I love you, Anakin. I am yours, in life, and in death, wherever you go, what ever you do, we will always be one. Never doubt me, my love. I am yours.
? Padm? Amidala Skywalker, Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover.
PART I ? Reaching for Hope
Darth Vader watched as the young man?s world crashed around him. Rather than take his place at his father?s side, he fell. The boy had chosen to plunge to possible death rather than to take his outstretched hand.
A knot formed in the base of Vader?s breastbone. This time was no different than before, when he?d offered the galaxy to another - another who would not take it. The darkness coiled inside of him, pushing at the sensation that had started to take hold. Something had started eating away at him and burning from inside as he held his hand out to Skywalker. Your son, something inside corrected. He fought to contain his feelings, finally damping down the swelling nausea and burning in his heart. He would not be swayed in this. Luke would join him or die.
The sensation returned, hot and white. He grappled with his balance and closed his eyes inside the mask. He shut it out as he did everything else. At this, he had become quite adept in the last twenty years. Calling the dark to him, he turned from the parapet.
The ease with which he had been able to reach out his hand to the boy unsettled him and he desperately tried to tamp down the beginning of something that had been foreign to him for decades.
Hope for the child he had wanted so many years ago. Hope that had been shattered by the lies of the Jedi. He had not expected his son?s rejection to hurt. Surely he was beyond pain by now.
This is the happiest moment of my life.
The whisper of that ancient memory flittered through his mind like a nabug and brought a heavy, leaden feeling to his heart. Lord Vader pushed away from the banister, pulling himself upright. Luke was his. The Jedi could no longer have him. It had almost seemed natural, this connection he felt with the boy, and he knew without a doubt that this was a place he could not go. However much he desperately wanted to have the boy beside him, it did not matter that his life had taken on new meaning; he knew what he must do. The only way he could keep him away from the malignant fire that was the Emperor was to first bring him closer to the flame. Luke must be turned or he would be forced to kill him.
Luke spiraled downward, his plummet an insignificant consequence of his soul?s collapse. It was fitting that he should end up hanging off of the end of the world. The wind whipped the antennae of Bespin?s weather vane making it a cold weapon against Luke?s leg. It was an appropriate punishment for his arrogance in not heeding his master?s warnings.
He called to the only person who could possibly hear him.
No answer came. He had not thought it would.
Instead, he heard the voice of another Jedi master.
Mind what you have learned. Save you it can.
Mind what he had learned. Luke reached further into the Force and into himself. Images, voices, faces rushed past his mind?s eye. Pushing past the pain in his heart that cut deeper than any lightsaber ever could, he found feelings. Thoughts?
A voice came to him from somewhere beyond his consciousness. Beyond time, like a memory that hadn?t happened. Elusive. Something deep in his soul stirred and tingled against the flutter of remembrance.
The cry escaped his lips without thought, ?Leia!?
He knew somehow in his soul that the mysterious voice had spoken in certainty. He pictured Leia in his mind, reaching across the barrier of space.
?Hear me! Leia-?
Like a distant refrain he felt Leia?s presence in the retreating Falcon. He groped desperately in the Force and was rewarded with a glimmering, tiny flicker. He felt the hesitant connection take hold and it became something as elemental and comfortable as the warmth of the Tatooine hearth in his childhood home. He felt her familiarity flow over him, comforting him as if she had been there his whole life.
She felt him.
Luke breathed an inward sigh, his mind still reeling from the events that had thrown him on this course of denial and uncertainty. His heart crumbled as pieces of Anakin Skywalker the hero broke apart and flowed away on the current of his thoughts.
He fell into the Falcon and into Leia?s waiting arms. Her presence soothed him, washing over his battered soul like a balm.
He did not struggle as she laid him on the medical bunk and bound his maimed arm. It had gone numb. Numb like his heart, which had stilled around the pain and beat now only out of habit.
Drifting in and out of consciousness, Luke?s thoughts returned involuntarily to Bespin?s reactor shaft, to the hulking image of Darth Vader looming over him on the gantry.
He had felt Vader?s anger and hatred, emotions that he had expected from the dark side. But he had felt something else. Desire. Again, something he would have expected from a Sith. But not like what he'd felt. There was desperation in his bid to have Luke beside him, ruling the galaxy.
Luke had not expected that.
The dark side was alive beneath that armored fa?ade. It curled around Darth Vader?s heart and permeated his soul.
Yet in that moment - the moment when Vader had reached across the chasm for him, his hand offering Luke the galaxy, if only he?d take it - he?d felt something else.
It was a place apart from the darkness. A thing exiled from Vader?s soul, lying still and dead but not buried. It had been alive once.
A star gone nova?then cold.
All things die?even heroes.
The dark feared it and coiled away from it as if that dead black rock could somehow spark to life.
A memory stirred, drawn from his mind by the place the darkness could not touch. Luke?s skin tingled this time as the voice that was not his own permeated the storm clouds of his thoughts with a single pinpoint of light?
?there?s good in him?
Good in him? Luke?s mind railed against the thought.
As if beckoned by the plea in the foreign voice, an unmistakable baritone pushed its way into his mind. It was almost beseeching in its entreaty.
Emotion from an unnamed and primal source pulled Luke from the bunk to respond.
?Son. Come with me.?
With these words, tendrils of something both dark and light, hesitant in its reach and confused in its desperation, groped naively for him. Luke collapsed onto the bunk, stunned by the bond being extended to him by the Dark Lord.
All his life, he had wanted nothing more than to hear his father call him son. He had not expected it to hurt.
?Ben,? he spoke to nothing. ?Why didn?t you tell me??
Luke pulled himself from the bunk and stumbled to the Falcon?s cockpit, warily examining the command ship looming outside the viewport.
Vader?s pleading voice reached again into his mind, ?Luke! It is your destiny.?
He was too weary to resist. Sinking into the seat behind Leia and opening himself to the Force for strength, he heard it again ? the voice from his own most intimate memory?
?I know. I know there?s still?
He gasped, a pained sigh of resignation.
?Ben. Why didn?t you tell me??
?The fear of loss is a path to the dark side. Mourn them do not, miss them do not.? ?Master Yoda
?Then why do we fight at all, Master? Why save anybody??
? Anakin Skywalker, Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover
PART II ? Protecting the Innocent
In the inner sanctum of his castle on Imperial Center, Darth Vader stared out the viewport. He had just ended a transmission with his latest adversary, Prince Xizor. It seemed as if toppling him from the station he now inhabited as the second in command had become the ambition of every neophyte regime leader. It was a station that he despised these days and one he found himself having to defend more and more, though not entirely with everything that had. The effort it took to be concerned was harder and harder to summon, and he found his ambitions wandering at times.
Xizor fancied himself the Dark Prince and leader of Black Sun, a corrupt organization that dealt with the Empire. They kept their more amoral dealings hidden under the veil of big business. Dark Prince, Vader thought contemptuously. What could this reptile know of the dark? It certainly was not something the alien prince would be so quick to call his own if he knew the complexities and terrors that accompanied the distinction of being called dark. Had Vader been able, he would have laughed out loud.
He had learned of Prince Xizor?s intention to kill Luke Skywalker from a trusted Imperial operative. Several transmissions of bounty hunters and Black Sun operatives had been tracked back to their source. Needless to say, the very thought of the situation made Vader?s blood run hot. He was on the scent now and it made him feel alive - more alive than he had felt in a long time. The thought that this creature would harm his son made something primal and long believed dead come alive. Deep inside he felt the hotness in his veins come perilously close to the tiny damp and dormant wick. A wick long thought snuffed. The heat dried it and made it dangerous.
He hadn?t stopped to ask himself why he was so concerned with making sure the boy was safe. There was no inclination at this time. He now suspected that Xizor knew the truth of his relationship to Luke and this infuriated him even more. If this criminal thought he could strike vengeance against Vader by making an attempt on his son?s life, he was gravely mistaken. He was drawn to protect Luke and he did not question the Force in this instance. It was something he had to do.
Xizor had thrown Luke?s traitorous alliance with the Rebels in Vader?s face as an excuse to end Skywalker?s life. It was a desperate, useless gesture in his bid to best Vader. He had not had a good challenge in quite a while. The thought of choking the air from Xizor?s lungs gave him a much needed lift as it stoked the darkness to a smoldering ember. It would be even better if it were done slowly and from a very close proximity. He might even do it with his own hands.
Aboard the Millenium Falcon, Luke shifted in the pilot?s chair. He tightened his grip on the controls as Leia, Lando, and Chewie positioned themselves for the fight. Prince Xizor?s fighters had engaged them in their flight for escape from his now-demolished compound on Imperial Center. Even with Rogue Squadron assisting, they were outnumbered fifteen to one.
Stretching out in the Force, Luke flew as he had never flown before. But it wouldn?t be enough. A Super Star Destroyer had just appeared at the battle?s fringe deploying TIE-fighters in its wake.
Trying to keep his mind on the escape at hand, Luke fought the edges of despair that threatened to take hold of him.
And then help came from a most unlikely source. The TIEs were not targeting the rebel ships exclusively. They were concentrating most of their attention on Xizor?s unmarked armada.
A familiar wave in the Force washed over him.
He felt the ripple as it spread in the Force. It was different than when he had felt the presence before. Still ominous but seemingly not as dark, it was calm and in control. Powerful. The energy that burned from the presence...hovered. It was the only term he could think of to explain the feeling in the Force that covered the battle. He felt the Dark Lord searching, but just as suddenly as it had risen, it disappeared. Withdrawing its focus and retreating like a great winged bird leaving its half-eaten prey for another meal, another day.
On board the Executor, Vader stalked the bridge as his officers maneuvered the Star Destroyer around the planet and into the fray of battle. His operative had come back with solid proof that Xizor had ignored his request to stay away from the boy. His blood practically thrummed through his veins as he smiled with satisfaction. This ridiculous criminal thought to play games with Darth Vader?s son?s life. Did he hope to hide behind the Emperor?s robe tails forever? The prince had put Luke?s life in danger to serve his own purposes, and Vader was going to make sure he saw the grave error of his ways. He would end this today. He had warned the immoral crime lord. Now they would play by his rules.
If Skywalker is harmed, I will hold you personally accountable.
He had just given the prince two minutes to surrender to his custody. He fervently hoped the Dark Prince would characteristically not comply. The idiot had actually threatened Vader with the Emperor. As if he could do anything out here. Vader would pay his penance, but it would be worth it. This slime had been a thorn in his side long enough. It had truly been a momentous day when the news that he was after Vader?s son had dropped into Vader?s proverbial lap. Xizor?s skyhook and fighters had engaged the Millennium Falcon. That was all that he needed.
At two minutes, Darth Vader simply ordered, ?Commander, destroy the skyhook.?
In addition to the satisfaction of Xizor?s demise, Luke?s signature sang to him through the Force.
He felt the boy?s exertion as he poured his soul into the desperate vie for escape. He could almost see the Millennium Falcon?s controls responding to Luke?s expert touch and Vader wondered briefly what it would be like to fight alongside his son in combat. Luke was good ? they would be a formidable team.
A new awareness rose in his chest. It was one that he did not immediately recognize.
Pride. He could not see the freighter diving and swerving in a rapid succession of Force-led maneuvers but the knowledge that he would be proud skated along the edge of his thoughts. He knew it was not something that he should linger on for the sake of either himself or his son.
He watched with unmitigated satisfaction as Xizor?s small planetoid ship shattered to a million pieces under the strobe of the laser from the Executor.
Yes, today was one of those very rare days when it was good to be alive.
Safe again at the latest incarnation of the Rebel Base, Luke stared out of the transparisteel viewport. He slowly absorbed what had happened over Coruscant. The Imperial Navy had attacked the fleet of an agency known to be subsidized by the Empire. Reports now confirmed that it had been the Executor, Vader?s command ship that had destroyed Xizor?s skyhook.
And Vader had been there. Luke had felt his presence with brief certainty. The Dark Lord had not been overtly reaching or tentative this time but confident and self-assured. Luke could almost see the armored black visage standing tall at the helm of his ship. In that brief touch of their souls Luke had felt the charismatic prowess that made him, for one moment, long to be standing at his father?s side with a strong, gloved hand resting approvingly on his shoulder.
We can rule the galaxy as Father and Son.
Luke slumped against the viewport, resting his head on the smooth, cool surface. It could never be. Something deep inside him whispered the lament his heart had sung all through his childhood.
He felt the childish need to rail against the Force. This was all he had ever wanted and yet it would destroy him in the end. He could tell the Dark Lord wanted him. He now knew that he wanted him alive. A slight flicker of hope made him wonder... does he want me alive or does he simply just want me, as I have wanted my father? His mind had fought against the truth. He had to know for sure. He wanted hear from Yoda?s mouth the words that now settled on him like the darkness he had been so warned against. If it was true and Vader was his father...
Then what had happened?
Luke silently cursed the darkness that had stolen his father. Yoda had assured him that the dark side was not stronger. Luke had to believe it was true. He had to believe his father could come back.
?We can always trust Anakin to do what he thinks is right. But we can?t trust him to do what he?s told. He can?t be made to simply obey.?
? Obi-Wan Kenobi, Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover
PART III ? Claiming the Past
The planet of Dagobah was normally damp and musty, and its atmosphere was laden with oppressive humidity. The perpetually overcast swamp was not warm, but Luke usually found that he had to remove his jacket due to the dankness. Today was different. Luke felt cold. It was like the feeling of deep night on Tatooine. The weight of his teaching bore down on him. He groped for the meditative calm that Master Yoda had taught him but it eluded him. With the information that had been imparted to him by Darth Vader now acknowledged, he now felt the weight of the past sink heavily onto his shoulders. His life was no longer folly and fodder for teenage dreams of heroic adventures.
It was just a day?s work in the Rebellion. Another Death Star to blow up.
No more. Now purpose settled onto his bearing and something larger than himself seemed to whisper to him of his destiny. It whispered of who he was, why he was born and his place in the galaxy. It whispered that he now had a legacy. He felt the irrational need to be back on the farm. Back at Tosch? Station, back with his friends. Maybe it was all a dream.
But it wasn?t a dream. He felt his youth slip away into the sands of Tatooine, seemingly to never again be ascertained.
The hero worship of his father mocked him now, but the voice of another lingered. Somewhere in his mind?s eye he could see the face of his father. It floated before him; intense blue eyes that matched his own?then ripped cruelly away by the darkness.
He sat on the bank looking out across the mist-covered lake and shivered. He closed his eyes and drew on the Force. Yoda was gone. Obi-Wan was gone. Their presences still lingered in the Force, weighing almost as heavy as their words.
Your father, he is.
Luke slumped forward, slowly rubbing his hands across his face. Such a short sentence to seal his fate. He was beginning to wonder if Yoda or Ben had ever planned to let him in on the secret. Or was it nothing more than a mere tragedy to them? An unfortunate biological detail?
Not that it mattered now. Vader ? no, Father ? had told him the truth. A truth that echoed and resonated through his soul in the same timbre that it had whispered to him in the clouds of Bespin. Something manifested between the two of them and shattered all of his preconceived notions. He remembered the words he had finally dared to speak aloud to his old master.
?There is still good in him.?
Obi-Wan?s answer had sounded sad and tired, ?He?s more machine now than man. Twisted and evil.?
Luke couldn?t fault the old Master for not believing. Ben did not see in his former apprentice what Luke felt. He didn?t hear the voice that haunted Luke?s dreams almost every night now. The voice that wrapped itself around his soul like a warm blanket.
The voice that gave him the courage to face the truth that Anakin Skywalker still lived. Luke could no more leave him in darkness than he could his newfound sister.
How was he going to tell her?
?Bury your feelings deep down, Luke. They do you credit, but could be made to serve the Emperor.?
Luke had nodded and hesitated, ?Is that what happened? To my father??
Ben had looked as if the weight of a thousand lifetimes rested on his shoulders. ?I do not know, Luke. Anakin wanted power?and the Emperor offered it freely.?
Luke lifted his eyes back to the moss-laden trees. But his father had power now - more power than anyone in the galaxy, save the Emperor. Yet it did not satisfy him. Something else flowed through his father?s soul now, eroding a path of pain. It was the cold hand of despair that fed the dark animal coiled within him. Luke could feel it. His father had unknowingly opened up more of himself to Luke than he realized as he reached for him. Of that much Luke was sure.
The creature born of despair, fear and hate twitched and lashed out when Luke came near. It feared the light. It knew that Luke could banish it from the dark heart to which it clung like a lover. For the light would reveal what it was hiding and guarding fiercely. Even hiding from the Dark Lord himself.
Luke?s thoughts continued to haunt him on the journey back to the Alliance.
Darth Vader stood looking out the viewport of the bridge on the Executor. The stars sometimes provided stimulus when he strove for meditation. Often the more he attempted the act of meditation, the more difficult it became. Although nowhere near as difficult as it had been in his younger years, when faces of victims burned past his barriers and bled through his shields.
He had not allowed himself total relief from his past. There were some things that he would never forget - some faces he would never forget. This was perhaps as it should be. It defined his existence and fed the dark odium that kept him alive.
It was what he deserved after all. In the very deepest concealed part of him, he granted them that power over him. Though no one would ever discern this, even through the Force. This hatred for him was theirs only he bore the mantle of it. He made sure because they would not. It was not their way. He used it for his own purpose.
Meditation had become easier with age and concentration. His thoughts had become easier to confine, to settle into the path that would lead him to this surreptitious place in himself - the place where he pulled from the darkness like a starved child at its mother?s breast, never seeming to find enough.
This ease that he had briefly touched on had deserted him after the discovery of his son. He could barely focus his energy in meditation without the blue eyes of his son, the eyes of another man, blazing to life before him in the red optics of the mask. They haunted him to madness.
Had they also haunted Obi-Wan?
He frowned under the mask. Where had that thought come from?
He turned to walk the length of the viewport. He could feel Luke?s presence from a distance now. It materialized in the Force like waves of water reaching the shore, then circled and skirted Vader?s own sense - a tentative, cursory push in the Force.
Was Luke looking for him?
With the Emperor nearby he did not believe he should risk open communication with his son.
Reaching desperately for composed energy and detachment, he looked in the direction of the Tion Cluster. If he could focus on that one star system he could escape his rumination and bury himself in the dark reflection that gave him strength. So he looked harder, willing his eyes to focus through the red buzz of the computerized lenses. He concentrated so hard that his temples pounded and his vision clouded through the lens. But still the latent bond remained. Suddenly, a vibration occurred in the Force and his son?s life signature called to him. He knew meditation was lost this day. Luke was nearby.
He stalked to the command center to inquire of the destination of the shuttle that had passed by on its way to the small moon, although he had deduced the answer already. Upon confirmation of his son?s presence, he decided to leave for the Death Star. He must prepare his shields against the Emperor. He had risked much to secure Luke?s safety from Xizor, and there could possibly be questions. The possibility was there also that his master would see through most of the answers, of course. He tried to collect his thoughts. He must subdue the deep yearning that seemed to overcome him at the mention of Skywalker?s name. It was imperative.
The feeling that the Emperor knew of Xizor?s attempt on Luke?s life concerned Vader. They had agreed that an attempt to turn Luke to the dark side would be made before he was destroyed. If the Emperor knew that Luke was walking into a trap, like the previous attempt on his life by the Hand, Mara Jade, or by Xizor himself, this meant that the Emperor was not convinced of Luke's importance, and Vader would have to alter his plans. It occurred to him that he was walking a narrow precipice with very high stakes.
Louder than any voice in the Ewok hut, Luke heard his father land on the sanctuary moon. Distracted, he pulled himself from the warm firelight of friendship and wandered down the walkway. He had not seen his father since Bespin, but their connection had grown stronger with each brush against each other in the Force. The now-familiar dark aura swirled in the distance, and Luke returned the contact with a brief touch of his own. He could not help the longing that surrounded him when he was this close to his father?s presence.
The time had come. Obi-Wan and his father spoke of destiny, a concept that Luke had never given much consideration. He had always thought that his destiny was his own making.
But perhaps they spoke the truth. Luke?s fate was indeed bonded and intertwined with Vader?s and he would share his father?s fate, one way or another. His father would join him, or kill him.
Luke knew little of the Emperor, but he knew that he would not escape the Death Star once he surrendered. His resolve was firmly set. He would not turn to the dark side. And he would not run.
But he did not believe it would not come to that. Darth Vader had taken a very decided step close to the line of treason when he had turned the laser of his Star Destroyer on an Imperial ally. This was not something Luke could look over, as it spoke clearly of Vader?s feelings. If nothing else, it showed the lengths Vader would go to in order to protect Luke from everyone but himself.
Just as his father had protected him from Xizor, Luke did not believe the Dark Lord would turn him over to the Emperor.
The ?Leia-place? in the back of his mind stirred. Instinctively Luke blocked it from his father?s approaching presence. If Luke succeeded in nothing else, his father must not know about Leia.
Luke lifted his eyes to the stars, drawing again on the Force for strength. The voice from beyond his dreams answered, stronger than he?d ever heard it before.
?there?s good in him?
The phrase resolved itself for the first time into a woman?s voice, familiar in its conviction and connection. A woman?a voice like Leia?s?but different.
His sister?s warm voice greeted him from behind and Luke turned to face her.
"Leia, do you remember your mother?"
?And what if the light just isn?t there? What if we get to the end of this tunnel and find only night??- Obi-Wan Kenobi
?Faith we must have. Trust in the will of the Force. What other choice is there??
? Yoda, Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover
PART IV ? Clawing for Higher Ground
Night on Endor was heralded by the calls of night creatures coming out to forage. The forest was inky black and the air crisp and cool. The sounds of nature did not reach Darth Vader as he left the shuttle to meet the AT-AT walker that was supposed to be bearing his son. The helmet had long ago dulled any natural sounding noise to indistinct; an audible sensor relayed any sound that was not being directly spoken to him. Nor was he affected by the temperature. He felt nothing through the encasement surrounding him.
He could however, sense Luke?s presence close by and was uncharacteristically surprised. A moment of doubt had assailed him when the Emperor told him that Luke would come to him, offering himself up to the father he never knew. He did not know his son that well but his innate stubbornness was something he could perceive even with limited knowledge of the boy. Then as quickly as his presence had manifested, it was gone.
Ah. Perhaps the Emperor was not as perceptive as he had alleged. It would not surprise him to greet a party of Imperial officers bearing the news that their quarry had escaped them?yet again. In fact, he expected it.
To Lord Vader?s astonishment the lift doors opened and his son stood in binders, surrounded by the receiving party. So the Emperor had been correct.
He turned his eyes down to the slight figure of his son and thanked the guards.
Luke stepped forward to face him without pause. Vader had grown accustomed to men of power and stature trembling in his presence and yet this young man, barely more than a youth, stood unwavering before him.
The Force hummed around them, identical poles of a magnetic field that would never touch.
?The Emperor has been expecting you,? he offered to Luke, reaching for some kind of straightforwardness in dealing with the boy. Vader noted that his son fell in step with him naturally, as if they had been walking together side by side forever.
His son?s power and presence brought distinct feelings of familiarity with them. Luke was much like he had been at this age, but calmer and at peace with the Force. It was more like he himself had wanted to be in the days before he had accepted the truth of where his destiny would take him. Vader could not help but notice the maturity that now surrounded his son, his mind clear as a bell and his focus determined. He seemed wise well beyond his age.
As Luke conceded to him the idiom ?father?, something caught inside of Vader. However physiological it might be, his breath had stopped. For one millisecond the dragon cowered simpering and something long dormant in him flailed in its attempt to grasp at Luke?s presence. It was all in the space of less than a second, yet reaching all the way to eternity.
As he uttered his acknowledgment of Luke?s accepting of the truth, his chest constricted and pain blossomed. The name he had so long reviled reared its head, flailing no more.
It was out there now, spoken by his son. It was as if the man he had been clawed up from the sand bank of his own making and rose to mock him. Its ghost raised from the grave, given new strength simply by having been spoken?Anakin Skywalker.
Even as he denied it fiercely to Luke, the ghost smirked in his face. He struggled violently with its memory, and the dragon?s hackles rose. It knew the danger this posed as Luke pressed on, brutally reminding him that he had been another man in another life, pleading with the specter to step out of its hiding place.
Vader watched as his son turned his back on him and spoke of his confidence in this man that he presumed to know, Anakin Skywalker. Deep inside, the longing surfaced and he put all of his strength into fighting down whatever vestiges remained of the person Luke erroneously thought he perceived. He turned away from what he saw in his son?s face, the desperation in his eyes.
?Indeed you are powerful as the Emperor has foreseen.?
He acknowledged Luke?s power; there was nothing else he could say. They were being moved by something larger than both of them now. If only Luke could be made to see?
He stood with his back to Luke and felt, more than heard, his son?s appeal. A plea born of idealistic naivet?, ?Come with me.?
?Come away with me?Help me raise our child?leave all this behind while we still can!
He felt sick, the burning rising up from the place where time was frozen and his dragon lay guarding it. Always with him plunging cold, venomous fangs into his fear?but it had never been able to expunge this memory.
He could not think her name.
He could not tell Luke that another had once believed as he did and perished. Perished for her faith in him. Bitterness and hatred at the man who had once loved this woman yet killed her welled inside and he darkly used it. As the dragon seethed, he buried her voce inside and waited for the stillness that the dark side would bring. Luke must be made to see that others had tried but he would not say her name.
He could convey another failure, though: ?Obi-Wan once thought as you do?
you don?t know the power of the dark side. I must obey my master.?
?I will not turn and you?ll be forced to kill me.? Luke?s calm, even resolve brought them to an impasse, and he felt the cold apathy settling back inside. Good. He needed this composure. He had revealed too much and Luke was unbending.
?If that is your destiny,? he said numbly. Briefly it occurred to him that he could not determine if he believed this himself.
As his son begged him to let go of the hatred that had sustained him for years, he found himself back on Mustafar, on another catwalk, as he looked into another light. That sunset, that tiny pinpoint of light in the dark red skies, had represented much. He remembered he had cried then, the last glimpse of his old life was washed away with tears of despair and hopelessness. In that moment those tears had washed away Anakin Skywalker. Forever.
?It is too late for me, son.?
There was nothing else to say to the boy. It was too late.
Once again he found himself willing Luke to understand that they did not have to run away. There was nowhere to go even if they did.
?The Emperor will show you the true nature of the Force. He is your master now.?
Luke stared in disbelief. For a moment, he had felt ? he had seen - the dark cloud in his father?s soul shift. It revealed the tiniest ember of what could have been light from the cold, detached remains of what had once been life. And then it was gone almost as soon as it appeared, snuffed out reflexively at his father?s behest.
The dark creature reared and rose triumphant, leering at Luke, laying claim once again to its domain.
Something inside him crumpled and he nodded in numb comprehension.
?Then my father is truly dead.?
Luke blinked and turned away, forbidding tears. Despair washed over him in icy waves and receded, dispersing his childish hope of reconciliation in its wake.
Had Obi-Wan been right all along? Was his own grasp of the Force so inept that he had staked his life on a fantasy? The master who had trained and fought with his father had not been able to penetrate the darkness. What made Luke think that he could?
Luke struggled for composure as he was led away onto the Imperial shuttle. In the growing distance between them, he felt the connection with his father linger and wane like the mist now evaporating from Endor?s forest at sunrise.
Resting his head against the sterile shuttle interior, Luke relaxed into the Force, releasing his pain and frustration. In the distance he felt a coldness like the cave on Dagobah but darker, pulsing, predatory.
Yoda's voice echoed on the fringes of his mind.
Do not underestimate the powers of the Emperor.
But how am I to know the good from the bad?
You will know when you are calm...at peace...
Luke closed his eyes in meditation, steeling himself for the confrontation ahead. The Force answered his call, surrounding and filling him with a quiet strength.
The desolation Vader felt in his son as he was being led away normally would have fed something terrible and dark inside, but this time it was different. It stayed with him, but he could not use it. It went somewhere else, to a new and different place within. This place felt like a small star smoldering to embers in space, after having burned for centuries.
When he was with Luke he could almost feel that place that had burned out flare up again. He could almost touch something that had been elusive for so long he had forgotten it. In his weakest moments, when his bond with Luke sang through the Force, he could almost shield the small flame and let the small withering light blossom, let the specter step from behind the shadows.
Although the Emperor had foreseen it, he still could not fathom why Luke had turned himself in, much less wanted Vader to come away with him. Luke?s wish for him to accompany him could not possibly be out of affection, as the boy would have no reason to feel anything for him. The misguided devotion to an ideal that he could never be must be eradicated from his son?s perception. Luke was not the first to find this out.
Whatever useless feeling Luke might possess, one thing was for certain: Darth Vader could not bear to lose him, to have that bond torn away again. He could not bear to have that light - that small star - however dim it may be, ripped from his precarious grasp again. He would do whatever it took to keep Luke at his side. He must make him see they could be together. The boy must turn.
The dark is generous, and it is patient and it always wins; but in the heart of its strength lies weakness: one lone candle is enough to hold it back. Love is more than a candle. Love can ignite the stars.
? Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover
PART V ? Lighting a Candle
Red and green blades clashed, each strike pounding against Luke?s temples like a pulse. How had it come to this? He had come here to save his father, not to fight him.
The darkness was tangible here. Not a creature of fear like the thing coiled inside his father, but something cold and sharp. A blade. A sword hovering just on the other side of that black throne. It was not out of his reach. He could call it as easily as any weapon and it would fit perfectly into his hands, the precise weight and balance that Luke had crafted in his own saber. It was mesmerizing.
Luke?s danger sense flared and without thinking he struck out at the source, kicking his father down the steps.
Realizing too late what he had done, Luke jolted in horrified confusion at the Emperor?s maddening cackle. His father had risen from the floor and stalked deliberately toward him with a barely-contained rage that Luke had not felt since Bespin.
Something in Luke collapsed. He had fought so hard to learn and in his naivet?, he had thought the darkness so easy to circumvent. How wrong he was. It wasn?t supposed to happen like this. The dark beacon had distracted him and he was already failing his final trial. He backed away, fighting the darkness that swirled around the both of them. Like a predatory animal it watched and waited to see which would break first. Luke squared his shoulders, determined not to succumb. ?I will not fight you, Father.?
Darth Vader fought black anger as he got up from the duracrete floor. The seething dragon begged him to make short work of Luke but something he could not place held him back. He fought desperately to restrain his feelings and keep his battle mind as he looked up to the boy turned man, above him. Releasing his anger and frustration into a dark shield, he swung sharply at Luke.
?You are unwise to lower your defenses!?
Luke parried and disengaged, flipping to the catwalk above. An awkward swell of pride, he recognized the emotion now, filled Vader?s chest. He clamped it down, willing it away from the prying eyes of his master and piercing gaze of his son. There was no place for this now.
"Your thoughts betray you, Father. I feel the good in you...the conflict,? Darth Vader heard his son?s words through the haze of emotion churning inside him.
He blanched, his breathing labored, and looked up to the catwalk at Luke. His son had grown so much in the Force that he shone brilliantly. He could see why the Jedi had locked onto the potential in him now.
Luke?s confidence galled him, ?There is no conflict.? Every time that he thought he had Luke, his son was able to twist from his grasp, to fight the dark a little longer. Vader would never admit it but his determination was slipping. Pulling the darkness to him, he hurled his saber at the boy. It was time to end this.
He saw Luke tumble to the ground in a shower of sparks, rolling out of sight to land under the platform that held the Emperor. As he searched for Luke under the parapet he reached out, feeling for him in the Force. To his utter dismay he found nothing. The boy had learned to block his mind and it irritated him to even further distraction. He could hear the Emperor come from the platform, laughing maniacally. Both father and son were beyond caring, locked in their own private battle of wills.
?You cannot hide forever, Luke.? Vader walked around the steps of the platform and lowered his upper body to get inside. He tried reaching for his son again, only to find a blank empty space in the Force. The feeling disturbed him. Now that he had been so close to Luke?s light something in him reached for it blindly, urgently. When he drew back with nothing it left him empty inside. Again.
He could not bear to have the empty feeling with him again. He had spent too long numbly living before Luke. He must make Luke see that they could be together. He reached out in desperation again, pleading.
?Give yourself to the dark side. It is the only way you can save your friends. Yes, your thoughts betray you. Your feelings for them are strong. Especially for...?
Vader stopped. His senses were reeling with an undercurrent of recognition. A vision flashed before him, something Luke was hiding.
With clarity one could only get from the Force, he saw his former self seated beside Padm?, so long ago. As the vision rang through his senses he saw that man, his hand on his wife?s belly, speaking of the possibility of a girl as his child kicked from her mother?s womb.
The dragon drew itself up from its hiding place, indignant and angry at another transgression. An image of brown eyes, familiar brown eyes, floated before him...
...in the face of the Princess.
Awareness blossomed in him, filling him with an unmitigated sense of satisfaction. So there had been a second child ? a twin. A daughter... His daughter. He had been so sure that they were having a girl that he had even spoken it aloud to his wife.
Against an onslaught of images of the Princess? face, his precarious balance was compromised, tipped from satisfaction to cold, dead anger. He struggled to keep focus as he burned from the inside. They had not only withheld one child from him, they had hidden two. They had caused him to almost kill his own daughter and kept his plans for toppling the Emperor at bay for too long. Confused and anxious, he reached for Luke again as the truth settled itself firmly on him. He was not accustomed to this feeling of having his bearing ripped out from under him and his dark comfort was just beyond the edges of his grasp. He was not used to having nothing to sustain him.
Suddenly, he knew the key to turning his son, for it was the same weakness that he, himself, shared. He turned towards Luke smugly.
?...sister. So, you have a twin sister. Your feelings have now betrayed her too. Obi-Wan was wise to hide her from me. Now his failure is complete??
Luke closed his eyes. He couldn?t breathe. He?d been violated, the image of his sister ripped from his mind by ruthless claws. His failure was indeed complete. If only he?d been stronger. If only he?d buried his thoughts further as Obi-Wan had instructed. I?m sorry, Leia?
Vader turned and Luke tracked his every move. Something was happening beneath that black armor. A plan was forming on the fringes of his mind that Luke could almost see.
Luke shifted warily, steeling himself. And then for an instant he saw what his father was thinking. The realization ripped through his soul. He wouldn?t? The darkness ? that cold blade ? pulsed now on the periphery of his vision, promising vengeance. It would be easy?
?If you will not turn to the dark side, then perhaps she will,? Vader incanted menacingly.
And easy it was. With a roar of rage, he called the darkness to his hand. His own lightsaber answered as well and he would use it, too. Power he had never known possible thrust him forward against the foe that would dare threaten his sister.
The creature. He saw it clearly now through lenses of hate ? the dragon that had reared itself against him time and again. Luke drove it back. And back. And back.
He would not let it win, though it cried out in pain?
From somewhere far away, he heard Vader cry out in pain.
His father?s voice called through the Force and somehow it sounded muted. The stench of burnt wiring drew Luke?s attention to the floor in front of him.
He stared at the stump of his father?s arm, clenching his own mechanical hand. The dark power pounded in his veins and poured itself down his face in rivulets of sweat. It was indeed seductive as Obi-Wan had described.
He saw it mirrored in his father. It?and a tiny flicker he had never seen before. The beast in his father?s breast railed but Luke looked past it and into the void that it guarded so carefully.
Through the Force, he saw the void shimmer and reveal a hint of?something. It was something that glowed behind a tangle of pain thick enough to ensnare any who approached it.
Through the glowing haze of the small light he recognized the feeling. It felt warm like it had felt when he had called to Leia on Bespin. It felt like?love. Undying, transcending love that had been the sole purpose for someone?s living. Something so familiar, yet it was so foreign he ached from having discovered it.
Luke longed to reach for it, to pull the man who had been Anakin Skywalker from the void. But like a small animal watching from a thicket as its rescuer tries to tempt it from hiding, or a new star coaxed to light in its infancy by the Force, it lay dormant, exiled. Luke wondered if Vader was even aware of what he had seen, of what he had discovered. But his father had retreated into himself and was silent. Sadly, Luke realized that his chance may have passed him by and he would be no more successful than those who had gone before him.
I?m sorry, Father, he thought to the broken man at his feet. But I cannot follow you.
The cold dark blade still pulsed in his hand and he tossed it. His own lightsaber clattered across the room as well, but no matter.
He was a Jedi.
Vader watched in mounting horror as the Emperor raised his arms. He knew what was to come next. Suddenly he found himself a young Jedi standing in the Chancellor?s office. Desperate and afraid, he shielded his eyes against the blinding power of the dark side and prepared to willingly toss away everything for the man standing above Luke now. He remembered Mace Windu?s death, the awe and terror of watching someone succumb to the Emperor?s deadly arsenal. And now Luke would suffer the same fate.
With every fiber left in his body aching, he pulled himself up from the floor as the Emperor released a violent wave of blue Sith lightning into his son. He tried to focus as his addled senses reached out for Luke, desperately pleading for him to give in. It was the only way.
Luke had foolishly discarded his saber and would not be able to withstand this torrent.
He watched his son attempt to use the Force to deflect the storm that was being unleashed. The bolts of energy were coming with such swiftness and power that Luke wavered before them, his knees buckling. Luke clutched a raised cylinder on the bridge to keep from falling into the shaft as the lightning tore through him.
?Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the Dark Side,? the Emperor swore.
Vader turned toward his Master in a daze. Vaguely, from somewhere outside his realm of hearing, he heard the Emperor taunting his son again. Dread wafted up from inside him and brushed against something small and hot, intense in its waking. Something that should not exist?
?Father, please. Help me!?
Forbidden memories assaulted him. Voices from the past - whose voices had they been?
It?s not the Jedi way.
He was not a Jedi. He had killed that Jedi?like all the others.
I need him!
Vader awoke from the fog slowly, as if from a dream. A child was screaming. And Padm? was dying.
Despair that had been kept hidden for a lifetime ripped through him yet again. He was letting her die. She called to him in the dream and he was letting her die. His reason for living was dying, birthing his child and he could not even pull himself from this dream to save her?
Luke writhed under the onslaught, calling to his father. There was no answer. He could not see the black visage through the haze of smoke, but he felt him.
He called again. The pain increased and his father remained silent. Luke could not hear nor did he care what the Emperor was saying. It did not matter. Despair as sharp as any vibroblade stabbed him with each jolt. He would die here. He would die and there would be no more Jedi.
No one to protect Leia.
No one to train Leia?unless they captured her. Unless this monster pulled her into his spell?
In a brief respite he felt, vaguely, his father?s awareness returning. He flailed for him in the Force but felt only the black beast rear up, striking with violent claws.
Anguish and despair drove Luke to a place he had never dared venture. To the ember of what had once been a star in his father?s soul.
Calling on the Force he gathered it to him, forming a spear of light. With all his might he drove it like a pike through the dragon and the tangled wall of his father?s pain.
A vision exploded in Luke?s mind ? a woman crying in pain. Her voice called from beneath the weight of what seemed like a thousand years.
?Anakin! Help me?
A quick glimpse of a woman?s face, too blurry to see and wrapped in the agony and torture of failure and despair, assailed Luke. He fought the pain and dizziness and realized that he could hear his own heartbeat, beating in time with someone else?s. Two other distinct and different beats joined together with his and slowly the four of them rose to a crescendo in the Force.
This was not his vision, but his father?s. It was his father?s memory. It was not Luke that had formed the spear of light. It was the light inside of his father, a light so long dormant, that had risen up in an attempt to break free from the dragon's hold. With a shock of recognition, Luke realized that the voice from his father's memory was the same that he heard in his own mind?his own memory. A woman?s voice. Her voice.
?Stop?Stop now. Come back!...
Why would Vader hear her voice? Unless?.
The agonizing lightning sliced again through his senses. He called out desperately as if in a trance, the voice coming from deep inside him, ?Father?please!?
Luke reached through the Force again but now he was tired?so tired. Too far away to ascertain any details, he heard one last entreaty. It came through the mist of time, betrayal and tears?
?I love you!....
Too weak to offer anything more, Luke could only whisper the words, for he knew they would be his last. He had failed.
But he wanted his father to know?
?I love you??
And the small, scared star went supernova.
From across the room Luke felt rather than saw the small light. Once guarded so fiercely, it took shape and burst. In its intensity, he could not tell if he were dying, if the lightning had intensified, or if it had come from his father.
Then his answer came. Through the Force, the face of a young man materialized for the briefest instant. It wasn?t angry or intense or even in pain. The young, striking face regarded him knowingly, sedately even, through blue eyes in that millisecond before they disappeared. Luke looked up to find that the lightning had stopped. And his father was on fire.
From across forever he saw his wife?s face. Her name, long denied and buried beneath a void of blackness, it had been guarded by something he had never been able to get to. Even the dragon shied from it. Her name brought forth this something from him hot and angry. But it wasn?t dark. Its rage was clean and righteous. Its purpose was not fraught with indecision and fear. It flared white hot, like a star being born, and the dragon crumpled pitifully under its light.
With a heave of his body, Vader grabbed Palpatine from behind and picked him up over his head. Fighting for control of the robed figure despite his weakened body and missing arm, the light had told him exactly what to do. It moved him. It had become him. The lightning now arced back onto him, infusing his whole body with blinding pain and he numbly realized that at least he was feeling?something. Somehow, through the red haze of unbearable pain, it occurred to him that this was only fitting. That he would die with the Emperor and fulfill his destiny. And Luke and Leia would be safe.
The simplicity of it tore his mind from the pain for a moment and he found the strength to move forward. He became intent on not even allowing himself the release of a cry of pain as torture even more unbearable than lava washed over him. It seized the circuits of the suit, fusing skin and metal together and obliterating life support systems.
He stumbled forward to the rim of the chasm with his load as the waves of blue fire rained on his helmet and down over his back, piercing him with excruciating agony. He could feel the circuits blowing and shorting in the suit that had kept him alive for the past two decades. He held Palpatine over his head and fought for a final burst of strength and as he threw the Sith over the edge of the reactor shaft at the center of the throne room. As Palpatine fell his body exploded, creating a rush of cold air through the room.
The man who had been Anakin staggered toward the edge of the abyss and collapsed, his cape whipped by the force of the wind. The burning in his chest radiated out painlessly and then disappeared to nothing, leaving a warm but ironically numb feeling with it. He had a feeling it would not be long now until his old friend death claimed him. How ironic that he had so feared it before. Now he simply wanted it to be done.
A familiar face swam before his and he recognized her through the fog. He had kept her away for so long. He felt her familiar warmth beside him again and he realized that it was Luke that was at his side, pulling him away from the edge to safety.
He leaned back into Luke?s embrace, exhaling a sigh that had nothing to do with the damned respirator. He wanted to reach for the boy one last time--this time only as his father--but his arm would not obey. Luke must have felt it though, his intention, and reached down to hold his hand. He was so tired that he could not bring his son?s face into focus through the failing red computer lenses that had been his eyes for over twenty years.
He tried to grasp Luke?s hand tighter to let him know that he was thankful for nothing else than the fact that he could go now to whatever awaited him and find peace somewhere, but it was to no avail. His breath was his own now, and strangely it lingered. It was the most magnificent feeling he had felt since before the suit, simply drawing one breath. He drew it in again and let it out in a sigh. He knew he would not be able to continue long. He summoned the strength to squeeze his son?s hand to let him know he loved him and he could go. It was over.
He dimly realized thoughts and memories of his previous life, things that had been hidden in the void for years. Things like brotherhood and laughter. Of loving and expecting nothing in return. Of bonding with someone, becoming one in a child.
Luke knelt on the floor cradling the bulky armor in his arms as best he could. His father moved his arm and Luke took his hand. It?s all right, Father, he sent through the Force. I?m here. Rest a minute.
A wave of warmth washed over Luke and he pulled the weakened body closer. A blur of thoughts and images that were not his own, swirled through the Force. They were too hazy to distinguish but Luke tried to absorb them, to soak in the man who had given him life for the second time.
The faint glow of the bond they had forged over time was complete now, intertwined beams of love and forgiveness that formed a brilliant burst of light.
A single thought became clear through the haze of his father?s memory. Pushed to the surface, as if it was something he wanted Luke to know?
?This is the happiest moment of my life?
Original cover by rhonderoo. HTML formatting copyright 2005 TheForce.Net LLC.