Betaed by Ami. Thank you, Ami! And, to my readers, please take the time to reread chapter 1, which has been officially rewritten (like the prologue) to fit comfortably into the rest of the story. Chapter's 2 and 3 may soon undergo similar fates.
A pale hand clapped itself onto the young slave boy's arm, and Anakin yelled in shock. The ship had long since jerked itself from hyperspace, he realized, but he had been sleeping. Catching himself before he stumbled, he pulled himself up to his feet to stare the figure in the eye rebelliously.
Anakin picked a strand of overgrown hair from his eyes, having adapted to a childish and foolhardy stance, legs and arms akimbo. The utter act of immature defiance.
"Anakin--Anakin, listen to me."
"Wha…who are you?"
A pale figure, weary as if fighting a long period of exhaustion, stared down at him. The rich clothing vaguely reminded the younger Skywalker of the Naboo royalty, but the figure seemed tainted. Both royal and evil, two interwound stares coming from the space of one older man. An older man who sighed.
"I'm afraid this isn't the place for introductions. You see, there are people here who wouldn't be pleased to know I'm around."
One child's hand snaked forward, snapping through the figure's arm. As his fingers slipped through, they felt cold, as if some ice had encased them for a moment. A wisp of ice drifted past, and his fingers tingled with a sharp level of pain. Anakin stifled a yelp, shaking them swiftly.
"That's right. I'm not here."
The tingling grew worse. Anakin put his fingers in his mouth, sucking on them to relieve the overwhelming frostbite. A feeling that was the most alien thing he had ever experienced by far. "Uh? Uh ie are ou ere?" he said from around his fingers.
"I need your help, young Skywalker." The figure's eyes narrowed. "You see, I can't influence this world, and for you, it's a strange world. I need your help. Back in your own time--you see, this is the future, your future--things have went horribly wrong. Will you help me?"
"Because you're the best we've got."
Anakin blinked owlish blue eyes, taking his fingers from his mouth and wiping them on his tunic. The freezing sensation had faded, leaving his fingers with a slight numbness. "Really? Cool."
"What? What do you mean, Luke's not going to see us? I'm his damn brother in law!" Han Solo folded his arms and glowered at the slender Jedi Master barring his and Leia's entry into the Jedi Temple. Or, more particularly, Luke's chambers.
"I'm sorry," she repeated. "Master Skywalker is indisposed."
"Indisposed? Like Kessel he is--"
Leia's hand cut off Han sharply, but only because she jabbed it into a particularly sensitive location on his ribs, causing the ex-smuggler to mask a yell behind a cough. She stepped forward, facing the ice-haired woman thoughtfully. "What has happened to Luke?"
"I'm not at liberty to say."
"Leave the Temple for any time at all, and they decide you're no longer worthy to hear their plots," Han muttered under his breath, clutching his side. Leia kept her fingernails sharp, and years of experience had led her to know exactly where to jab to silence him. She had shook her head, rolling eyes to herself at his behavior, though they both knew it was simply because they had left the sleeping Anakin aboard the Falcon, and neither of them knew him well enough to trust he wouldn't take off with the ship.
But there weren't very many people out there that would know how to fly the Falcon.
"Master Skywalker was wounded," the Jedi Master finally conceded after a while of Leia's careful diplomatic (and perhaps not so diplomatic)
"It's best he's left to rest for a while. If you'd like to leave a message…"
Leia shook her head. "No. We'll wait."
"Very well." The silver woman turned and stalked away. Her footsteps were firm, the sharp moves of someone who felt she was higher than any, hah, princess. Holier than thou, or something of a severe likeness.
Han made move to stalk after her and demand rights; his expression certainly said he was going to, and not exactly politely, but again Leia caught him with a shake of her head. "Hey, I'm worried too," she said softly. "But we have time."
"Yeah. Sure we do," Han grumbled. "May as well waste it making sure little Skywalker wannabe doesn't steal my ship."
Leia sighed. There was just no dealing with some people, some days.
The rush of footsteps behind them caused Leia to turn sharply, nearly colliding with the tall and graceful figure of a man garbed in a tunic and robe, lightsaber haphazardly clipped to his belt. Years of training saved them both from an embarrassing collision, the Force offering a bit of a guide as to which would turn right, and which would turn left. She stumbled a moment, bringing herself upright in a graceful movement to catch his arm.
He was out of breath, sweat staining his forehead and tunic.
Her balance regained, Leia straightened her shirt neatly, regaining an almost immediate royal air. The change in his expression was evident, eyes almost widening at the sight of her. "Star's End, but you look like the queen," he murmured before seeming to recognize his location. Blue eyes regaining their previous calm, he dropped a hasty half-bow. "Pardon me, but you have a child with you? From Tatooine?"
He nodded, seemingly relieved. Leia's eyes strayed for a moment to the braid dangling behind his ear, a bit of a ponytail sticking out behind a brush cut of hair. An interesting hairstyle, to be certain. "I apologize for rushing you. Anakin will know me."
"Good," Han retorted from behind Leia. "That kid unnerves me. Who're you?"
Leia's face altered slightly, a bit of a hiss of breath between her teeth escaping.
Biting his lip, Obi-Wan sighed. "Yes. Pardon my rudeness for being abrupt, but I really must speak with young Skywalker."
"…" The moment only able to be described as an incredulous blank, Leia stared at him. But she caught herself a moment later, the rush of curiosity and startlement at an Obi-Wan appearing along side an... "Anakin Skywalker?"
Her pallor altered remarkably in a short period of time. "Yes, well…" Leia managed. "Han, be a dear and bring Obi-Wan to see our passenger."
Han blinked and shrugged, taking her arm for a moment. "Sure. Whatever you'd like, sweetheart. Are you going to be all right?" His eyebrows seemed slightly quirked in a questioning nature. Kenobi? Kenobi's dead. What in Kessel is going on?
"Yes… I just need to sit down…"
Han gave a disgruntled sigh, and took her arm, leading her a bit awkwardly to the ship, yelling over his shoulder for the Jedi apprentice to follow him. A strange sort of shock had settled over Leia's expression, numbing her to a point of a drained continual blink, a pale expression staring mindlessly at the horizon and the trees beyond it. Anakin… Skywalker!
She sat down heavily in the nearest chair once Han had brought them into the Falcon, disregarding Obi-Wan's masked cough of opinion towards the ship, and ran her fingers into her hair. Already overwhelmed, she barely noticed Han's return after dropping Obi-Wan off in Anakin's so-called room. She did notice him when he took her arm, but still was only able to give him an absent and terrified stare.
"That kid's Darth Vader?" Han asked, a level of ironic amusement touching his voice.
"No." Leia hugged him tightly. "But I think he will be."
A still, white presence seemed to fill the Jedi Master's room. Crystal blue eyes closed tightly against the calamity, only Jacen remained alongside his uncle, the sharp request to be left alone heeded by the other Jedi. Monitors had been set up for safety's sake, a steady heartbeat, pulse, and oxygen level coursing through his body. For the gentle rise and fall of Luke's chest, he could have been peacefully asleep.
But he wasn't, and Jacen was concerned. Practically on the moment, when they had arrived at the Jedi Temple, Luke had grown gradually dizzier, walking as a drunken man. It couldn't have been Mara's disappearance, Jacen reasoned. There had never been any such intensive bond that the mere thought of her being elsewhere would cause a faintness in the Jedi Master. But whatever had left him collapsed in the forest, lightsaber wounds to the brush about him--
He made up his mind, rising and leaving the ongoing orders for Luke to be undisturbed, slipping back into the depths of Yavin IV's jungle.
Meeting with no resistance on his exit, Jacen quickly left the skeleton Temple behind him. He already knew the path, swiftly heading back into the depths where Luke had been originally left. There hadn't been time to properly examine it before--he was missing something, he knew it.
They had been there before, and he had absorbed this. Kneeling beside the first scarred plant, Jacen reached out a careful hand to touch the bark. The heat cauterized sap as well as blood, leaving a burnt scab slashing through the branches. A battle had taken place here. The very area smelt of it, a certain aura of both ozone, fear, and blood retained in the air.
They had battled. Two Jedi against another, surely. Mara had been with Luke, and even sparring against his own wife, the Jedi Master never would have been brought to a point where he intentionally destroyed the area around them. Nor would have Mara, as dark as her emotions lay. Something had been here, something with the intent to destroy, laughing bitterly to itself as it brought a blade through the very essence of the forest.
But whatever it had been, it hadn't killed Luke. Had it killed Mara, and taken the body to feed off of it? Jacen's mind suggested swiftly the various options along the obvious Jedi's choice. A Dark Jedi, if there were such a thing, and that Order was every bit as unlikely to die out as the Jedi's. But a Sith or any Dark Jedi having beat Luke would surely have destroyed him within a moment's heartbeat.
There had been blood on Luke's face. A lightsaber didn't cause bleeding.
Jacen's eyes closed again for a moment before he swirled to the left and deeper into the forest, where the vines thickened and grew in clumps. The jungles were safer now, so many of the creatures having been killed off…
something doesn't belong here…
…take it away from us, it burns!
The voices of the forest screamed into his mind and Jacen gritted his teeth against the mental onslaught. It was hard to avoid hearing, but even harder to avoid simply falling into it and letting that reality be his all for a time, to focus and use that offered strength. Stretching out a slender hand, his fingers curled around a foreign object.
Jacen's eyes snapped back open.
In his hands lay the tubular shape of a dark lightsaber handle.
Peacefully, Luke remained in a steadfast sleep, hands clasped overtop his chest. One finger twitched slightly, the Jedi Master making an attempt to roll over and bat at the alarm clock that surely had to be going off, his mind screamed. The slight flailing sent a vase flying off the table to crash against the ground. A few chips broke off of it, the water contained spilling out, but it didn't break, simply skittering off underneath the table.
His eyes opened at the startling smash, and Luke muttered something under his breath, reaching out with the Force. Gradually, the vase maneuvered back from underneath the bed, shakily floating up into the air.
He floated it back down onto the table and closed his eyes again wearily. One hand flickered up to the side of his face where he had been bandaged.
Luke lowered his hand back down to his chest, fingers automatically intertwining in a sort of weary exhaustion. A breath escaped from his lips, loud and a bit exhausted, empty and forlorn. Where was Mara? Again, he exhaled.
The machine flat lined.
Leia cried out suddenly; on reflex Han clutched her tighter, both of their eyes going wide. "Hey… what is it, honey?" he tried to sooth, rubbing her back lightly. "Catch your hair?"
"N-no…" She shook her head, crumpling against him. "Luke… Luke's dead!"