Leia stared as Anakin drilled bolts into the cool synstone of the underground wall. There was something strange about watching him work. The black armor seemed fit only for battle, and to see him assembling a hyperbaric chamber, using the Force to slide a transparisteel panel into place with almost artistic precison, was just plain odd. But work he did, as they all did, to transform the old moisture farm.
She turned back to her own task, grunting as she hefted the first of several buckets of water up to chest level. The liquid that she sent cascading into the filter tank was hazy and faintly brown. Her one concession to comfort had been this filtration system, otherwise she was determined to live as Luke had lived. Nevermind that liters of purified water shipped in on the Falcon filled one of the storage rooms. If her father and her brother had survived the primitive conditions on Tatooine, then she could, too.
That wasn't to say that she hadn't been shocked the first time she saw the Lars homestead. She thought she knew what desert life was like from the time she'd spent waiting to rescue Han from Jabba the Hutt. But even though Mos Eisley had been rough and dangerous, it was Coruscant compared to the exposed pit in the ground, surrounded by kilometers of absolute nothing. Her jaw dropped when she looked down into the home's courtyard. Luke had quickly apologized, saying it looked much better before its long years of abandonment. But he had misunderstood her. She wasn't being critical; she was astounded by the twist of fate that allowed her upbringing to be so different from his.
It pained her to think that for every memory she had of growing up surrounded by wealth and privilege, Luke's memories were of toil and struggle, of hazy water and a simple diet. He seemed to bear no resentment, though, diligently instructing her on how to service the ring of vaporators they'd placed around the homestead. Both men were puzzled by her insistence in taking over this chore. But they didn't understand what it was like watching them look to the sky and nod, both of them seeing something she did not. To have them pull her back because she was about to step on a sandscorpion, or to hear them laugh when she jumped at some creature they both knew was perfectly harmless. She might have been raised in an opulence that neither of them had ever known, but she would not be the soft off-worlder.
Sometimes she wondered if Anakin was testing her, to see if she was strong enough. In all the discussions about rebuilding the Order and expanding the homestead to accomodate students, he had never once laid out a plan for her. At first she attributed it to the fact that all their efforts were concentrated towards the physical rehabilitation of the homestead, but now several weeks had passed since the dwelling had been restored to functional status, and she had begun to think it was a purposeful omission. She knew Anakin thought she was incapable of taking care of herself, because he insisted that Luke accompany her any time she went to collect water. She bristled against the limitation, but it was a point on which he simply would not budge. Had they forgotten she'd been through war just like they had? That she was the one who'd shot Palpatine for Force's sake?
Anakin glanced over at her, and she realized she was broadcasting her thoughts rather loudly. But enough was enough. She hadn't walked away from her position as a senator to fail at becoming a Jedi. Or to never even be given the chance. She wiped her hands on her pants and smoothed back the stray hairs from her face. Her boots clacked against the stone floor of the coved corridor, but Anakin remained focused on the gauge panel that monitored the last of the pressurized rooms.
She tried to insert herself into his line of sight. "I need to talk to you about something."
The helmet turned towards her. "Yes?"
She'd never felt so at his mercy. To request something from him, to become indebted to him, she wasn't sure if she could do it. But if she couldn't ask, then she might as well leave now, and she wasn't willing to give up. She knew he must sense her inner turmoil, but the mask stared down at her dispassionately. Its blankness suddenly irritated her. "I can't talk to you with that thing on your face."
He stiffened visibly, and then gestured towards the door of the chamber. "After you."
She frowned. This was not what she had in mind. She thought it would be like the last time, with him on one side, and herself on the other. But to decline now would only appear cowardly. Once inside she knew it was not at all like the last time. Then he had waited for her to approach, his eyes averted and his struggle with his own emotions evident on his face. He showed no such signs of vulnerability now, his gaze fixed on her as he tapped a button on his belt. The room fell silent, and she realized she was holding her breath, as though she, too, was tied to the ventilator. She watched him reach behind his head, and then the top of the helmet came free, accompanied by a release of air.
When he folded the mask forward, the blue eyes she remembered came into view, framed by his strong brow and and prominent cheekbones. She willed herself to maintain eye contact, and as she searched his face, a storm of thoughts whirled through her mind. Luke's voice, urging her to give him a chance. Han's voice, laughing about what a man would do for love. Her own inner voice realizing Anakin was Padme's most guarded secret. If this was going to work at all, she was going to have to give a little.
He quirked his head at her. "You had something to say?"
She dropped her gaze to the floor as she worked to gather the words. What if he rejected her request? Having to prove herself to him would be even worse than being obligated to him. Maybe there was still a way to convince Luke to teach her. Not likely though, considering the unity he and Anakin had been showing lately. She raised her face to Anakin, and found him wearing an amused expression. Fine. If he laughed at her, he laughed at her. "I want to be a Jedi. I've asked Luke, but he says it would be better if you trained me," she said, and then narrowed her eyes. "I'm sure he's talked to you about it."
"He has," Anakin said, a faint smile curling his lips, "but you have not."
The tightness in her stomach increased. He obviously wasn't going to make this easy. "You're right," she said with a nod. "But I'm asking you now."
"And it bothers you that you need something from me," he said.
It was not a question. He knew he held the advantage in this situation. There was nothing for her to do but admit the truth."Yes."
He looked down and chewed his lip for a moment. "I will tell you something that I have not revealed even to Luke."
She stared at him, surprised, wondering what could possibly involve her more than her brother. His jaw clenched and he walked towards the front of the room. She followed him with her eyes, realizing he was now the one struggling for words.
"I never attained the rank of master," he said, turning to face her. "It was most commonly granted after one trained their first Padawan. As you would be my first, it appears that I need you as much as you need me."
It was a gesture she hadn't expected, the first admission of deficiency that she'd ever heard him make. And even though he held all the power, he'd decided to share it with her.
"Does that make it easier?" he asked, moving closer. For a moment she thought he was going to touch her shoulder, but then he withdrew his hand.
"Yes," she said, and meant it. "So, you'll accept me as your student?"
"Of course I would," Anakin said, shaking his head.
She thought of what he'd said as Palpatine had laid slain across Executor's deck. I would do anything for you. The openness in his eyes now told her it was not an empty claim, and she felt like she should at least acknowledge his devotion. She brushed her hand over his arm. "Thank you."
Anakin watched his daughter slip out through the door of the chamber and disappear down the corridor towards the courtyard of the homestead. He had almost given up hope that he would ever gain her confidence. Now that she had given him the barest measure, he would show her he was worthy of it. And he would train her to be a Jedi. He only hoped the two were not mutually exclusive.
He walked over to a corner of the chamber, absently running a finger down the seal. If she was to succeed, he would have to be hard on her. He remembered the resentment he'd felt towards Obi-Wan over the strictness of his discipline, and how it had sometimes stretched thin the bond between them. And that was with thirteen years of continual contact tying them to one another. He and Leia had no such foundation of familiarity and trust. Plus, she was willful and quick to anger. He suddenly had a much greater appreciation of how difficult Obi-Wan's task had been.
An old saying from the Temple drifted through his mind : You're not truly a Jedi until you've trained a Padawan. At the time the saying annoyed him, because it felt like just another way for the Masters to reinforce their superior position, but now he could hear the ring of truth in it. To train Leia, he would have to not only recall everything that had been taught to him, but exercise more patience and discipline than perhaps was in him. But he would not fail her.
At the edge of his vision he caught a blip of motion, and he turned towards the front of the chamber. Squinting, he made out a tall figure concealed in the shadows of the corridor. He cast out with the Force and found the answer: Solo, who must have arrived with the latest shipload of supplies. He hadn't intended for the Corellian to see him without the helmet, but it was too late to change that now. He supposed he would have to get used to the idea of many people seeing him without the mask. Though their eyes met, Solo showed no reaction, continuing to lean up against the wall with his arms folded across his chest. Turning away, Anakin replaced the mask and helmet, and exited the chamber.
"It doesn't hurt her to be that thing, does it?" Solo said, straightening as Anakin drew near.
"You think I would harm my own daughter?" he said.
Solo thought for a moment. "No. But I had to ask." He stepped forward and stared into the mask. "You understand, right?"
Inside the helmet, Anakin smiled at Solo's bravado. The protectiveness the man was exhibiting was quite familiar. "Completely."
"Good. I'm glad that's settled," Solo said, and his whole demeanor relaxed. "Oh, and that archival quality holorecorder you wanted is here."
He nodded and started down the corridor. "You negotiated a good price, I presume?"
"Hey, it's me. Any cheaper and it'd be stolen," Solo said, keeping pace with him. "Why? You worried about your credits running out?"
Anakin snorted. "There's no fear of that."
"Must be nice," Solo said. "This place is visible from space with the power grid you've established."
"That is an exaggeration."
"Yeah, well, maybe," Solo said. "But all this stuff you're having me bring in is attracting attention. And that ain't a good thing in Mos Eisley."
He shrugged. "I am not concerned."
"Maybe you should be, " Solo said, pointing a finger at him. "You never know who'll show up on your doorstep."
He stopped and turned towards Solo. "The two most powerful Force users in the Galaxy are under one roof. Only a fool would come here uninvited."
"You never want for confidence, I'll give you that," Solo said. He paused and rubbed his chin. "So, Leia just told me you're going to train her."
"Yes," he said, pleased that she'd been eager to spread the news.
"How long does that take?"
"Years. A lifetime for some."
Solo gave a low whistle. "Then we're going to be seeing a lot of each other. We should try to get along. For her sake."
Anakin gazed at the former smuggler. His daughter could have done far worse. At least Solo had sense, and some useful skills, unlike the aristocratic snobs she must have encountered as a Princess. "Yes. For her sake."
Luke ran his fingers across the rough surface of the stone slab. They'd cut four of them from a vein of zionite high in the walls of Beggar's Canyon, left exposed when the ancient waters of Tatooine had formed the ravine. Letters carved into the slab by his father's lightsaber glittered in the light of the workshop, the crystals within the stone fused by the energy of the saber. Even though he'd been taught the name -Shmi Skywalker- he never knew that a marker had ever adorned her grave. Or that at one time other markers had stood next to hers. His father didn't know the names of the others, but Anakin guessed they might be Owen Lars' mother, and perhaps a sibling. They both thought Cliegg Lars probably lay there, too, but he'd been gone as long as Luke could remember.
They should have cut two more markers, but those they would honor had never been laid to rest. Luke tried not to think about that part. He focused instead on applying sealant to the stones, but the parade of images in his mind wouldn't stop. He relived the shock of seeing black smoke boiling out of the only home he'd ever known. The acrid tang of that smoke filling his nostrils. And the last part, the horrifying sight of Owen and Beru, their bodies burned away to bone.
Though his father didn't look distressed, it felt to Luke that the pressurized room held no air at all. Nausea rolled through him in waves, and he walked away from the workbench to lean against the transparisteel panel. He closed his eyes to shut out his memories, but that only made them more vivid. Behind him, he heard his father power down the lightsaber.
"Luke, what is it?"
His face flushed hot as he turned to face his father. "I should have done more."
Anakin tilted his head in silent question.
"Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. I...I just left them after the stormtroopers came through," he said, lowering his eyes to the floor in shame."Just left them to the animals."
His father set the lightsaber down and walked towards him. "Sometimes in the moment of battle we have to leave those who have fallen. In the Clone Wars..."
Luke didn't wait for his father to finish. This was different. They hadn't been comrades, they were family. "But they raised me. I owed them more than that."
"Don't be so hard on yourself, Luke," his father said, concern evident on his face. "We all have regrets."
He supposed that was true. Certainly his father must have dealt with such feelings many times over. "What do you regret?"
"You are asking that of me?" his father said. "It should be obvious."
But it wasn't. His father only talked obliquely about such things."No, tell me. What do you regret the most?"
Anakin looked away. He walked to the other end of the pressurized room, and then slowly turned back. "That I could not change your mother's fate," he said. He wet his lips before continuing. "Even more, that I may have contributed to it."
Luke stared at his father. That didn't make sense. "But you told me you tried to save her."
"Everything I did, I did for her," his father said, his expression becoming hard. "But she could not accept what that meant."
A chill ran through Luke. He wanted to stop his father from saying more, but at the same time he was mesmerized. He had to know. "And?"
His father shrugged. "And... we argued. I was very angry."
Luke glanced down. The scar around his right wrist was tingling. "Did you hurt her?"
His father's face became unreadable, and his presence in the Force retreated behind his shields. "Until I found you, I thought I killed her. Palpatine told me I did."
Every time Luke thought he'd heard it all, there was always something worse. He swallowed hard and averted his gaze. Though he supposed the slaughter at the Jedi Temple was the most heinous of his father's crimes, this assault against his mother seemed even more inexcusable. It wasn't Darth Vader against perceived enemy Jedi, it was Anakin Skywalker against his own wife. He couldn't even look his father in the eye anymore.
He turned for the door. "I've got to go walk around, or something."
"Luke, wait," his father said. "You asked me what I regretted most and that was it, even when I did not feel regret for anything else."
He paused. He could hear desperation in his father's voice, an emotion he'd never heard from him before. Now he wished he'd never asked the question.
"I should have been with her, and I was not," his father continued.
He summoned the patience to turn around. "Where were you?"
"I was becoming...this," his father said, gesturing towards himself. He lowered his head. "I don't even know where you were born."
Luke had never felt more like an orphan. He envisioned his mother dying and alone, left to give birth in some bleak location. He could almost feel her despair, and it made him wonder if he'd given his father far too much credit.
He headed for the door, but before he could wave it open he felt a stirring in the Force, and a shimmering figure materialized in front of him. Luke shook his head. How could Ben have possibly chosen this particular moment to reveal himself? While his father had become far less reactive to any mention of Obi-Wan, the last thing Luke felt like doing right now was mediating between the two of them.
Ben smiled warmly at him, without making any effort to acknowledge Anakin. "You are a child of the stars, Luke. You were born on the asteroid Polis Massa."
His own astonishment at finally knowing a fact most people knew all their lives was interrupted by the cold flare of recognition that came from his father. He heard his father move closer, close enough that he could hear the catch that marred his father's unassisted breaths.
Anakin's voice was low and quiet. "You were there."
"Yes, old friend, I was," Ben said, sadness replacing his smile. The Force crackled as he moved past Luke. "We did everything we could to save her. The medics never could tell us why she failed."
Luke turned to see his father's reaction, and realized he shouldn't have worried about playing mediator. There were only two people in the room, and he wasn't one of them. There was only Anakin and Obi-Wan, together again after long last. Luke retreated, watching the emotional armor fall from his father's face. Tears brimmed in his father's eyes, making him look very young and lost.
Anakin nodded slowly, his gaze dropping to the floor. Sorrow poured from his mind. "Thank you, for taking care of her."
"You should know that her last words were of you," Ben said, and Anakin's head jerked upwards. "She never stopped seeing the good in you, even at the end."
The grief on his father's face was so raw, Luke had to turn away. But there was no escaping the anguish that echoed in the Force, and he closed his eyes, letting the pain wash through him. Even as the last of it ebbed away, another wave of emotion rode over him. It stole his breath and made his chest ache, leaving him weak. It matched nothing in his own experience, but in the moment, he realized what it was. However great his father's capacity for anger, it was apparently matched by his capacity for love.
When its grip eased, he opened his eyes and saw that his father had sunk to the floor, legs outstretched and his back against the transparisteel panel. Ben mirrored Anakin's posture, resting near him in a manner that reminded Luke of Rogue pilots recovering after a long mission. His father's eyelids fluttered as if he were dreaming, and his lips formed unsaid words. Quietly, Luke sat down crosslegged on the floor, and absorbed the peace that now permeated the room.
He thought of what Ben had said about his mother's last words, and of how they matched what he had told Leia on Endor's moon. There is good in him. I've felt it. Sometimes he questioned why he had been so sure, whether it was mere sentiment or wishful thinking. Now he wondered if his mother had guided him somehow to at last bring his father home. Though he had never known her, he thought they might have understood each other. As he watched his father, he could feel her love surrounding him, and he knew he would never think of himself as an orphan again.
With a wave of his hand, Anakin brightened the light in his private chamber. The stubbled cloth he held in his hands looked remarkably like the fabric of the old Jedi robes. And maybe it was just the new gloves Luke had convinced him to wear, thin and flexible, with metallic strands that enhanced the perception in his prosthetic fingers, but the texture felt exactly right, too. He brought the sleeve up to his nose and inhaled. The subtly sweet scent of the natural fiber matched what was in his memory. He glanced at the pile of garments on Luke's lap, and then to Leia's expectant face. "Where did you find these?"
"I went to a little place on Coruscant," she said. "Down many levels. It was called..."
"Beshmaals," he finished.
"Yes," she said, riffling through the stack on her own lap. "Do they look right? I didn't know there would be so many pieces."
He smiled. "Oh, yes. There are many layers. It takes some practice to put them all on correctly."
"I can't believe you had these made," Luke said. He flopped the stack of clothes onto the bed and stood up, selecting the outer robe from the pile. He pulled his arms through and shrugged it over his shoulders. "Seems like they're a good fit, too."
"I used the last of my Senatorial privilege to obtain your measurements from your military record," Leia said with a sly grin, " And you, well, you were still in their files. I just told them to make yours a little bigger."
He met her gaze. So, Leia had been thinking of him training her for a while, probably even before he'd made the decision to rebuild the Order. He wondered what she would have done if he'd declined. Probably dragged him protesting down the path she wanted, just like her mother would have done. To his surprise, the sense of shame he always felt when he looked into Leia's face and saw Padme' looking back was gone.
"What, is there a bug in my hair again?" Leia said, patting her head. "You're looking at me like you see something."
"Hmm," he said, breaking away from his thoughts. "I was thinking how much you look like your mother."
"What was she like?" Luke asked, sitting back down with the tan robe gathered around him.
Already his son had the demeanor of the old Order, and he only looked more the Jedi with his hands withdrawn into the deep sleeves of the robe. But there was a part of Luke that hungered like he hungered, for family, for connection. He wanted to feed his son's need, but how could mere words ever convey who Padme' had been? Just thinking of her flooded his mind with memories he thought were long gone, and when he opened his mouth to speak, nothing came out. Luke leaned forward, waiting, and Anakin knew he would have to tell him something.
"She was so determined that I knew never to argue with her," he began, his mind drifting to times gone by. "So fearless that she fought alongside me in the Battle of Geonosis. And so generous of heart that she loved me despite my faults."
His children's eyes fixed on him with rapt attention. In telling them of their mother, he had never felt more like their father. Knowing that Padme' had kept even a shred of faith in him made him believe she would want him to be here, taking care of their children. And even if they were already grown, he would do exactly that. Emotion swelled in him, making it impossible to speak.
He cleared his throat. "That is all I will tell you for now. But since we are passing out gifts, I have something for you, Leia."
After setting aside the pile of dark clothing that covered his lap, he went to the storage cabinet in his closet. Inside the top drawer was something he'd kept, though he wasn't sure why. Maybe as proof of his victory over a fallen enemy, or to have control over that which had vanquished him. Or, it seemed, because he was supposed to give it to his daughter. He summoned the hilt and returned to his seat. "When you are further along in your training, you will be expected to build your own. But you may carry this one until then."
Leia's eyes flicked to Anakin's face as she took the lightsaber from his outstretched hand.
"That's Obi-Wan's," Luke said.
Leia turned the saber in the light. "I'm honored that you would give this to me."
"It is an honor," Anakin said, "but also a challenge, to become as skilled as its previous owner."
Leia raised her hand to tip the shade on the spotlight, then remembered to use the Force instead. Focusing, she pushed the shade with a wave of two fingers, but frowned when she saw the result. Too far. She sighed and brought it back into position manually before moving on to the next light. While she might need practice to refine her control of the Force, her years in the Senate had left her confident in her ability to properly light a holostage.
The subject of her exercise sat patiently in the broad armchair in the center of the pressurized room. Like her, Anakin was dressed in full Jedi regalia, though the color of his clothing was many shades darker. With them on, he seemed to have acquired a grace that she'd never noticed when he was in the black armor. About satisfied with the blend of light from her three sources, she traced a semicircle in front of him, checking the angles of his face for any unwanted shadows. His eyes followed her as she moved about, but she kept to her work. Pausing in front of him, she gave the far light a nudge with a subtle movement of her finger, then smiled at her own accomplishment.
Anakin reached towards her. "Your obi is folded incorrectly. Let me fix it."
"Oh," she said, glancing at her waist. "I'll get it later."
He stood up from the chair. "It will only take a second."
She rolled her eyes and turned her head away, raising her arms to give him access. When she felt the tug of the sash going snug, she turned her head back, only to find him slipping his arms around her. She tensed against him, then decided that tolerating his hug was kinder than raising a fuss. Tenatively she placed her arms around his back, and discovered that at least through the thick layers of clothing, he didn't feel all that different from Bail, just warm and solid. Then she felt him bend down, and when he kissed the top of her head, she froze.
His voice was almost a whisper. "I used to talk to you when you were in your mother's belly. I always told her we were having a girl."
She was stunned. Small though it might be, they did have a history together, in a time when everything was still right. Before Bail, before Alderaan, he had been her father, in more than just the biological sense of the word. Tears formed in her eyes, and she tightened her arms and leaned into his chest. A choked noise escaped him, and for a moment she could sense the depth of his feelings. No matter how brief their time together had been, their bond was apparently unbreakable.
Luke's eyes shined with the warmth and acceptance that were always there, but Anakin saw something else, too: pride. He supposed he should warn his son that pride wasn't very Jedi, but it had been so terribly long since anyone had been proud of him that he couldn't bring himself to tell him.
"Pretend you're talking to me," Luke said, smiling. "I'll stand in back of the recorder, and you just say everything the way you would say it to me."
He took in a breath and considered his son's advice. Public speaking had never been his forte', and the thought of recording material for the new archive was daunting, to say the least. Assuming the role of elder statesman was perhaps the part that had concerned him the most about rebuilding the Order. He, who had not always listened closely in class, who had always flaunted the rules, who had at the end had brought the Order down, was now to be its leader. But there was no other way, since the remaining knowledge as reposited only in him.
Leia motioned from her seat at the control panel of the recorder, and he settled into the central chair. Around him, the Force hummed, as if pleased. Perhaps he was making it too complicated. In the old Temple it was said that each instant, the universe annihilates itself and starts again. He was not bound to what he had done in the past, nor burdened to carry the future. All he had to do was choose, in each moment choose to be Anakin Skywalker. To be a Jedi.
End Part I