Disclaimer: All the characters and settings presented in this fic are property of Lucasfilm. No money is being made and no copyright infringement is intended.
Notes: Thank you to krabapple and kayladie for betaing. Note that this is dark, and there is character death.
The hand stretches out, pleading, though its owner likely does not think of it that way.
"Luke, you can destroy the Emperor," Darth Vader says. "He has foreseen this. It is your destiny. Join me and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son. Come with me. It is the only way."
Luke shrinks back unconsciously. Father and son, Darth Vader said. And though Luke does not want to believe, wants the denial ripping through his mind to be the truth and not the lie, he can't help it, and knows Vader really is his father.
His hand is gone, and his lightsaber is gone with it. His father's—Darth Vader's—lightsaber. They have been connected even before Luke realized it, and now he knows the connection goes deeper than a blue energy blade.
Father and son.
He leans against the gantry, clutching it and trembling. He feels dizzy, though whether that is from physical or emotional pain, he does not know. It all seems one and the same, right now.
Vader waits patiently, the hand still outstretched in front of him. Luke never would have thought that Vader would be one for patience, but he is perhaps full of surprises—
No, I am your father
—and so he waits, while Luke has no idea of what he should do.
The denial should be on the tip of his tongue, but the word Never! chokes him and sticks in his throat. He tries to let it free, but it will not go. Never is such a long time, he thinks.
His breath is loud and harsh in his ears, just as Vader's breathing is, and there it is, another connection between them. It seems to be increasingly easy, finding connections between them now.
Father and son. Father and son. Fatherandson. Fatherandsonfatherandsonfathersonfatherson.
"Yes," he finds himself saying, the word slipping out of his choked throat far easier than the denial he had almost voiced. "Yes," he says again, and, "Father."
He takes his remaining hand away from his support, to reach up and catch hold of Vader's own. He stretches up—and loses his balance, the loss of even as small a limb as a hand affecting him, and he still hurts and his head is still clouded. He stumbles, and then there is nothing but air beneath him.
Vader catches him before he falls.
Emperor Palpatine looks worse in person than he does in holos, but Luke is not surprised. The Rebellion taught him long ago to not take propaganda at face value.
"So this is the son of Skywalker," the Emperor says, his bright eyes, golden-yellow like a bird of prey, flicking toward the form of Darth Vader, who is swathed in the shadows behind Luke.
The Emperor does not scare him. Luke thinks that maybe he should, because his gnarled, cowled form is surely what nightmares are made of, but the only fear in the room is flowing from the Emperor to Luke, and not the other way around. Luke feels it, felt it the moment he entered from behind his father, and thinks that there is no point in fearing someone who is already frightened of him.
"Son of Skywalker? I am a Skywalker in my own right," he announces. "While my father is important to my life and the reason for my existence, I am not defined by who he is, or was."
That surprises both of them, Luke can tell. The Emperor's eyes narrow, and Luke's father sends a feeling of impatience, but it is Luke who has control over this conversation now, and he will not give it up. It needs to be he who is in charge of the whole confrontation, he who brings the necessary results, and so he will.
Vader told him that the Emperor would underestimate him, that Luke would have the best chance, and so Vader stays behind while Luke steps forward. It is Luke's turn to take the scars of cold-blooded murder on his soul, but his father has convinced him that this is something that must be done; Palpatine must not be allowed to further twist the galaxy to suit only himself.
And it is murder, cold-blooded, pre-meditated. The part of Luke that still has reservations about his father screams at him not to do it, but that screaming voice reminds him of what he can no longer be—Jedi don't join Sith Lords, family or not, so I can't be a Jedi anymore—and so he stops his mental ears and does not listen. This will be easier to do if he does not listen, and that knowledge gives him the control he needs.
So Luke walks forward, as cool and detached as he needs to be in order to do this properly. And before the Emperor can do anything, Luke steps up to his throne and takes his new lightsaber, which he has been taught to make by his father, off his belt, and in his just-attached mechanical right hand.
The Emperor raises his arms, and Force energy gathers around him, but Luke is too quick. Before the Emperor can make use of the energy he gathered, Luke turns his lightsaber on, and a red beam sears Palpatine through the heart, killing nearly instantly despite the old man's power. The Emperor collapses, and the budding Force-storm dies back into nothingness.
His lightsaber still humming in his hand, Luke stares down at the man he has just killed. And it is a man, and just a man; all of the Emperor's power brought him nothing, and he died like everything else in the galaxy dies. Luke looks at the body dispassionately, and wonders that he does not feel anything, not even relief or triumph. Even the voice inside him has quieted; every part of him now feels detached.
His father is another case, however, proud and exultant. He steps up behind Luke and puts a hand on his shoulder, and Luke can feel the circuitry where living flesh once was. It is another thing that they have in common, and Luke almost automatically raises his own mechanical hand to cover his father's.
"Well done, my son," Vader tells him.
Luke does not answer him. He stares at the body still, and feels nothing.
"How could you?"
It is Leia, her eyes fire and rain, spilling tears even as she glares at him.
"How could I what?" Luke asks her, and wonders that she is not more grateful. "I killed the Emperor. Would you prefer that he still be alive?"
Leia shakes her head, and spits at him, "Not that! You joined Vader! How could you do that? The Luke I knew—"
He cuts her off. "The Luke you knew found out something about himself that altered his perspective," Luke says. "He was irrevocably changed."
"That's rather obvious," Han says sardonically from behind Leia, freed from the carbonite after Luke caught up to Boba Fett on Tatooine. Boba Fett, that bounty hunter who hurt his friends so, did not survive the encounter. "It's the last thing I would have expected from the kid I knew. Didn't you tell us that he killed your father?"
Oh yes, Luke remembers, he did believe that once. Darth Vader betrayed and murdered your father, Ben Kenobi told him, a story that he had unthinkingly repeated to his friends without any notion of how much a lie it was.
"I know better now," Luke answers, and he does. There are so many things that he knows better now. He had been such a naïve boy. "My father is alive."
"Does he approve of you?" Leia retorts, angry tears running down her cheeks. She is confused and despairing, and Luke does not know how to comfort her. All he is telling her is the truth, and while sometimes a lie offers more reassurance, in the end all it can do is hurt. Luke knows this all too well. "You said he was a Jedi Knight—is he happy that his son joined the Sith?"
"Yes, actually," Luke tells her, and his lips can't help but quirk up in amusement when she stares at him. "He's very happy. He'd been searching for me for years, and found me on Bespin."
"Bespin…?" Leia falters. Her memories of the planet are not as nice as his; she lost much and found nothing. Luke lost little, only a hand that was easily replaced, and found his father and high position in the galaxy.
"Darth Vader didn't kill my father," Luke says, to both of them, the two beings in the galaxy he counts his best friends. "Darth Vader is my father."
Both pairs of eyes widen, and both faces pale. Leia's mouth opens and closes again without anything coming out. Luke waits for them to say something, but they just glance at him, and turn away. There is a twinge of pain at this, that they will not support him, and so he waits a little longer, but they ignore him, and then he turns away as well.
Something enters his room, in the dark of the night. He wakes up and feels it, something shielded in the Force, and Luke keeps his breathing shallow and even, emulating sleep, waiting for it to come closer.
When it does, he is ready for it, and before the intruder can blink he springs up and catches it, then shoves it down on the bed and brings his now lit lightsaber to hover above its throat.
Or rather, her throat. It is a woman he is straddling, one perhaps his age, with braided red-gold hair and hateful green eyes staring up at him unrepentantly.
"Who are you?" he asks her, without letting up. He senses that she can be dangerous if he lets her, and so he will not give her a chance to be a true threat.
"One who wants to kill you," she answers, as if that had not been obvious.
"Why?" he asks steadily, as if he does not care that she marked him for death. And he doesn't, really, because he already knows that she cannot kill him, or he would not be the one in the position of power.
"You killed my master," she replies. "You will not get away with it. I am the Emperor's Hand, and I will kill you."
He studies her. He has never heard of the Emperor's Hand before, but that does not bother him, because the title implies all that is important. He knows that she is serious about wanting to kill him, but he looks at her, and does not think she will. And there is something in him that is intrigued by her, and wants to get to know her better.
He rolls away from her and stands up, though he leaves his lightsaber on. She sits up and stares at him, obviously taken aback.
"I killed your master," he agrees. "Why do you care? Did he treat you so well, then, that you can't bear to see my father on his throne?"
Her eyes flash, and she makes as if to spring at him, but he angles his lightsaber slightly, bringing it to her attention, and she settles down.
"He was my master," she declares. "It is not my business to question how he treated his servants."
Luke nods, slowly, as if she had just confirmed something he'd been thinking. He stretches out a hand to her, and says, "I will show you how servants should be treated." It is no more sexual than was his father's offer to him, but is just as much a proposal to tear away veils of ignorance. And Luke knows he cannot be termed ignorant anymore.
Uncertainty flickers in her eyes, but that is better than hate, and even though she stays where she is and does not take his hand, he does not think she will try to kill him anymore.
He sets down on Dagobah again, for the first time since going to Bespin, and Yoda is waiting for him there, looking old and frail and leaning on his stick.
"Returned, have you?" he asks. "To finish the training, as you have promised?"
He does not sound hopeful, and tiredness overlays his voice. Luke thinks that maybe there is pain in that small body as well, but does not care. The little being has caused him enough pain, after all, and Luke cannot find it in him to mind the turnaround.
"You know better than that," he says, swinging out of the cockpit of the X-wing that he keeps, Rebel fighter though it is, and he now the Imperial Prince. He's always liked the craft better than TIE fighters, and what remains of the Rebellion does not expect one of their own designs to shoot them.
Yoda's ears flatten, and he turns away, shaking his head. "Stayed here, you should have," he tells the swamp in front of him, not looking at the man behind.
"Stayed here to be lied to more?" Luke asks sharply. Just like his father said, the Jedi do not own up to their mistakes, no matter what the consequences to those they play with. Perhaps if Yoda had been willing to admit to being wrong…but obviously not, and so Luke will end what his father began. That is his duty now. After all, it is the Sith way that they betray and kill their teachers.
Yoda faces him again, and looks him straight in the eye. "Remember the cave, you should," he says firmly. "Remember the lesson that the cave has taught you!"
Luke remembers the cave, and himself in his father's armor. "What lesson?" Luke questions softly, his voice barely heard above the sounds of swamp life all around them. "Don't give me another abstract 'beware the Dark Side' lecture, Yoda," he says, consciously refusing to give the title of respect. "I learned that I am a lot like my father, as you always told me that I was. Is that what you wanted me to know?"
Yoda's eyes close, his expression pained, as if every word Luke speaks is a lightsaber strike through the heart.
"Failed again, I have," Yoda mutters, sounding old and feeble, a being let down by his last hope in the twilight of his days. But Luke does not care, because Yoda let him down enough as it is, lying to him and preparing him to unknowingly commit patricide, using him as a tool and nothing more.
"Yes, you have," Luke agrees, and takes his lightsaber from his belt.
Yoda stands unbent as Luke strikes him down, and then his body disappears into nothing, as Obi-Wan Kenobi's had years ago. Luke looks at the place Yoda last stood, again feeling nothing. He shuts his lightsaber down and returns it to his belt, then heads back to his ship.
"Luke, wait!" a voice calls from behind him, a familiar one, one that he had once listened to above all others, and one that had lied to him about the most important thing in his life.
Luke ignores the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and heads back off into the stars.
He spars with her, and teaches her as they go. She was once more versed in betrayal than he, living in the heart of the Empire as she has, but he has always been a quick learner, and now there are things he knows that she does not.
She is only hovering on the precipice, after all. He is falling, though he hasn't yet hit the ground.
"Tell me," he says, across lightsaber blades, "how well did you learn to use one of these?"
She snarls at him, and he laughs, because he knows that the answer is not very well. She is passable, certainly, but not on the level of what his father taught him to be, or even what he was when he was just learning on his own.
The air between them is volatile, as it always is. The air crackles, and sparks are flying, and they circle around each other, just waiting for the other to let down defenses so that a well-placed strike might land.
"I'm going to win this time," she says. "And then maybe I'll kill you."
"No, you won't," he replies, confident that it is true. She has been threatening to kill him ever since she met him, but except for that first night, she has never actually tried—and even then, she hadn't gotten very far.
Luke thinks that she does not want to kill him anymore, but also does not want to admit that to either herself or him. She still hates him, but does not let that rule her actions. He thinks he might hate her too, because he doesn't know what else this powerful feeling might be; he has never truly felt it before.
"Maybe I will be the one to kill you," he continues. "Have you ever thought of that, Mara?"
He twists his wrist in a quick, complicated maneuver, and then her lightsaber flies out of her grasp. Before she can reach out and call it to her, as he taught her to reliably do, the tip of his lightsaber hovers just above her heart. She steps back, to get away from the heat of the blade, but he follows her, and the tip moves not a centimeter away.
"Luke?" she asks, and the uncertainty he knows she feels does not appear in her voice. Luke respects her for that, and shuts off his blade.
"I win," he says, and catches her eye once again before he turns and walks away.
"Leia," he says, "I'm disappointed."
She glares at him, undaunted, the spirit that he had first loved her for still there and apparent. But the love passed away soon enough, and now Luke just feels empty when he looks at her.
"You're disappointed," Han says for her, incredulous and angry. "We're the ones who've been betrayed, not you. What do you care about us for now, anyway?"
"No friendly feelings, Han?" Luke says softly. But he can't blame his one-time friend, really. Though Han and Leia were the ones who brought themselves to this position in the first place, Luke is the one holding them here.
"I'll tell you what," Han replies, struggling against his bonds. "You find them in yourself, and I'll see if I can find them in me."
Leia is not struggling. Perhaps she knows how futile it is, though Luke knows that wouldn't stop her; the Rebellion has always been futile, and that's never prevented her from fighting. He would have left her alone, out of the memory of what they had once shared, but then she fought him, and crossed a line she shouldn't have, she and Han together.
"You should thank me," Luke tells them. "I'm allowing you to be together, after all. It's more than my father gave you."
"Oh yeah," Han snorts. "Real generous. You're a regular philanthropist, aren't you?" His face darkens with anger and pain. "What happened to you, Luke? What happened to that innocent kid I picked up in Mos Eisley? How could you let yourself get this way?"
"Han, stop it," Leia says, saving Luke from having to answer when he doesn't quite know what to say. She sounds tired, and looks it as well. "You're not getting through to him. He's not Luke anymore."
Luke plasters an innocent expression on his face. "Not Luke anymore?" he repeats. "Who else would I be?"
But Leia just shakes her head, and turns away from him to slide her arms around Han. "I don't want to look at him anymore," she says, muffled into Han's chest, and Luke has to use the Force to hear her properly. "We don't have much time left. Let's not waste it on him."
Han glares one last time at Luke, and then acquiesces to Leia, his arms coming up to enfold her in return. His head leans down, and hers leans up, and they press together in a final kiss.
Then Luke nods to the worker in front of the controls, and the platform his former friends are on lowers, steam billowing out. When it comes up again, there they are, kissing for eternity, encased in carbonite.
She curls around him, unsleeping, and he lies awake beside her.
"I still hate you," she tells him, once she has recovered and her breathing is back to normal.
"I know," he replies, his arm around her and his mechanical hand playing with the strands of hair spilling down her back. "And I, you."
She nods, and lays her head on his chest, directly above his beating heart. His arm tightens around her, and pulls her closer to him.
There is such a fine, fine line between love and hate, and they dance on it. Luke thinks that they always have, perhaps even before they knew each other properly.
They dance on the line, but they haven't crossed it yet. Luke knows that he does not love her, and that she does not love him either. But what is love, to them? It is unimportant, a distraction, and not something either needs.
They are silent then, and for so long that Luke thinks she might have fallen asleep. But then her voice rises up through the darkness of the room, and says, "What are you going to do now?"
He thinks for a moment, and wonders. What is there to do, he asks himself, and then he says, "Everything I can."
She moves slightly, just enough so that she can press a kiss to the skin above his heart, and then gently bites it. "That's not very specific."
"You wanted specifics?" he asks in amusement. "You should have said so in the first place."
She bites again, harder this time. "Don't play around," she says. "I'm not."
No, she isn't. But then, she doesn't very often. Serious and practical Mara Jade, that's her.
"Fine," he says. "Specifics." He thinks again of what there is to do, and knows. What else is there? "I'm going to rule," he tells her, sitting up and looking down at her, still warm in his arms.
She looks up at him in return and nods, and he knows that she is not surprised.
Luke almost wishes it hadn't come to this.
"Why?" he repeats, and shrugs. "I learn by example. Are you surprised?"
"No," his father confesses. "But I thought…" He doesn't finish the thought, but Luke knows what he was going to say.
"That being your son exempted me from betrayal?" Luke finishes for him, and Vader nods, weakly, the helmet and mask even heavier on a dying man.
"I should have known better," Vader says. "I taught you well. Perhaps too well."
Luke does not say anything in response; his father is talking more to himself now than to Luke.
"How did it come to this?" Vader asks, a rhetorical question, and Luke is still silent.
He knows how it came to this. A long ago moment on Dagobah, and a lesson in a cave. Like a prophecy fulfilled, Luke stands in his father's place, at the end of the path that Vader had set him on. In the beginning he'd just wanted his father, and to make his father proud, but as he traveled further and further down his father's path, his father's pride in him seemed to matter less and less. He remembers Yoda and Obi-Wan, and wonders if they would be happy: he did kill his father, like they wanted him to.
"I am what you made me," he tells his father, and turns away, towards the great throne that is standing empty, waiting for him.
"I know," his father says weakly from behind him, but Luke does not look back. Vader's time has passed, as has Luke's with him.
He looks straight ahead, and in the shadows behind the throne Mara stands, her arms wrapped protectively around the gently swelling curve of her belly. She nods at him, and he nods at her in return.
Darth Vader's respirator is resounding in the silence of the room, and then it dies away, quieting, and stops all together.
Luke halts before the throne, and turns around, his eyes sweeping the room, and passing over his father as if there is nothing there. And there isn't, not anymore. There is nothing to stop him.
Luke sits down in his throne, and he's not falling anymore. He's hit the ground.