I won't leave you


Every inhalation was an effort, every exhalation a fatiguing wheeze that drew upon his already fading strength. It was a pain without purpose, as Darth Vader no longer had any control of his limbs, or ability to feel in the cybernetic extensions of his arms. He now could only sink, fallen, to the floor, caught up in his breath, and in the pain, a being no longer aware of the outside world.

But there was something still, something out there that nagged at him and took him away from his breath. It was something that caught him as he fell, and held him steadily as he breathed, and it was a something that he was grateful for. If he only could remember where he was, or what he had been doing, perhaps he would find the strength to thank it...

He and the something - the presence - sank together to the floor, slow, tired and exhausted and dying. Together, they lay on the floor, doing nothing but breathing.

said a voice. Father, we have to leave.

The voice was sweet and earnest, untouched by stiffness or the military precision his embittered ears had long grown accustomed to hearing. It was a welcome voice, and in that instant, he loved it, because the voice loved him. He held onto it - onto its sweetness - and used its strength to open his eyes, and to look past the darkening view of his eyeguards. He was rewarded by beauty, and enough so that he wanted desperately to smile at it, though he didn't know how to do so any longer.

his lips remembered, and the vocoder grated a sound that made him wince behind the mask. His own voice sounded so dark; so ugly; so different from the starry beauty that was his son's. He faltered and closed his lips and mouth, afraid that his son wouldn't want him any longer.

Luke smiled, and he felt a powerful wave of happiness smother his doubts. Come on, Father, Luke said, and it was lovely.

He couldn't stand up.

He did not understand why his legs would not follow his commands. There had only been one time they had failed, in his life - in the lava, and maybe in the ensuing white hospital of his nightmares - but things were different now. Now he was with Luke, and it was not time to fail. He couldn't fail Luke - no! - not after he had failed him so much already. Vader gasped with the pain of memory and of his no longer functioning legs, and remembered a city on the clouds, and what had happened there. Though he couldn't walk, he grappled with his remaining fingers for Luke's gloved hand.

It was only a word, but his bright son understood, and shook his head. It saved us, Father, he said, and Vader thought he heard tears in the voice. He did not want Luke to cry. It was necessary. He shook his head, to tell his son that no, it wasn't necessary, and that there could have been other ways, better ways, but Luke was no longer listening to him, or interested in what he was saying. We have to get out of here, Luke said for a second time, and Vader thought he sounded tired.

Luke pulled him to his feet, somehow, which was impressive considering his heavy bulk and weight. The armor and his booted feet dragged heavily over the floor, but the boy persisted, and pressed Vader's arm close to his neck. He tried to help his son, and to share the burden, but his body would no longer cooperate, and the breathing itself suddenly had become hard again. He pushed his focus into the breaths, desperate suddenly to stay alive for just a few more moments, just so that he could see his son a little more...just so that he could say goodbye...

They nearly fell together into the elevator, just as they had fallen to the floor, but Luke found the strength to keep them both standing, if sagging, on their feet. Vader was proud of his son, of his strength, and he felt shamed for not having been there before - when Luke had been younger - when his son would have needed him most. He wanted to tell Luke so many things, now: of how proud he was of him, and of how sorry he was, and of his mother and the bright future that would lie ahead of him, but he found that he didn't have the strength to say even those words.

Luke's eyes widened as he spoke, and he came over from the side of the elevator he'd let himself rest against to hush Vader's labored speechmaking. he whispered, his blue-eyes brimmed with concern. He looked, in that instant, just as [i]she[/i] would have. It'll all be okay, father.

But Vader was not used to being silenced, and would not stop speaking just because Luke told him to. He did not know if he'd ever have another chance to talk like this, or be able to spend such time...such precious time... with his son again.

Luke closed his eyes, and the elevator doors opened. Vader didn't finish the rest of what he wanted to say, because for him it was back to leaning and pressing and dragging over the floor, which meant that he had to concentrate on breathing again. He threw himself into the rhythm of his lungs, forgetting about everything else around him except the regular intake and outtake of his breath.

Luke's strength was failing. Vader could feel it in the Force and hear it in the obviousness of his jagged breathing, and knew it as inexorably as the fact that he himself would not last longer than a few more minutes. They had made it far already, actually, further than he could have ever truly asked Luke to take him, and in his mind, it was time that Luke's trial came to an end.

Luke stumbled, and together they collapsed onto to the ground. He felt his mechanical spine arch and his head fall back to hit the permacrete floor, and heard Luke struggle for the strength to pull him all the way up and into the awaiting shuttle. He smiled finally, remembering how to - it was painful, and the muscles tugged at his scar - behind the angled mask, and then sighed.

It was time.

But there was so much still to be said! - an apology, first, for all the things he had done - then a passing of memories, so the boy would know how much he took after his mother - and Leia; there was still far too much to be said about Leia, his newfound daughter, and -

he said quietly, his panic suddenly subsiding as he said the name, help me take this mask off.