Author's note: Once again, I find myself without a proofreader. Please excuse any typos and/or grammatical errors that escaped my notice.
I hope you like it.
Vader's eyes were fixed on his silent child, sitting right in front of him.
The trip in the shuttle had been made in a gloomy silence, except for the animated voices of the pilots in the cockpit.
The young Jedi's stance was one of peace and calm. His big eyes stared straight ahead, focused inward. Vader could feel the youth's deep state of concentration, undoubtedly preparing himself for his imminent confrontation with the Emperor.
Feeling safe in the knowledge that he was free to study the boy from behind his mask, Vader did so unashamedly. Four years of implacable search through every corner of the galaxy were finally over. But the irony of it was that it had been Luke who had come to him - as his master had foreseen.
Still, the big question remained unanswered. Why? Why had Luke come?
'His compassion for you will be his undoing,' Palpatine had said.
Suddenly realizing the real meaning of his master's words, Vader seethed with anger. He didn't want, didn't need anyone's compassion, let alone his son's! Right or wrong, his decisions had brought him here today. He had done what he'd thought best with the cards he'd been dealt, with what he'd known at the time. Just like everybody else. He didn't want to be pitied for daring to make a choice. He'd break the neck of the man who...!
'I don't pity you, Father.'
Vader started, thrown out of his thoughts by the child's soothing mind-voice.
'I regret whatever decisions you made that brought you here. But it's not too late.'
'For what?' Vader snarled.
'To come with me.'
'And live happily ever after?' he sneered mockingly.
For an instant, Vader thought the boy was having him on.
'If you truly believe that after all you've seen and experienced, then you are the one who should be pitied, child.'
A bittersweet smile crossed the soft features.
'But I have an ace up my sleeve, Father.'
'Do you?' Vader scoffed.
'Yes. I trust you.'
Vader felt as if he had been kicked in the guts, and something inside him reeled with rage at the boy's naiveté.
'You are in for the biggest disappointment of your life, young one. But we all have to grow up sooner or later.'
Another lenghty silence followed their exchange. It took a while for Vader to find a semblance of control. Why did that little Jedi have the ability to unsettle him so without so much as batting an eyelash? How could he project this aura of inner peace, worthy of a high-ranking Jedi master, being little more than a... a... an apprentice of a padawan?
He wanted to lash out, he wanted to wipe that beatific expression from the beautiful face, so much like his younger self, so much like... like... her.
Just then, Luke took a deep breath and released it in a shaky sigh, turning his head to look at the two stormtroopers guarding him four seats away, and beyond, at the two pilots in the cockpit flying the small ship.
Helplessly, Vader was drawn again to the lovely profile. Something about it, something about that gentle soul was irresistible to him, it didn't matter how much he wanted to fight it. The little upturned nose, the full lips, the earlobe - barely visible below the silky light hair - the fluffy bangs falling on the broad forehead like the feathers of a Corellian swan... Just looking at the boy made him feel like...
'Do I look like my mother?'
The shy, poignant question lanced through Vader like a lightsaber. His breathing hitched and the respirator began to force oxygen into his lungs, making them burn like they hadn't in years. His gloved hands balled into fists that shook with the intensity of the emotions it evoked.
'Enough!' he shouted, making the boy wince. 'Your dirty tactics won't work! Stay out of my mind and don't make me curse your existence more than I already do!'
The little Jedi's oh-so-expressive face paled and quivered, conveying such soul-deep hurt at his cruel words that Vader had to avert his eyes. The Force ached with the pain the child released into it, and the Sith Lord hated himself more than ever for what he'd just said.
And with that faint whisper, Luke's Force-presence died down in his mind.
Vader felt as if he had been thrown into a sensory deprivation tank. The emptiness that accompanied Luke's withdrawal was akin to falling into a black pit of isolation and loneliness.
It was then that Vader understood to what extent he and his son had become intertwined in the Force. Their minds had attuned subconsciously to one another in the past few months, and the boy was now an essential part of him, as essential as the air he breathed.
Father and Son. So unique, so special, so in need to connect with a kindred spirit.
His little one. Flesh of his flesh.
'Ani, I'm pregnant.'
'Tha-that's wo-that's wonderful!'
'Anakin, will you stop that! What will you do when the baby is born?'
'Kiss her to death.'
'And if it's a boy?'
'Kiss him to death.'
'Our baby is a blessing.'
'This is a happy moment.'
'The happiest moment of my life.'
'I've accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father.'
'Come with me.'
'Anakin Skywalker, my father.'
'The happiest moment of my life.'
The avalanche of unwelcome memories swept him away in a hurricane of could have beens that made him snap in an explosion of Darkness. He closed his eyes and ground his teeth, growling like a rabid animal, until the very shuttle was shaking under the brutal assault.
The ship's sudden lurch was the first indicator of what was happening. Luke whipped his head and looked at the pilots. Their hands worked frantically, trying to control the inexplicably unresponding shuttle, that was now only a few thousand metres away from the Death Star's docking bay.
"What's going on?"
"I don't know! The controls are jammed."
"I'm trying, blast it!"
"Slow down, man. Slow down or we're going to crash!"
Oblivious to the situation, Vader's breathing came in short, rapid bursts, like a fire dragon.
Luke jumped to his feet, and the two stormtroopers followed suit, blasters ready and pointed at him.
"I can't. I can't!"
"We're not stopping!"
The shuttle shuddered like a stringless puppet, creaking and rocking uncontrollably. Luke and the troopers swayed drunkenly, trying to keep their balance.
Luke turned his head and looked down at his father sitting unperturbed. His nostrils flared in horrified realization, and he planted himself in front of Vader.
"Release it! Please, snap out of it!" he cried out, putting out his manackled hands in an open plea.
In a totally instinctive reaction, one of the stormtroopers hit the young Jedi on the side with the butt of his blaster, making him gasp in pain... and effectively bringing Vader out of his unconscious, self-destructive state.
With a bestial roar, the Sith Lord bolted from his seat and charged the trooper, lifting him by the neck and slamming him against the wall like he was a rag doll.
Luke darted for the cockpit, grabbed the pilot by the neck of his uniform and threw him aside. Quickly sitting at the controls, handcuffed and all, he worked frenetically to try and steer the ship before it was too late.
"Shut off the thrusters!" he yelled at the co-pilot, who was frozen on the spot, staring at him in disbelief. "Shut them off now!" his fingers seemed to fly, attempting every manoeuvre he could think of. They were flying too low and seconds away from crashing against the wall directly below the hangar deck.
A black shadow appeared behind them, and the co-pilot disappeared from his seat as if he had dematerialized into the air. Vader took the now empty seat and shut off the thrusters. Overriding the controls, he pulled up with all his might. The shuttle made the sharpest movement upwards, clearing the entrance in the nick of time. But once inside, there was no room to correct their trajectory and stop the ship. Crashing was inevitable.
Vader saw, as if in slow motion, how the ceiling was coming closer and closer. An abrupt peace descended on him and for the first time in his life, he surrendered to his Fate. He just... let go. The last thing his eyes took in before closing them was the scaffold that crossed the top part of the back of the docking bay. They were about to smash into it...
"Father!" Luke's cry of naked terror sounded oddly comforting. There was... affection in his child's voice. Affection for him, the man who had mutilated him mere months ago.
He allowed himself a rueful little smile before something grabbed him with a superhuman strength and threw him back, just as the impact against the scaffold turned everything into chaos and mayhem.
The Dark Lord was buffeted around like a toy, hitting the interior of the shuttle over and over, and seeing all the stuff it carried fly by him. The screams of the troopers and the pilots echoed in his ears in a nightmarish cacophony of screeches, shrieks, and blurred images. It seemed it was never going to stop when out of the blue, he felt a dull blow on his back. He gasped out loud, arms flailing about, trying to hold on to something.
And then, everything stopped. The sounds, the madness, the frenzied motions. For a second's eternity, nothing was heard. The silence was an audible, deafening thing.
A little moan coming from the back of the shuttle shattered the perfect quietude. Then, what felt like a sob.
Dazed, Vader tried to move. His mechanical limbs looked functional and not too damaged. He moved aside a medium-sized box lying on his right leg and tried to stand. Everything spun for a heartbeat.
The moaning continued, but still he could hear voices and screaming coming from outside. It all came back to him in a rush, and he inferred that the personnel in the hangar were attempting to organize their rescue as soon as everything was secured around – and below - the shuttle.
"Bring over the freight elevator!"
"We don't have much time!"
"We have to reach them before it collapses!"
Vader looked around. It was pretty dim inside the small ship, and he couldn't move without stepping on something scattered on the floor, broken or overturned. It was like a war zone in there.
A resounding clunk indicated that the freight elevator had locked on to the ship. That meant they were safe, for the present.
Seconds later, the sounds of drilling began.
Shaking off the fuzziness that clouded his mind, Vader followed the moaning coming from the back of the shuttle. It was darker there but he glimpsed a body on the floor. He dropped to one knee.
"Can you stand?"
"I-I don't know, milord. I think I've broken a few ribs," the pilot replied hoarsely.
"Then stay there and wait for the medical team to arrive."
"Yes, sir," the young man leaned his head back with a groan.
Rising, Vader saw the bodies of the two stormtroopers and the co-pilot strewn across the floor. They had survived also because they moved, and one of the troopers even managed to stand with some effort.
He turned to see how their rescue was going. The breach opened in the shuttle's hull was quite big already, and light was filtering in. The scene it illuminated was worse than he'd imagined – seats torn out of the deck, tools and broken stuff scattered and hanging everywhere, his son's lightsaber...
The sight of the solitary weapon at his feet made Vader's blood run cold in his veins. He grabbed the saber and dashed for the cockpit.
"LUKE! LUKE! ANSWER ME! LUKE!"
The passing seconds felt like hours, until a weak, infinitely frail voice replied.
"Fa... Father. I'm here."
With animalistic fury, Vader threw aside all the seats and wreckage that stood in his way until he reached the place where he had seen his son for the last time.
A huge girder perforated the cockpit from left to right, blocking the view of the shuttle control panels. Vader peeked beyond the beam, and faced the image that would haunt him until his dying day.
His child lay trapped between the girder and the control panels, crushed by the girder and unable to move. Blood dripped from a deep cut on his forehead and a thin trail ran down the corner of his mouth.
"F-..." the boy tried to swallow, "Father..."
Time stood still as the two men looked at each other, one frightened and the other in shock; and just like that, all the lines that separated them faded to nothingness as they immersed themselves in a world of raw, pure emotion. And Truth burst forth from the sharing.
The scream that pierced through the shuttle was one the galaxy hadn't heard in decades. One of sheer incredulity, of denial, of humanity met again. Of love acknowledged and embraced, at last.
"Over here! We need help NOW!"
The clank of the stern of the ship finally being opened was their answer. White light bathed the shuttle, and the strident sound of what felt like a million voices intruded on the moment of communion between Father and Son.
Officers and medical staff walked in, immediately assessing the situation and evacuating the two injured pilots and the relatively unscathed troopers.
"Milord?" the head of the medical team, a grey-haired middle-aged man, approached the Sith Lord. "Are you injured?"
"Not me," Vader shook his head from side to side most uncharacteristically. "He must be released at once!"
The doctor peeked beyond the beam.
"In the name of...!" he exclaimed. "Bring back here the drilling equipment!" he shouted.
"Fa- Fath—" a little voice called.
"I'm here, Luke," Vader bent forward as much as his bulk allowed him, so his son could see him clearly. "I'm right here. I won't leave you," he whispered in the gentlest tone of voice that even his vocoder could translate, making the doctor arch his eyebrows in bewilderment.
"It's us..." the boy fought for breath. "...useless. Please, just..."
"Forget about the equipment!" Vader commanded when inspiration struck him. "Stay back," he ordered the doctor, who quickly complied.
Igniting his son's lightsaber, the Sith Lord cut through the girder where it entered the shuttle. When he was done, he proceeded to cut it in three smaller pieces, to make it easier for the cargo droids to take out.
Luke's eyes were riveted on him, observing him with such a sad, loving look that it was unnerving. He avoided his child's longing gaze stubbornly, and concentrated on the more urgent matter at hand.
The droids took the two blocks each side of the young Jedi's body and left. Only the one pinning Luke remained.
"I'll lift it," Vader instructed the third droid, that swiftly rolled back and waited. Closing his eyes, he visualized the block in the back of his mind. Holding out his hand, he imagined the block rising in the air slowly, carefully, releasing his son, causing as little pain as possible. Seconds later, he felt the droid rolling forward, taking hold of it and rolling away.
"Oh, my... goodness."
The abject horror in the doctor's voice brought Vader alert and forward like a shot. The man had knelt by his son's side and was checking the pulse on his neck. Then, he lifted his eyelids to check his pupil reaction. Vader's eyes devoured his child's form, that was still pinned against the panels in a very unnatural position. How strange that now that he had been freed, he hadn't slid down to the floor...
And then he saw it. The bloodied tip of what looked like a metallic pole sticking out of Luke's stomach.
A chilling tremor enveloped Vader's body. His heart began to hammer savagely against his ribcage as if it wanted to burst out of his chest. His legs gave out and he fell down to his knees.
"No. No. Oh, Force, no. No. No!" he moaned in anguish. Reaching out, he took the vulnerable head in his hands and squeezed, wanting to infuse life into his dying child through the touch. "NO!" His head turned to the doctor. "DO SOMETHING!" he screamed in despair.
With pained eyes, the doctor shook his head.
"Lord Vader, he's beyond medical help," he stated regretfully.
There was a moment of ghastly silence, as the words slowly sank in. Then, a black glove shot out and grabbed the doctor by the front of his uniform.
"I TOLD YOU...!"
And that tiny whimper stopped Vader cold. The helmeted head turned again and stared down at the deathly pale young man.
Luke managed a feeble smile.
"Stay with me. Please?" he asked.
Vader let go of the doctor as if he was of no consequence and cradled his son's head in his arm with heartbreaking tenderness.
"You can't die. Not now. Not ever!"
Luke's eyes caressed his father's masked face. Holding his gaze, he nuzzled the palm of his hand needfully.
"I yearned for this... moment... all... my life," he breathed. "And now I finally... I..." he coughed weakly.
"Shh," Vader cooed, allowing his thumb to roam the colourless cheeks, the long eyebrows, the fluttering eyelashes, the cracked lips, wishing he could brush his own lips all over the drawn features. "Say no more."
"It's... all right," the boy reassured him. "I feel no pain."
'Luke. Oh, my little one!' Vader resorted automatically to mind-speech, finding it easier to express his innermost feelings in this private realm.
When his son didn't answer, he panicked.
A shy, bashful voice promptly replied.
'You told me to stay out of your mind.'
'You're welcome in my mind and my heart for as long as I live!' he exclaimed passionately.
The boy shuddered delicately at his words.
Vader couldn't stop moving his fingertips all over his son's face, cherishing it, worshipping it. Dying inside with him.
'My little angel. My Luke.'
The unfocused eyes filled with tears.
'My name. It sounds... beautiful when you say it.'
Vader closed his eyes, abandoning himself to the memories surging up, unstoppable.
'The beauty of your name is a pale reflection of your soul," he shook his head in defeat. 'Just like your mother.'
Luke tilted his head up a little on hearing that. Vader brought it ever closer to him.
'The same indomitable, compassionate spirit. The same look in her eyes when she looked at me,' he buried his hand in the silken hair, wanting to get lost in it, to get lost in his memories. 'You've got her chin,' he moved his hand now to cup it in wonder. 'The same shape...' he smiled tremulously.
'And... the dimple?' Luke asked, soaking up his father's caresses like a starved kitten.
'That's mine,' Vader said quietly. 'And the light hair too.' He brushed his fingers lightly across the gash on his child's forehead. 'Do you have blue eyes?'
Luke nodded once.
'Then they're also mine,' the Sith Lord felt the tears roll down his face for the first time in twenty years.
'I'm glad,' an absent smile lit up the ethereal features. 'I've always been proud of my heritage. Always.'
Vader's heartrate faltered and something inside him broke.
'Why did you save me? Why did you sacrifize yourself? Don't you see that without you there is nothing left for me? No life. No hope. No l-'
Luke's smile sweetened in understanding, seeing in his father's mind the word he couldn't verbalize, not even in thought.
'Don't be afraid. Don't ever be afraid of love, of loving again. Just look at us now. Together, reconciled. This is a moment worth dying for. I am happy, Father. I'm happy because my love brought you back. I fulfilled my Destiny. And I am so happy for you!' tears welled up in his eyes and streamed down his cheeks like crystal raindrops.
Vader wiped them away clumsily, shaking his head.
'No. No! This wasn't supposed to be like this. It wasn't supposed to be like this! I can't lose you too! Not you too, my son!' His fingers began an erratic journey all over his child's face again, never having enough, desperate to compensate for two wasted decades of separation and unspeakable cruelty. 'Stay with me, I beg you! Give me the chance to be a true father for you. Let me hold you, let me look at you with my own eyes and see myself reflected in yours!'
Luke's face shone with the love he radiated through every pore of his body and every thought in his mind.
'I will always be with you. Every moment of your life. Watching over you. Protecting you. I will wait for you home, Father. In the Light.'
'Don't condemn me to live without you, Luke. I don't want a life without you in it. You are the Light. You are home. You are everything!'
'You are so beautiful inside. Even more beautiful than I thought,' Luke seemed to be talking to himself now. 'If only... If... If only... we'd...'
'Luke?' Anakin's heart missed a beat when he felt his son's lifeforce slipping away. 'Luke, don't go!' he clutched his child's head to his chest plate. 'I need you! I need you so much! I... I... I love you!'
Like a candle blown by the wind, Luke's essence dissolved into the Force, where Anakin couldn't feel it anymore.
The former Sith Lord stayed still, embracing his son's head to his breast, seeing in helpless horror how every part of him, every pure, sublime emotion that had made him human again and worthy of that name, died along with his sweet innocent boy.
An ice-cold, fathomless void replaced the warmth in his heart that Luke had filled. The hopelessness of a life devoid of meaning had come back to stay once more. Alone again, for good. And by his own doing. Just like twenty three years ago.
He'd been entrusted with the two most precious treasures in the universe, and he'd destroyed them both through his anger, his greed, his ungovernable passions.
His arms went slack and he moved back, staring at his child's dead body. He looked so at peace, almost sleeping. His right hand moved of its own volition and stroked down a smooth cheek with the back of his fingers. His eyesight got blurry and he knew he was crying.
So beautiful his angel looked! Even in death. How had he looked as a newborn? As a toddler? As a teenager? What was the look in his eyes the first time he swung a lightsaber? He *should* have been there in those moments! He should have fought for what was just and right, instead of joining the greatest evil in the galaxy out of fear and self-hatred.
So many regrets. So much pain!
His little one...
His eyes skittered all over his son, imprinting him into his memory, knowing he would take that image with him to his grave. The blond head lying in the crook of his arm, turned inwards as if wanting to cuddle up to him even now; the black clothing that linked them together more than anyone would ever know; the manackled hands holding Luke's arms in front of him...
Anakin's body jolted as though he'd been stricken by a thunderbolt. The sight of his child's manackled hands was the most vivid, eye-opening metaphor. Luke had died as his father had lived - a slave.
A keening wail escaped his throat and he brought down his hand, covering his son's closed ones and squeezing with crushing strength. He forced one open and interlaced their fingers, wanting to fuse their bodies together, to merge them into one and cease to exist as well.
'Release your anger!'
'You are beaten!'
'Don't make me destroy you.'
'You are in for the biggest disappointment of your life, young one.'
'...don't make me curse your existence more than I already do!'
Overcome by grief and remorse, Anakin pressed the front of his helmet against his son's forehead, coating it in his blood.
'I know there is good in you.'
'Come with me.'
'Search your feelings, Father.'
'I trust you.'
'I yearned for this moment all my life.'
Anakin's heart began to beat dangerously fast. His breathing became laboured and irregular as everything he had been, everything he could have been, and everything he would never be flashed before his mind's eye in an explosion of shame, self-condemnation and loss.
'No. No. No. No. NO. NO. NO! My life for his. My life for his. My life for his. MY LIFE FOR HIS!'
The shuttle's lurch brought Vader's eyes open with a start.
"What's going on?" came the muffled voice of the co-pilot in the cockpit.
"I don't know. The controls got jammed for a sec, but everything's fine now," the pilot replied.
The Sith Lord trembled from head to foot, teetering on the edge of insanity. He looked around, breathless and terrified, unable to bring his emotions under control. When his eyes passed over his son they did a double take, bulging in shock.
There Luke was. Sitting quietly in front of him, withdrawn and downcast, exuding such pain and desolation that he ached with the need to soothe him.
What...? What had just happened? Had it been a dream? An hallucination? A vision?
A vision of what?
He needed to calm down. He had to keep calm and think! But his eyes refused to stray from his son's form. Alive. Whole. Beautiful beyond belief.
Luke's eyes raised warily to look at him, and Vader's heart did a somersault in his chest. Force, those big, earnest eyes! So full of forgiveness and unconditional acceptance! He shuddered again and the young man straightened up, obviously sensing his inner turmoil.
The sudden flashback of Luke's dead body in his arms made him retreat, both physically and psychically, and his son inched forward inquiringly, offering himself in silence.
Vader shut his eyes, willing the image to go away. When was this nightmare going to stop?
Just then, he felt the shuttle landing on the docking bay of the Death Star. The ramp opened immediately after.
Vader couldn't bring himself to stand. He remained sitting, fighting the decision that was already made for him.
The two stormtroopers looked at each other, clearly at a loss what to do next. Finally, the one in the farthest seat pushed his luck and stood.
Vader rose like a spring uncoiled and Luke followed suit, smooth like water in a stream.
"An escort will not be necessary," the Dark Lord dismissed the troopers, who nodded curtly and stood at attention while their commanding officer and the young Jedi began to descend the ramp.
An ominous feeling of foreboding ran up and down Vader's spine. Everything that he was cried out to him to stop and go no further. And yet, he kept walking like a mindless automaton.
'Search your feelings, Father. You can't do this.'
Luke's words echoed in his head as loud and vehement as when he'd uttered them on Endor. So loud and vehement that he looked at him out of the corner of his eyes to see if he had actually said them.
His little Jedi walked one step behind him, proud and dignified even in his prisoner status.
Wrong. It was wrong! Luke was no prisoner. He was meant to be free to choose his own path and thrive in the Force like the master he was destined to be one day.
'I trust you.'
His eyes dropped closed.
Side by side, Father and Son crossed the docking bay, passing pilots, lowly staff and station personnel. With every step that took him closer to the lift, Vader felt as though he was marching down a narrow tunnel that became narrower the further he ventured into it. Very soon he would cross the point of no return, and there would be no way out, for either of them.
'I will not turn, and you'll be forced to kill me.'
Hissing through his teeth, Vader clenched his fists just when the lift door slid open before them. Luke threw him a quick, concerned glance and followed him inside.
'Come with me.'
The Sith Lord bit his lower lip until he tasted blood.
The lift started upwards and a sense of finality came over the two men, as real and tangible as the booth surrounding them.
'I am so happy for you!'
Vader tried to raise his hand, but it trembled so violently that he brought it back down.
'This is a moment worth dying for.'
Turning his head away, Vader choked back a sob.
Tentatively, his son's warmth reached out and wrapped itself around him like a blanket.
"Are you all right, Father?"
'My name. It sounds... beautiful when you say it.'
The gates of heaven opened before Vader's eyes and the glorious Truth illuminated his heart in a blinding flash of light.
It had been right in front of him all along, every time Luke pronounced that wondrous, humbling, primal word.
A miraculously steady hand pressed the stop button, and the massive form turned to the shorter man, grabbing his shoulders in an unyielding grip.
"Say it. Say it again!" he commanded.
"Say what?" Luke's worry was plainly written on his lovely features.
"Please, Luke. Say it again!" Vader was begging now.
"Father, what is it?" the boy took one timid step closer to him in his eagerness to help.
Chills spread all over the Dark Lord's body. His hands moved up to hold the beloved head with frightening intensity. His thumbs caressed the high cheekbones, the caring eyes, the entire face.
His eyes misted and he blinked furiously to clear his vision.
"My name. It sounds so beautiful when you say it," his voice came out shaken and raspy.
The young visage shone with a flicker of hope. The emotion it conveyed went straight to the older man's soul.
'It's all right. I feel no pain.'
Frantic to end the ruthless flow of words and images into his mind, Vader let go of his child's face and grasped the muscled shoulders again. He squeezed them hard and then his hands wandered down Luke's collarbone, down his chest, and only stopped to press one palm flat on his stomach.
No blood, no metallic pole protruding from the vulnerable flesh. It was real. This was real!
His eyes fastened on the handcuffs binding his child's wrists. With a vicious growl, he tore them open with his own hands and threw them to the floor like a malign thing.
Without hesitation, Luke's free hands moved up to brush his elbows oh-so-lightly.
"Father, please tell me wh-oumphhh!"
The former Sith Lord crushed his son to him in a fervent embrace. The boy's face was rudely plastered against his shoulder plate, but judging from his reaction - wrapping his arms around him and clinging to his back for dear life - he didn't seem to mind too much.
So small, so strong, so perfect, so alive! And he was coming alive too just feeling his son's touch, his first human touch in over twenty years. The healing warmth of Luke's body, his head trying to burrow into him, the need in his hands holding handfuls of his suit and almost tearing it... Force, this was a moment worth dying for!
'I am home. I am home!' he cried out ecstatically, feeling blessed tears roll down the dry skin of his cheeks for the first time in... forever. He wanted to lose himself in this rapturous joy and never leave this sanctuary of love and belonging.
The fiercest feeling of protection made him seize the sides of his cape and enclose his son in a fragrant coccoon of fatherly tenderness. Luke let out an indescribable sound and buried his face in his shoulder plate even harder.
Minutes passed, and passed, and passed. And Father and Son stayed as they were. Still, unmoving. Deep in each other's arms, feeding their hungry souls to overflowing. Communing with one another wordlessly, sharing everything there was to share and more. Forging an alliance of love, devotion and fulfilment that not even death would ever break.
"Will I ever know what brought this on?" Luke asked in an awed whisper that reverberated through their minds.
Anakin shook his head.
"Are you all right?" the boy insisted, moving his head back and looking up into the empty sockets of his father's mask.
"I am," Anakin nodded, bringing one hand up and cupping Luke's chin. "Now."
Luke smiled in exultant delight.
"And I will be much better when I hear your beautiful voice inundating my thoughts again, saying you forgive me."
The soulful, adoring eyes stared up at him clouded with tears.
'I do forgive you, Father. With all my heart.'
Emotionally devastated, Anakin lowered his head and touched the front of his helmet to his son's forehead, drawing strength from his little one's infinite capacity for forgiveness. So much love! He couldn't be worthy of it!
'You've got your mother's heart. Her kindness and compassion...'
Luke bit his lips and the tears started to fall.
...and her chin,' Anakin finished, wiping them away with his fingers.
Luke released a soft, short, poignant laugh, and sniffled shakily. Reaching up, he took his father's hand in his own and kissed the palm. Then, he brought it down and interlaced their fingers.
"And now..." he began in a thick voice, trying valiantly to pull himself together.
"...now, we go back to the hangar deck and you leave in the shuttle we just arrived," Anakin's own voice sounded only a bit more composed.
The boy started back as if he had been backhanded, and it took him a full minute to recover.
"If you think I would do that, then you've forgotten what the name Skywalker truly means," his eyes blazed with indignation and outrage. "I am not leaving you, Father. Not now. Not ever. Either we leave this station together or we die together."
"Luke, please..." Anakin's visceral need to keep his son safe overrode everything else.
Luke let go of him and stood straight and resolute.
"I am a Jedi, Father; as you are. It is not just our Destiny. It is our duty to defeat that monster up there."
Making a titanic effort to not think as a father, but as the warrior for Peace he had been once, Anakin was forced to admit that his son was right. He hated it, but they had no choice.
Reluctantly, he unclipped Luke's lightsaber from his belt, that hung there alongside his own.
"You're the bravest man I've ever met, my son," he declared proudly, with a catch in his voice.
Luke took his lightsaber from his father's hand and looked down at it while a deep flush covered his face.
Strangely, it was his child's adorable reaction that infused Anakin with a strength and sense of purpose as he'd never known before. He would die to keep this angel out of harm's way. And gratefully so.
Luke's sharp intake of breath brought him back to the here and now.
"Is there anything in particular I should know about...?" his boy asked, arching his eyebrows and looking up pointedly.
Anakin shrugged drily.
"Only that he's 23 years older than the last time. Conniving and treacherous."
Luke nodded pensively.
"In that case, I don't suppose the diplomatic solution will work."
His child's observation oozed irony, but Anakin's heart skipped a painful beat on hearing those words, that took him back to another time. A time of chaos and political collapse, but also of youthful idealism, burgeoning love and unswerving loyalty.
Swallowing the lump in his throat, he answered in consonance.
"I'm afraid we'll have to resort to 'aggressive negotiations', Son," he unclipped his own lightsaber from his belt, most graphically.
Luke stared at the lightsaber in his father's hand and then he looked up at him. Suddenly, the cheekiest grin appeared on his features. Holding his gaze, he chuckled mischievously.
Swept away by the spontaneity of the moment, Anakin's lips curved upwards helplessly. He had her back. She was there with him, looking back at him through their child's merry eyes and outgoing wit.
'Just look at us now. Together, reconciled.'
Seconds later, Father and Son were laughing together. And in that instant of pure, unadulterated happiness, Anakin knew that Palpatine's minutes were numbered.