A speeder screamed into view at that moment, its occupants gaping wide-eyed at the spectacle before them – a Jedi, Vader, and the Emperor all gathered together, apparently debating an injured Luke's fate.
/Kenobi/ Vader recognized at once. /Owen and Beru as well. Stang, they look so old./
"Luke!" shouted Owen, standing in his seat. "Hold tight, we're coming for you!"
"Uncle Owen!" Luke exclaimed, struggling to get to his feet but the agony from his injured head driving him back to the ground.
"I would suggest you stay back, sir," Palpatine said in an oily voice. "You wouldn't want any harm to come to your ward, would you?"
Owen glowered at the monarch. "What's he to you, anyhow?"
"Oh, he means a lot to me, sir," Palpatine replied.
"Owen, please sit down," Kenobi ordered. "You're only making things worse."
"We've got to rescue Luke!" Owen retorted.
"I'm sure his father will see to that," Kenobi replied, a strong emphasis on the word "father."
The Emperor gave Jax Pavan a malevolent grin. "So, Jedi, you claim to be Anakin Skywalker, do you?"
Jax ignited his lightsaber. "Of course!" he blurted, attempting to conceal his terror with bravado.
Palpatine laughed. "I think there are others who would say otherwise… Jedi Knight Pavan."
A gasp came from the direction of the boy. Vader felt something he hadn't experienced in years – a pang of empathy. Luke may have had doubts about Jax's identity before, but to hear his fears confirmed had to be a painful blow.
"You wanted to take on an apprentice, Pavan?" Palpatine went on. "And you thought the boy would make a satisfactory student? Then I give you a choice." He lifted a pale hand toward Luke. "You can die defending your Padawan, or you can turn him over to me and be allowed to live, to flee Tatooine and take on another apprentice." His hand now pointed at Jax. "Decide quickly."
Luke stared at Jax, his face suffused with terror. The boy already knew what his decision would be – as did Vader.
Jax extinguished his saber. "Take him."
Beru screamed. "You coward! I thought you were a Jedi!"
Kenobi's face seemed to age a few years. Obviously he was very disappointed in Jax's behavior.
The Emperor's face twisted into an expression of warped glee. "A foolish decision, Pavan."
Lightning sprayed from the Emperor's hand, slamming into the Jedi and flinging him against the canyon wall. Jax fell to the rocks at the base of the cliff and writhed in agony a few minutes, then was still.
"One Jedi down," the Emperor said exultantly. "Vader, you know what you must do. Destroy the boy."
Vader's gaze moved to Kenobi.
"He is of no concern," the Emperor said dismissively, reading his thoughts. "He can't get far. Now kill the boy."
Luke backed away from him, pain and terror explicit on his young face. Vader watched the boy a long time, the Emperor's order still ringing in his ears.
/He is a threat to the Sith Order/ he thought. /He is a menace. If he lives, he will grow stronger – too strong for us to destroy. He is a danger that must be eradicated…/
/By the stars, he's your son/ another voice cried. /Would you stoop so low as to slay your own flesh and blood, let alone an innocent unarmed child/
/Compassion is weakness/ he countered. /It was the fatal flaw of the Jedi. It will destroy me if I allow it to take root. The only true path to power is through the dark side./
/And at what cost does that power come/
He could feel Palpatine's eyes on him, Obi-wan's, Owen's, Beru's. He could feel their thoughts as he approached Luke – sadistic pleasure, expectancy, terror, anger. He could feel Luke's eyes boring into his own and his fright pouring off him like an energy all its own. He saw something else in those eyes, something painfully familiar…
He saw another boy of the same age, smeared with grease and shouting his triumph from the cockpit of a running podracer…
He saw a young man seated next to a beautiful woman in a field on Naboo, the two of them talking and laughing…
He saw Padme's sad smile as she kissed her baby son's forehead one last time…
He saw Obi-wan Kenobi, much older now, watching over Luke from afar…
He saw the pain of betrayal, the agony of mystery, the sure knowledge that Luke would die without ever knowing a father, the unwillingness to accept that fact…
Vader made a decision. Luke may die today, but he would die knowing who his father was.
He ignited his saber.
Luke backed away from Vader as far as he could, unable to take his eyes off that mask. He was in trouble again. And this time Dad – or rather, the jerk that had lied to him and called himself his dad – wasn't going to save him. Vader was going to kill him.
/Uncle Owen, help me/ he thought desperately.
/Luke, you'll be okay./
He almost jumped out of his skin. /Kenobi? You're a Jedi too/
/Trust me, Luke. We must both have faith./
/Faith in what/
/Faith that your father will do the right thing./
/Father? He's here? He's really here? Where is he/
But the hiss of a scarlet lightsaber broke off that conversation. He was backed clear up to the canyon wall now, Vader was standing right over him, that deadly light sword ready…
Then Vader turned his back on Luke.
"Lord Vader, kill the boy!" the Emperor shrieked. "What are you waiting for?"
"I refuse," Vader said firmly.
It would have been an amusing sight to see the Emperor's eyes bug out in anger like that had the situation been different. "You dare defy me, Vader?"
"Leave the boy alone," Vader snarled.
A snap, and another scarlet saber came to life – this time in the Emperor's hands. "Then I'll kill the boy. But I'll be rid of you first."
Vader moved with a swiftness Luke would have thought impossible for such a huge man, lunging at Palpatine, their sabers clashing and grating.
Owen and Kenobi were on either side of Luke now, linking arms behind his head and under his thighs to form a sort of human chair. They lifted him gently and carried him toward the speeder.
"Luke, we were worried sick," Owen murmured, all his gruffness gone. "Where were you?"
"Where're you taking me?" Luke asked.
"Back to Anchorhead," Owen assured him. "We need a doctor to look after your head…"
"No," he pleaded, trying to squirm out of the two men's arms. "We have to help him!"
Kenobi couldn't suppress an amused smile. "I wonder where he gets that attitude."
"Don't be crazy, Luke!" Owen snapped. "You're no match for the Emperor!"
They deposited him in the back seat of the speeder next to Beru. She wrapped a blanket around his shoulders and hugged him close. Normally he would have relished the attention from his aunt, but now his only thoughts were of Vader. Before Owen could restart the speeder, he'd thrown off the blanket and climbed back out.
"Luke!" shouted Owen.
"Sandy!" Luke screamed, staggering with the pain in his head. "Sandy, do something!"
The dewback perked up, aware that her name had been spoken.
"Get him!" he shouted, gesturing wildly at Palpatine.
Sandy shifted back and forth, groaning, frantically aware that Luke wanted something of her but not understanding it. She wasn't a trained attack animal; how could she know what "get him" meant?
Luke's cry had a totally different effect – it attracted the Emperor's attention. His gaze moved to Luke, then back to Vader. A smile of pure evil crossed his features, and he thrust a hand at Vader. Though Luke didn't see the blow connect, Vader was thrown back by some unseen force and slammed into a rock pile.
"No!" Luke shouted.
The Emperor belted out a hideous laugh, and he pointed at Luke.
Lightning bridged the gap between them, pouring through his body like blue fire. He screamed and fell, squirming and thrashing. Every nerve ending in his body seemed to howl in protest under the assault.
Then the pain ceased as quickly as it had consumed him. A black-armored body blocked Luke's view of the Emperor, shielding him, absorbing the blow intended to kill him. Vader trembled and groaned with the pain, but he would not move from his position.
At that instant, Luke understood.
Palpatine laughed insanely, head thrown back. He seemed to relish what he was doing, taking some perverted pleasure from it. Luke wanted to hate him, but a totally different emotion had filled his body, leaving no room for anger.
Vader slowly raised a hand, and Luke wondered if he was going to shoot some kind of retaliating energy at the Emperor. But then he saw the object in his hands – a lightsaber. He ignited it… and released it. The crimson missile streaked forward, propelled by the Force, and buried itself in the Emperor's chest.
A scream of utmost agony filled the air, seeming to cut across all five senses rather than just one's hearing. Luke squeezed his eyes shut and turned away, but that did nothing to help matters. The Emperor's death still seared through his mind like a black explosion. Impossibly, the lightning continued to pour from his body, as if the last of his life force were being focused on his rebellious apprentice's destruction.
A grayish shadow loomed over the two of them, and Sandy interposed herself between Vader and the Emperor, grunting a bit with the pain but not feeling the lightning's effects as acutely through her thick hide. Vader collapsed, wheezing, his armor smoking in places.
Luke crawled forward, his face wet with tears of pain… and of loving relief.
"Dad," he murmured. "Dad."
"Son," Vader rasped softly, a trembling hand reaching out to touch Luke's face.
"Dad, please don't die," Luke whimpered, burying his face in his chest, never minding the control panel there. "Don't leave me again."
"My son," Vader breathed, and his arms encircled Luke, holding him close.
The last of the electrical assault fizzled out. Sandy stood and shook herself, then nosed the two of them with an anxious whimper.
"Luke!" screamed Beru, falling to her knees at his side. "Luke, talk to me! Luke, are you all right?"
Despite his still-burning wounds, Luke couldn't keep a smile off his face. He didn't know if he had the strength to speak, but everything was all right now. He'd finally found his father. And his father had almost sacrificed his life to save him. The father he had always imagined did exist – in the unlikeliest of places.
Kenobi knelt beside Luke, an expression of satisfaction on his face. "Your father will live, Luke."
Luke nodded. "I know."
Kenobi's smile broadened. "Owen, let's get these two to the medical center. They're in bad shape."
"You're not suggesting I take Vader into my house, are you?" Owen demanded, but Luke thought he could hear a measure of something else in his voice too – he was actually happy that Luke had found his father!
"Vader needs someplace to stay for awhile, doesn't he?" Kenobi informed him.
Owen didn't answer but went to restart the speeder.
Kenobi's gaze moved to Luke's father. "You came back, Anakin. You came back for your son."
Vader didn't look up, but he managed a reply: "I'm not ready to be called Anakin again yet."
"You will be," Kenobi countered. "You will be."
This story originated as a response to a writing challenge, but it drew inspiration from a number of other sources as well. The "Star Wars" characters belong to George Lucas, of course. Since I'm not an avid Expanded Universe fan and haven't read too many of the novels or other spin-off material, I don't know much about Biggs Darklighter's family and took some liberties there (such as giving him a teenage sister). Vader may also act out of character, but hey, I like happy endings.
Jax Pavan is an Expanded Universe character from one of the few novels I have read – Michael Reaves' "Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter." He's the son of the novel's main character, Lorn Pavan. Lorn was an employee at the Jedi Temple, but when Jax was inducted into the order as a two-year-old Lorn was fired to ensure Jax had no family ties within the Temple (the Jedi's apparent disregard for family always bugged me to no end). There may be a discrepancy between "Shadow Hunter" and "Everything's Relative" in that Jax's father looked nothing like Anakin Skywalker (he was described as having black hair and dark eyes)… but then, maybe Jax got his mother's looks.
The scene where Luke attacks Vader to let "Anakin" escape was inspired by the straight-to-video Disney movie "Aladdin and the King of Thieves." Luke's bonding with the dewbacks and their returning the favor by saving his life was inspired by the scenes between Richard and the horses in Terry Goodkind's novel "Stone of Tears." The rest of the plotline is my own creation.
As for the title – no, it has nothing to do with the story. I just thought it sounded cute.
Many thanks go to my mother for providing feedback for this story. Yes, Mom, you're daughter's obsessed.