Author's Note: Hey all! This story has been a long time coming. I've actually had it done for months, if you can believe that, but was waiting for the "right time" to post it. Having finally accepted that the "right time " isn't going to show up anytime soon, I decided to post it now.The title comes from the song "Can You Feel The Love Tonight," in case anyone's wondering. I thought it fit. This story is canon with the movies, but AU if you take the books into consideration. It takes place right after ROTJ. And hardcore Anakin/Padme fans may not like some of the implications, just to warn you. Hope you enjoy, and please review!
Disclaimer: I do not own Star Wars. But if you want to give it to me, George, I really wouldn't mind.
"When we forgive evil we do not excuse it, we do not tolerate it, we do not smother it. We look the evil full in the face, call it what it is, let it's horror shock, stun and enrage us, and only then do we forgive it." -- Lewis B Smedes
I've taken to walking along the edge of the cliffs lately, all by myself. Both Han and Luke have offered to come with me, but I've refused.
There is something soothing about strolling barefoot through the prickly green grass with the sea rolling and crashing so far below. I can forget here. I can put away my cares and pretend I am just another being in a galaxy recently rescued from a tyrannical dictatorship. Here, I do not have to acknowledge the pivotal role I played in that rescue, or the responsibilities that are attached to my rank. I am not Princess, or Senator. I am not Organa or Skywalker. I am not even Girlfriend or Sister.
Here, I am simply just Leia.
I am simply just me.
I can fool myself into forgetting Darth Vader ever existed, when I am here. I can ignore everything he has done, to the galaxy and to me. I can deny that I am his daughter, and I can even bring myself to believe it.
Han and Luke are worried about me, I know, but both of them are smart enough not to voice any opinions on the subject. Instead, Han hovers, determined to be there for me when I finally break down from the stress of everything, which he is convinced will happen sooner or later. Luke just stares at me with those big, innocent blue eyes of his and leaves his end of our mental bond open, in case I need to talk.
It was their idea to come here, to Naboo. We need a vacation, according to my boys. They arranged everything; I didn't even know about it until we were about to land.
I started my walks two weeks ago, on our first night here. I've gone every night since, at twilight.
The grass tickles the arch of my foot as I take care not to step on the flowers, little white ones that peep out of the grass here and there. It is a habit I created as a child, when the value of life was being impressed upon me. I had no trouble grasping the fact that flowers were alive, but for some reason, the idea that grass was, too, always escaped me.
I know better, now, of course, but I still take care not to crush the flowers.
Maybe that is why I do not see the man until I am nearly on top of him , something Han would not appreciate, I'm sure.
He is dressed in black – black trousers, black tunic, black cloak. He is sitting on the very edge of the cliff, his legs disappearing down the side, but I suspect his boots would be black, too. He is leaning back on his hands, face turned to the sky, eyes closed. The wind tousles his golden-brown curls and tugs a smile to his lips.
He is young. I don't think he is much older than I am.
He doesn't know I am here, and I consider turning around and leaving him in peace. Before I can decide, however, his eyes flash open and he turns to look at me. I freeze.
His eyes are the same colour as a warm summer sky, and as stormy as the ocean below. He sits up straight, his gaze still fastened on mine. His head tilts, as if in consideration.
He gestures to the ground beside him. "Would you like to sit down?" he asks me. His voice is a husky baritone, soft and musical. Between his voice and his eyes, I am drawn in. I sit beside him, slinging my own legs over the cliff after a moment's hesitation. He smiles and leans back again.
We sit in silence for several minutes. I stare out over the water, watching the gentle waves break violently on the rocks below my feet. I am about to get up and leave when he sighs and lays back on the grass.
"So what brings you out this way?" he asks quietly.
I look down at his face, then at my own hands twisting in my lap, then out to the horizon. "It's peaceful," I say. "I can forget whatever I like and not have to worry about it."
He nods in understanding. "I come to forget, too. To forget everything that went wrong in my life."
I look back at him. "You say that as if your life is over," I comment.
His eyes open, meeting mine immediately. "Who says it's not?" he replies.
My brow furrows in confusion. "You can't be much older than I am," I insist. "You have years ahead of you."
His lips twist in irony. "You'd be surprised," he says cryptically.
I can think of nothing to say to that, so I change the subject. "I'm Leia," I introduce myself.
His mouth turns up at the corners and he gazes straight up at the sky. "I know."
I blink in surprise and wait a moment. He doesn't say anything else.
"And you are . . ." I prompt.
His eyes drift shut again. "No one important."
"Everyone is important."
I frown. "Yes, you are," I say firmly. "To someone, you are the most important person in the galaxy."
"Everyone who may have cared is past caring." His voice is quiet, but I can pick out undertones of pain. "Except my children." He smiles regretfully.
I latch onto that. "Tell me about them," I suggest.
"They are wonderful," he says softly. "I don't deserve them. My daughter knows that; she hates me."
"Children exaggerate," I assure him, my heart aching for this enigmatic, soft-spoken, polite man who has been so abused by life. "I'm sure she doesn't mean it."
He sits up so we are shoulder to shoulder and stares out over the ocean, which has been turned a bloody red by the setting sun. I am sharply reminded of the lethal fluidity of Vader's lightsaber. I shove the memory aside.
"I am equally certain that she does," he says, and I wonder what could have happened to him that would inflict such a tone upon his voice. It is more than despair; it is an acceptance of despair. He is not questioning why horrible things have happened to him, like most people do – he truly believes he deserves everything that the Force had handed him.
"Not everything is your fault," I tell him sternly.
He gives me that look of irony again. "You'd be surprised," he repeats.
"You overestimate yourself," I huff, slightly irritated by his noncooperation.
He chuckles. "Didn't you just finish telling me that I am important?"
I try to glare at him, but end up sighing. "So why does your daughter hate you?" I ask curiously.
"I made a mistake." He laughs mirthlessly. "I made a lot of mistakes."
I could have figured that out on my own, but apparently that is all I am going to get out of him on the subject.
"The rest of your family is dead?" I confirm.
He nods. "Yes."
"What happened? What were they like?"
He smiles sadly. "My mother was killed years ago by barbarians. I tried to save her, but I couldn't. She died in my arms."
Hot tears prick at my eyes. "That's terrible! I'm so sorry."
"Thank you." He takes a deep breath. "My wife died after giving birth to our youngest child. Unlike my mother, who will forgive me anything, my wife is as angry as my daughter. She can overlook the fact that I hurt her, but she cannot forgive me for hurting our children."
I do not miss how he speaks in the present tense. "I thought you said they were dead."
He freezes for a moment, realizing what he has done, then covers smoothly. "They are. That is how they felt in life; I assume that is how they feel now."
"You believe in the afterlife?"
"Yes. Don't you?"
I sigh. "My brother does. He's a Jedi, and I trust his judgment, but I still prefer to believe in what I see and experience for myself."
He nods slowly, thoughtfully. "I can understand that." He glances at me. "You say your brother is a Jedi?"
I pause. "Luke – my brother – says I can be if I choose to. He wants me to be. He's the only one left."
"You say that as if he is the last one," he replies, parroting my earlier words.
I give him a look. "He is."
"No." He shakes his head with certainty. "No, he is not. He is the first."
I raise a brow at him. "You must know an awful lot about the Jedi, to be so certain."
He flushes. "I had . . . a special interest in them," he replies. "Before the Purges."
"Ah." Yet somehow I think it's more than that. I know better than to push him though. He's so secretive, it's downright frustrating.
"Do you have any other family?" he asks me. "Besides your brother?"
I shake my head. "I'm Alderaanian," I say, as if that explains everything.
He understands, though. "I apologize," he says. "I didn't mean to stir up bad memories."
I give him a little smile. "They aren't bad," I tell him. "They just hurt, because I know I'll never see anyone who was home . . . at the time . . . again."
He is silent, but looks at me compassionately for a moment before string down at his hands.
There is a heavy pause.
"Quite the pair, aren't we?" I finally say, my voice low.
He laughs shortly, as if he feels guilty for going so. "I don't think I've had a more miserable conversation in my life," he agrees.
"Tell me a happy memory," I suggest.
He tilts his head, thinking. "When I found out my wife was pregnant," he says finally, his smile brilliant. "That was the happiest day of my life."
His recollected joy is contagious, and I smile back. "Did you tell her that?" I ask him.
He nods vigorously, eyes still sad, but shining at the memory. "Of course." Then he sobered. "I was so excited, but looking back, I'm not sure we were ready for a family. I was so young – she was older than me – and the atmosphere we were living in . . . well, let's just say it wasn't entirely stable."
"But if you loved each other and the baby --" I began to object.
He shakes his head, looking down, slightly frustrated. "In a situation like the one we were in, you need more than love to raise a child. You need more than love for everything." He gives the rocks below a rueful half-grin. "Of course, as star-crossed as we were, we couldn't see that until it was far too late to keep ourselves from crashing."
I think about that. "I suppose you're right."
"What about you?" he returns. "Tell me one of your good memories."
I try to come up with a fairly recent, personal memory. I could name off any of the Alliance's major victories, but somehow they all seem inadequate. Finally, I decide on one.
"Alright, a little bit of commentary before I begin," I say. "This was about a year ago, at the height of the war, and we were all pretty stressed, but this was something of a light moment in the middle of all that. I was furious at the time, but looking back it's kind of funny and slightly disgusting."
He is curious now; I can see it in his eyes. He nods, urging me to continue. I clear my throat.
"Before I found out Luke was my brother – were raised apart – and before I got together with Han, my boyfriend, Han and I were arguing. He was being arrogant, and I was calling him names . . . anyway, he implied that I couldn't live without him, and to prove him wrong, I – well, I kissed Luke."
He freezes, eyes wide in shock. "You kissed your brother?"
I nod, uncertain now. He is a parent, I remember. How would he feel if he discovered his children had been kissing? Surely something along those lines must be going through his head. I begin to regret choosing this story.
Then he begins to laugh so hard I fear he will fall off the cliff.
"Your mother," he manages to say, "would have a fit."
"And how would you know that?" I ask lightly, but I really want to know the answer.
He waves me off. "A generalization," he says before dissolving into guffaws again.
Finally, he succeeds in calming himself. "That is priceless," he informs me, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. "Thank the Force you didn't go any further."
He sounds relieved, I note. "Actually," I say slyly, "it wasn't the first time I kissed him."
His blue eyes rival moons for size as he stares at me. "What?"
I grin. "The first time we met, we were running from stormtroopers."
He shakes his head, smiling. "What a way to meet your long lost brother."
"I think so. Anyway, we had to swing across a chasm on this tiny little rope, and I kissed him for luck."
"You need to watch whose lips you fall on, girl," he chuckles.
I really like his laugh. It's low and musical,and his whole face lights up. It's wonderful.
"What would you do if I fell on yours?" I ask, eyebrows raised. I am not serious, I just want to see what he says, but the alarmed look on his face is adorable. I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from bursting into laughter. I can't remember the last time I felt this good.
"I don't think your boyfriend would like that very much," he says carefully. He hazards a glance my way, and his expression changes to a rather strange look as he catches sight of my own expression. It's as if he wants to laugh and be insulted at the same time. I can't help it; I begin to giggle.
I haven't giggled since I was eleven, and Billy Antilles sent me a Sweethearts Day card telling me that he thought I was the prettiest girl in the galaxy.
He narrows his eyes in mock anger. "You were teasing me," he accuses.
I just laugh harder. He growls and reaches for me, our first contact besides brushed shoulders. When he begins to tickle me, however, I shriek, jump up and run back from the edge of the cliff, completely forgetting to watch out for the little white flowers.
He comes after me, exceptionally quick. I manage to evade him for a couple minutes, but he is even faster than Luke, whose reflexes I've always attributed to the Force. He soon grabs me in a bear hug from behind, pinning my upper arms to my sides, but I am able to bend my elbows enough to reach up and grip his forearms.
I hadn't realized he was so tall, or so powerfully built. His chest is wide and comfortable, and his arms are strong by surprisingly gentle around me. He bends over me to whisper in my ear. "Do you give?"
I bow my head. "Yes," I sigh.
His hard, muscular chest vibrates as he laughs, and I take a moment to reflect on how safe I feel in his arms. How could his wife have ever given this up? I'm not attracted to him, or anything – it's just an appreciative curiousity.
"No, you don't," he says in reply to my forfeit.
I smirk. "You're right, I don't," I tell him, and lift my foot to playfully kick my heel at his shin.
He secures his grip on me and arches his spine, bending backward, effectively lifting my feet off the ground and away from his legs. I shriek again as my own legs wave in the air.
"Put me down!" I demand petulantly, like a toddler who insists she can walk like an adult.
I can feel his grin. "As you wish, Leia."
He sets me on my feet, but before I can move away, he grabs my hand and twirls me around to face him. Then he slips an arm behing my back to support my spine and neck, swipes my feet out from under me, and gently lowers me to the ground.
"You could have hurt me," I scold him as he throws himself down beside me on the grass and flowers.
It is almost dark; only the smallest sliver of sun can be seen over the horizon, but I can still make out his solemn look. His bright blue eyes bore into my liquid brown ones as he props himself up on one arm. "But I didn't," he says earnestly. "Not --" He stops. "I didn't," he repeats.
"No," I reassure him, wondering why my playful statement caused such a reaction. "No, you didn't."
He stares hard and long at me, searching my face for I'm not quite sure what. I'm careful to meet his gaze squarely and to keep my expression open and honest. He's only just starting to relax and enjoy himself; I don't want him to retreat back into himself, to slam his walls back up and close shutters behind his eyes. Even if he will not tell me his name, I hope we are at least friendly acquaintances. I hope he will not block me out over one little mistake I did not intend to make.
Finally, he drops his gaze to the soft grass cushioning our bodies and reaches down to gently break the stem of one of the little white flowers. "I'm sorry," he murmurs, and before I can reply, changes the subject. "My wife had these flowers in her hair during her funeral," he tells me, twirling the blossom by rolling the broken stem between his thumb and forefinger.
"Would you put some in my hair?" I ask impulsively, feeling like a little, carefree girl again.
His gaze flashes to mine, startled. "You want funeral flowers in your hair?" he queries disbelievingly.
"You don't know for sure that they are funeral flowers," I counter. "You just need a good memory of them." I pull my long, simple braid over my shoulder and undo the tie at he end of it, then run my fingers through it and fluff it around my head. When I lie back on the grass, it creates a wavy brown halo around me. I close my eyes expectantly.
He doesn't move for several seconds; then, I hear him gather himself and move closer.
His fingers are gentle as he knots the blossoms throughout my locks, securing them so that they will not fall out when I stand up. My scalp has never been particularly sensitive, and the soft tugging he creates feels almost like a massage. I nearly fall asleep while wondering how he knows the proper way to knot flowers in hair.
He laughs, a low rumble by my ear that pulls me back from slumber's seductive embrace. "It's past your bedtime, little girl."
I try to glare, but my lids are heavy and I yawn instead. He laughs again.
"You remind me of my son," he says softly. "All determination, obstinacy and blind faith."
"As long as I don't have any of your daughter's hate," I reply drowsily. "You're too sweet not to like."
"Sweet?" He sounds surprised, and pauses for a minute, apparently turning the word over in his mind. "I don't believe anyone has ever called me sweet before," he says finally.
"Then it's about time," I state firmly. "So I'm not like your daughter?"
"You are . . . quite a bit like her." His teeth flash white in the light of the rising moon. "Except you say you don't want to see my atoms spread across the galaxy." His smile changes, turning wry and bitter, painful and sad.
I sit up and turn to him, my hair and the flowers in it spilling over my back and shoulders. "I don't," I say forcefully.
The silver moon is reflected in his eyes as he gazes at me intently. "Do you mean that?" he asks m, the urgency in his tone startling me. "Do you really, truly mean that, Leia?"
"Of course," I say, slightly irritated. "How many times do I have to tell you that?"
He ducks his head, unruly golden-brown curls falling in his eyes. I sigh and reach out to brush them back.
"I'm a slow learner," he quips softly.
"You are a wonderful, humble man with a beautiful spirit," I insist. "If your daughter cannot see that, the more fool she."
He gives me a funny little half-smile. "She is brilliant," he counters. "It's just – I wasn't always like this, Leia. I was – arrogant, and competitive . . . unyielding, stubborn, angry, stressed, immature, vindictive . . . the list goes on and on."
"It sounds like you were also lonely and unsure of yourself," I say.
He raises his brows. "I did say arrogant, didn't I?"
I roll my eyes. "My point is, you've changed. If you show your daughter the side of yourself you've shown me tonight, she'll give you a second chance, I'm sure of it." I paused. "You said you have a son, too? What does he think of all this?"
He looks out over the water, which is shimmering with the reflections of the moon and stars. "He is like my mother – his grandmother," he says. "He loves me unconditionally, can see past my flaws, is willing to forgive me anything, whether I deserve it or not . . ." His eyes glaze over as if he is lost in his own memories.
He shakes himself out of his reverie. "My daughter, she's more like me. She is more literal; it's harder for her to see past actions into the motives and emotions behind bad decisions. It is more difficult for her to move forward into the future, because she only sees the effects of the past. She often looks to history for answers and opinions."
"She finds it difficult not to cling to the past," I say, summing up his spiel.
He nods. "Exactly."
"What about your wife?" I ask. "Do your children have any of her traits?"
"My son has most of her temperament," he replies, smiling softly. "My daughter has her political talent. And her beauty."
"She was a politician?" I say, surprised. "I've been involved in politics for years . . . would I have known her?" I ask eagerly.
His smile turns sad. "I sincerely doubt it," he tells me.
I look down. "Do you only have the two children?" I inquire, trying to keep the conversation going. I meet his eyes again.
He nods again. "Yes."
"Which one is older?"
He blinks and pauses, as if he has to think about his answer. Finally, he shakes himself out of his considerations. "My son," he replies.
I lie back on the grass. "You're very lucky to have a family," I tell him. "I wish I still had mine."
"You have your brother," he reminds me.
"Yes." I let my eyes drift closed. "And don't get me wrong – he's wonderful. But I'm still getting used to our relationship, you know? I mean, he's been my friend for four years, but he's been my brother for less than a month." I pause, rethinking that statement. "Well, he's been my brother all our lives, but --"
"I understand your meaning," he assures me, a slight grin curving his lips.
I smile back. "So, do your children get along?"
"Perfectly – with each other." His face closes again, and he looks out toward the moonlit sea.
I reach up for him. He glances down at me and hesitates for a moment before giving me his hand.
"I think your daughter is wrong to hate you," I say, my voice soft yet genuine and firm. "Everyone makes mistakes. You regret those mistakes; you should be forgiven. Second chances are often turning points, but the turn will not happen without the chance."
His eyes dart over my face, bright blue search beacons looking for the truth. "Now you really sound like my son." He pauses. "Do you really believe that?" he asks, his voice dropping to a painful near-whisper.
His raw voice hits a chord deep within me. "Yes," I reply with conviction.
"Some mistakes are too big to forgive," he says, offering me a chance to change my mind. I don't take it.
"Not if you are willing to do whatever it takes to repair them," I retort.
"I don't know . . ."
I grow impatient, feeling that he is just testing me now, for something I don't understand. "I do. You are a kind, caring, person. Go show your daughter that and . . ." I yawn. ". . . and she will forgive you."
"I think you need to go to bed," he tells me.
"Don't change the subject," I grumble. "That's what Luke does. It's annoying."
He grins, then tilts his head as if listening to something. "Your brother and boyfriend are looking for you, I believe."
I listen; I can hear their calls now, too, and I roll my eyes. My boys worry too much.
We sit together in companionable silence as Luke and Han make their way toward us. We could have talked about any number of things, but the silence is golden.
When they reach us, Luke gives my new friend a silent, if funny, look. Han ignores him completely. Instead, he eyes me as if lying in a meadow is akin to spontaneously sprouting several more heads.
"What are you doing here, Princess?" Han asks.
I sigh inwardly at the title, but let it slide. "Talking to him," I say, pointing up to the spot by my head where he is sitting comfortably, staring at Han and Luke (mostly Luke, I note).
Now Han's look turns decidedly strange and uneasy. "Leia," he says in a slightly condescending and gentle tone that makes me feel like a child, "there's no one there."
I am shocked out of my building anger. "What have you been drinking, Han? Of course there --"
The words die a quick death as I sit up and turn to point him out more specifically, only to find he has gone transparent and is giving off a faint blue-white shimmer of light. He gives me a sad, rueful smile and drops his eyes. For some reason, I notice how he grass pokes into him, straight and uncrushed. I wonder how he could touch me in such a state. I reach a hand up to my hair to make sure the flowers he wove into it were not imaginary.
Then Luke drops the bomb I kick myself for not noticing.
"Father," he says as a greeting.
Han's mouth drops open; I leap to my feet. Yet I cannot help but soften a bit as the widest, truest smile I have seen on him – Anakin Skywalker – and he reaches out to Luke, the glow around him fading. Luke grabs his hand and hauls him to his feet; in the next instant, they are holding each other tightly.
I can only imagine how this scene appears to Han, who cannot see Anakin. He is still gaping like a fish out of water, and he looks a little faint.
I only feel slightly jealous over the close bond my father and brother share.
Luke and Anakin are whispering to each other; I cannot hear what they are saying. After several long minutes, they break apart, both of them with tears streaming down their faces.
Anakin turns to me. "Leia," he says, and waits.
I take a step toward him, then another. I quickly replay our conversations in my mind, and nearly groan aloud. I manage to fight the sound down, but there is nothing I can do about the deep red stain that appears on my cheeks as I blush furiously.
I can't believe I told him about kissing Luke!
I can't believe I threatened, however teasingly, to kiss him!
I can't believe I that I hate him, as he believes.
"Everything you said," I begin falteringly, "about your mother . . . and everything . . . it's all true?"
He nods, his eyes never leaving mine. "Yes. Vague, but true."
I nod back, at a loss for words.
"I have to go now," he says quietly, looking between me and Luke.
"You'll come see us again, right?" Luke asks, sounding anxious.
Anakin gives a half-grin. "When I can get away from Obi-Wan's lectures about not abusing the rights the Force has granted me by bringing me into oneness with itself, I will come back."
"Is that a promise or a threat?" I ask lightly, giving him a small smile.
"It is whatever you want it to be," he says, and his image begins to fade.
I love you, Father, I call through the Force, not even entirely sure I'm doing it right, but then I feel my message meld with Luke's, who has done the exact same thing I have.
His smile is brilliant and beautiful, what I can see of it before he disappears entirely. I love you too, my children.
The three of us – Luke, Han and I – head back to the house we are renting. Han is still utterly shocked and confused, but Luke and I are drunk on love for Father and his love for us.
I can't wait until he visits again.