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Title: At the End
Author: frodogenic (http://www.fanfiction.net/u/1080220/)
Rating: PG-13
Category: Drama
Characters: Vader, Luke

Disclaimer – Not my characters, well most of them, and not my universe.

Summary: Only now, at the end, does he understand.

Author's Note: This is the first oneshot I've tried, based off an idea that's been floating around in my head for a while. It was surprisingly tricky...I know this isn't much in line with my usual style, and I know that it's rather ambiguous and probably hard to follow. There will not be a followup to this one, although I do have a potential companion piece in mind dealing with that same scene at the end of ROTJ. Just to clarify--At the End is told from Vader/Anakin's point of view, although hopefully for most of the first half or so you can also read it as being from Luke's POV. That's the intent, because what inspired this fic was my perception that Palpatine's words could be spoken just as accurately to Anakin as to Luke Skywalker. That's why I avoided using any proper names. But to help make things clearer, any time "he" or "him" is in italics, it's referring to Luke.

If you will not be turned…you will be destroyed!

A snarling cracks through the air—the color blue, suddenly an animate living thing, twisted and corrupt like all living things are, except that this makes no effort to conceal its wickedness, only arcs its way mercilessly through atmosphere and flesh alike, bound inexorably for its intended target—his heart. Blue, like his eyes are. Have been? Will be?

Like his eyes, perhaps—but there has been no chance to find that out before, and now the time for chances is gone. Time for anything but death is gone. Death and pain. The blue beast flails through the air but nonetheless stabs true into his core. He feels the punishment in every feather-ending of every nerve, so keenly that there is no space left in which to feel that it is not fair. No time left for fairness either—just death and pain, and truth, their brutal offspring.

A cackling voice spirals out through the void between him and the universe, speaking all three.

Young fool…only now, at the end, do you understand!

The monster of blue is a vicious agony, but this new, evolving monstrosity of black words is a pain beyond bearing—truth. Bespin was truth. The pain in his hand is truth. He was truth. The vast chasm between them was truth—the chasm of light and dark, infinitely separate, which in this the end neither of them could cross.

Do these truths also haunt him? Does he also see them rearing their ghastly, unsoftened visages in the dead of night? Has he also spent what life he has known fleeing the pain of the truth?

No matter. The time is nearly gone for both of them. Now, at the end, the truth cannot be denied, and the whip of understanding is breaking him beneath its blows.

Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the dark side, the black voice of truth sneers relentlessly. His mind cowers, broken, stripped of what strength it has ever had in the face of what can no longer be denied. In sick obedience he acquiesces to the self-evident.

One alone cannot defy the darkness and live.

Perhaps with her—had he but asked it—with her he might have defeated the evil that gives such searing power to the writhing, exploding blue monster tearing at his very soul. But the decision was long ago made within him to succumb to pride, to battle the blackness with his own flawed strength that left no room for her to come alongside. Time is all but gone, and chance with it.

Vengefully the voice of truth agrees from the depths of the black hole. You have paid the price for your lack of vision!

The time is past for learning to see. The cost has crushed a galaxy. The one hope that remains to him in this last brief gasp of time is the certain knowledge that soon seeing will cease to matter, for there will be nothing left to see. The darkness has nearly consumed everything; the last spark by which he can see anything will die with him. From out of the void float words that seem like the memory of another—the Dark Side clouds everything…

If only it would cloud the pain, the screams! He hears screams now—yet again he is paying the penalty for his blindness, for he cannot see where the screams come from. Him? The black voice? The monster of leaping blue? Himself?

Yes, it must be himself. The pain is dismembering everything he has become, its flame licking away the trappings of constructed identity until there is nothing left but a soul crushed by the blackness. The intrinsic light of its birth has bled away, stolen from it by the blackness, photon by photon; what pitiful sparks it has left stagger on the verge of extinction. He is stumbling forward, compelled by the leash of truth hauling on his broken neck, nothing in sight beyond the looming block and axe.

And he cannot but agree that his foolishness deserves nothing more.

The blue beast rips into him once more and falls silent at the order of the black voice, its sole master. The pain ebbs, just enough for him to feel it even more keenly, to sense rivulets of sweat inching their paths down his weak body. Dimly he wonders if he feels the same—if he catches the scent of sweat weighing down the air. If he can still sense the soothing touch of the cool air.

The voice of truth observes, and is satisfied by the price soon to be paid. Now, young Skywalker, you will die.

Cold certainty, sated vengeance. They will be the last things he knows before truth exacts its last payment. These…and stillness?

There is stillness. A breath of peace. He savors it desperately—it has been so long! It quiets the pain, glosses the void, places a soft sheen on the blackness, paves a narrow path, and he follows it…

…To him.

In that instant the voice of truth sees them touch, and it snarls fury—the blue monster explodes back into cruel life, tearing at them both with its claws, but it cannot sever the tenuous path of peace, and it cannot make him forget what he touches in that instant.

A light in the darkness. Wavering, passing into the distance, but there!

There, even now.

A cry springs out, amid the renewed, intensifying agony.

Father, please!

The voice of truth hears despair, and howls triumph, fury, goading the tentacled blue monster onward—and it does not hear the other voices as they appear in the void alongside that single pain-born plea.

You’re going down a path I can’t follow…

All he must do is turn around.

The dark side clouds everything…

But the light will grant him sight.

Only a master of evil…

And evil mastered him.

He’s the traitor!

And a traitor is a liar.

You were supposed to bring balance to the Force, not leave it in darkness!

Balance is wholeness.

He told me enough! He told me you killed him!

How long has his spirit lain crushed by his own will?

You were my brother, Anakin!

And he can be again.

You must learn to let go…

So that the truth can set him free.

He is broken and stripped, revealed for what he is in and of himself—and in a moment of contact, the ugly truth of his black, scarred soul has been revealed. He lets that truth hang between them, in the midst of the pain and death, bitter and regretful.

His answer to this truth is another truth, one stronger than life though it is heard only faintly.

I love you, Father…

Pride dies.

The galaxy, the Force itself, swells into a beauty beyond beautiful, a song beyond song, and light beyond brilliance. For the first time, he can see. The Force is life, the heartbeat of the universe. The darkness is a perversity, a devourer of life, a cannibal. The light is love, the great life-sustainer. He is a blazing beacon, a torch driving back the night—for a love that transcends self is the essence of light. The cancerous darkness is selfish, but the Force’s light encompasses all.

Now, at the end, he understands.

A love like that could have saved her. He knows. It has saved him. And there is still time enough for it to save him.

Love heals his crushed spirit with wings, and he flies in joy out into the void, seizing the enemy and lifting it overhead. Pain can touch him no longer—he hurls the darkness away from them both. The blue monster writhes, the black voice shrieks, both tormented by the same truth that has redeemed him. The dark is pain. The truth is love and freedom.

His body is broken now, but he feels the pain of that more than he himself does. The joy of a whole spirit lifts him into euphoria, and though there is still not much time left it is to him as an eternity. His mind is already fled beyond time, seeking eagerly in the universal fire-song for others long loved and gone, for he cannot wait to shout to them I see!

But there is one behind him, crying to him to wait, and he turns back into the little time remaining with one purpose.

He can see now—and he wants to see his eyes.

Take this mask off…

The other is reluctant, but obeys. His joy surges to newfound heights as his own eyes see for the first time their child.

His eyes are blue too. They are more alive than the monster ever was, ever could be. Sadness flows through them, but he too understands at the end.

Tell your sister you were right, he breathes. He can tell the others, but he must be the one to tell his sister the joyful news that their father can finally see.

And then, with a last sigh, he lets go of time and reaches for the light of the truth, and it sets him free from the pain of a lifetime.

Only now, at the beginning, does he understand.

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