Agent of the Dark Side (PG)

By : Andraya

Archived on: Monday, January 28, 2008

Summary:
What does Darth Vader think and feel during his confrontations with his son, his master, and himself in the throne room of the second Death Star?

Luke Skywalker had remained silent throughout the entire trip. As he rode in the elevator with Darth Vader to the Emperor's throne room aboard the Second Death Star, Vader noticed that Luke had also remained quite serene. He had centered deeply into himself and into the Force. Vader had known few Jedi who could accomplish this task under trying circumstances with such composure.

Truly, he had known few people with that ability. But one person in particular came to his mind: Padmé.

His beloved.

The mother of his son, he wistfully thought, surprised that his mind would recall a memory of the woman whom he had tried so hard to forget. Then again, with his son-their son-standing next to him, it was hard to suppress the thoughts that he had long ago attempted to eradicate.

That son was now standing next to him and calmly taking in everything around him, accepting every aspect of his fate with a strong inner composure.

In this respect, Vader knew, Luke was his mother's son.

Yet, he was also his son. It was undeniable. Luke's resonance with the Force, and those bright blue eyes and that dusky dark blond hair-those traits were from him, from when he was...

From when he was...

Vader could not bring himself to think the name of his former self, the name that Luke claimed for him. Anger boiled within what was left of his human body when he recognized this shameful weakness. He saw Luke glance over at him with mild curiosity, and it was not the first time that the Dark Lord was thankful for the mask that covered the expressions on his scarred face.

Vader knew that he could not afford these distractions from the past; there were more pressing matters at hand. He buried his thoughts in the darkest recess of his mind. It was a well-practiced skill, used many times all too recently.

The elevator came to a halt, and the doors opened. Side by side with Luke, Vader entered the throne room and ascended an open staircase. Reaching the main platform of the room, both Skywalker men stopped, and the older of the two bowed before the man who had been his master for almost two-and-a-half decades.

"Welcome, young Skywalker. I have been expecting you." The Emperor's voice was, Vader noted, as it had been since his ascension to the throne: dry and tinged with a slight raspiness.

Vader felt the defiance well up inside of Luke. Inwardly, he smiled at this reaction. His son had no idea what power he was inadvertently tapping into.

"You no longer need those." Again, it was the Emperor who spoke from his throne on the top of the dais. With the slightest motion of his finger, a gesture more for show than practicality, the binders that clasped around Luke's wrists fell free and clanged on to the floor.

Luke gave his wrists a passing glance, and Vader could tell that he recognized what this freedom meant. In fact, it meant the same thing to all three men; Luke now had the opportunity to do what all the other Jedi in the galaxy had not had the opportunity to do: challenge both Sith Lords.

But Luke did nothing. He did not move. He did not speak.

Once again, Vader's longtime master spoke. "Guards, leave us."

Through the Force, Vader could feel the movement and departure of the scarlet-clad guards. He had long since ceased to be fascinated by these figures or the men underneath them. They were insignificant to him; clad in navy or scarlet, they were nothing but a symbol of power.

"I'm looking forward to completing your training. In time you will call me Master."

"You're gravely mistaken. You won't convert me as you did my father."

Luke's words struck Vader. Convert? No, that sounded too much like manipulation. His choice to join Palpatine had been made freely. He had known the bargain he was striking.

A movement interrupted these thoughts. Vader watched as the Emperor stood up slowly from his throne, belying with his weak gait the true power that he controlled. Palpatine walked over to Luke and peered down on the Rebel with searing, yellow eyes. Vader felt Luke attempt to maintain his composure as he saw the true face of evil for the first time.

"Oh, no, my young Jedi," the Emperor crooned. "You will find that it is you who are mistaken...about a great many things."

This intense gaze connected the old Emperor and the young Rebel, and something about that connection left Vader feeling cold and disregarded. He did not quite comprehend why, and his mind searched for an answer, but came up blank. Vying for awareness from the man he had long and faithfully served, Vader spoke. "His lightsaber." He extended his hand toward his master and revealed Luke's new lightsaber.

The Emperor took the weapon from his minion. For the briefest second, his attention swayed from Luke to Vader, but once again, the supreme ruler of the galaxy turned his focus back to Luke. This created a yawning and sinking feeling in Vader.

A jealous fire slowly started to burn and gnaw at him from the inside, though he still did not know why.

"Ah, yes, a Jedi's weapon. Much like your father's."

To Vader, something about hearing the word father aloud stung. He could not control the images flashing before his eyes as his mind recalled a scene. The docking bay of the Republica 500. His memory evoked a soft and kind image, one of his beloved hidden behind a decorative column. He saw Padmé, dressed in her usual regal manner, her hair tightly wound into double buns. He remembered the trembling he felt as he had held her in his arms, as she said to him, "Ani, I'm pregnant." The revelation that he was going to be a father had overwhelmed him with a profound pride like none other. The very word father meant so much to him. He could hear her voice, as if she were speaking those words now.

But it was another voice, a more familiar voice, that presently spoke, though the words were much less kind. "By now you must know your father can never be turned from the dark side. So will it be with you."

Vader narrowed his eyes-not that anyone could see the motion, nor was either of the other men inclined to gauge his reactions at the moment.

An old Sith legend came to his mind. No, it was a Jedi teaching about the Sith. Vader had certainly no need for those teachings, but the thought still pressed into his mind with a burning intensity. There were only two Sith. A Master and an Apprentice. The Sith legacy had survived for a millennia on this principle. The Sith legacy had flourished in the Empire on this principle. And now the Sith legacy would continue on this principle.

But who would be the Master and who the Apprentice?

Luke's voice intruded on his thoughts. "You're wrong. Soon I'll be dead...and you with me." There was an underlying confidence in his voice that bordered on arrogance.

The Emperor laughed, but Vader knew that there was nothing about that sound or the wrinkles pressed into his haggard face that suggested a true humor. "Perhaps you refer to the imminent attack of your Rebel fleet." He spit out the word Rebel with particular distaste.

Luke's sharp response in the Force, Vader noted, was even stronger than the indignant expression on his face.

The Emperor momentarily reveled in this look before saying, "Yes...I assure you we are quite safe from your friends here."

"Your overconfidence is your weakness," Luke retorted, his voice speaking with the bravado that his spirit did not emote.

Vader gave his son a once-over. Clearly, the boy had no idea who he was dealing with, what Palpatine had done in his time, how he had achieved all that was before them and more.

"Your faith in your friends is yours." The Emperor sounded mildly irritated with Luke now, as if he had expected more from the son of Skywalker.

Vader intervened in the conversation. He knew the power of the man before him, he understood the helplessness that he had faced when confronted with this power. And he now chose to convey this to Luke. "It is pointless to resist, my son."

The Emperor stared sharply at Luke. Anger laced his voice as he stated, "Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design." He pointed to the moon of Endor. "Your friends up there on the Sanctuary moon are walking into a trap. As is your Rebel fleet!" he hissed. "It was I who allowed the Alliance to know the location of the shield generator. It is quite safe from your pitiful little band. An entire legion of my best troops awaits them."

Luke's eyes darted over toward Vader, and though he could not see it, Vader was making perfect eye contact in return. To Vader, Luke's clear blue eyes showed an intense pain; they revealed the inner struggle that was welling inside of him. Where had Vader seen that type of pain mixed with pity before? Whose eyes had shown that despair to him before?

Luke broke the contact and gazed down at the weapon that lay near the Emperor's right hand. Vader followed this gaze, but then returned his focus to Palpatine when the latter spoke. "Oh...I'm afraid the deflector shield will be quite operational when your friends arrive."

Again, the pain swelled in Luke, and Vader could feel it reverberate through the Force. These feelings would be his undoing, Vader thought. He personally knew the power of passion and attachment; he knew how these sensations could manifest themselves as commanding agents of the Dark Side.

But Luke did not, Vader realized. He did not understand the nature of the Dark Side and of the unbridled furor it created in those strong enough to bend the living Force to their will. He accepted the guidance of the Force, but he had yet to attempt to wrangle control of his actions from the Force itself. He only allowed himself to be a conduit and not yet a master.

But that would change. And soon, especially as the Rebel fleet emerged into space and fell into the trap.

The silence in the throne room slowly became deafening to Vader. Even the movement up the stairs had done nothing to abate Vader's slipping composure. The raging fire within him grew more intense. At least with the Emperor speaking, he could assess where he stood in Palpatine's machinations. With this silence and nothing in the background but the battle with the Rebel fleet, Vader could only guess.

The thoughts that came to his mind were disturbing. This was not the first time he had stood with another Jedi in a throne room, he realized, staring down at what appeared to be the helpless figure of Palpatine. With the thought of that previous confrontation in mind, Vader could not help but doubt his master, could not help but wonder if he too was now the pawn that Count Dooku had been all those years ago.

"Come boy," the Emperor finally rasped. "See for yourself."

Vader gave his master a casual glance. Unsure of Palpatine's motives, Vader chose to stand beside the man whom he had loyally served for all these years. For now.

Luke moved over to the window, and the extent of his attachment to his friends painfully revealed itself to Vader as the anguish that welled inside of Luke rolled out of him through the Force. He was in pain, which was exactly what the Emperor wanted. Only through his desperation could Palpatine focus Luke's anger and aggression and coerce him to tap into the unbridled powers of the Dark Side.

"From here you will witness the final destruction of the Alliance," came the harsh taunt, "and the end of your insignificant Rebellion."

Vader recognized the gambit for what it was worth, but the agony surging from Luke indicated that he was falling into a trap and did not realize the depths into which he was about to plunge. Vader watched the torment plague Luke's face as his son glanced down at his lightsaber, still set on the armrest of the throne chair.

With a quaint smile etched into his lips, the Emperor whispered, "You want this, don't you? The hate is swelling in you now." A trickle of enthusiasm crested in him. "Take your Jedi weapon. Use it. I am unarmed. Strike me down with it. Give in to your anger." The voice was now encouraging, attempting to persuade and condone hateful actions simultaneously. "With each passing moment, you make yourself more my servant."

Vader watched as Luke struggled with his rising agony. He saw how his son waged an inner war between what he knew he should do and what he wanted to do. Again, images flashed into his mind. He could see himself standing before Palpatine-a younger Chancellor Palpatine-in the walkway to the Chancellor's office. Having learned Palpatine's dark secret, he had stood before the Dark Lord with his former saber drawn. How he had wanted to strike Palpatine down then. How he had burned with betrayal and mistrust. How he had wanted to act, but couldn't, didn't.

Vader now felt that same tumble of confusion in his son. However, for now, Luke's defiance of the Emperor held firm. "No!"

Palpatine took this resistance in stride. "It is unavoidable. It is your destiny. You, like your father, are now mine!"

Vader could feel the torment in Luke grow. He sensed his son grow weary of resistance. He saw Luke watch the battle unfold between the Imperial and Rebel fleets, and he knew that with each passing second, the desperation in Luke's heart intensified. Luke still struggled between his desires and his duty. He vied with himself, but unlike his father, did not know that no matter what he chose, he would lose.

"As you can see, my young apprentice," the Emperor crooned, "your friends have failed. Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station." He snapped a button on the sidearm of his chair. "Fire at will, Commander."

The desperation in Luke swelled as he helplessly watched Rebel ships dissipate under the might of the battle station's potent firepower. Even from this distance, the light from the explosions was blinding. Vader watched as Luke struggled not to look away or ignore the carnage that he could both see and feel.

One by one, the brilliant flashing lights showed the destruction of Rebel ships under the Death Star's ultimate weapon. No sound of the battle penetrated the throne room, but Luke's agony, which resonated in the Force, pulsated in waves as he watched and felt his friends die.

The Emperor turned his attention from the battle to the young man standing just a few feet away and evenly suggested, "Your fleet has lost. And your friends on the Endor moon will not survive. There is no escape, my young apprentice. The Alliance will die...as will your friends."

Vader observed as Luke's eyes filled with a passionate rage. And therein lay his weakness, Vader recognized. He could not control his emotions, his attachments, and that connection to others would be his downfall.

"Good," the Emperor whispered, "I can feel your anger. Take your weapon!"

Vader watched from the sidelines as Palatine goaded Luke with his words, and he was hardly surprised to feel the anger in his son rising in response.

"Strike me down will all of your hatred, and your journey towards the Dark Side will be complete," Palpatine crooned.

Vader continued to study Luke as his son took in these words. He was waiting for Luke to act upon his emotions, which did not take long.

Luke twisted his body around and snapped the lightsaber up from the throne and into his hand. He ignited the brilliant green saber and with all of his mounting fury swung down at the unassuming form of the Emperor. But his move was neither unexpected nor unanticipated by either Dark Lord. Vader's lightsaber also flashed into life and effortlessly blocked Luke's angered blow. At contact, the blades sparked and bathed the Emperor in a luminous glow.

Luke now directed his anger toward his father and furiously pushed the elder Skywalker back. Vader was astonished by the intensity and speed at which Luke attacked. He had certainly grown into a far more worthy opponent since Cloud City. And the power of the Dark Side now surged through his son as Luke embraced this newly discovered energy source.

When was the last time a Jedi had been able to best him so, Vader wondered as Luke slowly pushed him back step by step away from the Emperor's throne. Vader had to exert all of his might and pull upon all of his experience against the onslaught from his son. Within moments, Luke had pushed him to the edge of the staircase, and with a quick blow had forced Vader to lose his balance and tumble down.

At the bottom of the staircase, Vader stood and collected himself. Most impressive, he thought. It was no wonder that the Emperor feared him. With this newly tapped energy, Luke now represented everything that Vader once had. He was strong, willful, and forceful. The heat of the Dark Side coursed through his veins and stretched to possess his very being.

Vader stared at Luke, who stood at the top of the staircase and was posed for the next bout of fighting. He could feel the adrenaline pulse through his son and could almost hear the thunderous pounding of Luke's raging heart. A smile crept up on Vader's lips as he slowly ascended the stairs, recognizing that Luke still had no idea what he possessed. Without that knowledge, Luke could still not take mastery of the Force and bend it to his will. He was weak as long as he remained ignorant of the motivation behind his actions.

Cackling laughter intruded into the fight. "Good. Use your aggressive feelings, boy!" the Emperor said. "Let the hate flow through you."

With those words uttered, the atmosphere took a sudden swing toward the opposite direction. Vader appraised this change as Luke momentarily glanced at the Emperor and then back at him. He then felt a sudden wash of calmness descend over Luke as his son recognized the ploy he had fallen for. Luke took a step back and deactivated his lightsaber. Waves of serenity echoed in the Force and bathed Vader as Luke pulled back from his aggression.

"Obi-Wan has taught you well," Vader simply commented, uttering a name that was still anathema to him.

"I will not fight you, father." Luke's answer was a plain and simple reflection of his newly found tranquility.

Vader continued to walk up the staircase toward Luke, his lightsaber drawn, but low. Where had his passion gone, Vader wondered. How had he been able to let go of his feelings and his attachments so quickly and resolutely? Then a thought crept into Vader's mind. No, Luke had not given up all of his attachments. Luke had not given up on him, and that, Vader realized, was going to be a fatal flaw.

Finishing the staircase, Vader taunted Luke. "You are unwise to lower your defenses," he said as he swung his lightsaber down against Luke. Just as he had expected, Luke ignited his saber in time to defend himself from the attack. Now, the situation had reversed itself. Vader was master of the duel, and he resolutely pushed his son back, blow by blow. This lasted until the younger Skywalker pushed Vader's saber out of the way, deactivated his own blade, and used the Force to propel him into a reverse flip that catapulted him on to the walkway overhead. Vader stood below his son, quite impressed with that stretch of agility.

Serenity resonated through Luke and extended throughout the throne room. "Your thoughts betray you, father. I feel the good in you..." Luke briefly paused, choosing his next words carefully. "The conflict."

Vader replied in a flat voice. "There is no conflict." He wrapped the darkness that enveloped him more tightly around his mind...and his heart. Vader could afford no distractions. He had to remain firmly in control of himself and the situation.

"You couldn't bring yourself to kill me before, and I don't believe you'll destroy me now." Luke's words were sincere; he honestly believed that he had grasped the truth behind his father.

But Vader was not about to let his son gain mastery over him, especially not after his son clearly showed no appreciation for the Dark Side. "You underestimate the power of the Dark Side. If you will not fight," Vader warned, "then you will meet your destiny."

Aiming for the catwalk above, Vader threw his lightsaber up. He used the Force to guide it through the support beams of the walkway and then called the saber back to his hand. Without the proper integrity, the walkway collapsed, and as it fell, it took Luke down with it. Luke tumbled without a sound, but Vader sensed that he could not resist crying out in the Force as the pain knocked into him.

Knowing that Luke must be located on the level below himself and the Emperor, Vader walked to the stairs, but instead of being forced down them as he had been a moment ago, he took each step one at a time. In the background he heard the Emperor laugh and say, "Good. Good." He ignored Palpatine. This matter was solely between father and son.

The area under the main dais had a much lower ceiling, but Vader still found himself able to walk in the area with ease. With his lightsaber ignited, Vader stalked around the cavern. He reached out with the Force and could feel Luke, but could not pinpoint his location. His son was cowering, fearing the inevitable confrontation, as it were. He was resisting the Dark Side still, although Vader knew it whispered to Luke and beckoned him to embrace the powers that it held in store.

"You cannot hide forever, Luke." It was a truthful and practical statement; the room was only so large, and with the light spilling over from above, there were very few places where Luke could remain hidden. It was only a matter of time before Vader would find him.

"I will not fight you." The fierce defiance that had once characterized his insolence against the Emperor was now entirely missing from Luke's voice.

The statement almost amused Vader. Even in the twilight of the Jedi, when few of them had remained and Vader had hunted them down one by one, most had opted to fight against him and attempt to wipe out the Dark Lord before he had obliterated him. Obi-Wan had even been bold enough to challenge him in the end.

"Give yourself to the Dark Side." In their brief encounters, that comment was perhaps the only piece of fatherly advice he would give Luke, but it was something that Luke clearly did not want to hear. He tried to make his presence in the Force smaller and more elusive, and he attempted to close his mind to all outside thoughts, distractions, and intrusions. He had almost succeeded, when Vader managed to push into his son's mind and found what he was looking for. "It is the only way you can save your friends." Luke's wince could be felt through the Force. "Yes, your thoughts betray you. Your feelings are strong. Especially for..."

Vader paused as he sensed everything within Luke scream in anguish. No, this was not possible, Vader raged to himself. The anger within him burgeoned as he grasped the very thing that Luke wanted kept from him, the very secret that Obi-Wan had fought so valiantly to keep from him. With this new piece of knowledge, Vader felt that he had finally overcome the shadow of his former master and had emerged victorious.

He finally hissed the word that had come to his mind. "Sister! So...you have a twin sister." He eased the words out slowly, letting each inflict a full dose of pain on Luke. But he was not done yet. "Your feelings have now betrayed her too. Obi-Wan was wise to hide her from me. Now his failure is complete." Vader relished speaking those words aloud. It had taken him so long, but finally, he was the master; and with this new knowledge, he articulated the words that he knew would bring his son out of hiding. Vader spoke, and allowed Luke's own attachments to be his undoing. "If you will not turn to the Dark Side, then perhaps she will."

"Never!" Luke screamed with all of his might. The floodgates restraining his anger and aggression broke loose, and Luke burst forward from his hiding place and launched an attack against his father. He dealt one furious blow after another and aggressively pushed his father back.

For all of his taunting, Vader had not expected this powerful of an outburst. He was unsure of what to do. He was powerless to initiate an offensive against this onslaught. He could only deflect one fierce blow after another. But within this defeat, he recognized the truth: this was his son. And his son was fighting with a frenzy like Vader had never seen before, save one other time: himself on Mustafar.

Sparks flew into the air each time the two lightsabers came into contact with one another. Luke slashed and hacked, using his endless tirade of blows to push Vader back step by step. Within seconds they were out of the cramped space under the dais, and with this newfound arena, Luke pressed even harder. He embraced his fury, and in doing so, he outmatched the anger of Vader.

Before he knew what had hit him, Vader had been forced back to a bridge. He knew that he only had a few more steps until he reached the elevator at the other end. But those few steps suddenly mattered little when his son's onslaught humiliatingly drove him down to his knees. Vader could do nothing but block Luke's reign of blows as they came faster and faster. With each hit, his son's anger multiplied, and Vader realized that he had unleashed his own defeat.

Each blow pounded harder than the last one, and Vader found himself losing the ability to resist much longer. And then Luke paid him the ultimate revenge. With fury coursing through his veins, Luke let loose all of his aggression and slashed down on Vader's right wrist. Vader cried out in agony, not in physical pain, but from the humiliation of losing his dignity.

Luke stood taut, each breath panted out, his own lightsaber drawn and pointed toward his father's throat. He believed that he had won...but something within Vader told him that Luke had lost more than he could possibly realize.

"Good!" came an all too familiar voice. "Your hate has made your powerful," the Emperor said, his voice filled with an uncontrollable vehemence. "Now, fulfill your destiny and take your father's place at my side!"

The words were jarring, more so to the father than to the son. An all too painful memory flashed into Vader's mind. He saw himself as a young man standing aboard the flagship of General Grievous. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Palpatine-a young, unscarred Chancellor Palpatine-looking frail and helpless. Before Palpatine stood two Jedi: the young and brash Anakin Skywalker and the old and powerless Count Dooku. The Count was bent on his knees, two lightsabers crossed at his throat. Vader had held those lightsabers, not knowing then that as the detained Chancellor had urged his aggressive protégé to take the life of his captor, that Palpatine was simultaneously encouraging Vader's former self to embrace the Dark Side.

And now the cycle was repeating itself. Palpatine had goaded both men into a fight knowing full well that the stronger of the two would emerge as his apprentice. And Luke had no idea of the trap he had walked into. He could not possibly fathom that he had taken the first steps down the same road his father had traveled all those years ago.

Or could he? Vader wondered.

Still aware of the lightsaber pointed only inches from his vulnerable throat, the defeated Dark Lord gave his son a haphazard glance. Luke was not paying attention to either Vader or the Emperor. He was staring at his own hand...his mechanical right hand, the hand that matched the one he had taken from his father only a moment ago.

The anger flushed from Luke's system. Although the Force was still permeated with the essence of the Dark Side, the manifestation of this power stopped swelling as Luke calmed himself. Vader was amazed by this transformation, stunned that his son had the power to resist that which had caused his own downfall.

Suddenly, Luke stood erect, flipped off his lightsaber, and flung the sword away. "Never!" he resolutely declared. "I'll never turn to the Dark Side. You've failed, Your Highness," he continued, his confidence growing with each word. "I am a Jedi, like my father before me."

Something in those words spoke to Vader. For the first time in his life, he knew the pure joy of fatherly pride. Still, he recognized that this resistance would come at a lethal price as he felt the Emperor's glee transform into a dark and bitter rage.

"So be it...Jedi," the old man spat out. He had been walking down the staircase the entire time and had now reached the bottom. The Emperor looked at Luke, his face contorted into a mixture of ire and disgust. Slowly raising his arms up in the air, he bent his fingers in Luke's direction. "If you will not be turned," he whispered in a supple tone, "you will be destroyed."

The very fibers of the Force twisted and contorted with malice as a violent flow of blue lightning streamed from Palpatine toward Luke. The very air choked in Luke's throat as he attempted to push away the bolts but failed. The young man fell to the floor, unable to resist the speed and might of the potent assault, and his screams were drowned out by the cackling of the lighting.

Vader climbed up from the floor and moved to the side of the Emperor. He watched the scene before him, and numbness fell over his body. He realized what failure and defiance meant, and he felt helpless. Palpatine had no need for him, that was clear, but there was nothing he could do for his son either. The Dark Side of the Force was more powerful, and one half trained Jedi-son of his or not-was not going to alter that balance.

The lightning ceased, only to be replaced with a verbal battering. "Young fool...only now, at the end, do you understand."

Those words echoed in Vader's head, and they clung to him. He wracked his brain, trying to comprehend them.

Another barrage of lightning slammed into Luke's weakening body. The force of the assault shoved Luke against a canister near the edge of the precipice of the seemingly bottomless shaft that lay right beside him. He desperately clung to the canister as the increasingly vicious bolts ripped through his body.

"Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the dark side," the Emperor proclaimed, sending another salvo of lightning at Luke. "You have paid the price for your lack of vision."

Again, more streams of lightning struck Luke. He writhed on the floor, winding and contorting his body in agony. Vader felt the very fabric of the Force echo with Luke's pain as the Dark Side of the Force ate away at his son's very aura.

In the midst of this torment, Luke still had the presence within him to reach toward Vader. His hand trembled as his entire body convulsed with pain. "Father, please," he groaned, "help me."

It was a child reaching out for his father. Nothing more, nothing less. It was something Vader had never been able to experience before now. It was one of the many things, he realized with an ache in his heart, that he had missed. The torrent of emotions poured into him as he realized all that he had lost when Padmé had died, all that had been stolen from them.

A burning heat filled Vader's body as his mind flashed back to a kinder image, that of Padmé. She was standing before him on Mustafar, ripe with his children, eyes brimming with tears, voice choked with sorrow. "You're a good person. Don't do this." He had dismissed her supplication at that time. He had known what he was doing then; at least, he thought he had known. "Anakin," she had pleaded in a terrified voice, "you're breaking my heart. You're going down a path I can't follow...Stop. Stop now. Come back! I love you!"

Those last words echoed in his mind as he gazed down at the product of his love for Padmé. Luke still tossed on the floor as the Emperor showered the young hero with bolt after bolt. Vader stared hard at Luke, before turning toward the Emperor. Palpatine had a satisfied look on his face; he now had the pleasure of doing what he had once commanded Vader to do: wipe out all the Jedi. Vader followed the bolts emanating from Palpatine's fingers to the anguished form of his son.

Palpatine desisted in his attack, and the momentary relief in Luke was visibly palpable. "Now, young Skywalker...you will die." With great speed and ferocity, the Emperor twisted the Dark Side to his decrepit will and beckoned that evil power to execute his commands. He sent forth a last barrage of lightning out of his fingers, the intensity so crushing that it drove from Luke the very possibility of survival.

Vader looked intently at Luke, and as he watched what he knew must surely be the excruciating end of his son's young life, he realized something. Even in the midst of his own demise, Luke had not given up hope in Vader. He still clung to the very notion that beneath the cape and mask, his father still lived...still lived and loved him.

The thought jolted Vader and insulated him from the core permutation of the Dark Side that swirled around him. It also brought to mind another loved one, an old friend. Vader could hear Obi-Wan speaking to him long ago, telling him a message that he had not wanted to hear at the time, a message that he had once felt himself impervious to. "You were the Chosen One!" Obi-Wan had despondently cried out to him. "It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them. You were to bring balance to the Force, not leave it in darkness!"

Vader again stared at the writhing body of his son, but still heard the pained voice of Obi-Wan. "You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you."

Those words, the ones that Obi-Wan had wanted to mean something so long ago, finally penetrated the lost soul of Anakin Skywalker. As did the sheer agony that exuded from Luke; his face was sheet white, but in spite of everything, his blue eyes carried a passion that betrayed his own personal sorrow.

And suddenly everything made sense to Anakin. He finally understood the prophecy of the Jedi, and he could feel the Force calling to him in a way it had not done since he had donned the black cape and mask. It beckoned him to embrace its warmth and serenity, to become one with it. It appealed to him to bring balance to the Force, and after years of floundering around the idea of being the Chosen One, and after decades of being nothing more than a tool of the Dark Side, Anakin selflessly accepted the guidance of the Force and recognized what he had to do.

Without any further hindrance, Anakin mustered his last reserves of strength and grabbed hold of Palpatine's body. Upon realizing that he was being assaulted and betrayed by his own apprentice, the Emperor attempted to fight for control. He twisted and curved his body, but Anakin used his dwindling strength to grasp the old man even tighter.

Unable to contain Anakin's movements, Palpatine turned his deadly assault on his former apprentice. The maelstrom of lightning arced from his fingers back to the already ravaged and weakening former Dark Lord. Anakin felt the pelting and sizzling of the bolts and stumbled under their fury. That which was still human in him faltered and threatened to fail him in his moment of need. Even his mechanical half threatened to collapse as well. It was only the will of the Force that kept Anakin moving. The Force poured through his body and refreshed him; it allowed him the strength to fulfill his destiny.

Anakin raised Palpatine high over his head. He mustered every ounce of his being into what he knew must be his final task. Reaching the edge of the central core of the throne room, Anakin stopped the movement of his own body before hurling the Emperor down the shaft that lay before him. As the Emperor fell, his body spun helplessly down into the abyss, and the lightning with which he had been pelting Anakin ceased to attack him. Anakin heard the voice of Palpatine crying in desperation as he flailed downward toward his doom.

Anakin felt a sense of clean satisfaction wash over him as he comprehended what he had done. Just as his master, Plagueis, before him, Darth Sidious lost his power at the hands of his treacherous apprentice. Only this time, it was an agent of the light, the Chosen One, who had taken down the Sith Lord and fulfilled his destiny.

After a few seconds, Palpatine's body was no longer visible to Anakin, but his sinister presence still echoed in the Force. Seconds after that, there was an explosion, and a vast rush of air whisked up from the bottomless core. This air assaulted Anakin; his cape whipped around him and destabilized him further. The impact of the air brushed him aside, and losing his balance, Anakin felt to the floor. He had no sense of stability and half wondered if he too would follow the path of Palpatine.

But something stopped him from this grim fate: his son. Luke had grasped hold of Anakin's failing body and had pulled his father away to safety. Luke collapsed on to the floor with his father still in his embrace. Anakin could feel the exhaustion rolling off of Luke, but he could also feel the relief. And the love.

His broken body lying against that of his son, Anakin realized that he had finally found peace. His mind was quiet, and he could hear the Force whispering to him ever so quietly; in the back of his mind, he even thought that he heard the voice of an old friend. The coolness of the Force continued to wash over him, and over his son. At that point, Anakin Skywalker realized that nothing else but the here and the now mattered. He was an agent of the Dark Side no more.



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