A/N: This story began with a half-serious challenge to make Anakin, who I'm no great fan of, interesting. It turned out to be more about Luke really, but...the kernel of the idea came with the thought of a suited Anakin/Darth Vader being forced to stay alive to help his son. I know this could become much longer than a oneshot, but I doubt it will do so in my busy hands.
"I suspect he fell no lower than any one of us might fall, provided we had possessed his vision and energy to begin with…" ~ Kenneth Roberts, Northwest Passage
The lightning engulfs him, and Luke Skywalker falls into a sick vertigo of electric pain. The emperor laughs.
But Luke has been falling for a long time, always knowing that there was no ground on which to land. Part of him floated between floors, haunting the walls.
It began, he supposed, when Yoda had told him to leave Han and Leia alone on Bespin with Vader's questing grasp. All had not been lost, and Luke had learned that the people he had always wanted to emulate had lied about his very parentage. The Jedi tied themselves to lies.
Then, Jabba's palace. Tatooine sun staring down ebony armor-weave brought sweat up out of Tatooine skin, but Luke stood before the drooling crime boss feeling as cold as space. Feeling like his younger self, his Tatooine-self, would have seen having power as a reason to vent it on those who thought money and fear made them strong. He had been frightened when the rancor loomed above him, but his younger self did not fear for the hero whom he had become.
But some fear remained, and his young self had not had the foresight to stall his slide into a distinctly Jedi kind of arrogance—the kind where he thinks (in a remote, cold part of his brain, a part not muddied by the emperor's blinding forks of lightning, a part that has been lurking and only now, lightning-dug, rises to the surface)that he should just give in, learn of the dark side and use it to help the Rebellion.
Harness the spin of a black hole, instead of spending so much time plotting a course around it.
He tries to form the words.
But the headlong dive toward juddering death comes to an early end. He looks over the smoking black curve of his own arm to see Vader standing, haloed in red, with the emperor a wriggling form, like a bundle of cloth, between his upraised hands. Palpatine—political figure respected by many, supernaturally-aided creator of a dictatorship—falls into the black-ice shine of the pit with the lightning still flaring from his fingertips like just one more set of gnarled joints.
Luke lay there until his achy legs stopped shaking so much and his breath came evenly again, and then he crawled over to see Vader, fallen as well, his long body supported by a thin railing.
He meant every word he said at the sight of his father's farther-than-pale face. Every breath was a culmination, a circulation, an understanding of the great journey which was now coming to an end, as he dragged Vader's body to a shuttle which he kept panicky stormtroopers away from with emotion-filled bursts of the Force. When the Lambda powered out of the Death Star with its nose pointed at Endor, it was the result of Luke piloting with all the gravitas of a hearse's escort.
The light had emerged victorious, but within Luke a star of the fleeing hope I can know my father had died and collapsed within itself.
The festive atmosphere caught like fire in the pine forests of Endor, and for a time Luke forgot about the decision he had almost made, the vent horizon he had brushed. But he asked Leia what her plans were for the Rebellion now, and she told him how much work there was left to do, and he asked her what rank he held now, and she said whatever one he wanted. And he turned from her to crumble a brown, dead leaf between his fingers, and smiled because he could do with the Rebellion what he pleased.
He had stood vigil over the pyre until it faded to flickering eye-spot ashes. Then he left the clearing silent.
Anakin Skywalker was dead. He had stopped breathing some time ago, and lay still and cool within his metal shell. But in one corner of his heart, a pump worked, squeezing the thick walls of muscles, determined to survive its second immolation.
Anakin Skywalker blinked gummed eyes. He had lain still for so long that the embers had darkened and cooled to ash. He did not know what had awakened him—perhaps it was the soreness of his black; even padded as the suit was, it was not designed for lying down.
Then his breath kicked in; the slow inexorable push of the mechanisms that sounded as loud to him as to others outside. And he realized that he had been lying there, conscious, without it.
And he remembered the emperor, and his son.
He saw then that pain had not woken hum up; the blue-glowing form of Obi-Wan Kenobi, standing behind him on the ashes, casting his iridescent glow onto the sloping armor of Anakin's shoulder, had.
Laboriously he turned his head, knowing through the Force what he would see, and met ghost-Yoda's even gaze. He did not have enough of his falling self left in him to interpret their expressions as accusing.
Obi-Wan said, "You are still needed."
Anakin breathed once, twice. The thought the emperor is dead by my hand, and my children are alive sunk into him slowly.
Luke felt the dead leaves strewn underfoot catch on his boots like grasping hands. He sensed a strong presence, like a lurch between heartbeats of the Force, just as the ghost of Obi-Wan walked out from between black-barked trees.
"Ben! I'm glad to see you again."
"That is good."
"I feel plagued, Ben." He looked around, his thin form bracing for a fight (although he knew that combat would for him never be wholly physical again, and that his body can be controlled so much less precisely than his mind.) "Do you sense that? Darkness, although the Force is at peace."
"I fear that some of your decisions in the future will lead to ruin, Luke. Remember, your place is not with the government, gaining power for yourself. It is with the Jedi Order that you must recreate."
Such abstraction, even when discussing such a tangible thing as power, seemed insubstantial beside the quiet murmur of the wind through the trees, the star-filled silence in the navy sky beyond, the slick black-hole-slope of plans in his head. He could focus on that future, on the rustle-taps of footfalls drawing nearer, not something which was as immaterial next to lightning as morality.
Would not his Tatooine-self have wanted the thrill of the emperor's place, but also to make an Empire as light and free as Leia's Rebellion?
Footsteps—the dark bulk of Darth Vader stepped out of the shadows.
Luke unsnapped his lightsaber from his belt and had it up in seconds, jumpy as a moisture farmer lost on Tusken Raider ground—with his arm at full extension the terminal curve lit the underside of the bulldog-fierce mask of Vader's helmet with neon green.
"And so," intoned Vader, "are self-fulfilling prophesies…fulfilled."
Ben said quietly, "Anakin, you were told why this is a necessary warning."
"But I know more than many how belief in prophecy works. How the best way to turn one to the dark side is to tell them they will turn."
Luke's control of himself had devolved for just a moment. He shut off the lightsaber, lowered his arm with the hilt cold in his palm. "No one told me I would turn but you, father."
He saw then that Vader was missing a hand; smelled burnt cloth and pure oxygen. Vader was onyx-black, not spirit-blue. "How…"
"You told yourself, my son. And ask them how." He tilted his head to look back, but Obi-Wan had gone."
"I can't bear seeing you die again!"
"There." Vader rested his heavy hand on Luke's shoulder, and Luke resisted the urge to look away, to spit. "There is the prophecy. Yourself. Let go of what you once expected."
So Vader had felt it; the other kind of spirit looking over Luke's shoulder. "What should I do?"
"Let go of yourself…but not of the others around you. There, I still believe the Order was wrong."
Luke breathed in leaf-scent and oil-scent. "Are you alright, father? You're really alive…"
"I need your help, Luke. But I will live, to help you."
It is said that in the black-hole-slide toward the dark side, not even light can escape.
But Vader spoke, crisp voice breaking. "Come. I want to meet my daughter."