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The Vader Chronicles - Part 4

Chapter 16 : Ghosts

He had been caught red-handed. Even if by some possibility Luke had kept his thoughts of vengeance hidden from Master Yoda before, it was all out in the open now, after his vision in the cave.

"Hmmm," Yoda said with a sound that said both nothing and everything.

Maybe Yoda was right; revenge was a motive unbefitting a Jedi. The past could not be changed and the dead could not be revived by any action he could take. But acceptance was such a hard lesson. More difficult than moving stones, or using the Force to somersault his body, acceptance didn't even require the Force. It was simply a state of mind, but one that seemed pivotal to becoming a Jedi.

Accept your destiny, accept the things that happened to you, feel no anger, no hatred, no passion. Just be. And he was trying, both to please Yoda and because the alternative was rather frightening. He'd lost many hours of sleep trying to figure out the meaning of his vision in the cave, to understand why his own face had been inside Vader's mask. Because if he were to strike Vader down, he would become like Vader? If he struck Vader down, it would be like killing himself? Underneath, Vader was like him? Wow, that one was really crazy.

Whatever it meant, it was certainly a warning.It felt like the Dark Side crouched behind every tree, just waiting for him to make a wrong move. The Dark Side could come in through so many doors: anger, fear, greed, love. To avoid being seduced by the Dark Side, whatever that really meant, he would have to work to be exactly the Jedi that Yoda described: peaceful, serene, nonreactive, always in control.

He was nowhere near being that person. He felt too much, especially about his friends. Back on Tatooine, his feelings and his loyalty had always served him well, but that was before he knew of the Force. Being sensitive to the Force was a gift, but he now realized that it was also a burden. The Force was a powerful weapon that could destroy as easily as it could protect.

Why hadn't Master Yoda just left his X-wing submerged in the swamp? If he didn't have the option of leaving, he would have had to stay and finish his training, accept that he could not help Han and Leia. But with the X-wing available, there was no way he couldn't go to help them. As much as he had learned from Yoda, he had not yet learned to be detached

He looked around on the ground for any piece of gear he might have forgotten. Nope, all on board except for one thing. He closed his eyes, focused his mind, and used the Force to set R2 on the upper deck of the X-wing.

------

Sometimes he wondered how much of the future Palpatine actually saw through the Force, and how much of his predictive ability was simply the result of following logic. He himself could have impressed his crew, said that he forsaw that the Millennium Falcon would come to Bespin, but that would be lying to them. Once Boba Fett had relayed that the Corellian ship had not blasted into hyperspace, but instead drifted off at sub-lightspeed when the fleet dispersed, the list of possible destinations had shrunk considerably. When Fett added that the Millennium Falcon had once been owned by Lando Calrissian, the administrator of Bespin and a known associate of the current owner of the freighter, the answer had become obvious. He was going to have to give Fett a little extra for that last bit of information.

It bothered him some that he could duplicate Palpatine's methods so easily. Calrissian, a smuggler at heart no matter how official his position at Bespin, eagerly went for the deal that promised diversion of Imperial attention from his untaxed business. People were so willing to do what you asked if you just held the right prize in front of them.

When the Millennium Falcon landed on Bespin, his hopes rose when he felt a glimmer of the Force onboard the freighter. Watching the passengers come down the ramp, he was disappointed to see the source of Force energy was not Luke, but Leia Organa, whose incidental Force talent he had already noted. Not his son, but a prominent Rebel, and hopefully one that would lead him to Luke.

He could accept having a Rebel for a son. He couldn't accept Luke being a Jedi. It wasn't that he disagreed with everything the Jedi had taught him; quite the contrary he found himself frequently using some aspect of his early training. The skills themselves were not the issue, although he would rather be teaching Luke himself. The problem lay in the philosophy that would be shoved down Luke's throat if he indeed were being taught by a survivor of the Purge.

If Luke was being indoctrinated in the Jedi way, no doubt he was being told to never act out of emotion, to forsake any attachments he might have, and to fear the Dark Side as if it could swallow him whole. If Luke believed all of those things, it would make his real training that much more difficult.

He remembered his first encounter with Dooku; he had looked upon the Sith Lord as evil incarnate, an absolute enemy to everything he believed in. He would have dismissed anything Dooku had to offer without even thinking about it. Continued Jedi training would make Luke equally resistant to everything he needed to teach him, everything Luke would have to learn so that they could overthrow Palpatine.

An ordinary Jedi, even an extraordinary Jedi, would have no hope of victory against the Emperor. There were days that if he had to listen to Palpatine's story of defeating Yoda in the Senate chamber one more time, he would have pulled off his helmet and ended it all right there. So, unless Luke had miraculously become stronger than Yoda, more than Jedi skills would be required to accomplish Palpatine's end. Those that said the Dark Side was not stronger were either lying or had never felt that absolute firestorm of Force energy that came with anger and hate, had never experienced Force lightning ravaging their body. Luke would have to learn it all if the Galaxy was to be freed from Palpatine's rule.

If Luke was like himself at that age, he would believe that any act taken in anger would grab him like quicksand and begin an inexorable slide to the Dark Side. Luke's Jedi training must be halted immediately, before his mind became totally closed to the full spectrum of Force skills. Chasing Luke across the Galaxy had proved far too inefficient, and it was time to try a different tactic. If Luke was like himself, then the boy would be unable to resist a call for help, especially from close friends. The Rebel captives could be put to good use, to create a mental distress signal that would draw Luke to Bespin. He hoped his son would forgive him for using a manipulation worthy of Palpatine, and promised to explain everything when they were finally face to face.

------

They really didn't want him to go. Master Yoda and Ben had tried their hardest to change his mind, but he knew he had to leave, couldn't let his friends suffer because of him. He was in his X-wing now, streaking through hyperspace to a destination he had only felt through the Force. Traveling at lightspeed in a small ship was a wondrous journey compared to the insulated experience it was on board large craft. The starlines swirled all around his cockpit, making him feel like a part of space itself. When he had the ship on droid control, he liked to lean back in his seat and enjoy the visual display. For this trip, though, he was maintaining full alertness, with the ship on manual control.

While he waited for the Force to tell him when to drop out of hyperspace, he tried to grasp the importance they had placed on him completing his Jedi training without interruption. Back on Tatooine sometimes he had to skip school at the height of harvest season to help Uncle Owen; he'd always made up the lessons he missed by the end of the year. He wasn't sure why this was different. Once he'd rescued Han and Leia, he'd return to Dagobah and finish his training.

It probably had to do with the bantha in the room that nobody wanted to talk about, the fact that they all knew Vader would be at the city in the clouds. He himself had purposefully refrained from discussing that part of his vision, concentrating on Leia and Han's pain and distress. Yoda hadn't mentioned it at first, either, but when it became clear that he couldn't be dissuaded from leaving, suddenly both Yoda and Ben began warning him about taking on Vader.

He wasn't leaving his training for that purpose, though, no matter what Master Yoda thought of his vision in the cave. He was going to rescue Han and Leia. If he had to face Vader, he wouldn't back down, but he wasn't going to seek him out, either. And how the Emperor got into the picture, he wasn't sure at all. He was just one Rebel; why would the Emperor be interested in him? It almost seemed like Yoda and Ben were holding something back, not telling him the whole story.

They had nothing to worry about; he was Luke Skywalker, the destroyer of the Death Star. He could take care of himself. Like the Death Star mission, he was just going to get in, get the job done, and get out. He'd be back on Dagobah in no time.

------

His son was coming. He could feel it, the spotlight of Force energy that was drawing near, the one without a familiar mental signature attached.

With all the years of effort he had invested in trying to find Luke, his son's imminent arrival should have filled him with joy. Instead, his stomach was in knots, and his thoughts were flying out of control. It didn't help that the view from any window in Cloud City was reminiscent of the view from his apartment high up in Imperial City. And of the view from Padme's apartment.

The stronger the Force signal became, the more the past roared up to torment him. What if he asks me about his mother? What do I tell him about her?

Her face filled his mind so strongly that it brought other memories, long surpressed, and he not only saw her face, but remembered her scent, felt the softness of her skin. He remembered her kiss, what it felt like to lose himself in her body. But most of all he remembered what it was like to feel safe in her embrace, to have a place to let down his guard. His eyes brimmed with tears, and once again he couldn't live without her, even though he knew he already had.

In the unfolding images in his mind, one moment was almost hidden, such was the glare of what came after, the event after it so hardwired that all it took was a lapse in his defenses, and he was back on that landing platform on Mustafar. That memory was exquisitely vivid, the moment when he reached out with the Force not as a caress, but as a punishment, when he tried not to save her, but for a moment, thought of killing her.

Washed out in the blinding glare of that moment were the events that came before, the words that caused the moment to happen. The point at which he first realized she was not coming with him, despite all he had done for her, all he would give for her. She was choosing to leave his side, even though he had sacrificed everything he was just to be with her. You're going down a path I can't follow...Because of what you've done.

He heard the words in her voice, repeated again and again, until the voice changed, and it was no longer feminine, but masculine. Because of what you've done, you've gone down a path I can't follow, said the voice, except that it was no longer Padme's but his son's.

Why didn't I stop that day I saw you on Tatooine? I could have made Owen understand that it was me, there were things I could have told him that only he and I would have known. I could have held you, and stroked your hair until you fell asleep, like my mother used to do for me. I would have come to know your mind so that I could find you anywhere. I could have let you know me so that you would not be afraid of me. You could have grown up knowing that your father loves you.

We belong together, Luke. Whatever they've told you about me, it's probably a lie. They were afraid of me. They didn't trust me and they never understood me. I did kill them all, that part is not a lie, but if they told you I did it for power, that I did it out of bloodlust, they are wrong. I did it to save her, to save your mother. Once, I too believed that the Dark Side was a stealthy predator that would consume my heart if I stepped off the Jedi path. So when my Master told me that I had to commit a horrendous act in order to become strong with the power of the Dark Side, I believed him. I believed that killing the Jedi was such a terrible thing that it would cause the Dark Side to fill me with the strength to save your mother's life.

You want to know what it was really like? You want to know how it felt to destroy the Jedi Order? I'll tell you how it was : You are not angry with them when you cut them down, but rather ashamed when they recognize you, and you want that bewildered look to pass from their eyes.You are barely able to lead the clone troops through the Jedi Temple because you have to stop and vomit behind every pillar because you are so revolted by what you are doing. You keep killing faster and faster, not because you feel the passion of righteousness, but because you need it to be over, you need it to stop, but you cannot stop until they are all dead. You think that for having committed these murders you will now be infused with a mystical Dark power. Instead you find the Force is a unity, the division of Dark and Light only the creation of men. You have started down a dark path, and it does now dominate your destiny, but not because you have changed, but because your actions have taken you so far from where you started that there is no road back, and all that is left for you is to go further into the darkness.

I didn't mean to end up here, Luke. Can you understand that? Can you see past their lies, can you see that I am not evil? Don't forsake me, Luke. Only together can we set right that which went astray. Only together.

------

He didn't like it, the ease with which his son's name fell out of every crewman's mouth. He had guarded that secret for so long, that it seemed an obscenity to have it pronounced so freely. After their conversation outside the asteroid field, Palpatine must have commed every ship in the Imperial Navy to announce that the Empire was in search of Luke Skywalker.

Luke's capture would be a triumph for the Navy, a prize for the Emperor. That's not what he wanted to happen. He and Luke needed privacy, time together, so that he could explain the past, give his son time to understand why his father had made the choices he had. They needed to complete Luke's training away from prying eyes that might report what they saw to the Emperor.

He thought he had the solution. Carbon-freezing. It was a little risky, but unusual problems called for unusual solutions. If Luke was safely frozen, it would eliminate the possibility of accidental or intentional injury when Luke was taken into Imperial custody. If everything went as planned, he would spirit Luke away to a secret location, and revive him quickly before hibernation sickness set in. He might even concoct a story that Luke did not survive the freezing process. Palpatine would see through the ruse eventually, but it might gain them that precious commodity: time

First he had to make sure that Bespin's carbon-freezing chamber was capable of placing a living being safely in hibernation. Another of the captured Rebels, the smuggler Han Solo, would serve as the test case. At least it would get Fett off his back. While Fett's services had been instrumental in finding the crew of the Millennium Falcon, he could do without the bounty hunter's continual insistance on taking Solo now.

He was watching the Rebels' melodrama unfold now: the futile protest of the loyal Wookiee friend, the passionate kiss between lovers about to be parted, the declaration of love from the Princess to Solo.

"I know," was Solo's only response to her as he was lowered into the carbon-freezing chamber.

He shook his head inside his helmet. Coward. You don't know if you'll see her again. You should tell her what you feel. She wants you to.

The blast of super-cooled liquid eliminated the possibility of Solo saying anything more. His carbonite encased body was lifted from the chamber and unceremoniously dumped on the upper platform.

Leia Organa's face was filled with horror as she looked upon the frozen slab of carbonite. Something in him wanted to soothe her mind, to ease her fears, and bring her some measure of comfort. The look of hatred she directed at him said she might not appreciate the gesture.

"Well, Calrissian?" he asked. "Did he survive?"

"Yes, he's alive," came the reply. "And in perfect hibernation."

So, it would work. "He's all yours, bounty hunter," he said. "Reset the chamber for Skywalker."

He wanted them all out of the room: the stormtroopers, the Rebels, the Imperial officer who felt compelled to tell him what he already knew, that Luke's X-wing had landed at Cloud City. He wanted them all out before Luke entered the chamber. This was a family matter, not a public display. He ordered Calrissian to take the remaining Rebels to his ship, and the Imperial troops followed behind to ensure Calrissian's cooperation.

He was at last alone in the chamber. He could feel a presence in the Force that must be Luke moving steadily towards him. Almost here. The moment was almost here when Luke would walk into the room, and they would at last be face to face. Even though he knew there was a strong possibility things might not go smoothly between them, he hadn't completely abandoned his dreams of Luke. For a moment, he didn't think of Palpatine, or the Jedi, or the Galactic Civil War. For a moment, he was just a man waiting to see his son.

------

This was different. It felt like the volume and brightness of life had been turned up all the way. He hadn't noticed it back in the swamps of Dagobah, where he'd grown accustomed to the environment. But here, in this city among the clouds, on this planet his navcomputer told him was named Bespin, in these new surroundings it was like the planet had ten suns. He felt things he'd never been aware of before.

He could sense Leia somewhere in the building, the physical distress that he'd felt on Dagobah replaced by a new emotional sorrow. He could feel through closed doors which rooms were occupied. He knew which way to turn down hallways that he'd never walked before.

So this is what it's like to be a Jedi.

Multiple sensations bombarded him at once, and he had to work at keeping himself focused. He suddenly knew that a group was approaching the hallway intersection, though he wasn't sure if it was the Force or the sound of footsteps that arrived in his head first. He peered around the corner to watch his perception come true. Why did it feel like Han had just gone by when he knew he hadn't seen him?

Once the entire party had passed by he ran after them to the next point of cover. The blaster fire that almost hit him said someone had noticed him. He returned fire until his assailant quit. He turned down an adjacent corridor that emptied just ahead of the next group of stormtroopers.

This time many Imperials saw him, and blaster fire erupted all around. In the commotion he heard first the bark of Chewie, and then a frantic warning from Leia. "Luke, it's a trap!" she managed to shout out twice.

It didn't matter if it was a trap. He was here to rescue her, and Han and Chewie, so where she was going, he was going. As soon as the blaster fire stopped, he moved forward after her captors.

Even though he was only seconds behind them, they had vanished. The hallway fell abruptly silent. No footsteps, no voices, no zips from a blaster. Nothing to indicate where he should go next.

He drew in a deep breath and reached out with the Force the way Yoda had taught him. The corridors around him felt empty, devoid of life, except for a notable presence in the Force. It felt like it was watching him, very calmly, very quietly, but lacking the comforting manner of Master Yoda's presence. Even though Yoda was strong enough with the Force to have moved his submerged X-wing as if it had been a pebble, the Jedi Master's presence never exuded power. The presence he felt now was not like that at all, its stillness marred by flares of Force energy that flicked out from it like the corona around a stellar eclipse.

As he walked on he knew he was coming closer to the presence, but he couldn't turn away. He should be trying to find Han and Leia, but he couldn't stop himself, even though he knew the presence could only be Vader.

He stepped through a doorway and the white hallways of Bespin yielded to dark metal. The door slammed shut behind him, but he barely took notice. The soldier in him should have been concerned, should have looked for a way out, but escape didn't even cross his mind. He finally understood what Ben had meant when he spoke of destiny. He was supposed to be here, he could feel it.

What seemed like solid floor became an elevator platform, and he rode it while it whooshed to the top of its travel. The presence was so close now he ought to be able to see it, but the room he found himself in was dense with shadows. He looked down at the blaster in his hand. Not the weapon of a Jedi Knight. He holstered the blaster and ran his fingers over his lightsaber.

He didn't know if his father could communicate with him from the afterlife the way that Ben did, but if ever there was a time to try, this was it. Father, if you can hear me, just know I'll make you proud.


Chapter 17 : Dreams of You

The elevator platform sprang up from the lower level, and there he was. His son. Flesh and blood, not a fantasy son in his head, not a three year old boy playing in the desert sand. His grown-up son.

The dim light kept him from seeing Luke's face, but he didn't need to. He could feel him through the Force, and that told him so much more. Luke, glowing as brilliantly in the Force as ever, but with a new edge, no doubt due to the focusing of his abilities through the lens of training. Unself-conscious, making no effort to mask his feelings, Luke's confidence and sense of purpose bristled around him.The boy reached out with the Force, searching, aware, touched him lightly, and withdrew.

He felt as proud of his son now as he would have at watching the boy's first steps. He realized he was smiling.

He took it all in: Luke's cool, controlled movements at odds with the almost fiery thoughts streaming from his mind. The military uniform. The blaster clutched in his hand instead of a lightsaber. He was not too late. Whatever training Luke had begun, it was far from complete.

He flicked on the overhead lights with his mind. " The Force is strong with you, young Skywalker, but you are not a Jedi yet."

Luke turned towards him, located him at the top level platform, and met his gaze with an unflinching stare. The boy advanced up the steps of the platform, athletic and lithe, moving without hesitation.

His smile faded. He saw new details as Luke approached, details that were familiar. He could see Luke clearly now, his face exactly as it was in his vision. The same tan Rebel flightsuit. And the lightsaber the boy held was his own, the one he had crafted before the boy was born.

Luke was silent, standing before him with an expression that matched the one he bore in the vision, intense, unblinking, almost predatory. He prepared to draw his own lightsaber, but kept it sheathed, hoping against hope.

- - - - -

He was supposed to be here. As if his own feelings weren't enough to convince him of that fact, Vader addressed him by name.

So, you know who I am. You know who I am because my father was a Jedi, a powerful Jedi. You know who I am because I am to be the avenger. This moment has already been written, and I will fulfill my destiny.

As he climbed the steps to the upper platform where Vader awaited, he repeated the thought-this moment is already written- to steady his nerves, because the closer he got, the more he realized how big Vader really was. Not just in the physical sense, though there was no denying the intimidation factor present in two meters of black armor, but in the Force. It was like walking up to a supernova.

They were face to face now, no words between them, none necessary because their roles were already established. The murderer and the avenger, the hand of evil and the hand of justice. Yoda's words came to him-Do or do not. Luke activated his lightsaber, and took aim at Darth Vader.

- - - - -

The ignition of Luke's lightsaber snuffed out his last bit of hope.So, this is how it will be.

The boy was not subtle in his technique. His son's lightsaber came swinging at his head, the boy's full weight thrown behind it, as if the lethal power of the lightsaber was not weapon enough. Passionate, but not smart. He met the blows easily, pushed Luke backwards off his feet. The boy picked himself up off the floor, came back at him without missing a beat.

Ah, the persistence of youth.

He yielded ground, moved back carefully in response to Luke's unrelenting pressure. Who are you fighting for, son? Whose honor do you think you are avenging? Obi-Wan's? The Jedi? Condemned me already, have you?

Countering the energy of Luke's swings was giving him a work-out like he hadn't had in years. The boy needed to refine his style, but at the moment his intense drive was making up for his lack of knowledge. His self-confidence shone through, his mind unguarded and honest. The boy was performing amazingly well considering his level of training.

"You have learned much, young one," he said.

"You'll find I'm full of surprises," came the retort.

His own insolence reflected back at him did not strike him as amusing. Time for you to learn who you're sparring with, son.

He undercut the blade of Luke's lightsaber with his own, and flung the handle out of Luke's hand. An inhibited strike in front of the boy sent his son tumbling down the stairs. He leapt off the platform after him, using the Force to glide through a controlled fall.

Now weaponless, the look of hostility had left Luke's face and was replaced by concern, but not panic. His eyes darted about the room, the roiling activity in his mind completely palpable in the Force.

We just need to focus all that energy in the right direction, Luke.

"Your destiny lies with me, Skywalker. Obi-Wan knew this to be true."

That statement drew Luke's eyes into his own. "No," was the only reply the boy could muster, and he failed to notice that the stage of the carbon-freezing chamber was beginning to lower into the pit.

Forgive me for what I'm about to do, Luke, but it seems to be the only way. He stepped towards Luke, and as the boy retreated he fell directly into the open chamber.

"All too easy," he said, activating the control lever with his mind. "Perhaps you are not as strong as the Emperor thought."

He peered into the chamber, but Luke was not there. A noise drew his attention upwards, and he spotted Luke in the overhead mechanism. The smile returned to his face.

"Impressive, most impressive," he said as he lashed at the bundle of hoses Luke was using as a scaffold.

The boy somersaulted down from his high perch and directed a blast of cold Tibanna gas from a severed hose straight at him while simultaneously summoning his lightsaber to his hand. The stream of escaping gas momentarily pushed him backwards, and by the time he had recovered, Luke was ready, ignited lightsaber in hand.

The boy was thinking on his feet, keeping his mind under control. "Obi-Wan has taught you well."

Now if could just get his son to stop attacking him. He remembered the day when Palpatine revealed himself to be a Sith Lord, a time when Palpatine was not yet his master. He had almost killed him on the spot, but for the then Supreme Chancellor's deft deflection of his intention by a plea for him to use the Dark Side. The call to step into the forbidden zone, to abandon his Jedi training, had made him reconsider his plan, and deflated his determination.

"You have controlled your fear," he said. "Now release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me."

The confused look on Luke's face said his words had hit the mark. Uncertainty was now clouding the boy's mind. However much he might loathe Palpatine, he had to agree that his methods were effective. He launched a new round of blows with his lightsaber, but Luke held enough focus to return them successfully.

Luke switched from defense to offense and he stepped back from his son's attack, only to find he had misjudged the edge of the platform, and found himself falling the three meter drop and landing flat on his back.

Glad there was no one there to see that.

- - - - -

Dark Side wasn't stronger. Here he was, a half trained Jedi youth, and he'd just sent Darth Vader tumbling backwards off the edge of the platform. Sure, Vader had disarmed him once, and maneuvered him just right so that he fell into that cold pit, but he'd overcome it all. He'd used the Force to leap out of the pit, to call his fallen lightsaber to his hand, and now he'd just battled Vader back over the brink.

He was worried that his emotions were skating dangerously close to the line, that his strength was coming too easily from his own anger. But he'd been able to pull himself back, especially when Vader tried to entice him to use the Dark Side. He'd held steadfast in his beliefs, and still gotten the better of his opponent.

He jumped down off the platform into the darkness. Time to finish what he'd started.

- - - - -

From the reactor control room located beneath the carbon freezing facility, he reached out with the Force to locate Luke, and realized he still could not recognize his son's presence. He felt a presence in the Force, however, moving towards the same control room.

He thought Luke would sense him as well, but when the boy appeared in the room he seemed lost until he heard the sound of the ventilator. Upon recognizing the sound Luke turned towards him, and reignited his lightsaber, the expression of determination back on his face.

You don't give up do you? Perhaps you are stronger than the Emperor thought. Let's find out what you really know, son.

He held his own crimson blade in front of him in defense position, then used his mind to pull a metal cylinder from the wall and throw it at Luke. The boy swung at the flying cylinder with his lightsaber, slicing it, but doing nothing to halt its momentum.

Ah, we just found the limit of your experience, Luke. You need to use your mind to stop it, not your lightsaber.

He stepped forward to engage Luke with his lightsaber. The boy was comfortable with this form of battle, and met his blows with seemingly undiminished strength and resolve. He sent another container flying towards Luke's back, and this time the boy lost his focus, neither sensing the metal box before it struck him nor warding it off.

- - - - -

He'd been conned, given the false impression that he was able to hold his own against Vader. It was now being revealed to him quite clearly that previously he had seen only a portion of Vader's power. With casual ease, Vader was able to simultaneously engage him in a lightsaber duel and hurl things at him from around the room. Not just levitate objects, but throw them with enough speed that they hit him, they almost knocked him off his feet. He felt chagrined that he had ignored Yoda's warning, that he'd been felled not by hatred, but by pride.

His strength was fading, and the adrenalin that had kept him going was quickly running out. He slashed ineffectually with his lightsaber, unable to stop the assault of airborne metal. From the corner of his eye he could see Vader passively observing him, ignoring the opportunity to charge in for the victory. He was being toyed with, and he didn't know how he was going to get himself out of this mess.

- - - - -

He stepped back from the boy and lowered his lightsaber, continuing to use the Force to throw objects at Luke. This method of attack completely befuddled the boy, robbing him of his concentration. He felt of the boy's unguarded mind, committing to memory the characteristics that were unique to Luke. He swept past the surface feelings of desperation, felt the inner core of resolve, tried to feel for the source of his son's unrelenting opposition. The knife edge of righteous indignation and judgement he thought he would find was not there.

A thought struck him. Is it possible he doesn't know?

His own focus became wrapped in that idea, and the piece of machinery he was tossing at Luke slipped from his control and went crashing through the enormous window facing the reactor shaft. The pressure gradient sucked the air out of the control room at high velocity. He grabbed onto a support column to counter the wind, but Luke had no such protection, and he watched him get pulled out through the gaping hole. He strode to the window to see Luke hanging precariously off the outer walkway.

Enough of this. Somebody was going to get hurt. This was not going the way he had thought it would. There had been neither the joyous reunion that he had dreamed of, but not expected, nor the lash of accusations from Luke that he was prepared to answer. If he could just get Luke to stop fighting so that they could talk it all over.

He walked down to the level that was adjacent to the outer walkway. He held his breath, and prepared to mount an overwhelming assault that would bring an end to this counterproductive battle. When Luke stepped close to him, unaware of his presence, he flew at his son, no longer keeping his blows inhibited.

He unleashed his real power, driving the boy backwards down a narrow gantry, finally pushing him off his feet. "You are beaten. It is useless to resist. Don't let yourself be destroyed, as Obi-Wan did."

He felt Luke's mind, sensed that the boy expected to die. I don't want to kill you, Luke. You're my son. I only want to protect you.

The boy found a last reserve of strength, and scrambled to his feet, engaging his lightsaber once again. This time the boy found an opening and he felt the burn of Luke's lightsaber through his armor into his flesh. His body, sensitized to pain and damage, flashed him back to Mustafar, and the pain transformed into rage. He struck out and disarmed his opponent without even thinking.

Except that his opponent was his son, who was now clutching the stump of his right arm, the look of agony on his face all too familiar. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Luke, stop fighting me. I can't let Palpatine have you.

"There is no escape. Don't make me destroy you."

The boy in front of him still said nothing, only backed further out on the gantry, further away from him. This boy did not respond at all like the son he had imagined. Could the child really be so cold in his need for vengeance that he felt none of the connection between them? Did he want nothing from his father, not even explanations?

"Luke," he said, saying the name out loud for the first time, "You do not yet realize your importance. You have only begun to discover your power. Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the Galaxy."

He was offering him everything, and yet the boy still increased the distance between them. "I'll never join you," came the response.

The answer was too dogmatic and quick.You really don't know, do you? That's why you're fighting me. You don't know who I am.

"If you only knew the power of the Dark Side. Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father."

Luke was as far out on the gantry as was possible, the wind whipping mightly around him, but his voice came through as strongly as if it were on his helmet comlink. "He told me enough. He told me you killed him."

You took everything else from me,Obi-Wan, and still you needed to rob me of my son?

"No, I am your father."

Luke did not look enlightened. "No...no...that's not true. That's impossible."

"Search your feelings. You know it to be true." Can't you feel it, Luke, the connection between us?

- - - - -

He hated that he couldn't know the answer through his own memories. To know who his father was, he had to trust the person who was telling him. Growing up, he had no reason to doubt Owen and Beru, not until Ben told him differently. Now Ben's word was in question. It was all a matter of trust, and he hated that the person it seemed he should trust the most was the monster in front of him. It seemed he should trust him because when Vader could have killed him, he held back, pleaded with him instead. It seemed that he should trust him because when he thought of Vader as his father, he felt a spreading tranquility in the Force.

But if Vader was telling him the truth, then the whole rest of his life was a lie. He wasn't the son of a war hero, the instrument of justice, he was a product of darkness, an unwitting heir to murder. He didn't want his life to be a lie. He didn't even want destiny anymore, not if destiny's face was always this cruel.

- - - - -

The feeling did not bring Luke comfort."Noooooo.....nooooo...," he wailed.

"Luke, you can destroy the Emperor. He has forseen this. It is your destiny." Even if you cannot accept me, you must accept that.

"Join me, and together we can rule the Galaxy as father and son." Do you know how long I have held that dream, Luke? Since the moment I saw you,son, the moment I saw you.

He saw the edges of that dream begin to unravel as Luke looked only for a way out, not a way back. A terrible clarity came to his son's face. He extended his arm even farther out to the boy, trying to make contact. "Come with me.It is the only way."

A strange expression, conveying both victory and self satisfaction, never left Luke's face, not even when he tumbled backwards into the unending depth of the reactor shaft. He stayed with him as he fell, used the Force to soften the boy's impact, felt the winds of Bespin's atmosphere buffet the boy's body. He could do nothing more for him from here.

He let go of Luke's mind to make his way back to his shuttle. An Imperial officer ran up to him as he headed to the landing platform.

"M'Lord, while you were tracking down Skywalker, the Rebels were able to escape in the Millennium Falcon."

Brave of you to tell me that. Lucky for you, I have more important things on my mind.

"We will deal with the Rebels later," he said on his way to the ramp of the lambda class shuttle. "Tell my Star Destroyer to prepare for my arrival."

- - - - -

His mind found him, even before his eyes picked up the sight of the Millennium Falcon working to evade the TIE fighters launched from Executor. The boy was exhausted, spent, almost to the point of unconsciousness, not even the agony of his severed arm enough to keep him lucid.

Luke, can we start over? I didn't mean to hurt you. I want to explain everything to you. I thought you knew. I would have done everything differently. Can we just start over?

He knew the boy needed rest, but he couldn't stand waiting. "Luke," he called through the Force.

"Father," the boy answered, waking with a start.

His heart was glad for the small token of acknowledgement. "Son, come with me."

He felt the boy consider the offer, then waver, and finally, turn away. An image of Obi-Wan, the old man Obi-Wan, came drifting from Luke's mind.

He closed his mind to Luke, stung by the rejection. He turned from the window to face the interior of Executor's bridge, comforted only by the privacy afforded by his mask. He though of Padme, lying on the landing platform at Mustafar, how he never had the chance to get down on his knees and tell her how sorry he was. Never got to beg for her forgiveness, never got to feel the relief of that second chance. He thought of Han Solo, not knowing whether he was coming out of that pit alive, and still only able to say, "I know."

I will not be that coward.

- - - - -

If he just stayed still, it wasn't so bad. If he didn't open his eyes, or move his legs, or bump that place where his hand used to be, he could lull himself into a false sleep, a plane of nonexistence. He tried to stay in that space between unconsciousness and awareness, to dull the pain by not thinking about it. But then he would drift towards real sleep, and it would feel like he was falling, and the sensation made him jump to catch himself. The muscle tension would light his arm on fire and his head would feel like it was being squeezed between the plates of a garbage compactor. Then the cycle would start over and he'd try again to stay absolutely motionless.

It was into this state of enforced nothingness that he heard his name, plain as day. It didn't make his head hurt like the sound of laser cannon hitting the ship, and it wasn't coming in through his ears but it was in his head all the same. The impulse to respond was immediate, the feel natural, as if he'd said it all his life, though he'd never said it to anyone, ever.

"Father."

It didn't even hurt when he sat up, as though the voice in his head cleansed him of pain. Son, come with me, it said. A part of him wanted to do just that, to give in to the persuasive pull of the voice, to have a place to put his trust. He made himself ignore the voice.It would be wrong to follow it. He had promised he wouldn't fall. Even if he had been beaten, he would not give in. He thought of Ben, wondered why Ben would have lied to him.

Vader's presence withdrew from his mind. He didn't want to be alone if it decided to come back. He pulled himself out of the medical bunk and made his way to the bridge of the Falcon. He must look really bad, because the stranger who had rescued him from the weather vane took hold of his good arm, flashed him a look of concern. He nodded in acknowledgement, and stood near Leia, too wrung out to be of any use, but comforted by her company.

Through half open eyes he recognized the unending length of a Super Star Destroyer looming directly in front of the Falcon. As the freighter swooped by the flank of the Destroyer, his mind touched something familiar.

"It's Vader," he said aloud, although it was really to himself.

So, the communication ran both ways. Vader's mind welcomed his, and the voice was in his head once more.

Luke, it is your destiny, the voice said. And then the torrent began. It was one thing to sense another's feelings in the Force, but this was like being caught in a Tatooine sandstorm, with a wind so violent that it could pull you off your feet, the sand capable of flaying the skin from your body. It was messy and jumbled and intense. It was an image of himself, very small, nestled against black armor, it was a metal hand tousling his hair the way that Owen never had, it was standing on the bridge of a Star Destroyer, it was a conversation that required no words, it was striding side by side through a hangar full of fighters, the troops at crisp attention. And through it all was woven despair and anguish because none of these things had come to pass. He shut his eyes against the onslaught. The emotion was pure and undeniable, and it was for him.

"Ben, why didn't you tell me ?"

- - - - -

He reached for Luke one more time. "Luke, it is your destiny."

He felt Luke recognize the contact, and then he sent him everything he had, every hope, every dream he ever had for them together as father and son. He sent the images, the feelings, he sent the pain, the despair, the pride, and his love. He sent it all. He felt Luke turn to Obi-Wan again, but this time he kept the link between them open.

Open, until it was ripped apart by the Millennium Falcon entering hyperspace.

He felt hollow, ravaged by the very destiny he tried to show Luke. Why was he fool enough to believe there was ever such a thing as a second chance?

As he left the bridge, he met Piett's eyes, saw the anxiety in them as his faithful admiral wondered how much of his own life remained.

Don't worry Piett. The failure is not yours, it's mine.


Chapter 18 : The Road Back

With his cabin finally at full pressure, Darth Vader began removing the components of his life support suit. The helmet. The upper portion of the face mask. The lower portion with the hermetic seal. He swung the armored breastplate up over his head and looked to see the damage Luke's lightsaber had done. A seven centimeter rent in the right arm of the padded leather suit, where the lightsaber had just slid under the durasteel breastplate.

He continued undressing, removing the control belt and the tabard so that he could free his upper body of the leather padding. The wound over the top of his right biceps was a typical lightsaber wound: clean, cauterized,and at five centimeters, not even requiring the attention of a medic. As he rubbed bacta ointment over the edges of the wound, he found it was only moderately painful. Not the sort of injury that demanded the price of Luke's hand.

Just another crime to add to his sentence, the punishment that the Force was not done inflicting on him.The first slap had been the loss of Padme, that pain sharp and deep, but capable of being hidden, so that it only hurt if he touched it. The second rebuke had been the curse of the suit, the very thing that he was ever so carefully removing and placing gently on his bed so that it was not damaged. The thing that he treated so tenderly because it was necessary for his survival. Necessary, unless he chose to live the remainder of his life in a little box of a room like this one, which was palatial compared to the sphere he used as a workstation.

The suit was not an exquisite pain like Padme's death, but a dull and nagging ache that never left him. He would have thought that nearly twenty five years of imprisonment in the suit, never to feel another's touch, never to feel the warmth of a sun, to always be reminded of his own physical fragility, certainly that must be penance enough to erase his debt to the Force. But maybe some acts were beyond forgiveness, because this new punishment was the most agonizing of all.

Watching his son risk death rather than come to his side cut him like nothing else. Half of that boy was physically the same as himself, and yet he might as well have been a stranger for all that connection meant to Luke. Not even the revelation of his own dream, for them to rule the Galaxy as father and son, had any impact on Luke. If anything, the clarification of their relationship seemed to only make matters worse. The horror in Luke's eyes and in his voice as he tried to deny the truth was nearly as painful as that final look of triumph when Luke found a way to evade his destiny.

And as heart-rending as it had been to watch Luke fall, he couldn't stop replaying that moment. The boy had many fine qualities, courage and determination among them, but most of all he had an inner core of strength that did not bend, no matter how hard he was pushed. That look of fierce defiance on his son's face, even if it was directed at him, was a thing of beauty. Can you teach me that, Luke?

And there he saw it, the reason why Luke's rejection was so excruciating. He liked this boy, he admired this boy, and it crushed him to think that his son did not find him worthy of the same feelings. He saw himself reflected in the boy's eyes, without the filter of his own defenses, without the spin of Palpatine's machinations, and he at last admitted to himself that it had been wrong. Even if they hadn't trusted him, even if they had let him down, even if to refuse Palpatine's order meant he had no hope of saving her, it had been wrong. A horrendous crime against them all, against the Force. He was ashamed.

I was supposed to just let you die? He imagined that timeline, and saw that if he had let her die, then he would have been there for Luke. He would have raised him, been a real father, and they would not have ended up at opposite ends of a lightsaber. The thought was no longer a question. I was supposed to let you die.

His shame made him see things as she had seen them, and for the first time he felt that he could face her, not just look at her from a distance. I saw our son today, Padme. He is more than I could have ever hoped for, and you would be very proud of him. He has your strength.

He realized the room com was going off, might have been for awhile. If he answered it now, without the helmet and mask, it would be in his own voice. He hesitated, then flipped it on.

"What is it?" he said, the sound oddly liberating.

Piett fumbled on the other end. "Lord Vader?"

"Who else?"

Piett recovered with the grace that only he could manage. "Lord Vader, the Emperor has summoned Executor back to Imperial Center."

"So be it," he said, and flicked off the com.

Apparently his punishment was not yet complete.

- - - - -

They weren't the same any more. He'd grown to cherish their sameness, their common experiences, how they were both orphans with heroic fathers and mothers that had died young. It made him feel like she could understand him, and that he could be a help to her, even if it hardly ever seemed like she needed any. It made all their differences fade away into insignificance.

Now as she sat across the table from him, eating dinner in the mess hall of the Alliance command ship, she didn't know they weren't the same. She did know he'd been through a rough time on Bespin, the physical trauma obvious, the emotional toll less so, though they were too close for him to hide that he was not quite right.

Once she'd asked him, "What happened out there?"

He'd felt relief at first, thought he was ready to unburden himself of the experience, but when he opened his mouth, the words wouldn't form, and he found himself just staring into her deep brown eyes, unable to say anything.

You wouldn't understand. You wouldn't understand, because you had a perfect father whose great deeds can never be undone, and I have a inhuman thing for a father, a thing that cut off his own son's hand with the same ease as he would torture prisoners.

And even though he knew it was wrong, even for an ordinary person, let alone a Jedi in training, he envied what she had. Wanted to have the perfect memories, the family that had been real, just like she had. You wouldn't understand.

He sighed and put down his fork. Nothing on the plate looked appetizing anymore.

"What's the matter, Luke?" she said.

He could feel her concern, her distress at not knowing what was bothering him. He could feel her love, yes, love, streaming openly from her mind. Would you still love me if you knew who I really am?

He couldn't stand it, her warmth and sincerity, not when he was unable to return it. This is how it must start, the fall to the Dark Side, with little bits of envy, and thoughts that cannot be shared.

He pushed himself away from the dining table. He walked out of the mess hall, not turning his head even once as she called his name over and over behind him.

- - - - -

It was not easy finding a place to be alone, not on this converted frigate stuffed to the gunnels with all manner of Alliance personnel. The vessel was the refuge for the core of the Alliance troops, the Empire too close in pursuit since the Battle of Hoth to allow the establishment of a new base planetside. The Alliance was now nomadic, home being wherever its ships were gathered.

He climbed over the contents of a cargo hold brimming full of containers of either food or weapons, he didn't bother to check which. In the far end of the hold he found an empty space in which to sit, surrounded by columns of supplies, hidden from any who might look in. Through a small viewport he could see the Galaxy spectacularly bright in the void of space. He put his hand against the glass, the thick layer of insulating gas between the panes stopping the true coldness of space from coming through, but it was icy enough beneath his palm.

It felt as cold as the night air on Tatooine, as cold as the snow on Hoth, as cold as a Jedi's heart.If only he really were a Jedi, then he would be free of the tormenting emotions rampaging through his head. Of all the lessons left unlearned by not completing his training, emotional detachment was the one that he needed the most.

If he was as serene as a Jedi, then he wouldn't feel betrayed by Ben and Owen's lies about his father. Instead, he though of every occasion in which Owen had told him something about his father, those moments no longer special, but now infuriating because they were all false. And Ben, who he held in such high regard, his words were the most troubling of all, because they were a clear and conscious deception.

If he were a real Jedi, he would have no desire for attachments, and he would not have this hunger for even the illusion of family. His resentment of Leia's memories was not so much that he wanted hers, but that he wanted his own back. He wanted a father he could be proud of, he wanted to believe that once upon a time, he'd had a mother and a father that loved each other. Now he couldn't even be sure he wasn't some sort of creation like the cloned stormtoopers, because what woman would have voluntarily been with that? He imagined his mother's sufferings and wished he could have brought her comfort. Perhaps being raised by Beru and Owen had been the most that could be done for him.

If he were a trained Jedi, then he would know that he would never fall to the Dark Side. Instead he wondered if it was a destiny that could not be avoided, because he was his father's son. However fierce their battle had been, the feelings that Vader shared with him, the feelings that traversed space so that their minds touched, were unmistakable. If evil loved him, did that make him evil? What did his father see in him to make the feeling so strong? Did Vader see that his temper ran too hot, that he had dark need for vengeance, that he was ripe for the fall ?

And if he were a Jedi Knight, he would not be so weak as to even consider his father's offer. The feeling that troubled him the most was that a part of him wanted that connection between them, that part of him was devastated when that link was broken by the Falcon entering hyperspace. To be the recipient of a love as fierce and primal as what his father sent to him satiated a need in him so deep that it was like an addict finally getting that hit of spice. The feeling was the only honesty he could cling to in this whole bewildering situation. He might be able to tell Leia that Vader was his father, but how could he ever tell her that a part of him wanted it to be true?

He was no good to the Alliance in this state. He had to find a way to finish his training and purge himself of his emotions, become a real Jedi. He could feel the sting of Yoda's criticism already; he knew the Jedi Master would be disappointed with his performance at Bespin. And there was no way he could hide his tumultuous feelings from Yoda's keen perception; the fact that he'd hesitated even a moment to consider Vader's offer would be exposed, without a doubt.It was impossible to return to Dagobah in this condition.

He would have to do it alone, study, practice, make himself as cold as this viewport. He needed someplace remote, hidden, where he would draw no attention. Home. He could go home to Tatooine, the traditional destination for those that didn't want to be found. Maybe Ben had saved more than just the old lightsaber from the time before the destruction of the Jedi Order. And he would be close to the rendezvous point when it came time to rescue Han from Jabba the Hutt. Tatooine it would be.

The decision brought him a measure of relief, enough that he felt he could look into Leia's eyes to tell her he was leaving.

- - - - -

With each step further into the interior of the Imperial Senate, his dream withered a little more. Luke wasn't going to help him overthrow Palpatine and they were not going to rule the Galaxy together. He would spend the rest of his life answering the call of the man who occupied the only open office in the entire Senate complex, the man who so enjoyed sending a continual reminder that he held in one hand the former power of thousands.

Several elevators and three sets of Imperial guards later, he walked into the office that he must have entered a million times, or at least it seemed that way. It had never felt as claustrophobic and stifling as it did now.

"Lord Vader, what a pleasure to see you in person." The Emperor flashed him the political smile that portended trouble." But you have come alone. You must have failed to capture young Skywalker."

"Yes, Master. He did escape."

"Was he more powerful than you?"

"Of course not. He's a half trained boy, nothing more," he said.

"He outsmarted you?"

"No, Master. I had him trapped at the end of my lightsaber."

"Then you must have been too soft with him," the Emperor said.

"He would have sustained substantial damage if I pushed any harder. He is only useful if he is taken unharmed, Master." He winced as he said it, remembering Luke's amputated hand.

"He is only useful if he is taken at all. Perhaps we should place someone else in charge of this mission. Someone less...involved," Palpatine said.

"I will not allow that," he said, the words out of his mouth before he could soften them.

Palpatine leaned back in his chair, a hint of a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. He let the words hang in the air until the silence had become uncomfortable.

"I will permit you to remain in charge of young Skywalker. But never forget that I expect results."

"Of course, Master. I will do everything in my power to see that his capture is accomplished." He bowed slightly and turned to exit the room.

The Emperor shook his head as he watched his apprentice disappear down the hallway. I can only hope the next one is not led about as strongly by his emotions as this one.

- - - - -

The first light of dawn separated Luke from the cover of night, making his black clothed form visible against the backdrop of the dunes. R2 whistled at him from the doorway of Ben Kenobi's former dwelling.

"You stay here. I'll be fine, and I won't be gone long. I promise," Luke said as he climbed the ladder into the X-wing.

He flew the X-wing low over the sand, rising and falling with the contour of the land. Four years ago he had made a similar journey in his old X-34 landspeeder, that journey perhaps the exact moment when his life turned upside down. He wasn't sure what he was looking to find; he only knew that he couldn't come this close and not return to the home of his childhood.

Even using only the X-wing's repulsorlift engines, the familiar landmarks of the Lars homestead were already starting to appear in the landscape. The vaporator towers that would have been his first signposts were gone, probably taken within a few weeks of the tragedy, once the Jawas and other scavengers had noticed that the homestead was no longer guarded. The outline of the mountains was his guide now, the shape of the natural features imprinted forever into his memory.

As the past resurrected itself in front of his eyes, he examined the feelings he held submerged. They stayed obediently beneath the surface, none of them poised to burst through the way they did in his youth. Sadness lay there, regret for not being able to save Owen and Beru, but nothing that would threaten his mental control. He was a Jedi now, and he followed the will of the Force, not his own feelings.

Even when the entrance to the homestead popped into view, and his heart fluttered a moment and he had to swallow hard, his mind was impassive, a testament to the completeness of his training.

He brought the X-wing in close to the home, and set the ship down in the sand. Four years was not forever, but in the wilds of Tatooine it might as well have been. Peering down the open well into the heart of the dwelling he could see more evidence of looting, as well as the sand drifts that had accumulated in the interior. He headed down the steps of the entrance tunnel, his legs still possessing the physical memory of the spacing, allowing him to fly down them like he had as a child.

The suns had risen high enough to displace the colors of dawn from the sky, leaving only electric blue as he gazed upwards from the interior core. He'd been on many planets now, but none of them had a sky that could match the beauty of Tatooine. He ran his fingers along the wall as he headed down into the garage, his former place of refuge. The garage had almost been gutted, the machinery doubtless the first to be taken by scavengers. The bare frame of his beloved skyhopper lay like a picked over carcass in the back room.

His old bedroom was in a similar state, anything of value long ago removed. A clatter came from within the closet, and his lightsaber was in his hand without conscious thought. A sandrat scurried from its hiding place, and he hooked the saber back on his belt. His lightsaber, built using instructions he had found in Ben's home. He liked his new saber; it felt clean, pure, devoid of any unwanted history.

He looked around the room, and felt satisfied. He'd come to a place packed with nostalgia, and yet he didn't feel moved. The past was the past. His emotions were for information only. He was a Jedi.

As he walked out of the room his boot scuffed something on the floor, and he glanced down at it. It was the old shifter knob from Owen's swoop bike, the one he'd found in the garage, the one he'd saved because somehow old feelings were stored within it. When he'd held it before, strange images had appeared, and overwhelming emotions beyond his experience had filled his mind. The feelings became so intense that he had to let go of it, but he could never bring himself to throw it away, either.

He picked it up in his black gloved hand and felt nothing. Hmmm. Perhaps it had all been due to the overactive imagination of a teenager. Then he remembered his right hand was not truly his, and he transferred the shifter to his ungloved left hand. The old feeling of warmth radiated to his fingers, and he closed his eyes to accept what he now knew to be Force driven sensations. He saw the repeating loop of images, felt the emotions ramp upwards in a crescendo of heartbreak.

With his new control the feelings were no longer overwhelming, and he was able to let the scene play over and over. There was a familiar heat to the emotions, a characteristic fire in which love and fear and hope and desperation burned so tightly together as to be one indivisible flame. It felt just like the blistering outpouring he had received from Vader's mind. Just like it.

His mind buzzed with the implications born of his dawning realization. Somehow his father had been here, in the Lars homestead, had held this very object in his own hand. The arm he saw in the vision, the one not covered in black leather, but extending from a brown Jedi robe, might belong to his father. The beautiful girl in the vision, the one to whom overpowering love flowed, might even be his mother. They would have been at the Lars homestead because Owen was his brother, because they were family.

He was neither a manufactured creation like a cloned trooper nor a product of darkness. He was not unloved, unwanted, or abandoned. He was not evil because evil loved him, but rather that which loved him was not evil.

His heart soared free, gifted with a peace that Jedi detachment had not been able to give him. The same person that had stood in the Lars garage still lived, hidden behind black armor. Something had gone terribly wrong in his family, that much was clear, but his family had once been like any other.

He felt like he was ten years old again as he ran up the stairs of the homestead, and out to the X-wing so that he could transmit a message to Leia. He was ready to come back.

- - - - -

A year had gone by. A year without word or thought or contact of any sort from his son. It seemed obvious that the boy wanted nothing to do with him. But Palpatine, who was so seldom wrong about the future, saw it otherwise.

In time, he will seek you out.

He wasn't sure he wanted that to happen. Not here, not now, with the Imperial Fleet clustered together around the second Death Star, and Palpatine thoroughly prepared for Luke's arrival. Even in the days when his dream of overthrowing his Master still lived, he would have never made the attempt under these circumstances.

And when he does, you must bring him before me.

That would be the ultimate perversion of his dream, to hand over Luke to Palpatine.The only alternative, since Luke would not stand with him, was to kill the boy. He'd vowed to do that long ago, to save Luke from a life of misery as Palpatine's servant, but that was before Bespin. To remove the light from those eyes that housed such an indomitable spirit , he didn't know that he was man enough to do it, even if serving Palpatine was its own slow death. He hoped that the Emperor was wrong, that Luke would never try to find him.

Everything is proceeding as I have forseen.

To hope that Palpatine could not see the future was to hope that no sun would ever rise again. His own visions of the future were oddly blank on the matter of Luke. The Force always left him blind to his own future, as it had about Mustafar, and about his failure to assassinate Palpatine. If he could not see Luke's future, it could only be because it was too tightly bound with his own.

Whatever happens, Luke, I will protect you, always.

- - - - -

He was leaving Dagobah again, but things were almost opposite from the last time. A year ago, he'd been leaving for Bespin, determined to save Han and Leia. Now he was on his way to Sullust to regroup with the Alliance, Han's rescue already accomplished, though it had taken two attempts to get it done. A year ago, he'd been only part way through his training, flush with talent and ability, but lacking control. Now by Yoda's own admission, he was fully trained, a Jedi, except for one last trial. It was in the nature of this trial that the greatest difference existed between then and now.

Then, Ben and Yoda had pleaded with him not to go, not to face Vader. This time they were urging him to confront Vader, Yoda invoking destiny, and Ben calling on him as their only hope. A year ago he would have fulfilled their wishes without hesitation, been grateful for their support as he embarked on his own mission of vengeance.

But that was before he had caught sight of the exquisitely beautiful flower that was the truth. It had almost been suffocated by the crop of lies that grew around it, but somehow it found a way to push through, and each new petal that opened made it more dazzling. Vader, his father. Leia, his sister. The war hero Anakin Skywalker and Vader, one and the same. Himself and Leia, so gifted with the Force that they had to be hidden from the Emperor. It mesmerized him as he waited for it to open fully and reveal all its splendor.

It had struggled so hard to survive that he could not crush it beneath his boot, not even for Obi-Wan.

- - - - -

In the midst of the monotony of the day, amongst the tedium of having nothing to do but wait for the Emperor's next command, he touched an unexpected presence aboard an ordinary lambda shuttle that was approaching Executor.

"Where is that shuttle going?" he asked Piett.

"Shuttle Tydirium, what is your cargo and destination?" Piett said into the com.

"Parts and technical group for the forest moon," came the reply over the com.

"Do they have a code clearance?" he asked.

"It's an older code, sir, but it checks out," Piett said. "I was about to clear them."

What are you doing here, Luke? Have you come as my son, or as a Rebel?

"Shall I hold them?" Piett prodded gently.

"No. Leave them to me. I will deal with them myself."

You have walked into a very dangerous place, Luke. Three is not a stable number among the Sith.

- - - - -

It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, to volunteer for the mission to infiltrate the Imperial line. To do so would both reunite the old team, and show the Alliance that he was still committed to the cause, even if he did have a tendency to disappear in his X-wing at odd times.

It seemed like a good idea right up until the moment his mind touched that now familiar presence. It felt neutral, maybe even bored, its languor not enough to hide the glow of the fire that crackled just beneath the surface.

He didn't know why he didn't think of it before, afterall, Vader had been on the first Death Star; it was logical that a man of his position in the Empire would also be involved in the second. And while he knew what his father felt for him, he didn't think that feeling extended to the other Rebels on board the stolen shuttle.

He tried to keep himself very still and contained, hoping that he could evade detection. But light fingers brushed over his mind, and then the presence snapped to full alertness.

"I'm endangering the mission," he said."I shouldn't have come."

"It's your imagination, kid," Han said. "Let's keep a little optimism."

But it wasn't his imagination, and now the presence was looking at him dead on, calm, quiet, waiting.

If you want to catch me, Father, here's your chance.

But no tractor beam engaged the shuttle, and the voice on the other end of the com gave the clearance for the Tydirium to land on Endor. He wasn't sure why they had been let through, but the presence still felt open, honest, without a trace of guile to indicate it had set a trap. The shuttle passed over Executor, and though it sent no message, the presence never turned from him.

We will meet again soon, Father. This time I'm ready to talk.


Chapter 19 : The Will of the Force

Trust in the Force, trust in the Force, trust in the Force...

He'd run every scenario through his mind trying to find a solution, and he could think of none. Except for this one. This time he would not fight the will of the Force, he would follow it. Whatever it was.

Since the moment that he had detected Luke on board that seemingly ordinary shuttle, he'd been trying to figure out what to do about his son. He'd let the ship go on its way to give himself time to think, but he needed to do something soon, or doubtless the Rebels' actions would make their presence known to Palpatine, if not to the entire fleet.

There was no time to train Luke, assuming Luke was any more receptive to the idea of them working together than he was at Bespin. No time to formulate a plan if he were trained. No way to disperse the enormous amount of Imperial firepower that was gathered around Endor. It seemed impossible to escape the Emperor's vision that Luke would be brought before him.

He swallowed hard as he rode the elevator up to the top of the spire that served as the Emperor's throne room on board the second Death Star. He kept his eyes closed, trying to gather strength, until he heard the elevator doors swoosh open at the top level.

He'd anticipated that Palpatine would not be pleased with his disobedience, and he was not disappointed. The Emperor punctuated his annoyance by refusing to relinquish his attention from the depths of space.

"I told you to remain on the command ship," he said peevishly.

Must you be such a bastard? "A small Rebel force has penetrated the shield and landed on Endor."

"Yes, I know," the Emperor said, finally swiveling in the throne to face him.

"My son is with them," he said, not bothering to disguise their relation as Palpatine did.

"Are you sure?"

Are you not? "I have felt him, my master."

"Strange that I have not," the Emperor said. He leaned forward in the throne, his yellow eyes fixating on him, as if by the intensity of his gaze he could pierce both the impassiveness of his mask, and of his mental cloak. "I wonder if your feelings on this matter are clear, Lord Vader."

"They are clear, my master." As clear as the lake next to which I was married. But as for yours, do you think I have forgotten Dooku?

"Then you must go to the Sanctuary moon and wait for him."

"He will come to me?" he said, wishing that he could see Luke's future as clearly.

"I have forseen it. His compassion for you will be his undoing," Palpatine said. "He will come to you, and then you will bring him before me."

"As you wish," he said.

There, it is begun. Do not take it as betrayal, my son. There is only one thing left for us, and that is to trust in the Force. I keep telling myself that as I prepare to do the one thing that seems most wrong in my heart: to bring you to my master.

- - - - -

Who knew? Who knew that Threepio could be such a good storyteller? His impressions were spot on, and he was certainly keeping everyone else entertained, especially the Ewoks. Luke tried to let his mind be carried away with the droid's tale, to lose himself in the evening's festivities, but it wasn't working.

His mind kept returning to the moment when the Tydirium passed over the Super Star Destroyer. There was no military strategy to explain why they had not been captured. If the positions had been reversed and the Empire had infiltrated the Alliance Fleet, there would have been no hesitation in seizing the ship. If Vader knowingly let them go, could it be because his loyalty to his son was greater than his loyalty to the Empire?

The possibility astonished him, and made him wonder who truly lay behind the mask. What was his father really like, since he appeared to be cast of solid durasteel, yet inside, lived feelings of such intensity that they would melt an ordinary being? Was the hero of the old Republic trapped behind the facade of enforcer of the Empire? Would he really jeopardize the Empire to protect his son?

His father could have killed him at Bespin, but he did not. He could have captured the Tydirium, but he did not. There was a thrill that came of falling under the protection of Vader, almost as if a pack of wild beasts had lay down at his feet, and he felt emboldened by his privileged status. Maybe there was still a way for them to work together as father and son, to achieve the mutual goal of unseating the Emperor. Rather than descending into the Dark Side, he would extend his hand to his father, and pull him back from the depths.

The room erupted in celebration after Threepio concluded his story, and the Ewoks welcomed the Rebels into the tribe. Undiminished by the noise and commotion, a ripple in the Force made its way to him. His father was in the skies above Endor. If he stayed here, his father would track him to this location, and his friends would be put at risk.

He slipped out of the Ewok hut without saying a word, instead sending a suggestion with his mind. Leia, come talk to me.

- - - - -

He'd disappointed this boy. This boy who had been waiting for him on Endor, just as Palpatine had predicted. Except that waiting was too passive a word, because Luke had purposefully come after him, having turned himself in to the Imperial squad guarding the shield generator.

This boy, who should no longer be called that, because in the year since Bespin he'd rebuilt himself, somehow resurrecting the cool confidence of the Jedi Order, despite having never seen it in action. This boy, who had become comfortable with the truth of their relationship, no longer shrinking from contact, but instead seeking it out. This boy who'd left the safety of his Rebel compatriots, who trusted that his father would not deliver him to the Emperor, he'd disappointed this boy. It poured from Luke's mind, dripped in his voice, as he gave his indictment.

"Then my father is truly dead."

Luke, you are the harshest of all my masters. You think like Obi-Wan did, in black and white, of good and evil. It's not that simple. The Dark Side is not evil, only what a man does with it. The power it can give is unattainable by other means. You will need it if you are to defeat Palpatine, if only I could make you see that.

You thought that you could throw my name before me, and I would wake up as if from a dream? What would we do if I did come with you? Leave the Galaxy in Palpatine's grip ? Let him blow this moon to bits of rubble, and you and me with it? I cannot stop your destiny Luke, much as I could not stop your mother's, or my own, though I almost wrecked the Galaxy trying. The Emperor has forseen that you can destroy him, and to keep you from that role would be my greatest crime. My time has come and gone, and all that remains for me is to help you to achieve your destiny.

- - - - -

He thought his father was Darth Vader. Or Anakin Skywalker. But not this resigned man who acted as if he were powerless to change anything. What happened to the mind of scorching intensity who used the Force with such casual ease? The massive being who loomed over him at Cloud City, who appeared to command unlimited power? The symbol of Imperial might who plotted the Emperor's demise?

No, his father had been replaced by someone who made excuses for his obedience to his master, who had given up any hope for himself. A defeated man who could walk away from his son's offer for them to work together. A being who could ignore his own dreams to submit to another's vision. He would have never left the Rebel camp if he had known that his father was this strongly controlled by the Emperor.

He stood in the elevator between the two stormtroopers, waiting for his father to refute his condemnation, but Vader turned away, seemingly unable to answer. The doors shushed closed, and the elevator rose to the level of the landing platform. The stormtroopers pushed him forward and guided him up the ramp of a lambda shuttle. Inside the passenger compartment the troopers indicated a seat to him, while they remained standing, blasters in hand.

The three of them waited in silence for several minutes before Vader's ventilator announced his approach. Once inside the shuttle, his father had no words for him, no thoughts, no last minute download of emotions to explain. Vader turned at the head of the ramp to enter the cockpit, while the stormtroopers took seats opposing his, and the shuttle rose off of the platform.

- - - - -

The silence that began on Endor continued without interruption. It stayed with them as the shuttle made its way to the Death Star, remained unabated as they left the hangar and walked into the battlestation interior. They were striding side by side through the corridors, almost a duplication of the vision his father had sent to him after Bespin, but it felt entirely different. His father's dream had been filled with pride, with a connection between them, while this felt cold and empty.

On Endor, he had detected none of the emotional honesty that had characterized their last interaction. Instead, only traces of his father's feelings leaked out as they talked beneath the landing platform, only enough for him to feel his father's reluctance to take him to the Emperor, and mostly, his father's sense of resignation. Now as they walked together, he could feel nothing at all emanating from his father. It was not so much a state of tranquility but a complete absence of feeling, as if his father's mind was covered by an organic blast door.

They entered another elevator, this one rising some distance before opening out onto an enormous chamber ringed with windows of equally large proportion. A broad staircase lay before them. Just as they had walked through the Death Star, they climbed the staircase together, side by side.

The great military throne that lay beyond the summit of the stairs faced outward into space. It slowly rotated towards them, and he found himself looking into the face of the Emperor. The figure looked impossibly old, slumped so far back in the throne as to almost become one with it. Hardly the picture of supreme power. He realized that no Alliance member had ever come this close to the Emperor. Perhaps his father's actions could be seen not as betrayal, but as opportunity. If not to kill the Emperor, then to keep him preoccupied and unaware of the advancing Alliance fleet.

"Welcome, young Skywalker," the Emperor said. "I've been expecting you."

"You no longer need those," he continued, make a slight motion.

The binders fell from his wrists, and he looked up from his hands in comprehension. Though the Alliance commanders never discussed the ability, the Emperor was obviously a Force user. It all made sense now: the Emperor's great skill in predicting the future, his father's fall to the Dark Side, his father's failure to overcome his master. He realized that the Emperor's presence felt exactly the same as his father's: an absolute blankness that gave the impression of mental armor. It was from this person his father had sealed off his mind, not himself.

- - - - -

It was an act so practiced that it was almost accomplished by rote. Unfortunately the staleness of the performance did not hinder its effectiveness. Palpatine was slowly circling another victim, poking, prodding, looking for weaknesses. It was always a painful thing to watch, since he knew what it was like to be stalked by Palpatine, but it was especially painful now because the victim was Luke.

It didn't take much for Palpatine to discover Luke's vulnerable spot: his friends and compatriots among the Rebel troops. What the boy didn't reveal in his own words, he gave up in his expression and from his unguarded mind. A hole in his training, the boy obviously had not been taught to protect himself from Force sensitive opponents, and could not understand the strength of the one he faced now.

Not that the boy hadn't fought well, his inner resolve to follow the Jedi path apparent from the beginning. At first Luke had proven a worthy opponent to Palpatine's verbal jabs, enough that he had to suppress a chuckle when Luke zeroed in on Palpatine's over developed sense of confidence. But soon the Emperor had turned the battle, and Luke's resolve had gone the way of Alderaan.

He could feel Luke's turmoil now, the boy equally determined to resist the Dark Side, and protect his fellow Rebels. Now that Luke knew how firmly Palpatine controlled the situation, he was weighing the alternatives, torn between whom he would sacrifice. His friends. The Rebel Alliance. Himself. The turmoil ceased as the boy made a decision.

He sensed Luke's intention to summon his lightsaber, just as Palpatine must.

No, Luke! It's the oldest trick he has. He's never defenseless.Try it and he will kill you on the spot.

- - - - -

His lightsaber was not moving effortlessly through the Emperor's body, but instead was held at bay by the unyielding glow of another lightsaber. His father's lightsaber. It was his father who had first spoken to him of his destiny, about being powerful enough to destroy the Emperor.It was his father who had tried to convince him that if he used that power they could save the Galaxy from the ravages of war. Now that he'd finally decided to make that future come to pass, it was his father who was stopping him.

You LIED to me! So it's possible to lie through the Force just as it is with words. What were all those feelings you sent to me? All lies? You don't love me, you don't want us to defeat the Emperor. I left my friends to come save you. I should be with them now, helping them now, not trying to save you from a master that still holds your loyalty.

He disengaged his saber, changed targets, and took aim at his father. He landed blow after blow, working from a position of offense, driving Vader back. The Force was not flowing through him, it was filling him, so much so that it threatened to burst through his skin. By the time he thought of his next move, he found he had already made it. Vader was struggling to counter his attack, and he was able to manuever his father backwards to the head of the long staircase. He saw an opening and planted a kick firmly in his father's thigh. Vader tumbled to the bottom of the stairs, where he had to gather himself before he was able to stand.

He was pleased with himself, pleased until he heard the laughter that signaled the Emperor's pleasure, as well.

"Good," the Emperor said. "Use you aggressive feelings, boy. Let the hate flow through you."

He done exactly that. Used all the feelings he'd been warned about: anger, hate, aggression, and with them had come the power of the Dark Side. It didn't feel different at all, except for the incredible intensity. Before, he thought that turning to the Dark Side would be like jumping off a cliff, but instead it was easy, seamless, leaving him unable to pinpoint the exact moment when he slipped over.

He turned off his lightsaber. He would not fall to the temptation of the Dark Side.

His father had regained his feet. Even through the mechanism of the voice modulator, he could hear the praise in his father's voice, a feeling that went beyond the words.

"Obi-Wan has taught you well, " Vader said.

Sadness flooded him. He didn't want a replay of Bespin, he wanted them to act as father and son, to be able to enjoy his father's approval. He had come here to save him, not destroy him.

"I will not fight you, Father," he said, as close to tears as he ever came.

- - - - -

If only you had said that at Cloud City, Luke. That is not possible here,not with Palpatine among us, because as soon as there is a victor between us, the loser will die. It's me or you or him, and I don't know how to make it be him unless you will use the Dark Side.

He climbed the staircase back up to Luke. The boy moved back to maintain distance, but made no move to resume their combat.

"You are unwise to lower your defenses," he said, swinging his lightsaber at Luke.

Luke reignited his lightsaber in time to meet the blow, but unlike their earlier exchange, he maintained a strictly defensive posture. The boy skillfully parried all his advances, finally removing himself from the battle by using the Force to somersault himself to an upper level walkway.

He admired his son's confidence, and how his skills had increased so much since Bespin. Luke was no longer an out-classed, though courageous, boy, but a fine warrior in his own right. And he'd accomplished it all with what must have been the scarcest of education. How powerful would the boy be if he had received the proper training?

"Your thoughts betray you, Father," Luke said from the overhead walkway. "I sense the good in you, the conflict."

"There is no conflict," he said. My loyalties have always been with you, even if you cannot see that. But that does not mean that I can let you abandon your destiny.

"You couldn't bring yourself to kill me before, and I don't believe you will destroy me now," Luke said.

You're probably right. Which means you must do your part. "You underestimate the power of the Dark Side. If you will not fight, then you will meet your destiny," he said, as he flung his locked lightsaber into the supports of the walkway.

As the walkway crashed down, Luke slid with it, ending up two levels below where he had started.

He descended the tall staircase in search of his son. The area under the main platform was dim, and his helmet automatically turned up the gain on his visual display, but it was not enough to reveal Luke's location.

"You cannot hide forever, Luke," he said.

"I will not fight you," came Luke's voice from within the darkness.

He felt the pressure of Palpatine's presence lurking directly above them. If Luke remained passive, it was all over for him. He needed to provoke him, but Luke had renouced his anger, had never seemed motivated by power. The only thing that seemed to hold sway over the boy was his connection to his friends. Of course. This boy was like himself; he would not turn for hate, or for power, but he would turn for love.

"Give yourself to the Dark Side," he said. "It is the only way to save your friends."

His prodding was rewarded by an immediate flash of feeling from Luke. Indeed, this was the way to reach the boy.

"Yes, your thoughts betray you. Your feelings for them are strong, especially for..." his voice trailed off as he comprehended the enormity of what Luke was revealing to him. This long concealed girl was Luke's cornerstone; just as he had turned to save Padme, Luke would turn to save his sister. He put aside his own feelings to increase the pressure on Luke.

"Sister... so, you have a twin sister. Your feelings have now betrayed her, too. Obi-Wan was wise to hide her from me. His failure is now complete. If you will not turn to the Dark Side, then perhaps she will."

His breath caught as he heard Luke spring up from the darkness with a roar, his lightsaber blazing. The boy's strength and fury surprised him, and he struggled to keep Luke's saber from reaching him. He suddenly knew what Dooku must have felt all those years ago on board the Invisible Hand. His mouth went dry, and fear began to spread its metallic taste. Despite all his skill and experience, the boy was going to beat him.

He was no Palpatine. He had learned from his master how to incite the storm, but he did not have his master's skill at controlling the aftermath. He could not drive Luke off, leaving nowhere to go but back. And backwards he went, while the unstoppable weapon that was his son continued to batter him.

They moved onto a narrow bridge crossing the depths of the elevator shaft. He lost his footing, and slipped to the floor. All that he could see was the glow of Luke's lightsaber coming so fast that he could not meet it. His armor worked as it was designed, but bit by bit the lightsaber ate through the suit, until once again he felt the pain of losing a limb. His lightsaber fell with his severed prosthesis into the chasm.

The Dark Side has made you strong enough to defeat me. Now let it make you strong enough to defeat him,and you will fulfill your destiny, Luke.

He waited for the killing blow to strike, but it did not come. Where he had been unable to stop Luke's attack, the sound of Palpatine's gleeful laughter appeared to have done so. Above him, he saw Luke blink himself back into the present, a measure of rationality returning to his face.

"Good," Palpatine said as he approached them. "Your hate has made you powerful. Now fulfill your destiny and take your father's place at my side."

He wondered what Luke was thinking as he felt his son's anger fade. The boy needed that fury to take on Palpatine; without it he would not succeed against the Emperor.

His heart jumped as he watched Luke throw it all away. His lightsaber. The power that had come with the Dark Side. His destiny. He had never been so afraid for his son as he was now.

- - - - -

He had never felt more powerful. His rage had allowed the Force to electrify him so that he felt like he was not following his own mind, but the will of the Force itself. He had brought the seemingly unconquerable Darth Vader to his knees, nevermind that Vader was his father. And therein lay the problem; that power had led him, no, carried him to a place he never wanted to go. He wasn't even sure he could remember everything he had just done.

The worst part was, he had gone down that path because of Leia. Because he loved her, because he wanted to protect her, he had forgotten everything else that he stood for,had almost let his anger consume him, had almost killed the father that he'd come to save.

He looked down at the prone black figure below him with new eyes. Is this how you fell ?

He looked at his gloved prosthetic hand, and then to the wiring protruding from Vader's stump. He almost felt nauseous.It wasn't as impossible for his face to end up inside that helmet as he had always thought. His lightsaber felt like it was burning a hole in his hand.

"Never," he said, as he tossed the saber aside. "I'll never turn to the Dark Side. You've failed, your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me."

The Emperor looked more than displeased at his pronouncement. The Emperor looked furious, like a man who was not in the least accustomed to failure.

"So be it, Jedi," the Emperor said, making Jedi sound like the foulest expletive in the Galaxy.

The last thing he remembered was the Emperor threatening him, and then wondering how this ancient, dried-up slip of a man was going to make good on that threat.

The next thing he knew he had been knocked off his feet and he was grasping a metal cylinder, grasping because all his muscles were contracting in unbelievable agony as some sort of energy field enveloped him. He was unable to let go, unable to move, unable to stop it.

The energy field relented, and he felt like he could breathe again.

"Young fool," the Emperor said, "only now, at the end, do you understand."

A new blast of energy struck him, and this time he could see that it was generated from the Emperor's own hands. No one had ever mentioned that it was possible to use the Force in this way. As he writhed in pain, Yoda's words came to him. Do not underestimate the powers of the Emperor, or suffer your father's fate you will. He hadn't understood that Yoda meant power like this.

The energy field relaxed again, and he knew he should get up, should try to get to his lightsaber, but his limbs wouldn't answer.

"Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the Dark Side," the Emperor said, punctuating his words with another round of energy bolts. "You will pay a price for your lack of vision."

The Emperor was standing over him now, and had increased the intensity of the energy assaulting his body. He could barely think anymore, could barely keep himself conscious. Though his mind was in a haze, he suddenly realized that he might not be able to escape, that this might kill him.

- - - - -

He didn't know how to stop it, his master's torture of his son. He was weaponless, trapped in a crippled body that could neither generate nor repel Force lightning. All his life he had nursed deep regret for not being there in time to save his mother, to save Padme. Now his son was dying before his eyes, and he could still do nothing.

"Father, please," Luke called out from within the grip of the Force lightning.

How could he stop Palpatine? His master was the stronger, that had already been proven. The Force lightning would disrupt the life controls of the suit, and he would be killed, and still not save Luke. He couldn't see what to do.

A voice came to him, a voice that should have only been in his memory, but it seemed louder as if it were here now.

You must let go of everything you fear to lose.

He couldn't do it then, but he would do it now. He let go of his dream that he and Luke would rule the Galaxy together. He let go of his dream that Luke would destroy Palpatine. He let go of his dream of himself. Nothing mattered after that, not the Empire, not the Rebel Alliance, not the Jedi, not the Sith. The only truth that remained was that he must save Luke.

As he picked up his old master and lifted him over his head, he marveled at how light he felt. Just as he knew it would, the Force lightning infiltrated his suit. He felt his heart become erratic, and the suit's air flow diminish. The lightning ravaged his body, and he felt it burn him, not like the molten lava of Mustafar, but from within, so that he wondered if his bones were glowing as Mace Windu's had. He felt dizzy and weak, but he willed himself to keep going, until he hefted Palpatine's body into the depths of the elevator shaft.

He collapsed on the railing, his body failing as the life support suit malfunctioned. He felt someone moving him away from the edge, laying him back, and suddenly it was easier to breathe. Luke, it was Luke. He felt of his son's mind, felt how worried Luke was about him. He smiled. If Luke was worried about him, then he must not hate him, must have forgiven him. Now he was complete, now he could let go all the way.

As he drifted off the voice was in his head again, and this time it was shouting.

Anakin!

His eyes fluttered open.

Anakin! Listen to me, you must. Short, time is.

He summoned his remaining strength, and focused his mind on the instructions of another old master.

- - - - -

His muscles had relaxed and he found he could move again. Through the pain and fog of the energy field he had seen his father pick up the Emperor and throw him over the railing. His father had saved him.

I'm sorry I doubted you, Father.

He could hear the wheeze of his father's ventilator, and while he didn't know how it worked, he knew it didn't sound right. He scrambled to his father's side, realized his body felt limp. He leaned his father's head back, and the respiratory sound became less labored. He looked at all the electronic controls on the suit, and realized he knew nothing about them, didn't even know exactly what his father's injuries had been.

He felt of his father's mind, looking for that characteristic fire, and found it cold. His father was dying. Not now, not after everything that had kept them apart, not now, when they could finally be father and son.

He would take his father to the Alliance medics. They would know what to do, how to save him. This was Anakin Skywalker, the hero of the old Republic, his father. They had to save him.


Chapter 20 : The Gift

This was the third time someone important to him had vanished before his eyes, but he still was not accustomed to the sight. Even if his head knew that it was the way of all things, of the Force, that it was a natural part of life, it didn't make it any easier for his heart. Especially not when this last person to fade away in front of him was his father.

He wanted so much to talk to his father, to know who he had really been, to learn the answers to the questions he had carried his entire life. It all just seemed so unfair, to have come this far, to have finally seen that the mind that connected with him through the Force did belong to a man, just a man, hidden underneath the black armor. A man he would have to explain to his sister, but he wasn't sure that he could, because he didn't know him well enough himself. Why would she ever believe him, anyways, if he had only this empty armor shell to show her?

Luke, take my shuttle.

He closed his eyes as the unmodifed voice of his father echoed in his head. At least they would still be able to communicate through the Force, like he had with Ben.

Luke, hurry.

He nodded in acknowledgement. The hangar that had been boiling with activity, the feeling of panic coming from the hundreds of minds in it so strong he just had to shut them all out, was now almost empty. Not a good sign.If the Alliance mission had gone as planned, this battle station should be about to blow.

He pulled the armored suit up the ramp of the shuttle, easier now because it was empty, but heavy enough for him to realize the burden it must have been to wear. He laid the suit across a row of seats in the passenger compartment, setting the helmet gently atop it. He strapped himself into the pilot's seat and lifted the shuttle off the deck.

Careful, these get a little twitchy while the wings are unfolding.

He smiled at the advice. He throttled back for a moment, until the console display confirmed that the wings were locked in flight position, then accelerated to move free of the Death Star hangar. When he was certain he had flown far enough to escape the impending shockwave, he brought the shuttle about to bring the Death Star into view.

Motion in his peripheral vision caught his attention, and his head whipped to the right. The shimmering brown Jedi robe in the copilot's seat was familiar, but the long haired young man in it wasn't.

"Who are you?" he exclaimed.

"I thought we established that Luke. I'm your father," the golden haired stranger said.

"But why do you look my age?" he said, squinting to match the features he had only seen before on a middle-aged face.

"I was exactly your age when I was...injured. I carried those wounds your entire lifetime, Luke. Would you condemn me to suffer them through all eternity?" Anakin said, with an edge in his voice sharper than a vibroblade.

He recognized the familiar heat of his father's mind, saw that there was an expression that with it. "No, of course not. It's just a little... startling to see you like this."

Anakin nodded, then turned away from him. "Look, there it goes."

He turned back to the viewscreen. The Death Star loomed as large as ever. "Look at what?"

The words were barely out of his mouth when the viewscreen went brilliant with light, and he had to avert his eyes. "How did you know?"

"Do you not see the future?" Anakin asked.

"Sometimes, in visions," he said. He meant to ask his father what he saw of the future, but a wave of nausea rushed over him and a crushing pain came to his head. When he looked over, he saw that his father had his hands over his face. "Is this from the Force?"

"They weren't all able to evacuate," Anakin said softly. "Many men just died in that explosion. This is what the Force felt like after the destruction of Alderaan, and of the first Death Star . Don't you remember?"

"I...I didn't feel it then," he said."My training had just begun when I flew in the Battle of Yavin."

"You had no training until then?" Anakin said. "What was Obi-Wan thinking? He was certainly around you when you were young."

"Uncle Owen never liked Ben." The implications of his father's words hit him and he leaned over in his seat. "And how do you know Obi-Wan was there? Why did you leave me with Uncle Owen?"

Anakin drew upright in his seat. "I did not take you there. Perhaps you should ask your friend Obi-Wan how you ended up with Owen."

He saw the expression on his father's face had grown hard. "But wasn't Owen your brother?"

"My step-brother. His father bought my mother, then freed her and married her. I never spent much time with Owen, though I thought he seemed a good man."

"Bought your mother? My grandmother?" Luke asked incredulously.

"We were slaves, Luke. I was, too, before the Jedi took me," Anakin said. "Somebody told you my name, did they not tell you anything else about me?"

"No.Owen told me you were a navigator, and you know what Ben told me. After I knew you had been a Jedi, I tried to research them, but records on the Jedi are hard to find. Mostly I got information from Alliance members who were old enough to remember the Clone Wars. That's when I first heard the name Anakin Skywalker."

A slight smile softened his father's expression. His face was still that of a young man, but his eyes looked as if he felt even older than the Emperor.

"It must have been difficult for you, Luke," he said after a long silence. "I have something for you. You'll have to come with me to Coruscant to see it."

"Coruscant? I'm not going to Coruscant. I've got to get to the rendezvous point. I'm in for it as it is."

His father pressed his shimmering hand against the forward control lever, making the air crackle around it, but the lever did not move. "I cannot affect the physical universe anymore, Luke. I need your help."

He rolled his eyes. "But Coruscant is so far away. I've got duties here I have to fulfill."

His father was insistent. "That's your commander talking. I installed a point four hyperdrive in this thing. We can be to Coruscant inside of two standard hours."

"But everyone will be worried about me, especially...," his voice trailed off as he saw how intently his father was listening. He swallowed. It couldn't still be considered betrayal, could it? "Especially my sister."

"Can't you use the Force to communicate with her?" Anakin asked.

"A little. She was never trained," he said hesitantly.

" Why don't you want to tell me about her?" Anakin said. "I saved your life, Luke. That's not reason enough to trust me?"

"She doesn't feel the same way about you as I do," he said. "She has too many...negative impressions of you."

"Then I have met her?" his father asked, raising an eyebrow.

"A few times," Luke said. He looked into his father's face, into the blue eyes that were like his own. What had been the point of coming after him, if they were not going to act as family? "She's Leia, Leia Organa."

Anakin leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. It was several minutes before he turned back to Luke. He nodded before he spoke. "Of course. She's much like your mother. Smart. Tough. A leader. Your mother was a Senator, too, you know."

Luke realized he was now the one intently hanging on every word. "I have a deal for you. I'll go to Coruscant with you if you tell me everything. And I mean everything. No lies. No stories. Everything."

"Done," his father said, hands flying to the navcomputer on the console. "Ahh, I keep forgetting I can't do this anymore. Hit the programmed destination list, Luke. Coruscant is number one. And find a way to let your sister know you're safe."

He activated the navcomputer controls, selecting the destination that the computer called Imperial Center. He slid in a brief thought to Leia as he finished readying the ship for lightspeed.

Through the viewscreen he watched the stars turn to starlines as the lambda shuttle entered hyperspace. He swiveled in the pilot's seat. "Now that the ship's on auto, I'm going to put my feet up in the back. I'm feeling pretty sore."

Anakin nodded. "Force lightning will do that to you. It may take a few days for the pain to go away."

"So that's what it's called. You've been hit with it before?" he asked, as he flipped up the arm rests and stretched across a row of seats in the passenger compartment.

"Yes, but not as hard as you were. Your lightsaber can deflect it, remember that," Anakin said. "The only other time I saw a person take as much as you did, it killed him."

Luke rubbed his hand across his forehead, then swept his open palm down his face. His eyes met his father's. "Did you know it would kill you?"

His father returned his gaze unblinkingly."Yes."

"Did you know that we'd be sitting here talking afterwards?"

"No," Anakin said. He turned his hand back and forth in front of his face. "I don't really understand this, and I don't how long it will be possible. That's why it is so important for you to come with me now."

"What are we going to see?" he asked, propping his elbow on the seat to rest his head in his hand.

"Let's not talk about that yet. Get some rest. I'll watch the ship, and wake you when we arrive."

He moved himself so he was lying flat across the seats. When he closed his eyes he realized how tired he really was. He felt the tension start to leave his body, and his muscles thanked him for that. Strange, he was never this relaxed when somebody else was flying.

- - - - -

He felt a hand gripping his shoulder, shaking him lightly, as if to rouse him. He struggled for a moment to bring himself out of sleep, to remember where he was. He moved to sit up, but the hand pushed downward, keeping him flat.

Don't get up, Luke. Just feel. Can you feel it, Coruscant? Can you tell it's getting closer?

He kept his eyes closed and reached out, felt only his father's presence. "No."

It's there, if you stretch far enough. Let me show you.

He breathed deeply and relaxed his conscious control, let the Force sweep through him and connect his mind to his father's. He felt the hand grasp his forearm, lead him forward. It felt like he stepped off an edge into nothingness, and a cold wind battered him, threatened to carry him away. He flailed for purchase, but the hand increased its grip, steadied him.

Don't worry. That cold rushing feeling is hyperspace. Feel beyond that. Listen to the murmur, feel the spot of warmth that is life, all the millions of lives on Coruscant, glowing in the Force. Can you feel it now, growing stronger?

Eyes still closed, he nodded.

Almost there, almost time to drop into normal space. You can get up now.

He pulled back from his father's mind, oriented himself in the now. He swung his legs off the seat cushions, pushed himself into a sitting position. He rubbed his eyes. The shimmering image was seated across from him, one arm resting atop the black helmet.

"How do you stand it?" he said.

"Stand what?" Anakin asked.

"The Force is so loud inside your head," he said.

Anakin shrugged. "Is it? It feels the way it has always felt to me."

In the cockpit an alarm sounded from the navcomputer.

"Time for you to take over, Luke. The coordinates are set to put us right in to Imperial City."

He moved into the cockpit and slid into the pilot's seat, flipping the switch on the alarm to off. He eased the shuttle into normal space, and Coruscant appeared in the viewscreen. He monitored the ship as it circled the planet to enter the atmosphere over Imperial City, placing it on manual control once they were safely into the stratosphere.

Two security craft swooped up from a lower altitude to parallel the shuttle, and he turned to see his father's reaction. "How am I going to get past them?"

His father was smiling, not the half smiles he had seen earlier that carried more nostalgia and regret than joy, but a broad smile that lit his face and made his eyes flash with amusement. "This is my shuttle, Luke," he said, and pointed to a button at the bottom of the console. "Hit that transponder."

He did so, and the security craft peeled away in tandem as a message came across the com. "Welcome back to Imperial Center, Lord Vader."

His father leaned towards him. "This ship will get you through any Imperial checkpoint , for however long the Empire stands, and news of my demise does not spread. Take the ship down until you can see the skylanes."

He chased away the feeling of guilt that crept up, telling himself he was entitled to use the privilege that came of his father's position. He dropped the shuttle's altitude until he could see the intricate pattern of skylanes clearly below the ship. He hesitated. There were hundreds, no thousands, no maybe hundreds of thousands of craft of all sizes streaming at cross directions alongside the towering buildings of the city.

"You just have to jump in there, Luke. They'll move over for a ship like this," Anakin said.

He watched open speeders dart in and out of the traffic lanes, narrowly avoiding larger craft. "These people are crazy. At least when you fly with the Alliance you can be sure the other guy knows what he's doing."

His father looked askance. "They say you're not really a pilot until you can fly on Coruscant."

He flushed at the insult, and hit the repulsors so that the shuttle roared ahead. Abruptly he cut the throttle and extended the drive flaps, letting the shuttle fall into a small opening in the highspeed flyway, and then he slammed the throttle open.

Anakin laughed. "Obi-Wan used to hate..."

He looked over at his father, wondered why he had stopped speaking, and saw that his face was down turned and his lips were tight. Then his father turned to him, his expression softened, and he continued speaking, this time slowly. "Obi-Wan used to hate it when I did that."

He drew his gaze back to the viewscreen, realized he was flying comfortably in this nose to tail traffic, relying more on the Force than his eyesight. The skylane took him past the shadows of the taller buildings out over a vast plain, a plain formed by the rooftops of lesser buildings. To the left one building distinguished itself, not graceful and slender like the rest, but broad and squat, its bulk rising above the plain. From its summit five spires reached even higher into the sky.

"Take us over there, Luke. Put the ship down anywhere on that main plaza," his father said, pointing at the broad building.

The impression of massiveness only grew stronger the closer they came to the building. He could make out figures carved in the solid stone sides, saw the broken remains of statues, all built on the scale of giants.

"Are we going to use the transponder trick again?" he said, having grown at ease with the idea.

His father's voice was solemn. "There is no need. This building is empty, has been for a long time."

He brought the shuttle to rest on the open expanse of the plaza, and he unbuckled himself from the pilot's seat, headed towards the lowered ramp to exit.

"Luke, wait," Anakin said. "There's something in my suit you will need. In the belt."

He went to where the life support suit lay across the seats, and picked up the belt. On the inner surface, behind the electronic controls, he saw a slit in the leather. He slid a finger in, and two silvery keycards popped forward.

"Take them both," Anakin said.

- - - - -

They were standing in front of a door that lead into the middle section of the building, the door protected by two mechanisms, a card reader and a much older touchpad. The two keycards in his hand were unmarked, and looked identical.

"Hold one, and tell me what you see," his father said.

He grasped the first one firmly in his left hand. "A tall spindly building that stands alone. It looks like Coruscant, though."

"Then it's the other one."

He swapped cards, holding the second one long enough to see an image of the broad building before them. He ran it through the card reader, and a light flashed green, but the door did not open.

"Now on the keypad enter four-two-nine-three-three-six."

He punched the numbers in, saw the old device spring to life. The display read Skywalker, A. and the door slid open. He looked over at his father.

His father motioned him in. "Go ahead, Luke. Palpatine added the cardlock, but the keypad is the original."

He stepped into a sweeping foyer, and the door slid closed behind him, sealing out the noise of Coruscant. There was a simple elegance to the interior, from the curving staircases to the arched walls to the plush carpet that he could tell had once been a vivid blue. The room spoke of power and credits, but also of beauty and harmony. He had never seen anything like it.

"What is this?" he asked.

"This is the Jedi Temple, Luke."

"But it's huge!" he said, astonished, thinking of Ben's home, and of Yoda's hut.

"It had to be. If you weren't on a mission, this was home," Anakin said. "This building housed the Jedi Order, the Archives, the Council, the bulk of the Jedi fleet. As a youngling you were raised here, as a Padawan you were schooled here."

He could almost see the hallways filled with figures, the great building teeming with life and activity. He thought of his own training, conducted in a swamp without a shred of technology. It must have been amazing to have trained as a Jedi back then.

He looked to the shimmering image of his father, watched him trace a finger over a long black mark on the wall. "What was it like?"

"To be a Jedi?" His father continued looking at the wall for a moment, but then turned to face him. "It was a hard life in the Order, very disciplined, very controlled. I always felt that they taught me just enough that I would see the horizon, but then they would throw on blinders, until the next time they decided to show me a little more.

"But to be a Jedi on an assignment, there was no better feeling. Any place you went, you could feel how much the people counted on you, how much faith they had in your abilities, and at the same time you knew that faith was not misplaced. I will tell you that I never felt better about myself than when I was serving the Republic as a Jedi."

He felt the hair on his neck rise as he supressed a shiver, fought back a sense of dread. "So what happened ?"

His father's eyes bored straight into his own. So many emotions played across his father's mind and face he wasn't sure he caught them all. Anger. Despair. Fear. Regret.

"You mean, why did I kill them? Because your mother was more important to me than the entire Jedi Order. I was told that to save her life I would have to choose between them. I would have done anything, did do everything I thought would save her."

He looked down. That was not the answer he was expecting. It didn't make sense. "How could that save her?"

"Palpatine told me he had the power to save people from dying. He promised to teach me that power if I would become his apprentice. He told me I would only be strong enough with the Dark Side to save her if I killed all the Jedi."

He didn't know what to say. Somehow, Obi-Wan's explanation had been easier to swallow, less complicated. The act was no less horrifying, but the sliver of understanding that came to him made him feel complicit. He turned to the closest staircase and sat down on the lower steps.

His father walked up to him. "I learned too late that it was all a lie, only one of the many Palpatine would tell me during the years I served him. But in the span of a single standard day everything changed, so much so that nothing could be put back. Everything I valued was gone, and by my own hand. It would have been enough to drive a man mad, would have except that I found you."

The shimmering image sat down next to him. "You were three before I knew for certain that you had survived, but it was that knowledge that sustained me when I had nothing else. I did try to kill him, my master, but he broke my neck, and after that I knew you were safer where you were. I wanted you to have everything, and I'm sorry I could not give it to you. You deserved more than you got, Luke."

His childhood wishes came to him, his wishes to have known his parents, to have felt a gaze that did not have fear mixed in with love. He lowered his head, embarrassed that hot tears were spilling from his eyes, but his father seemed not to notice them.

"I dreamed of teaching you to make your first lightsaber, of teaching you to fly, but you already know these things. It does not change what I have done, but I hope you will accept this gift," his father said, one arm sweeping across the great room in front of them. "It is all I have to give you besides stories of the past."

He looked up, confused, as he struggled to understand. "You're giving me the Jedi Temple?"

"The knowledge, I'm trying to give you the knowledge. Palpatine raided the Archives, took many of the holochrons, but it was too difficult to move it all. Much of it is still here. I want you to have it."

"What am I supposed to do with it?" he said.

"I'm not trying to put a burden on you. I know what it's like to carry the expectations of the entire Jedi Order. But if I don't give you access to this knowledge, then it is gone, maybe forever. Whatever amount you carry forward, however small, leaves the Galaxy better than it was. Whatever you are able to do, will be enough."

He sighed, rubbed a hand over his face. He did want to know more, to make the title of Jedi mean something again. His father was right, every bit of knowledge that continued on was better than none. He pulled out the keycards that he had slipped into his pocket.

"If this one goes to the Jedi Temple, what does this other one go to?"

His father's expression became serious. "The second card unlocks Palpatine's private library, at least the part he allowed me to see."

He stood up and flung the card across the carpet. "I don't want it."

"It's knowledge, Luke, just knowledge," his father said gently. "The Force is not Dark and Light. That division has been created by beings."

"I won't take it. You just told me what you did to gain the power of the Dark Side."

His father's voice remained calm, even. "I did not want the Dark Side, only the power to stop death. It was not that power that was wrong, but what I did to attain it. And if I had truly understood the nature of the Force, had I known that it was not divided into sides as I had been taught, then I would have also known that it was not dark acts that would grant me that power."

He furrowed his brow. "But anger, hate, aggression - they do lead to the wrong place."

"And love and attachment as well?" Anakin said. "The Jedi were not perfect, Luke. I would have been expelled from the Order if they had known that your mother and I were married. I was prepared to leave the Order so that we could live as a family. Even if I had, for you to be trained as a Jedi, you would have been taken from us as an infant. You and your sister would have been raised apart to ensure you were not attached. That is the wrong path, too.

"The Jedi and the Sith have been at war for millennia, and that speaks more of the nature of beings than the nature of the Force. They called me the Chosen One, the one of prophecy, who was supposed to bring balance to the Force. No one could ever agree as to what that meant, but perhaps it means it is wrong to create sides among those that follow the Force. I am giving you both keys because understanding the Force is a gift, and I cannot withhold that which is rightfully yours. You have a good heart, and are as strong a man as any I have known. You will know the right thing to do."

"That makes it sound like everything is resting on my shoulders," he said. He looked around the room and down its seemingly infinite corridors. "It would be an enormous task to rebuild what was."

His father nodded sympathetically. "Then go down a different path. I will be there to help you, as will Obi-Wan and Yoda, I am sure."

"You would allow Obi-Wan to help me?" he said, remembering Obi-Wan's death.

His father lowered his head. "There is much between he and I that I have not told you yet. He was the one who crippled me. But there was a time when he was a good friend. Even more, a brother."

"He said the same about you," he said encouragingly.

"Then maybe it can be that way again. But his devotion to the Order is unshakable. He will help you without question." His father started down the broad corridor. "Come, let me show you the Archives."

He moved quickly to catch up to his father, and then they were striding side by side again, just like in his father's dream. This time it felt exactly right.

- - - - -

They stepped out from the insulated halls of the Jedi Temple into the bright sun and thrumming noise of Coruscant. As the door slid closed behind them, he felt in his pocket for the silver keycards, pulled them out to make sure he had them both.

His father looked down at the pair of cards. "If you choose to go to Palpatine's library, you need to bring help. I was not the only of the Emperor's seconds, and the Force users among them will want that knowledge, too. It will be a dangerous place for you."

He shoved the cards back into his pocket. That was a decision for another time.

As they came up the ramp and entered the shuttle, the black armor lying across the passenger seats caught his eye.

"What should I do with the suit?" he asked.

Anakin paused to look at it. "Burn it. Burn it, because that is the Jedi way, and for me, burn it."

Luke continued on towards the cockpit and he felt an arm warm across his back, a hand sitting gently on his shoulder.

"Take us back to Endor, son, so your sister can stop worrying about you. And on the way, I'll tell you all about your mother."


End


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