Obi-Wan first suspected something was amiss when Han Solo casually mentioned that a couple had approached him just before Obi-Wan himself did, dressed just that bid too oddly to be able to pass by unnoticed, enquiring about the same thing they did – a trip to the Alderaan system. Because, really, what were the chances of accidentally encountering a pair of Jedi look-alikes on a dustball like Tatooine, in a galaxy whose attitude towards Jedi ranged from not really to please don't kill me I'm not a Jedi I swear, no less?
Obi-Wan didn't have much time to contemplate their – hopefully – future fellow passengers, however, as Solo finally came to a decision, rambling off the hangar number. Obi-Wan resolved to wait and see how the situation would develop.
And did it ever develop. Solo was right about one thing, Obi-Wan had to give him that – the couple did look like Jedi, but they weren’t overtly obvious about it. What gave them away wasn’t so much their choice of clothing as the way they carried themselves. It was subtle enough hat Luke didn't notice.
Obi-Wan's attempts at non-verbal communication with the somewhat strange couple were destined to fail miserably. They didn't so much as twitch when he poked their minds – repeatedly. They didn't have much of a Force presence, either. This led Obi-Wan to conclude that they weren’t Force-sensitives since they didn't have a strong presence, and everybody who knew how to hide their presence and could teach the two were either dead or a Sith – and Obi-Wan was painfully aware of how friendly and welcoming the Sith were to other Force-sensitives who wanted to learn the ways of the Force. It just wasn’t possible for two Force-sensitives to, without outside help, learn how to mask their Force presence well enough to escape Obi-Wan’s scrutiny, Obi-Wan decided.
Five minutes into their meeting, Obi-Wan surmised they were simply a couple of really creepy Jedi copycats – a dangerous thing to be these times; Obi-Wan hoped they knew that.
The couple turned out to be, as he found out later, a human male in his forties by the name of Aaron Starkiller, and a Togruta female by the name of Mel'ani Luum; Obi-Wan didn't know a great deal about the aging process of Togrutans, but he suspected that she was about the same age as her companion.
Things took a turn for the worse when, while the two groups were in the process of boarding the Falcon, Stormtroopers stormed the hangar, weapons blazing. Obi-Wan rushed the droids into the ship, then focused on herding Luke as well as the Togruta to safety. That didn't sit too well with the two of them; the female shot him a look that made it clear that he would regret it if he tried to order them around again. In an ironic reversion of roles, she then dragged Obi-Wan and a dismayed Luke onboard, while her companion and Solo returned fire on the Stormtroopers.
Out of the corner of his eyes, Obi-Wan saw the two men exchange a look before Solo sprinted up the ramp. A moment later, his voice echoed from the cockpit, “All clear for take-off! Get in, Starkiller!”
The ramp began to close. Just as Obi-Wan was starting to worry that Starkiller wouldn't make it, the man jumped through a narrow gap. Not a second later, the gap closed. Even Obi-Wan had to admit it was an impressive feat for a non-Force-sensitive.
The ship took off, with the Stormtroopers still shooting at them.
As soon as the Millennium Falcon left the planet, a squadron of Imperial TIE fighters ambushed them, coming out of seemingly nowhere. Solo was seconds away from ordering one of his passengers to get into the cannon rooms when Starkiller and the Togruta climbed into said rooms. Between the two of them, Solo, and his co-pilot, Chewbacca, the four of them took care of the Imperial ships, Starkiller and Solo taking down three each while the Togruta brought down two. As they walked towards the main space of the Falcon, Obi-Wan saw Starkiller shoot her a self-satisfied smirk. She returned it by sticking out her tongue at him in a decidedly infantile way. For some reason, this interaction seemed vaguely familiar to Obi-Wan, but he couldn't place it, had his life depended on it.
Having made a jump to hyperspace, Solo and Chewbacca made their way to the main area as well, where everyone else had already settled down in the main area. The two groups surveyed each other, with Solo glancing between them ever so often. Solo eventually broke the silence. “I don't think you've met each other,” he began awkwardly, still looking between Obi-Wan and Starkiller, the designated leaders of the two groups.
Starkiller stared into Obi-Wan’s eyes, seemingly searching for something. “I can’t say that I’ve had the pleasure,” he said quietly. He then brightened up. “Aaron Starkiller, at your service. My companion here,” he gestured at the Togruta next to him, “is Mel'ani Luum–“
“–and perfectly able to introduce herself without your help,” Luum added cheerfully.
“Ben Kenobi,” Obi-Wan said, waiting for a reaction his last name usually caused, at least by the people who remembered the Clone Wars (which the pair was certainly old enough to remember; they would have been– what, twenty?). There wasn't one. “Pleased to meet you,” he held out his hand.
Both Starkiller and Luum shook it. “Likewise.”
Starkiller then turned his eyes to Luke, silently scrutinizing they younger man. “And who are you, young man?”
“I'm Luke Skywalker, Mr Starkiller,” Luke replied eagerly, yet politely. Obi-Wan saw Mel'ani raise a discrete eyebrow at Aaron, who shook his head almost imperceptibly. Obi-Wan doubted that anyone besides him noticed the exchange.
“Aaron is fine,” Starkiller replied. “Mr Starkiller makes me feel old.”
“You don’t look old,” Luke objected vehemently, despite only having Starkiller’s face as his point of reference in regards to his age.
Starkiller laughed. “I’m pretty sure I’m older than everyone here present – with the possible exception of Kenobi here,” he added as an afterthought, his lips quirked up into a teasing smile.
“I’m not that old,” Obi-Wan felt the need to correct. Compared to Master Yoda, he was a positive youngling. Beside Starkiller, Luum stifled a laugh, as if Obi-Wan had made an old joke only she was privy to.
Starkiller and Luum made quick work of shrugging off their hooded cloaks. Underneath, they were both dressed in tight, dark pieces of clothing usually utilized by spies or assassins.
Luke was right about one thing. Aaron Starkiller did not look old. With his ebony hair that hasn’t yet started to grey, coupled with a slight beard that suited him very much, Starkiller gave off the air of being only slightly older than Luke – certainly not Solo’s age.
But, as Obi-Wan learned the hard way, appearances could be deceiving.
Both Starkiller and Luum were well-trained individuals, but they weren’t the bulky type. They were fit but not over-muscled. Luke glanced at Luum briefly, eyes sweeping quickly over her body. Luum caught Luke’s eyes, clearly mistaking the intent behind his stare. She smirked. “Sorry, kiddo. I don’t date.”
Luke looked between her and Starkiller, realization in his eyes. “Are– are you two, you know…?” he trailed off blushing, the unspoken question hanging in the air.
Luum giggled. “You think we’re together?” she gasped between bursts of laughter, pointing at herself and then at Starkiller.
Starkiller likewise snickered. “Not a chance. I love her, but in the way an older brother would love his sister. Besides, we are both celibate,” he clarified.
Solo stared at the other man as though he had grown another head. “You’re kidding me,” he said disbelievingly. “You live with this beauty,” he made a vague hand movement towards Luum, “and you tell me you’re celibate?” he raised an eyebrow.
Starkiller shrugged. “As I said, she’s my sister. It would be,” he winced, “weird.”
“I’m curious,” Obi-Wan changed the subject as the laughter died down. “What brings you to Alderaan?”
The smiles on Starkiller and Luum’s faces melted away. They exchanged a look. “Family business,” Starkiller replied succinctly. He refused to elaborate.
After that, Starkiller and Luum disappeared into one of the cabins, locking the door behind them. Obi-Wan, for his part, remembered that Luke was long overdue for a lesson in the ways of the Force. He found a practice remote, affectionately called ‘seeker’ by the crèche masters, and set it to the easiest level. He then told Luke to take out his lightsaber, lecturing him briefly on how to hold his weapon without risking hand amputation before letting him go up against the seeker.
Obi-Wan quickly realized what mistake Luke was subconsciously making – he was relying on his eyes instead of the Force, a common mistake amongst the younglings when they first learned how to handle a lightsaber. He didn’t remember having this problem with Anakin – the boy had, at the tender age of nine, a natural grasp on the Force that most adult Jedi lacked. It was one of those things that he was initially jealous of Anakin about. Thinking back to it now brought him nothing but shame, but he couldn’t erase his memories or take back what he had felt – what was done was done. Only the future could be changed.
Obi-Wan shook his head. It didn't do well to dwell on the past. As Qui-Gon used to say: “Focus on the present.”
Obi-Wan glanced around the room, searching for something to use to obscure Luke’s vision. It was then that the Jedi Master realized that Starkiller and Luum were done with whatever it was they had been doing, and were now observing Luke’s spar with the remote, amusement evident in their eyes. Obi-Wan quirked an eyebrow, silently challenging them to do better. Starkiller met his eyes with a small smile, shaking his head. He then pointed to a helmet lying in the corner – probably an abandoned part of Solo’s previous cargo, or a forgotten possession of a previous passenger.
Obi-Wan didn’t know how Starkiller mysteriously knew what Obi-Wan had in mind, but he stowed it away in his mind to consider at a later time. Instead, he interrupted Luke’s ‘training’, handing him the helmet. “Try with this on,” he advised.
Luke looked at the helmet. “But I won’t be able to see anything,” he protested.
“I think that’s kind of the point,” Luum remarked with a smirk.
Obi-Wan chose to ignore her. “Don’t trust your eyes, Luke. They can easily deceive you. Use the Force.”
Luke turned to Obi-Wan with frustration. “What is the Force? Is it some kind of power, or a field, or what is it, exactly?”
Starkiller and Luum, too, turned to stare at Obi-Wan, surprise written all over their faces, as if hadn’t considered the fact that Obi-Wan hadn’t yet told Luke about the nature of the Force. As if they knew what it was, Obi-Wan thought with irritation, then reprimanded himself for becoming worked up over two virtual strangers. Old age must be catching up with him.
He saw Starkiller open his mouth, no doubt to offer a witty response, but Luum elbowed her companion before he could speak, seeming to indicate that he shouldn’t involve himself in this. Starkiller returned it with an exasperated look.
This, too, Obi-Wan chose to ignore for the time being. Luke’s question still hadn’t been answered, and he seemed to take after his father in regards to patience. He cleared his throat before speaking. “The Force, Luke, is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.”
“I thought gravity did that,” Aaron whispered loudly.
“But how does it help me with this?” the young man grumbled.
“A Jedi can feel the Force flowing through them,” Obi-Wan went on. “Let it steer you to do the right thing at the right time.”
“You mean it controls out actions?” Luke asked, mildly horrified.
Again, Starkiller opened his mouth, and for the second time in as many minutes, Luum elbowed him – harder this time, judging by Starkiller’s groan – to shut him up before he could say anything.
“Partially,” Obi-Wan conceded. “But it also obeys your commands.”
It was then that Solo reminded them of his presence. He snickered as the seeker’s crimson red laser beam hit Luke in his leg. Luke yelped, jumping out of range of the remote. “Don’t listen to him, kid. Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side,” Solo chuckled, a rakish grin plastered on his face.
“You don’t believe on the Force, do you?” Luke asked, massaging his stung leg.
“Kid, I've flown from one side of this galaxy to the other,” Solo settled on a stool. “I've seen a lot of strange stuff, but I've never seen anything to make me believe there's one all-powerful force controlling everything. There's no mystical energy field that controls my destiny. It’s all simple tricks and nonsense.”
Luke glanced at Solo. “Well, what do you believe in?”
“Luck,” Solo answered without hesitation.
Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow in challenge. “In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck.”
Luke looked between Han and Obi-Wan. They seemed to have a staring contest of sorts. He turned to Starkiller and Luum for help, but they smirked and ignored Luke in favour of watching the other two men in the room. The adults all seemed perfectly fine with alternating between staring and smirking at each other, which was just not cool.
Help came from an unexpected source – his droids, Artoo and Threepio.
“I keep telling you, Artoo, that Master Luke went that way,” Luke heard the unmistakably annoying voice of Threepio, the protocol droid.
Artoo answered with a lot of beeps.
“Yes, I am quite certain—“ Threepio suddenly stopped as they entered the main area.
“There’s no need for such language, Artoo,” Threepio reprimanded his smaller counterpart, then looked around the room. “Hello, sir,” Threepio said, addressing Solo. “I do not believe we have been introduced. I am See-Threepio, human-cyborg relations. I am fluent in over six million forms of communication—“
“Shut up, will you?” Solo, who seemed to have broken the contest with Obi-Wan, said, turning to face the droid.
Threepio, not bothered in the least by the downright chilly welcome, continued to talk. Han growled and stalked over to Luke, closely followed by Threepio.
“—followed by Bossk, which is the native language of the Trandoshans, who live on the planet Trandosha. In the interest of accuracy, they do not live exactly—“
Solo, looking more than a little annoyed, turned on his heels to address Threepio directly. “Not another word, tin can, or you won’t live to regret it,” he said through gritted teeth, the annoyance at Obi-Wan being directed at the droid instead.
Fortunately for Threepio, his programming, while not having included personifying deities, did include threats, along with a small douse of self-preservation. While Threepio computed that the chances of Captain Solo going through with his threat if Threepio did not comply were one to four hundred thousand eight hundred and thirty two, he did not want to take the risk that his calculations were wrong. Therefore, Threepio did the sensible thing, and chose not to continue his lecture.
Meanwhile, Luke continued to practice with the remote. Obi-Wan watched from the sidelines, then suddenly turned away and sat down. He faltered and seemed to be close to fainting. He put his head in his hands. Luke turned off the lightsaber and the remote. He glanced at the older man in concern. “Are you all right? What's wrong?”
Obi-Wan sighed. “I felt a great disturbance in the Force... as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened,” Obi-Wan rubbed his forehead. He seemed to drift into a trance, before fixing his gaze on Luke. “Keep practicing, Luke,” he all but commanded.
At the same time, Artoo rolled up to Starkiller, surveying him – or the droid equivalent thereof.
“Hello, droid,” Starkiller said cheerfully. “And what’s your name?”
“Artoo-Deetoo, you say?”
“I knew once an Artoo-Deetoo unit. He was a dear friend of mine, one of my closest friends. I still miss him, as a matter of fact,” Starkiller’s face turned sad.
Artoo bleeped again. This time, the answer was a lengthy one.
“You understand binary?” Solo asked suspiciously, having noticed the exchange. This attracted the attention of the rest of the group.
Starkiller didn’t reply, so Luum took it upon herself to answer. “Yeah, he pretty much understands all things mechanic. It’s a gift,” she shrugged.
Starkiller’s voice was still shaky when he finally said, “I think we need to talk, Artoo. Follow me.”
The man and the droid disappeared to the same room where the weird duo disappeared to earlier. Solo, Luke and Obi-Wan exchanged bemused looks; Solo voiced the question they all itched to ask. “What the hell just happened?”
As one, they turned their heads towards Luum, who just shrugged. “Don’t ask me. I don’t know what the blazes goes on in that head of his.”
The three men shrugged, returning to their previous tasks. Luke continued his lightsaber training, Obi-Wan occasionally offering him advise – sometimes helpful and sometimes not so much, while Solo tried to disturb them as much as he could. Luum giggled whenever Luke’s arm was stung by the remote.
The only interruption was when Starkiller and Artoo emerged from the other room; Starkiller and Luum withdrew into a corner, whispering about Force only knew what. Starkiller then struck up a discussion with Solo on the finer aspects of flying, while Luum joined Chewbacca and the droids in a game of sabacc (which Chewbacca won by a walkover). The trip went fairly uneventfully after that.
Well, it went well until they jumped out of hyperspace. The only warning they got was a, “We’re coming out of lightspeed, so strap yourselves in,” from Solo, then Chewbacca pressed something on the console before him at the same time as Solo pulled back a comparatively large lever. Abruptly the long streaks of Doppler-distorted starlight slowed down to hyphen shapes, then finally to familiar bolts of fire. A gauge on the console registered zero.
This is where it went wrong. Gigantic chunks of glowing stone appeared out of nothingness, barely shunted aside by the ship’s defectors. The strain caused the Millennium Falcon to shudder violently.
“What the—“ Han muttered startled. His co-pilot offered no comment as he flipped switch after lever, trying to strengthen their defectors.
“What’s going on?” Luke demanded, making his way to the cockpit. “I’m pretty sure this isn’t supposed to happen.”
“We’re back in normal space,” Solo informed his passengers as Obi-Wan joined them as well, “but we’ve come out in the middle of the worst asteroid storm I’ve ever seen, and believe me when I say I’ve seen a lot. This,” he pointed outside, “is not on any of the charts. According to the galactic atlas, our position is correct. Only one thing is missing – Alderaan.”
Indeed, when Luke looked through the glass of the cockpit, he could see a great many rocks and asteroids of many sizes, but he didn’t see a planet. It was almost as if it had been–
“Destroyed,” he whispered. “Alderaan’s been destroyed.”
“But how?” Solo retorted. “There isn’t a force strong enough to destroy an entire planet.”
Obi-Wan shook his head. “There is only one way it could have happened.”
“The Empire,” a voice declared firmly, drowning out Obi-Wan’s further words. Starkiller had entered the cockpit, followed by Luum.
“No,” Solo refuted. “Not even the Empire has this kind of power. The whole Imperial Fleet could be firing at the planet for hours and it wouldn’t have caused this.”
“It’s not the Imperial Fleet,” Luum said seriously.
Before Solo could answer, the alarms began flashing, indicating another vessel close by. “A ship,” he announced. “Can’t judge the type yet, but it kind of looks like a fighter.”
“Maybe it’s a survivor?” Luke asked hopefully. “He could tell us what happened.”
Luum’s next words shattered that hope. “It’s an Imperial fighter.”
“Could it have followed us from Tatooine?” Luke said cautiously.
Obi-Wan shook his head. “It’s a small range fighter.”
“Besides, I’d know if I was being followed,” Han added with a growl.
As they were arguing, Starkiller followed the vessel with his eyes until it disappeared in the vast darkness of the galaxy.
“But where did it come from?” Luum tossed the question into the open. “There’s no Imperial base nearby.”
“You’re forgetting we’re in the Core, very close to Coruscant,” Obi-Wan reminded her. “It could have come from there.”
She sighed. “You may be right, after all Coruscant is pretty close to Alderaan. It’s just that it feels–“
“Wrong?” Luke supplied.
“Exactly,” Luum agreed. “Did anyone see what type was it, exactly?”
Obi-Wan hummed. “I believe it was a TIE fighter.”
Luum sighed in exasperation. “But where was it headed? If Alderaan is gone—“
If Alderaan is gone, Obi-Wan realized with a start, then the Organas–
“There,” Starkiller’s voice startled them. He pointed at a small star in the distance, barely visible in the darkness. The star ahead continued to brighten, its glow evidently coming from within. It assumed a circular outline.
Luke frowned. “I didn’t know Alderaan had a moon.”
“It didn’t,” Obi-Wan replied. “According to the atlas, Alderaan has no moons.”
“So what’s it doing there? Moons don’t just appear out of the blue!” Solo growled.
They drew steadily nearer. Gradually craters and mountains on the moon became visible. Yet there was something extremely odd about them. The craters were far too regular in outline, the mountains far too vertical, canyons and valleys impossibly straight and regularized. Nothing as capricious as volcanic action could have formed those features.
“That’s no moon,” Obi-Wan breathed in a tense voice. “That’s a space station.”
“It’s too big to be a space station,” Luke countered. “The size of it! It can’t be artificial—it can’t! Besides, what would—“
“It’s an Imperial battle station called the Death Star,” Starkiller informed them quietly from where he still stood, his eyes fixed on the not-quite-a-moon.
All eyes turned towards him. Luum didn’t seem very surprised, Luke noted off-handedly. Most likely because she either already knew or suspected.
“It has the power to destroy entire planets,” Starkiller continued. “That’s exactly what happened in this case.”
“And how do you know that?” Solo asked suspiciously, as his fingers clenched around the armrest of the pilot's chair.
“I don’t work for the Empire, if that’s what you’re implying,” Starkiller replied in an even voice. “Let’s just say I have my sources and leave it at that.”
Solo grumbled but desisted. Obi-Wan continued to eye Starkiller with suspicion. Just who was this man?
“Think the ship noticed us?” Solo asked carefully, returning to the subject at hand.
“I’m certain it did,” Starkiller replied grimly.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” was Obi-Wan's only comment.
“Then we need to get out of here!” Luke shouted.
“Yes, I think you're right, kid. Full reverse, Chewie.”
Chewbacca growled something.
“No, now is not the time to check it out, you furrball,” Solo said through gritted teeth. He switched over from autopilot and tried to steer the ship away from the battle station. Chewie growled again. Solo ignored him, trying to get the Falcon to move.
The Wookiee joined him, starting to adjust controls, and the freighter seemed to slow, arcing around in a broad curve. The tiny fighter leaped instantly toward the monstrous station until it was swallowed up by its overpowering bulk.
Chewbacca chattered something at Solo as the ship shook and strained against unseen forces.
“Lock in auxiliary power!” Solo ordered.
Gauges began to whine in protest, and by ones and twos every instrument on the control console sequentially went berserk. Try as he might, Solo couldn’t keep the surface of the gargantuan station from looming steadily larger, larger—until it became the heavens.
Luke stared wildly at secondary installations as big as mountains, dish antennae larger than all of Mos Eisley. “Why are we still moving toward it?”
“We’re caught in the tractor beam, the strongest I’ve ever seen. It’s pulling us in!” Solo muttered.
“Can’t you do something?” Luke demanded.
Luum shook her head. “The only way we would get away would be if somebody turned off the tractor beam, but somehow, I don’t see that happening.”
“Yeah, me neither,” Solo agreed.
“We’re doomed!” Threepio cried, raising his metal arms in defeat.
Starkiller bit his lip as an idea occurred to him. “Well, not quite yet. Tell me, captain, how big were those cargo holders you were boasting about?”
Two metal panels popped upward, followed by a pair of tousled heads. Solo and Starkiller looked around quickly, then managed to relax a little when it became clear that the ship was as empty as it sounded.
“It’s a good thing you’ve built those compartments,” Starkiller remarked as he climbed out of the compartment where he, Luum, and the two droids were hidden. Solo grumbled as he opened the hatch to the other compartment and got out.
“Where else would I put the smuggled goods? In the main hold?” Solo retorted, clearly not as cheerily confident. “Not a chance. I never thought I’d be smuggling myself, though.”
Starkiller grinned. “Isn’t that a shame.”
Solo started violently at a sudden sound, but it was only another of the panels shifting aside. “This is ridiculous. It isn’t going to work. Even if I could take off and get past the closed hatch”— he jabbed a thumb upward—“we’d never get past that tractor beam.”
Obi-Wan got out of the compartment where he hid with Han and Luke. “You leave that to me.”
“I was afraid you’d say something like that,” muttered Solo under his breath. “You’re a damn fool, old man.”
Obi-Wan smiled peacefully. “What does that say of the man who allows himself to be hired by a fool?”
Starkiller scowled at the two men. “Save the catfight for later, girls. Priorities. First, we need to figure out where to go from here. Any ideas?”
Luum suddenly grinned. “I have an idea.”
Starkiller closed his eyes in resignation.
Solo muttered something under his breath as they pulled themselves clear of the compartments, Chewbacca doing so with a good deal of grunting and twisting.
Two technicians had arrived at the base of the ramp. They reported in to the two bored soldiers guarding it. “The ship’s all yours,” one of the soldiers told them. “If the scanners pick up anything, report it immediately.”
The men nodded, then strained to lug their heavy equipment up the ramp. As soon as they disappeared inside, a loud crash was heard. Both guards whirled, then heard a voice call, “Hey, down there, could you give us a hand with this?”
One trooper looked at his companion, who shrugged. They both started up the ramp, muttering at the inefficiency of mere technicians. A second crashing sound reverberated, the difference being that now, there was no one left to hear it.
The absence of the two troopers did not go unnoticed. A gantry officer passing the window of a small command office near the freighter entrance glanced out, frowning when he saw no sign of the guards. Concerned but not alarmed, he moved to a comlink and spoke into it as he continued to stare at the ship.
“THX-1138, why aren’t you at your post? THX-1138, do you copy?” The speaker gave back only static. “THX-1138, why don’t you reply?”
The officer was beginning to panic when an armored figure descended the ramp, waving toward him. Pointing to the portion of his helmet covering his right ear, the figure tapped it to indicate the comlink inside was broken.
Shaking his head in disgust, the gantry officer gave his busy aide an annoyed look as he made for the door. “Take over here. We’ve got another bad transmitter. I’m going to see what I can do.” He activated the door, took a step forward as it slid aside—and stumbled backward in a state of shock.
Filling the door completely was a towering hairy form. Chewbacca leaned inward and with a bone splintering howl flattened the benumbed officer with one swipe of a pan-sized fist.
The aide was already on his feet and reaching for his sidearm when a narrow energy beam passed completely through him, piercing his heart. Solo flipped up the faceplate of his trooper helmet, then slid it back into place as he followed the Wookiee into the room, Starkiller and Luum following closely. Obi-Wan and the droids squeezed in behind him, with Luke, also clad in the armor of a luckless Imperial soldier, bringing up the rear.
Luke was looking around nervously as he shut the door behind them. “Between his howling and your blasting everything in sight, it’s a wonder the entire station doesn’t know we’re here.”
“Bring ’em on,” Solo demanded, unreasonably enthused by their success so far. “I prefer a straight fight to all this sneaking around.”
“Maybe you’re in a hurry to die,” Luke snapped, “but I’m not. All this sneaking around has kept us alive.”
Starkiller put up a hand. “Save the argument for later, girls. I'd hate to have to repeat this,” he glared at Luke and Han, finally fixing his eyes on Obi-Wan.
The Corellian gave Aaron a grimace, but didn’t argue.
“Hey, look,” Luum piped up suddenly, pointing at a console in the metallic wall. “I think I've found the computer.”
“Let me have a look,” Starkiller volunteered.
Obi-Wan shrugged. “Be my guest. I was planning to offer to do it myself, but since you're volunteering…”
They watched as Starkiller operated an incredibly complex computer console with the ease and confidence of one long accustomed to handling intricate machinery. It reminded Obi-Wan painfully of a certain Padawan.
Unbidden, images which he had tried to suppress for so long forced their way into his head, playing over and over again.
No, don't go there, Obi-Wan. It wasn't your fault. You couldn't have done anything.
But I could have! Obi-Wan responded to his own argument. If I'd only seen the signs, I could have helped him.
He was the one who chose not to entrust you with his secrets. You literally couldn't do anything about it. Snap out of it, Kenobi! You need to stay sharp, especially now; with Luke here, with those wannabe Jedi. You need to protect them.
A screen lit up promptly with a map of sections of the battle station. The dark-haired man leaned forward, studying the display carefully. Obi-Wan peered over his one shoulder, while Luum did the same thing over Starkiller’s other shoulder.
Meanwhile, Threepio and Artoo had been going over a similar control panel nearby. Artoo suddenly froze, then began whistling wildly at something he had found. Solo and Luke rushed over to where the robots were standing. Chewbacca busied himself hanging the gantry officer up by his toes.
“Plug him in,” Obi-Wan suggested, looking over from his place overlooking the larger readout. “He should be able to draw information from the entire station network. Let’s see if he can find out where the tractor-beam power unit is located.”
“Why not just disconnect the beam from here, Ben?” Luke wanted to know.
Starkiller snorted derisively, “What, and have them lock it right back on us before we can get a ship’s length outside the docking bay?”
Luke looked crestfallen. “Oh. I hadn’t thought of that.”
Starkiller glanced at Luke and his gaze softened. “Sorry, Luke, didn't mean to sound harsh.”
Luke accepted the excuse with a nod of his head.
“We have to break the tractor at its power source in order to execute a clean escape, Luke,” Obi-Wan chided gently as Artoo punched a claw arm into the open computer socket he had discovered.
Immediately, a galaxy of lights came to life on the panel in front of him and the room was filled with the hum of machinery working at high speed.
Several minutes passed while the little astromech sucked up information like a metal sponge. Then the hum slowed, and he turned to beep something back at them.
“He’s found it, sir!” Threepio announced excitedly. “The tractor beam is coupled to the main reactors at seven locations. Most of the pertinent data is restricted, but he’ll try to pull the critical information through to the monitor.”
Obi-Wan turned his attention from the larger screen and approached the small readout near Artoo. Data began to race across it too fast for Luke to see, but apparently Obi-Wan somehow made something of the schematic blur. “I don’t think there’s any way any of you can help with this,” he told them. “I must go alone.”
Out of the corner of his eyes, Obi-Wan noticed Starkiller and Luum exchange exasperated looks, though he couldn’t fathom the cause of it.
“That suits me just fine,” said Han readily. “I’ve already done more than I bargained for on this trip. But I think putting that tractor beam out of commission’s going to take more than your magic, old man.”
Luke wasn’t put off so easily. “I want to go with you,” he declared.
Behind him, Luum rolled her eyes. Obi-Wan chose to ignore her (it seemed that he was doing that a lot with these two).
“Don’t be impatient, young Luke,” Obi-Wan advised the younger man. “This requires skills you haven’t yet mastered. Stay and guard the droids. Wait for my signal. They must be delivered to the rebel forces, or many more worlds will meet the same fate as Alderaan. Trust in the Force, Luke–and wait.”
With a last look at the flow of information on the monitor, Obi-Wan adjusted the lightsaber at his waist. Stepping to a door nearby, he bypassed Starkiller, saying, in a quiet voice, “Make sure Luke is safe, Starkiller. Please. A lot weighs on this.”
Obi-Wan then slid the door aside, looked once left, once right, and disappeared down a long, glowing hallway.
As soon as he was gone, Starkiller swirled on the spot and strode off in the opposite direction, muttering something about foolish old men who risked too much for their own good, and didn't he remember the nest of gundarks?
Luum threw him another exasperated look, then turned to address Han and Luke, “Listen up. Aaron and I need to do something as well. Don't worry about us; we’ll be fine,” she shot them a smile. “Just find somewhere to hide until Ma– until Kenobi turns off the tractor beam. Should be easy, eh?” she grinned weakly. “Huge station, lots of places to hide.”
She then took off after her enigmatic friend.
A few moments passed in silence. Luke blinked. “Am I the only one who thinks that was extremely weird?”
Chewbacca growled in agreement. Han nodded, then turned to Luke. “I know those two weirdos aren't with you, but where’d you dig up that old fossil?”
“Ben Kenobi—General Kenobi—is a great man,” Luke protested loftily.
“Great at getting us into trouble,” Han snorted. “‘General’ my ass! He’s not going to get us out of here.”
“You got any better ideas?” Luke shot back challengingly.
“Anything would be better than just waiting here for them to come and pick us up. If we—”
A hysterical whistling and hooting came from the computer console. Luke hurried over to Artoo Detoo. The little droid was all but hopping about on stubby legs.
“What now?” Luke asked Threepio.
The taller robot looked puzzled himself. “I’m afraid I don’t understand either, sir. He says, ‘I found her,’ and keeps repeating, ‘She’s here, she’s here!’”
“Who? Who has he found?”
Artoo turned a flat blinking face toward Luke and whistled frantically.
“Princess Leia,” Threepio announced after listening carefully. “Senator Organa—they seem to be one and the same. I believe she may be the person in the message he was carrying.”
That three-dimensional portrait of indescribable beauty coalesced in Luke’s mind again. “The Princess? She’s here?” Luke said excitedly.
Attracted by the commotion, Han wandered over. “Princess? What’s going on?”
“Where? Where is she?” Luke demanded breathlessly, ignoring Solo completely.
Artoo whistled on while Threepio translated. “Level five, detention block AA-23. According to the information, she is scheduled for slow termination.”
“No!” Luke hissed. “We’ve got to do something.”
“What are you three blabbering about?” an annoyed Han demanded.
“She’s the one who programmed the message into Artoo Detoo,” Luke explained hurriedly, “the one we were trying to deliver to Alderaan. We’ve got to help her.”
“Now, just a minute,” Han cautioned him. “This is going awful fast for me. Don’t get any funny ideas. When I said I didn’t have any ‘better ideas’ I meant it. The old man said to wait here, and so did the Togrutan. I don’t like it, but I’m not going off on some crazy maze through this place.”
“But they didn’t know she was here,” Luke half pleaded, half argued. “I’m sure that if Obi-Wan knew he would have changed his plans.” Anxiety turned to thoughtfulness. “Now, if we could just figure a way to get into that detention block…”
Han shook his head and stepped back. “Huh-uh—I’m not going into any Imperial detention blocks.”
“If we don’t do something, they’re going to execute her. A minute ago you said you didn’t just want to sit here and wait to be captured. Now all you want to do is stay. Which is it, Han?”
The Corellian looked troubled—and confused. “Marching into a detention area’s not what I had in mind. We’re likely to end up there anyway—why rush it?”
“But they’re going to execute her!”
“Better her than me,” Han scoffed.
“Where’s your sense of chivalry, Han?” Luke challenged.
The smuggler considered. “Near as I can recall, I traded it for a ten-carat chrysopaz and three bottles of good brandy about five years ago on Commenor.”
“I’ve seen her,” Luke persisted desperately. “She’s beautiful.”
“She’s a rich and powerful Senator,” Luke pressed, hoping an appeal to Han's baser instincts might be more effective. “If we could save her, the reward could be substantial.”
“Uh… rich?” Then Solo looked disdainful. “Wait a minute… Reward, from whom? From the government on Alderaan?” He made a sweeping gesture toward the hangar and by implication the space where Alderaan had once orbited.
Luke thought furiously. “If she’s being held here and is scheduled to be executed, that means she must be dangerous in some way to whoever destroyed Alderaan – to whoever had this station built. You can bet it had something to do with the Empire instituting a reign of full repression.
“I’ll tell you who’ll pay for her rescue, and for the information she holds: the Senate, the Rebel Alliance, and every establishment that did business with Alderaan. She could be the sole surviving heir of the off-world wealth of the entire system! The reward could be more wealth than you can imagine.”
“I don’t know… I can imagine quite a bit,” Han glanced at Chewbacca, who grunted a terse reply. Han shrugged back at the big Wookiee. “All right, we’ll give it a try. But you’d better be right about that reward. What’s your plan, kid?”
Luke was momentarily taken aback. All his energies up till now had been concentrated on persuading Han and Chewie to aid in his rescue attempt. That accomplished, Luke became aware of the fact that he had no idea how to proceed. He had grown used to old Ben and Han giving directions; now, the next move was up to him.
His eyes caught sight of several metal circlets dangling from the belt of Han's armor. “Give me those binders and tell Chewbacca to come over here.”
Han handed Luke the thin but quite unbreakable cuffs and relayed the request to Chewbacca. The Wookiee lumbered over and stood waiting next to Luke.
“Now, I’m going to put these on you,” Luke began, starting to move behind the Wookiee with the cuffs, “and—”
Chewbacca made a sound low in his throat, and Luke jumped in spite of himself. “Now,” he began again, “Han is going to put these on you and...” he sheepishly handed the binders to Han, uncomfortably aware of the enormous anthropoid’s glowing eyes on him.
Han sounded amused as he moved forward. “Don’t worry, Chewie. I think I know what he has in mind.”
The cuffs barely fit around the thick wrists. Despite his partner’s seeming confidence in the plan, Chewbacca wore a worried, frightened look as the restraints were activated – probably too close for comfort.
“Luke, sir.” Luke looked over at Threepio. “Pardon me for asking, but, ah—what should Artoo and I do if someone discovers us here in your absence?”
“Hope they don’t have blasters,” the smuggler retorted laconically.
Threepio’s tone indicated he didn’t find the answer very humorous. “That isn’t very reassuring,” the droid said flatly.
Han and Luke were too engrossed in their coming expedition to pay much attention to the worried robot. They adjusted their helmets. Then, with Chewbacca wearing a half-real downcast expression, they started off along the corridor where Obi-Wan Kenobi had disappeared, all thoughts of Aaron Starkiller and Mel'ani Luum long since forgotten.
By the time they managed to find their way to the detention center and find the cell that housed Princess Leia, it felt like half of the Death Star was aware of their presence there. Han didn’t help, what with his tendency to shoot comms at the faintest sign of trouble (“Boring conversation anyway,” he had said with a shrug).
Then it all went downhill – the trash compactor, the monster in said trash compactor (if Luke had any time to spare, he would wonder at the purpose of keeping a living creature in a trash compactor), followed by a solid half an hour of running around and being shot at until they finally found the hangar.
Leia made an offhanded jeer regarding the condition of the Millennium Falcon, which very nearly resulted in a brawl between her and Han. Fortunately, they were distracted by Stormtroopers suddenly abandoning their posts, which gave them ample time to get across the hangar and into the ship.
As they were halfway to the ship, Luke chanced a glance to his right and froze in his tracks. “Look!”
They saw Obi-Wan, locked in a lightsaber battle with a being who could be no one other than the feared Darth Vader.
Obi-Wan Kenobi crept towards Tractor Beam 12 with a frown on his face. He had a plan: distract the troopers and quickly shut off the tractor beam, thus allowing the Millennium Falcon to escape. That part was easy.
Beyond that, however, he was at a loss at what to do. Should he attempt to find and confront Darth Vader, an endeavour which would almost certainly result in Obi-Wan's demise? Obi-Wan could sense Vader as clear as day, the all too familiar presence causing a jolt of pain in his chest; he was also mindful of the fact that Vader was just as aware of his old Master's presence, deny the bond though he might.
Obi-Wan immersed himself in the Force and asked it for guidance, but it remained stubbornly silent, as though telling Obi-Wan that this was his bloody problem to deal with his wayward former Padawan.
'Typical,' Obi-Wan thought grimly as he sneaked around the guards to turn off the tractor beam, 'that the Force would behave just as Anakin used to. No wonder he was considered the son of the Force. They’re both equally infuriating.'
Tractor beam dealt with, Obi-Wan steered his steps in the opposite direction from where his sense of direction (which was excellent, thank you very much, contrary to what Anakin used to imply) told him the hanger was situated, and towards a vaguely familiar presence, his mind made up.
Vader sensed that Kenobi was approaching; he would have smirked at Kenobi's predictability, had he not considered it above him to engage in such pettiness. Kenobi was marching to his own doom, and he didn’t even know it. Oh yes, Kenobi might consider it a possibility, but Vader had the distinct advantage of far more recent experience, as well as superior powers, not the least of which originated from the dark side of the Force, something Obi-Wan would never be able to grasp.
The aged Jedi Master would never know what hit him – literally.
Mel'ani Luum just barely resisted rolling her eyes in resignation. What did the Jedi think he was doing? He wasn’t nearly strong enough to take on a Dark Lord of the Sith.
Maybe Mustafar had inflated his ego a bit too much. Actually, there was no 'maybe' to it.
She sighed. This adventure would surely get him killed.
Oh, Obi-Wan. You’re beginning to act like Anakin.
Obi-Wan turned a black-and-white corner (and really, whoever thought that this contrast was a good decoration choice really ought to be fired), and there he was.
Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith. Formerly known as Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight. Funny how these things turn out.
Darth Vader was the first to speak. ”I've been waiting for you, Obi-Wan. We meet again, at last,” the black-clad man said dramatically. ”The circle is now complete,” he rumbled.
Obi-Wan snorted. He wondered briefly whether the Sith Lord was, by any chance, under the influence of any drugs. He had always warned him about those mushrooms, but Anakin just never listened. Even now, they were in this situation because Anakin would never listen.
No matter. Obi-Wan whipped out his lightsaber as skillfully as he could, even though it was painfully obvious to anyone who studied lightsaber dueling that he was almost laughably out of practice.
Vader also brought out his weapon, albeit in a much more graceful manner. ”When I left you, I was but the learner. Now I am the master,” he gloated.
Obi-Wan's theory concerning Anakin's state of mind steadily gained more credibility. ”Only a master of evil, Darth,” he said quietly, secretly taunting Anakin about his rather forced placement on the Jedi Council without gaining a mastery, something Obi-Wan knew grated the younger man's nerves ever since.
Also, calling a Sith 'Darth' was just insulting. Obi-Wan relished in this more than he probably should. ”Furthermore, forgive me if I am wrong, my young Padawan, but the last time I checked, Sidious was the Master and you were, indeed, still but the apprentice,” he deadpanned.
Vader snarled in response. Considering his mask inhibited him from producing emotions through his voice, Obi-Wan was, despite himself, impressed.
Suddenly, the two thrust out their lightsabers at the exact same time and sparks flew as the sabers clashed. They exchanged blows and, although both continued to stand their ground, Obi-Wan seemed to be under increasing pressure and strain. The fighting moved around the Death Star; Obi-Wan subtly guided the fight towards the hanger, an idea forming in his mind.
”Your powers are weak, old man,” Vader taunted menacingly after Obi-Wan just barely parried another blow.
”You can't win, Darth,” I proved that on Mustafar. ”If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Or so Obi-Wan hoped.
Vader growled, swinging his lightsaber at Obi-Wan; the battle for life and death continued. This drew the attention of the troopers guarding the Millennium Falcon – hadn't Anakin trained his guards better than that? Surely he still remembered how easy it was to distract a guard?
Obi-Wan heard footsteps, followed by a voice calling out, ”Look!”
He recognized that voice. It was young Luke, the son of Darth Vader, although neither of two was aware of that fact – and, if Obi-Wan had any say in it, they would never find out, either.
”Come on, Luke!” cried another voice, an older voice. Obi-Wan could not tell whether it belonged to Han Solo or Aaron Starkiller; he was a bit too preoccupied with fighting for his life.
Then the old Jedi Knight glanced over his shoulder, and lifted his sword up to hold it vertically with the tip up. He stared into Vader's eyes challengingly.
As Vader made to swing his lightsaber and end Obi-Wan's life, he closed his eyes and cleared his mind, preparing for the end. Would it hurt, or would it be a seamless transition?
The blow never came.
Obi-Wan cautiously opened his eyes, astonished to see Luum standing right in front of him, having parried Vader's red lightsaber with a blue one of her own. She was beginning to sweat, a detached part of Obi-Wan's mind observed, which was understandable, since her posture wasn't exactly built for strength, especially not compared to Vader’s. Add to that the mechanical strength from his suit, and Obi-Wan was amazed that she was still standing, considering she was being pressed down.
”Move,” Luum growled to Obi-Wan through gritted teeth. Too stunned to do anything other than to (how did she even acquire a lightsaber?), Obi-Wan moved obligingly into the hangar.
A shot was heard, and Obi-Wan turned around to see Starkiller aiming a blaster at the door panels to the doors separating Vader and Luum from the rest of the group. As he turned back, the doors began to close. Just as they were about to shut themselves, Luum did a backflip and slipped through the crack. The doors then shut themselves with a resounding thud, effectively separating the enraged Sith Lord from the wayward escapees.
“Let’s go!” Solo’s voice sounded from the ship, forcing everyone back into action.
“Are you suicidal?” Luum rounded on Obi-Wan as soon the Falcon jumped to hyperspace. “You could have been killed there, Kenobi!”
For once, Obi-Wan didn't have a ready answer; he could only look over at Luke.
Luum’s face lit up with realization. “Ah, I see,” she said gleefully. “You wanted to sacrifice yourself so that Luke would want to kill Vader. Alas, it didn't work. Obi-Wan,” she sighed, “you Jedi don't have to be such great martyrs all the time.”
Obi-Wan suddenly realized that, amidst the chaos surrounding their escape, he had seemed to, er, misplace his lightsaber. He looked up when he heard a cough, and saw Starkiller wave the very item he had been searching for. Obi-Wan reached for his lightsaber, but Starkiller moved it just outside of his reach. “Now, Kenobi. That isn't the way it works, is it?” Starkiller grinned. “I have to lecture you first,” he then adapted a serious stance, holding Obi-Wan's lightsaber just out of his reach as he began, “A Jedi's lightsaber is his life, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Your life may very well depend on your weapon. If you lose it, there might not be a 'later'.”
Obi-Wan's eyes narrowed. “That sounds vaguely familiar,” he murmured to himself. His eyes widened. “That's my speech!”
“Which you obviously need to hear, since you managed to lose your lightsaber,” Starkiller retorted.
Obi-Wan's eyes narrowed with suspicion. “How did you know it? Not many people know it, all of whom are dead. For that matter, why do you have a lightsaber and how do you know how to use it?”
Starkiller shrugged. “Even though I may not be Force-sensitive, I was found and taught the art of lightsaber dueling by an exiled Jedi Master, as was Mel'ani. He used that exact same speech on us. My guess is that he must've overheard you talking to your Padawan,” he grinned lopsidedly.
“What is his name?” Obi-Wan asked in curiosity. It was unheard of for a Jedi to take on a non-Force-sensitive as their Padawan - unprecedented, actually, if Obi-Wan remembered his history right. Obi-Wan hasn't heard of a single instance in which that had taken place during the time of the Old Republic. But, then again, times have changed, and the Jedi needed to adapt. Times are desperate, so who was he to blame this Master?
“His name was Master Seth Thul,” Luum answered, her voice filled with sorrow.
Obi-Wan winced. He really should have become used to hearing about deaths, considering the events of the past twenty-five years, but it never really got easier. He didn't recognize the name, but, then again, he hardly knew every Master in the Temple even before the chaos that was the Clone Wars. “I am sorry for your loss.”
Starkiller waved it away. “He died of old age. As far as he was concerned, that was the way he wanted to die,” he suddenly grinned. “Now, where were we? Oh, yes! Remember, the lightsaber is your life, Obi-Wan Kenobi, so if you were to lose it–”
Obi-Wan groaned. “I pity your master.”
For some reason, Luum was hard-pressed to stiftle a snicker. She waved away Obi-Wan’s bemusement with a smile.
Luke, on the other hand, was just confused. “What's a Padawan?” causing Luum to burst out laughing. Starkiller made a strategic retreat, leaving Obi-Wan to explain the complex intricacies of the extinct Jedi Order.
Aaron and Mel’ani got right down to business as soon as they had a moment alone.
“Did you manage to slice the terminal?” Mel'ani asked.
Aaron snorted arrogantly. “Who do you take me for? Of course I did. I've got the plans and everything,” he reached into his belt and retrieved a disc. He then gave it to his companion who examined it thoroughly.
“Everything?” she asked to make sure.
“Yes, mother,” Aaron said exasperatedly. “Honestly, Snips, it's almost like you don't trust me.”
“I wonder why,” Ahsoka Tano snorted. She then frowned. “Onto another matter, Aaron,” she said to Aaron, “We need to do something about Luke's training. You saw how Obi-Wan trained him on the trip from Tatooine.”
Aaron snorted. “'Training' is too big a word. He just gave him the lightsaber and told him to 'Use the Force, Luke'. 'Let go your conscious self and act on instinct', he said. No katas or forms, no explanation, nothing. I’m quite frankly insulted,” he added haughtily.
“I think I know why,” Mel’ani mused. Aaron looked at her askance. She sighed. “I think Obi-Wan only wanted to get Luke started, enough to catch his interest but not enough to take on Vader that day. Furthermore, I think that Obi-Wan wanted to sacrifice himself and then train him as a Force-ghost – or let somebody else take over Luke's training,” she added.
Starkiller was silent for a moment. “But all the other Jedi are dead?”
“Even Master Thul?” Mel'ani teased.
Aaron snorted. “We both know he doesn't exist, Snips,” he replied.
“But what if Obi-Wan believed that he did?” Mel'ani countered. “What if he didn't believe Master Thul 'died' but faked his death in order to hide himself from the Emperor? What if he planned to have our imaginary Master train Luke after Obi-Wan made a martyr of himself, thus providing Luke with more than enough motivation to hunt down Vader?”
“Because he couldn’t have known about ‘Master Thul’ until after the Death Star,” Aaron pointed out. “We didn’t tell him until after his attempted suicide.”
“We looked enough like a pair of Jedi, back at the spaceport,” Mel’ani reasoned. “I told you we should've gone with a different disguise. Perhaps Obi-Wan planned to leave Luke’s training to us.”
“Then it's a very good thing that you rescued him from Vader. I still can't believe he actually planned to do something like that,” Aaron said with more than a bit of anger in his voice. “Although Luke would probably learn more actual Jedi stuff,” Mel’ani snorted, “through us than through Kenobi.”
“Actually, it sounds exactly like something he would do,” Mel'ani sighed. “Obi-Wan had always been one to do things 'for the greater good’.”
Aaron groaned. “I wish that, for once, he’d do something just for himself.”
Mel’ani snorted. “Yea, like that’s going to happen,” she sounded dubious.
(As soon as they were alone, Starkiller locked the door behind him and ensured that they would not be overheard. That done, he turned to Artoo, who was standing stiffly – if that was even possible for a droid – in the middle of the room. It was an unusual look on Artoo, with how he was always wheeling around on adventures. It unsettled Starkiller.
Starkiller looked at Artoo and said, “I need to tell you something. I’m terribly, indescribably sorry for what I did. I know that no words can take any of it back, but I’m truly sorry for everything.”
“Of course it still hurts! It pains me every day to see the consequences of my reckless actions; to have hurt so many people fills me with an anguish nearly unsurvivable. Don’t think this doesn’t affect me, because it does. I regret every single one of my actions that day.”
“If I could take it back, I would do it a thousand times over,” Starkiller promised quietly.
“I realize that, Artoo. You were my loyal companion and I might have as well betrayed you.”
“I know you missed me. I missed you too, and it broke my heart to go away.”
Bee-eep beep, beep beep.
“I don’t ask for your forgiveness because I don’t deserve it, but I ask that you at least tolerate me, and please don’t reveal my identity to anyone,” A beat. “Especially not to Threepio. I love that droid to bits and pieces, but he’s a blabbermouth.”
Starkiller sighed. “I know that it’s going to take time. I know I can’t fully make it up to you, because what could I possibly do to make up for what I did? But I hope I can earn back your trust, or what’s left of it, because I’m going to need it. I’m trying to make amends. I want a chance to improve the galaxy, and I know that I would never get it if Obi-Wan knew who I was. That’s why I’m asking you not to reveal my or Ahsoka’s identities to anybody. You remember Ahsoka Tano, right?”
“Yes, she was great. She was my anchor, and sometimes it feels like only her presence keeps me from falling apart.”
Beep, bee-eep beep.
“Artoo, Padmé was my life– she was my soul. Do you know that I wake up every morning seeing her face as she lay dying? My actions led to her death. I might as well have killed her myself. I never found out how she died. Did I kill her? I need to know, Artoo.”
Artoo beeped a negative.
“Then how did she die?”
Another beep, this one very short.
“Childbirth? That means that after everything I did to prevent her death, I actually made it happen. I created a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s all my fault – again.”
Starkiller slumped against the wall, then slowly slid down to the floor and closed his eyes, leaning his head against the wall. For a moment, neither the human nor the droid moved, then Artoo slowly rolled up to Starkiller and cautiously poked him with one of his hidden tools. The gesture was meant to be comforting, and Starkiller smiled despite his discomfort.
“Thank you, Artoo.”)
“I see that we’ve merited a welcoming committee,” Aaron noted, stepping out from behind Leia. They had landed at Yavin 4, one of the moons orbiting Yavin, a red gas giant. With Leia aboard, they did expect someone to greet them – primarily Leia – and were thus unprepared for the welcoming party that did await them. Almost the entire Alliance High Command, with the perspicuous exception of General Crix Madine, waited for them at the base of the ramp, Chancellor Mon Mothma leading the process.
“Of course, General Starkiller, General Luum,” Mon Mothma said with a smile, shaking Aaron's outstretched hand. “Leia had informed me of your presence, and I would be remiss in my duties as a leader, had I not greeted you personally, considering everything you’ve done for our cause. General Starkiller has been an invaluable asset to us,” she informed the four bewildered members of their group. “Though it is nice to finally put a face to the name.”
Aaron flashed her a charming smile. “The pleasure is all mine, Princess Leia.”
Luke stepped forward. “You've been with the Rebellion all this time?”
“No. I technically just joined,” Aaron grinned, clearly enjoying Luke's confusion.
“Then how come you're a general?” Luke frowned.
“He more than deserves the title, Luke,” Leia interjected.
It seemed like everybody but Luke knew what things Aaron had done prior to his joining the Rebellion. Even Ben seemed to suspect, even though he had spent the last two decades years hiding on a dust ball of a planet.
Luke hated to be the one left out. “What did he do to deserve the title?” he demanded.
Obi-Wan frowned. “It doesn't do to be rude,” he reprimanded Luke. Turning to Leia, he added, “Though I am curious as to what General Starkiller did to earn your trust, which is even more hard-won than your father's.”
Leia narrowed her eyes. “Generals Starkiller and Luum risked their lives for close to twenty years by infiltrating secure Imperial bases and providing us with invaluable intel without which the Rebellion would have been crushed a long time ago,” she riposted. “In addition, they went above and beyond his duty to provide us with suppliers willing to trade with the Rebellion.
“So yes, I do trust Generals Starkiller and Luum. I hope you do not mind, General Kenobi,” she concluded with crossed arms, standing perfectly still. The only sign that she was annoyed at the questioning was her twitching eye.
“Of course I don't, Princess Leia,” Obi-Wan rushed to assure her, not wanting to risk her ire, which was almost as legendary as Anakin's – and considering that Anakin's ire destroyed thousands of years of tradition and knowledge, Obi-Wan was in no hurry to test out Leia's flaring temper.
“The only question that remains,” said Mothma into the uncomfortable silence that ensued, “is whether you want to go by your names or be referred to by your codenames.”
“Codenames?” Luke blinked. “What codenames?”
Starkiller grinned lopsidedly. “Sometimes, when deep undercover, we have gone by the codenames of Balance and Fulcrum,” he said. “Ironic, isn't it? The thing keeping the universe's forces in control and the thing threatening to tip the scales.”
Kenobi grimaced. “I am not sure I appreciate your sense of humour.”
Starkiller shrugged. “I don’t exactly need your approval, general.”
Only Han noticed how Luum shot Starkiller a nonplussed glance at the words, as if shocked at what she was hearing. He stored it away for future consideration – if there even was a future, considering they had a Death Star on their tails.
The comlink fizzled. “Red Seven, do you have a clear shot?”
Starkiller grimaced, though, having opted for audio-only transmission, the Command Center could hardly see his facial expressions. “No,” he admitted, his voice disgruntled. He was the finest pilot in the galaxy; he had to figure out a way to take down this monstrosity Palpatine called a battle station and unleashed upon unsuspecting denizens. After all, if he didn’t, who would? “I’m going to try to find an opening.”
“Negative,” replied his daughter. “Red Five is going to make a run. Cover him.”
Starkiller really did not have the time to feel surprise. “Roger that,” he replied, then focused on finding young Skywalker. He covered him as best he could. Abruptly, he felt a presence approach in a black Advanced TIE fighter.
Anger simmered in his mind. He didn’t let it control him – rather, he grasped it, harnessed it, and used it to fuel himself. This monster would not be allowed to end Luke’s life like he has millions others; Starkiller would not permit it. The question was: how?
Starkiller did not have much time, or rather, Luke didn’t. In the end, Starkiller did the only thing he was good at: he rushed right into danger, heedless of the consequences. He executed a sudden roundabout turn, and fired two well-placed shots at Vader’s ship. Vader swerved to avoid the first, but as a result, the second shot grazed his right wing. Starkiller could hear voices in the comlink, frantically asking for an update, but he put them out of his mind, treated them like background noise. He did not give Vader an opportunity to regroup or transfer power to shield that piece of his ship, and exploited the vulnerability for all it was worth. The next shot caused Vader’s weapons to malfunction, and the last shot put his steering systems out of functioning order.
Starkiller absentmindedly wondered who even designed those ships – they were useless after just a few hits; they couldn’t hold their own against any half-decent ship. Maybe that was why there were so many of them – low quality enabled cheap cost, which lead to mass production. After all, the Empire did not care how many people died as long as they won.
Vader began to spiral out of control. Starkiller considered briefly going after Vader, but his comlink cracked again and his priorities changed. You don’t kick someone when they are down – except perhaps the Emperor, because with him, everything’s fair play.
Starkiller turned into the comm conversaiton again. “Where’s Luke?” he went directly to the core of the matter.
Leia’s voice, when she responded, was tense, but also had a tendril of hope. “He’s taking the shot,” she replied succinctly. Starkiller scanned the area, but could not see Luke anywhere. Presumably, he had already moved deeper into the trench.
Suddenly, the ship shook as waves of energy emitted from the ship. Either the Death Star had a serious radiation leakage problem, or–
Then the station exploded. Starkiller grinned. “Good job, Luke,” he congratulated.
“Thanks, Aaron!” Luke’s voice echoed on the comlink.
“We’ll be repeating this quite a few times, but I’d like to say that, on behalf of the High Command of the Rebellion, you have our deepest gratitude,” Mothma said solemnly.
“Understood,” Luke replied cheekily. “Red Five over and out.”
As soon as Luke had landed, everybody raced to embrace him and congratulate him on his achievement. Luke, for his part, seemed to still be in shock, athough he told the engineering personnel to repair Artoo. Finally, it was Starkiller’s turn.
Pride bubbled up in Starkiller’s chest as he embraced the desert farmer turned hero of the Rebellion, followed closely by shame. He didn’t get to feel pride in Luke’s accomplishments. He gave up that right when he chose the Emperor over his wife and brother.
Still, he couldn’t help but bask a little in the warm feeling his son’s accomplishment had left him.
The victory party was slowly dwindling down and people were slowly trickling out, heading towards their respective beds. Obi-Wan was the last person to leave the common space aboard Home One, although Starkiller knew for certain that Solo and Chewbacca had nicked an unopened bottle of Corellian brandy earlier, and were set on finishing it off at the Millennium Falcon, which was currently docked in one of the bays.
Starkiller sighed. He couldn’t sleep. It was one of those nights. He could practically feel that if he fell asleep, his night would be plagued by nightmares and painful memories, so he decided pre-emptively to skip on that experience. Instead, he opted for working on his sketches on more efficient prosthetics, and went to the kitchen for a mug of caf.
As he entered the kitchen, however, he was greeted to the sight of Leia sitting at the kitchen table, her face in her hands, her elbows on the table. She was shaking every-so-often. She did not react to his entrance, and he wondered whether she was even aware of his presence. Starkiller stared at her for a moment, then walked up to her and put his right hand on her shoulder. She startled, her head jerking up in shock. Starkiller could see that her eyes were blood-shot and that her cheeks glistened in that way that usually implied that tears were involved. Before he could take a closer look, Leia wiped away the wetness on her cheeks in a futile attempt to conceal her feelings.
Starkiller tried to catch her eyes. “Leia, talk to me. How are you doing?” He didn’t bother asking if she was okay; he could see that she was not.
“I’m fine,” Leia brushed him off and tried to stand up in an attempt to leave, but Starkiller’s hand on her shoulder kept her firmly in her chair.
He sat down next to her and sighed. “Leia, I know that everybody else is celebrating our victory, but I have not forgotten that you have just lost your family, your home, and your entire planet.”
“It doesn’t feel like a victory,” Leia murmured quietly.
“It never does,” Starkiller agreed, thinking back to the hollow celebrations. There were simply too many casualties to consider them a victory, no matter what the official report said.
She stared at him with desperate eyes, wanting to ask for comfort but her pride stopping her from begging for it. Well, thought Starkiller, that had to be remedied. He wrapped his arms around her and simply held her. She was stiff in his embrace for a few seconds, but eventually relaxed, slowly falling apart emotionally. Starkiller could feel the stress and the burdens of the last few weeks – no, years, because this was clearly something Leia pushed down and tried to run away from for a very long time – slowly cascading off of her in waves.
He held her there, simply comforting her with his presence until finally, the sobbing died down. Leia still shook from the aftermath of the crying and her eyes still red from the tears, but the worst seemed to be over – for now. Starkiller had no doubt this would become a recurring issue. He resolved to watch over Leia and to be there for her during her future breakdowns.
Eventually, she looked up at him but did not say anything for a long time. Then she said, “It’s all my fault. It’s my fault they’re all dead.”
“No, it is not. You tried to prevent it, and it did not work. There is nothing more you could have done.”
Leia shook her head. “I could have done something more. Maybe I could have somehow prevented it. I could have prevented it if I’d only–“ she started to ramble at a speed nearly impossible to understand.
He shushed her before she could wind herself up into a frenzy again. “Calm down, Leia. It is not your fault Alderaan has been destroyed. If you want to blame anyone, blame Tarkin. He was the one who ordered the strike, even when you gave in to his demands. Tarkin bears responsibility for this, not you. Remember that.”
“Darth Vader is just as accountable for this as Tarkin,” Leia growled, finally pulling out of Starkiller’s embrace to roam aimlessly around the kitchen. “Oh, what I would not give to see that bastard pay for what he has done, for all the pain and the suffering he and his blasted Empire had caused,” her fists clenched tighty, although Leia did not seem to be aware of the movement.
Starkiller flinched imperceptibly; Leia did not notice, too caught up with her tirade. “What gives him the right to destroy so many innocent lives?! How dare he parade around the galaxy like he owns it? Everybody knows he is just the Emperor’s loyal lapdog, all too eager to do his master’s bidding. That is simply pathetic.”
She would have continued her verbal onslaught, but Starkiller’s voice stopped her in her tracks. “Leia, take a deep breath and calm down. You can’t let your emotions cloud your better judgement. I know that you blame Vader, and while he has committed some truly unforgivable crimes, right now, you need to center yourself before you do something rash.”
“I just lost my entire people and my family,” Leia scoffed. “I think I’m allowed to be a little rash.”
“Look,” Starkiller sighed. “I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like, especially at such a young age. I know,” he raised his palm up in an attempt to forestall Leia’s biting response that she is not young and innocent nor has she been for a long time, “that you are far more mature than people your age – or, indeed, most people at any age. But it does not change the fact that you should not have had to go through this at your age, you should have had a childhood and a chance to enjoy your innocence before being forced to confront the unfairness of the outside world.”
Leia scoffed. “Well, the Empire has made certain that no child any age would have a happy childhood. They hunt down everybody who so much as steps a toe out of line. As long as the Empire exists, nobody can live in safety. That’s why I fight – so that no other child will have to live in fear that their parents will be executed for treason they have not even done, so that everybody will be free to express their own personal opinion without fear of persecution.”
“You will be far more successful if you calm down first and think things through before acting. Leia, you’re not the only person to hate someone because of a personal loss. I myself once lost a person very dear to me, and I acted very rashly and took revenge on the people that caused her death. I will spare you the details, but suffice to say, I did terrible things to them, and I regret my actions deeply. I do not want you to ever feel that way. So what I am trying to say is that, and I cannot believe I am saying this, you need to let your hate go. Don’t let it cloud your judgement. Remember your people; honour their memories; use your anger to drive you forward, but never let your emotions overwhelm you. That has never once worked out well for anyone involved,” at that, Starkiller winced, as if recalling a painful memory.
Leia took a deep breath. “I will try,” she said, “but I cannot promise I won’t be beyond furious if I ever meet that despicable man again.”
Starkiller inclined his head. “That is all I can ask for.
“Now, since it seems that our nights are equally ruined, would you like to learn a few things about prosthetics?”
Leia’s corresponding smile was enough of an answer.
“There is a fine art to crashing a ship properly.”
“I'm sure there is, Aaron,” Obi-Wan drawled condescendingly.
“You don't believe me. Well, I didn't expect you to. Think about it, though: you have to angle the ship just right in order to survive it relatively unharmed as well as to avoid causing an explosion, but it also has to look like an accident in case someone decides to check. You also have to keep the most important parts of the ship intact in case you need them later if don't know the state in which you will find yourself after the crash, which you usually don’t,” Aaron listed.
Most of the time, Luke Skywalker acted with the maturity of a person many times his age. He was a responsible and levelheaded individual, and had already made Commander in the Rebel Alliance, though he'd been there for just less than half a year.
Other days, Luke would act like the child he never really got to be. Today was one of those days. It was Wintersday.
“Leia! Leia, look!” Luke exclaimed happily, practically bouncing into Leia's room early in the morning on Wintersday. “It snowed last night! Can you imagine it? It actually snowed!” It was all he could do not to bounce on her bed like a five-year-old child.
“Let me sleep, Luke,” Leia groaned, pulling her pillow over her face in an attempt to shut her friend's voice out and return to sleep. “Running a Rebellion is exhausting. Return later.”
“C’mon, wake up!” With that, Luke began prodding her until she opened her eyes.
She groaned, “Okay, I'm awake, Luke. Please leave.”
Luke grinned. “See you in the living area in ten,” he sung, skipping out of the room.
Leia yawned in an attempt to wake up. She cursed Luke in six different languages in her head before remembering that he had probably never seen snow before, what with living on a desert planet. She softened at the thought. Leia herself had seen snow plenty of times; Alderaan was – before it was annihilated, she thought bitterly – a planet of varying climate, and she had experienced a plethora of weather growing up. Alderaan’s weather was almost as diverse as its culture.
Luke had probably also awoken the rest of their friends, if his enthusiasm was anything to go by. Five minutes later, when she finally found her morning robe and had gone down to the living area that she and Luke shared with Obi-Wan, Han, Aaron, and Mel'ani, she was proven right.
Obi-Wan was dressed in full Jedi attire, watching everybody else, amusement evident in his eyes. He seemed to have already been up and dressed when Luke barged into his room – it was probably a Jedi thing, Leia mused. Han was wearing only shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, muttering something about 'damned kids not letting him sleep, why wasn't Chewie here, this was kriffin' awful', earning him a sharp look from both Aaron and Obi-Wan.
Aaron and Mel'ani, for their part, were in their sleeping clothes, both desperately trying to stay awake whilst Luke was handing out gifts to everybody, a grin adorning his face. This led Leia to question how Luke’s family had celebrated Wintersday on Tatooine – or, indeed, if they even did. Did anyone celebrate a holiday synonymous with snow on a planet where most of its denizens had, in all probability, never seen snow? She resolved to ask Luke later.
Han, Aaron, and Mel'ani were each nursing a mug of caf, while Obi-Wan was drinking tea – Leia didn't know how he could stand to drink it in the morning. While Leia didn’t deny that she sometimes fancied herself a cup of good tea in the evening, in the mornings, she needed a strong caf before she could talk to anybody. She seemed to share that trait with Aaron, who was blinking at Luke, seeing without really taking anything in.
“Guys!” Luke exclaimed enthusiastically, “it's snowing!” he waved his hands in the general direction of the door to emphasize his point.
“Yes,” Mel'ani deadpanned, “that's what happens on a planet of Yavin's climate. It snows during winter.”
Aaron blinked emptily.
“Let's go already!” Luke was practically jumping with excitement. He accidentally tripped on a caf table and toppled some datapads covered with doodles. One of them showed Darth Vader in a tutu, while another featured the Emperor catching butterflies with a net, a determined expression on his face. Luke stared at the datapads, too shocked to comment on their content, which gave Leia enough time to hurriedly collect the datapads and hide them before someone else saw her caricatures. She should probably erase those. Oh well, she shrugged dismissively; it wasn’t as if she wasn’t already Empire’s Most Wanted anyway. A few sketches would hardly inflame her further.
She groaned. She needed at least three mugs of caf before she could even begin to function like a human being. Unfortunately, it didn’t look like she would be able to drink them – Luke was already pulling at Mel’ani’s arm, all but dragging her outside.
“You’re a lot like a father to me, you know,” Luke admitted.
He had managed to convince everyone to help him build a snowman, before Leia, sufficiently awake by then, started a snowball fight which lasted for the better part of the hour. After that, the five of them had retreated back inside, where Obi-Wan and Leia had made hot cocoa for everyone (Han hadn't initially wanted to drink it, but Leia pressed a mug into his hand with an insistence she normally reserved for idiotic politicians).
Aaron quirked an eyebrow in question. “What about Obi-Wan? Isn’t he like a father to you?”
Luke hesitated. “Well… he would be more like the indulgent grandfather, or the slightly eccentric uncle.”
Mel'ani pouted. “What about me, then?”
Luke laughed. “You'd be the weird cousin.”
“Wow,” Mel’ani drawled sarcastically, “what an honour.”
Luke shrugged. “Welcome into our dysfunctional family.”
“I wish you didn’t have to go,” Luke said plaintively.
“It’s only for a week,” Aaron reassured Luke, “and I promise to comm you if anything serious should happen. You do the same, agreed?”
Luke’s shoulders sagged. “But–“
“No buts,” Aaron interrupted him. He smiled. “Remember, Mel will be with me. We’ll be okay.”
“Why does she get to go but I don’t?” Luke whined.
“Because it’s a tradition we’ve done since we met,” Aaron explained. “There’s an important event in our history that we need to remember, me especially, and Mel’s accompanying me as always. Besides, it’s only for a week,” he shrugged. “What could possibly happen?”
Luke hated phrases like ‘what could possibly happen?’ or ‘it couldn’t get any worse’ because it seemed like the Force had made it its mission to create the worst scenario imaginable, no matter how improbable, and then set him on a collision course with it.
It began back on Hoth, not a day after Starkiller and Luum’s departure, when he had found the probe and had been attacked by a Tauntaun, followed Vader’s invasion of Echo Base, forcing the Rebels to retreat to their rendezvous point; Ben had caught him for a brief moment in the chaos of the evacuation, whispering in his ear to go to the Dagobah system, before disappearing back among the crowd, leaving Luke with more questions than he could phrase.
This was followed by Vader’s capture of Han, Leia, Ben, and the droids at Bespin, which caused Luke to launch a rescue attempt, which then led to the terrifying revelation that his bond with Vader was… more familial than he’d wish.
As a cherry on top, Vader then cut off Luke’s hand. His dominant hand, to boot. As far as father-son meetings went, the only way it could have gone worse would be if Vader had actually succeeded in capturing Luke.
In short, it had been Luke’s Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad, Not Good Week, and now people wanted to talk to him about it. No. Just– no.
Leia noticed Luke’s sudden change in mood as soon as they had rescued Luke from falling to certain death. He was downtrodden, subdued, in a way that she had never seen before – not even when he had broken his arm on Endor, and was told that he wasn’t allowed to pilot any ship of any kind for a month. Back then, it was a temporary sadness, quickly overshadowed by his natural, buoyant personality, but after Bespin– it seemed that whatever had happened during his encounter with Vader, whatever Vader had told him, had changed him forever.
Leia’s heart broke, just a little, for the loss of Luke’s cheerfulness. Ever since he had joined the Rebellion, he had quickly become the heart of it, the personification of the hope that filled all their hearts. Vader had extinguished that hope, and Leia could never forgive him for that.
She found Obi-Wan in the main area. He was meditating – or trying to; ever since Vader’s attack on their Hoth base, he seemed restless, as though he couldn’t fully immerse himself in the Force – whatever that meant. It was an odd look on a Jedi, Leia decided.
She approached him cautiously. “Obi-Wan?” she began.
Obi-Wan sighed, opening his eyes. Leia didn’t know how to explain it, but she knew instinctively that Obi-Wan’s irritation wasn’t aimed at her but at himself, for not being able to find that inner peace he was talking about so often. “Yes, Leia?”
“Could you talk to Luke?” Leia asked. “He’s been– different, ever since Bespin, and he won’t talk to me about it. Could you try?”
“If he won’t talk to you, I highly doubt that he will want to talk to me,” Obi-Wan pointed out, “but I’ll see what I can do.” Do or do not, there is no try.
Leia let out a relieved sigh. “Thank you,” she whispered. “It’s just that I’m worried about him, but I don’t know what’s wrong!” she exclaimed, venting her frustration to Obi-Wan. It reminded him of a Padawan, so very long ago, who used to do the same. If there was any doubt that Leia was Anakin and Padmé’s daughter, moments like these proved otherwise.
Obi-Wan frowned, then tilted his head in consideration as an idea occurred to him. “Aaron and Mel’ani are scheduled to return tomorrow. Perhaps Luke will be more responsive to them?” he suggested. He still wasn’t entirely comfortable around Starkiller, sensing that the man was hiding something, but he had proven an invaluable ally, and, above all, trustworthy. If he could help Luke in a way that, if what Obi-Wan suspected happened on Bespin did happen, neither Leia nor Obi-Wan could, then all the better for it. Luke certainly didn’t seem to want to talk to Obi-Wan right now, and Obi-Wan couldn’t fault him. Although he had done the right thing at the time, he also understood that Luke might not see it that way.
Leia’s lips quirked up into a smile. “You’re right. Aaron’s a father to Luke in all but blood at this point,” she replied. “Luke’ll talk to him, I’m sure.”
Obi-Wan winced; he hadn’t considered that. In every scenario but this one, it would have been a good thing that Luke had a father figure, but in this particular instance, it was actually a drawback. Still, Obi-Wan couldn’t explain this to Leia without going into an hour lecture on the family history of the Skywalkers, which Luke would have definitely not wanted.
It seemed that their best hope was to wait and see, and trust that Luke wouldn’t do anything stupid in the meantime.
Aaron smiled as he exited the ship, Mel’ani on his tail. This trip wasn’t quite as emotional as the previous ones he had made. While he still missed his wife something terrible, he was no longer stifled by grief and, above all, guilt. He no longer awoke in the middle of the night, turning to his side instinctively to touch Padmé only to remember that oh right, she was dead. He was making progress. It was a slow process, but he was making progress.
The entourage waiting for them was… not the one they had expected; Luke and Han were missing. Aaron frowned as he approached Leia. “Where are the others?” he asked her.
Leia huffed. “It’s good to see you, Leia. How have you been? Well, I’ve been good, thanks,” she mocked him, pitching her voice low as she imitated Aaron’s voice.
Aaron snorted. “Hello, Leia,” he embraced her in a hug. “But seriously, where are Luke and Han?” he murmured into her ear, and felt her tense up.
“It’s a long story,” Leia said, stepping out of the hug.
“We’ve been gone for a week,” Aaron protested, “and you’ve managed to be found by the Empire and change your base. What else could have happened?” he asked rhetorically, stepping aside as Mel’ani hugged Leia tighly, whispering something in her ear, making Leia grin.
Obi-Wan’s smile was more melancholy than usual. “Before I got to know the Skywalkers, I used to have the same attitude as you, but trust me,” he said emphatically, “a lot can change over the course of a week,” Chewbacca roared in agreement, making Mel’ani smile.
Leia gestured for Aaron and Mel’ani to follow her, then recapped the events of the past five days as clinically as she could. She wished that she had more information for them, but, she explained, Luke hadn’t spoken to anyone for longer than a few seconds for the past two days.
When she was done, Mel’ani let out a heavy sigh. “We leave for a week, and everything falls apart,” she muttered.
“Which just goes to prove that you shouldn’t leave,” Leia said in all seriousness, but the corners of her lips kept twitching.
“How did you manage before we came along?” Aaron rolled his eyes.
“We didn’t have Luke Skywalker, our resident trouble magnet,” Leia explained, which, Aaron thought, was fair enough. It seemed that Luke had inherited the Skywalker perchant for trouble.
“Luke?” sounded a voice from behind the door. “It’s Aaron. May I come in?”
Luke started at the voice. Leia and Ben had, for the past two days, tried to get him to open up, even going as far as using the help of the droids, but for the past several hours, nobody had tried approaching the door. Luke had almost begun to hope that they had given up, even as he also desperately hoped that they haven’t, because he didn’t know what he would do without his friends’ support, silent though it was.
He had taken to trying to meditate, using the techniques Ben and Master Yoda had taught him, but all of his attempts had been futile so far. Every time he tried to reach out to the Force, the image of his father, along with images of what Luke could become had he chosen to accept his father’s offer on Bespin, clouded his mind, throwing it into chaos.
He was grateful for the respite, especially since Aaron was the only person that he could maybe – possibly – talk to about this. He stood up and, in three quick steps, found the keypad locking the door, and keyed in the code that would unlock it. The door swished open, revealing Aaron Starkiller, still wearing his travel cloak. “Hello,” Luke said quietly.
“Hello, Luke,” Aaron replied in the same tone of voice. He peered inside. “May I come in?”
Luke stepped aside wordlessly, which was a clear enough message for Aaron. The older man entered the room, twirling around to take in the entire room. Seeing as this was a relatively new base, this room was new as well. Luke waited for Aaron to settled down before sitting down a distance away. “I assume Leia’s sent you,” he didn’t phrase it as a question.
Aaron tilted his head, neither confirming nor denying Luke’s accusation. “She said that something happened between you and Vader, but didn’t know the specifics. She then mentioned that you had shut them out,” Luke snorted at the gross understatement. Aaron ploughed on. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“No,” Luke admitted, and could practically feel Aaron sag down with chagrin and anguish, “but I probably need to. I can’t let it weigh me down forever. That’s what Vader would want, isn’t it?” he rambled, not caring that it didn’t make sense to Aaron.
“Why won’t you talk to Leia? Or Obi-Wan? Why me?”
Luke huffed. “I can’t talk to Obi-Wan because this whole mess is, in a way, his fault. He lied to me about something very important, and I can’t just get over it, not yet. And Leia… she’d be so disappointed in me if she found out. She’d try to hide it, of course, but it wouldn’t change the fact that she’d resent me for this, and I can’t lose her, not now that I’ve lost Han and my–“ he choked. “This kind of thing, I would usually talk to Han about,” he went on, “but, as you know, Boba Fett has Han. At this point, he has probably sold him to Jabba.”
“I think you sell Leia a little short here,” Aaron told him. “She’d never resent you for something out of your control, which this has to be, since I doubt that you deliberately colluded with Vader.”
“You don’t understand–“ Luke began.
“So make me understand.”
And Luke did. He told Aaron about the attack on Echo Base, about how Ben had ordered him to go to the Dagobah system to meet Master Yoda – Aaron frowned at that point, but remained silent – and about how Yoda had eventually taken him under his wing. In a shaky voice, Luke recalled the vision of his friends being tortured by Vader, and about how he had launched a rescue attempt, only to realize that it was all a trap set by Vader to capture him. He skimmed over their duel, before gathering courage and admitting the fact that had been plaguing him since Bespin.
“Vader is my father.”
It was the first time he had said it out loud, and it felt oddly freeing to have finally put it out there in the open.
Aaron sighed. “I see,” he said cryptically, before zeroing in on Luke’s prosthetic. “Did he say it exactly like that?”
Luke frowned. “Verbatim? I think he said, ‘your father fell to the dark side, and took on the name Darth Vader’. I thought it was weird that he talked about himself in third person, but,” he smiled self-deprecatingly, “it wasn’t my biggest problem at the time.”
Aaron nodded, something clicking in his mind. “Is that how you lost your hand?” he asked, changing subjects.
Luke blinked. “How did you know–?” he lifted his mechanic hand up to his eyes for inspection. “Even I wouldn’t be able to tell that it wasn’t organic.”
Aaron’s smile was wistful. “I have quite a lot of experience in telling apart real limbs from artificial ones.”
“Right,” Luke could have kicked himself for forgetting this. “You’ve lost your hand as well, haven’t you?”
“When I was about your age,” Aaron confirmed. “I’ve seen a lot of modifications, but they all have this something, if you know what you’re looking for. I could teach you about it later,” he offered, “along with how to make certain adjustments to your hand to enhance its response time.”
Luke perked up. “I’d love it,” he said, a half-smile on his face, before he looked down again. “You’re talking it an awful lot better than I thought,” he remarked.
Aaron tried to catch Luke’s eye. “That’s because you’re making it into a bigger deal than it has to be,” he informed the younger man. “Yes, Darth Vader is your biological father, but that doesn’t matter. You don’t owe him anything, not your allegiance, not your services, nothing. He was simply the donor of half of your DNA–“
“I really didn’t need that image in my mind,” Luke groaned.
Aaron snickered. “You’re welcome. But remember,” he sobered up, “family is what you make it; your friends are your true family. Blood is thicker than water, as the saying goes.”
“Isn’t that kind of the opposite?” Luke blinked.
Aaron rolled his eyes. “The actual saying goes ‘blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb’, which means that the bonds of friendship one form with one’s fellow warriors – or friends – is thicker than the bonds we establish at birth.
“Let me put it another way: do you remember your father?” Luke shook his head. “Your mother?” Another shake. “Well, then,” Aaron said in a final tone, “why does it matter who they are? You have us, and that’s enough.”
Luke narrowed his eyes. “What happened to your biological family?” he asked perspicuously.
Aaron looked away. “I had never known my father, and my mother was murdered when I was younger than you are. I had a brother figure, but as a result of a series of stupid decisions on my part, I had lost him. That was when Mel’ani had found me,” he told in a soft voice. “We’ve stuck together ever since.”
“And you don’t– regret it? Not knowing your father, the death of your mother?”
“I don’t regret the first, no. I don’t need my father to know who I am. As to my mother– Yes, I wish that she had survived, but I can’t go back in time and change her fate, no matter how much I wish that I could,” Aaron sighed. “I make do with the fate the Force had chosen for me, and I’m grateful for the friends that I do have.”
Luke put his head in his hands and sighed, then dragged down his palms until they were cupping his nose instead. “I’ll think about it.”
Aaron smiled as he stood up. “A wise person once said to my brother that there’s no use in dwelling on could-have-beens or should-have-beens. You should remember your past, yes, but live in the present. Vader’s choices don’t define who you are; only you can do that.”
“How did it go?” Leia asked as soon as Aaron sat down at their table in the cantina.
Aaron sighed. He poked at his food in silence. “He’s going through a hard time,” he finally said, “but he’s going to be fine. He’s too strong not to be.”
Chewbacca patted Aaron on the shoulder, causing him to wince at the Wookie’s strength.
“Did he say what had happened?” Leia pressed.
“Yes, but I am under oath not to reveal anything. When he feels ready, he will share it with the rest of you,” Aaron responded pointedly.
Nobody had any response to that, although Leia still wore that determined expression on her face.
When Luke emerged from his self-imposed isolation, he was greeted with Leia’s usual grim stubbornness, Chewbacca’s and Ben’s obvious concern, Mel’ani’s cheerfulness, and Aaron’s silent support. He was thankful for his friends, and even more so towards Aaron for keeping his secret.
With High Command’s implicit permission, the six of them began planning Operation: Annihilation (named by Mel’ani, causing Luke to declare that she was no longer allowed to name things). Even Artoo contributed to the plan, pointing out fallacies the others had missed, although Threepio had been banned after he began fretting that the odds were stacked decidedly against them. Later, Luke had quietly wiped the protocol droid’s memory of their planning sessions, which brought a disapproving frown to Aaron’s face.
In the end, they arrived at a four-stage plan, the first stage of which required them to talk to Lando Calrissian. Since Leia was still incensed about the deal Lando had struck with Vader, effectively betraying his friend to the Empire, it had been decided that Obi-Wan and Chewbacca were to be sent to ‘persuade’ the man to join their frantic rescue attempt. As it turned out, Lando harboured enough guilt about the whole affair that he agreed to help them before Chewbacca could even begin to threaten him.
Lando was to pose as a guard at Jabba’s palace, and, if an opportunity presented itself, should extract Han from the palace. Should he not return within four months, Luke would send the droids with a message from himself, saying that he would be much obliged if Jabba would exchange Han in return for the two droids, but also warning the Hutt that Luke was a Jedi Knight (Mel’ani had scoffed at that, and had to be removed from the room by Aaron, who likewise looked like he found Luke’s statement disproportionately amusing), and that there would be dire consequences, should Jabba choose to disregard Luke’s message. It was a half-ditched attempt; they all knew that, because if Jabba had gone to all those lengths to acquire Han, he wouldn’t release him as easily as that. Still, they had to try all the possible options, even the ridiculous ones.
The third step involved Leia, dressed as a bounty hunter, along with Chewbacca. She would get into the palace under the pretext of selling Chewbacca to Jabba to ‘complete the set’. She would then wait until the residents have fallen asleep, or were too intoxicated to react to any foreign presence, before sneaking into Jabba’s ‘throne room’ and removing Han from carbonite. Lando would then help all four of them escape.
If, for some reason, that plan didn’t work out either, Luke and Aaron would go personally. Initially, Leia had suggested that Obi-Wan should go with Luke, but the idea was shot down, first by Luke, who felt that it would be a monumentally bad idea to send the only two surviving Jedi for a perilous mission, and then by Obi-Wan himself, who added that Aaron was more agile than he was, and, therefore, a better choice for this. At this, Aaron had muttered “old man” under his breath, but the sound carried around the room. Luke and Leia stifled a smile while Obi-Wan rolled his eyes.
Obi-Wan and Mel’ani, it was eventually decided, would stand close by as support for when the mission was complete.
As Force would have it, every single step of the plan had gone south faster than expected, or, indeed, even feasible. While Lando had managed to land himself a security job inside the palace, he hadn’t gotten a chance to even approach Han-in-carbonite; Jabba had laughed off the droids (which Aaron knew because he had surreptitiously installed a camera in Artoo’s casing while everyone else had been busy preparing themselves); and Leia had been caught by Jabba while unfreezing Han. When Luke and Aaron went in, they knew, with a sense of grim determination, that everything rested on their shoulders. They had even gotten into the palace, thanks to Luke’s mind-trick, which made Aaron prouder than he had any right to be; Aaron himself couldn’t use the Force himself because Luke would have picked up on it, and Obi-Wan was too close by to risk detection even if Luke wouldn’t be able to tell who Aaron was.
Luke then proceeded to use the Force to an extent which, had Anakin Skywalker done it twenty-odd years ago, would have brought about a lecture, courtesy of one Obi-Wan Kenobi, or, Force forbid, Master Windu. (Aaron tried, and failed, not to think about the image of Windu being thrown out of Palpatine’s window, falling to his death.) The two of them got as far as being presented before Jabba before the Hutt in question pressed a button, which caused the floor beneath them to disappear. Aaron cursed as he fell into the pit, both because, had he been able to use the Force, he would have detected the trap long before he even stepped on it, and because he couldn’t even perform a Force-induced jump out of the pit. Wait, pit? What the hell, Jabba.
“Luke, watch out!” he called out as Luke landed closer to where a rancor was trapped behind bars – though, if Jabba had in mind what Aaron suspected he did, the bars wouldn’t remain there for long. “Rancor!”
“Ran– what?” Luke looked up at him.
Aaron stifled a groan. “Vicious, flesh-eating creature,” he summarized. “Think a bigger version of gundarks.”
“Gundarks?” Luke echoed, and that’s it, Aaron was going to drag Luke on more missions from now on, because Luke not knowing about any dangerous creature in the galaxy wasn’t only unsafe for Luke, it was scandalous for a Skywalker.
This, of course, provided that they would be able to escape from this particular rancor. “Go for the legs,” Aaron advised Luke as he took out his lightsaber and turned it on, Luke following suit. The green light from Luke’s lightsaber lit up the pit much better than Aaron’s purple ‘saber.
Luke nodded in understanding. Between the two of them, they took the rancor down surprisingly quickly. Though he tried to hide it, Aaron felt a sense of vindication as he sliced a leg off from the rancor, causing it to emit a pained sound. It was moments like these that reminded him that, try as he might, he was still a user of the dark side of the Force as much as of the light. Yoda’s words echoed in his mind. “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will,” the ancient master had said. While it didn’t dominate or consume Aaron’s life, it was a fixed feature in it, as immovable as Aaron’s very connection to the Force. He would never be able to rid himself of it, not if he wanted to still have a connection to the Force – and he had once been subjected to a ysalamir, and knew exactly how it felt to be deprived of that essential part of himself; a few hours in close proximity to the ysalamiri had resulted in a loss of sense of self so absolute that it took him several weeks to recover. He shuddered to imagine what a prolonged exposure would do to him.
Besides, maybe this was what the prophecy had meant when it said that he had to ‘balance’ the Force. The Jedi approach of eradicating users of the dark side obviously hadn’t been very effective. Aaron was willing to try to reconcile the two sides.
Which brought him back to his current predicament. This was one such situation that, had he been using the Force, he would have drawn his energy from the dark side, albeit in a controlled fashion. He knew that, should he ever fight either Vader or Sidious, he would be needing both sides of the Force, because the two Sith wouldn’t shy away from using whatever they had in their repertoire, and Aaron would need to be able to counter fire with fire.
Luke finally dealt the killing blow, looking unhappy at the fact, and the beast collapsed. This seemed to upset Jabba more than it probably should, and he ordered them to be thrown into a cell. The problem was that Luke and Aaron still had their lightsabers, which meant that no guard dared to approach them. One did fire a shot at them, but Luke parried it, sending the shot back to the guard, who didn’t have the time to dodge and fell down. He didn’t move; one of the other guards checked his pulse, then shook his head.
The guards stood just outside of the cell, the only thing separating them from Luke and Aaron being bars – and even those weren’t much of a barrier to someone wielding a lightsaber, let alone two. Aaron grinned as the guards seemed to all realize that at the same time, and began backing away to what they deemed a safe distance. It was cute, he supposed, that they actually thought that there was such a thing as a ‘safe distance’ from him. Naïve, but cute.
Aaron exchanged a look with Luke. They then looked back up at Jabba. Aaron grinned. “Well, o powerful and mighty Jabba,” he drawled, “it does seem that we are at a stand-still. See, I doubt that your guards want to be cut into pieces, and while Knight Skywalker–” it felt bizarre to offer Luke the title that used to be his own, especially since, if they were technical, Luke wasn’t a Jedi Knight. Hell, he hadn’t even been a Padawan. His own Padawan, when she had been sixteen, could have beaten Luke in a fight. The masters of old must be rolling in their graves, Aaron thought gleefully. Oh, well. “–has a strict moral code, I won’t have any compulsions about killing them. I’m not technically a Jedi–“ anymore, “–so I don’t have to adhere to their ‘kill only if necessary’,” he smiled viciously up at Jabba.
Jabba grumbled something. “The almighty Jabba claims that you would not dare such a thing,” Threepio translated.
Aaron raised an eyebrow. “Care to challenge me?” Beside him, Luke shuddered, as though he could sense the dark slowly enshrouding him. Damn, his shielding was slipping if Luke could sense him; not that Luke was weak by any measure – quite the opposite, in Aaron’s opinion – but the fact remained that he was a novice at this.
Aaron wrapped his Force presence tighter against him, then put up his strongest shield to conceal it from any outsiders, but he must have given off a more insidious air than he had thought, because Jabba actually began to consider Aaron’s words. He growled. “The mighty Jabba wants to know that you will not kill him anyway, if he lets you walk?” Threepio said, a tone of panic to his voice. Aaron was mildly proud of himself for constructing the droid to being able to convey emotions. Most times, it was annoying, but sometimes, he couldn’t help but find it amusing.
He smirked. “Well, you can’t be sure,” he conceded, “but if you continue to keep us in here, I will definitely go on a killing spree soon. Give us Han Solo, or die. Your choice, Jabba,” he didn’t particularly want to kill the guards, so he hoped that Jabba would make the right choice, but he would do it if Jabba continued to refuse.
While Jabba considered this, Aaron turned to at Luke. His son was staring at him with profound disapproval in his eyes, even bordering on disappointment. Aaron squashed down the guilt, because if they wanted to do it Luke’s way, they would be here for another week. Aaron’s way might actually get them out of here now.
Jabba growled a third time. When Threepio spoke, his voice was filled with relief. “The great Jabba has decided to be gracious and offer you your freedom.”
“And Solo’s,” Luke added.
“And Captain Solo’s,” Threepio conceded.
“And Leia’s, and Chewbacca’s, and yours, and Artoo’s,” Aaron smiled pleasantly.
Jabba looked like he might protest, so Aaron swung his ‘saber experimentally. It worked wonders on the Hutt, who grumbled in a low time. “Those as well,” Threepio confirmed.
Aaron shot a smug grin at Luke, as if to say ‘see?’. Luke shook his head.
“We shan’t bother you any longer, then,” Aaron bowed, and made his way to the guards, lightsaber still turned on. One of the guards fumbled with the key, dropping it once before he could fit it in the lock. He turned it and jumped aside just as Aaron arrived at the door.
“So,” Aaron looked up at Obi-Wan’s voice. The older man was leaning against the doorway of one of the cabins of the Millennium Falcon. “I heard that your plan worked out.”
Aaron groaned. “Luke told you, didn’t he,” it wasn’t a question.
Obi-Wan tilted his head in consideration. “Told me what?” he shot back. “That you resorted to violence and threats?”
“It worked, didn’t it?” Aaron defended himself.
“The fact remains that it’s not a Jedi-like behaviour,” Obi-Wan reprimanded him.
“In case you haven’t noticed,” Aaron scoffed, “I’m not exactly a Jedi.”
“No, but you were taught by one. To behave like you did back at Jabba’s palace brings shame to his teachings,” Obi-Wan retorted.
“Trust me,” Aaron huffed, “I know exactly how ashamed my master was of me. I don’t need the reminder.”
“Perhaps you do.”
“Speaking of things that need doing,” Aaron switched subjects, “have you talked to Luke yet?”
“I just finished talking to him,” Obi-Wan said slowly, feeling like either he or Aaron were missing something vital.
Aaron rolled his eyes. “I mean about Vader.”
“Why would I need to talk to him about Vader?” Obi-Wan turned defensive, bringing up his shields even though he knew that Aaron wasn’t Force-sensitive and couldn’t detect his emotions.
Aaron stared at Obi-Wan disbelievingly. “You know exactly why. Don’t forget that I was Luke’s confidante after Bespin,” he pointed out. “What do you think happened at Bespin?” he asked rhetorically.
“This doesn’t concern you,” Obi-Wan said, his voice harsher than intended.
Aaron narrowed his eyes. “It concerns me as long as Luke’s hurting – and let me tell you, he is. He’s hurt by the fact that you’ve been lying to him for the past four years. He’s angry that he had to find out the truth in this fashion. He’s worried about becoming like Vader,” ‘Like his father’ lingered silently between the two men.
“Just the fact that he thinks about that proves that he won’t become like Vader,” Obi-Wan refuted.
“Yes, I know that, but Luke doesn’t. He needs reassurance from his mentor.”
“I thought you had become his mentor,” Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow.
Aaron snorted. “Are you actually jealous of me? The great Obi-Wan Kenobi, jealous?”
“I most decidedly am not,” Obi-Wan denied, perhaps stronger than was appropriate.
“Ooh, Jedi,” Aaron grinned, “careful with all those emotions you’re exhibiting. Another moment and I might actually think that you’re human, and you wouldn’t want that, would you?”
“I don’t know how your master could stand you,” Obi-Wan stated.
“He asked himself that question more than once,” Aaron snickered, then sobered up. “Seriously, go talk to Luke. You both need it.”
(“You told me that Darth Vader betrayed and murdered my father,” Luke accused him.
Ben looked away, avoiding Luke’s eyes. “I was using… alternative facts.”)
Back on Home One, Mel’ani and Lando declared that they needed to celebrate the fact that Han had been rescued, albeit unconventially. Han was still throwing angry looks at Lando, but agreed that a celebration was a good idea. The word had spread, and by the evening, it seemed that half of the Rebel Fleet had decided to attend the party.
Aboard the Millennium Falcon, Aaron and Mel’ani were preparing to leave. Aaron was just about to leave when something in his peripheral vision caught his eye, a cloak swishing by, almost too quick to see. He stopped abruptly. A moment passed before Mel'ani noticed that her companion was not following her. She whirled around to face him. “Aaron, are you coming?” she asked impatiently.
“Go on, Mel, I'll catch up with you soon,” Aaron murmured without looking away.
Mel'ani looked at him in puzzlement, but did not question his decision or press him for answers. If something was wrong, she figured, Starkiller would tell her. Probably. She shrugged and left the room to join the party.
As soon as Mel'ani was out of earshot, Starkiller discretely crept closer to the door behind which Obi-Wan Kenobi was hiding. Aaron entered the room, drawing closer to the older man, at the same time also making sure that Obi-Wan noticed his presence.
There Kenobi was, curled up on his bed. His knees were drawn up to his chest, his arms were hugging his knees; his head was buried in his knees. It was an odd position for an old man – a Jedi Master no less – to be found in, but Aaron thought that, considering the circumstances, he deserved a little bit of leeway.
“Hey,” Aaron said quietly, putting a hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder. “Kenobi, are you okay?”
“Go away,” came a muffled answer from somewhere inside the curled-up ball. “I'm fine.”
Starkiller snorted in derision. “If you’re fine, then I’m the bloody Emperor. Come on, Obi-Wan, tell me what's going on,” he pleaded. He didn’t have to plead for anything very often, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
“Sure,” Aaron drawled. “Obi-Wan, look at me,” he ordered.
At first, Starkiller thought that Obi-Wan would ignore him and return to being his miserable self. Surprisingly enough, Obi-Wan actually looked up. His face was flushed, his eyes blood-shot, and his cheeks wet with newly shed tears. Aaron sighed. If this was Obi-Wan's definition of ‘fine’ these days, then he shuddered to even imagine what the older man considered ‘bad’. (It would probably involve a pit of gundarks. Obi-Wan was touchy about those.)
“Obi-Wan,” he settled down beside the Jedi Master, “Tell me what happened.”
“I told you, it's nothing,” Obi-Wan sniffed.
Aaron rolled his eyes. Still being too stubborn for his own good, Obi-Wan was, and yes, it did occur to Aaron that he wasn’t the best to call anyone out on stubbornness – it would be like the pot calling the kettle black. “Then why aren't you downstairs, celebrating the successful rescue of Captain Solo?” he retorted.
Obi-Wan didn't answer. Starkiller hadn’t expected him to, either. He sighed. “Obi-Wan, it's not good to keep things bottled up like that. As I’ve told you more times than I can recall, you're only human, and there's only so much you can take before you break. Please, Obi-Wan, tell me what's bothering you – if only for your own good,” it struck Aaron that his words were very similar to those of his wife, said over twenty years ago right before his turn to the dark side, begging him to tell her what was going on–
Nope, not going there. Now was not the time to break down, not while Obi-Wan needed his support.
His words finally seemed to get through to Obi-Wan. The older man turned to him, tears in his eyes, and answered, “It's An–Anakin.”
(“Don't you see? This is the way it must happen. The Jedi must die if the war is to end. The Jedi are turning us into something terrible.”)
Aaron frowned. Why would that bother him now, of all times? He scooted closer to the older man, then, when the older man didn’t react, embraced him, letting him lean on his shoulder while providing the calming presence he knew that Obi-Wan needed.
Obi-Wan sniffed. “I don't know, maybe it was the fact that I've finally told Luke the truth, or maybe because I was on Tatooine again, or maybe because Jabba kept Leia as a slave, however briefly,” now that he started to talk, he didn't seem able to stop, “but I remembered how Anakin used be, before he became Darth Vader. I know that you know – Luke must’ve told you some of it, and you’re smart enough to have figured out the rest.”
(“You're doing it yourself,” Obi-Wan snapped. “The Jedi aren’t responsible for this – you are.”)
“Anakin was my Padawan, my apprentice, my friend – but, most importantly, he was my brother. We were family – no,” Obi-Wan shook his head, “we were closer than that – or at least I thought we were. He probably didn't,” he smiled mirthlessly. “After all, he didn't confide in me that he was married, or that he was going to be a father I had my suspicions about him and Padmé – of course I did – but to find out that, even after thirteen years together, he still didn't trust me with something as fundamental to his very being as his marriage… To be honest, that still hurts – I trusted him with my life and soul, and he just–“ Obi-Wan cut off, seemingly lacking words. He swallowed and sniffed again, before continuing, “I loved him, you know. How could I not? He was my best friend! He was my brother in all but blood! That day, when Master Yoda ordered me to Mustafar to kill him, I already knew I couldn't do it. I knew it, and yet I let him bait me into a duel. Then, as if that alone wasn't enough, I cut off three of his limbs and left him there to die in the lava. I still can't forgive myself for that. That picture, his yellow-red eyes staring at me while he burned in agony, shouting that he hated me, that still haunts my dreams…”
(“I never claimed that I was a good person,” Vader smirked.)
“Where did I go wrong?” Obi-Wan let out a heavy breath, biting his lip. “Somewhere along the bitterness, I lost my best friend. Even now I don't understand how I could have helped him. How could I have prevented this from happening?”
(“This isn't you!”)
“I loved him as a son at first, and then as a brother as he grew into manhood. We were brothers–” he choked. “No, we were closer than that,” Obi-Wan did not seem to notice that he was repeating himself, and Starkiller certainly wasn't going to be the one to point it out. “We trusted each other implicitly and unconditionally. I don’t understand how he could have hid something like this from me. Yes, his marriage to Senator Amidala was a breach of the Jedi Code, but I'd have never betrayed his trust had he said anything! I'd have helped him and supported him if he needed me! I think that's what hurts the most, actually. Not the fact that he turned, although that did hurt. It's not the fact that he killed thousands of Jedi in cold blood and all but eradicated the Jedi Order single-handedly. Oh, it hurt, but what hurt me the most was the fact that he didn't trust me with his secrets, didn't trust me to choose him over the Jedi. He was my son, my brother, I loved him!” the tears were now streaming down Obi-Wan's cheeks; he didn't do anything to stop them.
(“On the contrary — this is exactly who I am,” Vader taunted. “Leave the Jedi Order, Obi-Wan, Vader pleaded. I don't want to kill you, but I will if I must.”)
“I keep going over the what-ifs. What if I had been there for him when Palpatine tried to lure him over to the dark side? What if I had been just a little more observant, if I had somehow known something was going to happen? What if I had refused to apprehend Grievous? What if I had been the father he had always wished for? Or the brother he deserved? What if–“
Obi-Wan didn’t stop, instead withdrawing deeper into himself. Aaron had to do something before it was too late.
“Obi-Wan, it's not your fault,” he said firmly, forcefully. “Anakin made his own choices, you have nothing to be blamed for. Nothing, you hear me?” he repeated, as if his words alone would make Obi-Wan understand.
(“I will do what I must,” Obi-Wan said with an air of finality, drawing his lightsaber even as every moment felt like a turbohammer to the heart.)
Obi-Wan sniffed again, but at least he had stopped crying. That had to count for something, Aaron supposed. “I wish I could bring him back. I wish I could have my little, reckless brother back...” he trailed off.
Aaron squeezed his shoulders. “Don't worry, Obi-Wan, you'll see Anakin again someday,” he reassured.
Obi-Wan sighed. “I know that, but–“
“It still seems too long to wait?” Aaron filled in.
Obi-Wan nodded wordlessly, leaning once again on Aaron’s shoulder. They sat like that for what seemed like hours but was probably just a few minutes, before Obi-Wan pulled away. He seemed happier now, Starkiller noted with satisfaction, or at least slightly less sad. His tears were also gone. Only his eyes, still red from all the crying, showed that he had been less than fine just a few moments ago.
“Sorry, Aaron, for pouring all of this over you. I shouldn't have–“ Obi-Wan began, but Aaron cut him off.
“It's alright, Obi-Wan. You're not perfect; no one is. I'm glad you told me. You needed to get this out, talk to somebody, otherwise it would bug you forever,” he replied.
Obi-Wan smiled. “You're a wise man, Aaron Starkiller. I think Anakin, if he hadn't turned, would be a lot like you,” he remarked off-handedly.
For a second, Aaron froze up. He then grinned back at Obi-Wan. “Happy to be of service,” he said. “Now, I distinctly remember being invited to a party. Are you coming?”
With those words he stood up, a grin still on his face, and offered a hand to Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan grinned as he took the younger man's hand. Maybe, just maybe, things weren't so bad.
“Tell me about my father,” Luke asked Obi-Wan as they were sitting in the sickbay, watching Aaron and Artoo play Dejarik against Chewbacca.
Obi-Wan sighed. “Your father, Luke,” he started reluctantly, “was the best pilot in the galaxy. He was an honourable person, loyal to people, not to principles. He could have been the most powerful Jedi to ever exist, had he not turned to the dark side.”
Obi-Wan suddenly grinned, seemingly to himself. “He was also a stubborn if extremely talented student, a reckless driver – something you seem to have inherited, by the way,” Obi-Wan reproached Luke, who looked down in shame. “He refused to admit that he wasn't right or that his point of view was not the only one.”
Luke scoffed. “Like master, like apprentice,” he retorted acrimoniously.
Obi-Wan groaned. “Luke, are you still upset about that?”
“Yes. I think the fact that my mentor lied to me about the identity of my father, which led to my father cutting off my hand, does merit some anger.”
“Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. Suffering leads to the dark side,” Mel'ani said casually, having been listening in to their conversation for a while.
Obi-Wan's eyes narrowed. “Are you quoting Yoda?” he addressed the question to her.
Starkiller looked up from the Dejarik game he was observing and caught Mel'ani's gaze. They had a silent conversation. Starkiller then went back to his game, and Mel'ani grinned at Obi-Wan. “No, I'm quoting Master Thul, who in turn was quoting Yoda,” she said lightly.
“Of course, Yoda apparently also said, 'Do or do not. There is no try',” Starkiller interrupted, “which is almost impossible because how else would you learn but try until you succeed? The question, therefore, is rather whether or not Yoda is a reliable source of information.”
“Yoda is very wise,” Luke countered.
Aaron shrugged. “I'm sure he seems wise to you. You are young yet, Luke.”
In the background, Mel'ani suddenly had a coughing fit. Leia patted her back. Mel'ani silently indicated that she was okay and turned her attention back to the ongoing conversation, which had continued despite her interruption.
“You should come with me to Dagobah to meet Yoda,” Luke suggested. “You will change your mind once you meet him,” he insisted.
“Yes, it's my dream to go trample to a swamp planet inhabited by creatures only imaginable in our nightmares, in order to talk to a senile Jedi Master,” Aaron snorted. “I have my very own Jedi Master right here,” he gestured towards Obi-Wan.
“I will yet convince you to see Yoda,” Luke declared fiercely.
The corners of Aaron’s mouth formed a half-smile; he turned his attention back to the game with Chewie to help the losing Artoo. Luke turned back to Obi-Wan. “What's his issue with Master Yoda?” he questioned.
Obi-Wan pondered on this. He would have shrugged, but it was not a fitting action for an aged Jedi Master, so he settled for looking thoughtful. “I don't have the greenest,” he admitted.
Luke blinked. “What?”
Obi-Wan sighed. “It is a colloquialism used on Naboo, your mother's home planet. It means that I don't know.”
Luke stood up. “Well,” he sighed, “I did make a promise to Master Yoda that I would return in order to complete my training.”
“Yes, Knight Skywalker,” Aaron drawled sarcastically, “I think that’s a good idea. Tell Master Yoda hi from me.”
“See you at Atravis,” Mel’ani added.
Luke returned to the Dagobah system just in time to speak with Yoda one last time before the ancient Jedi Master laid down on his bed for his final rest. He longed to become one with the Force, he confessed; the burden of almost a millennia on his tiny yet sturdy shoulders had left its mark, and Yoda sought release. The destruction of the Jedi Order was merely the straw that broke the bantha’s back.
Luke confronted Yoda about the matter of Vader, more because he couldn’t leave the matter unresolved than from any actual need for a confirmation – Obi-Wan had already provided that. In his typical cryptic fashion, Yoda stated that Luke had a sister, then refused to elaborate, instead giving him increasingly vague clues about her identity. He seemed to enjoy Luke’s guessing game a little too much. Luke gritted his teeth. Sometimes, he hated being the patient one; had Han been in his place, he would have already thrown something at the Jedi Master, while Leia would have just punched–
“Leia?” he asked in a shaking voice because woah, this gave his kiss with Leia a completely different meaning, and nope, Luke so wasn’t going there.
Yoda nodded. “Your sister, she is.”
“But we look nothing alike!” Luke objected.
Yoda smiled. “More alike you are, than you think,” he told Luke.
Yoda seemed mildly curious about Starkiller’s reaction to his name; he began to mutter about visiting the man somehow, seeming to forget that, from what Luke had been able to glean from Yoda and Obi-Wan’s lessons, Force ghosts could only be seen by Force-sensitives. Still, it made Yoda happy, and Luke was loath to take away from anything that eased his Master’s life.
Then Yoda’s body just– dissolved, as though he was never there in the first place.
Luke reconvened with the Rebel Fleet in the Atravis sector, chosen as a base primarily because its violent nature – hidden by the remains of a nebula were two gas giants orbiting each other and siphoning gas off form each other, as well as an unstable lava planet that was prone to periodic natural catastrophes, expelling large amounts of particles into the atmosphere – made performing scans of the area nearly impossible, providing perfect natural concealment from the Empire. There, he had discovered that some of Rebel spies had unearthed startling information: that the Empire was building another Death Star, and that it was already halfway completed. Chancellor Mothma had called for a general meeting later in the day.
In the meantime, Luke wanted to talk to someone; he found Mel’ani in her bedroom, engrossed in a book. At the sight, he had paused, not wanting to disturb her, but he must have made more noise than he had thought because she looked up, giving him a beaming smile. “Luke!” she greeted him. “I didn’t know that you were back.”
Luke hesitated. “Do you have a moment?”
“For you? Always. Talk to me, Luke.”
And so Luke had described his trip. He had skimmed over his conversation with Yoda – she still didn’t know that Vader was his father, and he couldn’t find it in himself to explain it to her right now – and focused on Yoda’s eventual parting.
“I know I'm not supposed to be attached to Yoda, but I do miss him,” Luke admitted when he finished.
"Even stars burn out, Luke,” Mel’ani said gently. “He died a good death, a peaceful death. That's all he ever wished for. He didn't want to die in a battle, but peacefully after a fulfilling life. Besides, his spirit is still with us.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Luke perked up. “I could always talk to his spirit.”
“Luke–“ Mel’ani spoke slowly. “The fact that his memory will always be in my heart doesn't make it any less true that Yoda himself is gone forever."
Luum grinned. "No, you don't get it. When I said that his spirit is still with us, I meant that literally. The Jedi believe that whenever somebody dies, they are reunited with the Force. Their spirits are literally part of the Force all around us, and can still communicate with us on occasion."
Luke frowned. "How do you know so much about this?" he asked her curiously.
She hesitated for a split second. "Master Thal. I met his ghost, after– his death."
Mel’ani resolved to inform Aaron of this once she saw him, to reinforce their backstory.
"Don't worry, Luke. You're not the only one with the problem with letting go. Aaron has trouble letting go of people he loves as well. Actually, compared to him, you’re handling it admirably,” she added as an afterthought.
“What did Aaron do?” Luke frowned. “When he couldn’t let go, I mean.”
Mel’ani looked away. “Let’s just say that it wasn’t pretty.”
“We have stolen a small Imperial shuttle,” General Madine spoke. “Disguised as a cargo ship, and using a secret Imperial code, a strike team will land on the moon and deactivate the shield generator.”
Murmurs arose among the assembly. The general consensus was that this was a suicide mission, and that only a fool would attempt it. Even Threepio agreed. “Sounds dangerous,” he said.
Leia turned to Han, a smirk on her face. “I wonder who they found to pull that off.”
Han winced, smiling sheepishly. “Indeed. They’d be a fool to–”
“General Solo, is your strike team assembled?” Madine’s voice cut through the whispers.
In the ensuing silence, Leia looked up at Han, surprise changing to admiration in her face. She quirked an eyebrow, as if to say, ‘really?’.
“Uh, my team's ready,” Han offered. “I don't have a command crew for the shuttle, though.” Chewbacca raised his hairy paw, volunteering. Han glanced up at him. “Well, it's gonna be rough, pal. I didn't want to speak for you,” Chewie waved that off with a loud growl. Han grinned. “That's one,” he said to Madine.
Leia shoved Han’s shoulder teasingly. “General, count me in.”
“You need someone to watch your back,” Aaron added.
“And someone to make sure you don’t mess up,” Mel’ani finished.
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. “I see that I’ve been outvoted on this one,” he deadpanned, but there was the ghost of a smile on his lips.
“I'm with you, too,” a voice echoed from behind the crowd. Everyone, as one, turned to look in that direction. Cheers then broke out. The crowd parted, revealing Luke at the top of the stairs. Han, Leia, Obi-Wan, and Aaron were delighted, not having been aware of Luke’s return from Dagobah, while Mel’ani smiled up at Luke knowingly. Leia moved to Luke, embracing him warmly. “Luke, I didn’t know that you were back,” she said, then took in his face. “What is it?” she asked, taking a step back.
Luke sighed. “Ask me again later.”
The rest of the group approached Luke as the assembly broke up. “Luke, it’s good to have you back,” Han grinned.
Luke glanced between them. “Hi everyone.”
Aaron tilted his head. “When did you come back?”
“Just this morning,” Luke said lightly. “I needed a little time alone, that’s all. Now, I heard something about an excursion to Endor?”
Artoo beeped a singsong observation to Threepio. Threepio leaned down. “’Exciting’ is hardly the word I would use.”
After Han had threatened Lando with dismemberment, should anything happen to the Falcon (“Not a scratch,” he warned, much to Aaron’s amusement), Han’s strike team – too numerous to really be a strike team, but nobody mentioned it – was ready to depart.
Luke was working on a back control panel as Han came in and took the pilot's seat. Chewie, in the seat next to him, looked like he was trying to figure out the Imperial controls. He growled in annoyance.
“You got her warmed?” Han asked Luke.
“Yeah, she's comin' up.”
Chewie growled a complaint.
“No. I don't think the Empire had Wookiees in mind when they designed her, Chewie,” Han sighed. “How about you take a backseat on this one? I’m sure Aaron is a sufficient pilot to help me with this one.”
Chewbacca growled another complaint but stepped aside, letting Aaron take his place. Aaron glanced at Han. “Ready, Solo?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be, Starkiller.”
“Remember: you volunteered for this,” Aaron pointed out.
“Someone had to do it,” Han replied. “Besides, you volunteered too – you really have no room to talk.”
Luke sat down next to Chewbacca, who, in turn, sat across from Obi-Wan. Leia came in from the hold, taking a seat behind Han. Aaron hit some switches. Han's glance stuck on something right outside the window: the Millennium Falcon. From behind him, Leia nudged him gently. “Hey, are you awake?”
Han started. “Yeah, I just got a funny feeling. Like I'm not gonna see her again.”
Aaron rolled his eyes. “I love that ship too, but she’s going to make it. Lando’s going to take good care of her – if only to avoid your wrath,” he assured Han.
Leia put a hand on Han's shoulder. “Come on, you scruffy nerf herder, let's move. We’re on a schedule here.”
Han snapped back to life. “Right. Let’s go. Starkiller, let's see what this piece of junk can do. Ready, everybody?”
“All set,” Luke confirmed, then stifled a smile at Threepio’s anxious “Here we go again.”
“All right,” Han said, grabbing a lever. “Hang on.”
Mel’ani whistled, taking in the bustling ships coming in and out from what, without a doubt, had to be the new and improved Death Star. “Look at all the traffic.”
Obi-Wan hummed. “They’re certainly busy.”
“With creating the ultimate harbinger of death, yes,” Aaron said sharply. “I’d prefer it if they weren’t.”
Nobody had any reply to that. They watched the construction of the Death Star for another moment, studying the intricate flight pattern of the shuttles, transports, TIE fighters, and even a few Star Destroyers around the battle station, before catching a glimpse of the enormous Super Star Destroyer hovering just behind the Death Star. At that, Aaron crooned appreciatively. “What?” he defended when Han shot him a look. “The Executor is a beautiful ship, despite her commander.”
Han looked back at the rest of the group as Aaron then flipped several switches, as if to say ‘can you believe this guy?’. He then focused on the viewscreen. “If they don't go for this, we're gonna have to get outta here pretty quick, Starkiller.”
The comm buzzed. “We have you on our screen now. Please identify,” the voice commanded.
Han took a deep breath, counting to three, before exhaling. “Shuttle Tydirium requesting deactivation of the deflector shield,” he said calmly.
“Shuttle Tydirium, transmit the clearance code for shield passage.”
Han locked eyes with Aaron. “Transmission commencing,” Han replied.
The shuttle was silent as its occupants listened anxiously for a response. “Now we find out if that code is worth the price we paid,” Leia said tensely.
“It'll work,” Han forced a smile onto his face. “It'll work.”
Chewie whined nervously. Aaron scoffed. “Yeah, that sounds very reassuring, Solo.”
Luke stared into the distance at the Executor. “Vader’s on that ship.”
Han rolled his eyes. “Don’t get all jittery, Luke. There are a lot of command ships. Starkiller, keep your distance, but don’t look like you’re doing it. I want a clear escape path should something go south.”
“How the kriffin’ hell do I keep my distance while not keeping my distance?” Aaron retorted.
Han shrugged. “I don’t know. Fly casual. You’re supposed to be a genius at this, aren’t you?”
Luke suddenly flinched away from the viewscreen. “Vader knows I’m here,” he said seriously, looking more careworn than Aaron would have ever liked to see. No kid should look so exhausted by life – and Luke was still a kid, no matter what he said. Luke had never done anything to merit that haunted look; he was suffering from his father’s many, many mistakes. “I'm endangering the mission. I shouldn't have come.”
“What?” Leia furrowed her brows.
“Vader knows I’m here,” Luke repeated.
“It's your imagination, kid,” Han dismissed Luke. “Come on. Let's keep a little optimism here.”
Mel’ani drummed her fingers against her seat. “It’s taking too long. They’re onto us.”
“I agree,” Han spoke. “They're not goin' for it.”
“Didn’t you preach optimism a moment ago?” Leia retorted. “Let’s wait and see.”
The comm cracked, making everybody tense up. “Shuttle Tydirium, deactivation of the shield will commence immediately. Follow your present course.”
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Han and Aaron exchanged a grin. Chewbacca growled. “Yeah, Chewie, you’re right,” Han said. He turned to look at Leia. “See? I told you it was gonna work. No problem.”
For some reason, Obi-Wan was hard-pressed to smother a snort.
Bears. Of all things that could have saved them from Imperial troops, it had to be bears. Obi-Wan thought that the Force had it out for him because this could not be his life.
They had planned to create an ambush for the Imperials guarding the complex, but they didn’t account for the native population. As luck would have it, they were themselves ambushed by the bears, who seemed to be under the impression that Threepio – who had, during the flight, been whining about his separation from Artoo – was the most recent personification of their god, whoever it was.
Initially, the bears had intended to eat the men, sparing only Leia and Mel’ani. Obi-Wan had been just about ready to take a leaf out of Anakin’s playbook and solve the matter with a lightsaber, a glance at Aaron telling him that Starkiller had arrived at the same conclusion, when Luke eventually managed to convince the armed bear militia that their droid god would be immensely disappointed in them for eating their guests.
Upon this revelation, the bears freed them and threw them a bonfire party, where Threepio used his storytelling skills to gain their allegiance in the fight against the Empire. Obi-Wan couldn’t understand what was being said, but he picked up words like ‘Luke’ and ‘Vader’ so he understood the gist of it. Artoo occasionally interrupted Threepio’s tale. “Yes, Artoo. I was just coming to that,” Threepio would reply.
At the end of Threepio’s tale, the bears threw up their spears, immediately putting Obi-Wan on his guard.
“What's going on?” Han asked with suspicion.
“I don't know,” Mel’ani admitted. “Threepio?”
“Wonderful!” Threepio exclaimed. “We are now a part of the tribe.”
Several of the miniature bears – Ewoks, Obi-Wan was told by Threepio – ran up and hugged the Rebels. Han winced. “Just what I always wanted.”
Leia smirked. “Look on the bright side, General Solo. It could have been much worse.”
“It seems to me that Mr Optimism lost his optimism,” Aaron added.
Han groaned. “Well, short help is better than no help at all, I suppose.”
Chewbacca grunted in reply.
Han looked down at the Ewok hugging his leg. “Thank you. Okay,” he said after a beat, “this is awkward.”
Threepio spoke again. “He says the scouts are going to show us the quickest way to the shield generator.”
Luke slowly drifted away from the bonfire and out into the quiet night, lit up only by the light of Endor’s moon. Leia noticed. She stood up discreetly, sneaking out after him.
“Good,” Han replied. “How far is it? Ask him,” he ordered. “We need some fresh supplies, too,” he added. “And try and get our weapons back,” Threepio began to translate, but Han cut him off again, much to Aaron’s amusement. “And hurry up, will ya? I haven't got all day.”
Aaron suddenly noticed that neither Luke nor Leia were present. He whispered something to Mel’ani, who pointed in a direction. Aaron thanked her, following his children into the dark.
“–you asking me all this?” Aaron heard Leia’s voice from a little further up the path. He hid behind a tree, praying that neither of the twins heard him approach.
“I have no memory of my mother,” Luke admitted. “I never knew her.”
Aaron could practically see the worry in Leia’s eyes as she said. “Luke, tell me. What's troubling you?”
“Vader,” Luke said with a finality that would have been humorous, had the subject not been this grave. “I felt his presence. He's come for me. He can feel when I'm near. That's why I have to go,” he paused. “As long as I stay, I'm endangering the group and our mission here. I have to face him.”
“Why?” Leia asked, her voice quivering with distress. “It’s not your responsibility. Let Obi-Wan take care of it; he’s far more experienced; he’s better suited for this–”
“Vader’s my father,” Luke said gently. “I have to be the one to face him; only I stand a chance. You remember how Vader’s last duel with Obi-Wan went.”
“Your father?” Leia echoed. “I don’t–“
“There's more. It won't be easy for you to hear it, but you must. If I don't make it back–“
“Luke, don't talk that way,” Leia cut him off resolutely.
“If I don’t make it back,” Luke repeated, “it’ll be your duty to face him.”
“You’re wrong,” Leia said. “You have a power I– I don't understand, a power I could never have.”
“But you do have that power. In time you'll learn to use it as I have. The Force is strong in my family,” Luke sighed. “My father has it; I have it; and,” he paused, “my sister has it.”
Leia didn’t speak for a moment, and Aaron chanced a look around the tree. He saw Leia staring at Luke wordlessly. “Please don’t say that you mean what I think you mean.”
“I do,” Luke confirmed. “It's you, Leia.”
Leia took a step back, a horrified look on her face. “No,” she whispered. “I can’t– Vader– it’s not possible,” she denied vehemently.
Luke reached out to his sister, but halted his hand mid-movement, letting his hand fall away. “Search your feelings, Leia. You know it to be true.”
“No,” Leia said quietly. “It can’t be.”
“Leia, there is good in him,” Luke said. “I've felt it–“
“Before or after he cut off your hand?” Leia retorted sharply, grabbing her brother’s mechanical hand. “Don’t do this, Luke.”
“He won't turn me over to the Emperor,” Luke continued. “I can save him. I can turn him back to the good side. I have to try.”
“At least take Obi-Wan with you,” Leia pleaded. “As back-up.”
“I’ll talk to him,” Luke promised.
Leia silently hugged Luke, as if he would vanish the moment she let go. Aaron felt vaguely guilty at intruding on this intimate moment between the two siblings. Leia’s eyes held back unshed tears as Luke slowly let her go and moved away. He moved to return to the village, and Aaron hid back behind the tree so as to remain unnoticed.
As soon as Luke had left, Han approached Leia from the village. He suddenly noticed that Leia was shaking, and didn’t it hurt, Anakin Skywalker, to know that you are the cause of your daughter’s pain?
“Hey,” Han wrapped his arm around Leia’s shoulder, “what’s goin’ on?”
Leia sniffled, wiping her eyes. “Nothing you need to worry about,” Just her brother going off on a potentially lethal mission. “I– just want to be alone for a little while.”
“Nothing?” Han didn’t realize that he had raised his voice. “Come on, tell me. What's goin' on?”
Leia looked up at Han. “I...I can't tell you. It’s not–“ my secret to tell. Then again, if it wasn’t hers, then whose was it?
“Did you tell Luke?” Han retorted. “Is that who you could tell?” he turned, as if to walk back to the village.
“Han–“ Leia began. Han turned back to look at her. “I can’t tell you right now.”
“Can’t or won’t?” Han narrowed his eyes.
“Both,” Leia admitted. “But I will,” she promised. “Later.”
“So wait,” Mel’ani said slowly, “let me see if I understand this correctly. Luke’s planning to go off on a suicide mission to redeem Vader, who Luke thinks is his father, while actually walking into a trap Vader and Sidious have set for him?”
“I don’t think he sees it as a suicide mission,” Aaron felt obliged to point out, “but pretty much, yeah. At least Leia got him to agree to bring Obi-Wan along.”
Mel’ani huffed. “Honestly, you Skywalkers.”
“As if you’re any better,” Aaron retorted. “So, care to join me on a little mission?”
“What about our original mission?” Mel’ani asked.
Aaron snorted. “Leia and Han will be fine. They have the mission well in hand. Besides, they’ve got about a hundred deadly natives–“
“Bears, Skyguy. Bears.”
“–willing to help them. I’m more worried about the two less-than-satisfactory Jedi with a superiority complex going off on a futile quest for no clear reason.”
“Says the person with zero superiority complexes,” Mel’ani sniped.
“There’s a difference here. I am actually that good. They aren’t.”
“I get the feeling that this kind of thinking was what caused you to Fall in the first place.”
“Well,” Aaron shrugged, “I can’t un-Fall, so I don’t see a problem. Let’s go.”
“The Emperor has been expecting you,” Vader rumbled, addressing Luke. “Though not you,” he added to Obi-Wan. “You have been a fool to surrender yourself, old man.”
Obi-Wan merely smiled politely.
One confiscated lightsaber in each hand, Vader began walking in the direction of the door opposite the one they had come from.
“Father, you don’t have to do this,” Luke spoke.
“So, you have accepted the truth, young Skywalker.”
“I've accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker,” Luke said stubbornly. Obi-Wan had to give him one thing – he was persistent.
Vader stopped, turning to face Luke again. “That name no longer has any meaning for me.”
“Your name is Anakin Skywalker, your true self,” Luke stated firmly, self-assured.
Vader breathed. “Is that what Obi-Wan has told you?”
“What?” Luke asked in bewilderment. “Father, I beg of you, speak plainly.”
Vader took his time answering Luke’s question. He turned the lightsaber in his right hand over, studying it. “I see you have constructed a new lightsaber, young Skywalker.” He ignited the lightsaber and held it vertically to examine its humming, brilliant blade. “Your skills are complete. Indeed, you are powerful, as the Emperor has foreseen,” he extinguished the lightsaber.
“Come with me,” Luke begged.
Vader chuckled. It was a terrifying sound. “Why should I? You have nothing that compels me.”
“You are my father,” Luke reminded him. “Surely you want to establish a bond between us.”
Vader’s next words caused Luke’s stomach to churn unpleasantly. “I never claimed that I was your father, Luke.”
“But– you–“ Luke floundered for words. “On Bespin, you claimed that Anakin Skywalker had become Darth Vader.”
“Indeed I did,” Vader agreed. “But the original Vader died on the lava planet of Mustafar. Burned up, I heard,” he turned his mask in Obi-Wan’s direction. “Left to die by his former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi.”
“Ben?” Luke started, likewise turning to face Obi-Wan. “You never said that you–“
“I had thought that your father had survived,” Obi-Wan admitted.
“No,” Vader’s words chilled the two Jedi to the bone. “He had burned up. By the time the Emperor came to his rescue, there was nothing to rescue,” he turned back around. “In the end, Anakin Skywalker was weak. I, on the other hand, am stronger.”
“Who are you, then?” Obi-Wan asked.
“Do you remember Siri Tachi, Master Kenobi? Your friend – your lover?” Vader mocked.
Obi-Wan gritted his teeth. He refused to give in to whatever twisted game Vader was playing. “Yes.”
“I am her former Padawan, Ferus Olin.”
“Anakin’s rival?” to say that Obi-Wan was surprised would be a gross understatement. “But why–“
“Sidious offered me power,” Vader explained. “Power beyond my imagination. I had come to realize that the Jedi were imperfect, and that I could improve the galaxy – reward the good and punish the wicked, if you will – on a grander scale if I broke free of the Order’s influence. Now, I am the second-most powerful man in the galaxy. I have delivered justice greater than you can possibly imagine.”
“Surely you have regrets,” Luke spoke softly. “Surely there are certain thing you’d like to change.”
For the first time, Vader froze midway through his step. He forced himself to act as though Luke’s words hadn’t affected him. “The past is the past. I cannot change it.”
“No, but you can change the future,” Luke continued. “You have hurt millions of innocent people. Surely that wasn’t your goal when you began? Surely you wish to right your wrongs? Let go of your hate, Ferus Olin.”
Vader twitched. “You don't know the power of the dark side, young Skywalker, but you will. The Emperor will show you the true nature of the Force. He is your master now.”
“Siri would be ashamed of you,” Obi-Wan informed him.
“Siri Tachi is dead,” Vader rumbled. “Dead because of you, Master Kenobi. Don’t tell me what my master would have and wouldn’t have wanted. You don’t have that right.”
Obi-Wan tuned out Sidious’ conversation with Luke. (“In time you will call me Master,” Sidious cackled.) He had always hated politicians, and Palpatine in particular had unsettled him. To look at him now, deformed and wasting away, only magnified his anger.
He could technically move around, their binders having been opened by Sidious at the beginning of the conversation, but with Vader – don’t think about Anakin don’t think about Mustafar don’t think – hovering behind Obi-Wan’s shoulder, he wasn’t exactly inclined to take long and slow walks around Sidious’ throne room. Why was there even a throne room inside the Death Star? Sidious clearly had an ego problem.
“You will find that it is you who are mistaken... about a great many things,” Sidious droned on.
In hindsight, Obi-Wan could see how Anakin found the diplomacy parts of their missions boring to say the least. Was this how his Padawan had felt? Being surrounded by people who would just not stop talking was infuriating, Obi-Wan discovered, especially when the person in question had a voice as grating as Sidious’. Obi-Wan was tempted to summon his lightsaber and move on to aggressive negotiations, but he knew that, even with Luke’s help, they would be hopelessly outmatched against the two Sith Lords. Kriffin’ hells, why had he agreed to come along? Oh, right, because Luke Skywalker was as naïvely idealistic as both of his parents, and thought that he could make Darth Vader turn back to the light side with the power of love, and Obi-Wan couldn’t, in good conscience, let Anakin’s child go unsupervised against the psychopath that was Darth Sidious.
Obi-Wan started when he heard Sidious mention the Rebel Fleet. He stared up at the Sith Master. “Yes...I assure you we are quite safe from your friends here,” Sidious went on.
“Your overconfidence is your weakness,” Luke said confidently. Irony, sweet irony.
“Your faith in your friends is yours,” Sidious snapped. Maybe all Sidious needed, Obi-Wan contemplated, was a friend? Was he one of those children that were bullied during their childhood? It would certainly explain a lot.
“It is pointless to resist,” Vader added. Well, with that attitude, Obi-Wan thought darkly, it was pointless to do anything.
The Emperor turned to face Luke. “Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design,” he indicated Endor. “Your friends up there on the Sanctuary Moon–“ Luke twitched, as if wanting to reach out to Leia and Han. Sidious smirked. “–are walking into a trap. As is your Rebel fleet! It was I who allowed the Alliance to know the location of the shield generator. It is quite safe, let me assure you, from your pitiful little band. An entire legion of my best troops awaits them,” Obi-Wan couldn’t quite stifle a snort at that. Sidious turned his horrifying face towards Obi-Wan. “Do you have anything to add, Master Kenobi?”
“Oh, no,” Obi-Wan waved a hand, “don’t mind me. I love your speeches.”
The entire room seemed to hold its breath as Luke, Obi-Wan, and Vader waited to see how Sidious would react to Obi-Wan’s impertinence.
“Where are your manners, Master Kenobi?” Sidious said at length.
“Well,” Obi-Wan shrugged smoothly, “that’s what a twenty-year exile will do to you.”
He suddenly saw Sidious extend his hands. A second later, he felt something strike him, and arched backwards as pain coursed through his entire body. Sith Lightning, a part of his mind supplied helpfully. Not helping, said another part.
The pain eventually stopped, and Obi-Wan took heavy breaths as he pressed his hands against the cold floor. He didn’t remember falling to his knees, but it must have happened. How long was he out?
“Come, boy. See for yourself,” the Emperor beckoned Luke to the window. Luke reluctantly followed the Emperor’s command, leaving Obi-Wan’s side. Vader, however, remained. “From here, you will witness the final destruction of the Alliance, and the end of your insignificant Rebellion,” Sidious said maliciously.
Drawing on inner strengths he hadn’t used in over two decades, Obi-Wan stood up. He saw Luke glace his lightsaber sitting on the armrest of the throne. The Emperor watched him and smiled, touching the lightsaber. “You want this, don't you?” Sidious smiled. “The hate is swelling in you now. Take your Jedi weapon. Use it. I am unarmed. Strike me down with it. Give in to your anger. With each passing moment, you make yourself more my servant,” he hissed.
“I won’t,” Luke refused.
“It is unavoidable. It is your destiny, young Skywalker.”
“Am I the only one who feels that this conversation is getting kind of repetitive?” said a voice from the shadows.
Aaron Starkiller and Mel’ani Luum stepped out, each holding their ignited lightsaber, the purple clashing with the blue.
Sidious was caught off-guard, but only for a split second. His face morphed into an expression that was even uglier than the previous ones – if such a fear was even possible. “It seems, young Skywalker, that we have unwanted guests. Who are you?” Sidious’ teeth glistened.
Aaron scoffed. “Who am I? Truly, Chancellor, I am hurt. I thought that I had left a more lasting impression than that.”
With that, it was as if the room was suddenly filled with a presence so powerful that it outshone everything else. Light merged with dark, the two sides competing with each other in an endless fight, neither stronger than the other. It was as stunningly beautiful a sight as it was terrifying on a level Obi-Wan hadn’t thought possible.
Most importantly, however, this was a presence Obi-Wan recognized; a presence he was intimately familiar with. One he had thought lost to him. “Anakin,” Obi-Wan breathed.
Anakin Skywalker grinned. “Hello, Obi-Wan. Going off on suicide missions without me, are you?”
“I feel like I should have gone first,” the Togruta said from beside him. “Compared to you, nothing is quite as impressive.”
Anakin rolled his eyes. “If we ever meet another Sith Lord, Snips, you’ll get to go first.”
Sidious seemed to gather his bearings. “Well, well, well,” he cackled. “So the prodigal son returns. Tell me, Lord Vader,” at this, the masked Vader twitched, “how have you–?”
“Managed to survive?” Anakin filled in. “Ahsoka got to me before you did. She helped me find a balance,” he took a few steps in Sidious’ direction. “But talking wasn’t what I had in mind for this meeting.”
With a speed that astounded even the experienced Jedi Master, Sidious whipped out his lightsaber and igniting the crimson blade in one smooth movement. He then did a Force-induced jump, landing somewhere behind Anakin, and Anakin attacked.
After that, Obi-Wan lost sight of Anakin and Ahsoka. He was forced to concentrate on Vader. The only way he knew that Anakin hadn’t perished was his all-encompassing Force presence – Obi-Wan had clearly underestimated his former Padawan, if he was capable of concealing such a presence to the point of Obi-Wan not being aware of it even at close contact.
The fight became a flurry of dodge, thrust, parry, evade; a lethal dance with the galaxy at stake. Vader’s movements were bold and direct, demanding constant usage of energy. Vader kept a constant energy flow from the Force, drawing heavily on his emotions. Vader was quick, and he was deadly.
Luke, by comparison, was slower but more precise, staying on defense, planning his attacks carefully – not unlike Obi-Wan’s Soresu, if Obi-Wan had to analyze it. The downside was that Luke’s attacks were random and erratic, something Obi-Wan could have avoided, had he actually taught him the six forms of dueling.
At one point, Luke made a misstep, but Obi-Wan protected him from Vader’s deadly blade. Luke recovered, swinging his ‘saber at Vader. To Obi-Wan’s surprise, the blade actually hit Vader’s leg, burying itself in his knee. Vader howled, crumbling to the floor, as Luke pulled back the blade, leaving a gaping hole where Vader’s leg used to be. Was it un-Jedi-like to hope that it hurt as badly as it looked?
Vader pulled himself up to his knees, his mask impenetrable. “Go on, then,” he taunted Luke. “Kill me. I know you want to. I tricked you. I lied to you. I’ve killed millions,” it might have just been Obi-Wan’s imagination, but he thought that he detected a note of shame in Vader’s mechanical voice.
“Don’t kill him,” Obi-Wan advised Luke. “That’s how you begin Falling,” he tried to summon Vader’s lightsaber, but the Sith resisted, pulling his weapon back into his hand. “Surrender, Olin,” Obi-Wan said. “You have lost.”
It was as if a wave swept over Vader at Obi-Wan’s words. Wordlessly, he relinquished his hold of his lightsaber, letting it fall to the floor. Obi-Wan summoned it, clipping it to his belt. A sound alerted the three men to the other fight – Anakin and Ahsoka versus Sidious.
If Obi-Wan had thought that Sidious’ speed was impressive, it was nothing compared to Anakin’s. His former Padawan was a streak of black, jumping from one place to another, never staying still. Tapping into the Force, Obi-Wan observed with morbid curiosity as Anakin used everything at his disposal – pulling at the light and the dark at various times, sometimes even both at once – to tip the balance in his favour. He wasn’t fighting his inner darkness – rather than be afraid of his emotions, he embraced them as an old friend, channeling them to his advantage. Obi-Wan could only describe Anakin’s style as a modified version of Mace’s Vapaad – a style as lethal to the user as to the victim, if Obi-Wan remembered right. He hoped that Anakin knew what he was doing.
Fighting alongside Anakin was Ahsoka. She was good, very good, but she simply wasn’t keeping up with the two dark side users. She stayed on the defensive.
Purple and red clashed as the two combatants locked themselves in a deadlock. “You'll never find redemption!" snarled Sidious. "Deep in your heart, you will always be a Sith, Lord Vader. You will always crave that darkness that has and always will have a grip on your soul."
Anakin smirked, pushing Sidious away with the Force. "Is this where I'm supposed to say something profound like, 'I am a Jedi like my Master before me'?" he quipped with an exasperated expression. "Surely you know me better than that, Palpatine."
With that, he deflected Sidious' Force Lightning assault with his lightsaber, aiming it back towards the Sith.
Sidious dodged his own lightning, then swirled around, launching a relentless volley of attacks on an unsuspecting Ahsoka. One of the blows came perilously close to amputating one of Ahsoka’s lekkus. Anakin thrust his lightsaber at Sidious, but the Sith jumped away, using the momentum of his movement to aim his lightsaber at Anakin’s left arm. As if viewing the duel in slow motion, Obi-Wan saw that Anakin wouldn’t have the time to parry it with his lightsaber. He winced, hoping that the pause after the lightsaber struck Anakin would give Ahsoka enough time to end the match.
A hand stopped the humming red blade mere inches from Anakin’s body. Anakin had a tight grip on the blade, holding the lightsaber barehanded, smirking at Sidious’ obvious shock. Lightsaber still in his right hand, he swung the blade in an arch, leaving only stumps where Sidious’ arms used to be. Sidious’ scream of pain echoed in the throne room as everyone else was too frozen to react. Anakin looked down at where Sidious had crumbled, staring in terror at his arms. “Goodbye, Your Excellency,” he said quietly, his voice carrying all the way to Obi-Wan. Anakin then swung the blade one last time, the movement separating Sidious’ head from his body.
The room was silent as everybody stared down at the corpse. Vader’s groan of exertion broke the silence. Anakin and Ahsoka seemed to remember that they weren’t alone in the room, and Anakin rushed over to Luke, Obi-Wan, and Vader.
"Hey, Ferus, it's all gonna be alright,” Anakin muttered, falling down on his knees before the masked man. “I've got you."
"Skywalker?" Vader rasped.
"I'm here, Olin,” Anakin forced a wide smile to his lips. “Just hold on."
"Thank you, Skywalker.”
"Don't you dare die on me, Olin,” Anakin hissed, prying the mask away, revealing a scarred but still very much human face underneath, his brown hair cupping his face. “Don't you fucking dare.”
"It's okay, Skywalker. I'm okay. I want to die,” Ferus assured him, struggling to catch his breath.
“Why?” Skywalker asked incredulously.
Ferus closed his eyes. “I– I have caused enough harm. Besides, I have grown weary of this world, of my existence. I just want to let go of everything and be free once again.”
“Then let you go I shall,” Anakin said with an air of finality, as if coming to terms with something. He leaned back on his knees from where he was before bending over Ferus' body and listened as Ferus Ollie took his last breath. His body then collapsed, as if relieved of a heavy burden.
Anakin didn’t notice Ahsoka’s approach, nor did he react to her hand on his shoulder, a gesture meant to provide comfort.
“I could have saved him. I could have kept him from dying, or bound his Force-sensitivity if that was what he feared. Instead, I let him go,” he said, staring emptily at a wall as if seeing something the others could not.
Ahsoka sighed. “You did a good thing, Skyguy. It wasn't your fault,” she comforted him. The not this, anyway went unsaid.
The room shook again. Ahsoka put her hand on Anakin's shoulder. "Skyguy, we need to go!" she urged him.
Sighing, Anakin stood. With a wave of his hand, Vader's body suddenly levitated two feet up in the air. Anakin took off quickly towards one of the empty shuttles available in the hangar, his companions following suit.
Onboard the ship, Anakin headed directly to the cockpit, and as soon as everyone was inside the shuttle, he prepared the shuttle for takeoff. He guided the ship swiftly out of the bay, and not a moment too soon — mere moments after their departure, the massive battle station exploded in a fiery blast. The impact pushed the shuttle further away from the blast site, although Anakin quickly regained control of the vessel.
Anakin activated the comm. "I see congratulations are in order. Who had the pleasure of blowing up that monstrosity?” he said, not quite able to keep the joy from his voice.
Calrissian's voice responded to his question, "I did, Starkiller.”
"Good job, Calrissian," Anakin grinned. "I just hope you haven't scratched the Falcon while taking that shot. If you did, I don't want to be in your skin when Solo gets his hands on you.”
"Very funny, Starkiller," Lando said drily. "Is everybody alright on your end?" his voice held a note of concern.
“More or less. I’ve got Mel'ani, Luke, and Kenobi. Physically, we’re fine. Mentally…” he let out a breath. “That’s another question entirely, and not one that has a short answer. Anyway, we’ll see you on Endor. Starkiller out.”
That said, he switched the comm frequency and spoke once again. This time, his voice was carefully devoid of any emotions. "On behalf of the Rebel Alliance, I, General Starkiller, request that all Imperial troops stand down. We outnumber you three to one – you have no chance of winning this. Surrender,” he paused, “or die. It’s your choice. Over.”
There was a moment of silence before the comm buzzed again. "This is Admiral Piett. I order all Imperial forces to stand down. Repeat, all Imperial troops need to stand down. General Starkiller, with whom are we to negotiate the treaty?”
"That would be either Chancellor Mothma or Princess Leia," Anakin replied succintly. "One of them will contact you within the next few hours. Until then, Starkiller out.”
Anakin finally turned off the comm, focusing instead on piloting. He typed in a course for Endor, then activated the autopilot. He turned around to face the three passengers, but focused only on Ahsoka. He stood up and enveloped her in a tight hug.
“It’s done,” Ahsoka mumbled into Anakin’s sleeves, her body sagging as the adrenaline from the fight began to leave her body. “I cannot believe that it’s finally over.”
Anakin’s face was a curious mix between a smile and grim determination. “On the contrary, Snips. The way may be over, but the fight has only just begun.”
Anakin landed the shuttle as gracefully as only he knew how to, and killed the engines. He lowered the ramp and exited the ship before anyone else, followed closely by Vader’s body. Ahsoka, Obi-Wan, and Luke completed the odd procession. Outside, Anakin was met by three people: Leia, Han, and Chewbacca.
Leia took one look at him before she ran up to him with a grin. She threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly. “Thank you,” she whispered. “You brought them back. And then single-handedly arranged a surrender of the Imperial forces. That’s impressive, Aaron,” she genuinely sounded impressed.
Anakin grimaced as he pulled away. “Don’t thank me yet, Leia. We will need to talk, but do I have some matters that I need to take care of first.”
He looked at Ahsoka, and the pair seemed to communicate without words. Ahsoka then nodded and set off into the forest. Anakin then turned towards Obi-Wan and said, “I need wood.” It was not so much a statement as a request. Obi-Wan seemed to understand what the younger man meant, but the others didn’t. “What are you doing?” Luke inquired, furrowing his brows in confusion.
“I’m building a pyre,” Anakin replied simply. “For Vader.”
“A pyre for Vader?” Leia all but growled. “That man is a monster! He does not deserve a burial when he has denied it to so many others! He is directly responsible for the deaths of millions of beings around the galaxy, and has caused harm to many more! Why should we treat him nicely?!”
Anakin sighed. “Leia, you may hate the man as much as you want to in life, but in death, everybody deserves a proper burial, even evil Sith Lords. Especially evil Sith Lords,” Seeing that Leia was about to continue arguing, he shook his head. “You don’t need to help me, but this is something that I need to do. Afterwards, we all need to sit down for a proper talk,” he said in a louder voice so that Luke, Obi-Wan, Han, and Chewbacca could hear him as well.
Leia didn’t look happy at her will being overridden, but accepted the fight as one she couldn’t win. She stomped off to the Ewok village, her pride not allowing her to help with the pyre.
Considering what Vader had done to Leia, Anakin could not fault her. He would have reacted similarly, had he not been guilty of creating Vader in the first place, and was therefore, to a certain extent, responsible for his actions. As it was, it was his responsibility to put Ferus Olin to that final rest.
Anakin’s story was neither short nor simple, and it wasn’t made any better by the fact that most of his listeners weren’t aware of the circumstances surrounding his fall – or, indeed, of his former identity as Darth Vader. “I’ve been lying to you,” he began. “My name isn’t Aaron Starkiller; it’s Anakin Skywalker, or, for a brief period of time, Darth Vader.” He used the stunned silence to tell his story, summarizing his life from the moment he arrived in the Jedi Temple until his duel with Obi-Wan on Mustafar.
“Obi-Wan left with Padmé, and honestly, I think that’s the only reason either of you are still alive today,” he told Luke and Leia frankly. “I waited for Palpatine to rescue me, but instead, Ahsoka arrived. She helped me; she took me to a medical facility where they had treated my burns as well as other wounds I had sustained – both physical and psychological.
“Initially, I was angry. I was so angry– at Obi-Wan for, as I saw it, betraying me; at Padmé for abandoning me; at Ahsoka for kidnapping me against my will, forcing me through a detox of the dark side; but most of all, at myself for being unable to stop all of that from happening. Gradually, however, as Ahsoka spent more time with me, as my body began to regenerate, and as I became better acquainted with my prosthetics, I began to regain some of the light I had lost. I won’t lie; it wasn’t an easy process, and it’s one I’m still struggling with, to some extent, today, but I managed. I eventually found a balance between the dark and the light, because I realized that I couldn’t get rid of either if I still wanted to remain myself, or retain my sanity. One side strengthens the other, as it were.
“Sidious assumed that I had died on Mustafar, of that Ahsoka made certain. I don’t know how, but he found another apprentice to manipulate. I haven’t known who it was until today though.”
“After my recovery, we went into hiding,” Ahsoka picked up. “We learned how to mask our Force presence; we learned how to be inconspicuous; we learned to survive. No longer limited by either side of the Force, Anakin learned a lot more about what one could do with the Force than either of us had ever imagined possible. Case in point: grabbing a lightsaber barehanded.”
“In time, we began helping the Rebellion – anonymously, of course,” Anakin went on. “Occasionally, either one or the both of us would sneak into an Imperial base, retrieving information for the Rebellion. In the meantime, we tracked down the survivors of the Purge. We knew that Yoda had survived – there were far too many rumours about him for him to be dead – and we soon found Obi-Wan,” Anakin indicated his former Master, “on Tatooine, guarding a certain Luke Skywalker. After that, we began checking in, making sure that everything was okay. On one of our excursions into an Imperial base, Ahsoka picked up a rumour that the blueprints to the battle station that the Empire had been building for the past twenty years had been stolen.
“On a hunch, we decided to return to Tatooine. Once in the spaceport, we followed you, made a guess as to where you were headed, and booked ourselves a flight. The Force probably helped us, because we somehow managed to pick the same ship as you later did. You know the rest of it,” Anakin sighed. “I’m not telling you this to make you forgive me, because I don’t deserve forgiveness after all that I’ve done. I’m telling you this to make you understand what has actually happened – and yes, to lessen your guilt,” he looked pointedly at Obi-Wan, who avoided his eyes. “I’ll take my leave now. If anyone needs to talk, I’ll be with the Ewoks.”
Ahsoka stood up mere seconds after Anakin left. "I know that he has committed atrocities and you all have the right not to forgive him for that," she announced. "But he is a changed man. He is strong - in fact, he is the strongest man I know, and I met quite a few people over the years. He is the only one to be able to turn his back on the dark side of the Force. Yes, it is true that he committed heinous crimes but he is trying to make up for it. And I honestly believe that someday he will redeem himself entirely. I also don't believe that you should hold a grudge against him for his past actions for a simple reason - anger. Not only is anger not becoming of a Jedi/not the Jedi way, it is simply not healthy for you. Just look at what happened to Anakin," she gestured to the door. "And finally, none of you are without fault. There is an ancient saying that whoever is faultless should throw the first stone. We all have done things we regret. Not of that calibre, no, but we still cannot judge him.
"Just– think about it," with those words, Ahsoka Tano exited the room, leaving behind five speechless beings.
“Well,” Han aimed for a light tone, “that was… interesting.”
Chewie growled in agreement.
Leia frowned. Intellectually, she knew that Aaron Starkiller had been Anakin Skywalker and, subsequently, Darth Vader, but she didn't quite accept it emotionally. She just wasn’t able to picture Aaron as Vader; they were too different.
Aaron Starkiller was probably the kindest man in the galaxy. He was there for her after her adopted father's death and Alderaan's destruction; he was the one to comfort her after Han was tortured and frozen in carbonite. He was the one who came up with the plan to rescue Han from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt. He was always there for her, ever since they'd met. She'd come to love him as a father and look up to him.
The revelation that he was also the evil Darth Vader didn't seem to register in her mind. She found it impossible to merge those two people together. Aaron Starkiller and Darth Vader couldn't be more different if they tried. Darth Vader was a freak, a monster, an evil creature who left nothing but death in his wake. He deserved to die, in Leia's mind. Aaron Starkiller, on the other hand, did nothing but help people all around him, even if he had to make some enemies along the way. According to him, the result justified the means. While she didn't always agree, she had to admire what he'd done for others, how he'd helped them get out of whatever trouble they were in.
No, Leia couldn't accept the fact that Aaron Starkiller was her father. Because that brought up questions she'd rather leave unanswered.
Anakin was alive. His friend, his comrade-in-arms, his brother, was alive.
Obi-Wan knew that the matter wasn’t as easy as saying that he forgave and forgot everything Anakin had done. He could eventually – possibly – forgive him, but he would never forget it; if he forgot what he had forgiven Anakin for, his forgiveness wouldn’t be worth anything. But even forgiveness – maybe especially forgiveness – was still far away for Obi-Wan.
In that moment, however, it didn’t matter. All that did was that Anakin Skywalker was alive, and that Darth Vader was not.
"How did you become Anakin's apprentice?" The lift arrived, thankfully empty. Luke, Ahsoka, Anakin, and Obi-Wan entered it. "How did it work in the days of the Old Republic?"
Ahsoka gave Luke a sidelong smile. "Honestly? Master Yoda and Obi-Wan were playing a practical joke on Anakin."
"He was too arrogant. Well," Obi-Wan amended, "more arrogant than his usual 'I'm better than you petty mortals' attitude."
“Hey, I resent that!” Anakin exclaimed. “I’m totally mortal! I'm like ninety percent human! At least!”
Obi-Wan raised his eyebrows at Anakin, who sighed. The offense had been a deflection, and not one Obi-Wan was falling for any time this decade.
“You mean because he’s the ‘Chosen One’?” Luke asked dubiously.
They hadn’t even explained what that meant. He hated to admit it, but it sounded more than faintly ridiculous. He’d personally experienced prophetic visions and he knew just how unreliable they were – or, at least, how misleading.
“Precisely,” Ben said. “Anakin has the highest midi-chlorian count ever recorded. He was off the charts, in fact.”
“Midi-chlorians are what allows us to access the Force," Ahsoka explained when she saw Luke's uncomprehending face. "The higher a being's midi-chlorian count, the more Force-sensitive they are. Anakin's count is off the charts because he was directly created by the Force. He doesn't even have a human father. He's literally the Force's child."
Luke did his best not to gape in surprise. That wasn't what he had expected. He knew his family was a little weird, but that was extreme.
“Is that even possible?” he asked.
“No, it's not,” Anakin told him. He turned his attention on Ahsoka. “We’re all children of the Force, Snips. That’s what it means to be a Jedi.”
Luke had no idea how he managed to sound so resentful while quoting what was obviously a Jedi dogma. Ahsoka's lips quirked into an affectionate smile. She reached over the arm of the sofa to ruffle his wet hair.
“Not the way you are.”
Luke watched silently, thinking perhaps this explained their disbelief, their indulgence. If they believed Anakin was the son of the Force itself, it would be nearly impossible to think he'd turn to the Dark Side. That he would harm any of them, despite all the evidence. It would also explain the Jedi's reactions when he did turn dark.