The small figure ran through the canyon relishing the milder temperatures within its shaded walls. He ran, footsteps slapping on rock, his pace regular and unbroken, sweat soaking through his light tunic and pants and trickling from the saturated scarf he had tied around his head as protection from the twin suns of Tatooine. He ran, pushing himself on, pushing himself beyond normal human endurance, his mind focused on nothing else bar placing one foot in front of the other and passing the goal he had fixed for himself when he had set out at first sunlight.
He turned the final broad bend of the canyon; its floor opening up to the wider expanse of the desert beyond and the sounds of his footsteps changed rhythm and beat to the muffled thudding of compacted sand. He quickened his pace leaving the towering cliffs behind him as the suns rose higher casting a shimmering haze across the desert horizon. He savoured the pain of his exertion, the ache building within his leg muscles, the searing of his lungs as he drew in hot air with each breath. He glanced at the suns trying to judge the time of day and the light briefly blinded him…
This is light. This pain.
…he stumbled at the sudden thought as it lanced through his empty mind. His foot caught on a loose stone and he fell to the ground, sprawling in the sand. He lay for a moment catching his breath before pushing himself up to sit.
"Dammit," Luke Skywalker swore gently, dropping onto his back and throwing an arm across his face to shield it. "Dammit!"
He lay for moment, limbs trembling and cramping from their effort, lungs heaving for breath now that his body had stopped. He knew he had now lost his pace, lost the impetus of the run and he would be hard pressed to find it again for the final few kilometres to his home.
He smiled at the thought. He had come home and he had found something akin to contentment here. And yet, there was something else. Something over the last few days that nibbled at the edge of his feelings and made him restless. Hence his running had taken on a new urgency and he strived to find new limits, new ways of working off his agitation; his feelings that his life was about to take another turn.
He sat up, folding his legs and pulled his water bottle from its pouch on his belt. He unscrewed the top and tipped the cool liquid into his mouth. He swallowed quickly, gulping it, suddenly realising how badly dehydrated he was. The water soothed his dry throat, revived his flagging strength. Another moment or two of rest and he would be ready for the last few kilometres.
He was on his feet; lightsabre pulled from his belt and ignited before the sound of the weapon's retort reached him. The feeling of not being alone, of being in danger had abruptly risen within the Force and he deflected the projectile with a wave of his hand. It thumped into the sand a few metres away. He faced the high cliffs behind him spotting the tall figure of a Tusken Raider holding aloft a rifle and barking out commands in its guttural language. Five more Raiders spilled from the canyon heading across the sand toward him yapping and howling excitedly.
Luke stood his ground conserving his energy; letting them run to him, he brought his sabre up before him ready for their attack. There was another shot from above and Luke deflected it with the sword as the others closed in. He threw out a hand, gathered the Force around him and pushed three backward sending them tumbling over the ground. The other two swung their gaffi sticks aiming for his body and his head. He jumped, somersaulted over them, brought the sabre down as he landed and cleaved both weapons in two.
There were shrieks of anger from the Tuskens and they came at him again using the bladed ends of the shortened gaffis. The other three picked themselves up and came hurtling toward him; enraged.
Luke deflected more blows. He was loathed to kill them, did not relish having more blood on his hands. But he couldn't wound them and leave them as their own would sacrifice them for their failure and weakness of not dying in battle. He had a stark choice; either kill them or die himself. He jumped over a low aimed blow and swung his lightsabre taking the legs from one warrior. It shrieked in agony as it fell wounded to the ground. Luke turned, sword slicing through the air decapitating another. Something grabbed him from behind; thick swaddled arms holding him tightly around the upper body as another approached in front. Luke kicked out, knocking away the blade that was aimed at his chest, the movement unbalanced his captor and they fell together in a heap. He lost his grip on his lightsabre.
He wriggled loose, kicked at a reaching hand, called his sabre to his own hand, immediately igniting it as he found his feet. He swung around cutting down the Raider who had tried to spear him. Trembling with fatigue, and panting hard in the hot sun he turned to face the final two. The blue blade hummed quietly in the still desert air.
There was a call from the Tusken on the cliff top; its cry echoing around the area and his two assailants hesitated. Luke took a bold stepped forward refusing to show how tired he was, daring them to come again. Another bark from the cliffs and the remaining Tusken's started to back away slowly and once there was sufficient ground between them and Luke they turned and ran back toward the canyon entrance as the Tusken with the rifle disappeared from view.
Luke let out a gasp of relief, shoulder's slumping. There was a moan behind him and he turned on his heels horrified that one of the Raiders was still alive. He approached the injured creature as it lay defenceless in the dirt and stabbed it directly in the heart ending its suffering. He switched the sabre off, hooked it back onto his belt and dropped to the sand.
"Dammit," he whispered, gazing out at the desert before him and the road home.
Luke stripped naked as soon as he entered the room and padded across the floor to the shower cubical. He stepped in, turned on the spray and let the water wash the sweat, sand and death from his body. He grabbed the soap and lathered quickly, aware of the need for speed so he didn't use up too much of his precious water supply. It had taken him many frustrating hours and cannibalised parts from the Emperor's shuttle to repair the nearest vaporator to farm. He'd had to patch the underground pipes leading to the collection tank for the living quarters and barter for a new filter in Anchorhead. That trip into town had been his first since returning to Tatooine and as he had stepped into Fixer's shop with more shuttle parts he had been assaulted by memories from his youth, by feelings of innocence and happiness. They had made him smile, they had caused a depth of sadness and regret to pool within and he'd had to fight to control his emotions, had struggled to find his voice to manipulate the mind and memories of the man who served him.
Fixer would never know that the man he had haggled with was Luke Skywalker; the boy he had last addressed with derision and contempt.
Luke shut the shower valve off and let the water drip from his body listening to it trickle down the drain to the water purifier below where it would be recycled. He smiled, in an hour he would be drinking it. He stepped from the shower and grabbed a towel. He had returned to Anchorhead several times since that first for clothes, provisions and other essential items. No one had yet recognised him, though many of the faces had been familiar to him. He had been aware of some curious glances as he walked the single street, had planted indifference into several minds and now, months later, he was just another settler who periodically came to town to stock up; he no longer needed to use the Force to cloud their minds.
And, not for the first time, he wondered if Kenobi had used the same tricks when he had first settled in the region.
He towel dried his hair and grabbed a clean pair of beige pants and a white shirt from the pallet that served as his bed and dressed. He moved through the house to the kitchen. It was not quite as clean, or as well stocked as it had been when his guardians had been alive but it served his purposes. He quickly made himself a snack from two thick slices of a loaf he'd bought from Deak's mother's bakery and spread copious amounts of roasted herrial-nut butter over the bread. He pressed the slices together until the butter oozed from the edges and he sauntered from the kitchen into the courtyard while licking it from the crusts.
He sat on the stairs as he took his first bite and looked around his home, relishing the quiet of the place, the peace, the calm after the fight with the Tuskens. He had never thought he would return here, never thought he would ever set foot on this dusty world of his youth, considered it left behind with the childhood which had been shattered all too abruptly and violently with the death of his guardians and his flight with Kenobi. Now he cherished the place for it gave him the solitude and stillness he needed to examine his life since leaving; it gave him the time and space he required to contemplate events, to hone his abilities with the Force. It gave him the warmth and the light that had been missing for so long and there were times that he had just stood and allowed the sunlight to surround him, allowed himself to bath in its brilliance, feeling it drive the darkness from him…
"It cannot be done."
Luke started at the sudden voice and he hesitated in mid-chew as he looked around the atrium of the farm and glanced up at the high walls around him. He was alone. The voice had sounded like… he frowned. It had sounded like Yoda. But his old master was dead. He had felt his passing some months before. What had the voice meant? Was it his own mind telling him that darkness…?
"Forever will it dominate your destiny. Part of you, it is."
Luke stood then, jumped down the few steps to the sandy floor and turned on his heels to find Yoda standing where he had been sitting seconds before. The small Jedi Master was translucent just as Kenobi had been when he had appeared to him and Luke couldn't stop the surge of anger that swept through him; he didn't want to stop it.
"Now you come to me?" He snarled contemptuously, throwing away the remains of his sandwich. "After leaving me alone for so long?"
"No!" Luke cried, cutting the small Jedi off, his emotions suddenly overwhelming him. He had suppressed them, had thought them beaten and controlled until now, and he allowed them free reign. Allowed his anguish to speak for him. "I called to you! I called to Ben. I needed your help… and you never answered." He sneered this last, his feelings of betrayal all to obvious in his words.
"Choice you made, hmmm?"
"Choice?" The word stuck in his throat, a throat still scarred and hoarse, still sounding like Sohn Vader. The word flamed his anger and resentment beat eagerly within. "I didn't have the information I needed to make a choice. You let me leave without knowing what I truly needed."
"You are my son."
Yoda's mouth turned down, the tips of his ears doing likewise and he frowned. "If you had stayed, told you we would have." His voice was soft, gently chiding.
"If I had stayed…" Luke retorted, eyes flashing. Then he stopped. He had been about to say that Han and Leia would have been killed if he had stayed on Dagobah, but that wasn't true. They had managed to save themselves without him. His flight to save them had been in vain and it had cost him dearly. His anger diminished and he couldn't look Yoda in the eye, instead he dropped to the sand to sit at the Jedi Master's feet.
Yoda finished his sentence for him. "You would have been prepared. Ready to face Vader and his Emperor."
"I'm sorry," he whispered to the sand. At the same time wondering why he was the one apologising and for what. For leaving Dagobah? For trying to do what he felt was right instead of listening to his masters? For turning to the dark when there was no light left to guide him? What had they really expected of him - to sit in the mud and let Han and Leia suffer? They were they ones who had withheld the truth, who had bent it to suit their own ends, and ignored his needs. And the spectre of anger lingered within him.
Yoda smiled. "Survived you have. Held onto the light even when darkness clouded you. Felt it I did."
"I killed in anger, in hatred…" he shook his head. Remembering the appalling rage that had gripped him. Remembering the pilots he had shot down, the soldiers he had cut down simply because they were in his way. "I became the agent of evil you said I would."
"Many have killed in anger, Luke," Obi-Wan Kenobi's voice gently told him as the elder man appeared beside him. "Myself included. Your intentions were just, even if your actions were not."
Luke stilled the spike of bitterness that rose at the image of his mentor; if he had been told the truth from the start none of this would have happened. "Leia," he said quietly. "I had to save Leia. " He looked distant recalling his feelings, recalling his terror for the Princess and his rage and hatred for Vader. "But it wasn't me who saved her. It was…"
"Your father," Kenobi offered when Luke's voice faltered.
"You made me hate him," Luke's voice was cold, distant. "You made me think he had murdered my father. You allowed me to vow to become a Jedi even when that decision was based on grief and anger after my aunt and uncle's death. I wanted to become a Jedi because I wanted revenge on the one man I blamed for it all. Vader - and all the while he was my father." He pushed himself up from the ground and looked Kenobi in the eye, his fury at the half truths and lies he had been told rippling through the Force. But he controlled his feelings, stood strong. "You should have told me. You should have prepared me from the beginning…"
"None of this would have happened. I would have known. I would have been ready and they couldn't have used it against me…"
"See how he cowers, My Lord? See how weak and frightened he is. His father would be ashamed to call him son."
Father. That word sliced through his pain, penetrated the drug filled haze around him and gifted him a terrible clarity. He glanced up at the withered creature that taunted him. His father? Palpatine had… "You knew him?"
"He dares speak to me? He dares to ask me questions?"
He was beaten down, then dragged back up to his knees. He choked on the blood that filled his mouth. "Please…."
"You're father was strong, bold. And so powerful that his presence shone within the Force. And when he bowed to me…."
"Liar!" His voice was torn by fury, ripped from his ruined throat. "My father would never…" Again the fists and the feet of his guards. Again he was lifted to the position of supplication.
"You think not? Then you do not know? They have not told you whose son you are?" The despot smiled reached out his hand and stroked Luke's bruised and bloodied cheek. "My poor poor child." Then he turned away addressing the watching Dark Lord." Tell him."
And Darth Vader filled his vision, invaded his feelings and thoughts and forced the truth upon him.
"You are my son."
Luke closed his eyes tight against the memory, against the pain that threatened to engulf him once more. And more images assaulted him; lightsabres clashing in the darkness.
"Father! What do I do now?"
"Forgive yourself you must for Anakin's death," Yoda told him as he sat down on the steps and rested his head on his hands as he studied his young apprentice. "He too made his choices."
"It's… difficult," Luke confessed, remembering the moment his lightsabre had sliced through Vader's chest plate. His hands shook and he had to grip them tightly to stop the tremors as he fought to still his heaving emotions. The Force gathered deeper around him.
"Anakin has found his peace, Luke. He died in the embrace of the light," Kenobi reassured him, softly. "In your own ways you each saved the other. Dwelling on the past will not help you move on. Luke, this place has served its purpose and isolating yourself further, berating yourself for what happened is only prolonging the inevitable."
Luke looked sharply at Kenobi, fear suddenly clogging the back of his throat. He cleared it. "What do you mean?"
"Jedi Knight you are," Yoda announced with some certainty. "Proven it today, you have."
"I killed those Tuskens," Luke told them, confused. How could he be a Jedi Knight after all of the deaths he had caused?
"Yes," Kenobi conceded. "In defence and without anger or hatred, and with an understanding of their culture."
"That didn't make it right," Luke snapped back.
"There was no right, Luke. They would have killed you if you had not acted."
"Return to your friends, you must. To your sister. Much still to be done," Yoda continued. "Needed you are."
"But there is so much more I don't know…" Luke started, suddenly he was unsure, insecure.
"Find it here you will not," Yoda admonished him firmly, his lips pursing in mild irritation.
"Leia needs you, Luke, as do many others. The Galaxy needs the service of the Jedi once more." Kenobi added.
"Last of the Jedi you are. Rest in your hands our future does."
Luke stepped back from them, turned his back to them; feeling the pressure of their words compressing within. It was too much to ask of him. He couldn't do what they wanted. He couldn't go back. He was…
"Afraid are you." Yoda stated.
"Yes," Luke whispered, keeping his back to them, trying to still the panic that beat within. Trying to calm the heat of anger he could feel growing at their demands on him. He closed his eyes and drew in a breath of warm Tatooine air. Yes, he was afraid. Afraid he would fail once more. Afraid to leave the quiet solace of this place. Afraid that someone would recognise him as Vader's son. Afraid to face those he had betrayed by accepting the mantle of darkness.
"You will not be alone, Luke. We will always be with you," Kenobi assured him, feeling Luke's conflicting emotions; his anger, his fear, his animosity toward his tutors. All tinged with a desire to see his friends and his sister and relief that he would no longer be alone. "As will the Force."
And that's supposed to reassure me? Luke clamped down the sarcastic thought, such feelings would do him no good now. "What do I do?"
"Let them come," Yoda told him, simply. "And the Force will guide you."
There was a moment of silence and Luke gazed up at the blue of the Tatooine sky, smiling. He would be loathed to leave this place, this sanctuary. But what Obi-Wan and Yoda were saying was true. He could not remain here, he could not deny the call of his destiny; just as he couldn't deny it on Dagobah. When they came for him he would leave. He would rebuild the Jedi Order, but he would do so on his own terms. He would teach them the lessons he had learned from all of his teachers. And he would teach them the lessons he had taught himself. He would teach them to harness the light and the dark within, and warn his students of the dangers of them both. He would mark his own path and not be manipulated to suit the desires of others.
His decision made, he turned back to the Jedi. "I'm ready," he announced.
Leia Organa opened her eyes to the dusky light that filled the cabin, initially wondering where she was. She stared at the pristine ceiling, listened to the throbbing of a hyperdrive engine in mild confusion. Then she remembered where she was and smiled sadly. This was Han's ship; his new ship, and not for the first time she found herself mourning the Millennium Falcon. She missed the Falcon's idiosyncrasies, her foibles, her unique charms and abilities to pull them out of trouble. She missed the familiar rumble of engines, the worn and scarred appearance of the ship's exterior that had deceived many; including herself.
Leia sighed and turned onto her side, pulling the thin blanket with her. There were several things about the Falcon she didn't miss; she didn't miss the cramped crew quarters and narrow bunks. She didn't miss the stench of lubrications, or the dirt that clung to the bulkheads. She didn't miss the…
The Princess sat up with a start and swung her legs over the edge of the bunk. She reached her hand out as though trying to touch the person who had murmured her name even though she knew he was not there. A warm presence lightly brushed her feelings and she felt elation tinged with agitation and… a lingering trace of uncertainty. She smiled, closed her eyes and concentrated as hard as she could…
A hot breath of air seemed to caress her mind and she thought she smelled freshly baked bread and roasted nuts. The image of a twin sunset played behind her eyes; a desert sky afire with reds and golds and shadows darkening on high dunes.
He reluctantly withdrew from her leaving her with a sense of wonder, of agitation and delight. She had been right! They had found her brother, and he was in the most obvious of places.
She stood and pulled on some pants and a light, airy shirt more suited to Tatooine's heat than the interior of a star ship and quickly made her way through the ship. The vessel was Corellian built like the Millennium Falcon, was still a freighter, but she was larger and more modern. She had been a gift to Han from a grateful Alliance, compensation for the loss of his beloved Falcon. Han had been embarrassed, uncomfortable telling Leia he had achieved nothing on Endor apart from getting them all caught. However, he had accepted the ship. But, it was not the Millennium Falcon and never would be. And she knew that Han still felt the Falcon's loss, still grieved for his friend who had been piloting her when she had burst in a brief conflagration during the battle of Endor.
As he had grieved for Luke.
The door to the cockpit slid open and Leia stepped through and into the middle of an argument.
"No, Chewie!" Han snapped, ignoring the roar that came from the Wookiee in response. "We're not going to take the engines apart again. I don't care if you can get another point three out of them, we're on Tatooine to find Luke – if he's there – not to work on the…"
The Wookiee grunted and barked an explanation.
"I know there's a dealership in Mos Espa, but that's not the direction…"
Another series of woofs.
Han smiled at Chewbacca's persistence. "We're not making a detour – not this time, Chewie. 'Sides we can get the parts cheaper on Ord Mantell." He looked over his shoulder and threw Leia an exasperated grin. "Hi, Sweetheart. We're almost there, just another few minutes."
Leia glanced out of the cockpit window, to the churning of hyperspace. "I know," she told him quietly as she placed a hand on his shoulder. "He knows we're coming."
Han grimaced at her words. He still wasn't used to this, wasn't used to Leia being Jedi, to her being Luke's sister; to her being Darth Vader's daughter. He was torn by her insistence that they make this trip. On one level he wanted to see the kid as much as Leia, wanted to see that he was all right and in one piece. The image of him standing below the Falcon as they said their goodbyes on Hoth was still so strong, so vivid and that was the Luke he sought. But he was concerned, too. Concerned that the Luke they found would be the small dark figure they had watched dip his knee to the Dark Lord of the Sith on the Imperial broadcast the Empire had used to announced Sohn Vader's existence to the galaxy.
There was a third Luke. There was the tortured boy Leia had found on Endor, the emotionally and mentally unstable youth who could barely contain the power he possessed. However, Leia appeared confident that her brother had healed, that Luke had faced his demons and defeated them
Han wasn't so sure. Leia hadn't been with the squads that stormed the Imperial Palace on Coruscant, or been with the team that had found the Emperor's private prison, she hadn't seen where they had kept Luke or what they had done to him. He had, and the images and sounds haunted him – just as they must still haunt Luke.
The stars beyond streaked back to pinpoints as the ship dropped from hyperspace and he heard Leia gasp an intake of breath. Her hand tightened on his shoulder.
"'You okay, Leia?" he asked, watching Tatooine grow and fill their view feeling the ship make her descent. She was no Falcon, but she had potential - Chewie was right about that.
"I can feel him from here, Han," she sounded amazed, and a little scared. "He's so strong."
Han threw her and uneasy glance as they entered Tatooine's atmosphere, skimmed through the scant clouds.
"There!" Leia pointed, craning her neck to see out the cockpit window, using visuals rather than instrumentation. "That's Anchorhead. The farm is… There, that's it."
There was a single dome, a sunken crater and a pile of scrap to the side. A small figure, dressed in beige and white stood a little distance from the farm's entrance, with one hand shielding his eyes as he watched the freighter descend.
Han settled the ship down and Chewie shut down the systems. There was a moment of silence as each of them stared out at the waiting man.
"Okay," Han breathed as he drew a hand through his hair. "Let's see who we've got here."
Luke watched the strange freighter drop her landing struts and shifted his feet nervously in the sand. He resisted the temptation to reach out with the Force and touch the minds and emotions of his friends – his family. They needed to meet again on an equal footing and he had no wish to alienate them before they had even left the ship. He anxiously wiped sweat from his upper lip with the back of his hand and drew in a steadying breath, trying to calm his racing heart. It felt like years instead of mere months since he had last seen Leia, since he had relinquished her to their father's care upon the Death Star. It felt like a lifetime since he had last seen Han and the others, since he had stood below the Falcon on Hoth and allowed silence to say more than words ever could.
And he wondered now if that understanding would still be between them or if they would have to start their friendship anew; rebuild the trust and the brotherhood they once shared. The thought saddened him, pained him.
The ramp began to lower, and he watched it settle in the sand. He kept his eyes low watching small boots start down the incline almost too afraid to look up and see his sister's face; too afraid he would see the confusion and fear of him in her eyes as he had seen on Endor.
More boot steps, the whine of droid servomotors, and the low inquiring purr of a Wookiee.
Leia's soft questioning tones bade him look up. He lifted his head, and hesitantly fixed his eyes on the Princess. He saw concern, he saw a tentative smile. But it was her inner emotions that swamped him, caused him to stifle a gasp. The Force raged within him as feelings he had not felt for a long time flooded through him; Leia's feelings, his own feelings. They restricted his breathing, they caused his muscles to tremble and he was afraid he would fall to sand. After everything that had happened, after everything he had done; she bore no grudges, held no contempt. She felt no forgiveness for she did not believe he had done anything that required forgiveness. He was Luke. He was her brother, and she loved him.
He didn't know how it had happened, who had moved first, but he found himself being supported by a petite body. Her arms encircled his waist and held him tight. His head rested upon her shoulder, his own arms firmly clasping her.
"Leia…" he whispered, roughly. "I…"
"Shhh, Luke," she soothed, feeling his body shiver; feeling his ragged emotions. His relief and shame. His uncertainty and his almost childish sense of wonder and happiness. His unabashed joy at their presence. He had been so alone for so long. So lost and surrounded with darkness he had almost forgotten what the light was like.
Light is pain…
The Princess frowned at the random thought that had crossed the fringe of her mind, it had sounded like a whisper of her brother's voice. She stepped slightly back, stared up at him, her hand reaching to touch his chin as she had months before when it was the only visible part of his face; the rest hidden under a mask and helmet like their father's. This time he did not flinch, he did not draw away.
"We've missed you," she smiled, repeating words she had used on Endor when Sohn Vader had stood before her.
Luke remembered that encounter, remembered his confused and twisted thinking and how the Dark Side had grasped him and manipulated him. He had denied her words then and denied his own identity. This time, however there was no such denial. He returned her smile. "And I you, sister."
Someone very loudly cleared their throat and the twins turned as one to find Han Solo watching them closely with interest and with a faint sense of impatience. The Corellian had stood quietly with Chewbacca and the droids and silently watched the reunion. He had been surprised to see that, apart from a few subtleties, Luke had changed very little. His hair was again sun-bleached blond from living on Tatooine, there were tiny tired threads lining is face around his blue eyes. There was nothing in the nervous young man before him that reminded Han of the image of the son of Darth Vader. It would seem that Leia was right; Luke was…well – Luke.
"How ya doin', Kid?" And as soon as Han asked he saw a shadow pass briefly over Luke's face, and he was forced to reconsider his earlier assessment. Something about him had unsettled the younger man.
And then the shadow was gone and Luke grinned, disarmingly. He crossed the space between them and they quickly embraced; each glad to see the other, but each a little wary.
Luke stepped back, glanced up. "I'm just…" He was grabbed from behind by strong hairy arms and hugged tightly as Chewbacca bayed loudly. "Chewie… I…ung… You…"
"Master Luke!" See Threepio shrilled loudly as Artoo Detoo rolled around excitedly. "It's so good to see you again, sir."
Luke extracted himself from Chewbacca's grasp and patted the Wookiee's arm gratefully. "Thanks, Chewie. You're looking good, too." He glanced at the droids. "And you two," he said with some affection.
He turned to his guests as a group, suddenly remembering the distance they had travelled and his manners as a host. "Come on in," he welcomed. "And we can talk more."
Leia linked her arms through his as they descended into the farmstead followed by Chewbacca, the droids and Han, who was looking all around him in interest at Luke's childhood home and place of refuge.
Han climbed from the dome and glanced around. It was getting dark very quickly and Luke had disappeared twenty minutes before saying he was going to pack his stuff. When he hadn't returned Han had taken it upon himself to seek out the younger man. The day had gone well, better than Han could have hoped. They had eaten a simple meal that Luke had prepared while they had filled each other in on what they had been doing since Endor. Their laughter at some of Han's more outlandish tales was good, cleansing. And the previous months of separation had seemed to fade and disappear until Leia had asked Luke to tell them what he had been doing.
Luke's story had been short.
"I've been here," he shrugged.
"Doing what?" Leia asked gently.
Luke gestured to the surrounds outside of the small dining area. "Rebuilding. Trying to put things back where they were."
Han sat forward, wondering about Luke's words. He had a feeling Skywalker didn't just mean the homestead. "Have you succeeded?"
Luke seemed to stare at him with the strangest of smiles tingeing his lips. "I've found some things can't be fixed." And the smile vanished with the sorrow filled words and he dropped his eyes to gaze at the tabletop.
For the first time since they arrived there was an awkward silence, and Han glanced to Leia hoping she would fill the glaring gap in the conversation.
"What are your plans now, Luke?" Leia questioned as quickly and as casually as she could. A squall of desolate emotion seemed to flurry briefly in the blue eyes that flickered upward and met her own. Then they cleared as an ocean does after a storm and Leia could sense nothing from Luke bar his enjoyment of their company and a slight restless, an eager agitation. "You're not going to stay here, are you?" It was more of a statement than a question.
Staying on the Farm, and living the simple life he had enjoyed for the last few months remained appealing. But it was not his destiny. "No, I'm leaving with you. I have some things I need to do…" he hesitated, looked down at his intertwined fingers. "I'll need your help, though." He said quietly, hopefully.
"We'll do what we can," Leia reassured him reaching across the table to cover his hands with her own. "We'll have to think of something to smooth your return to the Alliance Forces," she paused, watching Luke for a reaction, trying to pick her words as carefully as she could; something she had never needed to do with Luke before. "Everyone thinks you're dead, and… we can't have too many awkward questions asked about where you've been."
"I'm not going back to the Alliance, Leia," Luke told her firmly, feeling her unease, feeling her reluctance to even hint at what he had become while with Vader and his Emperor. "That life is over for me now, but if I still need to resign my commission I will."
"What are you going to do?" Han asked, seeing Luke's determination.
"I am a Jedi Knight," he declared with confidence, and Leia felt a warm flush flow through the Force from her brother and again she was astounded at his strength of power, the energy that surged through his slim frame; a power he could command with a single thought. "I'm going to rebuild the Order."
Han shivered as a cooling breeze tugged at his hair and clothing; with the suns sinking on the horizon the temperatures had started to drop and he didn't relishing being outside for too long. His gaze swept the homestead and he was just about to call his friend's name when he spotted Luke underneath the ship trailing his fingers along the smooth hull. He stopped and watched as Luke appraised the vessel. Skywalker looked intrigued excited by the prospect of flying in her or of actually getting a chance to pilot her himself. He looked…
Han frowned deeply, Luke looked young, vulnerable. He looked like the kid he'd met in Mos Eisley, the kid who'd had his whole life ahead of him and he was suddenly struck with a deep sense of sorrow and remorse for the path his friend's destiny had taken and for the intimate horrors he had witnessed Luke suffer.
He shook himself from his thoughts, thrust his hands into his pants pockets and sauntered over to the ship.
Luke had sensed Han as soon as the Corellian stepped from the dome, he could feel his friend's curiosity, not just about what Luke thought of his new ship, but also about Luke himself. Han burned with the questions he wanted to ask but he'd held back out of respect for Leia, held back because…
… a glaring bank of solid light. Heaving, gasping breathing, cries of anguish in an enclosed space…
Luke winced at the sudden images and pushed them quickly away. He had no time or desire to consider these memories. They had nothing to do with Han, nothing to do with the here and now… And yet the smuggler seemed a little unsettled.
"So what do you think of her, kid?" Han asked at his back.
Luke smiled at the sound of the nickname, at the memories of friendship it hinted at. He reached up and touched the hull once more. "She's a good ship."
Han couldn't catch himself in time, couldn't stop the sudden swell of resentment that abruptly rose within. "So was the Falcon," he stated, pointedly.
Luke stiffened, his back straightened and this reaction alone gave Han an answer to one of his questions, that and the stricken look on Luke's face as the younger man turned to face him. "Han… I…"
Gripped with abrupt rage, Solo grabbed Luke by the collar and almost lifted him off his feet as he shoved his friend against the ship's lifters. "Did you know I wasn't on board?" he snarled. "Did you take time to consider what you were doing, or didn't it matter?" Han knew his words were cruel, biting. But he'd suspected Luke was involved with the Falcon's demise after Wedge Antilles' scant and uneasy account of what had happened and now he knew the truth his anger needed vented.
"Was she just another enemy ship? Another target and to hell with who was on board? That you… You, Luke!" He glared at his friend, saw the slump of Luke's shoulders, saw the grief and the guilt and something else, something indefinable, cross Luke's features, something that stopped his tirade, stilled his anger and his bitter words. He'd seen that look on Luke's face only once before, and that had been on the prison recording as the droid moved in on Vader's orders. He released his hold, backed away a few steps, his gaze never leaving Luke's and he asked his final question.
"Why?" he asked quietly. "Just tell me that. Why the Falcon?"
Luke sank to the ground and rested his back against the lifter. "Leia," he whispered.
Luke trawled a hand through his hair. "I had to get to Leia. I…" he struggled to find the words to explain his actions. "I saw what would happen, what I thought would happen, if Vader took her to the Emperor and the Falcon was there… between me and Leia. I'm sorry."
"Shit, Luke," Han crossed the space between them and dropped to the sand beside Luke. "You didn't know Vader was releasing her?"
"No, that was blocked from me," Luke's voice was heavy, sorrowful. "Palpatine enjoyed playing mind games with me, enjoyed pushing me to the edge. This time he almost pushed me over it."
Han stared silently ahead listening as Luke spoke recalling his friend, Lando Calrissian, recalling their last moments together as Lando promised not to scratch his ship, recalling his own chilled moment as he had gazed longingly at the Falcon from the cockpit of the Tydirium and he felt again the moment when he had been told of Lando's death and the Falcon's destruction. It had seemed such a senseless loss, to die in the midst of the battle, to be just one of a number. It had not seemed like the death Lando would have wished for himself. Neither Calrissian, nor the Falcon, had gone in a blaze of glory that would have been remembered and recorded for history. They had died before they could achieve anything.
Meaningless. Until now.
Lando had died for Leia and, somehow, that comforted the Corellian, gave him a sense of peace, an understanding that even one as self-centred as Calrissian could have accepted such a sacrifice. And Leia was worth more than the Falcon. Luke was worth more than the Falcon.
Still, he would miss her.
"She was a good ship, Luke," Han told him quietly, "and good people on board her."
"I'm sorry I wasn't strong enough," the Jedi murmured, thickly.
"It's okay, Luke," Han reassured him, dismayed that Luke didn't consider himself strong. "It was a battle, they were pilots and soldiers and knew the risks. I don't hold you responsible." He was thinking of that prison again, of what he had seen Luke suffer and of the tenacity he had seen in Luke's resistance, and of how Palpatine had ground it down.
Luke frowned at the words and the tone with which they were said. There should be relief at Han's absolution of his actions, there should be some release for him now that Han had understood his desire to reach Leia on the Death Star, but instead his stomach tightened with tension and he swallowed nervously before asking, "What do you mean?"
…bloodied wrists tied tight to a bland wall. Choking sobs tearing through a ruined throat…
Luke blanched at the images that tore into his mind. He wasn't remembering what had happened, he was seeing himself as another had seen him - as Han had seen him. He made to move, tried to push himself away from the Corellian but Han's hand caught him, held him back.
He stared across the darkening dessert, feeling the Force building and swelling; his resentment, his agony and fear causing cold desolation to fill him. "You saw," he forced out. "You saw what they… did."
"Dammit," Solo softly swore, cursing the abilities Luke and Leia both possessed. "Stay out of my head, Luke."
"I can't help it, Han, you're so open…" Luke's rough whisper was tight, filled with bitter anguish. He drew his knees up, wrapped his arms around them.
"I'm sorry, Luke," he said, wondering what he was sorry for. For being too open? For seeing what had happened on Coruscant? For what Luke had endured at the command of the Emperor and his own father? "I'm sorry for what you went through…"
…naked skin crisping under intense heat and light…
…this is light. This is pain…
…hoarse screaming… dark blood slowly dripping…
"I understand why you gave into them."
Han's words breached the tight cocoon of emotions and memories that were threatening to overwhelm him and helped clear his mind. Luke tossed the mental pictures away, determined not to let them affect him, determined to keep them in the past where they belonged. He was a Jedi now, above such wallowing self-pity. He took a deep breath, forcing himself calm. "I never gave in, Han," he corrected with a slight smile of self-assurance. "I nearly lost my way – but I never gave in."
The shadows had grown longer, and it was dark under the ship now. Han shivered. "So what did you do?" He didn't know why he asked, perhaps to understand the image of Sohn Vader bowing to the Sith Lord.
Luke sighed, quietly. "I kneeled to the Emperor and called him 'master.' And then I learned all they could teach me. I trained hard and rarely gave them an opportunity to doubt me, and…" His voice stuck in his throat, and he quickly cleared it. "… and when they permitted me to have private thoughts and feelings… I thought of Leia, of you… I never gave in. I marked my own path…" his words trailed off as he realised he was doing the very thing he had vowed not too and as another distressing thought occurred to him. "Does Leia know? Did Leia see?"
Han didn't need the Force to know Luke's thoughts and feelings. He could feel the tension in his friend's body beside him, could hear the grief and horror at the thought that others may have seen his humiliation. "No," he reassured the Jedi. "No one else saw, Luke. And no one else will. I saw to it."
He's had the damned place destroyed and the recordings along with it.
Luke nodded in the darkness. "Thank you."
"Any time, kid." Han reached out, placed an arm around Luke's thin shoulders and drew him closer lending what succour and support he could through such a simple gesture. He smiled as he felt Luke relax beside him, as the tension between them seemed to slowly trickle away. He stared out at the darkness that surrounded them, felt the cool chill of the Tatooine night settle about them and smiled at the warm, glowing light still coming from the homestead where Leia was; she had been the light that had banished the shadows for them both.
Despite being almost half-empty, the Senate Chamber on Coruscant was in an uproar. Senate boxes rose and fell in the auditorium as various representatives jockeyed for position and a chance to speak. There were cries of outrage, calls for votes, grunts, growls and several obscene gestures from the delegates. Seated in the central podium next to the Princess Leia of Alderaan, Mon Mothma, the newly elected Chancellor of the New Republic desperately called for order as holonet camera's broadcast the chaos to a watching Galaxy.
No one noticed the small, dark cloaked figure step silently into an empty box. No one took notice as the pod unlatched from its moorings, quietly rose and crossed the chamber taking its occupant to the middle of the room directly across from the Chancellor. The figure did not move, nor did he speak. He merely waited, with his hands clasped before him and his head slightly bowed, for his presence to be felt.
Gradually the delegates noticed the waiting figure and silence slowly bled through the vast arena. Boxes dropped away to their jetties, leaving the figure alone. Even the camera's backed away.
More than a little unsettled by this turn of events, but relieved nonetheless at the quiet of the chamber Mon Mothma slowly rose to her feet. She nervously cleared her throat and glanced at Leia, surprised to find the princess smiling. She drew herself up and turned to the stranger. "If you wish to address the assembly you will have to identify yourself."
"Forgive me, Madam Chancellor," it was merely a hoarse whisper but the voice resonated through the chamber. Tanned hands reached up and lifted the cowl away revealing a mop of blond hair that framed a young face, and a pair of startling blue eyes that seemed to freeze her to the spot. Mon Mothma wasn't the only one to draw in a breath of recognition.
"I am Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight."
Luke merely smiled as the cacophony of noise erupted once more. He closed his eyes allowing the Force to flow through him, to calm him, to prepare him for the coming storm. He felt Leia's gentle presence supporting him and he opened his eyes. A holonet camera swung close, its strobe light flickering sharply across his face. He winced, blinked trying to clear the spots of shadows that danced before his eyes.
This is light. This is pain…
AN: Thank you to everyone who has been kind enough to take the time and comment on this story - I have enjoyed reading every one! smile I am not entirely sure if this is the end of Penumbra or of stories connected to it. I rather enjoyed writing Sohn Vader and I kinda miss him now that Luke has laid him to rest...