Author's Note: As with my other Star Wars fics and any I may write in the immediate future, this is Alternate Universe because I am not familiar with all the canon yet. Any flames regarding this will be sent to Mustafar where they belong.

Also, if when you've finished this you are sufficiently depressed and looking for something happy, check out the spin-off of this story by Skywalker05, "Clever Title Goes Here." It's what happens when writers are awake at 2:00 in the morning discussing fanfiction.


Understanding

by Argenteus Draco

The way the flames danced and reflected on the water made eerie patterns in the half-light. He supposed, in a far corner of his mind, that it might have been beautiful if it hadn't been part of a funeral pyre.

Luke Skywalker watched the flames and the body behind them with a morbid fascination. A long gash running down the left arm was the only mar on the otherwise perfect figure. Her lips were settled in an expression of peace; or at least, Luke liked to imagine that's what it was. He preferred that to the blank, unknowing stare that his father had worn.

The fact that he'd buried enough people – family members – to compare their expressions in death might have bothered someone else, but to Luke it was simply a part of life. He'd grown up at war; it was silly to start feeling bitter now. After all, he'd barely known his father when he'd lit his pyre.

But Mara…

No, he couldn't let this become any different than the others.

Slowly, the fire died down to embers, and one by one people approached to offer condolences that he barely heard. Han and Leia were the last to leave, and he thought the wind took on a biting chill once they'd gone. He wrapped his cloak a little tighter around him as he stood at the water's edge, realizing that he was, once again, alone.

"No, my son. Never alone."

The voice had an ethereal quality to it that he recognized immediately, and he turned to see the spirit of Anakin Skywalker standing beside the ashes.

"I never had a pyre for Padmé," he said, "but I would like to think it was in a place as nice as this."

Luke said nothing, only turned around to face the water again. He could feel his father's gaze on the back of his neck, though there was no change in his perception of the Force. It was rather disconcerting, after so many years of training.

Anakin walked over to stand beside his son, and laid a hand gently on Luke's shoulder. " I know it's difficult," he said quietly, "but the pain does ease with time, even if it never really goes away."

Luke continued to stare out over the water. "It's alright," he replied. " I knew she had enemies. It was almost bound to happen."

Anakin jerked his head up sharply to look at his stoic counterpart. "Luke, she was your wife. How can you say that? Didn't you love her?"

Again, silence. Luke didn't have an answer, and he certainly didn't want to think about one.

"I'm sorry," Anakin murmured after a moment. "I shouldn't have said anything. Love is a… difficult… emotion to understand."

"And you were such a shining example of that yourself." The words were out of his mouth before he could regret them. "I suppose it runs in the family," he added ruefully.

A pained look crossed Anakin's face. "Luke… son, believe me, if I could go back, and change things, I would."

"Of course."

The wind picked up, pulling Mara's ashes away with it. Luke turned his gaze to their trail, mainly to avoid looking at his father.

"I'm sorry," he finally continued. "Like you said, love can be… difficult."

Anakin nodded gravely. "As I know only too well." He touched Luke's arm. "I want you to understand, though. I did love your mother. And I'm immensely proud of you."

"You shouldn't be."

"Luke…"

"Don't." He pulled his arm from Anakin's grasp, and finally met his gaze. "I understand everything perfectly. Jedi aren't supposed to love."

----------(---

"Why did you marry her, then, if you never loved her?"

They were down by the water again, sitting on a patch of soft moss that was growing over the site of the burning. Luke picked up a stone and rolled it through his fingers as he contemplated his answer.

"It was… difficult," was the response he finally decided upon.

"I see." Anakin reached for a nearby stick and began methodically stripping the bark off. The blue light surrounding his form lingered on the moss he brushed against, though the glow was faint compared to the shadows around them. "And do you ever plan to explain these difficulties?"

"Maybe. But not yet." Luke tossed the stone a few times, watching it intently. "Actually, I was wondering if you would mind telling me about my mother first."

A rare smile graced Anakin's features. "You would have loved her, Luke. And I know she would have loved you."

"But what was she like?"

"Kind. Patient. Perhaps a bit too pensive at times. But she'd been dreaming of you, her first child, for so long…"

Luke allowed Anakin a moment before he posed his next question. "And did you want me?"

Shocked as he was, Anakin almost laughed. "You do come straight to the point, don't you?"

"I'm serious, Father. I know enough about the old Order to know that Jedi weren't supposed to have families. So I have to wonder, if you were as dedicated to the Order as you say you were, did you really want children?"

Anakin put the stick down with a measured, gentle motion. "How much truth do you want on this matter, Luke?"

"Enough to understand."

He sighed. "Then it's got to be the whole truth, I'm afraid." He took a breath and directed his gaze upward, unaware that, for once, Luke was actually looking at him.

"I loved her, Luke, more than most people can ever know. When she told me, I didn't know what to think. All I knew was that she was happy, and that alone made me happy. Until I learned that having you meant loosing her."

They sat in silence for a moment, during which Luke threw his stone as hard as he could into the lake.

"Do you ever have premonitions, Luke?"

"Rarely." He picked up another stone and examined the flecks of mineral scattered over the surface. "But the ones I have are particularly strong."

Anakin nodded gravely. "I'm sorry you had to inherit that particular power."

"It's proved useful. It was how I knew that Han was being tor-- that he was in danger."

The light that made up Anakin's face darkened as he tried to repress the memory. "I suppose I should apologize for that too."

"Apologize to Han. I'm sure he'd love to hear from you."

"As am I. Only I can't appear to him." Anakin looked thoughtful for a moment. "Actually, I'm not sure that I'll be able to appear to you again after this."

"Oh," was all Luke could manage to say.

Then: "Will you stay as long as you can, then?"

"Of course."

---)----------

"It wasn't that I didn't love Mara. Just that I didn't love her romantically. Does that make sense?"

In the pre-dawn light, Luke looked almost as spectral as Anakin, especially with the way his head was bent and his eyes hidden in shadow.

"She was my student, and I just couldn't see her as anything else. But I wanted to love her…"

He picked one of the blue flowers that she'd always liked off of an overhanging branch and twirled it idly between his fingers. "Well, no, not her. But I wanted to love someone. And the way she talked about marriage, and our life together, with children, I guess…"

He sighed. "I wanted to be the father you couldn't be to me. I wanted to prove that Jedi could love, without falling to the Dark Side. But everything hinged on the will of the Force. I guess it just wasn't meant to be…"

He drew his knees up to his chest and propped his chin on them, thinking of his childhood on Tatooine. He couldn't count the number of times he'd sat like this, long nights from sundown to dawn, wishing for a father's comforting hand on his shoulder.

Once again, alone.

"No, my son. Never alone. I'll visit you in dreams, Luke. But I know you understand how rarely Jedi dream."

The words echoed in his head, sounding as empty as the speech he had just made to thin air.

Maybe Jedi really weren't supposed to love, because it left empty space in his being that even the Force couldn't fill with light.

And maybe, he thought, as he watched the sun crest the horizon, that was what it meant to understand.