Thirteen

One. A single step toward an Imperial bunker. Luke folds his hands in front of himself before the stormtroopers slip binders around his wrists, because he wishes to appear harmless even to them. It is hard to appear friendly any more. Even some Rebels flinch if he meets their eyes. His accomplishments, and the black tunic and pants he traded his flightsuit for, set him apart. His crewmates, he supposes, wonder exactly how much his supposed ability to read minds tells him. Sometimes cheeks redden when he is in the room, and sometimes people almost press themselves against hallway walls so as not to touch him.

Two powers look at one another on the covered catwalk. Vader's black hands hold the restrained green energy of Luke's lightsaber, while Luke's fists curl on the black rail as the Force burns white in his thoughts.

Three dark-clad men form a triangle, the symbol of the Sith and of conflict, in the conniving Emperor's room. Luke and Vader walk in lockstep up the stairs from the catwalk and the elevator, while Palpatine turns to face them.

Four guards, two white-armored stormtroopers and two red-shrouded elite, have left them alone.

Five; the call-sign of lost innocence. Luke realizes how far he has come as he parallels the himself of the now, who swims in the Force and whose mind feels torn, to the exultant himself who destroyed the Death Star while still brushing off the sand of Tatooine.

Six times his mind whirrs as he thinks of how to parry the emperor's poisoned words with noble ones of his own. "In time you will call me Master."…"You won't convert me
as you did my father."…"Your father will never be turned from the dark side. So will it be with you."…"Never. Soon I'll be dead, and you with me."…"We are quite safe here."…"Overconfidence is your weakness."

Seven flashes of light outside, when the Emperor bides him look. There are more winks from the battle, but Luke's eyes catch the ones that are oxygen-eating explosions.

Eight strains of thought in the Force crowd his head. Palpatine is proud of his own invulnerability, because of his certainty that Luke will turn. Vader is trying not to think about anything at all. Han is concentrating, fighting. Leia 's thoughts parallel the smuggler's exactly. Wedge is focused, but not bonded to anyone like Han and Leia are bonded to one another. Ackbar is tense from the revelation that the shield is functioning, just as Luke is. Lando too feels dread sinking into his stomach. Then there is Luke himself, who is mustering his defenses, analyzing his own conviction.

Nine seconds while he crouches in deep darkness after the saber-fight leaves him to hide on the third of the catwalks, his arms aching, his breath loud; it feels like an hour.

Ten times the sabers clash after his anger fuels a frenzied charge.

Eleven colorful wires in the mechanical hand which Vader waves weakly at him. Look, son, I cannot compel you anymore.

Twelve agonizing, irregular heartbeats of vicious lightning stabbing down from the Emperor's hands.

Thirteen free breaths as Anakin forces himself to speak, when one step toward the unphysical light was already more than enough.