' From Behind Vader's Mask:The Immortal Tales of Anakin Skywalker'

' Never Too Late' (Chapter One)

By Ennon

Disclaimer: 'SW' and its characters,EUs toys, collectables, etc. are all owned by George Lucas and I'm making nothing whatsoever from this fanfic.

A/N- I want to start this revision by stating that parts of this story were inspired by Kel'e'en's work 'Embers' in which Anakin gets another chance. Her story is quite remarkable in the mythological rendering and language and I highly recommend everyone who likes my work here to give her stories a fair chance!

This is DEFINITELY AU and takes place starting with the last part of RotJ f(which I hereby give full credit to the dialogue and actions to the original screenwriters) but where (and when) it ends up is anyone's guess (for now).

" Come with me!" Luke's words kept echoing in Vader's head while hunting for Luke in front of the Emperor on the 2nd Death Star.. Why should he? There was nothing to gain in doing so. Vader had everything he needed with the Emperor and the Dark Side, except Pad. .. ..No, he wouldn't go there. She'd rejected his offer of the Galaxy at her feet but had kept that stupid trinket. Why did their son have to inherit her impracticality?

" You underestimate the power of the Dark Side. If you will not fight, then you will meet your destiny!" Vader threatened while seeking out Luke. What did this sniveling coward think he was? Luke had barely even been civil to the Emperor much less showing him his due Imperial respect.

" I will not fight you!" Luke declared.

Then JOIN ME, Vader was silently screaming hoping Luke would somehow take the plea.

" Give yourself to the Dark Side. It is the only way you can save your friends," Vader started to toy with Luke.

Luke felt Vader getting inside his head. Please not now!

" Yes, your thoughts betray you. Your feelings for them are strong. Especially for. .. " Vader taunted.

Luke was desperately trying to make his mind go blank but the harder he tried. . .

"Sister! So, you have a twin sister. Your feelings have now betrayed her,too. Obi-Wan as wise to hide her from me. Now his failure is complete. If you will not turn to the Dark Side, then perhaps she will!" Vader sneered.

At that Luke screamed his defense and came running towards Vader with his lightsabre. Vader had wanted Luke to get angry to go to the Dark Side but not this. Luke was MUCH stronger than he'd expected and that look of vengeful bloodlust in his eyes- just like he himself had had when he'd slaughtered the Sand People so long ago when he found his moth. .NO, he wasn't going to revisit that time when he was so weak.

Vader was so overwhelmed and surprised by how strong Luke had instantly become in the Dark Side that he didn't have time to react. NO! Not the right hand. Not again!

"Good! Your hate has made you powerful. Now, fulfill your destiny and take your father's place at my side!" Palpatine gloated.

After ALL, I've done for him, he's ready to junk me like a yesterday's holovid announcement, Vader thought. Why not? There's hasn't been anything else to live for in . .

"Never! I'll never turn to the Dark Side. You've failed, Your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me!" Luke declared after comparing Vader's fried wire stump with the mechanical hand he'd received courtesy of what Vader had done to him- his son.

After all that, he's actually PROUD of my past life, what's with Luke, Vader thought in puzzlement.

"So, be it, Jedi!" Palpatine sneered.

Luke, just get on your knees and beg forgiveness and embrace the Dark Side, NOW, Vader silently screamed to Luke. What do you mean, you won't? Please give Luke another chance, My Master, we barely started talking to Luke and he'd be a GREAT help to us- and why aren't you getting me to my hyperbolic chamber to keep your lung aids from totally crushing my chest,Vader screamed in his mind!

Palpatine started to use the Force Lightning to kill Luke to harvest his dying energy like he had done so many others. .including. .

"Father, please! Help me!" Luke begged.

Why aren't you begging My Master for another chance? You're just like the . .Younglings and so many others. I could have helped instead of. .being totally exploited by Palpatine. I owe him my legs, arms, my very breath and life. .but I STILL have my OWN shoulders! Well, you always said if you had to die, you'd take ME with you, so be it, My Master! You have to DIE and this is for everyone you've taken from me, Vader thought as he pulled Papatine off Luke and threw him to his mortal death down the shaft.

Luke looked at the gasping Vader in total admiration and awe but not a little puzzlement before he used more strength than either thought possible under the circumstances to carry the mortally wounded Vader to Vader's shuttle.

"Luke, help me take this mask off," Vader whispered.

"But you'll die," Luke said with genuine dread.

"Nothing can stop that now. Just for once, let me look at you with my own eyes," Vader gasps.

Luke is quite astonished realized that the last moments being free of that mask would be the only way Anakin would ever be free and even one moment of freedom would be far better than an eternity in bondage to Palpatine- which is what Luke had been trying to tell Anakin all along.

"Now. .. go. My son! Leave me," the unmasked Anakin gasped- knowing what a pitiful sight his scarred and prematurely aged face must have been to his admiring son.

" No, you're coming with me. I can't leave you! I've got to save you," Luke started to cry and for the first time in decades Anakin felt something besides artificial air, the torturing armor, antiseptics and his own decay against his skin- his son's tears of forgiveness.

"You already have, Luke. You were right about me. Tell your sister, you were right," Anakin gasped then felt something he'd not felt in decades- actual unfiltered air. Oh, Anakin knew he could easily just let the weight of that armor crush him and give into the pain of all those artificial limbs torturing him that he'd resisted but Luke somehow believed in him when no one else did- not even himself. It may be futile but, perhaps his first breath independent of Palpatine in decades might lead to at least another!

" GASP> !" Anakin gasped just a moment.

A/N- OK, now we make the leap from merely speculating characters' motivations to the outright AU of mine!

"Father, you're breathing on your own! You don't need the machines!" Luke exclaimed in great astonishment and utter bliss- as he carefully took his lightsabre and made a perfect slice down the middle of the armor in the chest cavity.

" My lungs must have somehow. .healed," Anakin said as he got back on his hated artificial legs which seemed to be digging into his stumps more than ever now that machines were no longer working.

"On their OWN! You didn't owe the Emperor your breath after all!" Luke said in great happiness as he settled Anakin onto Vader's Shuttle Craft while they took off from the collapsing 2nd Death Star- Lando and his friends had succeeded after all. Oh, if only the Emperor could have lived to see that (and ONLY that), Luke said with no small satisfaction.

"I don't care what happens next as long as. ." Anakin gasped but then fainted

"We'll never make it to your Hyperbolic Chamber on your Executor ! Ben, help me! Father didn't save my life and return to the Light Side for nothing," Luke pleaded through tears as they made their way out of the collapsing debris.

"I cannot deny that your faith in him proved to be more than wishful thinking on your part, "the ghostly voice of Ben Kenobi conceded.

"He's meant for greatness, I KNOW it! Please help me make him whole again!" Luke begged.

"Very well, take him to Kamino. I'll give you the co-ordinates to its capital Tipoca City," Ben Kenobi's spirit agreed while the Imperial Shuttle took off a moment before the 2nd Death Star exploded.

Luckily for Luke, Anakin had installed a hyperdrive on it so it was not too much later that he arrived in Tipoca City in Kamino with the unconscious Anakin.

"You're saying that this specimen is Palpatine's protégé? Of course, we'll be happy to put our skills to work on him," the tall bizarre Kaminoan female physician exclaimed to Luke.

"I'm not sure about cloning since I don't want someone 23 years younger than me who I'd have to raise from infancy but is there a way you could clone whatever bone, muscle, tendon and skin cells in his limbs and his body to grow them anew?" Luke asked.

"I think we could do that. Don't worry about the cost. Palpatine's prepaid for himself a billion times so we can easily absorb this one procedure's costs," the Kaminoan female physician exclaimed.

"Thanks.I appreciate it!" Luke exclaimed with relief- not in small part because he knew that Palpatine would NOT be using his prepaid order.

"Now, you can step outside the examination quarters because I must warn you that extracting him from this armor could prove quite horrendous to witness," the Kaminoan doctor consoled.

"No, I said I wouldn't leave him and I'm not. If HE can stand what's about to happen, then so can I and he'll need BOTH our strengths to endure this," Luke insisted.

"It's been so long since we've encountered customers as empathetic as yourself. I think your presence could help!" the Kaminoan doctor beamed.

"Father, I WON'T leave you! Hang on until this is finished, "Luke pleaded hoping Anakin could sense it.

"Yes, my. .." Anakin started to say before the procedure started.

"This armor is hideous! We actually had to saw through flesh and bone stumps to release him from it- and that respirator had been hindering his breathing and sapping his energy. There were electronics in the armor that beamed a good portion of his energy to an unknown receptacle,"the Kaminoan doctor explained after the procedure was over.

"You mean, he was breathing FOR someone else with every single breath?" Luke gulped.

"Indirectly but, yes. This technology was originally designed so parents of children with cystic fibrosis and severe asthma could send them some of THEIR energy while the children struggled for breath in emergencies of short duration but this armor was modified so his healed lungs could give energy to someone else," the Kaminoan doctor explained.

"Is there anything else? His voice, his skin?" Luke asked.

"We'll have to regrow those,too but not until he's had one night to rest up from all this trauma and stress of the armor removal. Are you sure he endured this over 20 years?" the Kaminoan asked.

"At least," Luke gulped.

"The average human adult male wouldn't have lasted a week struggling with that respirator hindering his breath. Even with the nutrients from his digestive tube keeping him alive and the efficient disposal of the wastes taken into account, the artificial limbs would have given an average adult male gangrene or a fatal heart attack from the sheer pain within a month!" the Kaminoan doctor said in astonishment.

"So why do you have him in the bacta fluid now?" Luke asked.

"Even though he's a specimen of most extraordinary endurance and physical resilience, he needs to be suspended in the solution before we continue the procedure tomorrow. This is too horrible a torture too imagine and it's no wonder Palpatine would have wanted him out of this," the Kamino doctor gasped.

Luke paused to grips. As bizarre as they appeared and as much as their work had contributed to the anguish of the Clone Wars, there was nothing whatsoever malevolent about these creatures. They actually seemed to believe they were doing genuine good deeds (albeit for a huge profit). How many others who'd served Palpatine over the decades had also been duped into believing their service to him was for the good,Luke wondered as he suddenly felt another Force presence grow nearer.

"Leia!" Luke gulped.

He ran out of the exam room to block her path.

"What are you doing here?" Luke and Leia asked each other at once.

"Father, almost died saving my life! There IS good in him. He told me to tell you and now I must do all I can to make him whole," Luke eagerly exclaimed.

"Father?" Han Solo asked.

"Darth Vader. .." Leia started to say.

"Anakin Skywalker," Luke corrected her.

" Luke and my biological father. Luke didn't know until Bespin and I didn't know until just before Luke left Endor," Leia gulped.

"Your FARMER! You dragged me all this way to Weirdoville on Waterlegs because Vader's your FARMER!" Han boiled.

"No, Han, she said 'father'!" Luke sighed.

"That's just what I was hoping she HADN'T said! What kind of cosmic practical joke is this? The two BEST people I've ever met in my life who I'd walk through fire for came from . . from . .. It. .?" Han shuddered and went off to around the corner.

"Han!" Leia called out to him.

"Leia, we can't force him to accept. He has to find his own path," Luke consoled as he lifted her chin.

"Using my words against me. You sure ARE my brother," Leia half-laughed.

"Leia, there's quite a few things I need to tell you before we see him again," Luke sighed.

Han was glad he'd dropped Chewie off at Kashyyyk for a family reunion so he wouldn't have had to deal with this but sorry Chewie wasn't helping HIM deal. ALL this way because Leia said that Old Fossil's Ghost had told her where Luke was. He could accept Luke being Leia's brother. Man, he WELCOMED it. No more triangle possibilities and, though Han would have died before he said so outloud, it would make Han's dream of the four of them (including Chewie) be a family come true! But, now? It was too much to think about as Han skulked around the corner. . . but felt strangely drawn to a bacta tank coliseum. There must have been millions of them there but they were all abandoned and empty- except one. As though, it was a suddenly burned out star in a an otherwise brilliant constellation, Han's focus was in on that.

VADER! He was going to make a beeline to Vader's cloning chamber.

"Well, well. Always knew you were a monster but had no idea you were a limbless FREAK! Don't have a leg to stand on, do ya!" Han shouted at the bacta chamber.

Just when I thought things couldn't get much worse, Solo's taking potshots at me using his totally unoriginal humor, Anakin thought for, via the Force, he could indeed see and hear Han outside the bacta chamber. For a moment, he was tempted to send Force Lightning to silence Han. No, that would just electrocute me before it left the glass container. Maybe, choke . .. no I need to save my strength and it would gravely hurt Luke besides, he's only echoing what billions of others would say to me if they were here at this time- and I can't say I don't deserve it, Anakin silently thought.

Han saw the nametag vitals on the side of the tank which included his age.

"And you're only 45 but so OLD AND UGLY, I don't know how the Princess and Kid's mother could have stood conceiving them with you- and how could such PERFECT beings come from the likes of a stumpy, old, over boiled vecto egg anyway? What a F---ING JOKE the Cosmos has pulled!" Han sneered.

Solo thought he was the only one pranked here, Anakin wondered.

"Easily to send someone into an ice block for trap bait and kicks but no fun being in the fish tank, HAH!" Han boiled as he pointed first to himself then Anakin.

Solo was always thinking of himself, Anakin groaned.

"I'd take this blaster and zap the fish tank to make things better for everyone right here and now! Lucky for you, I like and respect your kids too much!" Han sneered.

"Han! What are you doing?" Leia gasped as she and Luke ran towards him.

"Why are you keeping this dismembered piece of Sith alive?"Han sneered.

"Because he's our father!" Luke boiled.

"'Because he's our father' 'because he's our father'! You're making even Goldenrod himself sound human with thatdroid logic!" Han sneered after mocking Luke's voice.

"Han, just because YOU didn't have a good father doesn't mean the rest. ..?" Leia sighed.

"Well, you DID have a good one, Sweetheart! You remember. The one you've cried about in your sleep when thinking of Alderaan," Han said with extra venom turning purple while Leia sighed and Luke clutched Leia's hand.

" Yeah, I've heard your daughter cry in her sleep, and wouldn't you like to know HOW?"! Han sneered while shaking his fist at the bacta tank.

"Han, he saved me from the Emperor and has been turned back to the Light Side," Luke pleaded.

" And if I just pleaded one more time with Jabba at the Sarlaac Pit, he'd have wiped clean my debt! HA! Scum like that NEVER changes!" Han snorted.

"Oh, yeah, like there's no way a Corellian smuggler would have done more than take the Alliance's monies after bringing back the Princess and would have just let me get blasted into bits and Biggs by the Imperial fighter behind me abovethe First Death Star," Luke declared.

At that moment, all of them saw a strongtremor from inside thecloning tank.

"Yeah, and WHO was flying that Imperial tie-fighter?" Han mocked.

At that Luke actually made a fist and, in spite of the fact that Han was no less than 9 inches (10 cm) taller than him, he actually DECKED Han.

"THAT was for taunting our father who wouldn't have shuddered had he not heard us and been sorry," Luke boiled.

"I . . don't believe you two. Why is he worth destroying everything you urged me to believe in?" Han started to cry in spite of his best efforts.

"Luke's never given me any reason at any moment in four years to think he wasn't working in our best interests," Leia pleaded.

" Well, there's a first time for everything," Han sneered.

" Besides,Luke told me that just before . .. Father. .. turned he said that perhaps I'd be turned to the Dark Side," Leia deeply groaned.

Another strong tremor came from within the tank.

"And in spite of him saying that you want to open yourself to him?" Han shuddered.

"If I'd ever considered the Force before or had known of the existence of the Dark Side, I'd have been tempted after Alderaan to use it against him but holding resentment against someone genuinely sorry only enslaves just like Father was- even if all the choices he made under it were his own," Leia quickly said before Han could interrupt her.

"Was it on account of the Imperial Shuttle remnant we found?" Han asked.

"What remnant?" Luke asked.

"On our way from Endor, we saw it among the 2nd Death Star Debris Field and, after putting on radiation suits, we went inside to see if we could find anything about the Imperials for us to strategize against when we found. .." Leia sighed.

"A receptor for Father's energy that Palpatine had been draining from him all this time," Luke bitterly groaned.

"Well, yes, and the fact that Vader's Hyperbolic Chamber in his Command Ship used almost lethal amounts of Carbon Monoxide but also a note he'd made to himself decades ago gloating about payment to a tribe of Sand People in Tatooine for kidnapping and torturing. .. "Leia gulped before just before she said the name of Shmi Skywalker.

"MAMA!" Anakin's hoarse voice was heard to scream through the glass and liquid at the top of his lungs in a bitter rage as he used the Force to break every single one of the millions empty cloning tanks in the stadium sized room.

"I think we'd better leave now," Luke said quietly.

Han and Leia nodded then ran out.

"Father, calm down, "Luke pleaded via the Force.

"My entire life and everyone in it was used by him even when I thought I was helping," Anakin silently communicated with him.

"I know but it doesn't have to be anymore," Luke consoled.

"You don't know all that he's taken away from you. You and your Nana Shmi would have loved each other and so would. .." Anakin deeply groaned via telepathy.

"I know. You need to get rest before they continue healing you," Luke pleaded.

"Very well, if I must be tortured I'll do it for your sake, " Anakin replied through telepathy.

"Use the Light Side to calm down and help the healing," Luke pleaded aloud.

"The Light Side! It's too late for me after all I've done," Anakin sighed via the Force.

"No, it's never too late! Give yourself another chance and the Light Side will reward you a million fold!"Luke proclaimed.

"Luke.. " Anakin scoffed via the Force.

" There's no way the Light Side could set you back any further than the Dark Side's already done!" Luke exclaimed.

"How can someone so young carry such wisdom?" Anakin asked via telepathy.

"Just let what is be and let the future heal the past," Luke pleaded while he and Han and Leia exited the room.

" Very well,Son. Goodnight," Anakin said via the Force.

After they made their way to outside the chamber.

"I don't get you two at all!" Han sneered- once Luke put down his hand once he believed that Anakin could no longer hear them via the Force.

"Han, would you stop thinking of yourself for a change?" Leia asked.

"I should be asking you two the same thing. Father/ twin bonding's a bit too late- especially putting everyone else at risk," Han sneered.

"That's just it, Han. It's NOT just about us. We MUST do all we can to make Father whole again- or else the future of everyone in the Galaxy and even the Galactic civilizations themelves will be in jeopardy," Luke pleaded.

"He did a pretty good job coming this close to doing that already," Han scoffed.

"Maybe not now or tomorrow but, undoubtably, many lifetimes from now it will be vital that he'd been saved," Luke exclaimed-uncertain of where in the Force that statement came into his head from save that it was from the Light Side.

" We could all use some sleep after this," Leia pleaded.

"Fine, then tomorrow we're taking off," Han insisted.

"You and Leia can but I'm staying here with Father, " Luke insisted.

"Whatever. .. like I care. I'm in no mood to argue," Han scoffed as he stomped ahead of them towards where he parked the Falcon under the Tipoca City's covered small space port.

Meantime, Anakin wasn't certain what this new chance would mean or how long it would last as he finally let sleep overtake him to rest in thebacta tank.