His father said he was going to retire, and to Ben that didn't mean anything at all.
It didn't bother him that Luke wouldn't say where he would go, either – not what planet he would fly to, not what room at the Jedi Academy he would sit in. His father's presence was far away from Ben more often than not. Ben and Luke had spent a lot of time apart, both of them trained in Jedi meditation and Jedi discipline. And Luke had said he was going to retire before.
It was the circumstances that confused Ben this time, bothered him in a way that meant he couldn't even settle one emotion down to feel it. Luke had gone into a mysterious place and returned, seemingly unchanged, still planning on a retirement that might or might not come.
Ben didn't trust that.
Not that he thought his father had betrayed the Jedi, or been possessed - Ben could sense that Luke's Force presence was the same strong, scarred light it had always been. But it shouldn't be, not if this enemy had been so terrible and so great. Luke had been chasing this monolith, or a facet of this, ever since Ben had been a boy and Jacen had been alive, and now it had let its masterful foe go without a scratch.
Luke was sitting on the edge of a bunk in the Millennium Falcon – not his bunk, not Han's, not anyone's with the way the crew rotated. Just a bed, without any attached memories. Luke's neck was scarred, old-looking creases of skin that looked impossible. Instinct told Ben that no one could get scars like that on such thin skin and survive.
"What really happened in there?" Ben asked. Luke's blue eyes slid toward his own shoulder, following Ben's gaze, and then the Jedi Master looked up at his son with an unreadable expression.
In the Force, he was unreadable too –mostly happy.
"The Qrephs were infected with some kind of Force spirit," Luke said, musing on it.
Ben ran a hand through his red hair, still feeling like he should have been given a more solid answer. More details, something…bigger. Something he could experience. It hadn't been easy planting the charges with Tahiri, kicking through muck and looking at the biots with their half-dead eyes. But it had been easier than he expected.
Perhaps that was because Vestara hadn't said a word to him, had barely flirted with his Force presence.
He didn't love her, but if this need for closure was a result of a different emotion than love he didn't know what to call it.
"So it wasn't Mortis?" Ben asked.
"What was it?"
Luke looked at his knees. "I don't know."
"You're not going to find out?"
"I…" Luke looked at him again, and Ben could see how he was weighing his response, trying out answers in his head that he might give to different people – to a student, to a friend, to his son. "It is hard to explain."
"So I've heard. Dena Yus is still in the infirmary." Ben switched subjects aggressively. Luke would know that he would come around again. Ben had learned strategic conversation from his mother – and adapted it to be a bit less grievously intimidating so he was comfortable using it for himself. He could tell when Luke recognized Mara's tone, though.
Luke smiled tightly. "You say that like it's a bad thing. I'm glad everyone's safe. Han and Leia too."
"What did they do inside the monolith?
"I think they went through the same thing I did, although it must have been confusing for Han. Leia...fought beside me."
"Fought what? Will you tell me now?" Ben knew he was being petulant, acting younger than his years, but Luke knew it too.
He smiled, then blinked and seemed to remember.
"The Force taught me something different inside that monolith," Luke said slowly. He was looking straight at Ben though, one hand tucked under his other elbow and his synth hand lying comfortably along his opposite sleeve. Both men had changed into new robes after leaving the Qrephs' station, Luke taking a long time in the fresher, surely acclimating himself to new aches and scars. "When I was younger, I saw it all as black and white."
Luke had taught Ben before about how his view of the Force was rocked when he learned Darth Vader was his father. The idea of fundamental goodness had come into question and shifted quietly around in Luke's head like his teenage thoughts of escaping Tatooine. When Ben thought of Darth Vader, he thought of Luke's stories and HoloNet news reports. He thought of his own temptation toward the dark side, the way he had learned already what weaknesses he was least likely to resist. He knew that there had been many years between now and Luke's formative training, but Luke had been talking about it a lot lately, like it had been such a short time ago. Leia, Han, and Lando had been too, enough that Ben had suggested to Tahiri when they first boarded the ship for home that the four needed to reassert the reality of their lives after their near-fatal, bizarre journey inside the monolith. Tahiri had been occupied, taking Ohali Soroc's blood and listening to the taciturn Duros Jedi slowly explain how she had been captured by the Qrephs on her Quest. Ben had let it go.
"Dad, what does that have to do with this?" Ben said.
"It's the same Force," Luke said calmly, but Ben wasn't completely convinced.
Luke continued. "I fought Vader because I was sure that the light side and the dark side were different. I wanted to save him because there was still light within him, not because the dark is worth saving as well."
"You learned that the dark is good too?" Ben propped a hand on his hip and cocked his head, and Ben knew that he had gotten that look from Mara.
"Not exactly. It's just that…the Force is. No matter what."
"So no matter what bad things happen in the universe, it's okay because inside one bubble of space-time everything's great?" Ben realized that he'd raised his voice, so he pressed his lips together and stared down at Luke nervously. The idea of equality between light and dark bothered him, not out of hatred for the dark, but because of how passive Luke seemed to have become. Ben wasn't against the idea of his father's retirement. The Jedi Council would still be in place without him. But Luke was giving him non-answers, and Ben's thoughts wandered.
What does all this mean for Vestara?
Luke looked back and forth, and Ben rehearsed all the things he didn't want his father to say. You wouldn't understand. It's not that simple. An easy, cryptic no.
Luke said nothing.
"I'm sick of talking about Darth Vader," Ben said.
Luke looked at him and Ben could feel that he wasn't angry. Luke did not assume things enough that he could feel disappointment when his assumptions were wrong, and for the first time Ben felt that as a loss - that Jedi calm and Jedi coldness took something away from people, something that people like Vestara - and more rightly like people like Han or Lando, who were outside but familiar with the Order, could not understand. Ben, right now, just wanted to feel something.
He clasped his hands together and bowed to Luke, an old-fashioned tradition that was more a reference than a gesture.
We've gone beyond shadows before, Ben thought.
Luke said, "I'll see you soon."
In the bridge, Ben found Tahiri standing behind Han, Leia, and Lando next to an empty seat. She had her arms folded, her hands disappearing under the sleeves of her navy blue jumpsuit. When Ben poked his head into the bridge she turned around and smiled. He felt a shift, like the floodgates were opening at the sight of someone he had known through so much good and bad. While Han, Leia, and Lando talked among themselves and monitored the ship, Tahiri moved toward him.
"Are you doing alright?"
"I was just talking to dad," Ben said, warily.
Ben looked out at the starlines. "Sounds like he had a stranger experience today than I did."
Tahiri nodded. "Never underestimate the capacity of the galaxy to get stranger."
Ben nodded. "I know."
They landed in Coruscant's evening. Orange sun lay across the reflective sides of buildings, thousands of white strips of light dazzling Ben's eyes as the Millennium Falcon dipped between two skyscrapers on its way to the Jedi Temple.
Once inside his room Ben changed from his flightsuit to loose robes. The outer robe that he had placed at the edge of his bed slipped off and pooled with a heavy sound of shushing fabric, and Ben bent to pick it up and place it, rumpled, back on the blanket. Ben could sense his father in the lower levels of the Temple, resting or coordinating with Master Sebatyne or something, Ben didn't know.
He left the cloak and went through the long hall downstairs, idly following his father's presence as he passed other people walking in ones or twos through the residential level. Some Jedi were more comfortable with Coruscant's crowds than others, but being inside the Temple was almost like being in its own world. Gulfs of air separated the Temple from the skylanes outside, but Ben would still would not have been able to hear the perpetual drone of traffic through the sound-dampening force fields if he had stood at an open window.
He found Luke Skywalker in a small, tan-walled room downstairs, moving training lightsabers from one plastic container to another. Finding crystals for a working saber was an ordeal, but it was easier to create the low-powered lasers for training sabers, using shards of crystal and unsubtle tuning to maintain the beam's length. Ben stood by the doorway as Luke rolled the hafts into the box. Ben wondered what color the sabers were. Green, blue, green, blue, amethyst...
"I thought you were retiring," Ben said.
Luke looked up and smiled. "There's always something to clean up."
"Re-ti-re-ing." Two Jedi walked past behind him and Ben moved forward into the room, sitting down on the mats in the middle. "I'm staying right here until you relax."
Ben saw Luke move out of the corner of his eye, slowly sitting down and settling his robe around him.
Luke Skywalker closed his eyes.
The Force eddied. Ben dredged his own thoughts up just to discard them again: Vestara, Mortis, Darth Vader.
"I wasn't lying," Luke said.
"I don't think you're quite telling the truth."
"I still have a lot to do here."
"Here. Not out there." Ben realized how truculent he sounded, and realized why at the same time Luke did.
"You were worried for me."
"I was worried for you too."
Ben closed his eyes and centered himself in the Force.
Luke said, "Meditate with me?"
"I thought you would ask."
Ben could hear the smile in his father's laugh. Luke sat down beside him, hands empty. More people walked by outside, boots clicking on polished floors, and instead of having to work to forget about the sounds Ben let them pass away.