"Father! I won't leave you!", Luke almost wailed as he helplessly felt his father's life force ebbing away. The mental link they had shared for too short a time slowly faded away, like a candle blown by the wind. Luke desperately clung to it, as if he could keep his father alive by sheer force of will. But it was of no use. It slipped through his fingers, leaving him utterly alone and bereft.
Everything was silent around and inside him all of a sudden. A deafening silence that choked the young man. He felt as if a part of his soul had just been ripped from him and thrown away.
Luke deposited his father's upper body on the shuttle's ramp very gently. His fingers slowly caressed down the armour, trailing an invisible path on the chest that couldn't feel anything anymore. A childish, heartfelt gesture that only added up to the helplessness that was swallowing him like a black hole. Luke's glittery eyes moved rapidly all over his father's features, still searching for the tiniest breath of life, then looked down in defeat, forcing himself to accept the reality that he was an orphan again. He had lost his father right after getting him back. He bit his lips, suddenly feeling as if he was five years old. He fleetingly remembered when the mother of one of Uncle Owen's friends died. Uncle Owen's friend said at the funeral that in despite of being 54 years old, he felt like an orphan, alone and lost. Losing one's parents truly leaves you alone as you've never been before. There's no one left to love you unconditionally, to protect you and care for you, no one to call 'mum' or 'dad' anymore, no one to pamper you and comfort you the way only a parent knows. You feel suddenly homeless, as if you didn't belong anywhere anymore, you've lost your links to your past, to the roots of your life. At the time, Luke had sympathized with the man, knowing very well what he was going through, if only theoretically, because he had never had any living parents to call 'mum' and 'dad' in the first place.
Thinking back with true perspective and knowing all the facts to form the entire picture now for the first time, Luke could understand much better where he came from, all the longings and needs he had experienced since he could remember. There had been other children around him who also lacked one or both parents, and yet, they had learnt to live with it, placing their affection on their other living relatives or tutors. In his case, Uncle Owen's sternness aside, those longings and needs had only grown more and more in time, instead of slowly being accepted and left behind as time went by. The more he grew the more powerful his need became of a father, HIS father. Sometimes, he didn't feel as if his father was dead. He rather felt as if his father was too far away from him, kept away from his son's life, unable to be beside him, to watch him grow, to share all the joys and sorrows of life, together. Maybe it was because of his uncle's stubborn refusal to share any memories or stories of Luke's father with the boy, that way making the hole inside Luke's heart grow bigger with aching despair and hurting ignorance. Maybe if he had filled that emptiness, that painful need to connect with his past, even with white lies, Luke's need could have been sated. Just maybe.
But it ran deeper than that. Luke knew now that his latent Force abilities had somehow sensed his father wasn't dead, and that was the reason why he couldn't just give up on his memory and let him go.
When he brutally faced the truth in Cloud City, everything changed, but against all odds, for the better. All his youthful innocence, all his childhood dreams of becoming a pilot like his father, of becoming a Jedi knight like his father, of becoming all his father had stood for and living up to the image of the invincible, upright hero he had nurtured and cradled deep inside him during all those lonely years, were shattered into a billion pieces and thrown at his face, mocking at him and at his puerile hopefulness. All of a sudden, his father was alive and he represented everything a man shouldn't be, shouldn't stand for, should never become. Not only had he lost his hand that day, he lost everything he had been thriving to be all his life, he lost everything worth believing in, he lost himself and his reason to be in that split second. He couldn't reconcile the image of the loving, heroic, all-powerful, unreachable, bigger-than-life father in his starved mind with the horror that stared at him from those black, empty sockets. He had truly wanted to die, to seek refuge from that monstrous reality as far as he could get, and death had seemed like a welcoming and merciful oblivion.
It took him months of nightmares, of physical and emotional breakdowns to get over the terrifying truth and the bitter irony that accompanied it. Yes, his father was alive, just as he had dreamt of since he was a little boy, but at the price of everything else, everything that mattered.
But once again, he survived. He hung on to his sanity, to his useless delusions for all he was worth. Humans' ability to adapt themselves to almost every possible and impossible situation would never cease to amaze him. Little by little, he accepted the truth, but most of all, he learned to accept the lies he had been told, feeling they had been said with the best intention at the time, to protect him from a reality he wasn't prepared for and that could be far more than he could bear. Some resentment still lingered, but he was only human. He was more than entitled to some disappointment.
But then, ensconced deep within his subconscious, his buried childhood dreams crept back into his conscious mind. His father was alive. Alive! And despite himself, despite his brave attempts at rationalism, practicality and downright common sense, hope refused to die. Even then. Perhaps now more than ever. It had refused to give up on what Luke had wished forever. In spite of Luke's attempts to block the desperate longings of a child for a parent to look up to and to love, those feelings surged up like a geiser, stronger than ever. The fact that his father was some sort of fallen angel somehow made him more human, in a strange and twisted way. He wasn't that all-powerful, distant, godlike image to be worshipped and paid homage to, but a real person with faults, flaws, weaknesses and imperfections; someone he could truly relate to, despite the atrocious acts he had committed. The image of Vader and the demigod he had created in his mind fused together in one single entity, creating someone who, as every other being in the galaxy, could change, grow, evolve and see beyond their greed, their ambitions and the events that had led them astray in the past; if they wished to, that is. He had felt that ambivalence in Vader when he had refused to kill him. He had sensed his need to share something that should be his alone, after the Emperor's death: absolute power, lusty greed, ambition with no limits, the sole ruler of the galaxy, feared by all and with no one to account for his actions, except himself. And yet, he had wanted his son beside him. Why? No emotional attachment of any kind is rule #1 for dictators and tyrants. A family member, a heir, is the first candidate to slay you to reach the top as quickly as possible. And knowing this, Vader had practically begged him to join him. He had even risked losing him before killing him. Again, why? Twisted, mangled and deformed after years of sheer evil, good still lived inside that black armour. That had to be the only possible explanation. It had to be! And Luke felt he was the only one who could bring it out again. Luke was his father's only weak spot and the young man desperately clung to the hope that outstretched gloved hand seemed to promise. If seemed beautifully and poetically fitting that he would redeem and bring back to the Light to the being that had given him Life.
Sometimes he called himself an idealistic fool for stubbornly refusing to believe in what older and wiser people gave for a fact. Vader was unredeemable. Well, maybe they were right and he was a stupid, hopeless child for believing in him, maybe his faith in his father would be his downfall; but patricide was something he could not do! No matter how evil and corrupt his father was. He couldn't commit a crime to set everything right again! Two wrongs didn't make one right! It didn't matter to him if his father killed him this time. He wouldn't renounce his principles and his beliefs. He wouldn't betray his feelings and his instincts! But all those good and valid reasons aside, he also felt that if he killed his father, he would lose himself forever. He would be no better than the Empire he and the entire Alliance were fighting against.
And so, he had held on to his father's presumed goodness with such faith and passion as he had never known to possess. He didn't mind if he was killed in the process. If he survived after killing his father, he would be no more than a living corpse, soiled by his own infamy.
Strangely, the more vehemently his father denied to have any good inside, the more Luke became convinced of its existence, deep within that apparently all-encompassing Darkness. He also felt his father's doubts and weariness. His conflict. It seemed to radiate from him in waves, infinitely stronger than in Cloud City. Stubbornness seemed to be a Skywalker family trait. The question was which of them would prove himself to be the more stubborn.
Both Vader and the Emperor had pushed him to the limit of his endurance. They had enraged him to the core of his being by knowing exactly where to strike. They knew his friends were his weak spot, and they had used them against him. But even on the very verge of his sanity and with his vengeful instincts fully aroused, his love and his training had won out. When Luke had tossed his lightsaber aside, he had known right then and there that he would never turn to the Dark Side. Not now, not ever. If he had managed to resist his own father's temptations and threats, nothing would ever come close enough to this to make him turn.
He never had the time to find comfort in this knowledge because, right away, his worst nightmare came alive. As he shrank from the Emperor's vicious attack and mocking taunts, the ultimate horror for him had been to see his father standing beside his own son's murderer, doing nothing to save him, ignoring his pleas for help. Where was the wise and loving father of his childhood dreams? Where was the daddy that would tickle him and play with him and tell him stories about his youthful deeds before putting him to sleep? The brave and protective father who would use his own body to shield his children from any harm? He didn't want a hero anymore, he had never needed a hero. He needed a father! An ordinary, imperfect, faulty, heartbreakingly human father. Why couldn't he have him? Was that too much to ask? He couldn't have been mistaken all this time! That being who had loved once had to still exist, somewhere deep inside that seemingly unyielding blackness. If he didn't, then he only hoped to die as quickly as possible and to be finally released from a universe that seemed to have no place for him anymore. He could almost see the end, lingering at the edge of his vision, a soft white light that seemed to beckon him with the promise of a soothing balm for his physical and emotional wounds that this cruel beyond reason reality couldn't heal.
Just then, the searing pain stopped. Tiredly, he looked ahead, and what he saw brought immediate tears to his eyes. His father was holding the Emperor above his head, as he relentlessly walked toward the reactor shaft, using Palpatine's own body as a shield from his force lightning. Some lightning still hit him and for a moment, it seemed as if he wouldn't make it. But with a final bolt of strength, his father threw the Emperor down the shaft before collapsing to his knees and watching his former master spiraling down the reactor before exploding and setting them all free.
A wave of pride and joy overwhelmed Luke, almost choking him. He painfully
crawled to his father's side and tentatively held his shoulders, pulling him
into his arms. Vader only resisted for a moment before giving up and allowing
his son to cradle him. Fresh, sweet tears streamed down Luke's cheeks. This was
the first time he could actually touch his father. Not in violence or
self-defense, but in affection and mutual comfort, just for the most basic need
to touch and communicate his feelings through the physical contact. Warmth
enveloped him and he felt giddy with the unaccustomed happiness. Unafraid now,
he rested his head on his father's chest, listening to his erratic heartbeat,
comforted beyond reason by the powerful heart that seemed to reach out and
embrace him, just as he had wished all his life. His trembling hand looked for
and held his father's wrist, clasping it tight. Vader ... no, Anakin, reached up
and softly patted his son's forearm clumsily, awkwardly, unused to an
affectionate touch after so many years. But it didn't matter. It was the
intention behind the gesture which mattered to Luke, and to the young man, it
was just as beautiful and meaningful as a full embrace. He pressed his face to
his father's warmth, wiping his tears away in the padded black leather on his
chest, quietly sobbing with love and gratitude. He had no words, he couldn't
find them, and they were too imperfect, too misleading sometimes anyway, so Luke
opened wide his link with his father, raining on him all the feelings he had no
choice but to keep to himself for years. He was aware of the fact that he could
overwhelm Anakin with their raw intensity and desperate need, but he couldn't
help it. He had waited all his life for this moment. All his life! His father
let out a choked sound and next, his hand clasped Luke's and he intertwined his
fingers with his son's, tightening his hold on them in a gesture that said it
all. Luke had never felt more naked and vulnerable in his life. He had just
bared his soul to his father. But the sharing made him stronger than he had ever
felt; it made both of them stronger than they were on their own. He felt his
father's understanding half-smile through the mask and Luke shone inside with
impossible happiness. A second later, he felt his father's answering barrage of
emotions that engulfed him like a wild sea. Luke let out a gasp at the sheer
beauty of them. He was astonished. How could such a duality live inside a man?
Because the same way he had felt all those ugly, vile passions inside Vader in
Cloud City, these innocent, selfless, positive feelings had also lived inside
him at the same time. How could such antagonistic morals coexist inside a man
and not drive him to absolute madness? His father provided him with the answer a
second later: either allowing one or the other to rule your life and completely
submerging the other. As simple as that.
As years passed and as every new slaughter outdid the last, he thought he had completely eradicated his Anakin 'weaker' half from him. He truly thought he had crushed it and exorcized it from his being for good. Obi Wan had taught him that evil, hatred and greed eventually consumed a person because no matter how much you got, it was never enough. You would always end up devoured by our own ambitions or eventually become distracted by them, allowing the next power maniac to get rid of you. As Vader, Anakin had thought that was a weakling's thinking. He had gloried in the raw power the Dark Side endlessly supplied him with, and for many years, he had been able to maintain his hatred rate steadily increasing, always thirstily striving for more, but never burning in it. Nothing else mattered.
He had thought it would go on forever, but that apparently satisfying partnership was brought to a sudden halt when he discovered the existence of a young man named Luke Skywalker. To his amazement, his priorities gradually began to shift and his never before questioned ideals, ambitions and loyalties became hazy, to put it mildly. Suddenly, all that power seemed pointless, empty, absurd. Long forgotten feelings began to surface, unwelcomed, and they stung, or worse, they hurt. He had fought with all his might to quench those pathetic, shameful feelings, weakling's feelings that to his horror, started to haunt him in his sleep as well. Dreams of a homely, idyllic life with her ... her angel and Luke started visiting him at night, visions of an alternate life that had never been. His fury knew no limits whenever he awakened from those dreams. He fueled his rage at this unwanted weakness with more and more hatred, sudden explosions of wrath that resulted in an endless string of suffocations amongst his subordinates in the Imperial Fleet. He had been completely out of control during his search for Luke. He had never been feared so much. He could almost smell the panic around him whenever he showed up on the Executor's bridge. And that panic inflamed his senses. Yes, this was what it was all about! Fear, hatred, greed, lust for power! He felt truly invincible then. And just before his duel with Luke in Cloud City, he had thought everything was under control again. He had convinced himself those foolish dreams had been a practical joke from his subconscious. But upon seeing Luke face to face, at this tiny version of what he used to be and look once, everything crumbled under his feet again. All his priorities turned upside down once more. He suddenly desired to share with him, to be with him, to have Luke beside him. The mere notion that this child could have softened him in so short a time and he could so easily make him question what he had believed in and fought for; what had deformed him and made him depend on this suit and on its complex life-support system forever, brought him to a frenzy of brutality and violence that he directed at Luke. He was to blame for this weakness! He was to blame!! And the next thing he knew, he was standing in front of the gantry above the reactor shaft and Luke was crying out, cradling the stump of his right wrist. Somehow, the boy's never-ending physical and emotional pain and the desperate, cornered animal look in his eyes managed to calm him. He extinguished his lightsaber and he did exactly what he had sworn to himself he would never do, - beg the boy to join him because that's where he belonged, beside his father. Luke's infinite shock at the revelation, his distraught denial at first, the heart-rending recognition of the truth right after and his incredible courage deeply impressed him, but there was something else there ... an eerie connection between them that demanded to be acknowledged and accepted. And Vader did. There was no weakness in addressing the boy as 'Son', no capitulation to the weak Light, but the admission of a simple fact. He was the father of the boy, nothing more, nothing less. But the fact that Luke had preferred to die before joining him confused him, enraged him and amazed him.
After the Falcon's final escape, he had lots of time to ponder and consider where everything stood now for him ... for both of them. The ambivalence of his feelings for the youngster was real and they demanded to be acknowledged. And grudgingly, Vader accepted it. It was illogical and unwise to deny the truth and a potential danger if ignored. But along with that admission, other facts surfaced too. His greed and lust for power weren't as exciting and rewarding as they had been in the past. Suddenly, everything seemed meaningless, useless ... without Luke. His only choice now lay in turning Luke to the Dark Side to quench the thirst the boy seemed to have awakened in him. It was too late to find another way, despite the abrupt weariness that seemed to have settled upon his soul. Force or no Force, Dark Side or Light Side, one day he would die. Over the years he had found it was true the Dark Side consumed people's lifeforce more rapidly. It satisfied and satiated one's dark needs quickly and blissfully, but it also demanded a lot from one's spirit in return. The few times he had dared to look at his distorted reflection in a polished surface, he had seen the face of an almost old man, instead of a person who still wasn't 45 years old.
Over the next few months, Vader's spirit aged out of control. Somehow, the little Jedi had weakened him, in more ways than he dared to contemplate. Throttling subordinates here and there wasn't as stimulating as before, spreading terror didn't bring anymore the thrill of pleasure he had thrived on for years, obeying his master's orders became routine and shallow and even more horrifying, he began questioning their wisdom and intelligence, something he realized he had begun to do some time before. The sad, tortured and bittersweet emanations he felt from Luke from time to time slowly but surely eroded and compromised his unblemished Darkness. He was no more than a pale shadow of what he used to be. But still, out of habit and sheer defying ostentation, he clung to what was left of his hatred and greed. He simply couldn't bring himself to face the fact that he had supported an error, an aberration for more than half his life. He had believed in it! He had, with all his heart and soul! Only now ... only now there were other considerations. He was devoured by those doubts, those unanswearable questions and he got tired, soulfully tired.
His encounter with the boy on Endor brought his conflict to the forefront more powerfully than ever. The temptation to join his innocent request came unthinkably close to ... ahhhh, how the boy reminded him of his mother! As if it was that easy! Padmé had never given up on anything she had settled her mind and heart to do. She thought there was always hope, she always managed to see the good side in everything, to find a tiny ray of hope in every situation, no matter how desperate and hopeless it looked, stubbornly refusing to give in. But that had been her downfall as well. She had clung to a hope that didn't exist anymore. The little, and not so little signs of Anakin's slow but inexorable fall to the Dark Side had been there for a very long time, but her love and faith in him and in his goodness had prevented her from seeing the plain truth that lay before her eyes. And that had been Obi-Wan's mistake as well.
Those memories hurt. They hurt now as they had never hurt before. More than 20 years had passed, but they had resurfaced with a vengeance to torment him and make him pay for a remorse he had never felt, or so he thought ... until now.
And Luke had sensed that conflict. His instincts and his ability to feel the Force and become one with it had developed immensely since their last encounter. The boy's intuition was almost frightening. But he wasn't a Dark Lord of the Sith for nothing. He held on with all the remnants of his dignity and his mindless belief in what he stood for to resist the boy's pleas to come with him. His master had been correct. His son had come to him. The fact that Palpatine had guessed right must mean he still was on the right side of the fight. Vader was exhilarated by the boy's acceptance of the bond that bound them together, finding the strangest delight in it. An exhilaration that had been missing from his life for too long already.
Once before the Emperor, Vader had watched with curious detachment Luke's struggles to remain calm and stay safe within his weak side of the Force. As a silent observer, he was increasingly proud of his boy's force of will, self-control and courage, but what had to be, had to be. Luke would either turn or be destroyed. And yet, Luke's almost endearing refusals to take the bait, his imploring eyes and his soft and gentle mind-probes during their mostly one-sided duel, felt like a siren call, and he found it more and more difficult to resist them. He was having difficulties with his own son's maudlin temptations!! That was when he decided to use Luke's own 'weapon' against him, and by the gods, he had succeeded! He was able to arouse Luke's hatred unlike anything he had seen or experienced before, not even firsthand! He was unprepared for the insidious avalanche of white-hot hate and violence his son poured on him, blow after blow, relentless, ruthless, implacable, so vicious the entire atmosphere around them screeched deafeningly with it. And suddenly, it was over. He was on the floor, with Luke's lightsaber at his throat, his boy's face contorted in a horrible mask of exultant victory and raw power, almost drooling with it. Oh, did he know that sensation! He briefly looked at the stump he sported now at the end of his right wrist. He realized the strangled moan that had left his throat when Luke had severed his hand. Very alike the one he had let out on Bespin when Luke's lightsaber had seared through the flesh on his right shoulder. It occurred to him then that the only times in his life he had let out any sound at all after an injury had been the times his son had wounded him. He blinked as if there was some significance in the fact. But as he looked now at his boy's distraught face, his boyish handsome features distorted with gleeful power and greedy victory, an immense wave of defeat, loss and regret came over him. This would be his legacy to his son. He had successfully turned him into a second Vader. Congratulations! Now that he was about to die at his son's own hands, his only feelings were of sorrow and remorse for the destiny he had headed his child for: the final and complete destruction of his innocence, of everything that made him Luke Skywalker. And for the first time in his life, he wished he could take it all back. All of it! But there was nothing he could do. His son had willingly entered the spiral of hatred and violence that would lead him to the Dark Side now, goaded by his master's expert manipulative abilities. He wished to cry out in desperation. Not his son! He didn't wish to go on anymore, but he didn't want to die with the sight of his offspring picking up the torch of his black, wretched life!
Then, as if in slow motion, he saw the change taking place in Luke's face. The boy blinked, as if waking up from a nightmare; he felt him clearing his thoughts, casting all his negative feelings aside and looking down at his prosthetic hand, flexing his fingers. His features twitched for a moment, but he seemed to come to a decision. Vader felt everything and saw how all those darkish undercurrents that had begun to flow through the boy's Force aura were overwhelmingly replaced with white, pure Light again! Vader's admiration and pride knew no bounds then.
Extinguishing his lightsaber and suddenly turning about, Luke threw his weapon away, proudly proclaiming his Jedi Knighthood and his ancestry. His words seemed to rip off something from deep inside Vader and the Dark Lord was left breathless, lying on the floor, stunned, listening to the loud sound of his already damaged respirator, completely knocked out.
Seconds later, Vader's own worst nightmare had come alive when he saw his master casting force lightning at the helpless body of his son. His mind immediately turned back in time at the first time he experienced force lightning, coming from the hands of another Dark Lord. That encounter had ended up with his first mutilation, not only physical, but it had also marked the beginning of the end of his humanity and his descent to the Darkness that was about to take his son's life with it.
They say that people who are about to die suddenly find themselves watching a picture of their entire lives, a sort of summary of all their life experiences, all they've done and the consequences and the impact their acts have had on the others. Strangely enough, it was Vader who saw all his life passing before his eyes then. The beginning of his life as a slave with his mother in Tatooine, the ... the ... And in that insightful moment, he finally opened his eyes and he brutally realized he had learnt nothing from all his years of Dark Side experience. He had never stopped being a slave. He had spent more than half his life subjected to the megalomaniac whims and desires of his new owner, Palpatine, and seeing that they were fulfilled. A man whom he had offered himself to as his slave willingly, that was the only difference. He had been a slave of the Empire and its needs, a slave of spreading its terror all over the galaxy, a slave of his own ungovernable passions that could never be sated. He had dedicated his life to the cause, but he had never lived a true life he could call his own, of his own doing. How could he have been so blind? The answer was easy: because he had been smitten with his own passions and desires. He had been a slave of his own ambitions, of his greedy hunger for something that nothing could satisfy.
Only Luke had given him a focus for this empty purpose. He realized the only times he had been really and truly happy had been the times he had broken the rules. His falling in love with Amidala and marrying her, going against centuries of Jedi tradition. Why did everything that make him happy had always had to go against this or that tradition, taboo, regulation or something of the sort? Why couldn't a person be allowed to live their own life and pursue their own happiness if no one got hurt? He remembered the time he had hated hurting other sentient beings and how he had fought for all he was worth to prevent pain and save lives everywhere. And he had ended up becoming the bloodiest enemy of every moral across the galaxy. And even more, he realized he simply had changed one set of rules for another, the Empire's rules. Always the slave of a system that hadn't been of his doing. It had had many different names along the way: Watto, the Jedi Knighthood, the Dark Side of the Force ... but the fact remained, he had always been a slave. Pathetic it was now he realized it all.
And now, this writhing boy on the floor weakly reached out to him, calling for help, trying to reach him, trusting him to save him even now ... Flesh of his flesh ... He winced in searing pain as the echo of Luke's torment resounded in him. He had shielded himself against other people's pain, he had stopped empathizing with the others a very long time ago, like a true psychopath. They had ceased to be people in his eyes. They were just tools at his disposal. If they worked fine or didn't molest the Empire, he would keep on using them or they would be spared. If they were enemies or they failed, they were exterminated or discarded, it didn't matter what, since the result was the same. Years of painstaking hardening against any soft, gentle feelings, and now this child had annihilated everything that had taken him years to accomplish. But he couldn't find it in himself to be resentful. Quite the contrary, he was infinitely grateful for what Luke had helped him to understand. Finally! It had taken him decades to learn what this boy had known forever.
Luke was everything he had never been and he would never be. He was strong, honest, gentle, wise beyond his age ... Even after all he had gone through, he had managed to remain calm and sane where other far stronger men would have gone insane. He had stayed pure and innocent, despite all he had seen and endured, despite everything his own father had put him through. And he still could forgive. He still could love and trust and keep on trying to reach him, never giving up on him, never giving up on everything Vader had given up on long ago. Bless the stubborn child! He had brought Anakin Skywalker back to life when everybody, Anakin included, had assumed him dead for years.
Anakin felt he was suffocating and he desperately fought to breathe. He felt an agonizing oppression in his chest that didn't allow the oxygen to reach his lungs. Maybe it was some malfunction in his respirator ... this terrible pain that raked through his being every time he looked at his boy now, as if a fist was squeezing his heart ... Until in another flash of insight, he understood what this pain truly was. It wasn't real pain. It had been so long since he had last felt it that it was no wonder he hadn't recognized it immediately. It was the sweet agony called love. It was that awful pain you feel when you care for someone more than you care about your own life. But what had Luke done to him? He had destroyed him completely! Yes, destroyed him, because he knew that to save his son, he would have to sacrifice his own life.
But he also realized it didn't matter. He had fulfilled his life more than he would have ever thought possible. He had known true love, married, traveled the galaxy from one corner to the other and he had fathered two children. Two, to boot! His vital cycle was completed. Now he would gladly step aside and exit their children's lives, so they could make of the galaxy a better place than Palpatine, and he and his minions had turned it into. After all the atrocities he had committed, he was the most wanted criminal for the Rebellion and there was no way he could be allowed to be near his children, no matter how much he wished to now. He would be locked up for life at best and executed at worst. Besides, he strongly doubted that Leia would throw herself into his arms on seeing him, crying out: "Daddy!" And he couldn't blame her. He, and he alone, had earned his daughter's hatred and resentment. He would be dangerous to his children's safety and credibility within the Alliance if their kinship became known in certain circles. But he wouldn't harm them if he was dead and nobody ever found out they had been related. He had nothing worth giving them, anyway. He would die happy, because the best part of himself would go on living.
Gathering his energies and his reawakened love around him, Anakin grabbed the Emperor from behind, trusting the surprise factor to work in his favour. And it did, if only for just a few moments. Palpatine turned on him, casting force lightning aimlessly, damaging his respirator beyond repair, condemning him to an even earlier death than he would have wished. Now he would hardly have time to say goodbye to his son and tell him ... explain to him ... let him know all the things he wanted to say to him, all the truths that demanded to be said.
Once everything was over, he simply stared down the reactor shaft, listening to the fading echoes of his master's death. It was curious. He didn't feel anything at all. Palpatine had been ready to dispose of him to turn Luke to the Dark Side. He had always been dispensable in his eyes if a better Dark Side candidate eventually showed up. What a fool he had been to believe than in his own twisted and nasty way, Palpatine had cared about him somehow. He had just been a tool, a pawn, just as his subordinates had been to Vader. Now, after killing the person he had dedicated his life to and faithfully served for over 20 years, nothing was left. He felt no loss, no emptiness, no bitterness ... nothing. He remained frozen there, blinking, wondering.
What an absurd waste of life! But if he had been unable to see through all this colossal infamy from the beginning and where it was leading him into, he rightfully deserved everything that had happened to him. He deserved to die now, as the self-satisfied, know-it-all, arrogant prat he had been all his life. He had missed so many things, everything that mattered. Padmé, her angel ... Leia, Luke ... to love them, to protect them ... and he had almost destroyed it all! Almost ... he shivered inside his suit, crushed by the weight of his crimes and immoralities. Oh, Force, what he had lost! He had lost it all.
But then, soft, gentle hands insistently pulled him away from the shaft that was swallowing what little remained of his life. Tiredly giving in, he found himself looking onto his son's beautiful face, cradled in his arms. And the boy seemed so moved! He could feel his smaller body shaking and shivering by his own. He felt him pressing his face to his chest like a cub looking for warmth and, as impossible as it may seem, he thought he could also feel the wetness of his tears, scalding his soul. He didn't deserve this! He didn't deserve Luke's pride in him, he didn't deserve the loving touch of his hand. And yet, unable to deny this priceless gift, as he had denied his son's affection and attachment to him time and again, he returned the clumsy grasp, and he patted his son's forearm in a gesture he had forgotten how was it properly done. Luke seemed to cuddle up to him even more and then, the link that bound them together shyly opened from Luke's end and flooded Anakin with the most terribly beautiful images and feelings he had ever experienced. They crushed him, they destroyed him, but he held on. So little time left! Oh, Luke! If only he could have been a true father for the boy! The child was worth it. He was worth all the best a parent could give! No man could possibly have a better son! He had been ready to go and he had actually gone to the mythical Gates of Hell for him, to recover him, to get his father back and to offer him his own selfless love in return.
Unworthy! Unworthy! That was the word that resounded through Anakin's head now, deafening his senses with its unbearable torment. And Luke was in his mind all of a sudden, soothing his bitter remorse, calming him gently, telling him it didn't matter, that they had all the time in the world now to get to know and heal each other. Together.
Oh, sweet child! Couldn't he see his father was dying already? But Luke's boundless joy at finally having him back prevented him from seeing the truth, and Anakin couldn't bring himself to shatter his boy's happiness. He would have to face it very soon, let him enjoy this unadultered, blissful euphoria just a few minutes more.
No words were needed. He had no strength to utter a single word anyway and besides, his vocoder wouldn't let him show all the sentiment he needed to convey. If he spoke now, the voice that would resound all over the throne room would be the harsh accent of a heartless machine; the unmistakable booming, scary voice of Darth Vader. The link between them was wide open now. There was no need to hide anything and Anakin thought he would die of the constant outpouring of tender, comforting feelings coming from his son. He tried to send back as much as he could. He was desperate for his child to know, to understand, to feel ... he softly squeezed Luke's fingers and only then did he realize he had intertwined his fingers with his boy's. He found it one of the most beautiful gestures of affection and sharing he had ever known.
By silent mutual agreement, they managed to rise to their feet slowly, helping each other up. Anakin saw then that Palpatine's attack had wounded and weakened his boy more that it seemed. He heard Luke's soft hiss through his suddenly clenched teeth and some of his muscles spasmed. Anakin's mind inevitably remembered the burns and cramps all over his body after experiencing Darth Tyranus' force lightning decades ago. Those had been his minor 'injuries'. He winced. The pain had been as vivid just now as it had felt that day. But Luke had endured Palpatine's attack far longer than he had. Sick with worry, he squeezed Luke's shoulder softly in silent question as he leaned on his boy's strength. Bravely forcing his pain under control, Luke merely nodded in reply as he looked up at him and flashed him an infinitely grateful, radiant smile out of the blue. His boyish face lit up.
Anakin felt himself exploding in a bubble of love. It didn't matter if he died right now; not even living one thousand years would he love this boy more than he loved him right now. And not even living one million years would he compensate him for the unthinkably brutal mutilation of his hand and the ensuing months of excruciating trauma. He had cut off his boy's hand!! How could he have been possessed by such hatred, rage and mindless violence and how could he have unleashed them all against one so innocent, so worthy of protection, respect and caring? And even more incomprehensible, how could Luke bear to touch him now? How could Luke forgive such an obscene, immoral act, coming from his own father? HOW?!
Luke stopped in mid-step then and slowly turned to his father. He didn't seem to dare to raise his head, but when he managed and looked up into his mask, Anakin could see the tears brimming on his lower eyelids and the overwhelming shame and remorse those big blue eyes reflected. With a shaking hand, Luke tenderly cradled his father's stump in answer.
Father and son gazed deeply into each other's souls and through their link, they absolved one another from their past actions with all their overflowing hearts. The love that shone between them now eclipsed any past wrongdoings. Love conquered all, love forgave it all. Even this. Even more, if necessary.
Anakin reached out a trembling gloved finger and wiped away the tears running down Luke's cheeks. The boy let out a shaky breath. He seemed to be feeding on his father's touch. A touch he had been deprived of all his life. Luke's aching need for his father made Anakin cry out inside for all the lost time and for the few minutes they had left of being together.
With a hopeless sigh, Anakin wrapped his arm around Luke's neck. The boy grabbed his hand to get a firm hold on him, encircled his father's waist with his other arm and, staggering, they headed for the turbolift. It took a while and when they got inside, they were gasping and panting.
Anakin had never been so physically close to his son. Feeling the soothing, living warmth of his boy's body pressed close to his own, the shock of it all really hit him. He had never touched another being like this in over two decades! He had willingly shut himself out from all physical contact. He had dulled his feelings, he had disdained all the passions and needs any living creature craves to feel complete and with a sense of belonging. He had more than successfully made the transition from man to machine. No physical and emotional needs. He had far more elevated goals to achieve, like neverending greed, absolute power, subjugation of entire solar systems ... Noble, honorable goals indeed! And now, looking down at his son, so tiny in comparison with his father's size, Anakin realized he couldn't hold a candle to this child. He noticed how the boy had almost disappeared under his father's bulk as he practically carried him, and how his cape was now covering them both. 'Like the protective wings of a Corellian raven', he thought offhand. The thought seemed oddly comforting and Anakin reveled in this intense, pure human touch, grateful beyond reason for these few moments he could really be the father his brave son so much needed, even though he was a burden to him now. Anakin drank thirstily from that beautiful contact as he marveled at his boy's physical and mental strength. He was concentrating deeply, pursing his lips, setting his jaw, firmly looking ahead, never faltering. He could read in every feature his boy's determination to get them both out of there, safe and sound. A pang of bitter sadness settled on his soul at the futility of Luke's resolution.
All of a sudden, Anakin's sight and hearing began fading in an out. All the functions of the complex machinery that kept him alive inside his suit were rapidly shutting off. The entire system wouldn't be able to sustain him for much longer.
There was no way Luke couldn't pick all this up, no way for him not to feel Anakin's sudden fear of his imminent death, so attuned they had become to each other in these magical, wondrous last minutes. Anakin was well aware of his son's incredible Force sensitivity, and all his senses told him Luke knew. But the boy seemed to be deliberately ignoring it all. Anakin admired his son's resiliency, strength of character and his, obviously inherited, unwillingness to admit defeat. But sooner or later he would have to accept it. Especially because there would be no choice in the matter. The Death Star would be space debris in a short while and Luke would have to leave him behind if he wanted to get out in time to save his life. Luke could be stubborn if he wanted, but Anakin would beat him at it this time! He wouldn't take his son with him unto death! Luke could bet he would leave the station alive, no matter if he had to put the boy over his knees! He almost chuckled at the mental image of himself spanking a kicking Luke with his only remaining hand, forcing him to leave without him. It seemed he hadn't lost his sense of humour after all!
He gave a small start at the infectious sound of Luke's chuckle. He had picked up his thoughts!
'You wouldn't dare!', the boy challenged him.
'Try me!', Anakin replied, making a conscious effort at maintaining a straight mental façade ... and failing miserably. But even those adorable moments of playfulness between father and son were impregnated with mournful bitterness, because they could see the end looming over them. It was so very close now ...
The precious light moment between them was brutally killed when the lift reached the hangar and the doors opened. A sight of sheer nightmare, horror and chaos greeted them. A stampede of stormtroopers, pilots and station personnel ran in almost every direction, looking for an escape from their impending deaths. Fear could be smelled in the air. They had been reduced to a herd of hysterical creatures stepping over each other and kicking out of their way the weaker ones who couldn't run faster or were injured. Compassion and humanity had no place there. They were only trying to save themselves, and the others simply stood in their way to safety. Luke cried out to them for help to get his father to a shuttle, but they wouldn't listen, they simply ran past them. There were no ranks anymore, no respect for a superior officer, just pure animalistic survival.
Anakin was horror-stricken at the sight around them. And to think these people had trembled at the mere presence of the great Darth Vader! If they had dared to walk past him without acknowledging him, they would have been suffocated on the spot without second thoughts. Fear made people amazingly respectful and well-mannered. But fear was a lousy lifesaver when push came to shove. Imminent death had made all of them suddenly equal, and here he had the most evident proof of the wrongness of the Empire's way and its methods, his methods. He would get neither help nor compassion from any of these people. No one was bothering to look at him, they simply ran past him as if he was of no consequence. He had inspired only fear in them, not respect; and certainly, no loyalty whatsoever. The only one who remained faithfully at his side, risking his own life to save him, was this little Jedi, flesh of his flesh. His son. The boy he had mutilated and almost destroyed ... oh, Force! He couldn't stand it any longer!
Physical and spiritual pain lanced through Anakin's body. He almost collapsed and he had to lean heavily on Luke. The boy sagged under his weight, but he kept on supporting him and walking, his energies almost drained. But Anakin didn't want to go on. He couldn't bear to go on living. His crimes were too horrendous to deserve to live. If he hadn't given others the slightest chance, why should he have it now? He fell to the floor, almost bringing Luke down with him. But still, the boy didn't give up. With a stubbornness worthy of a better cause, he grasped his forearms and he incredibly resorted to some untapped reserve of strength to drag him along a few meters, until even those energies gave up, and he collapsed too beside his father.
Anakin was tired, very tired. The end was at the edge of his vision already, but he had one final request to make. His death wish. He knew that what he was about to ask could hurt the boy more than anything he had ever done to him, but he trusted Luke's capacity to see beyond the outward appearances, as he had always done. That was Luke Skywalker's trademark, what had brought both of them to this very moment. He needed this, he needed to do this more badly than he had never needed anything in his entire life. He had lived as a machine for more than half his life now. He needed to die as a human being.
It repulsed him to vocalize his request. He hated this soulless, mechanical voice! But it was necessary, so he spoke. To his dismay, he found out that even the smallest word left him breathless. So little time!
Luke refused at first, but despite his obvious fear of what his father's true physical appearance could be like, Anakin recognized his nagging curiosity as well. Curiosity, another trait they shared.
Carefully, almost reverently, Luke took his father's mask off. Anakin was very scared of frightening the boy. But he gathered Luke had seen much worse, having been in quite a number of battles and seen much nastier, fresher wounds than the ones he was about to see. At least, his wounds had healed years ago and the sight of his scars wouldn't be as gory and repugnant ... he hoped. If not, he prayed with all his heart that Luke could forgive him for ruining his imaginary image of his father.
When the mask was taken off, father and son stared at each other's naked faces for the very first time. Anakin looked at his child in awe. It didn't matter how sharp and efficient the mask was and the perfectly many-hued, outlined images it was able to provide him with. There was nothing like one's own eyes, no matter how damaged those eyes were, to truly see and comprehend the glory and beauty of all the things around you. Anakin felt like crying at the sight of his son's beautiful, adorable, boyish face. So much like his own years ago! The physical resemblance between Luke and a younger Anakin was extraordinary! And despite the fact that Luke had never seen a younger, healthy Anakin, his father saw the boy's surprise and his immense joy at recognizing in his father's mangled features some of his own. Their eyes' colour and shape, their cheekbones, dozens of little details here and there that made it impossible to deny they were related, that they were father and son!
Anakin drank in and smiled at the beloved sight for as long as he could, but he felt his essence beginning to slip away. Still, and to make those precious final moments between them even more perfect, he saw the joyful, gentle pride in Luke's face. This would be his final gift to his boy. The acknowledgment of his heritage, the chance to make him recognize his roots in his father's features, where the child came from.
So many things remained to be said! About Shmi, his kind, loving, strong, brave grandmother. And about Amidala, his angel, from whom Luke had inherited so many good things. So many important things, so many memories were going to die and be forever lost with him! Anakin's regret knew no bounds.
But at least, he had one more gift to offer. His turn from the Dark Side. Too late had it come, but he hoped that the final act of his life could bring some measure of peace to his children, so they wouldn't remember their father as the monster he had been for over two decades. He had fought for what was just and right once, and he prayed for his children to see it one day. There was nothing else he could do.
His Leia! He was going to die without getting her daughter's forgiveness, without the chance to beg her for it. He quite probably wouldn't get it should he ask, but he needed to ask for it anyway. Perhaps more because he wasn't likely to get it! But at least, he could trust Luke to deliver his message to her with all the love and heartfelt fervour it was meant to.
But the most important thing of all was to ensure his boy's safe escape from the Death Star. That was paramount! He needed no Force sense to tell him of the deep and abiding attachment the boy had developed for him all of his life. He had always suspected it and he had seen it confirmed in his son's mind when he had poured out his heart on him in the Throne Room. Luke seemed fascinated now, gazing at his father's face as if he couldn't get enough of looking at him, smiling dreamily, committing every maimed feature to memory. So much love he was seeing in his child's face! It hurt! And the love that surged up from deep, deep inside him, hurt just as much. Such blessed, almost forgotten, beautiful pain!
He begged Luke to leave, his voice breaking at last. He was exhausted. He had not one drop of strength left, so he used all the heartbreaking despair he was feeling to try and send Luke away. His whimper brought Luke suddenly back from whatever lovely reality he was in, and sheer horror appeared on his face. He shook his head from side to side as a terrified and suddenly lost 5 year old. At that moment of bare childish desperation at the so near final separation, Anakin couldn't have loved him more. Beautiful boy! He was so deep into denial that he had actually convinced himself he could get his father alive out of the station! He seemed to believe death couldn't stand against his father. Maybe as Darth Vader it would have seemed so. He had been an ominous, indestructible, oppressive, recurring nightmare; but Anakin's life was through. Luke had to accept it or it would shatter him.
The boy wanted to save him. But he had already done it! He had brought him back from a world of dark greed, hissing hatred and unfeeling coldness to a passionate, colourful world of caring, compassion, beauty, selfless love and soulfilling fullness. His physical life was unimportant. What mattered was that Luke was right, and it was important for his sister to know. The best part of himself would go on living. That was the only thing he could think about. Anakin would go on living in Luke, through both his children. He did his best to get this knowledge across to his anguished boy, and it seemed to calm him somewhat. But the helpless need and despair still remained. If only he could soothe them! But it was beyond him now.
A wave of unconsciousness swept him away and Anakin willingly gave himself to
it and to the peaceful comfort it seemed to promise. With a sweet smile to his
child and praying he could be allowed to see him grow and mature from wherever
he went, Anakin closed his eyes. His senses abandoned him gradually. He thought
he had heard Luke say something to him. An oath of saving him and taking care of
him, most surely. Ahhh, how very much did he love his boy! That was his final
And then, everything was over. Luke was left alone, staring at his father's dead body, feeling as if his heart had stopped beating at the same time as his father's. He blinked, still deep in denial, and the tears rolled down his face. His father's warm, infinitely loving presence within his mind diluted and died. The resulting emptiness was terrifying, brutal, merciless. It left his entire body shaken and deadly cold.
He was nobody's son now. He had no one to call "Father" anymore, no one to hear from that precious word he had longed to hear for as long as he could remember and he had heard for too short a time. "Son".
It was so cruel to have his dream come true just as he had wished, and then to have it taken away from him in such a needless, heartbreaking way!
Despite the fact that his father had tried to shield it from him, Luke had felt that his father's main worry about returning to the Alliance alive with his son was his terrible fear for his children's safety, should it become public knowledge they were Darth Vader's offspring. Or the damage their kinship could do to his and Leia's images, credibility and above all, their lives. Luke had been so desperate to take him to a shuttle and get him out of there that there had been no time for any explanations. If he had given them, maybe his father wouldn't have allowed himself to die.
The truth was that the Alliance was precisely what the Empire wasn't and would never be. It had been born as its exact opposite. The Alliance was well aware of all the faults that had brought down the Old Republic, how it had become too self-centred and complacent with itself, to the point it had overlooked and often overstepped the needs of the systems it was supposed to protect. It was necessary to bring the Republic back, rebuilding it from the individual to the community. The New Republic should be able to protect from one single individual to the whole galaxy. That was the way, not to allow one single being to slip through the system's holes. Those ideals should be treasured and guaranteed at all costs. And forgiveness and compassion were bound to be the foundations of those ideals if they wanted to survive the dark times they were living in. And indeed those ideals had proved themselves several times so far!
Luke remembered Vaughan Worthwing's case. His Imperial fighter had been shot down almost two years ago. He was the leader of the squadron that had almost annihilated Veltra's capital. The young man's weapons had unmercifully killed thousands of defenseless men, women and children, who had previously surrendered, before Wedge's X-Wing shot him down. Complete destruction, that was the Empire's way and the boy had been conscientiously programmed to do just that. When he was brought before Mon Mothma, the young man spat all kinds of venomous threats dripping with unblemished hatred against the Alliance and their leaders, and described in every graphic, sordid detail, how the Empire would get rid of them sooner or later, just as he had wiped out thousands on the planet below. When the vicious tirade was over, Mon Mothma simply stared at the boy with genuine curiosity, fascinated by his apparent ugly heart and nonexistent morals towards the killing of thousands of unarmed, innocent people. She simply stared at him for quite a while, as the boy returned her look with disgust, contempt and arrogance. And then, to everybody's complete astonishment, she ordered the boy to be released. He was a member of the Alliance now, he would fight at their side against the Empire, and as the Alliance's new pilot, he was to be assigned a bed at the pilot's rooms.
When the boy was taken away, everybody started murmuring, obviously questioning the wisdom of Mon Mothma's decision. This boy was beyond redemption and it didn't seem such a bright idea to have an enemy within the Alliance's facilities, free to roam and learn everything he wanted and take that information to the Empire, should he escape. He had been thoroughly brainwashed, probably for most of his life. The Empire's propaganda was very effective in these matters. Realizing their doubts, Mon Mothma delivered a speech that had been imprinted in Luke's mind and heart since then. She said all life was precious, unique and sacred. It was an unforgivable sin to destroy it and she wished the Force was able to forgive them all for all the lives they, supposedly the ones who were fighting on the good side, were taking away. But sometimes, when there have been too many errors for too long and when an entire galaxy has gone astray, deep within its own self-satisfaction, when there have been too many wrongdoings and even misdeeds, the damage has become too profound for it to be sorted out without any bloodshed. Living creatures were fallible, petty and faulty, and billions were paying now for something they had been blinded by to see. They were at war, but she would not destroy one single life as long as it was possible to spare it! No matter how abhorrent or beyond redemption that life seemed. Vaughan Worthwing's life was precious and she would respect it! Those incredible words made Luke realize for the very first time the mass murder he had committed when he had blown to pieces the Death Star. He had killed hundreds of thousands of people! The knowledge hit him like a herd of banthas, and he almost went mad right then and there with overwhelming remorse and guilt. His head began spinning and he felt like throwing up. As if reading her thoughts, Mon Mothma suddenly stared into his eyes and she smiled at him faintly, with loving and understanding compassion. In her eyes, Luke saw absolution and forgiveness. She meant what she had said. Sometimes, when people's fallibility and irresponsibility have gone too far and caused too much harm, there is no other choice left. Luke prayed with all his soul not to be forced to take another's life. Ever again! But ... those times didn't allow people to keep such promises. You either killed or were killed. Since then, every time Luke had had no choice but to take one life, he always uttered a silent, heartfelt prayer for forgiveness to the person he had killed and to the family's person whose life he had destroyed.
It had been many, many months for Vaughan to become even mildly sociable. He got into every possible fight, he was odious and cruel, mocking at people's losses, sneering at them and rejoicing in the innocent lives he had taken as an Imperial pilot. But, albeit brainwashed, the boy was intelligent and he still could think and see things for himself. Time passed and no matter how much he wanted to negate it, truth simply couldn't be denied. He pretended to be asleep or elsewhere and he spied on the pilots' conversations about how their lives had been under the Empire's terror, the families they had lost and how those lives had been murdered, and he found out how many Empire's raids had truly killed millions of innocent, unarmed, harmless people, who were hiding no secret weapons or wanted enemies, as the Empire defended to justify those genocides.
Then, one morning, almost one year later, Luke found the boy trying to hang himself. He quickly brought him down to the floor and took him to the sickbay. The doctors were able to save his life almost at the last moment. Nobody knew what made Vaughan finally open his eyes and realize the crimes he had committed and the horror he had been supporting and killing for. Distraught, he demanded the doctors to kill him because he couldn't live with what he had done. Mon Mothma had been there since the boy had been brought unconscious to the sickbay. She sat down on the young man's bed and told him he certainly couldn't change what he had done and he would have to live with the knowledge of his crimes for the rest of his life. But if he died now, there would be no way for him to try and make up for all the lives he had taken. He could help them now to put an end to the Darkness that was taking too many lives, he could save thousands of other lives that otherwise would be forfeit should he have succeeded in his attempted suicide.
Breaking down, Vaughan held on to Mon Mothma and cried his heart out in her arms. Since that day, he had been a brave pilot, a fierce ally and a loyal comrade. Right now, he had to be somewhere around the Death Star, aboard the Mon Calamary ship, under Admiral Ackbar's command. He had indeed saved thousands of lives by now and his loyalty to the Alliance was unquestionable.
Vaughan Worthwing was the first of several Empire prisoners who, in time, also realized the aberration they had supported, and were now the Alliance' most fierce defenders. They had saved many thousands of lives that would have been lost if they had been locked up for their crimes. This system based on compassion, insight, forgiveness, understanding and empathy truly worked, and everybody knew that this time, the New Republic wouldn't fall into the Old one's mistakes, as long as they remembered what had made it fall in the first place.
That was why Luke knew that if his father had lived, there would have been forgiveness from the Alliance as well. Of course, it was one thing to spare the life of a brainwashed young pilot who had simply followed orders, and quite another to forgive the second worst villain in the Empire and someone who had killed millions, including the entire revered Jedi Order! This would have put the Alliance's ideals to the test for sure! But even so, Luke felt that Mon Mothma's course of action would have been the same. He had seen enough proof of the fact that she didn't care about the amount of crimes a person had committed. She seemed to have an uncanny ability to see right through the person's heart and soul and see whether they could be 'redeemed' or not. If they weren't, if they truly believed in and condoned the Empire's genocides, they were given a fair trial and convicted. Sometimes, Luke wondered if she could have some sort of undeveloped Force sensitivity.
There would have been no secrets from their part. They would have told her how the sight of his son being tortured to death by Palpatine had brought Anakin Skywalker back, and how he had saved his child's life and destroyed the maniac who had almost brought the entire galaxy to the brink of complete destruction. All she had to do was to look into his father's eyes to see the truth. Luke was convinced she would have had the guts to forgive the Emperor himself if he had honestly and sincerely repented from the abyss he had driven them all.
If would have been so beautiful! A lesson for everybody to learn. The dark body and soul of the Empire, its image itself, returning to the Light out of love! The one and only Darth Vader had a heart after all and it had been his son who had helped him to get his humanity back. Maybe there would have been some dissent, but if only for practicality and symbolism's sake, for what Vader had represented, many people would have supported his father's pardon. And in time, Anakin's goodness and good deeds would have won everybody over, his sister included, he just knew it!
In any case, Luke would have been ready to fight tooth and nail for his father's life and freedom. His father was worth trying anything. Everything!
But all that was futile now. His father was lying dead on the Death Star's hangar floor and he was staring at him, his heart numb with unbearable pain and his mind in panicked turmoil, desperate to get back the mental link whose loss had left him empty and torn inside.
He felt clumsy and useless. He had failed his father. He had failed to save his life. All the complexes and feelings of inadequacy he had developed under uncle Owen's stern upbringing suddenly returned like a crushing tide. He felt helpless and stupid. If only he had explained all this to his father, maybe he would have fought to stay alive! The Alliance would have taken care of him, they would have provided him with anything he had needed to go on living. There was always the question whether Anakin would have been able to forgive himself and live with the crimes he had committed or not. But Luke figured that with his children by his side and the Alliance's full support, he would have made it. He would! His father was a fighter but most of all, he was a survivor. He would have taken on the challenge, the opportunity to make up for all he had done, the unexpected gift to save and protect millions of other lives. The Alliance had so much to learn from him! His father would help them not to make the same mistakes that had slowly rotten the Old Republic from deep inside, in fact allowing to carry, cradle and nurture the seed of its own destruction, helpless to stop it. All of a sudden, Luke realized that Anakin would provide excellent advice and he could be an excellent balance and counselor to Mon Mothma! Once all this galactic nightmare was over, there couldn't be two sides again: the winners and the losers. All of them would have to forgive each other and learn to live together, as equals. They would have to work together, rebuild their lives together and leave all their hatred behind them if they wanted this galaxy to survive. And the only way to see this through was to form a government where the best of both sides could fit in. His father would prove himself to be the best asset for Mon Mothma. The second leader of the Empire, working side by side with the leader of the Alliance for the common good! It would be the best example of normalcy, it would convey the promise that peaceful coexistence and true forgiveness was possible if all of them worked hard at it.
Such waste! So much pain! Such terrible, heartwrenching loss! Luke felt as if his insides were being torn apart as the veil of denial drew back and the knowledge that his father was gone for good slowly sank in. Once again, he felt like a lost waif, walking alone in the dark. A five year old crying out to his daddy to come back and be with him. Did he understand uncle Owen's friend now! A soft, tiny whimper escaped his throat and he bent his head, closed his eyes and burst out sobbing. A quiet, hopeless crying. Tears bathed his cheeks and fell on his father's armour. So much pent-up love inside for years, and he had been left with no father to give it to. It was pointless, all this love was useless now!
At least, he had had the chance to give it for a few precious, blessed minutes, and he had seen his love returned tenfold, as he had never imagined he could be loved. A love as complete and absolute as only a parent could give. He would cling to this beautiful memory and he would cherish this love deep inside for the rest of his life.
Blindly reaching out, Luke grasped his father's left forearm and held on to it for all he was worth. He felt so powerless, so lonely! Force couldn't help him to relieve this pain, he was incapable of putting it in any perspective, it was swallowing him whole, taking his will to live with it.
The only living Jedi. What a joke! How was he supposed to live with this now? He was barely an adult, how could he possibly resuscitate the Jedi Order? Where would he find the strength and the enthusiasm necessary to undertake a task so huge? Who could provide him with the wise advice, guidance, balance and knowledge to teach others? He was impatient, reckless; he still had so much to learn!
His father would have been so useful in this as well! Oh, couldn't Force see his father's death was unnecessarily cruel and served for no practical purpose? Yoda had trained him for so short a time! In the Old Republic, as his tiny old master had told him, children started training at 3, 4, 5 years old, and he had begun his training at over 20!! Too old, indeed! How many things had been left out of his training, if only for sheer lack of time? How many other uses of the Force was he totally ignorant of? His father was essential to him now more than ever, to fill in all the holes in his training. As someone who had belonged to the Dark Side once, he could give all the future students priceless firsthand advice in order to never, ever start on the path that would lead them there. He could provide them all with lessons and techniques that had been used on him and on all children from the very beginning. He could think of every reason why his father was vital at his side!
But also, he couldn't help but think of all the selfish reasons why he needed his father by him as well. Companionship, belonging, desperate need to love him and really get to know him and learn from him, sharing, comfort, joy, laughter ... Millions of different reasons, each one worthier than the last.
And he could only dream now. Dream of a future that would never be. He could picture that bright, shining future; giving it shape and turning it over and over and making it perfect in his mind. Dreaming was all he had left now, something he was a master at, after spending most of his life doing it and finding much consolation in the soulfilling realities he made up. So, Luke dreamed on.
He lovingly drew an image of his father's face in his mind. He had learned by heart every tiny feature and committed it to memory during those precious moments they had adoringly stared at each other. Within his mind everything was possible, so Luke cast all restraints to the wind. Here, he was free to dream and make life as perfect and beautiful as he wanted. He remembered his father's scarred face, his ashen paleness after a lifetime of masking it. He tenderly caressed the scars below his left eye, erasing them. The huge, deep scar that ran down his skull was just as carefully and devotedly healed. He concentrated all his efforts in regenerating the torn left ear. Now, his father's hair was free to grow again, whatever its colour was. He took care of his father's damaged neurons, synapses and nerve endings, healing his eyesight, hearing, everything that could be injured.
He had no idea what the damage to his father's respiratory system could be. Nonetheless, Luke imagined it being slowly and thoroughly healed. Just sending all his loving care and affection to every cell that could be malfunctioning, damaged or destroyed. He simply coaxed them into regenerating and start functioning again. His father's pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchi, bronchioles, alveoli, the entire lungs. His circulatory and digestive systems too. His bones. Inside out. Everything.
He mentally treated his father's body. He pictured a healthy body in his mind's eye and he projected the image, superposing it to his father's body. Every damaged organ should be just as it had once been, healthy and functional. The healthy body of Anakin Skywalker, a man who still wasn't 45 years old.
There were no boundaries whatsoever; it was his own private, inner world, and everything was possible. Not caring at all about it being possible or impossible, Luke leapt beyond logic, beyond reality. It was so easy to believe he could actually do this he just did it.
No mechanical limbs were necessary anymore. What good could they do when his father could grow a whole new arm, hand, leg, anything? Luke smiled to himself. It was so perfect in here! Injustices, disappointments, lies, pain had no place here. Everything made sense, all suffering and sacrifice found its reward. Nothing was impossible.
And then, it was done. His father's body was fully healed. He was a human being again; in body as well as in heart and soul. Now his father could return with him, they would explain everything to his friends and to the Alliance's leaders. Mon Mothma would see the truth and she would immediately realize what an unexpected asset they had found, how Anakin could bridge and smooth the differences between the Alliance and the defeated Empire. Through his father's wise mediation, peace and forgiveness would be a reality much sooner.
It would be quite a shock to his friends to find out that former Darth Vader was on their side now. Especially after all they had suffered at the Dark Lord's hands. But he knew their hearts. They would forgive. Life had blessed him with the best friends anyone could ever have. Understanding and insight would come. Distrust would disappear as soon as they bothered to look into his father's eyes. And then, they would be a family. An orphan's dream come true. A father and a sister! Oh, he could see it all so clearly!
But all this dreaming, for what? What was the use of this childish fantasy? The fact remained. His father was dead, and there was nothing he could do to help it. He felt ridiculous and stupid. There he went again, entering his own imaginary world where everything could be sorted out, just like in those tales Aunt Beru told him when he was a little kid. Now, it was time to return to reality and learn to live with it. Choking on his sobs, Luke said his final goodbye to his father's spirit. It should be somewhere above this merely physical plane, beyond any pain and the limitations of his mechanical body. He knew he should be happy for him now, but ... he could only think about how empty and forsaken he was feeling. He felt guilty and selfish for wanting his father back and that also hurt him. His chest ached, the oppressive feeling was squeezing the tears out of his eyes and Luke couldn't stop them.
He could also feel the increasing danger. The deflector shield had been deactivated and the Alliance's starfighters had to be about to blow the station's reactor core. His time was almost up. He would have to take his father's body to the shuttle. Once on Endor, he would perform the Jedi rituals his father rightfully deserved. He would have to cremate his body ... An anguished moan escaped him. If only he could turn back time!! If only he had been stronger and smarter! If only he had gathered a few more drops of strength, he would have been able to get his father into the shuttle, he would have explained everything to him and they would have abandoned the station alive, together.
Luke bit his lower lip in despair. He sniffed and wiped his tears away with his fist, like a little boy. A few more choked sobs exploded from deep inside him. He was so wrapped up in his misery he failed to notice the soft, gentle caress on the top of his head. Gloved fingers slid through his hair, dishevelling it affectionately.
When the outside world began to intrude upon his grief and sensation returned to his numb body, Luke reluctantly gave in. As soon as he opened that tiny window to reality, Luke felt as if something had slammed against his whole body. All of his being seemed to wake up with a start. He felt the tender caress on his head and, even more shocking, he felt the warmth of his father's presence within his mind again!!
Luke looked up abruptly, and his body jerked backwards as he let out a shocked gasp at what he was seeing.
It ... It couldn't be!! This had to be some sort of grief-induced hallucination!! But his disbelieving eyes and his entire soul were already believing the miracle that seemed to have taken place while he wasn't looking, while he was ... dreaming and putting everything right deep into his own imaginary world.
For here before him, Luke had an older version of himself. A blond, almost spiky-haired, blue-eyed man. No scars covered his head and face now. His skin was smooth and a couple shades pinker than Luke's. His lips were fuller and they were smiling at him with more love than they could contain. His eyes were brimming with tears as he reached out to him with his right ... hand! He had two hands!! He had a flesh and blood right hand! And the arm it was attached to was flesh and blood too!
In that split second, Luke realized he had healed his father. What he had thought that was simply a childish fantasy, the place where he had retreated since he could remember to lick his wounds and imagine a perfect world where all wonderful things were possible ... how could he possibly know it was actually ... that he was ...?
Yoda had never told him that Force could heal, really heal. And yet, his desperation and his love had helped him to instinctively find the way.
But he had felt his father's lifeforce disappearing! He had lost his mental link with him! His father had truly died! How ...?
Anakin's smile became even wider, his breathtaking grin reaching out through the remaining wires of his now useless mask. His right hand was still outstretched and, drawn like a magnet, Luke inched closer to it, until the warm, human hand cradled his cheek.
Biting his lips, overwhelmed, Luke closed his eyes to fully savour the touch he had thought he would never know again. The link between them flashed open through the contact, and he felt his father wordlessly explaining what he couldn't vocalize, so moved he was.
He felt how his father's consciousness had slowly faded away and how, seconds later, he had realized he was floating above his body, watching the scene unfolding below, like a spectator of his own death. He had felt his son's heartrending pain and he had felt powerless to comfort him. He desperately wanted to, but he didn't have the means to reach his boy anymore. And when he was beginning to slowly float away, something had held him still. Looking down again, he watched how Luke was physically healing his body. Flabbergasted, he contemplated the transformation, unable to believe what he was seeing, the person he was becoming, healthy and younger than the man who had just died. Luke had brought to the surface the person he would have been if he had never turned to the Dark Side. Then, Anakin had felt the soft tug to his soul, the invitation to return to his body, if he so wished.
How could he reject such a gift? The opportunity to be with his boy and with his daughter? The second chance to be the father he had never been? Through his son's desperate projection he had seen he shouldn't fear for the Alliance's reprisal. The only requirement they would demand from him would be his willingness to make up for all the evil he had done and, most of all, learn to live with it. That in itself would be punishment enough. He knew that nightmares would chase him for the rest of his life, but his children deserved that and far, far more.
So, Anakin made the conscious decision to return and face whatever awaited him. Just then, he had felt a warm smile coming from ... somewhere else, and he had looked around, trying to recapture that sensation. It had been some time since he had felt that particular presence for the last time. 'Obi-Wan? Is that you?' The incorporeal smile grew bigger and then, everything was silent again.
Next, he had felt a sort of acceleration and he had opened his eyes to the sight of his son's bent head and the sound of his helpless sobbing and sniffing. He had raised his hand, immediately getting used to the feeling of a flesh and blood body. He could feel the blood pumping and coursing through his veins, the sound of his heart beating and thumping in his chest. The feeling of the oxygen filling his nose, his throat and his lungs was thrilling and exhilarating! So long since he had last felt all these things!! He couldn't believe what Luke had just done. He was inhabiting the body of a 44 year old man, without all the years of Dark Side consumption that had aged him prematurely. Would he ever be able to repay his son for this gift beyond price?
Anakin was bursting with pride. Luke's healing was unprecedented. He had read as Obi-Wan's padawan about the healing gift that some Jedi possessed, but it had never come as far as bringing people back from the dead! It was rumored that only Master Yoda had managed such a feat once, centuries ago, but the whole story was surrounded by the veil of legend, and Yoda had never confirmed it or denied it. Some people said that sometimes, Force used Jedi's healing gift to sort out a 'cosmic mistake', something that wasn't supposed to happen, like a sudden death that had come before its Time. Did this mean he wasn't supposed to die ... today? Had Luke been the channeller for the Force to put right what should have never happened? Or did this mean that Luke was becoming a Jedi this powerful? Something told Anakin it was a combination of all those things.
This knowledge gave the older Jedi the courage necessary to return with Luke and face whatever the future threw his way. He would accept it gratefully, if only for the chance to be with his boy, for the chance to see him grow both as a man and as a Jedi, even though both aspects were inextricably bound; and for the slight chance to earn her daughter's respect and, in time, maybe her affection as well. He would do anything in his power to accomplish the destiny he was supposed to fulfill and make everybody proud of him. He gaped at these humble thoughts. What a departure from Pride, Greed and Hatred he had personified as Darth Vader! He couldn't help a shudder and a stab of burning guilt, and he pressed his hand to Luke's cheek, suddenly desperate to get his forgiveness once again but, most of all, desperate to convince himself of the beloved presence beside him. He finally found his voice.
"You never give up, do you, my boy?", he croaked, as he tried to collect himself. He couldn't help a gentle teasing, as an exasperated father chiding an impenitent child.
Luke let out a choked sound that was halfway between a laugh and a sob. He bit the inside of his lower lip and cuddled his cheek into his father's palm as new, fresh tears streamed down his cheeks; tears of infinite happiness as the young man had never known. He put up his own hand and covered his father's, pressing it to his face, caressing himself with it. Once more, he reminded Anakin of a cub, desperate for pampering; but it also reminded him of how close they had been to losing one another forever. Never to get to know this boy, never to be beside him, guiding him, nurturing him, protecting him ...
Swallowing the enormous lump in his throat, Anakin opened his heart, a heart that seemed to have grown too big for his chest. He would say the words now as he felt them, as they came out from his very soul.
"My son ... My Luke ...", his deep baritone, rich, real voice was like warm velvet, and Luke's body trembled softly. Anakin lost himself in his love for his child as his own tears rolled down his face. This was the only thing worth living for, what filled one's veins to bursting. It had taken him a very long, terrible journey to realize this truth, and he vowed to never forget it and follow this path for the rest of his life, always willing to give it up ... for love. His thumb lovingly wiped away the wetness on Luke's cheek and the boy smiled at him with pure, perfect happiness; a beautiful smile that made Anakin's heart sing with joy.
"Father ...", the boy whispered, savouring every single letter like honey. The very same word he had thought a few minutes ago he would have no one to say it to ever again. And this time, it was Anakin who trembled at his child's accent.
Father and son looked into each other's blue eyes and in that brand new world, Luke saw they would be alright. Everything would be alright.
He could feel it.
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