Author's Note: When I finished writing "At a Crossroads," I was pretty much convinced it was going to be, if not my final story, at least the last one in a fairly long time. Ironically, a few weeks after I started posting it, I got a plot bunny for another story (the very one you're about to read.) Unfortunately, when I had written just a couple pages, my family got hit by my father's sudden illness that resulted in his falling on my mother and breaking her ankle and one of her ribs. Literally, in a matter of minutes, I became an only child with one parent at the hospital (where he stayed for over three months), and the other with severe osteoporosis and broken bones confined to a chair (alone) at home. I spent my days with my dad at the hospital and the nights at home, taking care of my mum.
I simply don't know how we managed, but we survived two surgeries and months of rehab. Miraculously, we began to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I was too broken psychologically after our ordeal to think about writing anything when I didn't even have time to sit at my computer.
Gradually, I found some inner peace - and also my inspiration - to try and finish what I started writing so many months before. I wasn't the same person anymore, but one thing I learned, or rather, one thing I had always known but that our nightmare only reinforced, is how important family is and how *vital* it can be for someone to never lose faith in them and just hold their hand when they think there's no hope. We touched bottom, but we came back. At least, for the present.
"As One" is a reflection of everything I've gone through, a look at what makes life worth living (for me), and why I think we must fight until the end.
That's the reason why this story is so shamelessly sappy and touchy-feely to the point of being cloying. I've never apologized for my writing style and certainly, I'm not going to start now. This is who and what I am.
It seems that nothing will be able to kill my obsession with mushy and happy endings. In real life we hardly ever got any, so I'm bent on balancing things out in fanfic.
Will I ever write another story? Well, I already have. But this time it's for "The Sound of Music" fandom. A fandom I never left behind but that for some reason the Muses refused to find inspiration for. I started a couple stories in the past ten years but I never got to finish them. And then, all of a sudden, I got this idea for a 10 pages-long one-shot that "only" took me three and a half months to write (and only 15 hours after completing "As One" to boot!)
Nobody knows what will happen next. I'm inclined to believe that writing fanfiction will always be a part of my life. It may take me six months or six years, but somehow, while I'm still sane and unless the greatest of tragedies strikes, my Muses will always be there, tempting me.
If you read this "little" introduction, just know that you deserve a medal, like Luke and Han at the end of A New Hope.
Prepare yourselves for an unapologetic fable of love, forgiveness and unashamed sentimentalism. Well, like all my SW stories are, only raised to the nth degree this time.
As you know, English isn't my first language, and since I have no proofreader, I beg forgiveness for any typos and grammar mistakes. I reread this story a billion times throughout these past 17 months, but I'm almost sure that some embarrassing errors still managed to escape my notice.
Without further ado... May the Force be with you and thank you for sticking with me.
Long and heavy strides, black cape billowing behind him. The Dark Lord of the Sith walked the lower deck of the landing platform with a single-minded purpose.
The door before him lifted open to reveal three stormtroopers and a commander flanking a young man in binders. As if he was expecting to meet him, the boy had his big, unblinking eyes already set on him.
And at that moment, the world around Vader ceased to exist. His eyes became riveted on the small form, unable to look away.
"This is a Rebel that surrendered to us," the commander informed his superior officer formally. "Although he denies it, I believe there may be more of them, and I request permission to conduct a further search of the area."
After a short moment of thorough visual exploration on both sides, Vader turned his head to the commander.
"He was armed only with this," the middle aged man offered the handle of a lightsaber to the open hand that greedily closed around it.
"Good work, Commander," Vader praised, not really paying attention to his words. "Leave us. Conduct your search and bring his companions to me."
The young man tilted his head up slightly, in obvious disapproval.
"Yes, milord," the commander turned around and walked away, followed by the troopers.
Once alone, the youth fell easily into step with him, and Vader had to marvel at how right and natural it felt to just walk alongside the boy. Older and more experienced men would falter and cower just being in his presence, and this little Jedi, even in handcuffs...
But this young man was anything but inexperienced. He was young, yes, but also seasoned in battle and in the ruthless hardships of life... to what he had contributed decisively.
Not now. Not now.
"The Emperor has been expecting you."
Staring straight ahead, almost ignoring the presence of the man who'd sired him, Luke gave a tiny nod.
"I know, Father."
He'd said it. He'd acknowledged their blood bond out loud. It was real now - a breathing, living thing beating in his chest and cradling him in an oddly comforting warmth.
Nothing else mattered. Not the war. Not the Light or the Dark. Not even the Force. Just Luke Skywalker and his father, walking side by side for the first time in their lives.
Something so simple, so... ordinary, that encompassed everything he had dreamed of for as long as he could remember.
Vader's head turned sharply to him, but after a second's consideration, his reply came out somewhat self-complacent.
"So, you have accepted the truth."
The bright, light eyes looked at him askance, ready to correct his misunderstanding.
"I've accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father."
Snapping automatically, Vader came to an abrupt halt, and brandishing the weapon he was holding in his hand, he pointed it at his son's chest angrily.
"That name no longer has any meaning for me!"
He couldn't say what offended him more. That the child had mentioned the name of a person who had ceased to exist before he was even born, or his own visceral reaction to it.
Whichever the reason, he had to crush any ludicrous hopes the youth might harbour so he could focus on the here and now, and the life and death situation he would face in a matter of hours. For his own sake, he couldn't afford to be distracted by maudlin sentimentalisms that would lead nowhere.
Unfazed by his father's outburst, Luke stopped calmly and turned to him.
"It is the name of your true self, you've only forgotten," he argued vehemently, oozing conviction. "I know there is good in you; the Emperor hasn't driven it from you fully."
A bout of boundless melancholy suddenly came over him and he turned his back to his father, both to hide all evidence of it and as a show of trust in the man who had mutilated him only months ago.
"That was why you couldn't destroy me. That's why you won't bring me to your Emperor now," he stated as if he could make the words come true by sheer force of will, by the power of his faith alone.
'If you just knew how much I care, Father... how much I'd give for you to break free... If you just knew to what extent I trust you, you wouldn't stand there trying to convince me of what we both know is not true.'
Vader stared after his child, perplexed, not knowing where his son got his delirious reasoning.
'You should know better than to put your trust in a Sith Lord, Luke. I am your father, but I am nothing to you. We're strangers, and whatever inconceivable attachment you feel towards me, you will realize it couldn't be more misplaced. I am *not* to be trusted, Son. I learned that truth when I choked your mother to death, when I betrayed the very thing I had turned to save. For your own interests, renounce me.'
Unable to verbalize the thoughts burning in his mind, knowing that even if he did it still wouldn't change the boy's naïve beliefs, Vader looked down bitterly. The lightsaber in his hand drew his attention, and on a sudden burst of pride, he ignited it, unaware of the young man's instinctive stiffening.
"I see you have constructed a new lightsaber," he turned it around, studying it. The craftmanship was exquisite, and despite the pang of anger that flared inside him at its obvious resemblance to Obi-Wan's saber, he recognized the fact that the boy probably hadn't seen many of those, so it made sense for him to make one similar to the old man's. And anyway, this one was a definite improvement on Kenobi's lightsaber. The very design, the obvious care which had been applied to its construction spoke of not only a skilled hand, but a gifted artist. "Your skills are complete."
And those skills will be tested against me very soon.
The unbidden thought made Vader's heart miss a beat at the inevitability of it all. There was no escaping the Destiny they were headed for. Every single option had been stripped from them, and now there were three pieces on the board where only two were allowed.
A simple mathematical equation with just one possible outcome.
No way out for either of them. The Emperor would pit them against each other so that only one victor remained standing... and alive.
This weapon showed that his son was in his prime. He was strong and resilient. Even with no traditional, proper training, he still was a formidable adversary. A force of Light to be reckoned with, that his master would twist and corrupt, until there was nothing left of its brilliance.
Regret unlike anything he had known in decades burned his throat. The burden of his wrong choices and what they would cost his child overwhelmed the Dark Lord.
Extinguishing the blade, he turned about, unconsciously giving his son the same gift he'd bestowed on him seconds ago. His trust.
"Indeed, you are powerful; as the Emperor has foreseen."
The million 'what ifs' in Vader's words didn't escape the young man, intuitively, intrinsically attuned to his father's frame of mind. Turning slowly to him, almost afraid of breaking the mood - hauntingly beautiful in its poignancy - he channelled all of himself, body and soul, into the three words that poured from his lips, pure and innocent.
"Come with me."
The boy's entreaty, not from Jedi to Sith Lord but from Son to Father, appealing to everything they could have been and meant to each other, went straight to the heart Vader'd thought dead eons ago.
'I have failed you, Anakin. I have failed you.'
'Just as I will fail you, Son. I am nothing but a dead, empty carcass. There is nothing left of your Anakin, nothing left of Darth Vader either. There is nothing worth salvaging inside this suit. I am but a shadow, without substance.'
"Obi-Wan once thought as you do."
Summoning his strength to face the serenely hopeful countenance waiting for a sign, for an answer, any answer, to his plea, he steeled himself to effectively kill the youth's pipe dream. He turned around.
"You don't know the power of the Dark Side. I must obey my master."
Ironically, it wasn't a matter of obedience. It had ceased to be long ago. There was just nowhere for him to go. He was simply going through the motions like the puppet he had been all his life. For the Jedi Order first, and for Palpatine now.
There was nothing left to fight for. Certainly not his soul, as it had been forfeit since the day he'd turned.
No hope, no reason to believe in anything anymore.
A flicker of... if not disappointment, at least resolve showed in the immaculate light eyes.
"I will not turn," Luke shook his head in warning, "and you'll be forced to kill me."
"If that is your destiny..." Vader shrugged his despondency. His defeat. He trailed off, too apathetic to finish the sentence. These exchanges felt so old and well-worn by now...
Luke observed his father through slitted eyes, concentrating only on the signals his body language gave off.
"So that's it, isn't it?" the words sprouted from his mouth of their own volition. "You've lost your faith. In yourself, in me. Even in the Force."
Vader's nostrils flared with a hissing sound.
"You're convinced that nothing could possibly change and there is nothing to believe in anymore. You surrendered to the Emperor's will because he took everything away from you. You can't even conceive a life in which you're not his slave, bidding to his wishes, even if it means your own son's downfall."
His eyes turned suddenly bigger, compelling, inescapable. And soft, so soft...
"What did he do to you?" the gentle voice was tinged with infinite sadness and compassion. "How did he break you?"
Vader's ragged, uneven respiration was the only answer Luke got. The only one the Dark Lord could give.
And then, the boy let out a wry, bittersweet smile. Shaking his head self-deprecatingly, he turned again to the world-wide forest, leaning his elbows on the railings.
"I suppose I cannot blame you," he whispered with a sigh, almost as if he was talking to himself. "Obi-Wan warned me against putting my faith and my hopes... in you."
Closing his eyes, Luke spread out his senses until they encompassed everything around them. The landing platform, the trees in front of him, the life thriving everywhere.
'For my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.'
An ethereal smile illuminated the smooth features, and the young Jedi found himself communing with the reality surrounding him and his father in a way he had never experienced before. His perceptions enhanced beyond his physical being, even beyond his Force senses, to a degree that should be frightening but turned out to be immensely comforting.
'Luminous beings are we.'
Yes, Yoda was right, but he suspected his old master had been referring to their spiritual beings once they left their corporeal bodies behind, after death. As Obi-Wan was every time he appeared before him.
But contrarily to his masters' lessons, everything that Luke Skywalker was, knew now there was much more to it than that. Their mortal selves also possessed a singular wisdom that was theirs and only theirs for as long as they existed in this realm. Flesh made them terribly susceptible to manipulation, vulnerable to selfish, worldly temptations and coarse enticements; but that weakness also made them aware of how easy it was to lose it all in the blink of an eye. In their striving for transcending those limitations lay a nobility, an... integrity that was just as luminous as their unembodied souls. Because it was an impossible feat to achieve. And still, they kept trying.
He smiled to himself in utter peace, more conscious than ever of what he had to do. Reaching out, he embraced the wilderness he was an inherent part of, holding it inside himself and harnessing its power deep within. This was a Jedi's element; this was what he had been born for.
He opened his eyes oh-so-slowly, feeling them gather with tears at the beauty blossoming inside him. The beauty he longed to share with his father and make a part of him too.
The path was so clear to him now...
"It is my Destiny," he murmured, almost in a trance-like state, "to show you that there *is* a turn back from the Dark Side; that *your* Destiny lies with me; that my faith in you is not misplaced. But you need a practical demonstration to believe. So be it."
Taking a deep breath, Luke's essence went out to the Force, trusting himself to it and all the things it made possible. Those he already knew and those he couldn't even fathom.
Whatever it took.
For his Anakin.
Vader felt the surge in the Force in the form of an unprecedented explosion of Light one heartbeat too late. Before he took his first step towards the child, Luke jumped over the railings at a speed that his eyes couldn't follow. The only testimony of his insane stunt was the loud clang of the handcuffs hitting the floor.
He made for the railings in total astonishment and looked into the forest. There was no trace of the boy.
The thundering sound of the stormtroopers' boots rushing over, blasters at the ready, jolted him into action.
"STAY BACK!" he shouted, thrusting out his hand forbiddingly, palm out. "The first one to shoot won't live to see another day!"
Not needing to look to know he would be obeyed, Vader made use of every filter his mask provided to search for any signs of his son. Broken branches, torn leaves, anything that revealed what direction he had taken.
Seconds passed, until the silence became too deafening to bear.
'LUKE!' he called out.
'I am here, Father,' a childlike voice promptly replied, full of laughter and joy.
'You'll have to come and find me.' More laughter filled his mind.
'Don't make me send the troopers after you, young one,' he threatened icily.
'What's the matter? Can't a mighty Dark Side Lord find a humble Jedi learner?'
'This isn't the time for childish games, boy. There is no escape. You don't stand a chance and you know it.'
'I don't intend to escape, Father. But if you want me, you have to come after me.'
'I will not give you the advantage that easily.'
'I am closer than you think, and I promise that you *will* have me... eventually. Come on. I am waiting for you.'
Vader felt a playful tickle in his mind, encouraging him.
'I'm right here, at your fingertips. Follow the thread and feel no dread.'
Vader looked around time and again, to no avail. He pounded the railings in frustration.
'Come back here, you sanctimonious prat, or I shall...'
'Are you afraid?'
The Sith Lord's madly spinning thoughts came to a dead stop, realizing that in his anger he'd left his mind fully open to his child's probing.
But what truly shocked him wasn't the fact that he'd unknowingly allowed his son full access into his mind, but that Luke hadn't seized the opportunity. And it was Luke's respect for his privacy that rocked him to the core.
The contrast was staggering.
Palpatine breached his defenses whenever it pleased him. His mind was a viscous, slimy morass that engulfed and absorbed everything it touched. It felt like stinking, greedy tentacles that suffocated all life around it. Usually, his shields held up against it; but every single time, the tentacles left behind yet another mark upon his already mangled soul.
Defiled not only by the Darkness inside him and his own unspeakable crimes, but his master's depraved, repulsive touch.
And this child, this little Jedi's mind-voice was such a fragrant, breathy caress, that he ached for its healing touch on his defaced psyche.
Profoundly shaken by his son's insight, he looked out into the forest anew, trying to make out his form amongst the lush greens and browns of the plants and trees growing far and wide.
'You have nothing to fear, Father. Here, take my strength and come with me.'
Vader's spirit was carried away in a sudden, heady breeze that swept him off his feet. He gasped out loud, shuddering to the very depths of his being.
When the invigorating sensation retreated somewhat, the Sith Lord couldn't help but cling to the scintillating tendril it left behind.
No, it was no tendril. It was more like an umbilical cord. A conduit. A golden link connecting him to his child; and more. To everything out there.
'There's no reason to fear. You only have to trust me. Trust the will of the Force, as you once did.'
Vader took one final look, trying to see, to at least catch a glimpse...
'Please, trust me. Please.'
And with the boy's final plea, the Dark Lord felt something taking over. Something that still felt like him, that still felt like his conscious mind, only... unburdened. Unburdened of all the doubts and insecurities that had always weighed down on him. They'd all been thrown aside and only a single purpose remained.
He made the choice, and the next thing he knew he was flying over the railings, his cape billowing behind him in an almost organic display of vitality.
He landed on the ground with a soft thud and quickly straightened up to his full height. He turned 360 degrees, taking in the massive trees that reached higher than he could see. And for the first time in so many years, he felt small. Dwarfed by the beauty that showed him just how futile his resolutions were, how laughably powerless he had been in his crazed attempts to bend the universe to his whims. His heart constricted with awe.
'Humbling, isn't it?' Luke's velvety mind-voice confirmed his deep introspection. 'But you *are* a part of this too, Father. Insignificant, but unique unto yourself. And never alone.' There was a brief pause. 'Do you feel it? Do you feel the connection? The trees. The rocks. The little critters everywhere. You and I. Can you feel my heart beating inside you? Because I can feel yours beating inside me. They're beating as one.'
Trembling with the feelings those words evoked, Vader drew a sharp intake of breath.
'Where are you?' he asked sternly, seeking to get back a position of authority over the boy.
'There's no need to exert your pretended superiority in this place,' Luke admonished kindly. 'None of that is necessary here. Just look around you. Feel for once. Open your senses to the glory of creation and let it seep into your soul. Let it heal you.'
With a tired sigh, Vader hooked his son's lighsaber to his belt, beside his own.
'You won't tell me where you are until you've imparted your particular crash course on the Force, will you? You're forgetting I received the same vapid lessons when I was ten years old.'
'Maybe you received those lessons, but you never took them to heart. You never truly *lived* them, like I do. As for where I am, if you had opened yourself to the Force, you would know I am at your fingertips, as I told you.'
Vader spun around and his eyes bulged. Luke stood less than two meters behind him, smiling indulgently.
He reached out instinctively but to his surprise, the child drew back.
Inexplicably hurt by the rejection, the Sith Lord let his arm hang loose at his side, a part of him wondering that he still could feel anything at all.
"And now?" he asked instead, cringing at the mechanical sound of his voice after so many minutes of telepathic communication.
"Now?" Luke's eyes twinkled with amusement. "Now it's up to you."
Vader snorted disdainfully.
"Typical Jedi answer. Always speaking in riddles. Always talking about obscure, abstract concepts that went over my head. Detachment, nonemotion... But how to commune with all living things by distancing yourself from them?" he shook his head in disappointment. "Listening to you is like going back in time 35 years. The same old platitudes, the same dogmatic viewpoints, the very same words that don't really mean anything."
The silence stretched on until a short chuckle echoed through the forest.
"It's good to know I wasn't the only one struggling with those philosophies," Luke lost himself in thought for an instant before acknowledging him again. His stare intensified. "But if there's one thing I learned after finding myself all alone with my own conflicts, is that our masters' teachings are a beginning, a starting point, not an answer to every dilemma we come across in our lives." A quick shadow passed through his face. "Meeting you, accepting who you are, what you've done, and everything that you mean to me, has been my biggest, greatest lesson. And I'm infinitely grateful for it," his eyes softened. "To you, for teaching me so much."
Vader blinked sceptically.
"Yes, I'm serious," Luke's half-smile almost made the Dark Lord forget how their minds seemed to be in full sync with each other. "You taught me how often reality differs from our dreams. How your entire world can be blown apart and rearranged into a whole new picture in a matter of seconds. You are the lesson I needed to learn to become what and who I am meant to be."
The Sith Lord felt as if he had been kicked in the guts.
"That is why I won't leave you to suffer alone. I will never leave you. You are coming with me, as there is no choice for either of us."
'I will never leave you.' Once upon a time, he would have died to hear those words from a loved one. From anyone, in fact. But now... Now it was too late.
"What makes you think it won't be the other way round?" Vader challenged defiantly.
"Because your soul is as important to me as mine, and I will not give up on it. I will not give up on you," Luke's eyes flashed with conviction and commitment. "You're full of resentment for the wrong decisions that were made in your training that led you here today. You blame your mentors, you blame the Emperor, you blame the Force," he took a resolute step forward. "You blame even me. For not being there for me when I was growing up, for not knowing I even existed. And most of all, you blame yourself. For falling, for allowing yourself to be sucked into this infamy that destroyed the galaxy, the life you could have had, and our family."
Untrammelled sympathy bled through his every pore.
"But it doesn't have to be like that anymore. You're entitled forgiveness because you want it desperately. And you have it, Father," the blue depths brimmed with sincerity. "I do forgive you," Luke sighed and swallowed the lump in his throat as his features hardened with determination. "So, I refuse to be used as a tool against you. If I should let you take me to the Emperor, that's what I would become. You know it as well as I do."
His hand reached out to the older man beseechingly.
"You want to come with me, and I am telling you it is possible. Until you can bring yourself to believe it, I will protect you in every way I can."
Excruciating chills shook the Dark Lord. Force, did that child care as much as he seemed to?
"Why are you making this so difficult?" the regret in Vader's voice was only comparable to the weariness consuming his soul. "Why do you insist on clinging to such naïve beliefs and unrealistic expectations? Look at me and tell me you truly think there is hope for me."
The young Jedi fixed his eyes on the expressionless mask, examining it and the man behind it with such naked openness that Vader almost squirmed. Heavens, how could anyone look at him like that knowing what he'd done, what he was, what he stood for?
"You validated each and every one of my beliefs and expectations by not denying anything I said," the sweetest smile illuminated the lovely features. "You will find the inner strength you once possessed and see I am speaking the truth. It's a matter of time and patience, and I have enough of both for the two of us."
Vader was beginning to realize that his son would find a counterargument for every point he raised. Indeed, he had become a master of procrastination. And what irritated him the most was that he found it... captivating.
"What do you propose?" he conceded in the end. He was really curious to know how far the boy would take his delusional fantasy.
Luke shrugged nonchalantly.
"Oh, nothing extraordinary. Only that you sit down here and meditate with me." He gestured with his head at the empty space in front of him.
Vader stared at his child in outright disbelief. No one could be that calm and composed, knowing that the fate of the galaxy was hours away from being decided. Not only that, but that they were standing in the very epicenter of the galactic-wide quake.
"Are you suggesting that we just sit here and meditate as if this was a camping-out party?"
"Yes," Luke gave him an earnest look, sinking down and sitting cross-legged on the ground.
"Because I am asking you to."
The guilelessness and candor in the blue eyes tore at something within Vader. He didn't have to comply, he didn't want to comply; and yet he sat down smoothly, hands flat on his knees.
Luke did nothing. He simply stared at his father, sitting right in front of him. Something so mundane, so... earthly. He just had to smile. He couldn't begin to grasp how... happy that moment made him. He didn't question it, he just basked in it.
His son's smile sliced through the Sith Lord like a knife. He closed his eyes, shutting out the barrage of unwelcome memories.
'Are you all right?'
The breezy, achingly dulcet mind-voice raised Vader from the harrowing images assaulting him.
'Yes,' he straightened up deliberately. 'Only not in the mood for meditation."
'Oh,' Luke didn't seem to have considered that, but he immediately shrugged his acceptance. 'Then just try to clear your mind from all the thoughts spinning around. For what is worth, concentrating on a spot before my eyes does the trick for me.' He thought of what might be right in front of his father's line of vision, above his head. 'The knot of a tree, a little leaf on...'
Like waves to the shore, Vader was drawn to the indescribably beautiful orbs looking at him. Crystalline, all-encompassing. All the answers he craved for seemed to be contained in that pristine innocence.
Brusquely interrupted, Luke gathered his thoughts, focusing on the turmoil ravaging his father's soul. Inconsolable, unquenchable, unforgiving.
'Close your eyes and listen to my voice,' he requested out of the blue.
Vader stared at his child, dead still.
The boy tipped his head to one side, sensing the older man's uncertainty.
'Don't be afraid of trusting me,' there was a butterfly tremor in the exquisite murmur caressing Vader's thoughts. 'I'll never hurt you. I will never betray your trust.'
'How do you know you can trust me?'
Luke smiled wistfully.
'I have been doing it since the moment I was brought before you. I trust you with my life, and you're gonna have to accept that," the little shrug that followed had an air of stubborn finality to it. "Just allow yourself a moment of inner peace, Father. Give your spirit some rest. Let me cradle it and keep it safe for you.'
Seconds ticked by and Vader remained silent, unmoving, incapable of taking the final step.
Nothing left to give, nothing left inside to share; nothing but depravation and an ugliness beyond comprehension. A pestilent emptiness that had devoured everything. He didn't want this child to touch, to experience...
...And you claim to be ready to bring him before the Emperor so you can destroy him between the two of you, when you're sitting here putting off the inevitable? Trying to spare him from what he'll see within you, from what you are?
You're trying to spare him because you still care.
More than that. You love. You love him.
NO LOVE, NO ATTACHMENTS!
YOU SWORE TO NEVER FALL PREY TO THAT DISGUSTING WEAKNESS!
And yet, you love him. You always have. He's in your soul. He's in your blood.
Because he *is* your soul. Your blood. Your flesh and blood. Your life.
He is everything.
He's your sun. Your stars. Your whole universe.
Everything revolves around him.
And you'll do anything to keep him safe.
Even coming back to the Light.
For your little boy.
For your Luke.
The cleansing, resplendent beauty blooming inside of him brought him to his feet in a hurricane of rage and denial.
Like a wild beast vanquished by the most insidious, unexpected, puny rival, the Sith Lord punched the nearest trunk.
"NO. NO. NO! NOOOOO!" he shouted himself raw, banging his helmet against the tree time and time again, wanting to crush himself to a pulp.
He was a freak. A monster. An aberration of nature. And as such, he had brought nothing but destruction. To himself. To all those who had ever cared about him. To an entire galaxy.
NEVER. NEVER. NEVERNEVERNEVERNEVER...
"FATHER. FATHER! FATHER, STOP! YOU'RE HURTING YOURSELF. STOP IT! STOP IT NOW!"
Unwavering hands took hold of his upper arms and tried to pull him back.
Vader could have shaken them off easily. He could have smashed the small body standing beside him like an Aerian fly. But the moment those hands touched him, something exploded behind his eyelids.
The Force in its purest form. Flowing between them and connecting them not only physically but also mystically, soul to soul. Creating an unbreakable bond that had been waiting a lifetime to be formed.
It felt like an electric shock spearing him from the inside out, and he threw his head back and let out a silent scream that seemed to echo through time and space, obliterating everything in its wake.
'It's all right, Father. Everything's all right now. Shhhh,' the silky mind-voice, sounding thin and shivery this time, filled his thoughts again, followed by a gentle, soothing hand, rubbing circles on his back.
Latching on to that foreign touch after decades of living without it, Vader lost all sense of self-awareness. He merely existed, drifting away in a feathery cocoon of unconditional love and forgiveness.
'Come with me. Come to me. I love you, Father. I always have, and I always will. I want you, I *need* you with me. Now that I found you, I can't live without you. Please, be with me. Let go of your hate and embrace the Light. Embrace me. I will always be with you. We'll go anywhere we please. Helping people, helping to rebuild this galaxy. We'll go into hiding if you want, until you find your path again. Always together, I promise! Believe in me, Father, I beg you! Believe in the Force. Believe!'
Wheezing, on the verge of passing out, feeling his heart hammer against his ribcage and almost bursting out of it, Vader turned about and grasped his son's upper arms in return.
'Luke...' his mind-voice faltered in total exhaustion. He raised one hand to the soft cheek, touching another in tenderness for the first time in twenty years. 'Luke, help...' he couldn't even finish the thought. He was utterly undeserving, completely unworthy of...
And the boy never hesitated.
'Here I am. Take everything you need from me. Anything you need, is yours.'
'You... You...' that was all Vader was able to articulate, even in his mind. 'I need... you, with me, forever. I... Oh, help me, Son! I need you so... Just as I needed my mother, and your mother. And I lost them both. And then I lost myself. I lost my sanity, and my soul. Help me get it back. Don't let me lose it again. For if I lost you too... Force, there's no hope! There can be no hope... Luke, tell me I can go back!'
'You already have,' his son's sobbing mind-voice replied. 'Don't you feel the Force swirling all around us? We are one, Father. You're giving me the only dream I ever had,' convulsive crying followed the young man's words. 'You did it, you did it! Thank you. Thank you! Thank you!'
And then, Vader's arms were full of his son. The boy wrapped himself around him like a tiny, living blanket, warm and full of need. His face buried itself next to his chest-plate, taking in deep breaths of his leather-scented suit. Desperate hands clutched his back, clawed fingers digging into it so hard that they began to tear at the fabric.
Gasping out loud, the Dark Lord felt something unknotting inside him. Every sob, every little wail, every tear leaving his son's eyes and becoming a part of him unravelled and melted away every piece of resistance within. Not because he was consciously resisting, but because he had forgotten what it was like to hug, to give back, to give himself...
Awkwardly, he lifted one hand again and put it on top of the blond hair, patting it once.
Luke's sobbing turned into a broken laugh, full of understanding. Not expecting any reciprocation, he was deliriously happy just hugging his father, just knowing he was allowed this touching, just knowing he had saved him and they had found each other at last.
The hand on top of his head moved, and the gloved fingers slid through his hair, down the back of his neck and stopped there, holding him to the ample chest. He choked out a moan and his hands spasmed, clinging harder to his father's back.
A second tentative, shy hand, insinuated itself around his waist, and the fingers splayed, covering the lower half of his back.
'Forgive me for not having real hands to hold you.'
Luke almost collapsed at that. Was that what his father thought? That he might be repulsed by...?
'These are my father's hands, and I love them,' he vowed. 'I love you. Please, don't let go. Please, hold me. Hold me tight.'
And the precious little head burrowed into Vader, pressing a bashful kiss on the leather covering his heart.
Father and Son fell to the ground on their knees, hearts and souls overflowing with so much love and undying commitment that the Force sang in triumph, welcoming back the Chosen One and saluting his persevering, tenacious offspring.
One and the same. Now and for as long as they lived.
"No. No. No! It cannot be!"
Palpatine jolted from the throne on the Death Star and turned to the massive crystal panel that offered a full view of the Endor moon below.
He stared out of the huge window, wanting to penetrate through the clouds and see what had transpired below. Although the actual images were unnecessary.
"Stupid, sentimental fools!" he spat disdainfully. "I underestimated the power of that ridiculous emotion! Twenty years of subservience to the Dark Side, and all for nought."
Hissing like a snake, baring his teeth in a snarl of untold hatred, he immediately began to consider his alternatives.
Together, with the Force as their ally, Father and Son would be invincible. A greater threat to the Empire and himself than he could afford. Too much of a threat to be left alive.
It would be a serious setback, no doubt about it. But one his Empire could face, even if it meant that the final destruction of the Alliance would have to be postponed.
Calculatingly, he walked back to his throne, sat down and activated the comlink.
"Yes, your Highness?" the disembodied voice of Moff Jerjerrod hastily replied.
"You will turn this battle station on to the Endor moon and destroy it at once!"
"But your highness," the ghastly disbelief in the Imperial's voice was palpable, "the Rebel Fleet hasn't arrived yet, and we have several battalions stationed on the moon."
"You will destroy it!" No one questioned his decisions. He was the Emperor of the galaxy. He had the power over life and death. Including the officer who risked to defy his orders.
"Yes, your highness," the Commander acquiesced in the faintest tone of voice.
Cutting off the communication, Palpatine leaned back in his seat, preparing himself for the spectacular scene he was about to witness.
It was a pity he wouldn't get to see the faces of both Skywalkers when they realized their end was imminent. Yes, a real pity. He would have relished killing the boy little by little in front of his father, but unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. On the other hand, he had missed the destruction of Alderaan four years ago. This pleasure was long overdue.
He chuckled, tapping his fingers impatiently on the arms of his throne, and opening his senses to fully receive the impact of the millions of deaths that were about to occur. He was going to get rid of his two most dangerous, immediate enemies, and deal yet another blow to that pitiful little band. Not to mention show them the real firepower of his new Death Star. Next time, they would have to try something far more daring than assembling a small guerrilla group to deactivate its deflector shield.
Yes. A truly unforgettable day.
A lifetime seemed to have passed. A lifetime of forgiveness asked and granted, of mutual healing, of losing themselves in the safe haven of each other's souls. And yet, it wasn't nearly enough. It would never be.
Father and Son kneeled still, nestled comfortably in each other's arms, breathing together, hands roaming lazily all over backs and shoulders, all over blond hair becoming entangled in loving fatherly fingers. Becoming acquainted with the other's touch and imprinting it into their beings the way it always should have been. Feeling they would gladly spend the remainder of their lives like this. Just like this. One with the Force. Entwined in each other.
Utter perfection. Sheer bliss. Unimaginable peace.
But always reasonable, like his mother, Luke was the first to speak.
"N-n-" his voice came out in a hoarse whisper and he cleared his throat. "Now we..."
"Now," Anakin cupped the beloved head in his palms and moved it back so he could look on the beautiful face. He brought his thumbs to the wet cheeks and brushed away the tear tracks marring it. "Now I follow wherever you lead."
Luke gazed at his father in wonderment.
"Now you decide your own Destiny, Father. And I will abide by your decision," he amended the older man's words.
A bittersweet smile grazed Anakin's lips and he stroked down a soft cheek that instinctively leaned into his caressing knuckles.
"As you wisely pointed out, my Destiny lies with you. It always did. But the Rebellion will... never take me in," he used a deliberate euphemism to spare the boy the actual words.
Luke got serious for a moment, but then he faced the black mask squarely.
"There is no death penalty in the Alliance, and considering your status within the Empire, your defection would be a tremendous asset to the High Command. Your input would be crucial to put a quick end to this war and the Emperor. And regarding your identity... Well, in a different suit and with new prosthetics, you would be Anakin Skywalker." A violent surge of emotion brought fresh tears to the breathtaking eyes. "My Anakin."
The older man's insides constricted with so much love that it was actually painful.
"Yours," he pledged. "Always."
Shaking his head, overcome by chills, Luke sought the warm shelter of his father's arms again. They closed snugly around him, keeping him shielded and protected from the outside world.
Anakin shuddered when his son's arms wrapped around his torso, returning the hug, giving him the same feeling of protection he was offering.
Decades existing without this! Human touch; caressing, holding. He was starved for this. Starved!
'You're home,' he sent unknowingly. 'The home I've been waiting to belong all my life.'
And Luke snuggled ever closer, pledging himself to their bond in body and spirit.
'I love you, Son. Beyond anything I am able to describe. Beyond flesh and blood. Beyond life and death. Beyond the Force itself,' his arms shook around the lithe frame. 'Oh, I wish I could... I'd give my life if I...'
'I know. I know!' the boy cuddled his father's wounded psyche within his own mind. 'But trust the will of the Force. It'll guide us to our Destiny. It won't let us fail.'
'I trust. I trust!' Anakin exclaimed, bringing one hand under the boy's chin and tipping it up. 'I trust... you, my angel.'
Never breaking eye contact, Luke took his father's gloved hand in his own, brought it to his lips and kissed it. Once. Twice.
"AH!" both Jedi doubled over, grasping the nearest limbs for leverage and squeezing hard.
The Force screamed the most terrifying warning, shouting so loud they thought their brains would implode.
'FATHER!" Luke cried out over the deafening pain shattering his skull.
Anakin didn't even have the strength to acknowledge his child's call for help. He was frozen in place, heaving and moaning; his whole human and mechanical body almost snapping in its extreme stiffness.
Paralysed, the two men fought savagely to get back some movement, as the Force continued screaming into their minds; its warning frantic, frenzied, insane with urgency.
Using his father's agonizing grip as a focus, Luke managed to raise his head and look up, asking the heavens what it was all about. His eyes fixed on the Death Star, pale gray and glowing in the dawn sky. It seemed to be rotating, as the dish was becoming more and more visible, aiming down at them, sluggishly but noticeably...
The young man's eyes almost popped out of his head, as the meaning of that action became appallingly clear.
"F-Fath-Father,"he stuttered, freezing in shock.
"I-I s-see it,"Anakin didn't seem to be in better shape than him.
"Yes, he would."
The adamant certainty in his father's voice convinced Luke beyond a doubt. They were going to die. Not only them, but every single creature inhabiting the moon.
The moon was about to be blown to pieces.
Leia! Han! Chewie! The droids!
His horror and despair knew no bounds.
And it was his love for his father, his sister and his friends that shook him out of his paralysis.
"We must do something!" his anguished eyes turned to the man who'd sired him. "We must fight him back!"
Drowning in the most excruciating feeling of helplessness, Anakin staggered to his feet, looked up and cursed that heinous demon all the way down to Sith hell.
"Father. FATHER!" Rising up too, Luke shook his arm. "There must be something we can do!"
Anakin shook his head and looked down at the being he loved with everything he was.
The boy's face of absolute incomprehension at such inconceivable act of depravity broke Anakin's heart. Sullying this innocence was the worst sin, even in the face of their impending deaths. His hands balled into fists and he reached automatically for his lightsaber. Immediately realizing the futility of his intent, he dropped his arm, just as Obi-Wan's million reprimands for his hotheadedness echoed though his mind.
'We will not go through this exercise again.'
'Why won't you listen to me?'
'Patience. Use the Force. Think!'
'Don't let your personal feelings get in the way!'
'Come to your senses!'
'You were the Chosen One!'
'It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them!'
'Bring balance to the Force, not leave it in Darkness!'
The Chosen One! What had he accomplished in all these years? Exactly the opposite of everything he had supposedly been born to do.
And now, his colossal failure as a person and as a Jedi would cost his child's life and that of every living thing on this moon, just as it had cost Alderaan four years ago, and countless before it.
"You keep focusing on the negative, Anakin, and it never did you any good."
Luke and Anakin whipped around in unison to the source of the voice.
"Ben!" Luke couldn't help a poignant smile on seeing the ghostly form shimmering in the forest.
"Obi-Wan," Anakin's voice conveyed stark dismay, mixed with an equal dose of incredulity and stupefaction.
The blue ghost's eyes regarded the young Jedi, full of affection.
"You were right all along, Luke. Please, accept my deepest apologies."
Luke smiled dolefully, shaking his head.
Then, the old Jedi master turned to his former padawan.
"Welcome back, my friend," the warmth in his voice was unmistakable.
Anakin gave him a sorrowful grimace.
"It seems we will join you shortly."
Obi-Wan tilted his head to one side as if pondering the situation.
"Not necessarily," he grinned mischievously, suddenly looking years younger.
"What do you mean?" Anakin stepped forward earnestly.
"Remember your lessons: we're making our own destiny every minute of every day. Even in the direst of circumstances, you'll always have a choice. The Anakin Skywalker I used to know, was always ready to fight, until the end."
Stumped, Anakin turned his head to his son. The boy shrugged, just as at a loss as he was; then, he walked up beside him and took hold of his hand. Anakin enveloped it fervently between both of his.
Obi-Wan noticed it and smiled approvingly.
"That gesture defines you in every way. Your fierce capacity to love and your profound attachment to people. It was your undoing twenty three years ago; but ironically, it's also what brought you back. What Luke reawakened inside you. That is who and what you are. What you never ceased to be. And it's something your son inherited from you. You bring out the best in each other. Never forget that."
Anakin's eyes turned into slits, beginning to get an idea what his old master was hinting at. He didn't know if they would be strong enough, but for his son and every single life thriving on this moon, he would do it until he either succeeded or died.
Since Mustafar, he had been living on borrowed time, but after his duel with Luke on Bespin it was as though all his past and present atrocities - besides the very nature of the Dark Side - had devoured not only what was left of his body, but his very lifeforce. His youth and his lust for power and revenge had sustained him for two decades... but not anymore.
If this was going to be the final act of his life, then he would die happy, knowing he had saved the best part of himself. That all that was left of Padme would go on living.
He met his master's eyes one last time and nodded emphatically. He was prepared.
Obi-Wan nodded back at him solemnly. Then, he turned to the child standing loyally by his father, and smiled a hearty, shaky smile.
"Farewell, Luke. Thank you for restoring my padawan. Thank you for proving me wrong. Thank you for validating my existence."
Eyes misted with tears, Luke nodded to him, biting his lips to hold back the maelstrom of emotions churning around inside him.
And then, the old Jedi faded away.
Pulling themselves together as fast as they could, swallowing convulsively, Father and Son turned to each other. Luke reached out his right hand to Anakin, who swiftly released his stranglehold on the boy's left and held the proffered one in his own.
"What do we do now?" Luke asked, as self-composed as he could manage.
"Blasted if I know," Anakin replied with pretended nonchalance. "But there's no time for experiments, little one. It's 'do or do not' time."
A quick smile, full of melancholy, appeared on the boy's lips.
"I see some things never change," he shook his head in fond remembrance.
"Do they ever?"
The shortest pause followed the lighthearted exchange, but there wasn't a moment to lose. Luke could easily read the thoughts crossing his father's mind.
If this doesn't work...
'Always and forever,' he promised ferociously.
Always one. Always together. Through life and death. And beyond.
Fingers intertwined, they closed their eyes, opening up to each other until there wasn't the tiniest little space, the most microscopic niche within that was held back from the other's knowledge and touch.
And they just naturally flowed into each other, as if they had meditated together all their lives. Minds otherworldly attuned, hearts and souls in heavenly harmony. They became one single being, one single entity made of pure Force. Of pure Light.
Instantly, as if sensing that time was running out, they began spiralling out of control. And expanding. Pushing the limits of the living matter they were made of.
All of a sudden, they weren't in their physical bodies anymore. Or rather, they weren't only in their physical bodies. They were still standing on the same spot, but they were also floating above the ground and rising ever higher. So high they soon were moving through the clouds and leaving the upper layers of the moon's atmosphere behind. And they rose ever higher, until they hovered to a stop halfway between the Death Star and Endor.
'Do you understand?' the older consciousness asked the spirited, younger part of him.
'Yes, Father," a fiery, vibrant thought replied.
Energy. They were raw, primordial energy. The very fabric of the universe incarnated.
And love. Unblemished, selfless. Ready to give everything up to protect all life.
The Sons of the Force spread their wings to cover the greenish sphere lingering behind them. Shielding it.
The Death Star completed its rotation and the primary ignition started.
The two incorporeal beings of Light experienced a fleeting, most human moment of trepidation and fear. Would they be capable of...?
'I love you. Eternally. Infinitely. Through the eons and beyond,' the white light that called itself Anakin Skywalker soothed the incandescent glow merged with him with an unending outpouring of sublime, sacred Love. In this realm beyond space and time, beyond the constricting boundaries of the flesh, he was all-knowing. And in this omniscient state he saw and accepted the fact that his physical body wouldn't survive this effort.
But they would succeed, and that was all that mattered. It was all right. More than.
His gracious surrender to his Destiny elicited a berserk reaction in the young soul intermingled with his own.
'NO! You will not die! You *will* survive. You *will* live. And we will be together.'
'Angel, you must concentrate. We must do this...'
'You will *not* give up! You will *not* leave me. I will *not* lose you!'
The older consciousness weakened abruptly, caving in under the little one's harrowing waves of searing distress.
No, it wasn't just a mere 'weakness'. His body was actually dying on the surface of the moon. With this one self-sacrificing act he had accelerated the deterioration of his already very deficient biological reserves, to the point they were beginning to shut down.
There was no stopping it.
'NO! Obi-Wan said we bring out the best in each other. Why would he say that if we weren't meant to live, to be together?'
'My time has come, sweet one. You must let me go,' the suddenly tired soul begged. 'Let this be my one last honourable act. My final attempt to compensate for the uncounted innocent lives I greedily took.'
Not having any of that and in a savage, suicidal move, the young golden light seeped itself into him, inextricably binding its own continued existence to the older one's Fate.
'LUKE! NO!' the Anakin entity cried out in petrified horror.
'I have ached for you since long before I was old enough to know I was an orphan. Now that I got you back, I am *not* living without you again. Your life isn't only yours to renounce. I claim it. I claim *you*! If you are meant to die today, then so am I. Your Destiny will also be my own. That is *my* choice.'
'What have you done, my dearest, precious one? What have you...?'
'And now, we will fulfil *our* Destiny.'
The youth's cold indifference toward the decision he had just made, was the ultimate lesson for his father to learn.
A better Jedi than I ever was or will ever be. No matter if I live a thousand lives.
And still, he wants me beside him. He wants this wreck of a man, this ruin of a Jedi.
'You've lost your faith. In yourself, in me. Even in the Force.'
'It is my Destiny to show you that there is a turn back from the Dark Side.'
'I'm right here, at your fingertips.'
'You have nothing to fear, Father.'
'Open your senses to the glory of creation.'
'Our masters' teachings are a beginning, a starting point.'
'You will find the inner strength you once possessed.'
'I trust you with my life.'
'Don't be afraid of trusting me.'
'Believe in the Force.'
'I will never leave you.'
'I will not give up on you.'
'Take everything you need from me.'
'Now you decide your own Destiny, Father.'
'Even in the direst of circumstances, you'll always have a choice.'
'You bring out the best in each other. Never forget that.'
'I love you, Father.'
'Trust the will of the Force.'
'Come with me.'
Yes, I trust! I trust you, my son. I trust myself. I trust the Force!
A throbbing, fluttering beat started in the core of their essence, and it soon became a pounding, thundering roar. Unrelenting, merciless. And with every hammering ripple, it engulfed the Father-Son consciousness, fueling it, inflaming it, turning it into an inexorable force that nothing could hold out against.
NOTHING would be able to resist the combined power of the Chosen One and his son.
The smaller green laser beams exited the secondary exhaust ports on the edge of the Death Star's dish and converged to form a massive blast.
The huge beam covered the distance between the space station and the Endor moon in a millisecond.
Only it never touched it. It stopped on the outermost layer of the moon's atmosphere and spread all over it, creating the most beautiful aurorae that everyone looking up on the surface had ever seen.
And then, it coalesced again into a single beam that headed back to its original source, blowing the Galactic Empire's most powerful weapon to smithereens.
"Turn him on his back."
"Are you all right, kid?"
"Luke, come on. Wake up!"
The strange combination of roughness and kindness in the hands shaking him brought the young man slowly back to awareness.
"Ungh... Ummpfff... Ooouch..."
His limbs refused to move, his entire body felt lethargic and drained of all energy. It was as if he had been in suspended animation for... centuries.
"He's back to his witty self," a deep male voice joked. The relief in it was plain to hear.
Gradually, more sounds made themselves known to his leisurely awakening brain. Shooting... Along with the sour taste of dirt in his mouth, and the smell of blaster fire in the air.
Just like that, his many years of service in the Alliance and most of all, his Jedi training, kicked in, and he sat up with a start, almost hitting the man kneeling down beside him on his face.
"Hey, careful there! Don't injure my gorgeous mug!"
His eyes burst open, and he winced when the early morning rays fell squarely on them.
"Wha-? What...?" he sputtered the dirt off his mouth.
A small, feminine hand wiped the dark smudges off his face with her fingers.
"Are you all right? You scared us for a moment. We thought you were..." her voice trailed off.
"I-I... I'm fine. I think," Luke said, bringing his hand to his head to alleviate the blistering headache. "It hurts like Sith hell!" he exclaimed, risking to open his eyes again. When he did, the caring, worried gazes of his sister and his best friend appeared before him. "What happened?" he asked.
Han and Leia exchanged a knowing look, contemplating who would tell him first.
Finally, it was Leia who turned to him.
"We don't know," she began. "It was barely dawn and we were in the village, discussing our strategy with the natives, when all at once, the whole sky lit up with a green light. It lasted just a few seconds and we couldn't see much because of the trees, but then there was this gigantic explosion..." she shook her head, completely mystified.
"It was the Death Star," Han took over, seeing she was too flustered to continue. "It blew up on its own."
Luke's eyes bulged at that, as the story triggered the strongest gut reaction. Grimacing, he brought his hand to his face, squeezing the bridge of his nose, struggling to clear the fog in his mind.
Leia reached out and grasped his shoulder, and as if by magic, the pain in his eardrums, his neck and the back of his head eased dramatically. He sighed and his entire body relaxed.
Han stared at them in confusion. The bond between these two was a puzzle to him. Sometimes it was so cozy and downright... intimate, that he couldn't help feeling threatened by it and tonight, he'd allowed his feelings of jealousy to get the better of him. He felt awful for it. He loved the two of them too much to let those ugly feelings destroy what the three of them had together. They had to find a way, because the truth was that neither Luke nor Leia had done anything to deserve his anger. It was his own feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, and he would have to deal with them.
The kid still looked pretty out of it, so he continued as calmly as he could.
"Leia had the sudden notion that there was something wrong, and she was desperate to go and look for you. So, we gathered the strike team and left the village," and here he frowned, thoroughly disconcerted by the following events. "She seemed to know where to find you. Exactly." He looked at her with awe.
Luke and Leia met gazes.
'Later,' Luke sent, not knowing if she would hear him.
Leia nodded at him imperceptibly, but then they all flinched when they heard a big explosion more or less nearby.
Luke looked around and it was then that he became aware of the blaster fire and the smaller explosions in the distance.
"What's that?" he asked.
"The Imperials stationed here must have been caught as much by surprise as we were by what happened," Han explained. "Several squads were out of the bunker by the time we arrived. So, we engaged them. They're quite disbanded, seeing they have no one to ask for orders anymore. The strike team, Chewie and the furballs have most of the situation under control already."
Leia raised her eyes to the sky with a concerned look.
"Our Fleet arrived five minutes ago, but lo and behold, the Imperial Fleet was also here, waiting for us. The Emperor must have set a trap for us. But now their Fleet is in the same situation as their outpost down here. With the Death Star gone, they can only fight until just one Fleet remains."
Luke followed her gaze up. In between the tree tops he could see the bursts of laser cannons, turbolasers and torpedoes, and the occasional burst of light of a ship burning in the atmosphere. He shook his head.
"Let's hope they'll choose to surrender before any more lives are lost unnecessarily," he made his wish out loud.
Leia stared at her brother with a blending of admiration and regretful sadness in her eyes. If there was one word that defined Luke, it was compassion. He was compassion personified. Always willing to see the good in others, always ready to give them a second chance, even after being wronged and abused to within a centimetre of his sanity.
Even after that, he was still willing to reach out and hope for a miracle.
And speaking of miracles... She looked up again.
Han and Luke did the same.
Interspersed with the flashes of the battle raging up there, there were also short and fast bursts of the Death Star's debris blazing like shooting stars. It was indeed miraculous that none of the fragments seemed to be bigger than a Zoneball. All the junk was burning up in the atmosphere and none of it was making it to the surface, as it was to be expected after an event of this magnitude. As it should have been.
It was almost as if... as if it had been done on purpose.
Her heart skipped a beat in her chest when she had the feeling that she was on to something.
She turned her head to Luke once more. He was still looking up, his eyes glazed over, almost as though he was in a trance.
"You... You do know what happened to the Death Star, don't you?" the words left her lips of their own accord.
Han snorted at that.
"Come on, sweetheart," he chuckled in amusement. "He was on the moon all the time. How could he...?"
A brutal shudder wracked through the young Jedi's body, snapping him out of the dazed state he'd been in since regaining consciousness. He jumped to his feet with a cry.
"Oh, Force heaven, NO!" he looked around frantically. "FATHER! FATHER!"
Leia gave a start, almost falling into Han's arms.
What in all the...?
"Father, where are you?!"
The distraught young man began to search around, moving ferns and small bushes aside. He was beside himself, looking aimlessly, head turning in all directions.
"Father, please! Answer me!" he yelled, on the very verge of breaking down.
Han and Leia stood up, too bewildered to react, watching the person they loved apparently losing it out of the blue right in front of them.
The old pirate put his slightly shaking hand on Leia's forearm, trying to ask a question but unable to form the words. Leia simply stood frozen in place, her blood running cold in her veins with a terrible feeling of foreboding.
Luke wandered all over the small clearing, calling out to his father almost hysterically, until he tripped on something and fell to the ground.
Quickly scrambling to his knees, he caught a glimpse of a pair of brown leather boots. The body they belonged to was mostly hidden by a leafy bush.
"FATHER!" he cried out, tearing the bush apart with his bare hands. When he revealed the big male body lying face down on the ground, he grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him back into his arms.
When he confronted the reality before him, he let out a loud, breathless gasp.
The person he was holding was NOT half-human, half-machine. It was a late thirties-early forties year old man with dark blond, wavy hair. His eyes were closed and his smooth face was smeared with dirt. Reaching out unhesitatingly, he wiped it clean with his fingers and avidly studied the handsome features. They were strong and chiseled. Straight nose, full lips, and his chin had an endearingly familiar dimple, although not as deep as his own.
The happiest, most jubilant smile broke out from Luke's core. He was looking at the human being who had engendered him. This is where he and his sister came from.
Their father. Anakin Skywalker.
"My Anakin," he whispered like a prayer. Emotions unlike anything he had ever known, erupted inside him like a volcano. He wanted to laugh, he wanted to cry, he wanted to hug this man until he cracked each and every one of his ribs.
Outright elation bubbled in his breast, and what started with a quiet rumble soon became a sound of euphoric, rapturous laughter.
He moved aside the blond fringe and bending down, he dropped an ecstatic kiss on his father's forehead. After that, he just couldn't stop. He kissed all over the sleeping face until he couldn't stand it anymore and held the beloved head to his chest, rocking it back and forth while tears of unlimited joy rolled down his cheeks.
Anakin's mind began to surface from the depths of oblivion. His first sensation was one of being enfolded in a blanket of indescribable warmth, and the feeling of being absolutely safe and loved. For an instant, he thought he was in his mother's arms while she rocked him to sleep.
The hand cupping his head and massaging his scalp, and the quiet sobbing echoing in his ears brought back every single memory of the last few hours. Shuddering, he feebly tried to move back.
Luke felt it and, so very reluctantly, allowed it.
And then, Father and Son looked upon each other's faces for the first time.
They say the eyes are the window to the soul, and the two mighty Jedi experienced the veracity of that statement when they lost themselves in the timeless ocean blue of each other's love.
No words. No words. Ever.
Seeing the wetness stream down his child's face, Anakin reached up and wiped it away. A delicate tremor went through Luke's body and with a ragged sigh, he kissed his father's palm.
Anakin's look of naked adoration became one of shock when he spared a glance at his own hand.
His own flesh and blood hand. Transfixed, he turned it around, staring at it from every angle. And then, he noticed the light-brown sleeve of the Jedi robe he was wearing. Sitting up and disengaging himself gently from his child's arms, he examined both hands. He rolled up his sleeves next and verified he also had flesh and blood forearms.
Frantic by now, he moved his hands all over his front, sides, thighs, knees and legs.
All of him. All of him was flesh and blood again!
Finally, he touched his face and let out a sharp cry. It was too much. Far too much to take in, to believe. To accept.
He didn't deserve... He couldn't deserve...!
Tear-blurred eyes sought equally tear-blurred depths, that observed him with such wonder that it only increased his already sky-high levels of anxiety.
Biting his lower lip, Luke could only nod over and over, assuring his father wordlessly that he wasn't dreaming. That this prodigy was real, as real as the air they were breathing.
Anakin began shaking his head in disbelieving denial even now. To feel again with his own skin, to live outside the sealed coffin where he had existed for as long as this angel had been living...
Like a child testing his senses for the first time, he clumsily took his son's head in his hands and brought it to his face. He breathed it in, nuzzled it, moaning loudly at the feel of bare skin brushing against bare skin.
"Luke. Oh, Luke. Luke!" he whimpered brokenly. "Bless the Force. And bless you. Bless you, precious heart of mine!"
Burying his fingers in his father's hair, Luke placed Anakin's head on his shoulder and then wrapped his arms around the broad back, hugging him as hard as his muscles would allow.
Anakin lost himself in his child's embrace, feeling so much, feeling so deeply and so intensely that he thought he would pass into the Force in sheer rhapsody. His arms lovingly encircled the smaller but still powerful body of his son, clinging to it for dear life, and at the same time providing all the comfort and security the young man had always craved from him.
It would have been so easy to remain like this for hours, all curled up in that holy place of physical and spiritual communion where nothing was said and yet everything was told, and shared, and lived as one soul. As what they were. But Luke felt his father's need to rise and try his newly regenerated self. To begin his new life as a human being.
Yielding, he eased the pressure on his father's back and slid his hands down to Anakin's sides, anchoring himself there.
With a quivery sob, Anakin put the minimum space between them, just enough to stare at his saviour.
Mesmerized by the beautiful sight, he raised his hand and framed the rosy cheek in his palm again, caressing it with his thumb and trembling inside at the tingly feeling spreading through his arm.
Just then, a flaming shooting star crossed the sky, illuminating the clearing with an ephemeral flash of light that instantly drew their attention heavenwards.
Stunned by the monumental display above, Father and Son rose to their feet as if pulled up by invisible hands. Anakin stared unblinkingly at the spine-chilling view; but almost simultaneously, it dawned on him what the space battle unfolding over their heads actually meant. He tore his eyes away from it and looked down at the sweet, expectant face.
"We... did it?" he asked quietly, not daring to believe it.
Luke nodded energetically, sapphire eyes sparkling boyishly.
"Yes, Father," he confirmed the wondrous truth. "We did it!"
Biting his lips hard, Anakin turned his head skyward once more, letting it all sink in.
'You are strong and wise, Anakin, and I am very proud of you.'
'I have taught you everything I know. And you have become a far greater Jedi than I could ever hope to be.'
'You *are* the Chosen One. Remember that.'
'May the Force be with you, old friend.'
Anakin's eyes clouded with tears, feeling the Force-whispered words permeate every fibre of his being.
He would honour this second chance and devote the rest of his life, for as long as it lasted, to becoming everything he was supposed to be and meeting all the expectations that had ever been bestowed on him. He couldn't either change the past or undo all the damage he had caused, and he would live in perpetual torment, forever haunted by every life he had snuffed out. But if that was the price he had to pay for the opportunity to try and save as many lives as he had taken, then he was more than willing to pay it. Gratefully so.
As long as he had this unearthly angel beside him, keeping him sane, making him worthy, convincing him that he was deserving of what had been denied to millions...
'I love you.'
Anakin looked down at the radiant face staring up at him. There was such unashamed pride and worshipful tenderness in his son's eyes that something inside him died and came back to life again.
He felt so pure and innocent... Reborn. Redeemed with every meaning of the word.
Breaking into a doting, overjoyed smile, he gazed at the one responsible for his newfound freedom, his renewed soul, his return to a life of compassion, dignity and integrity.
Just looking at this extraordinary boy and remembering the blind faith he had shown, his absolute certainty that there was still something inside him worth saving, his chest was filled with a feeling of intoxicating happiness. Heady with it and incapable of holding it back, he allowed the exultant feeling to take over and sweep him up in its arms, just as he swept his child up in his, wrapping him in an exuberant bearhug and lifting him off the ground, roaring laughter echoing through the woods.
Luke returned the crushing hug and the boisterous laughter, abandoning himself to the moment and to the love spilling out of them in an unrestrained avalanche.
A small, self-conscious cough intruded into their world, and Father and Son did their best to pull themselves together. Anakin put his boy back on the ground and released him, but still kept an affectionate arm around his shoulders, unable to give up the closeness he simply couldn't live without anymore.
With just one look at his sister, the young Jedi instantly sobered. But not in the least daunted by it, he approached her and his best friend, who stood beside her with the most puzzled, uncomprehending expression he'd ever seen.
The Corellian's eyes were understandably drawn to the tall man who'd apparently popped out of nowhere, and whose identity Luke had repeatedly announced at the top of his lungs.
Their eerie physical likeness left no room for doubt. This man WAS Anakin Skywalker. The Hero With No Fear. Where he had been and whatever had happened to him during the past twenty odd years was the million-credit question, but the kid and his father would answer it, of that he was sure.
What he couldn't explain was Leia's reaction to the man. She was as stiff as a board, and the closer they got the stiffer she became.
Refusing to be put off by his sister's stance, Luke smiled softly at them. Anakin's hand squeezed his shoulder encouragingly, and the young man knew he would take on the entire galaxy to keep him safe, if he had to. After what they had shared today, the feat they had accomplished together, what they had become, nothing felt impossible anymore.
"Han, Leia," he reached out to them, palm up, "it is my greatest joy to introduce you to my father, Anakin Skywalker."
Holding back the brutal surge of shame and pain, remembering everything he'd put these good people through, Anakin let out a poignant smile, reaching out his own hand to the young couple.
"May the Force be with you," he greeted them, meaning it wholeheartedly.
A few seconds in which nothing happened, passed. Luke closed his eyes and uttered a fervent, silent prayer.
A vague tickle in the back of his mind made him look away into the forest ahead. A faint blue glow shaped itself into two forms. He smiled pensively at Obi-Wan's second appearance, but his eyebrows arched in surprise when he recognized Yoda's tiny form standing next to him. His old master looked practically the same as he had looked in life. He stood straighter with no slouching and no signs of the ravages that extreme old age had wrought on him before he died.
He met the ghosts' eyes with one single, desperate inquiry, but he got no verbal answer. Instead, an impish grin played across Yoda's lips. A grin that filled Luke's heart with hope. Turning his head to Obi-Wan, the eager smile and nod that he received from him sealed the deal for the young man.
And when he turned his head back to his family and saw Han reach out and shake his father's outstretched hand, he knew that everything would be all right.