Author's Note: It took me 14 months and a few gray hairs to complete this story, so please be merciful. I would like to point out that I used the movies, and only the movies, as a foundation for the story, and not universally accepted facts and numbers from fanon, EU, etc. I also used my own 'canon', so to speak, meaning elements I've already used in other stories of mine. I hope you like it!
"Bury your feelings deep down, Luke," Obi-Wan exhorted the young man. "They do you credit, but they could be made to serve the Emperor."
Luke nodded almost robotically at his old master's advice. His mind simply wouldn't settle. Everything he knew, everything he was, screamed at him that killing his father was a crime as heinous as the ones his father had committed in the past. He felt, down to his bones, that there HAD to be an alternative. Cold-blooded murder should never be a choice.
But what was the alternative? What was the solution for this seemingly unsolvable quandary?
"What happened to him?" he finally asked. The question burst out from the depths of his being.
"Does it matter?" Obi-Wan asked back, sounding infinitely tired.
"Yes," Luke nodded vehemently. "I need to know. I need to know that..."
"That you're not like him?" Ben smiled compassionately at his young pupil. "Physically, you look very much like Anakin, but where it counts... you couldn't be more different."
"How?" Luke pressed.
With a resigned sigh, Obi-Wan gave in.
"Anakin was always a... a tormented individual. Prone to fits of anger. He found it very difficult to control his emotions. Probably because he felt things very deeply. Too deeply for his own sake. He couldn't..."
"What?" Luke just couldn't let the matter drop. Not now, when he was beginning to uncover his father's basic personality traits. Maybe things would begin to make sense then.
"He just couldn't take no for an answer," Ben shook his head ruefully. "He wanted to do things his own way. He was a master at finding a way around the things that inconvenienced him. That made him unbeatable in battle. I lost count of the times he saved my life." For an instant, a fond smile crossed his features, lost in a memory of his young padawan that wasn't filled with blood and betrayal for a change.
"Is that why he turned?" Luke insisted. He was desperate to understand. "Did he go... too far in something?"
Obi-Wan sighed again, this time in defeat.
"I don't know. I've asked myself that question millions of times since you and your sister were born. We'll never know the answer, I'm afraid." He made a pause, gauging whether he should voice his strongest suspicion or not.
It was already too late. His hesitation hadn't gone unnoticed by Luke.
"I have the feeling it had something to do with your mother, though," he confided at last.
"Our mother?" Luke stiffened and edged forward instinctively. "Why?"
"Jedi weren't allowed to form strong attachments," Obi-Wan explained. "We lived a life of seclusion and contemplation, serving as guardians of the Republic and mediators of Peace. We had no possessions or aspirations, other than to use our knowledge in the Force as guidance and illumination. Any form of... personal involvement with others was forbidden."
"So Father went against the rules," Luke withdrew into himself for a moment, considering that fact.
"He lived a double life, possibly for as long as the Clone Wars lasted, fooling us all until the end."
There was a long silence, full of bitter sorrow.
"Anakin was always possessive about the people he cared about," Ben continued. "He had very strong opinions about what was right and wrong." He looked away, hurt evident on his face. "I'll always wonder how Palpatine managed to bypass those iron principles and twist his mind, turning him against all of us, your mother included."
"How well did he know the Emperor?" Luke asked.
"He knew him since he was a child, and considered him 'a mentor and a friend,'" Obi-Wan quoted verbatim. "He became very resentful of the Order when the Council asked him to spy on him. We weren't proud of our actions either, but the then Chancellor Palpatine was amassing an incredible amount of power in the Senate, and stayed in office long after his term expired. Something was clearly out of place, but to Anakin it was just treason, something that went against the Jedi Code."
"He stayed loyal to Palpatine even after he turned out to be a Dark Lord," Luke looked down, appalled. "Why?!" he enquired the Force ghost, eyes wide open in shock.
"All I know is that I said goodbye to him on the best of terms. He apologized for his arrogance and claimed to just be frustrated with the Council. At that moment, he was the warm, caring Anakin I used to know and I was proud to call friend. And the next time we met, he was already consumed by the Dark Side. He declared to have brought peace, freedom, justice and security to his new Empire." A deep shudder ran through Obi-Wan. "After destroying the Temple and massacring his brothers and sisters..."
Luke hissed and closed his eyes. Pain as he never experienced before slashed through his chest like a knife. He began to shake his head, too horrified to speak.
It couldn't be. A good and decent man, transformed into a murderous, unremorseful beast in a matter of days.
"Your mother died believing there was still good in him," Ben's voice was hoarse with emotion. "Even then..." he bit his lower lip, unable to go on.
Luke's eyes misted with tears helplessly.
"I lived with the inescapable conviction that we failed him. I most of all, Yoda... all of us." Another long, heavy silence descended on the swamp after the heartbreaking confession. "He reached a critical point in his life and he had no one to turn to. Something pushed him over the edge and he chose the Darkness. After that, there was no salvation possible for him. His ambition and lust for power took over, and Anakin Skywalker ceased to exist."
"I can't believe it. I just can't," Luke kept shaking his head. "There must be a vital clue somewhere that we keep missing. I refuse to believe that a goal as sterile as lust for power was the reason. Fulfilling his ambition to rule was a byproduct of whatever he was primarily after."
"Why are you so certain of him?" Obi-Wan asked, with a blending of disbelief and wonder.
"Because he offered me to rule the galaxy as Father and Son," Luke revealed. "Somewhere in that twisted set of values, he still... cares. I know, I've felt it!" he stated adamantly. "I won't give up on him. I have to save him. For himself first and foremost. For me, for Leia, for Mother... and for you too," he regarded his first master sympathetically.
"If you fail, everything will be lost; and for good this time," Obi-Wan pleaded openly.
"You won't lose me," Luke smiled the tender, sweet smile that would reassure the most cynical of men. "I told you before and now I'm telling you again." A rush of immeasurable sadness peeked through his eyes. "I have to try. His soul is as important as mine." The tears finally fell as he put his hand over his heart in a pledge. "He's my father."
Obi-Wan saw the passion and fervent commitment in the young man's soul. And to those he could only nod in acquiescence.
The X-Wing took off, lifting itself off the ground heavily.
"Artoo, set the coordinates back to the Fleet," Luke instructed his astrodroid, too distracted to acknowledge the cheerful beep of agreement. All he had were scattered bits of information that didn't help to make the picture clearer. Well, that and his gut instinct, a deeply rooted faith in his father that he didn't know where it came from.
He glanced briefly at his bionic gloved hand and winced at the brutal memory it brought back. Shaking it off resolutely, he straightened up. He couldn't change the past, but the future wasn't written in stone. He would make his own destiny, and if the Force was with him, Anakin Skywalker would be part of that destiny.
'I caught a glimpse of your soul every time you touched me with your mind, Father. You don't only want me to help you destroy the Emperor and 'bring order' to the galaxy. You need me. As much as I need you. Give up your delusions of power and come back to the Light. Come back to me. For in the end, that's the only thing that matters. The love and the wisdom we leave behind.'
He sighed poignantly, lost in thought.
'We failed him. I most of all.'
'Your mother died believing there was still good in him.'
'He had no one to turn to.'
"If only he'd had someone to talk to about what was happening to him... If only," he voiced his dearest wish out loud. "I'd give my life so he could have a second chance and do the right thing." His chest constricted with the pain of a wasted life that had condemned an entire galaxy to dwell in the Darkness. "If only," he begged the Force, and the Universe.
A vague feeling of dizziness made him close his eyes. The X-Wing drifted momentarily and Artoo beeped a warning.
"I got it, Artoo," Luke told his droid, making a face when his voice came out strangely slurred. "Wha...?" he began to ask, noticing that something was taking control of his ship, smoothly changing course and heading the X-Wing straight for the deep core. His confused brain had no time to wonder what was going on, before he passed out.
"Our baby is a blessing," Anakin tried to tone down the effect that his dismissive words about Obi-Wan could have had on his wife, who clearly only wanted to help.
They embraced, trying to shut everything out but the here and now; the war, the dangers that awaited at every corner, and now Anakin's own dreams.
The young man led them back to their bed and they lay down on it, clinging to each other. Padme fell asleep almost instantaneously, but Anakin knew it would be a very long time until he enjoyed a restful sleep again. He would know no peace until those he loved were safe.
'Why?' he cried out in despair. 'Why do I keep having nightmares like this if I can do nothing to change them?' his arms tightened around the precious body he cradled to his breast. 'Not Padme. Not our child. They're all I have. They are my life. I can't lose them too. But what can I do? Oh, Force, what can I do?'
His thoughts entered a downward spiral of anguish and misery that was awfully familiar.
'No. No! NONONONONONONONONONONO!' was all his utterly distraught mind could focus on.
He lost track of time, blind and deaf to everything but the horror that devoured all sense of security and permanency that constituted the pillars of his emotional and spiritual equilibrium.
So withdrawn into himself he was, that the impact against the building took him as much by surprise as it did his non Force-sensitive wife.
The couple was thrown out of bed by the shock and the roar. Stunned and shaken, they ran towards the veranda as the aftershocks gradually subsided. What they found there froze them on the spot.
A small one-man fighter had crashed on the steps of their terrace. Smoke billowed out of the remains, and sparks flew out of the cockpit.
Anakin and Padme watched the surreal scene, too dumbfounded to react. Apparently, the protective energy shield had failed.
All of a sudden, Padme set off running toward the ship.
"Padme, no!" Anakin shouted, snapping out of his paralysis. "It could explode!" he ran after her.
"There's someone in there, Anakin!" she shouted back. "Bring the fire extinguisher, quickly!"
The young Jedi grabbed the bottle of fire extinguisher on the farthest wall of the veranda and casting all caution to the wind, he approached the small ship and sprayed it until the sparks and the smoke were out.
"Do you see anything?" Padme asked him from behind.
"There's a man inside," Anakin announced a few seconds later. "I'll try to get him out." He walked around the charred wings until he reached the cockpit. He used his mechanical hand to try and pry it open.
"Be careful!" Padme said, wringing her hands nervously.
For the first time in three years, Anakin was glad to have a prosthetic arm. Only brute strength could be of help now. The metal yielded at last, and he opened the cockpit all the way back.
An unconscious young man was leaning back against his seat. Anakin unfastened the straps that held him in place, and with infinite care, took off his helmet and put it aside.
When he was face to face with the pilot, he drew back with a start. His own reaction took him by surprise, but he couldn't help it.
The blond hair was a mess, and blood dripped down from the left nostril. Apart from that, there was nothing remotely scary about the man. Quite the contrary. The upturned nose gave him a very youthful appearance, but Anakin reckoned he had to be his age.
He probed him tentatively through the Force, and the answer he received was stronger than anything he had experienced before. He couldn't explain it or understand it, but something about that young man was more familiar to him than his own flesh and blood. He felt the pull, the instant connection, flow between them in a steady feedback that put all his fears at ease.
Reaching out, he took the back of the stranger's head in his hand and brought it close, putting it on his shoulder.
Meanwhile, Padme had walked closer to the ship, seeing that it was safe to do so now. She watched her husband free the pilot from the straps binding him to his seat, and take off his helmet oh-so-gently, to prevent any neck injury. But when her eyes settled on the pale, beautiful face that emerged, her hands went instinctively to her belly, just as the baby lurched inside her like never before, causing her to moan.
"Padme!" Anakin turned his head in alarm. "Are you all right?"
"Yes. Yes, I'm fine," she forced herself to calm down, caressing her belly and trying to soothe the still wildly squirming fetus. "The baby just kicked my stomach, that's all," she blew out all the air in her lungs and turned once more to her spouse, who was lifting the young man's body over his shoulder. "Is he all right?" she asked in concern.
"He's bleeding through his nose and seems to have a concussion, but otherwise he's fine," Anakin assured her. "I'll take him to the guest room."
Voices. He could hear whispering voices in the background. Kind, worried voices that filled his heart with warmth.
"He was flying without an astrodroid?"
"That would explain why he crashed on our veranda."
"I think he's coming around."
"Excuse me, master, is there something else you need?"
"No, thank you, Threepio."
"Good night then, master. Milady."
That voice. He knew that voice. His protocol droid. Threepio.
He felt the soft touch of fingertips on his temples, and a familiar presence brushing against his thoughts.
"Yes, he's coming to."
The comfortable surface where he was lying sank a little under someone's weight. Seconds later, he felt the cool touch of a wet cloth dabbing on his forehead, his nose, and the sides of his face.
"Aahh," he coughed, "th-thank... thank you. T-that feels..."
"Shhhh, it's all right," a sweet, feminine voice hushed. "You're safe now."
Luke tried to open his eyes. He couldn't remember his eyelids ever feeling so heavy. And that strange, fuzzy feeling in his head...
The gentle touch of the wet cloth continued, and he leaned into the caress, wishing it would never stop.
"Thank you for... y-your kindness... I-I..." he coughed again.
"Don't try to talk. You're going to be fine."
He sighed, letting that warm, caring touch ease the headache on the right side of his head.
"Are you sure you've never seen him before?" the feminine voice asked the male one.
"Positive. Although... there's something about him that feels familiar. So familiar it's... unsettling."
"I know. I felt the same thing the moment I saw him."
There was a short pause.
"There is no doubt that he's a Jedi. He's very strongly attuned to the Force, and he's got a lightsaber. But he's never been to the Temple," the male voice sounded puzzled. "I wonder where and with whom did he train."
"He can tell you when he's feeling better," the warmth in the feminine voice was back. "His nose stopped bleeding already, and he's getting his colour back."
"I'll stay with him. Go to bed now, my love."
"We could take turns watching over him. You also need some rest."
"I know, but you need it more in your condition. And we've had enough... surprises for one night."
"Right," there was a soft groan as the weight lifted from the bed. "The baby's doing a number on my guts tonight. Typical Skywalker timing," the voice turned teasing.
The word brought him out of his stupor faster than his body was ready for. His eyes popped open and even though the lights in the room were set at minimum power, he still winced and had to close them again. A quick feeling of vertigo and nausea swept over him.
"Hey, take it easy there!" the young man's voice came closer and strong hands held him in place. "You have a concussion, and now's not the time for abrupt movements."
"Did you... Did you say Skywalker?" Luke asked anxiously.
"Yes. That happens to be my name," was the lighthearted answer. The hands moved away.
Fighting dizziness and the worst feeling of foreboding, Luke opened his eyes little by little, getting used to the dim light in the cozily elegant room. Finally, the faces of a young couple standing by the side of the bed coalesced into a clear image.
The young man was tall and muscled. He had wavy blond hair and striking blue eyes, a straight nose, handsome and noble features that spoke of a keen intelligence and a strong personality, full lips and a dimple on the chin.
The petite woman beside him was so beautiful that it hurt to look at her. She had long, curled brown hair, dark and exotic eyes and a perfect mouth. She was wearing an exquisite blue nightdress that revealed her advanced pregnancy.
"Force. Oh, Force!" he moaned, putting his hand on his head. "This is crazy. This isn't happening!"
The couple looked at each other worriedly, and then came closer to him.
"Calm down," the young man sat down on the right ride of the bed. "Everything's all right. Your ship crashed on our veranda, but it could have been much worse. The most important thing is that no one got hurt. Well, seriously hurt, at least."
Luke put down his hand and stared at him. He reached for the Force, trying to ascertain whether he was unconscious and hallucinating, or everything was real.
The young man smiled impishly.
"Yes, we are real," he reached over and squeezed his hand as proof. "Satisfied?"
Luke gave a start.
"Can you read my thoughts?"
"No, but you're broadcasting so strongly that your mind is like an open book."
Luke looked down, too disturbed to meet the intense blue eyes.
"Do you remember what happened, and why were you flying without an astrodroid?"
Luke's head shot up.
"I wasn't! I..." the room began to spin and he leaned back against the pillows.
"Easy," the woman said, sitting on the left side of the bed. "There's no need for you to be so agitated. If you can't remember, maybe it'll come back to you later."
"No, I..." Luke rubbed his left temple in circles for a minute. "I was flying with my Artoo unit through the Outer Rim sector. I began to feel light-headed and then... something took control of my ship. I must have passed out, because the next thing I remember is waking up here," he looked around, experiencing the weirdest feeling of disconnection, of being out of synch with the reality that surrounded him.
The young couple looked at each other in silence.
"You were flying through the Outer Rim sector? How did you manage to get past the sieges?" the man asked.
"The sieges!" Luke exclaimed. "The sieges took place during the Clone Wars!"
Another silence followed. When it stretched for longer than it was comfortable, Luke turned his eyes to the silent couple.
"We *are* in the Clone Wars," the man enunciated every word distinctly.
Luke met the young man's eyes squarely and just like that, the haze that clouded his mind dissipated. His blood ran cold in his veins, and his heart went up to his throat.
"You... You said that your name was Skywalker," he breathed weakly, warily, dreadfully.
"Yes," the young man nodded nonchalantly. "I'm Anakin Skywalker," his eyes turned to the woman sitting on the other side of the bed, and after receiving a firm nod from her, his face lit up with love and pride. "And this is my wife, Senator Padme Amidala."
Luke felt like he was sinking into the bed. Sinking into a bottomless hole that absorbed whatever sanity he had. He was beside himself. He was mad. He had to be mad! Raving mad.
His eyes moved from the young man to the warmly smiling woman and back. From Anakin Skywalker to Padme Amidala.
From his father to his mother.
He was losing his mind. This wasn't really happening. It couldn't be happening!
"And you are...?" Anakin asked affably.
Luke settled his eyes on the face he had prayed so many times to look upon since he had been old enough to know he was an orphan. The face behind the mask that had mutilated him mercilessly.
The very face that contemplated him so openly, so trustingly now.
"Luke," he replied in a raspy voice, never taking his eyes off the blue depths. "Luke... Stargazer."
Anakin smiled softly, and reached out his hand.
"Pleased to meet you, Luke."
Luke stared at the outstretched, mechanical hand, and something in his chest tightened painfully.
The answer to the prayers of a lifetime.
He observed his own bionic hand reach out of its own volition and hold his father's in a strong, unfaltering grip.
"Pleased to meet you, Anakin."
Their eyes came together and Luke couldn't, wouldn't look away. Such genuine warmth, such caring concern...
Anakin tilted his head to one side with curiosity, studying him closely.
Breaking the connection between them brusquely, Luke let go of his father's hand and turned to his mother.
"Pleased to meet you... Senator," his voice almost broke, but he managed to hold his own while he reached out his trembling hand to her.
"Padme," she grinned broadly, returning a solid handshake. "Ouch!" she let go of his hand and placed hers on her belly. "You'll have to excuse me. The Force is very strong with our baby tonight," she looked meaningfully at her husband, who returned her gaze with so much joy that it took Luke's breath away.
Just then, the implications of his mother's words became clear. He turned his eyes to the swollen belly covered by the nightdress. The belly where his sister and himself were growing. He started back.
"Oh, my goodness!" he muttered, sitting up on the bed all the way and retreating into the pillows as far back as it was physically possible.
"What is it?!" Anakin and Padme asked simultaneously.
Luke shook his head, trying to catch his breath and struggling to pull himself together.
"N-nothing. I-I just... I can't understand what happened, and I deeply regret that I broke into your lives like this. If something happened to you because of me..." he shook his head again and covered his face in his hands, as the shock finally caught up with him.
"There's nothing for you to worry about," Anakin put his left hand on his shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly. "Nothing of what happened was your fault. You'll stay here until you heal, and then we'll help you to return home."
Luke let out a sarcastic sound and put down his hands. He felt so cold all of a sudden...
"You're shaking," Anakin whispered, rising to his feet. "Come on, get back in bed. You're still in shock."
Padme stood up as well and reached for the cloth on the bedside table where she had put it. She soaked it again in the half-filled bowl there, wrung it out and handed it to her husband. Then, she bent down and put the back of her hand on Luke's forehead, who'd obediently slid back in the bed.
"You've got no fever, thankfully," she said with a sigh of relief. Not knowing why, she allowed her thumb to caress the soft skin and the hair on the top of the blond head. "Rest now, Luke. You'll be feeling much better in the morning," she smiled down at him affectionately.
"Thank you," he smiled back at her tremulously, wishing to hold that small hand in his own and never let it go. 'Oh, Mother...'
Anakin walked over to her and kissed her lovingly on the lips.
"Sleep well, my love."
"Wake me up if something happens," she whispered into his lips.
Anakin smiled, framed the side of her face in his hand and kissed her one last time.
Luke watched her go, biting his lower lip.
When she disappeared from sight, Anakin turned back to Luke and sat down on the side of the bed his wife had vacated. He smiled down at him and applied the wet cloth to his face, forehead and temples.
"Does it hurt?" he asked softly.
"Not really," Luke replied. "I feel... fuzzy, I guess."
Anakin nodded and a comfortable silence ensued.
"Are you a Jedi?" he asked after a while.
Luke smiled poignantly.
"I try to be," he fixed his gaze on the ceiling.
"You've never been to the Temple, but you've obviously been trained," Anakin stated.
Luke could see where this line of conversation was leading, and determined to protect his family, he turned his eyes to his father and held his gaze steadily.
"I have, but not... in this reality."
Anakin tensed visibly.
"What do you mean?"
Luke chose his next words very carefully.
"I don't... belong here."
Anakin's eyes blinked uncomprehendingly, a wordless question in them.
"This..." Luke's eyes swept around the room, "...time is not my own."
Anakin moved back and concentrated his senses on him.
"Is that why you talked about the sieges in the past tense earlier?" he asked, most perceptively.
"I don't know what happened. I can't understand why I ended up here. But there's one thing I do know," he raised his head from the pillow and met his father's eyes earnestly. "Every hour, every minute I spend here, I could change history unknowingly. My presence is a danger, to you and this time."
Anakin's loud respiration was the only sound in the room for several seconds.
"I don't know if I already changed history irrevocably when I crashed on your veranda, but to minimize the damage, I'm asking you to let me hide somewhere, until I repair my ship."
Anakin remained silent, considering Luke's words and the infinite possibilities they implied.
"If that's true, I concur that you should hide somewhere," he nodded in agreement. "And this is the right place for you."
Luke opened his mouth immediately, but Anakin silenced him by rising his hand.
"No, hear me out," he asked. "If you already changed history, which I doubt, it will only affect the three of us. But if we hide you somewhere else, the risk would increase exponentially and we can't take that chance." He gnawed his bottom lip nervously, as if fighting his next decision. "My marriage to Senator Amidala is a secret, and this apartment is as close to a fortress as it gets. You won't be found here, you have my promise."
'He lived a double life, possibly for as long as the Clone Wars lasted, fooling us all until the end.'
So, Obi-Wan had been correct.
Luke swallowed with great difficulty.
"You're right, of course," he looked away, too tired to think. He made a resigned face. "I thank you for your hospitality, and I'm very sorry about all this."
"You apologized already," Anakin smiled at him fondly. "Sleep now. My wife's got a meeting with the Senate tomorrow, and I have a briefing first thing in the morning." All at once, he seemed to remember something, and his features darkened markedly.
"What's wrong? Are you all right?" Luke asked, feeling a soul-wrenching fear tear at his father's emotional stability.
"It's nothing," Anakin denied sharply, not looking at him.
The unfathomable abyss opening in his father's heart hit Luke like a tidal wave.
"I feel the conflict within you," he whispered shakily. "If you need someone to talk to... here I am," he offered himself with all his soul.
The blue eyes softened just as swiftly and met his.
"There is nothing anyone can do," Anakin smiled bitterly. "But I will find a way... somehow."
Luke shuddered at that, not knowing why.
"The Force is very strong with you, but don't take pride in your invulnerability for it's only an illusion, and you could pay dearly for it," the words were out of his lips before he could hold them back. "Believe me, I know what I'm talking about," he touched the inside of his right wrist surreptitiously, the constant reminder of the lesson so brutally learned.
An ironic smile appeared on the smooth features that cried out where he came from.
'Physically, you look very much like Anakin, but where it counts... you couldn't be more different.'
"You speak like master Yoda," his father said with an edge of frustration. "Only in terms I can actually understand."
Luke smiled innocently.
"It's just that I..." Anakin's words died down as his gaze intensified.
"What?" Luke asked.
"I-I don't know," Anakin said, looking lost and very young. "There's something about you that... I felt it the moment I saw you. Something that makes me feel very strange, very... connected to you."
Luke closed his eyes briefly.
'Oh, Father... if you only knew...'
"I feel that connection too," he confessed, almost mournfully. "And I would be honoured if I could help you in any way before I left."
Anakin's eyes roamed his face, as if trying to make sense of his feelings.
"I wish you could," he murmured longingly.
They looked down, lost in their own 'what if' regrets.
"Sleep now," Anakin repeated encouragingly, coming out of his gloomy mood. "And while we are away tomorrow, Threepio - our droid – will provide you with anything you need."
Luke nodded mutely at that. He had a lot to process and meditate about in the morning. Hopefully, the Force would give some answers as to why and for what purpose he had turned back in time, risking his own existence, his parents', and maybe the universe as they all knew it. He smiled up at his father gratefully, who grinned back and continued dabbing on his face with the wet cloth.
He'd always felt very self-conscious about falling asleep while others were watching over him, ever since he was a child, but for the first time in his life, he just closed his eyes and sleep overtook him like a cool breeze.
TO BE CONTINUED...