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The Quality of Mercy

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It felt like years since Padmé had been inside the Coruscant Temple. She missed it, a little.

She wasn’t the Jedi that her cousin and siblings were. But she’d been born here, right in the original Jedi temple; they all had. They’d spent hours playing in these halls, running up and down the twisting staircases, poking into dusty, half-forgotten corners. Anakin, she remembered, had once discovered a training saber from before Mother and Uncle Luke were even born -- and then wandered off when Bail and Lyra fought over who got to play with it first.

Most of their arguments had ended that way. Padmé smiled a little wistfully. Her childhood had been a good one: a little odd, perhaps, but she’d been comfortable, safe, and happy -- all four of them had been. She couldn’t live out her life within the walls of the temple, but she still missed it. She was glad to be home.

Padmé walked on, beyond the gurgling waters of the fountain. She recognized just about everyone she passed, met each respectful murmur of “Jedi Organa” with a smile, nod, and quiet reply. There wasn’t time for more, and she hurried past the creche.

It was no longer silent and uncanny, as she remembered. Not like in the old days of the Order, either; these were boarders and orphans, laughing, shouting, sulking, scolding -- being children. Padmé tried to ignore their stares; she’d worn her Jedi robes, but that didn’t seem to diminish their curiosity.

“-- I don’t think --”

“-- Jedi? I’ve never seen --”

A slightly lower, more authoritative voice -- “One of the Skywalkers, I think --”

“Master Organa’s --”

Padmé hurried on, climbing the stairs almost as quickly as she used to do. She stopped towards the end of the hall, at a door lit around the edges by the light within its room. It was slightly ajar -- which, since it had no handles and opened automatically, served no purpose except to make random intruders feel welcome.

She poked her dark head through the doorway. Her uncle sat at his desk, which seemed to be covered in piles of tedious forms. In true Uncle Luke fashion, he was dealing with the backlog by leaning back in his chair and levitating an apple.

Padmé grinned.

“Good morning,” she said.

He glanced up. “Padmé! Come in, please -- ” he caught the apple and swept a pile of datapads onto the floor.

Padmé suppressed a giggle. She half-suspected that the only reason her mother had become a Jedi at all was to keep the Order running. Someone had to do it, and it certainly wasn’t going to be Uncle Luke.

Bail always said that Mother managed the rules and discipline, Dad managed the food and common sense, and Uncle Luke managed the wisdom and sympathy. Padmé thought that pretty much covered it, even now. In some ways, she felt less like she had two parents and an uncle than three parents -- in much the same way that Anakin felt less like her cousin than her older brother.

“Make yourself comfortable,” Uncle Luke said, waving his arm at a chair as he wandered over to prepare a cup of tea. She wasn’t thirsty, but that didn’t matter -- drinking tea was a sort of ritual when she visited, comfortable and familiar, and they both had a high regard for the familiar.

“Thanks,” said Padmé, and hesitated. “I know I should have warned you I was coming --”

Uncle Luke laughed. “I should be warned about natural disasters, faulty equipment, and impending doom,” he said. “I think I can survive anything else, even a visit from my niece. Do you still like cream?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Besides, I’d already heard that you were coming. Though I’ll admit, I didn’t think your mother would let you out of her sight for another day, at least.”

Padmé looked away. “She didn’t want to, but I -- I needed to come back home, and she won’t be here until tomorrow.”

Her uncle made a vaguely encouraging noise and returned to his chair, handing her tea over to her, and sipping at his own. Padmé warmed her hands around the cup.

“How did your mission go?” he asked. “It was to Naboo, wasn’t it?”

“Yes. It -- well, I did my best. It’s difficult to discuss child labour laws with a fifteen-year-old head of state. Grandmother was even younger, wasn’t she?”

“Fourteen,” he said.

She shuddered. “Everyone says I’m like her, but I -- when I was fourteen, my most serious thoughts were that I hated telekinesis, and Princess Padmé sounded better than Padawan Organa-no-the-other-one. I couldn’t have run for office any more than I could have raised the dead.”

“You’re not Naboo,” said Uncle Luke, in a tone so scrupulously neutral that it was impossible to miss the unspoken thank the Force. “Well, I hope you stopped by Varykino, anyway?”

“Yes -- and then I had lunch with Ryoo and Janira. It was -- you know -- the usual.”

Her uncle smiled. “Awkward but pleasant?”

“Exactly.” Padmé tapped her fingers on her legs, then stilled the restless movement. “Lyra’s here too, you know. Not the Temple -- Mother’s apartments by the Senate.”

“I know,” he said calmly.

Of course he did, she thought, almost smacking herself for her stupidity. Uncle Luke always knew exactly where Lyra was, and not just because he was Uncle Luke and knew more about the Force than anyone living. He couldn’t sense Bail and Padmé like that -- just Lyra. Lyra and Mother and Grandfather.

Padmé sometimes thought she could glimpse something between the four of them, something that bound them together even though Grandfather was dead(ish) and . . . Grandfather. If so, she had no idea what it was, and in any case, it was pointless to tell Uncle Luke where Lyra had gone.

“Lyra and I . . . might have had an argument,” Padmé said, feeling as if she were a scapegrace young apprentice all over again, shamefaced before Mother’s disapproval and Uncle Luke’s disappointment. (Dad didn’t bother himself much with “Jedi stuff,” unless it crossed over into family stuff.)

In less than a day? That’s got to be a record, Bail had said. Uncle Luke just looked at her over the rim of his cup. She forced herself to met his gaze, her blue eyes steady.

“She wants to formally repudiate her place in the succession,” Padmé told him, twisting her fingers. “We all know the Order is her life; she’d never take the throne, even if she were eighty by the time Mother abdicates. Dad and Bail and I just can’t see why she has to make a point out of it.”

Uncle Luke opened his mouth, then shut it again. He settled for a cautious, “She’s mentioned it once or twice. Has something else happened?”

“You remember when she went on that mission to Tatooine? When she found the humanoid trafficking ring?”

“Of course,” said Uncle Luke. His even voice was edged with something that reminded Padmé a little of her mother and a great deal of her grandfather.

“She, well, she used a sort of pseudonym while she was there.”

The frozen blankness that had come over her uncle’s face shifted to bewilderment. “That’s common procedure, especially in a case like this. You know that Organa isn’t a name you use for undercover work in Mos Espa. I, myself, advised her to adopt a Tatooine surname before she left.”

“She did,” Padmé said.

Uncle Luke stared at her. Then he paled, his eyes widening. “Not --”

“Mm-hmm. She used it a few other places, too -- off-duty. Often enough that it got back to Mother.”

Her uncle rubbed his forehead.

“We managed to calm things down, and Bail was just making conversation about the different things we’d seen. That went well enough at first, even though she sounded -- I know she deals with terrible atrocities, and she’s had to develop a thick skin to even function. I couldn’t do what she does and it’s not my place to judge.”

“Mm,” said Uncle Luke.

“It’s just -- it’s not like she could do my job, either. If she wants to mind-control her way into tracking down criminals, fine. But I’m an ambassador, not a merciless crusader. I’m trying to help people, not hunt them down. I don’t want to be too compassionate, but -”

“It’s impossible to be too compassionate,” he said, a little didactically. Then he smiled. “It’s possible to be stupid about it, of course, but that’s true of anything.”

“Exactly! I tried to tell her that, but . . .” She shrugged.

“She doesn’t agree?”

“Lyra says compassion is for those who deserve it,” said Padmé.

His cup made a sharp clink as he set it down. The tea almost sloshed over the edges.

“She said what?

His voice rang out -- not cold and hard, like her mother’s became when she got angry, but harsh, furious. His eyes were blazing, and for the first time, Padmé thought she understood why people stepped so carefully around her gentle, serene uncle.

“I’m sure she didn’t mean it,” Padmé said, a little alarmed. “It was just a silly argument, and she didn’t approve of how I dealt with Queen Aemila. I’m not sure she even understands what diplomacy means. But it’s not exactly like she spends a lot of time with the . . . the deserving.”

He looked at her for a moment, then walked to the window. “Compassion is not deserved,” he said, almost to himself, and absently rubbed his hand.

His right hand, she realized. The one he always covered in a glove, as if it were something shameful, rather than a perfectly functional cybernetic that could hardly be distinguished from flesh. Padmé swallowed.

She knew what had happened. Mother and Dad and Uncle Luke didn’t like to talk about it, of course. But she’d gotten the story out of Grandfather, who was, if not eager, always ready to own up to everything he’d done, and the best storyteller in the family besides.

“I . . . don’t know,” Padmé said, frowning. “I think anyone with the smallest shred of goodness in them deserves compassion.”

Uncle Luke was silent for a moment. Then he turned back, looking thankfully like himself again.

“Compassion,” he said, in the low, calm voice she remembered from countless lessons, “is not a reward for virtue. There is no exchange. It’s given by one person to another without reservation. It’s a kind of unconditional love. And without it, a Jedi is nothing more than a soldier or a vigilante.”

“Lyra’s not --” Padmé said, and stopped. How many times, lately, had she been disconcerted by her sister’s indifference to the Order’s protocols? Avoided Lyra’s accounts of her latest crime-fighting adventures?

This was the real reason she’d rushed off to the Temple. Not to see the uncle who, beloved as he might be, would be at tomorrow's dinner anyway. Not to gossip about a petty quarrel with her sister.

She looked up. “Uncle Luke, I’m worried about her. I think something’s wrong. Not the Dark Side, exactly, but . . . something. I don’t know what to do. She doesn’t listen to me -- she won’t even listen to Mother and Dad, any more. But I have to do something.” She gestured vaguely. “How can I . . . all these mercy missions and charitable interventions and I can’t help my own sister?”

Her uncle fell silent for a moment. His blue eyes were very distant. “She is a Jedi Knight,” he said finally. “She will account for her actions to the Council. Otherwise . . . I can only tell you what my sister once told me. Lyra has to find her own way. You can’t choose it for her.”

“Mother said that?” She considered her hands, then sighed, and rose. “You’re right. I just . . . I just worry.”

“Of course.” He walked around the desk and clasped one of her hands, smiling down at her. “The Force will be with you, Padmé.”

“Thanks, Uncle Luke,” she said. She kissed his cheek. “For listening. And the tea. And everything.”

She smoothed her robes and walked towards the door, a little distracted by something flickering on the edges of her awareness. Not her brother -- the presence was, at once, too remote and too intensely near for that. It felt more like --

“Oh, and Padmé?” her uncle called after her.

She paused on the threshold. “Yes?”

“When you see Lyra, can you ask her to come to the Temple as soon as it’s convenient? There’s someone who wants to speak to her.”

“All right,” she said, glancing back, and froze. In the last two minutes, Uncle Luke had -- improbably though certainly not impossibly -- been joined by another man. A tall, distinguished man of about seventy, with a head of silver curls, straight, somewhat harsh features, and a familiar pair of clear blue eyes. At the moment, those eyes burned as hotly as her uncle’s had earlier.

“Grandfather,” Padmé said faintly. For once, she had no difficulty believing that he had once been Darth Vader.

“You can tell your sister,” said Anakin Skywalker, “that if she uses my name, she will answer to me for what she does with it.” He paused. “Also, you did excellent work on Naboo. Congratulations.”