The dark is generous, and it is patient and it always wins; but in the heart of its strength lies weakness: one lone candle is enough to hold it back. Love is more than a candle. Love can ignite the stars.
-Revenge of the Sith, by Matt Stover
PART V – Lighting a Candle
Red and green blades clashed, each strike pounding against Luke's temples like a pulse. How had it come to this? He had come here to save his father, not fight him.
The darkness was tangible here. Not a creature of fear, like the thing coiled inside his father, but something cold and sharp. A blade. A sword hovering just on the other side of that black throne. It was not out of his reach. He could call it easily as any weapon and it would fit perfectly in his hands, the precise weight and balance that Luke had crafted in his own saber. It was mesmerizing.
Luke's danger sense flared and, without thinking, he struck out at the source, kicking his father down the steps.
Realizing too late what he had done, Luke jolted in horrified confusion at the Emperor's maddening cackle. His father had risen from the floor and stalked deliberately toward him with a barely-contained rage that Luke had not felt since Bespin.
Something in Luke collapsed. He had fought so hard to learn, in his naiveté, he had thought the darkness so easy to circumvent. How wrong he was. It wasn't supposed to happen like this. The dark beacon had distracted him and he was already failing his final trial. He backed away, fighting the darkness that swirled around the both of them. Like a predatory animal, it watched and waited to see which would break first. Luke squared his shoulders, determined to not succumb. "I will not fight you, Father."
Darth Vader fought black anger as he got up from the duracrete floor. The seething dragon begged him to make short work of Luke, but something he could not place held him back. He fought desperately to restrain his feelings and keep his battle mind as he looked up to the boy, turned man, above him. Releasing his anger and frustration into a dark shield, he swung sharply at Luke.
"You are unwise to lower your defenses!"
Luke parried and disengaged, flipping to the catwalk above. An awkward swell of pride, he recognized the emotion now, filled Vader's chest. He clamped it down, willing it away from the prying eyes of his master and piercing gaze of his son. There was no place for this now.
"Your thoughts betray you, Father. I feel the good in you...the conflict," Darth Vader heard his son say through the haze of emotion churning inside him.
He blanched, his breathing labored, and looked up to the catwalk at Luke. His son had grown so much in the Force that he shone brilliantly. He could see why the Jedi had locked onto the potential in him now.
Luke's confidence galled him, "There is no conflict." Every time that he thought he had Luke, his son was able to twist from his grasp, to fight the dark a little longer. Vader would never admit it, but his determination was slipping. Pulling the darkness to him, he hurled his saber at the boy. It was time to end this.
He saw Luke tumble to the ground in a shower of sparks, rolling out of sight to land under the platform that held the Emperor. As he searched for Luke under the parapet, he reached out, feeling for him in the Force. To his utter dismay, he found nothing. The boy had learned to block his mind and it irritated him to even further distraction. He could hear the Emperor come from the platform, laughing maniacally. Both father and son were beyond caring, locked in their own private battle of wills.
"You cannot hide forever, Luke." Vader walked around the steps of the platform and lowered his upper body to get inside. He tried reaching for his son again, only to find a blank empty space in the Force. The feeling disturbed him. Now that he had been so close to Luke's light, something in him reached for it blindly, urgently. When he drew back nothing it left him empty inside. Again.
He could not bear having the empty feeling with him again. He had spent too long numbly living before Luke. He must make Luke see that they could be together. He reached out in desperation again, pleading.
"Give yourself to the dark side. It is the only way you can save your friends. Yes, your thoughts betray you. Your feelings for them are strong. Especially for..."
Vader stopped. His senses were reeling with an undercurrent of recognition. A vision flashed before him, something Luke was hiding.
With clarity one could only get from the Force, he saw his former self seated beside Padmé, so long ago. As the vision rang through his senses, he saw that man, his hand on his wife's belly speaking of the possibility of a girl as his child kicked from her mother's womb.
The dragon drew itself up from its hiding place, indignant and angry at another transgression, as an image of brown eyes, familiar brown eyes, floated before him...
...in the face of the Princess.
Awareness blossomed in him, filling him with an unmitigated sense of satisfaction. So, there had been a second child – a twin. A daughter... His daughter. He had been so sure that they were having a girl, he had even spoken it aloud to his wife.
Against an onslaught of images of the Princess' face, his precarious balance was compromised, tipped from satisfaction to cold, dead anger. He struggled to keep focus as he burned from the inside. They had not only withheld one child from him, they had hidden two. They had caused him to almost kill his own daughter, and kept his plans for toppling the Emperor at bay for too long. Confused and anxious, he reached for Luke again, as the truth settled itself firmly on him. He was not accustomed to this feeling of having his bearing ripped out from under him, and his dark comfort was just beyond the edges of his grasp. He was not used to having nothing to sustain him.
Suddenly, he knew the key to turning his son, for it was the same weakness he, himself, shared. He turned towards Luke smugly.
"...sister. So, you have a twin sister. Your feelings have now betrayed her too. Obi-Wan was wise to hide her from me. Now his failure is complete…"
Luke closed his eyes. He couldn't breathe. He'd been violated, the image of his sister ripped from his mind by ruthless claws. His failure was indeed complete. If only he'd been stronger. If only he'd buried his thoughts further, as Obi-Wan had instructed. I'm sorry, Leia…
Vader turned and Luke tracked his every move. Something was happening beneath that black armor. A plan forming on the fringes of his mind that Luke could almost see.
Luke shifted warily, steeling himself. And then, for an instant, he saw what his father was thinking. The realization ripped through his soul. He wouldn't… The darkness – that cold blade – pulsed now on the periphery of his vision, promising vengeance. It would be easy…
"If you will not turn to the dark side, then perhaps she will," Vader incanted, menacingly.
And easy, it was. With a roar of rage, he called the darkness to his hand. His own lightsaber answered as well and he would use it, too. Power he had never known possible thrust him forward against the foe who would dare threaten his sister.
The creature. He saw it clearly now through lenses of hate – the dragon that had reared itself against him time and again. Luke drove it back. And back. And back.
He would not let it win, though it cries out in pain…
From somewhere far away, he heard Vader cry out in pain.
His father's voice called through the Force, somehow sounding muted. The stench of burnt wiring drew Luke's attention to the floor in front of him.
He stared at the stump of his father's arm, clenching his own mechanical hand. The dark power pounded in his veins and poured itself down his face in rivulets of sweat. It was indeed seductive, as Obi-Wan had described.
He saw it mirrored in his father. It…and a tiny flicker he had never seen before. The beast in his father's breast railed but Luke looked past it and into the void that it guarded so carefully.
Through the Force, he saw the void shimmer and reveal a hint of…something. Something that glowed behind a tangle of pain thick enough to ensnare any who approached it.
Through the glowing haze of the small light he recognized the feeling. It felt warm like it had felt when he had called to Leia on Bespin. It felt like…love. Undying, transcending love that had been the sole purpose for someone's living. Something so familiar, yet so foreign he ached from having discovered it.
Luke longed to reach for it – to pull the man who had been Anakin Skywalker from the void—but like a small animal watching from a thicket as its rescuer tries to tempt it from hiding, or a new star coaxed to light in its infancy by the Force it lay dormant, exiled. Luke wondered if Vader was even aware of what he had seen, of what he had discovered. But his father had retreated into himself and was silent. Sadly, Luke realized that his chance may have passed him by and he would be no more successful than those who had gone before him.
I'm sorry, Father, he thought to the broken man at his feet. But I cannot follow you.
The cold, dark blade still pulsed in his hand and he tossed it. His own lightsaber clattered across the room as well, but no matter.
He was a Jedi.
Vader watched in mounting horror as the Emperor raised his arms. He knew what was to come next. Suddenly, he was a young Jedi standing in the Chancellor's office – desperate and afraid, shielding his eyes against the blinding power of the dark side and preparing to willingly toss away everything for the man standing above Luke now. He remembered Mace Windu's death and the awe and terror of watching someone succumb to the Emperor's deadly arsenal. And now Luke would suffer the same fate.
With every fiber left in his body aching, he pulled himself up from the floor, as the Emperor released a violent wave of blue Sith lightning into his son. He tried to focus as his addled senses reached out for Luke, desperately pleading him to give in. It was the only way.
Luke had foolishly discarded his saber and would not be able to withstand this torrent.
He watched his son attempt to use the Force to deflect the storm that was being unleashed, but the bolts of energy were coming with such swiftness and power that Luke wavered before them, his knees buckling. Luke clutched a raised cylinder on the bridge to keep from falling into the shaft as the lightning tore through him.
"Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the Dark Side," the Emperor swore.
Vader turned toward his Master in a daze. Vaguely, from somewhere outside his realm of hearing, he heard the Emperor taunting his son again. Dread wafted up from inside him and brushed against something small and hot, intense in its waking. Something that should not exist…
"Father, please. Help me!"
Forbidden memories assaulted him. Voices from the past - whose voices had they been?
It's not the Jedi way.
He was not a Jedi. He had killed that Jedi…like all the others.
I need him!
Vader awoke from the fog slowly, as if from a dream. A child was screaming…and Padmé was dying.
Despair that had been kept hidden for a lifetime ripped through him yet again… He was letting her die. She called to him in the dream and he was letting her die. His reason for living was dying, birthing his child and he could not even pull himself from this dream to save her…
Luke writhed under the onslaught, calling to his father. There was no answer. He could not see the black visage through the haze of smoke, but he felt him.
He called again. The pain increased and his father remained silent. Luke could not hear nor did he care what the Emperor was saying. It did not matter. Despair as sharp as any vibroblade stabbed him with each jolt. He would die here. He would die and there would be no more Jedi.
No one to protect Leia.
No one to train Leia…unless they captured her. Unless this monster pulled her into his spell…
In a brief respite, he felt, vaguely, his father's awareness returning. He flailed for him in the Force but felt only the black beast reared up, striking with violent claws.
Anguish and despair drove Luke to a place he had never dared venture. To the ember of what had been a star in his father's soul.
Calling on the Force, he gathered it to him, forming a spear of light. With all his might, he drove it like a pike through the dragon and the tangled wall of his father's pain.
A vision exploded in Luke's mind – a woman crying in pain. Her voice called from beneath the weight of what seemed like a thousand years.
…Anakin! Help me…
A quick glimpse of a woman's face, too blurry to see and wrapped in the agony and torture of failure and despair assailed Luke. He fought the pain and dizziness and realized he could hear his own heartbeat, beating in time with someone else's. Two other distinct and different beats joined his and the others and slowly the four of them rose to a crescendo in the Force.
This was not his vision, but his father's…his father's memory. It was not Luke that had formed the spear of light--it was the light inside of his father, so long dormant that had risen up attempting to break free from the dragon's hold. With a shock of recognition, Luke realized that the voice from his father's memory was the same he heard in his own mind…his own memory. A woman's voice. Her voice.
…Stop…Stop now. Come back!...
Why would Vader hear her voice? Unless….
The agonizing lightning sliced again through his senses. He called out desperately as if in a trance, the voice coming from deep inside him, "Father…please!"
Luke reached through the Force again but now, he was tired…so tired. Too far away to ascertain any details, he heard one last entreaty…through the mist of time, betrayal and tears…
…I love you!...
Too weak to offer anything more, Luke could only whisper the words, for he knew they would be his last…he had failed.
But he wanted his father to know…
"I love you…"
And the small, scared star went supernova.
From across the room Luke felt rather than saw the small light, once guarded so fiercely, take shape and burst. In its intensity, he could not tell if he were dying, the lightening had intensified, or if it had come from his father.
Then his answer came. Through the Force, the face of a young man materialized for the briefest instant. It wasn't angry or intense or even in pain…the young, striking face regarded him knowingly, sedately even, through blue eyes in that one millisecond, before disappearing and Luke looked up to find the lightning had stopped…and his father was on fire…
From across forever, he saw his wife's face. Her name, long denied and buried beneath a void of blackness and guarded by something he had never been able to get to. Even the dragon shied from it. Her name brought forth this something from him hot and angry…but it wasn't dark. Its rage was clean and righteous; its purpose was not fraught with indecision and fear. It flared white hot, like a star being born and the dragon crumpled pitifully under its light.
With a heave of his body, Vader grabbed Palpatine from behind, and picked him up over his head. Fighting for control of the robed figure despite his weakened body and missing arm, the light had told him exactly what to do. It moved him. It had become him. The lightning now arced back onto him, infusing his whole body with blinding pain, and he numbly realized that at least he was feeling…something. Somehow, through the red haze of unbearable pain, it occurred to him that this was only fitting, that he would die with the Emperor and fulfill his destiny…and Luke and Leia would be safe.
The simplicity of it tore his mind from the pain for a moment and he found the strength to move forward, intent on not even allowing himself the release of a cry of pain as torture even more unbearable than lava washed over him, seizing the circuits of the suit, fusing skin and metal together, obliterating life support systems.
He stumbled forward to the rim of the chasm with his load as the waves of blue fire rained on his helmet and down over his back, piercing him with excruciating agony. He could feel the circuits blowing and shorting in the suit that had kept him alive for the past two decades. He held Palpatine over his head and fought for a final burst of strength and threw the Sith over the edge of the reactor shaft at the center of the throne room. As Palpatine fell, his body exploded, creating a rush of cold air through the room.
The man who had been Anakin staggered toward the edge of the abyss and collapsed, his cape whipped by the force of the wind. The burning in his chest radiated out painlessly and then disappeared to nothing, leaving a warm but ironically numb feeling with it. He had a feeling it would not be long now until his old friend death claimed him. How ironic that he had feared it so before, now he simply wanted it to be done.
A familiar face swam before his and he recognized her through the fog. He had kept her away so long. He felt her familiar warmth, beside him again and he realized that it was Luke that was at his side, pulling him away from the edge to safety.
He leaned back into Luke's embrace, exhaling a sigh that had nothing to do with the damned respirator. He wanted to reach for him one last time--this time only as his father--but his arm would not obey. Luke must have felt it though, his intention, and reached down to hold his hand. He was so tired now, he could not bring his son's face into focus through the failing red computer lenses that had been his eyes for over twenty years.
He tried to grasp Luke's hand tighter to no avail, to let him know that he was thankful. For nothing else than the fact that he could go now to whatever awaited him and find peace somewhere. His breath was his own now, and strangely it lingered. It was the most magnificent feeling he had felt since before the suit, simply drawing one breath. He drew it in again and let it out in a sigh. He knew he would not be able to continue long. He summoned the strength to squeeze his son's hand to let him know he loved him and he could go. It was over.
He dimly realized thoughts and memories of his previous life, things that had been hidden in the void for years. Things like brotherhood and laughter. Of loving and expecting nothing in return. Of bonding with someone, becoming one in a child.
Luke knelt on the floor, cradling the bulky armor in his arms as best he could. His father moved his arm and Luke took his hand. It's all right, Father, he sent through the Force. I'm here. Rest a minute.
A wave of warmth washed over Luke and he pulled the weakened body closer. A blur of thoughts and images that were not his own swirled through the Force. They were too hazy to distinguish but Luke tried to absorb them, to soak in the man who had given him life for the second time.
The faint glow of the bond they had forged over time was complete now, intertwined beams of love and forgiveness that formed a brilliant burst of light.
A single thought became clear through the haze of his father's memory. Pushed to the surface, as if it was something he wanted Luke to know….
..This is...the happiest moment…of my life…