Disclaimer Not my characters and not my universe.
Summary: In the end, Luke comes to him as all children do--through blood, sweat, and tears.
In the end, Luke comes to him as all children do--through blood, sweat, and tears.
It nearly does not happen--a single moment of hesitation would have cost him the chance of arresting the boy’s fall. But the crisis is past; Luke is here in his arms, flailing, helpless, as he must have been the day his mother brought him into the world. Holding him, Vader feels her absence as never before. She should be here, to comfort their son, nurture him, be his harbor in a huge and frightening and uncomprehended universe. What does Darth Vader, or even Anakin Skywalker, know of such things?
Though perhaps that is as it should be. A moment ago he spoke of training the boy; little had he thought how much a new-made father has to learn. Even, it seems, one whose son is already full grown.
Down to one hand and no hope, but still he fights! Born a warrior, this child of his! But letting the boy wound himself further in his distress would benefit neither of them, so he folds Luke in tightly, binding limbs and head safely in place, and thinks of the stolen long-ago night when Padmé made them both practice swaddling one of her niece’s dolls and he kept doing it wrong just to see her laugh. Not so tight, Ani, do you want to choke the poor thing?
Luke’s throat beats birdlike against his palm. He should loosen his grip, give the boy more room to breathe...but it’s hard. He has shaken the galaxy out like a satchel and scoured its crevices and crannies for this one precious, elusive life. He doesn’t remember the word for what he feels now that Luke is finally here, no longer a shallow pored-over image or a snatched-at figment of dreams but real, muscles quivering from the exertion of battle and the pain of his injuries, heart hammering so hard he can feel it clean through his armor where the boy’s back is pinned against his chest. Not joy, it’s something better than that. I’m not afraid, Ani. Of course it’ll hurt, but just imagine when he’s here!
A sob catches in the boy’s straitened throat, and the voice in his thoughts turns a little deeper, more lilting, just as beloved--it’s good when the baby cries, Ani, that’s so you know they’re alive and strong.
How did her song go, the one Padmé said was too sad? He can’t lay hold of the memory; it’s skittish, used to the darkness he’s driven it into a thousand thousand times.
Straining muscles slump, hyperventilation fades to shallow pants--perhaps Luke is listening to him, but more likely he’s shutting down. Young and strong and resilient though he is, this has been too much. He needs somewhere to rest.
I can go early and fix up the baby’s room...
It won’t be the room she wanted; not on Naboo, not overlooking a garden; he lacks the necessary turn of mind for such nurturing business. A spartan cabin aboard a warship is the best he can do...but it’s quiet, at least, has a bed and whole stacks of thermal blankets he’s piled there over the past three years, in a blundering and foolish hope that they will somehow show the boy his father can be something besides an enemy. It may be enough to give Luke some peace...or if peace is too much to ask, its counterfeit, sleep.
Sleeping--that was part of the song, and something about water...
The walk to the shuttle is too far for the boy in his current state, so Vader picks him up, tucking the injured arm carefully in. A feeble push with his remaining hand is all the resistance Luke has left to offer, even to such proprietary treatment. He is no burden at all, feather-light to carry, and an old fear flaps clumsy wings. What if I drop her on her head and ruin her for life?
Don’t be ridiculous, Ani. Besides, it’s a boy!
A boy...the strangest thing of all. That Palpatine should lie to him is a law of nature, that Obi-Wan should lie to him is little cause for wonder; but that the Force should lie to him still boggles belief. For twenty years he mourned a daughter, no more thinking to question what the Force had revealed than he’d doubt his eyes when they informed him space was black and two suns rose on Tatooine--but lo, the galaxy presents him with a son. Parenthood, so far, is as advertised: a barrage of surprises and upended plans.
You’ll find I’m full of surprises. Foolish child; as if he didn’t already know that, after the last three years.
Foolish old man, still to be surprised by him anyway.
They climb back through the industrial levels, out into white halls that gleam like hospital corridors, traveling along the dreamlike borders of a different, less grief-torn life. Padmé is dozing off the rigors of labor in a room nearby, and he is walking with the baby, lulling it to sleep. Head slumped against his breastplate, Luke’s eyelids stagger up and down. He can feel the boy’s breathing unconsciously synchronizing with the rhythm of his respirator. Like this, his mind drifting and unformed, Luke is neither Rebel nor would-be Jedi; he is childlike, he knows his father’s voice and touch. Sleep and remember...the song is reassembling in his thoughts, but it’s incomplete, and he can’t produce any sound recognizable as music anyway.
By the time he ducks aboard the shuttle, dreams have smoothed the wrinkles and creases of care from his son’s face, and Vader spends the flight studying it in the muted lighting of the shuttle’s command cabin.
There will be hard days to come. Luke might be beaten, but broken? Not nearly. It was defiance that jumped from the gantry; defiance like that is not so easily tamed. Luke will not readily accept his discipline or instruction. He will not soon acknowledge his father’s claims on him. He will spit and hiss and do his damnedest to provoke his captor--as he’ll insist--into killing him. Mama and Sola always say the first three months are the hardest.
Worth it, thinks Vader, to see the man he’ll become.
Worth it, thinks Anakin, to see him at all.
He carries Luke all the way, heedless of the scandalized and bewildered stares of every being they pass; only the boy exists for him today. It never occurs to him to call a medic; he bandages the maimed wrist himself, hands adept from overmuch knowledge of such injuries. More kind to his son than to himself, he even injects an anesthetic hypospray first. When all that is needful has been done, he sits beside the bed and keeps watch, spellbound. Rest is a misnomer for what Luke does when he sleeps--now muttering loud nonsense, now kicking the sheets into a tangle in response to a dream, ever tossing and turning. Unruly, spirited, even in slumber. This boy will be everything his father should have been, before youth and grief and Jedi poison made this patched shipwreck of him. He will be strong. He will be powerful. He will be salvation to this shattered and miserable galaxy--the Force decrees it, a ringing promise that shines behind him like sunrise gilding the borders of thunderheads.
Will be. Just now, he’s the one who needs saving.
He weaves Luke’s hair through his fingers, as a slave woman once did when the world was too hard for another boy, and her voice leaps to the lips of his mind, words and notes full-formed, singing to her grandson. Hush now, my baby; be still, love, don’t cry; sleep as you’re rocked by the stream...sleep and remember my last lullaby, so I’ll be with you when you dream.
Luke sleeps...for a time. Towards the middle of the ship’s night cycle he wakes, disoriented and frightened. There are screams, and sobs, and struggles, and unreasoning refusals to eat or be comforted. Later, no doubt, such childish dramatics will overstrain his patience. But not tonight.
Tonight he is a new father, and the sound of his child is a music he has waited long to hear.