Voices. Whispering voices in the darkness. Talking about something... somebody... about him.
No, not again! This was getting to become a habit.
"He's definitely coming around."
He heard rushed footsteps and then the cool, smooth surface where he was lying sank under someone's weight.
"Oh, thank heavens!"
"Go and call your father now. I'll watch over him."
"It's all right. He probably already knows."
Those two weren't the voices he expected to hear. He knew them, but... somehow, they didn't feel right.
Why? Why didn't they feel right?
"Hey, kid. Do you think you can say something for me?"
He tried to get his mouth to work.
"Ungh... Ahh... Han?"
"The very same. You have a harder noggin than it seems."
He struggled to open his eyes. Force, they were so heavy! He felt as if he had been sleeping for a century!
"W-What... hap-pened?" he blinked his eyes open, but the light was so bright that he had to squeeze them shut again.
"Don't you remember?"
"Yes, Leia. You know, your sister. As in twin sister?"
"Very funny," he attempted to rise on one elbow.
A small hand settled on the back of his neck and rubbed it softly. The pressure and confusion in his head ebbed considerably. He tried to open his eyes little by little, until they got used to the light in the room.
Han and Leia were sitting on each side of his bed. They looked the same as he remembered them, but something about them was... off, leaving aside the concerned look on their faces.
Han wore an elegant white shirt, buttoned up to the last button, and a dark blue vest. His hair was shorter than usual and his face was... younger, for lack of a better word. And Leia... she was as beautiful as she'd always been, but her features were more luminous, less tense and... adult than the Leia he remembered from... where? Her lovely hairstyle, all loose, curled and cascading down her back, interspersed with long, thin plaits gave her a very youthful appearance. She wore a simple, short-sleeved, cream-coloured linen dress and a green sash around her waist that accentuated her figure.
"What happened?" he asked again, fixing his gaze on his sister's brown depths.
"You were meditating with Dad on the veranda and suddenly you passed out, just like that," Leia explained. "Han had just arrived, and we took you to your room."
Luke's eyes rolled in their sockets and he shook his head, trying to clear it and make sense of the situation.
"You've been out for half an hour," Han's voice still held a tinge of worry. "Your father couldn't wake you up, and we feared it could be something serious," he pointed at the door with his thumb over his shoulder. "He left a minute ago to contact your mother, in case we had to take you to a medcentre."
"Oh, my! What a mess," Luke said, sitting up all the way in the bed and looking around... his bedroom?
Yes, it was the same bedroom he'd used when... when he... crashed on his parents' veranda? No, it couldn't be. He'd never crashed his ship... Force, what was going on?
He brought his hand up to his head.
"Are you all right?" Leia touched his shoulder, steadying him.
"I-I don't know," he stuttered, sweeping his glance over the furniture and finding it different from... well, different. There were models of ships and fighters on the shelves, holograms on the walls of himself and Leia as children with their parents, when he was a teenager with Leia and their padawan friends at the Jedi Temple, and the most recent one, of Han and himself laughing at one of the Corellian's outrageous jokes, during Han's birthday party three months ago.
Yes, this was his bedroom, unquestionably. He cast a final look at his computer terminal and his lightsaber on the desk. The saber he'd based on uncle Obi-Wan's design... Ben's design. Ben's?
"You seem a bit distracted," Han commented kindly.
Luke brought his hand down in his lap and looked down at it.
"Yes. I feel somewhat..." he raised it again and studied it in amazement. It was flesh and blood. His right hand was restored! "What the...!" he exclaimed, touching it all over. The fingers, the palm, the wrist.
Han and Leia looked at each other, a bit apprehensive.
"Luke, do you want me to get Dad?" Leia asked in all seriousness. Her brother still was a mite pale, and he was plainly disoriented. Not to mention his strange behaviour...
"Huh?" Luke's eyes turned to them, looking mystified. "Oh, no!" he shook his head again, continuing his manual inspection. "Besides, he's coming." His features softened just when the door opened.
Anakin strode into the room, heading straight for his son's bed. Leia stood up and moved aside while their father took her place.
"Luke! Are you all right, Son?" Anakin asked breathlessly, holding Luke's upper arms.
Luke's eyes opened wide, staring at his father as if seeing him for the first time. Where was the young face he'd last seen? His father looked like... well, like the man in his forties that he was. Maybe younger than his actual years and still in great shape, but even so... the softness and roundness of his young features was more defined now, more angular. There were some wrinkles on the corner of his eyes and around his mouth, and a few gray hairs in his sideburns. His wavy hair was shorter but his eyes were just as blue, caring and full of character and passion. There might be a touch of sadness in them too, like an old wound that had never healed completely, and had left a profound scar deep within...
"Fa... Dad!" Luke's happy smile did wonders for his father's state of mind. The wide shoulders relaxed and the answering smile of relief brought a real youthfulness to his features.
"Are you truly all right?" Anakin searched his son's face, looking for signs that confirmed his child's well-being.
"Yes," Luke nodded. "A bit fuzzy, but I'll be fine."
The young man couldn't stop scrutinizing his father – his face, his informal Jedi attire, consisting only of a light blue tunic and pants, and his utility belt - and Anakin noticed. He raised his eyes to his daughter.
"He seemed disoriented when he woke up," Leia answered the unspoken question. "He looked around the room as if he didn't recognize it."
"He's been unconscious for quite a while, so that could explain it," Han speculated, rising to his feet as well.
"Perhaps," Anakin didn't look very convinced.
Luke observed the exchange between his father, his sister and his best friend with awe. Fragments of two different sets of memories were beginning to coalesce in his brain, forming a disconcerting picture that in some crazy way, made sense.
Anakin eyed his son again, whose gaze had turned inwards.
"Your mother's on her way," he said.
Luke's eyes focused anew and he made a regretful grimace.
"I'm sorry you alarmed her unnecessarily."
"I had to tell her. We were ready to take you to a medcentre," Anakin put his hand on Luke's face, needing the physical contact to reassure himself. It had been the most terrifying experience, calling out to his child's mind and receiving no reply, not even at a subconscious level.
Luke smiled tenderly at his father, becoming aware of the scare he'd given them all.
"I'm sorry I frightened you," he apologized wholeheartedly. "I don't understand what happened." He reached up and covered his father's hand with his own.
"Uh-oh," Leia's chuckle interrupted the father-son bonding moment. "Let's clear out of here, Han. They're getting all mushy."
"Hey!" Luke's face flushed with a mixture of embarrassment and amusement. "What about showing your big brother some respect, tomboy?" the corners of his lips twitched in a barely concealed grin.
"Watch it!" Leia's index finger shot out, aimed at Luke.
Anakin witnessed the scene between his children with a benign smile.
"Yeah, watch it, kid," Han butted in, pursuing the teasing of the youngest Skywalker. "She may be a tomboy, but she's my tomboy."
"Why you...!" Leia mock-slapped her boyfriend's arm.
The sudden silence triggered everybody's laughter. When they collected themselves, Luke took his sister's hand and pulled her close, kissing her cheek affectionately. Leia returned his kiss and opened the link between them.
'Are you all right now?' she asked.
'Yes,' Luke replied, meaning it. 'I am recovered.'
Leia smiled gladly and nodded at him. Then, she turned to her father, placing one comforting hand on his shoulder. She leaned over and they kissed each other's cheeks. Anakin caressed his daughter's face with the back of his fingers, loving the silky feel of his little Princess' skin. Leia straightened up and cleared her throat.
"Oh, well! Come on, Han," she told the young man standing beside her. "Let's go out and wait for Mum," she grasped his wrist and practically dragged him along.
"You kissed your brother, you kissed your father... do you think you could get chummy with me now?" the Corellian asked drily on his rushed way out of the door.
Luke and Anakin watched the couple leave the room holding back their mirth. In those few seconds, Luke remembered how and when he'd known Han. He'd been assigned by the Senate to pilot his mother's transport three years ago. His work had easily introduced him into the family, and he'd become Luke's best friend in a matter of days. His parents warmed to his sardonic humour, witty charm and disarming honesty just as fast. Leia took longer to "convince," as their opposing personalities had clashed at first; but after a time it became evident that they were intensely attracted to each other, and they were resisting that attraction by getting on each other's nerves, and bickering constantly. Until six months ago, the inevitable happened. At this stage, Han was another family member in his own right - Luke's big brother, and a sort of adoptive child for Anakin and Padme.
Father and Son's eyes locked, and they shook their heads at the pair's antics. It was then that Luke realized the scar across his father's right eye had vanished. Anakin looked at him interrogatively, and Luke shook his head again. He remembered now. He'd discovered his gift of healing when he was five years old, and he'd regenerated his father's right arm and erased the scar across his eye. Still, he felt impelled to check it out, and he lowered his gaze to his father's hand. There it was, all flesh and blood. His heart swelled in his chest with the sweetest joy.
"So!" he raised his voice with exuberance. "Is there anything I can do to prove to you that I'm fully recovered, Grand master?" he bowed his head playfully.
"No need, my padawan; I can tell," Anakin smiled softly at his child's light-hearted mood. "But there's still no explanation for what happened out there," his tone of voice became deadly serious. "Your mind was beyond my reach, Son. Your heart was beating and you were breathing, but to all intents and purposes you were..." he drew in a shaky breath, wanting to forget the last thirty minutes of his life.
Luke took hold of his father's hand and squeezed it hard.
'I'm here, Dad. I'm here,' he soothed him gently.
"Do you remember anything out of the ordinary?" Anakin insisted earnestly. "Something strange? A vision, maybe?"
Luke pursed his lips in concentration. He began to shake his head slowly.
"No. I was just letting my mind wander. I wasn't even..."
'Please, don't deny it. It's written in your blood.'
He gave a small start.
'I will do whatever you... ask.'
'Can you forgive me for everything I put you through, my guardian angel?'
'I always said that you could be Anakin's brother.'
'You killed yourself! You have no future to return to anymore!'
'I have no memory of my mother. I never knew her.'
'I'm unworthy of your sacrifice, my son!'
'Somehow... in some way, we *will* see each other again... one day.'
'If you must go... I'll be there with you until the end, holding your hand.'
In the name of the Force, what was that? A dream? No, it couldn't be. If it was, then it was the weirdest dream ever. He'd been experiencing one flashback after another since waking up, all of them so vivid that he couldn't tell if even this very moment was a figment of his imagination. He shuddered, fearing he was losing his mind.
"I... I don't know what's happening to me," his voice shook with dread.
Anakin immediately held his son's chin in his hand, offering his eyes for Luke to find a point of focus. Blue met blue and flowed into each other like water in a stream.
'I killed you twice!'
'Please, don't die, my son! Please, don't die because of me!'
'This is not the end. It can't be!'
'You won't lose me. You won't!'
Luke's eyes brimmed with tears, and he hissed at the onslaught of emotions slamming into him like a wall. Anakin's eyes skittered around him in a delicate caress that made his soul flutter.
"I waited twenty two years, nine months and eighteen days to see you look at me like that again," the poignancy in his father's words was excruciating.
"What?" Luke's voice came out in a sobbing whisper.
Anakin's hold tightened, afraid of letting go. Afraid of living a dream. A dream he'd almost...
"Your mother and I doubted so many times throughout the years..." his mouth began to quiver, caving in to the relentless assault of memories. "I prayed, I begged, I despaired, I hoped... Oh, I so hoped to see you again!" tears of inexpressible joy and gratitude spilled from his eyes like torrents of lava that burned a healing path down his face.
It was indescribable. The pain, the love, the beauty. The searing, resplendent beauty of the moment.
"Was it... Was it real, then?" Luke's throat ached with the effort of holding back tears that cried out to be shed. "Was I really here... with you? With Mum?" He knew. In his heart and mind, he knew. But he needed the final confirmation. He needed to hear it from his father's lips.
Anakin's face glowed with the radiance of the man who's finally at peace with himself after a lifetime of self-recrimination.
"You kept your promise, little angel of mine," he cupped Luke's head in his hands, and pressed his forehead against his son's. "You said we would see each other again, and you kept your promise!" his body was racked by helpless sobs that exploded from him in a violent release of all the pain, and love, and beauty. "Forgive me for doubting you. Please, forgive me!" The floodgates opened and he wrapped his boy in his arms like only a parent that just got his long-lost child back from the dead could.
Safe and secure now in his father's embrace, the scattered fragments of the puzzle assembled at last, revealing the full, glorious truth. Luke's arms enveloped his father with all the love that had reached across time and space, and brought them together once and forever.
Their bodies couldn't possibly get any closer, hug any tighter, and yet they tried over and over, desperate to get lost in each other.
'You kept your promise too,' Luke wiped his eyes on the neck of his father's tunic. 'You became the Jedi master you were destined to be, and saved the Order. You're our guiding light, Father. Force, I'm so very proud of you!'
'No one ever knew that everything I did was in your memory, my son. To honour the child that sacrificed himself for my soul!'
'I love you!'
'I love you so much!'
They abandoned themselves to the other-worldly, exultant feelings erupting inside them, and they held each other, rocked each other, soothing the raw edges of their overwhelming reunion.
The bedroom door slid open and Padme walked in, freezing on the spot at the scene she encountered. Anakin and Luke were crying their eyes out, hugging for all they were worth. The emotion in the room was so thick that she could almost touch it. Her heart almost beat out of her chest in a rush of panic.
"Oh, my goodness!" she whimpered, running towards the bed and sitting on it beside them. "What is it? What's wrong?" she put one hand on her husband's back and the other on her son's head, and stroked them both, trying to calm them, and herself. Leia and Han just told her that Luke was all right, so what was the reason for this?
"Nothing, my love. Nothing!" Anakin smiled through his tears, fighting to regain his composure, even if that was the last thing he wanted to do. He wanted to shout his happiness to the heavens!
"It can't be nothing!" Padme burst out. "Why are you crying?" her voice shook with anxiety.
Finally, Luke and Anakin began to draw apart. Hesitatingly, reluctantly, as if it caused them physical pain to separate. Their hands went automatically to their faces, and they took away each other's tears, giggling shyly. Anakin inched closer and kissed his son's reddened eyes, blowing a soft, shuddering breath on them. Luke dropped his gaze and turned to his mother, smiling at the beloved older features.
Still breathtakingly beautiful – the same exotic dark eyes and perfect mouth, the long brown hair, with occasional streaks of gray now, framing a perfect oval shaped face – but just like his father, the youthful softness of her skin had given way to more defined, angular features, and some wrinkles below and around her eyes and mouth. Her senatorial outfit was exquisite – a lilac, square-necked, velvet gown; a dark blue belt around her waist and a silver tiara holding her hair. He tried to say something, anything, to ease her mind, but he could only shake his head, overcome by his feelings.
Padme reached out and caressed the slightly colourless face.
"You're a little pale," she murmured, moving her fingertips around a smooth cheek.
Luke's smile broadened at that. He took the small hand in his own and kissed it with infinite devotion.
"It's all right," his lips quirked knowingly. "I'm much more handsome the rest of the time."
Padme's expression froze at the sound of those words. Her heart did a somersault and then started to race wildly.
"W-What did you say?" she asked in the weakest voice. She didn't want to dare to hope, she refused to hope, because she wouldn't survive if...
Luke took both of her hands and held them between his own.
"Now I know why Leia and I are addicted to Nubian chocolate," he bit his lower lip and his eyes started to glitter again.
Padme observed the beautiful features as if her very life depended on it, and it did. Those gentle blue depths stared at her with recognition, acknowledging the memories they'd shared so many years ago. Trembling with the need to believe, she turned frightened, expectant eyes to her husband, who returned her tremulous smile with an eager, joyous nod. She turned again to her child.
"Is it... Is it really you, my baby?" Tears streaked unnoticed down her cheeks, and she released one hand from her son's sweet grasp, framing the side of his lovely face reverently, almost like touching a dream.
Luke snuggled his cheek into the palm of his mother's hand. Bringing up his own, he removed the wetness from under her eyes with his thumb, caressing the precious wrinkles there.
"If I could choose between all the mothers in the universe, I would always choose you," he repeated the declaration he'd made more than twenty years ago, adding the modifier that meant everything.
And those were the words that broke Padme. With a strangled cry, she fell into her son's arms, nestling into him with all the longing in her grieving heart. She clung to his muscled back, nearly ripping his tunic. Her small frame began to shake convulsively, and Luke held her tight, hiding his face in the curled tresses. When he instinctively began to nuzzle them, he remembered the last time he had done it, one dark night, so long ago.
Padme soaked her son's Jedi tunic with her tears, pouring out all the heartache and suffering that had accompanied her for twenty two years. Gradually, when rational thought returned, there was only one question on her mind that begged for an answer.
"But how? How can it be?" she moaned, her words muffled in Luke's chest. She jerked her head back and raised imploring eyes to her child. "How?" she asked desperately, turning briefly to Anakin.
Forcing a superhuman control on his emotions, Anakin sniffled and took a shaky breath before attempting to answer his wife's heartbreaking query.
"It must have happened when he was meditating, or when he passed out," he explained in a thick, raspy voice, taking hold of Padme's hand and interlacing their fingers.
"That's why I felt so disoriented when I woke up," Luke said in awe. "I needed a little time to reintegrate all these new memories."
Padme lifted her free hand tentatively and touched her son's lips, feeling them move against her fingertips.
"I can't believe it," she shuddered down to her soul when Luke kissed them. "It's a miracle!" she sobbed again.
Luke cradled his mother's face in his hand and kissed her forehead, ignoring the tears that bathed his own cheeks.
"I couldn't let you think that you had lost me forever," his voice carried the echo of another time, with its hopes and miseries, and also a love strong enough to defeat any obstacle. The young man sought his father's eyes and smiled into them. "I had to come back to you," he reached out to him. "I will always come back to you!"
And when he found himself again in his parents' arms, like that evening all those years before, Luke remembered something he'd read once as a child, he didn't know where or when.
'...Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted: he lived happily ever after.'