Title: Downward to Darkness
Rusty splinters of sunset lit the noxious clouds beneath his feet, their burnt sienna colour hinting at the hot particles that swarmed within them, and that waited impatiently to burn his skin away as soon as he released his hold on the strut. Groping blindly upwards for another handhold only to slip further down the metal strut, there was nothing left for Luke to do but wait for the weathervane to snap and for him to continue his tumble into nothingness.
He could barely remember how he had gotten into this predicament anyway. A dark, rumbling voice that was filled with the intoxicating power of the Force dominated his memories. They had fought. Luke had shouted his replies automatically as his victor questioned him, and he had clutched at any chance of victory. Or, at the least, of escape.
`Don't make me destroy you,' Vader had said, and lowered the saber, as if he meant it as more than just a trick to bring Luke away from the edge he crawled towards. But Luke had never before conceived of destruction, not as in his own death, because there was still a father -- unknown but never unloved -- to be avenged, a comrade to be rescued, a princess to woo...
But Leia had escaped. The comm system had boomed a proclamation off the metal walls of the reactor shaft: `The prisoners have escaped...'
And left him. To face Vader and the unknown; to face his own destruction. He had abandoned his tutor, risked his life for them... and been abandoned in turn. It was not the first time he had known this pain - it had been a part of him as he grew up. But the abandonment by his father could be explained through wild fantasies and dreams. Leia's, and Chewie's, could not.
For the first time in his short but honest life, he knew real terror.
But he wasn't dead, and instead of striking him down Vader had declared his importance even as his hand stretched out to claim him. To possess him, as only a parent can - as only Vader could. And maybe Luke didn't understand his importance; maybe he didn't want to.
Even in all his nightmares, he had never imagined Vader's next words would be so damning; the next proclamation from the Sith Lord that offered him his hand instead of striking him down tipping his world on its axis. The seconds between, 'No' and 'I am your father' were, in hindsight, heavy and weighted and stretched. The horror that welled up was all too quickly overtaken by a desperate need to know, until he felt the whole of the city had to hear his soul calling out for its creator.
And so he'd had to jump.
This perch beneath the belly of Cloud City was only a temporary reprieve: Luke knew what he should do now. Having fallen this far he should just... release himself to the clouds. And embrace destruction.
But he couldn't. Now he came down to it, he was terrified. Once, he could jump without knowledge of where his body would land - with his spine angled to take the full brute-force of the jump and with the excuse of emotions tearing his mind apart. But twice? And the second time a jump into nowhere, to be stripped by hot sulphur, suffocated by tibana gas and crushed by the weight of the planet bearing down upon his shoulders? There was no hysteria in his anticipation of the gruesome future that waited hungrily beneath his feet, just honesty. And in all honesty, he was terrified.
An impatient gust of wind tried to dislodge him; made the fingers on his remaining hand flail and, forgetting the stump that was all that was left of his right hand, he reached out with his other arm. And the metal pole was knocked against his open wound.
Pain rang down his nerves, exploding behind his eyes and he grasped madly at the metal. Got a grip. Lost it. Fell.
His remaining hand grabbed at the bottom rung, his feet pulled downwards by the winds and gravity. The sound of his mental call bounced back to him, the word mocking him. Father. Why had he called that? The answer was simple, and honest; Vader was his father. He had known it as soon as Vader had spoken - screamed his denial because a lie would have been less painful.
Owen Lars had been his first
father-figure, angry, unreserved in his ire. The man
brought up images of a leather strap hanging from the
garage door, and the day Luke had turned on him,
declaring he was more than heir to a hundred square
klicks of sand and grit. Ben had been something closer: a
man he respected, but not truly loved. A guardian angel:
a gentle teacher when he was near failure and a voice
But Vader was the only man he would
ever be able to call a 'father' from now on. He had
shattered all illusions Luke had both guarded close to
his heart and worn defiantly on his sleeve. Vader, who
defied everything a father should be and offered him
dreams he had never known to dream of. Dreams that had
taken on a dangerous lure as Vader brought to bear to
full heinous power of the dark side to twist
But - no.
Luke had felt no manipulation in those words -- 'Join me... we can end this destructive conflict' -- only longing. The only rage that tainted the older man had been a rage to possess, a siren call to Luke's desperate need to belong. A need that was answered in his worst enemy; in his greatest fears.
The absurdity of his situation drew a hysterical sob from him, something that was meant to be a laugh but that was filled with the terror of falling and the greater fear of Falling. Where was kindly Old Ben now? Wincing somewhere in the Force, probably, his untruth unveiled.
*Help me! I don't... I don't want to die!*
He was too young - had too many quests that needed following. He had to avenge his father, and discover who he'd been - and if Luke could ever be like him. He had to rescue Han and he had to rescue the Alliance and at some point he had to rescue himself, too.
Instead, he was going to die. He had to hand it to Vader; no one had ever dealt him such a crushing blow.
He had to hand it to him...
... hand it to him.
He looked down at the stump of his right arm and another sob, almost a wail, was torn from his throat, "Father!"
What was he doing? He was supposed to be giving himself to the Great Sacrifice, not calling out for the comforting circle of his soul's creator. But who had the right to destroy him, other than the one who created him? "Help me!"
The winds snatched his words, but he was heard, and he knew it. The billows of red and yellow cloud tore apart, revealing a great raven ship, shaped with its wings outspread like a bird rising up to claim him. A great black angel of....
His fingers slipped again, just once more.
*Release your hold, Luke.*
Where had he heard that before? 'Let go your conscious self, and act on instinct!'
No, that father had truly abandoned him. Not Ben -- Vader.
In this thing, of all things, he would fail.
The front ramp of the lambda shuttled lowered, an orange wedge of light racing off into the clouds and the Dark Lord appeared at its entrance, cape snapping in the wind.
"Let go!" he commanded.
Luke almost smiled, almost laughed hysterically but he feared another of those wailing sobs. Let go - release yourself; not to die, but to live. And he could never do that; never give in to his enemy - could he? He flailed again, truly lost his grip, squeezed his eyes shut against destruction, cried out -And floated, slowly - drifting downwards, not falling.
He opened his eyes, ignoring the blur of tears. Warmth replaced the icy cold, a steady heartbeat -- real, not mechanical -- replaced the howls of the winds. He struggled briefly, his mind screaming -- 'I can't be like you!' but he was too exhausted to truly complain. Sleep was calling, the urge waltzing through his mind. But... he had to know....
"I let go?"
"Indeed you did, my son."
And strangely, Falling
didn't feel so bad.