Disclaimer: Saint George and the holy hosts of Lucasfilm own the characters, the theme and the venue. I make no wupiupis.
Summary: a missing scene that should have been somewhere near the end of ROTJ.
Big thankyousasgo to Mina and LL for beta reading and helpful suggestions, and to Moonscribe for her writing exercises.
He wasn't sure when his knees had given in, leaving him slumped by the side of the shaft, the echoes of his master's screams still fresh in his ears. His only hand clawed feebly along the railing as he made semi-conscious attempts to pull himself over. Something in him still belonged with darkness, something that pulled him relentlessly toward those depths. The Dark Lord belonged with his master, in death as in life. It was rightly so.
Yet there was another power that seemed to drag him away even more insistently. Something warm, loving wrapped itself around his shoulders, pulling persistently, and although his hand flailed in half-hearted protest, he didn't have the strength left to resist. He didn't even seriously want to. Surely the beckoning darkness wouldn't begrudge an old man a moment's rest...?
Blinking, Vader tried to clear the haze from his vision and his mind. And then for the first time he looked up and remembered whose hands they were that cradled him: it was his son, his beautiful bright son — not a project, a potential convert and slave to the Sith, but the son of Anakin Skywalker. Him. And the boy held him — didn't throw him down the shaft, didn't pull a lightsaber on him, but held him and looked at him with emotion vacillating in his eyes and a shy smile on his lips. Anakin felt a treacherous drop of moisture in the corner of his eye, and a thickness in his throat that wasn't because of a lack of oxygen in his lungs.
With dawning anxiety Vader realized that the furious whirring and clicking around him came from his respirator. The automated systems still struggled faithfully against all the damage he had taken, but not for long. Not for long.
"Father!" Luke's voice trembled a bit as he pressed his forehead against the cold metal of Vader's helmet—it must have been cold, it had always been. The older man didn't trust his own voice to reply; he didn't even know what to say. So he just covered one of Luke's hands with his own palm and squeezed lightly.
"You... undamaged?" he rasped an inquiry when the first emotion passed, feeling for the Life force in his son, testing it, measuring it...
Luke laughed a little, tears in his eyes. "Yes, yes... It's okay now. Rest a bit, Father, I'm here with you."
He nodded then, too tired to argue. For a little while his respirator geared back into life, giving him a few precious breaths, restoring his strength a bit. Anakin released his son's hand almost reluctantly.
"I shouldn't have... allowed you ... to suffer." The admission came painfully. "... not right."
Immediately Luke shushed him. "Don't talk about it, Father. It's over." Anakin felt a shiver run through the arms that were wrapped around his neck.
He closed his eyes, trying to concentrate on breathing. His life support suit was gradually failing, he could hear — and feel — the systems going offline; only now and then would they jolt back to life for a few seconds. They should be switched off, he thought. Death would come in a few minutes.
"I'm sorry too, Father," Luke continued. "For losing my faith in you. Almost." A brief cloud passed over the young face, before he smiled. "My father is not dead. He lives yet."
Anakin hastened to squeeze his son's hand again in reassurance. "Ssh, child... I know. There is no ... death ... only the Force."
A nervous laugh. "That's what—"
"Shh." A renewed sense of danger hit him like a tidal wave. Danger to his son. He looked around frantically, trying to locate its source in the Force.
"Gotta get off ... this station," he wheezed, grateful that the youngster wouldn't argue with him. He knew Luke was as aware of the threat as he was. The boy nodded, jumped up and reached out a hand.
"Yes. Let me help you, Father. Do you think you can walk?"
He wasn't sure. By now he knew he would not leave this station alive. His life support was too far gone, and wouldn't keep him going much longer. No matter. He would still try to get up and walk. Yes, he would. Because, knowing there was so little time left, he would not deprive himself of Luke's company for just a few precious moments—even if he couldn't make it farther than the door.
Drawing in a few painful breaths, he pushed himself slowly up, reaching out a hand to the boy... wrong hand. Quickly he drew the stump back, but already Luke had dropped down on his knees beside him, pity and horror on his face. "I'm sorry, Father! I'm so sorry!"
"Doesn't... matter. Son." Indeed. What was a hand, a cybernetic one at that, next to the Force that was calling him? "Was... necessary. Brought you... focus."
Luke clasped his remaining hand and squeezed it. "Yes. I'm still sorry." He smiled ruefully. "We are quite a... pair, aren't we?"
Anakin's snort dissolved into a painful wheeze. When the pain subsided, he bit into his lip, pushing himself upright abruptly, and immediately had to seek something to hold on to. It was worse than he had thought. A dark fog lurked at the edges of his vision as he wavered on his legs, which suddenly didn't seem as obedient as they had been. But already his son was there, holding him up, supporting him.
He wasn't sure how they made it to the lift. But once the doors closed behind them, he leaned into the wall with immense relief, suddenly aware of the heavy burden of oppression he had left behind into that dark room. Luke was staring at him uneasily, and he felt a somewhat clumsy, inexperienced probe. Not wanting to worry his son, he tried to straighten up a bit and make his breathing less raspy — attempts that failed miserably, judging from the anxiety on the boy's face.
"You're worse than I thought," the boy admitted. "I'll take you to my friends, don't worry, we'll fix you up in no time."
He would have laughed at that, if he'd had the breath to do so. How lovely; both naïve and starry-eyed. The idea of rebels flocking together to patch up Darth Vader amused him for a little while. But no sense in arguing here: it wouldn't be a problem. Besides, he wouldn't want Luke to be otherwise. For here he stood before him, starry-eyed yet wise, strong, powerful. A great Jedi.
"You're... a good son." His voice barely came out, but Luke's smile reflected his own, although he could see only vaguely through the gathering gloom. He reached out a shaky hand to touch the young face before darkness took it from his sight. Another wave of weakness overwhelmed him then. Leaning hard on Luke's shoulder, he struggled desperately to draw in breath.
"Just a little bit more," Luke kept repeating. "It's gonna be okay."
It already is okay, he thought, even if Luke doesn't know it yet. Soon over. Soon he would be able to rest. The pain and discomfort of not being able to breathe would be gone too. Still, he was marginally grateful that Luke couldn't see the tears in his eyes. Wouldn't do for a son to see a father in tears, would it? No matter though. It was okay, and he leaned hard onto the boy, unable to stand on his own, as the lift doors opened into the vast bay.
About halfway down the hangar the inevitable happened: the immense weight of the cybernetic body proved too much for Luke to hold up. Anakin slipped from his son's arms, crashing on the floor, and his world went completely dark for a moment.
As he crawled back to awareness, there was some vague movement—the boy was still struggling to get him back up, and failing that, he simply dragged the heavy bulk of his father's body along the floor. Stubborn, he thought, like me. He didn't see what was going on, or how far they still had to go. Beyond a few metres everything was a dark blur. There were noises echoing through the vast hangar, shouts and screams and explosions that merged into a shrill background fanfare.
It was time, he knew. No further, old man. He squeezed his son's hand feebly, asking him to stop. Worried, Luke immediately bent over him, pulling him up and into a sitting position. Nimble fingers studied the controls on his breastplate, trying to find a way to help.
It was more of a moan than a clear word, but the boy understood, bless him for that. Because there was still something Anakin wanted, before he would go. Something he had to do fast, before his eyesight failed completely. The young face fluttering over him looked grey, colourless and blurred. He opened his mouth, gathering breath to speak.
"Help me take ... this mask off."