He went to her at the base on Crait, the mineral planet that Bail Organa had used as a staging area for the nascent Rebellion. The Resistance would utilize it in much the same way: the base, built into an old mine shaft, would serve as a supply depot and last line of retreat, should matters come to that. When Leia had first shared her plans with him, Luke had not been able to imagine any power in the galaxy capable of backing Leia Organa and her Resistance fighters into such a corner.
But he was a very different man now.
As he walked towards her, each step requiring an effort of will, Luke felt afresh the intensity of the bond between them. His grief, his weariness, was reflected back at him from his sister’s face, intensified by her own pain which he could feel through the cords of the Force that connected them. Worse yet was her concern for him, radiating out from her in waves. It cut him to the soul.
Luke stopped a few paces from her. How much she already knew or had guessed, he couldn’t determine.
“He’s gone, Leia.” His own voice sounded like a stranger’s: old, weak, frayed at the edges like a piece of cloth left too long outside in the wind. “Ben’s gone. I failed him.” The grief and anger and helplessness in Leia’s expression blurred behind the tears that flooded his eyes. “I failed you.”
He wasn’t thinking, couldn’t think; his body gave way out of necessity and he fell to his knees at Leia’s feet. Hunched over, Luke pressed his palms to the rough, cold stone of the cavernous hangar’s floor. He didn’t cry any more: he was too tired for that, too empty. Instead he murmured “I’m sorry” -- over and over, until he was no longer sure if he were speaking the words aloud or simply hearing them echo inside his head.
Leia knelt, and her touch was firm, reassuring, on his back. “I felt it,” she said quietly, “like something inside of me had been severed. Fallen away. A hollowness. And at the edges of it: rage and bloodshed. Death.” Her voice was hoarse, barely more than a whisper. “I knew you were in danger. In danger from my own son--"
“You don’t know the worst of it,” Luke interrupted her, looking up suddenly into her face. “It’s my fault, Leia. I pushed him. I did this. It’s all my fault.”
Briefly -- as briefly as he could, for he had no wish to linger on any of it -- Luke described what had occurred. When he spoke of the bodies of the slain students, scattered about the burning temple, Leia blanched, her face drawn and aged in a way he’d never seen before, never wanted to see. But she showed no sign of surprise. This, too, she had known, and Luke wondered if it had come to her as a nightmare in the early dawn, and if -- upon waking -- she had been able to pretend it had no connection to reality. At least for awhile.
Then he came to it, the moment, the memory that filled him with dread. He forged ahead quickly, allowing himself no time to edge away from the painful confession.
“I’d sensed it growing stronger in him for days, weeks, and nothing I said or taught him seemed to help. So I went into the room where he slept that night, to meditate near him, in the hope that my words, my encouragement, might enter into his subconscious mind and in that way have some positive effect. But I--" Luke swallowed. “I did what I should not have done, Leia, what I had no right to do. I reached out and looked into his thoughts, and I-- I brushed against it. That darkness. That fury. I hadn’t felt the like of it since…” He met his sister’s eyes and there was no need to say the name. “The thought came to me, one I’ve had many times before, a question: If our father had died on Mustafar, if the Emperor hadn’t been able to take him and forge him into a weapon-- How many innocent lives might have been saved? And for a moment I thought-- Yes. Better for the galaxy, better for Ben, to put an end to it before it could even begin.”
Luke lifted a hand to push a strand of graying hair out of his eyes and saw that he was trembling. He couldn’t feel it: his body had gone numb days ago and he had moved since then like a spirit disconnected from the flesh. He looked into Leia’s eyes, wondering if she understood, wondering if she had already guessed and started to hate him. “I powered on my lightsaber. And then it was over, the madness passed, the thought gone. I looked down and saw my nephew, my flesh and blood, the boy I loved. But it was too late. He woke, Leia. He turned and saw me with my blade raised, saw my thought--" Luke forced himself to hold his sister’s gaze. “I did this, you see. My error, my weakness…” His voice finally broke and he bowed his head, reaching with one hand to clutch at a fold of the cloak she wore, as if that might keep her from flinching away. “Forgive me, Leia. Please forgive me for the mess I’ve made of everything.”
Leia was silent for a long moment. Luke looked up in time to see her slowly shake her head, and he felt his heart go completely still. In the absence of its normal rhythm came a terrible void, filled in turn by an ache that crushed the breath from his lungs. Then Leia took his hand, the one that grasped her cloak, in both of hers, and stared him steadily in the eye.
“Luke, there is nothing to forgive.”
He returned her stare, unable to comprehend her words. “How-- how can you say that? I’ve lost your son, Leia! I pushed him to the Dark Side!”
“No you didn’t!” Leia cried, exasperation vying suddenly with the grief and weariness in her tone. “None of this is your fault! You think you’re to blame for this because for one split-second you had a bad thought? A thought you didn’t act upon? Do you know how many bad thoughts I’ve had over the years?” Leia shook her head. “If bad thoughts had any power, half the New Republic Senate would have been destroyed by the thoughts I’ve had about them. Han would be dead several times over. And our father? He would never have had a chance to be redeemed. No, Luke. Only actions matter. This darkness has been gnawing at Ben since before he was born. I felt it then: clawing at him, dark waters rising around him, higher and higher. Something -- someone -- has been working to corrupt him, to twist him into something he isn’t, stoking anger and hatred inside of him. And I have been powerless against it. That’s why I wanted you to teach him, you were the only one of us who could understand--"
“And who could stop it.” Luke nodded fiercely. “That’s also why you wanted me to teach him. To build up his defenses, to hold the darkness at bay, to free him from it. And I failed. Whatever progress I might have made in teaching him, whatever I might have accomplished, I undid all of it in a heartbeat, in one moment of weakness.”
Leia squeezed his hand harder to wrest his attention back to her. “Do you really think something else wouldn’t have happened to push him away? A sharp word, some silly conflict with another student, some impulse borne of jealousy or hurt feelings? Maybe not now, maybe not this cycle, but eventually something would have carried him over that edge.” Leia sighed, and the exhalation was heavy, as if it were a breath that had been held through years of worry. “We’ve been losing him by degrees, Luke, all this time. But that doesn’t mean he’s lost.”
Luke regarded his sister as if seeing her clearly as a separate person, not just the woman he thought she was. Her voice broke for the first time when she spoke again. “He’s my son, Luke. I feel him.” She thumped her chest with one hand, her lip trembling. “This rage, this blood lust -- it isn’t Ben. He’s little more than a boy still and it’s been eating at him so long, how could he fight it forever? Even with your help? Sooner or later, it was bound to devour him. But it isn’t him. It never has been. It’s come from outside, but inside of him? There’s goodness. There’s so much goodness, Luke. I know it. Because I still feel it here.”
Luke struggled up into a sitting position, never taking his eyes from Leia’s face. He raised her hand, pressing it to his lips. “I feel it too,” he told her. “But I still need your forgiveness for my part in this, Leia. I need yours, just as I’ll need Ben’s one day.”
Leia sighed loudly. “Oh Luke, you have mine. But what will that matter? I know you.” She brushed tears from her eyelashes with the back of her hand and stood, walking over to sit down on a supply crate. “You’ll keep blaming yourself no matter what I say. It’s just who you are.” She sat silently for a moment, toying with the edge of her cloak, on the verge of saying something but hesitating to speak. “She would have blamed herself too, I think. Had she lived,” Leia finally said, her voice quiet. “You’re like her in that respect.”
Leia gave him a sad smile. “Our mother.”
Luke climbed to his feet and crossed the stone floor to sit beside her. “Blamed herself for what happened to our father, you mean?”
Leia nodded. “Has it ever occurred to you that, despite your power with the Force, you are more like her than you are like him? And that I--" She wrung her hands. “That I may be my father’s daughter?”
“It has,” Luke conceded.
“Remember that holovid I found, tucked away in the Chandrilan archives? The one of her making a speech in the Senate?” Luke nodded. He and Leia had watched it for the first time together, both of them too overcome by emotion to speak or cry and or do anything more than grip one another’s hand as the image of that petite, dark-haired woman in Nabooian finery stood, steel-spined, in her floating Senatorial pod.
“It didn’t even concern a major issue,” Leia continued, her gaze turned inward. “Water rationing on some agricultural moon or something like that. But she spoke about it with complete conviction. And genuine concern.” Leia gave a small shrug. “She was the kind of person, I think, whose heart was so large, and so tender, that she would blame herself for not doing more to prevent a disaster happening six systems distant that would never touch her or anyone she knew. And so she would have blamed herself for our father’s fall. I’m certain of it. An argument they had, something she didn’t say or do… She would have found a way to punish herself for his choices. His mistakes.” Leia looked at Luke from beneath her brows. “You’re just the same.”
Luke took a moment to consider this. “And I know how you’re like our father. Before he fell, he was a leader. Strong, fearless. The person everyone rallied around in times of peril.”
Leia laughed softly. “I’m not so sure. I was thinking along the lines of how I’ve been filled with white-hot rage since before Alderaan. Yes, rage,” she said, answering Luke’s look. “And yet even I won’t take the blame for Ben’s fury. I know it didn’t come from me, any more than it came from himself. Or from you.”
Luke’s shoulders sagged. He felt like he’d been carrying the weight of a collapsing star on his back for so long that he’d shriveled beneath it, becoming less than half the man he was before. “Maybe. But maybe I simply didn’t try hard enough. Maybe I missed something. Or maybe I’m just too old.” He sighed. “I feel old, Leia. In a way I’ve never felt before.”
She nudged him gently with her shoulder. “Did you forget we’re twins? If you’re old, what does that make me?”
“You? You’ll never be old, Leia. You shine as brightly as you ever did. You’ll outlast us all.”
Leia frowned. “The question is, do I want to?” She looked down at her hands. The skin across her knuckles was creased and almost translucent, like thin paper, yet the bones and sinews beneath were still strong. “There’s a difference between living and enduring.”
It pierced Luke through to hear Leia speak in such a way. “I would do anything, Leia -- sacrifice anything -- to spare you from all of this pain.”
“I know you would.” She patted his hand. “But you’d have to be something greater than a Jedi -- something greater even than Luke Skywalker -- to accomplish that.”
“Luke Skywalker.” He spat out the syllables of his name and stood. “And who is he, after all?” In a sudden burst of frustration, Luke slammed the flat of his fist against the hangar wall. “A failure. A fool.”
“A legend,” Leia answered.
Luke spun to face her. “And what good is a legend who fails when the moment of crisis arrives, huh? What is a legend then? Just empty words wrapped around a ghost.”
“Empty words? No.” Leia rose and walked toward him. Her fists were balled, jaw set and eyes flashing, and Luke remembered how much wrath and determination were compressed into that compact frame. “Hope is not an empty word! And that is exactly what the legend of Luke Skywalker represents. The Rebellion was built on hope. This Resistance runs on little more than hope and the fumes of whatever I can scrape together. Hope is what keeps me standing here on my own two feet, not curled into a ball on the ground with the thought that I’ll never hold my son again in this life!” Luke couldn’t recall the last time she had raised her voice like this to him. It must have been a long time since, for it was not an experience one could forget easily.
Leia jabbed a finger into his chest as she continued. “I hope because of the good inside Ben. I hope because you brought a man who had wreaked devastation in the galaxy back from the darkness in which he’d dwelt so long. I hope because of you.”
Luke slumped back against the wall. “I’m so tired sometimes, Leia. Do you have any idea what it’s like, having the hope of a galaxy riding on you--"
“Every damn day,” she snapped.
Horrified by his thoughtlessness, Luke closed his eyes, passed a hand over his face. “Of course you do. Leia, I’m sorry. I’ve been selfish. I’ve been so-- preoccupied, for so long now. Searching for the old temples. Restarting the Order--" His voice failed and what strength he’d been clinging to merely to remain standing seemed to evaporate. Leia grasped him by both arms.
"Stop apologizing. Please. I don’t need your apologies, Luke. I need your faith in redemption. I need your action. There’s no reason for regret. I have my path. Han has his. And you have yours. That’s why I sent Ben away: to be with you, to learn from you. And not just because I hoped you’d be able to keep him from the Dark Side, but because--" Leia hesitated, biting at her lip. “Because I knew that if the moment came when he-- when he fell -- I knew you were the only one who could defend yourself against him.”
The anguish it cost her to admit such a thing -- to have even have had to think it -- made Luke flush with shame at his own self-pity.
“And as much as I feared for him, if such a moment came to pass, I also feared for you. I couldn’t bear to lose you, Luke. Not then. Not now. So when I felt Ben…” She shook her head, unable to say it, “when I felt it happen, yes: I was angry. Angry at you. Angry at everyone and everything. But far more than that, I was terrified that I’d lost you. I reached out and I felt for you, and finally I found you and knew you were alive…”
Leia shuddered, her breath leaving her like a sob, and Luke embraced her then, pulling her tight against him. Her head nestled in beneath his chin and Luke imagined that this might have been how it was in their mother’s womb, the two of them joined in the same embrace, bound by blood and by the Force.
“I don’t want to fail you again, Leia,” he murmured into her hair. “I don’t want to fail anyone.”
“You can’t fail me. You never could. Even if Yavin had been obliterated, even if the Rebellion had ended in fire and the Empire had gone on to its thousand-year reign, you would have tried. And in the end, trying is all that matters.”
Luke inhaled the scent of her, familiar and warm, and he couldn’t help but smile. “That’s not what Master Yoda said.”
“Even Master Yoda didn’t know everything. He said you were too old to become a Jedi, remember? Too old, too angry. I know better.”
Luke stepped back so that he could look into her face. “I make you this promise, Leia. Succeed or fail, I will never give up on Ben. Never.”
“I know that,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.
“But when I leave here,” Luke continued, “I won’t go after him.”
Leia’s brow furrowed. “What?”
Luke shook his head. “Not yet. Not until I discover the source of the Darkness that has plagued him. If it came to him in the womb, Leia -- that is a power we’ve not dealt with before. I need to understand it before I confront it. I will take no risks with Ben the next time. I have to find the right way to bring him back to us.”
Turning away, Luke paced a little, deep in thought. “So much knowledge of the Force has been lost, Leia. Lost even before our father’s time. I’ve made a beginning towards a deeper understanding, and I’ve discovered things that my masters never spoke of… But there’s so much more. And I’m so close to finding it.” He looked back at Leia, rubbing thoughtfully at his beard. “There’s something else, too. For some time now I’ve felt it: stirring, rising. Awakening. In the Darkness, yes, but also in the Light. And in a vast space between them. Separate from Dark and Light, and yet more powerful. Something I’ve never felt before.”
“Be careful, Luke,” Leia said, her eyes wide. “If this is something new, how can you protect yourself from it?”
“That’s what I have to discover. Before-- before what happened, I had come into possession of a map, one leading to another of the lost temples. If I can trace the path to the first temple, to the lore of the most ancient masters, I believe it will give me the knowledge I need to save Ben.”
“Then go,” Leia told him. “Do whatever you must. Just find some way to bring my son home.”
Luke had rarely heard Leia plead before. She had always been so controlled, seldom allowing her emotions to influence her words or actions. But there was desperation in her voice now, and a crumbling of her presence in the Force every time she made reference to Ben. His loss was breaking her.
“When I do find it, Leia, the first temple… I don’t know what will happen. Something tells me I will be faced with a challenge unlike anything I’ve come up against before.” Luke brushed her cheek gently with his fingers. “I will do whatever I must do in order to save Ben, to defeat whatever power is using him. But it may change me. In the end, I may cease to be myself.” He grasped her gently by both shoulders and endeavored to keep his voice steady. “If that happens and we are separated--"
“Luke, don’t.” Leia laid her hands on top of his and shook her head sternly. “You know that we can never truly be separated. Not by time or distance. Not by change.” She did not add the other word, but she didn’t need to: it hung heavy in the air between them both.
Luke smiled and leaned in to lay his brow against hers. “The Force will be with you always, Leia. Even when I am not.”
He kissed her brow and their eyes met again and held. In that instant they said all they needed to say without speaking. Their emotions swirled in the Force that surrounded them: love, worry, absolution. Hope.
Then Luke turned, wrapping his cloak around him, and he walked away from his sister without looking back. He still felt the years laying heavy upon him -- and he was afraid. But his fear would not lead him into anger or hate. He’d passed that test long ago.
He was Luke Skywalker, a Jedi like his father before him. Like his nephew, too. And if he knew anything for certain, he knew this: that the Darkness was a transitory thing, a thing that could touch but never hold them. Like the night before the dawn, the Dark would pass away before the Light. And that Light lived inside of him, as it had lived inside his father. As it lived inside of Ben. Hiding, sometimes sleeping, but always there, waiting to be roused and renewed.
He would find the knowledge he needed, and then he would find his nephew. He would reach within him and free that Light, let it shine so brightly it would show them both the way home. It would cost him time and distance and strength, maybe even his last breath. But he would make things right.