With a smooth, flawless somersault, Luke landed on the catwalk hanging from the ceiling.
For a second he had frozen, and presented himself as a defenceless target. But Vader seemed just as surprised by the young man's suicidal move, and did something he had never done before. He froze as well. By the time second nature kicked in and he advanced, saber preceding him, Luke was jumping out of reach.
Jedi and Sith Lord stared at each other in utter astonishment. Luke's heart did a somersault of its own in his chest at the glimpse of something in Vader's mind.
That something again.
Hesitation. Doubt. Uncertainty.
And something more.
Reluctance? Qualms? Scruples?
Could it be? Could his wishful thinking actually be true?
Something inside him filled with light again. Hope blossomed in his soul, childlike and pure. And the little boy within him wanted to cry out with joy.
"Your thoughts betray you, Father. I feel the good in you. The conflict."
"There is no conflict." Vader approached him from below.
Why did those words feel so old at this stage?
"You couldn't bring yourself to kill me before and I don't believe you'll destroy me now," Luke insisted. He knew he was walking a thin line, in more ways than one. His claim could very well backfire on him. He didn't know much about the man who had sired him, but one thing he did know. He was stubborn.
So, everything came down to which of them proved himself to be the more stubborn, didn't it?
But he couldn't give up. It was his father's soul in the balance.
His recklessness and impatience had made him fail one too many times in his life, but he couldn't afford to fail today. Not now, when it mattered the most. He couldn't fail his father. He was Vader's... Anakin's only hope.
As he had feared, his words felt like a provocation to Vader. Anger sizzled in the black armour again.
"You underestimate the power of the Dark Side. If you will not fight, then you will meet your destiny."
Luke felt it coming before his father actually did it. Vader threw his saber at him, his intent clear. The young man's training reasserted itself and he moved aside. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw the red blade cut the supports holding the gantry. He could only yelp as he rolled to the lower deck, under the Emperor's platform.
The brutal attack shattered the calmness the young man had been relying on. Primal fear for his life took over, and once on the ground he rushed to hide in the shadows. Leaning back against a pillar, he closed his eyes and reached for the Force inside him, trying to get his heartbeat and breathing back under control.
His father couldn't have attempted to kill him again. He couldn't! Parents didn't do that, did they? Or was he clinging to something that had ceased to exist long ago? Was he seeing what he wanted to see?
The responsibility fell heavily on his shoulders again. The last of the Jedi. If he failed, only Leia would remain. Untrained, alone, guideless. With no chance to succeed. Palpatine would crush her... or worse.
Everything depended on him, but he had never felt so helpless. He wanted to walk a different path, the path Obi-Wan had tried to dissuade him from. Everything he was, told him that destruction and death weren't the solution. And yet... his father was pushing him inexorably in that direction. He was leaving him with no choice but to fight, or die.
'Why are you doing this, Father? Do you want to kill me? Do you want me to kill you? Do you want to die? Has life become such a burden that you want me to free you from the responsibility, and take your place beside the Emperor? Is that the Destiny you want for me? The same Destiny you suffered?'
No one could answer his questions. He was being forced into a corner, both literally and metaphorically. He had to make a decision. Now. This was the point of no return.
He felt Vader close, and instinctively, he withdrew further into the shadows.
Vader came down the stairs, found his saber and ignited it. At the edge of the shadows though, he stopped.
There weren't many places where his son could hide, but for some reason he was loath to venture in.
After a few seconds of hesitation, he stepped into the darkness warily, holding out his blade in front of him.
The boy's nearness disturbed him deeply. The Light wrapped protectively around him like a shield, and it repelled him.
The Light burned. The Light hurt.
The Light had been home once.
Not anymore. Never again.
The boy's fear called out to him like a beacon. Luke feared for his life, for his soul. Feared Vader. He was frightened and sad. Infinitely sad.
A part of Vader responded to those feelings. They resonated so profoundly with him that he began to reach out to them. But he caught himself in time.
He wanted the boy to surrender. He wanted him to make things easier for all and give himself to the Dark Side.
He was tired too. Tired of living like this. Tired of hoping against hope. Tired of lusting after something that never found fulfilment. Hatred, greed and anger had consumed him, and provided no solace for over twenty years. The fire that got started on Mustafar was still burning, but only ashes remained.
Luke was his only hope. Without him, his existence had been for nought.
"You cannot hide forever, Luke," he reminded the young man. He didn't want to give the boy a second's respite. He wanted him to yield, now. He could feel his agony through his mental emanations, and he wanted to put an end to it. For Luke. For himself. For the two of them.
"You'll have to come in and get me," answered the disembodied voice.
"I will not give you the advantage that easily."
Luke's heart sank at those words. Was that what his father honestly thought? That he was luring him there to strike him down?
He felt like crying.
He pitied his father. And himself. He pitied his childhood dreams. Even his childhood nightmares.
'Daddy! Daddy! Where are you? I need you, Daddy!'
'Your daddy's not here, Luke. He's gone,' aunt Beru's voice tried to calm the inconsolable little boy shaking in his bed in the middle of the night.
'Gone?' big blue eyes, full of tears, fixed on her.
'Yes. But you've got uncle Owen and me to take care of you. We won't let anyone harm you.'
'But I want my daddy. I need him!'
The memory came to him unbidden, as vivid as if it had happened last night. How many of his childhood nights had been filled with those nightmares, and how solicitously aunt Beru had tried to quiet him, to no avail.
Until one day, the dreams stopped.
But the need remained. It had accompanied him all his life.
'I wish I'd have known him.'
'How did my father die?'
'I want to become a Jedi like my father.'
Mere hours before.
'I can't do it, Ben.'
'I can't kill my own father.'
'There is still good in him.'
Even now. Now more than ever.
'Come with me.'
He wasn't an eight-year old calling out to his daddy in the middle of the night. He was a twenty-two year old calling out to his father, needing him with all the longing and despair of a life in desperate need.
But had this need, had this love to be returned to be complete? To be worthy? Or was it worthy precisely because it wasn't returned? Had he been selfish in his need for his father to love him?
He brought up one hand to his chest when a path he hadn't considered before opened up before him in an explosion of Light. Alive, pulsing, breathing, like a nurturing heartbeat.
He had to let go of his attachment and follow his heart whatever it took. He had to be ready to give up everything for that which he believed in.
His very life, if necessary.
A smile of boundless joy illuminated his features as a trail of purifying tears slid down his face. Reaching down, he unclipped his lightsaber from his belt, put it on the floor, and pushed it in his father's direction through the Force.
The metallic sound of something moving towards him made Vader turn his head sharply. He couldn't believe his eyes when he saw his son's lightsaber rolling in his direction. He reached out his hand, and the weapon jumped into his palm. He stared at it in shocked confusion, not knowing what to make of it.
A movement straight ahead put him on guard, lightsaber at the ready.
It looked like the boy had decided to come out of his hiding place and face him. But how did he intend to do that unarmed?
He knew something was amiss the moment he set his eyes on him. It hit him from everywhere at once. Not violently, not aggressively, but with love. More love than his personal experience had ever taught him or shown him. More love than could possibly exist in any realm.
Vader recoiled from the 'assault,' holding out his saber protectively in front of him. But Luke kept advancing with slow, measured steps.
"Stop it right there!" he commanded, not knowing why.
Luke didn't even blink. Vader saw the smile on his face as the boy gazed at him, showing no fear whatsoever.
Vader flinched and stumbled back. But quickly composing himself, he stopped and held his ground.
Luke's eyes bored into him, hypnotic, trusting, impossibly loving, seeing right through his mask, right through his eyes, right through his soul, into his deepest core.
"I said stop it!" he commanded again.
The tears streaming down the smooth cheeks made the young man's appearance almost ethereal. His smile became so beautiful it hurt to look at it.
"If you get any closer, I'll kill you!" Vader warned, tightening his grip on the handle.
Totally unafraid, Luke's essence reached out and embraced the Darkness in his father. He wrapped himself around it, and loved it.
Vader felt as if he was on fire. Burning down.
"STOP!" he roared, raising his saber; readying himself to deliver the final blow.
Luke only stopped when he was face to face with his father. His eyes roamed the expressionless mask, and Vader felt them caressing him, caressing him physically, offering a universe of love and belonging.
He could hear the sweet murmur coming directly from his son's soul. It spoke of trust. Acceptance. Forgiveness. Even now, when he had the child's life in his hands.
He only had to swing his lightsaber and everything would be over.
But he didn't. His body stiffened until it was one breath away from snapping.
Luke did nothing. He simply stood in front of his father, loving him with every fibre of his being. Offering everything he was for Vader to take in any way he wanted. If he wanted to take his life, he was welcome to do it. The love in the child's heart never wavered.
A delicate glow suddenly enveloped his son like an aura. It throbbed warmly, reaching out to him entreatingly, promising the solace and peace Vader hadn't known in twenty years.
The boy blinked, and that tiny little movement inspired Vader to study the features so close to him, closer than they had ever been.
The soft, slightly dishevelled hair, the long lashes that flickered like Alderanian butterflies, the endearingly upturned nose, the full smiling lips. The otherworldly beauty his son radiated, in body and soul.
This boy came from him. It was a part of him. It was him. All that was left of the man he had been once.
Could he destroy him? Could he destroy a part of himself? Of her? Of the life the two of them had created? The only part of him that was pure, untouched by the Darkness that had devoured his mind and his spirit?
A pearly teardrop trickled down Luke's cheek, and Vader watched its slow descent, until it was lingering on the boy's chin. The Sith Lord felt the irresistible urge to wipe it away and taste it. He wished to submerge himself in his son's soul and never come out.
The moment the thought coalesced in his mind, a searing heat, blistering in its intensity, began to consume him from inside.
Throwing his head back, he let out a piercing scream. Long, raw, inhuman. The scream of a wild, tired, wounded animal, crying out his horror to the universe. The horror he carried within.
Giving himself completely to the fire in a spasm of mindless insanity, he reached out and embraced it to him. If he was going to die, so be it. He didn't care anymore.
His world filled with a myriad of shimmering lights, sublime sounds and vivid colours that transported him out of time and space.
He clasped that beauty to him, desperate to make it a part of him. Desperate to become reacquainted with this glorious feeling one last time.
All at once, the beauty was wrapped around him like a blanket. Steadying him, flooding his mind with love and meaning. Asking him to come with him, to be with him.
Vader crumbled. Something black and ugly was stripped from him and thrown away. He was ripped open, bleeding from a million gaping wounds.
And then, he was being cradled in blissful gentleness. Cuddled against something warm and fragrant. He sought to snuggle up to it as deeply as he could. So deeply he disappeared in it.
It hurt like it had never hurt before. Not even when his body had been reduced to a charred mass of flesh. But in that crucible of excruciating pain, a soft voice reassured him that everything was all right, that he was the maker of his own destiny once more. That he was free.
Hardly daring to believe, Vader ventured a peek around him, expecting to find the binders of the Darkness that had bound him to the bars of his consented enslavement.
There were no binders. There were no bars. There was no Darkness. There was only Light. Light all over. And shining brighter than anything, his restored free will.
Vader's soul soared on the wings of the freedom he had thought he would never know again. Freedom of choice, freedom of thought. Freedom of the heart.
A caring, loving presence beside him watched him display his wings, like a caged bird that's released after years of imprisonment.
Turning around, he saw a pair of breathtaking blue eyes encircled by a glowing, youthful face he felt he should know.
A cry of exultant joy escaped his lips, and Vader made a dive for the presence, that, laughing out loud, opened its arms to him.
They met and embraced ecstatically. To Vader, this moment was more real than anything he had ever experienced in the real world. He could touch it, and smell it, and taste it, and hold it to him with strength enough to crush it. But his need only fueled that something's own need. And the crushing embrace continued until they sublimated that lifetime of need in each other.
They remained suspended on eternity for what felt like forever. But inevitably, they slowly floated back down to earth. Vader resisted for a moment, knowing what awaited him within his own broken body. The presence soothed him with calming thoughts, promising him that in the path he had chosen lay a healing unlike anything he had ever imagined.
No. It couldn't be so easy. He had been a willing slave to the Darkness. He had given up all hope of ever returning. It was said to be impossible. Once you started on the Dark path, you were doomed for good. You would be consumed in life, and in death.
This had to be a dream. He was deceiving himself in this sweet delirium of love and belonging.
A strong grip around his torso awakened him to the physical world surrounding him.
'No dream, Father. You are free. Free, of your own choosing,' the voice said, exhilarated. 'You only had to make the decision, and open your heart to love again.'
'Love?' he asked. Hesitant. Distrustful.
'Don't you feel it beating in your chest, filling your soul with Light?'
'L-Light?' his voice sounded more childlike and disbelieving than a moment before.
The presence in his mind chuckled in fond amusement.
'Feel it, Father. Hold on to me and reach out. What do you feel?'
'I feel... I-I...' Vader reached out with his senses, with the Force, and froze. He felt... the Light. Around him. Inside him.
Inside him. Shining like the beacon it had been once.
It couldn't be. It just couldn't.
Coming back to reality with a start, he found himself on his knees on the floor. His arms were wrapped around someone, and someone's arms were wrapped around him in the tightest hold.
He didn't remember deactivating and dropping the lightsabers, but he didn't spare a fleeting thought to it. Instead, he revelled in the sensation of holding someone in his arms again, of touching another and being touched in return.
Because he was being touched. No question about it. He could feel his strong arms around him, his hands clinging to his back, grabbing handfuls of him and almost tearing the leather of his suit. He could feel his head resting on his shoulderplate, his face buried in it.
Vader winced. That had to be very uncomfortable. It had to feel hard and cold, pressing against his armour. But there was so much need in him, in them...
'L-Luke?' Vader asked tentatively, not daring to hope.
'Yes, Father. Yes!' Luke exclaimed, the floodgates of the young man's heart opening wide.
Vader couldn't believe it. His son! He was the presence. His was the voice. He was the something.
Force, what was the meaning of this?
'At last! Oh, Force, at last!' Luke exclaimed time and again, burrowing into him so hard it hurt. The boy seemed to want to fuse their bodies together. 'You're free, Father. You're free!' Uncontrollable sobbing exploded from the body Vader cradled in his arms, as if it was releasing all the fears, all the hopes, all the feelings of a lifetime.
Vader drifted in a musky cloud of warmth, happiness and love. He nuzzled the head against his own clumsily. He didn't understand what had transpired, he just knew that he had never loved so much as he was loving right now.
Here, in his arms, was the very thing that gave meaning to his existence. His past, his present, and his future. His everything.
Love filled his veins. Love lapped every niche of his innermost self. Love permeated it all.
He brought up one hand and held the vulnerable head in his palm, as if it was the most fragile creature. Silky hair entangled in his gloved fingers. He began to pull back, needing to look into those luminous eyes and anchor himself to them. He had to see for himself, to convince himself that it was real.
Luke nestled up against him ever closer in meek protest; but acknowledging his father's need, he pulled back gradually, with a heartfelt sigh that rippled through Vader's soul.
They stared at each other as if it was the first time. Luke smiled shakily, and his eyes skittered all over the black mask lovingly.
Vader brought round the hand that wasn't holding his son's head, and cupped the smiling face in it, stroking it with his thumb, studying every feature hungrily, imprinting it into his memory forever. He wiped the teartracks away and brushed feather-light caresses all over the lovely countenance. And the more he touched, the more he caressed, the more he loved, the freer he became. It was as if his true nature was reasserting itself with every pure act of love coming out of his fingertips.
He had never felt so full. He had never felt so much love. Never.
'My little one. My brave, beautiful angel. At last I can hold you. My precious, beloved son. How to thank you, how to repay you for the gift you've given me? How to love you the way you deserve? My sweet child. The most perfect part of me!' Vader couldn't stop the litany of endearments. They were gushing out of him in an avalanche of tenderness.
Luke shuddered and pressed up to him needfully. His smaller hand settled on his mask and caressed it in his turn adoringly, as if he was touching skin instead of durasteel.
Vader's fingertips grazed his son's half-closed eyelids, and suddenly stopped.
Sensing the breathless anticipation in his father's mind, Luke gazed up at him, the dreamy smile never abandoning his lips.
"What colour are your eyes?" Vader asked hoarsely.
Luke smiled like he had never done before, and Vader's insides constricted with love. Reaching up, the young man framed his father's face in both hands.
"See for yourself, Father."
Vader's blood ran cold at his son's implicit request. A part of him began to retreat in fear.
'NO!' Luke's mind-voice filled his thoughts again. 'Don't be afraid. There is nothing to fear. I made a promise to you, and now I'm asking you to trust me.'
Still, Vader hesitated. Without the protection of his mask, he would live only a few minutes.
'You will live forever, Father,' Luke swore with all the love in his overflowing heart. 'Reach out and see.'
Gingerly, Vader obeyed, not knowing what to expect. He felt himself breathing. He felt his lungs expanding within his ribcage and filling with oxygen. But there was something else there. Something different about his body, about...
Vader gasped and straightened up, monitoring himself all over, inside and out. He double-checked himself, refusing to believe what the Force and his senses were telling him.
A barrage of jubilant emotions erupted inside him, and he lost himself in them and in the undying, self-sacrifizing love that had realized the miracle.
'Luke! Oh, my dear angel...!'
The big smile on Luke's lips mirrored Vader's. They were swept away in an ecstatic feeling of togetherness that made them forget about everything except each other.
All of a sudden, for no apparent reason, Luke stiffened. His body became so rigid that it seemed to turn to stone, snapping Vader out of the state of euphoria he was swimming in. Before he could venture outside himself and find out what was going on, the boy surged up like an aiwha rising from the ocean, and covered his father's body with his own smaller one.
Vader heard it before knowing what it was. Force-lightning crackled around them with an ominous electric sound, hitting his son squarely on the back. The brutal force of the impact threw Luke forward, and Father and Son fell to the floor, the child on top of the father, covering him even as he slipped into unconsciousness.
An animalistic roar escaped Vader's throat. The echo of the searing pain in his child's body resonated within every cell of his own body, amplified by the realization of what his son had just done to protect him.
A raspy chuckle announced Palpatine's approach.
"Fools!" the Sith master spat. "Both Father and Son. Neither is a match for the power of the Dark Side," he sneered. "The Skywalker blood was always tainted with too much passion. Sooner or later it was destined to be your undoing," he let out a nasty grin. "It is fitting that you die together now, paying the price for your lack of vision."
The blinders came off as if someone had pushed a curtain aside and allowed the sunlight to burst into a room. Vader saw everything more clearly than ever in his life. The role he had played in Palpatine's scheme, the pawn he had been. The lies he had fallen for because he had wanted to fall for them, because he had needed desperately to believe in them. How he had been the architect of his own destruction, and now his son's.
"NOOOOO!" he roared again, splaying out his arms across his child's back in an instinctive attempt to shield him from Palpatine's relentless attack. Luke's dead weight on him made impossible to move. The boy's lifeforce faltered, and Vader never knew a greater panic.
Palpatine stopped for a moment, only to gloat and mock them cruelly before lashing out again.
Time seemed to stand still for Vader. His entire world narrowed down to his son. To his body lying on him. So strong and warm. So small and courageous. So deadly still.
No! Not dead! Never dead! This precious life had to be protected at any cost!
And for the first time in decades, Vader called upon the Light to assist him. The response was immediate and triumphant. The Light and his love for his son combined in a blazing deflagration of power. Rolling to the side, careful not to crush his child under his weight, he rose to his feet and released a Force push so unbridled that Palpatine disappeared from sight. Force lightning was the only trail he left in his wake.
One single purpose filled Vader's mind. Mechanically, he got rid of the helmet and the mask that had been his life-support for over twenty years, and dropped them to the floor. Without looking, he reached out and one of the lightsabers jumped into his palm, igniting halfway. A green glow illuminated the chilling darkness.
He advanced inexorably, and with every step, the Light sang higher and higher, heralding the return of the Chosen One.
Finally, Palpatine appeared before him. Hissing like a snake on seeing him, the Sith Lord threw out his hands, casting the most vicious attack, that died harmlessly on the blade Vader was holding in front of him.
"NO! NO!" Palpatine cried out in an appalling display of hatred and helplessness.
And the shrieking voice and the disbelief it conveyed, were all Vader needed to know.
The Time had come.
"It is fitting that you are giving me back my name, for you were the one who took it from me," he said coldly, staring down in disgust at the creature of sheer evil before him.
Screeching in seething anger, Palpatine threw another charge, as useless as the previous one. With a swift, deft move, the green saber embedded itself in his chest, exiting through his back. Darkeness engulfed the black soul, and devoured it into nothingness before he could exhale his last breath.
"You are mistaken," Anakin let out a smile full of contempt, pulling back his arm and deactivating the lightsaber. The dead body collapsed forward. "It is the love in the Skywalker blood that has been your undoing," he stood straighter and shot a last look at the man who had owned him for half his life. Then, turning about, he rushed to his child's side, dropping to his knees beside him. Unhesitatingly, he took off his gloves, his shoulder and chest plates, and gathered the inert body into his arms.
His restored humanity was the last thing in his mind. The fact that he was whole again, all flesh and blood, didn't evoke the slightest emotion in him. The only thing he cared about was the fading life he was cradling in his arms; his only thought, keeping it with him.
His hand began a fevered journey all over the soft features, willing them to react to his caresses, to his love.
"Please, Luke. Please, open your eyes and look at me," his fingers slid through the fine blond hair, and he marvelled at the overwhelming sensations spreading inside him at the simple touch. Bending down, he pressed his lips to the warm forehead, kissing his son for the first time. "Stay with me, little one. Why would I want to live without you?" Closing his eyes, he began an unconscious rocking movement. He embraced his son's head to his heart, and held the lifeless body as close as it was physically possible.
When his caressing hand came into contact with his child's back, he shuddered. The Force vibrated inside him furiously, and with absolute certainty, he knew his son had suffered massive damage to the nerves of his spine, and severe burning to his back.
Biting back a cry, Anakin continued his feverish stroking all over the ravaged back, turning to the Light with all the passion and faith in his shattering heart. Giving in to despair and hopelessness wouldn't help his son. Faith was all he had. Faith in his love for his child, faith in the Force. Faith in the possibility of miracles. That was the gift his angel had given him today, and he wouldn't let him down. Not again. Never again.
He focused inward and offered his life, everything he was, in exchange for his child's life. He pressed his forehead to his son's, passing on to him all his strength, all his love and devotion. He opened his mind wide and fumbled for the link they shared. There was no response from Luke's end, and he renewed his efforts, calling out to the bond to open and take everything it needed from him.
His palm caressed the wounded back, and he made a wish for every burn he encountered. His fingertips throbbed and itched, but he ignored it. He gave himself over to the love pouring out of him, and concentrated on channelling it into his son's body, following a sudden impulse that wouldn't be denied.
The body in his arms stirred faintly. Anakin moved back with a soft gasp, just enough to look at the young face that was his entire world. His whole life.
Colour had returned to the pale features. A healthy pink covered the smooth skin. Moving his hand again, Anakin cupped the cherished head and propped it up against his shoulder, giving all of himself for his son's comfort. He roamed the boyish face again with fervent caresses, savouring the pure joy of holding his greatest treasure.
The long lashes fluttered and Anakin held his breath, waiting for the moment when his child would bless him by laying his eyes on him. The wait was short. Luke's eyes opened a heartbeat later, and quietly fixed on his father.
Anakin's lips broke out in a full-blown smile, and his fingertips immediately reached for the vulnerable eyelids.
"Blue," he whispered thickly, his chest tightening with more love than he could contain. Leaning down, he brushed a kiss on the windows to the soul that had redeemed him. When he moved away, Luke was smiling languorously, drinking from the sight of him, eager to recognize himself in the man who had fathered him.
Reaching up, Luke took Anakin's face in his hand. Anakin hissed through his teeth at the feel of that warm hand touching him. His first human touch in over twenty years. He trembled inside and lost himself in the devastating feeling, wishing it would never go away.
"Blue," the boy echoed, touching his thumbpad across the lower eyelid and wiping away the tears gathered there.
Grounding himself on the love his son was raining on him, Anakin brought the hand to his lips and kissed it. But the hand wasn't ready to stop. Freeing itself from his grasp, it moved up and disappeared in his hair. Anakin sighed out loud.
Luke massaged his father's scalp, feeling the wavy strands slide between his fingers, tickling him. He shook his head in awe, enraptured by the image before him. This moment was the answer to the prayers of a lifetime.
"Blond," he breathed, fondling a single lock of hair.
Anakin's smile rivalled his son's in intensity and brightness. He mirrored Luke's caress so tenderly that he made his child shudder with emotion.
"Blond," he repeated with a nod, playing with the hair so much like his own.
An eternity passed in the blink of an eye. An eternity in which Father and Son opened their souls to each other and shared everything they were, everything they had been, and everything they hoped to be. Everything was humbly offered, and proudly accepted.
Tears began to fall from Anakin's eyes again. Tears of love and remorse. Contemplating the beauty that was his child, the beauty that he had denied and tried to hurt, made him feel like the monster Luke had exorcized from him.
That monster would accompany him forever. His heinous crimes, his hateful thoughts. Wherever he went and whatever he did from now on, Darth Vader's shadow would always walk one step behind him, reminding him of the immense damage that could never be repaired.
Fingers stroking his cheek brought him back ever-so-gently. His eyes met the loving ones that stared at him with more compassion and understanding than he deserved.
"Father..." the word was a universe in itself. A statement, a claim, a reassurance, a dream come true. Anakin marvelled at how could a single word define him so utterly.
'The happiest moment of my life...'
So many years since he had said those words. So many years waiting... for a word. The one word that would give him back what he had lost, what he had destroyed, when all he had ever wanted was to protect it, to keep it safe from all harm.
And when he had found that word incarnated, he had been so consumed by his anger and hatred, by the conviction that it was too late for him, that he had been on the verge of destroying it all over again.
How could Luke forgive so much? Not only what his father had done to him, but to those he cared about? To the very galaxy he inhabited? How-could-he?
Anakin shut his eyes, the burning pain in his spirit turning physical.
And in the middle of that inconsolable pain, his son's Force presence suddenly blossomed and spread, taking root so deep inside him that for an instant, he lost all sense of his own identity. On a level beyond his comprehension, he and Luke merged in a blast of Light.
No words, no feelings could describe the moment. It was like floating in an ocean of love that was all for him, that had always been for him. And when he looked into it, he saw his own reflection looking back at him with his son's face. Smiling at him.
His pain found a balm in those warm waters, and nothing mattered anymore. Because he was loved. He was loved unconditionally, and forever.
His eyes opened and the smile that greeted him was the same as in his vision; overflowing with the same all-encompassing love that overflowed his own soul.
"Son," he began, trying to give voice to emotions so profound that couldn't be named, and failing. He tried again. He owed it to Luke. To himself. To all those who had gone before. "Son, I..."
"Shh," Luke covered Anakin's lips with his fingertips and shook his head. "Everything's all right, Father. You have me now, and you will never be alone again." His smile reminded Anakin of an angel. An angel reborn. "Trust the Force. Trust in the Destiny that waits ahead. Our Destiny."
Anakin closed his eyes and for the first time in his life, he listened with his heart. He surrendered himself to the will of the Force and let go of all his fears, of his unhealthy need to keep everything under control. The moment he did, his spirit filled with peace. A peace that didn't come only from him, but from the soul that was forever bonded to his.
"I trust the Force," he said solemnly. "But above all, I trust *you,* my son. You are the faith in my heart. You are the light in the shadows." Edging closer, he spoke from the essence of his being. "Please, don't ever stop guiding me. Don't ever stop saving me."
And for the most glorious instant, no sight in the Universe equalled the beauty of those two souls embracing each other, embracing the knowledge that they had found the missing piece they had always needed to be whole.
The circle was finally complete. Balance had been brought to the Force. A balance that resided not in one, but in two hearts, in two souls that beat and existed as one.
And that Oneness drove the Darkness away for good.