A Melancholy Happiness
Time period: About 6 months to a year after the Battle of Endor
Characters: Luke, Leia
Summary: The Force directs Luke to a bittersweet discovery. Spoilers for Revenge of the Sith.
A/N: A what-if that I couldn't shake after reading and watching RotS. Many thanks to GabriJade for taking time from her busy schedule to beta this for me.
On the run. Always on the run. When would it end? Palpatine was dead now. Father … was dead. But the Empire was not dead. Dying … but not dead. Dying … but still doggedly pursuing the cursed Rebels that had killed their emperor.
Luke Skywalker, last of the Jedi, first of the Jedi, wearily leaned his head back against the worn leather of the pilot's seat. He knew he should be able to ignore the fatigue, the frustration, the dull pain in his side from the one blaster bolt that had gotten through his defense. One out of hundreds. He knew he should be in a healing trance by now. Artoo was more than capable of piloting the X-wing back to Coruscant. But something … something was telling him to stay awake. To hold on. To stay alert. Not danger. Just … something.
"Where are we, Artoo?" Luke said, glancing at the small translation screen. He'd made a blind jump, trusting the Force to protect him from harm, and had just reverted to realspace. "Polis Massa?" Luke studied the nav screen. An asteroid belt. In the middle of nowhere. And he'd thought Tatooine was the farthest thing from the bright center of the universe.
"We should be home by this time tomorrow," Luke said idly, then chuckled at Artoo's rather indignant reply. "Yes, I know that you've already calculated our exact landing time. I'm just … making conversation." Home… Coruscant, at the moment. Home was wherever Leia was. "I don't suppose you know of any good birthday presents to get Leia, do you? Yes, I'm aware that you're not programmed to be a shopping catalog. No, I'm not about to ask Threepio." Luke continued to glance at Artoo's computerized comments. "How is it that Leia's birthday is a week before mine?" Luke smiled to himself. "Good question. That's just the day she always celebrated growing up. The date I was told was my birthday falls a standard week later. We really don't know which one is accurate, or if either of them are. Maybe my birthday is actually the day I arrived on Tatooine. Yes, I suppose Leia and I ought to decide on one day, so we can celebrate together. Old habits die hard, I guess."
Luke fell silent, gazing out through the canopy.
The asteroids called to him. Not a vision. Nothing overt. Just a quiet calling. An echo of something familiar, yet foreign.
Artoo's tweedling startled him. "What?"
Databanks show that there had once been a medical facility here. On the largest asteroid. Medical supplies may still exist. Or a med-droid. Do you wish…
"No," Luke automatically replied, then paused. "Wait. Yes." He'd forgotten all about the wound in his side. But he didn't need medical supplies. He'd already treated the area with the medkit on board. The shot had really done little more than graze him, and he'd had worse. Much worse. The Force could heal him. The Force…
The Force had brought him here for a reason.
It was time to find out why.
"Take us— No, I'll take us in." He smiled at Artoo's protective warble. "I need the practice. Yes, I'm functional enough to manage."
The solitary X-wing maneuvered through the drifting asteroids without so much as a scratch. As Luke got closer, he could make out clusters of colonies on many of the rocky surfaces, all devoid of any life signs. He could only guess at why the outposts had been abandoned, or why they'd sprung up in the first place. Most likely this had been a mining post of some sort – they were common in asteroid belts.
A large crater pocked the rough surface of the biggest asteroid, beckoning to Luke as though it were ringed with welcoming signposts. As he headed in toward what Artoo identified as the medical structures, Luke immediately saw a problem. The solitary bay door loomed open to the vacuum of space. Even if it could be closed, or there was a repairable atmosphere shield generator, it would take quite awhile to repressurize the enormous hanger. Settling his starfighter in front of the inner hatchway illuminated by the ship's floodlights, Luke considered his options. His flightsuit was made to be airtight, in the event that a pilot had to go EV. That was, of course, unless it had a blaster hole in one side.
"All right, Artoo," Luke said with a sigh, already reaching for his helmet seals. "This is what we're going to do. I'll set you down first, then I want you to open the airlock hatch. Be ready to close it as soon as I'm in." He didn't need to look at the translation screen to understand Artoo's expected objections. "I'll be fine. This can hardly be called cold-shirting it. My suit is … mostly intact." Pulling on his flight gloves, Luke used the Force to levitate the astromech to the bay floor. Artoo automatically magnetized his treads to combat the zero-gravity, rolling off as quickly as he could. As soon as the outer hatch cycled open, Luke popped open the ship's canopy and pushed off, propelling himself toward the hoped-for protection of the airlock. He didn't let himself consider what would happen if the entire station turned out to be bereft of breathable atmosphere.
With one arm pressed tightly against the charred hole in his flightsuit, Luke slammed none-too-gently into the inner hatch. Artoo was already in motion, shutting the outer door and then opening the inner one. Letting go of the handhold he'd grabbed, Luke rolled into the station with a muted groan.
"I'm … I'm okay," he panted, rocking on his hands and knees on the corridor floor. Activating a glow rod from his belt, he strained to see the atmosphere gauge mounted next to the now-closed airlock, then pulled off his helmet when he saw that it registered safe. "I just need … to rest a minute." Artoo-Detoo circled around his master, twittering anxiously. Luke bit back a cry as he touched his wound, and his glove came away spotted with fresh blood.
"No, we never do things the easy way." He gave a strained grin. "Where's the fun in that?"
Are Jedi Knights allowed to have fun?
"Spoilsport." With a grunt, Luke pushed himself to his feet. "Now, see what you can do about getting some of the lighting to work, and let's go find some new bandages."
Artoo and Luke slowly made their way through the deserted corridors. There was no clutter, no dirt, no evidence that this had ever been a bustling medical outpost. The whole place seemed … sterile. After checking several rooms, Luke finally found a cabinet with sealed packages of bandages and bacta gel. He applied a new dressing to his wound, then stuffed a few extra packages in his pocket to have handy after the possibly bumpy return to his ship.
Feeling somewhat refreshed, Luke returned to the outer hallway. Artoo trundled behind, tweedling when his master didn't head in the direction of the hanger.
"No, Artoo." Luke gazed down the long corridor. "I want to explore a bit."
As the pair wandered the station, Luke wondered again what had caused its abandonment. Not even a single cleaning droid could be seen. He glanced down when Artoo tootled an inquiry.
"I'm not lost," Luke said. He looked back the way they'd come, then studied the identical passageway that loomed ahead. "Just around that corner … is …" Luke bit his bottom lip in thought. "Is where we're going next."
Artoo-Detoo bumped into the back of his master when Luke stopped suddenly at a doorway that looked exactly like a dozen other doorways that they'd passed. As Luke slowly descended the half-dozen steps into an observation room, a sensation of expectation flooded through him. There was something familiar in the air; someone he knew had once been here. His eyes flicked upward where pinpricks of stars could be spotted through the transparent crystal of an overhead dome. But a tendril of the Force drew his attention back to a curved expanse of transparisteel, overlooking what appeared to be a surgical theater.
Crossing the space quickly, Luke pressed his forehead against the cool surface and looked down to the operating room below. Information stations lined the wall, their panels of lights now silent and lifeless. No furniture marred the oval theater save a treatment table in the center of the space.
Luke couldn't take his eyes off it. He had to get in there.
Artoo squawked as the young Jedi hurriedly brushed past. The little droid maneuvered down the single step into the operating area, then rolled up behind Luke.
Luke glanced aside briefly when Artoo jacked into a nearby control and colored lights sparkled to life on the walls, but his attention soon returned to the oval table in the middle of the room. He approached it almost reverently, though he didn't know why. The moment he laid his hands on the edge of the table, Luke was assaulted with flashes of images … the face of a woman in pain, floating droids hovering nearby, a baby swaddled in a blanket …
Luke didn't know how much time had passed when his eyes flew open. He was kneeling on the floor, his hands still gripping the rim of the treatment table. His flightsuit was drenched in sweat. He was trembling.
"Ar … Artoo…" Luke struggled to find his voice. "See … see if there's any recordings of the operations that went on here."
Artoo beeped a question.
"I don't know how long ago," Luke rasped. "I don't … " He paused, trying to recapture any of the elusive images. The only thought that kept hammering through his brain was that his birthday was coming up. Luke shook his head. He had no reason to believe the vision had anything to do with him.
But it was as good a number as any.
"Start with the records from about 24 years ago." Luke sat back against a wall, trying to slow down his still-pounding heart. "Look … look for any mention of births that occurred here."
Artoo plugged into a computer interface, whirring softly as he accessed the data. Luke was half afraid that the computer would be wiped as clean as the rest of the station. But excited chirping a few minutes later raised his hopes.
"You found something?" Luke leaned forward in unexplained anticipation as one of the lower wall panels slid out, and a miniature hologram of this very room materialized. The designating tag across the bottom of the recording listed the patient as an anonymous human female.
A disembodied voice announced the standard galactic date – in two days time this recording would be exactly twenty-four years old …
Hovering droids buzzed into view as a repulsor bed floated into the antiseptic-looking room. Luke strained his eyes to make out the small woman that was transferred onto the treatment table. She looked unconscious, and was covered from neck down with a white sheet. From the angle Luke was seeing, she appeared to be pregnant. Several droids immediately began running diagnostic scanners over her. Medical equipment was moved around the table, partially blocking Luke's view, but he could tell she was being treated for internal injuries. The droids finally moved the equipment away, took various readings from the woman, and then one of them zoomed over to the opening in the dividing wall and began speaking.
"Increase the volume, Artoo," Luke said quickly, moving closer to the hologram. The woman reminded him of Leia.
"All organic damage has been repaired," the droid announced to the previously out-of-view observers. "For reasons we can't explain, we are losing her."
"She's dying?" someone asked.
Luke peered closer, and his breath hitched in his throat. The speaker was much younger than Luke remembered, his chestnut hair and beard only tinged with gray. But Luke instantly knew in his gut who it was – Ben. Another figure came into frame, this one tiny, hobbling, and leaning on a cane. And green.
The third observer was unknown to Luke. He was tall, dark-haired, and distinguished looking. His mind roiling with the possible implications of what he was witnessing, Luke forced himself to return his attention to hearing the conversation.
"She has lost the will to live," said the medical droid. "We need to operate quickly if we are to save the babies."
"Babies!" cried the stranger, the one Luke didn't recognize.
"She's carrying twins," said the droid before zooming back to the patient.
The holocamera angle centered once more on the treatment table, where the woman was being awakened and prepped for a surgical delivery. The woman looked toward the observation deck and weakly called "Obi-Wan…"
Ben appeared instantly, clasping the woman's hand.
"Don't give up, Padmé," he said, his face drawn and haggard. "Hold on." He looked over his shoulder as the obstetrics droid handed him a small bundle. "You have twins, Padmé. A boy…"
The woman weakly lifted her hand, brushing her fingers against the infant's forehead. "Luke… Oh, Luke."
Luke was sure at that moment that his heart stopped beating. His earlier suspicions were confirmed – he was witnessing his own birth. His and …
The droid held up a second infant.
The woman barely seemed to have the strength to focus on the child. "Leia …"
Artoo gently bumped into his master, but Luke ignored him. The entire station could've crumbled around him and he wouldn't have noticed. Mother … His mother … Leia's words from Endor crept unbidden into his mind. She was very beautiful; kind, but sad …
"Obi-Wan…" the woman – Padmé… Mother … -- said weakly, struggling to speak, her eyes pleading. "There is good in him. I know … there is still …"
"Padmé!" Ben's head bowed as Padmé's brown eyes, so much like Leia's, quietly closed.
"No…" Luke breathed. "No!" She couldn't have died here. Leia remembered her. She had to revive. She had to— But through tear-filled eyes Luke could see the droids nudging Ben aside… taking down the surgical shield… pulling the cloth over his mother's gentle face.
Luke buried his face in his hands, his body trembling in sorrow as the holo faded to an end. His mother had been as beautiful as he'd imagined; her death had been nothing like he'd imagined. He wanted to claw the image of her still form from his mind forever; he wanted to preserve it forever.
"Make a copy, Artoo," Luke murmured, knowing without looking that his mechanical friend was still nearby, a silent sentinel to his master's numbed grief. Finally rising to his feet, Luke swiped at the trails of tears wetting his cheeks. He moved toward the empty table and ran a hand one last time across the cushioned surface, inhaling the precious gift he'd been granted.
Bone-weary and emotionally drained, Luke rubbed one hand over his face, blinking in disbelief when he pushed back his sleeve to check his wrist chrono. He'd been on the station over a half day. His stomach suddenly growled, reminding him that it had been longer than that since he'd last eaten.
He found he wasn't hungry.
"C'mon, Artoo. I guess we'd better get going." He looked at his longtime friend. "Are you sure you have the entire recording intact, and safe?" He grimaced as Artoo blew a raspberry in annoyance. "Sorry. I know I already asked that. It's just …" Taking one last lingering gaze around what he knew now was the location of his and Leia's birth, Luke laid one hand lightly on top of Artoo's dome. "I can't believe what we found here, Artoo. Maybe you should pinch me so I'll know I'm not dreaming." He scooted back when Artoo's pincer arm began extending toward him. "I was kidding, I was kidding."
The pair made their way unerringly back to the landing bay, and Luke made a relatively smooth transition to his ship. As soon as Artoo-Detoo was settled into his socket, the X-wing rose and headed toward Coruscant.
Toward home. Toward Leia.
The former Imperial Palace glittered in the waning hours of sunset as the lone ship settled onto the private tarmac. Luke knew that Leia's birthday party would be starting soon, and he desperately needed to clean up before approaching civilized company.
"Send a message to Leia's comm that I'll be there as soon as I can," Luke instructed Artoo as they hurried into the building. The healing trance he'd submerged himself in during the last leg of the journey had gone a long way toward treating the blaster wound in his side. With any luck, Luke thought, Leia wouldn't even notice that he'd been injured. Shielding his emotional restlessness would be a lot more difficult.
"Luke, is something wrong? All evening, I've sensed a sort of … melancholy happiness in you."
"I guess that's a good way to put it." Luke's gaze lowered a moment. He'd been at the party for a couple hours, and other than a quick greeting at the door, this was the first chance that he and Leia had to be alone. "I'm sorry I didn't have a chance to buy you a present."
"You know that's not necessary!" Leia wrapped an arm around her brother's waist. "Just having you here is all I want."
"I do have something for you. But … I've been wavering about whether to show it to you or not."
"What is it?"
"Let's go somewhere private."
Leia directed the way into her office, then frowned in confusion when Luke locked the door behind them. She sat on a small couch in the corner of the room. "Have a seat," she said, patting the space beside her.
"I will," Luke said, though he made no move to sit. "Leia, on the way here, I found … The Force led me …"
"Just spit it out, little brother," Leia said with a smile.
Luke's mood seemed to lighten momentarily. He opened his mouth, as if he wanted to retort in the good-natured way that he always did, but then he turned somber once more. Luke pulled a disc from his pocket, inserting it into the holoplayer before sitting beside Leia. As the recording shimmered into view, Luke slipped one arm around her shoulders, tightening his hold as the words Polis Massa Medical Center hung in the air a moment before fading, and an operating room appeared…
Luke clutched his sister against his shoulder, stroking her hair and whispering soothing words of comfort as her sobs gradually drained away. Leia quieted, but didn't move out of his embrace.
"We don't even know who she was," Leia said evenly, pushing back her grief. She now understood Luke's emotional mixture of sadness and joy. To have an actual image of her mother was a gift to be treasured, though it stirred in her a craving to discover more about this special woman.
"She was our mother, and her name was Padmé," Luke replied. "She loved us, and she loved Father. She believed in Father. For now, that's enough." He reached up and brushed the drying tears from Leia's cheek. "Someday we'll know more about her. I can feel it."
"I hope you're right." Leia curled her legs underneath herself, absently rubbing her hands against her knees. "I can't believe you hesitated to show me this," she murmured, leaning more heavily into Luke.
"I didn't want to cause you any pain," he said, and Leia could feel his concern for her escaping his half-hearted shielding.
"Luke…" Leia turned to look him in the eye. "To know how Mother died, to see a glimpse of her … It's pain worth bearing. Anything is bearable, when shared between us."
Luke nodded in agreement. "At least Mother wasn't alone. She had Ben and Master Yoda with her."
"And Bail," Leia added.
"And Bail." Luke smiled at the inclusion of Leia's beloved foster father. "If you look closely in the background, you'll notice that the droids were there, too."
"Threepio and Artoo?"
"Yes," Luke confirmed. "At least it looks like them. I questioned Artoo on the way home, but he reminded me that he and Threepio had numerous memory wipes before they landed on Tatooine."
"It's possible. They belonged to our family for as long as I can recall, so maybe they were accompanying Bail. And he had a policy that all our droids had routine memory wipes. I suppose it was not only for my safety, but also to protect those working with the Rebellion." Leia reflected, not for the first time, of all the incidents in her life growing up which clicked into place after she learned of her heritage.
"One thing I don't understand," Leia continued, "is how I can remember images of Mother, but you can't. Do you think Obi-Wan could have taken away any memory you might have had of her?"
"A mind wipe on me?" Luke shook his head. "I don't know. I didn't think newborns could retain memories."
"I didn't either, but she looked so familiar. I could feel vague whispers of her face in the back of my mind as I watched."
"Perhaps the Organas showed you a holo of her," Luke suggested. "They could've described her to you when you were small. Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru told me nothing of my mother, except that she died when I was born. But when I found out we were twins, and you said you remembered her, I thought perhaps it was another one of those 'certain point of view' truths. Then I wondered why she gave me away, but stayed with you, until …"
"Oh, Luke." This time it was Leia giving Luke a comforting hug. "I'm sure she would've kept both of us if she'd been able."
"The droid in the holo said her physical injuries had been repaired, so why didn't she survive?"
Leia closed her eyes briefly, reflecting on the memory of the recording. "I think she died of a broken heart, Luke." She clasped her brother's hand tightly. "Can you imagine how much he hurt her? How much she must have loved him?"
"But couldn't she have held on, for …"
"For us?" Leia shook her head slowly. "I'd like to think, if I were in that position … But who are we to answer for another? We know nothing of their life together."
"I wonder what she would think of us, of what we've done with our lives."
"I'd like to think she'd be proud of us," Leia said, lapsing into silence.
"Hmm…" Luke stilled also, but Leia sensed his mind whirling with unanswered questions. "Do you think Father is the one who hurt her … physically, that is?"
"Luke, you're thinking too much again. It was war time. She could've gotten injured in any number of ways."
"What I find hard to believe is …" Leia gave Luke a sly smile, "…that you haven't gloated yet that you're older."
"By, what, half a minute?" Luke laughed lightly. "I'm saving that for a special occasion."
"Like our birthday party, which we're missing." He stood, pulling Leia to her feet. "Come, little sister. I believe Mother would want us to celebrate."