear them at all.
"I can't promise that I will be here to greet the little ones," he said instead, "but I'll hurry as much as I can."
"And you're going to do – what exactly? And where?"
"Whatever the Force bids me to do, and wherever it carries me. It matters little. The path is clear, and it lies before my feet."
"You sound like a wizard from an old bogey-tale," Leia murmured. Luke took her hands in his, feeling the course of blood under her smooth, scented skin.
"I will return whenever you truly need me. I will know. And we'll handle everything... Together."
Leia's eyes were wide, bright, the endless enormity of space encompassed in their bottomless wells.
"You have my word."
"Then you have mine," came the hushed answer, an assumption to counter his own; and brother and sister shared a quiet, rash, but deeply earnest embrace in the flickering half-light of aircrafts passing at the other side of the windows.
(to be continued)
* It could be worse; it's all sweet
It could be snapped from the jaws of defeat
Or like a light lit up on the beach
You wear your heart on your sleeve
You want to stop before you begin
You want to sink when you know you could swim
You want to stop just before you begin
Never give in; never give in
(a snippet from Coldplay's 'Crests of Waves')