The youngster stood poised at the bottom of the steps looking up at him with enormous eyes that seemed to fill half his face. Then he began a cautious climb from the freezing chamber, never releasing his gaze from the Dark Lord. His features were illuminated and pious, as if he believed he was about to confront a grotesque monster and save the galaxy singlehandedly.
Vader's eyes narrowed. It was tempting to laugh at such juvenile nonsense--but he could still remember himself at that young, idealistic age. Nothing would incense his son more than mocking his convictions. The youth halted on the landing only a few meters from him, the unwavering stare locked on his face. His gaze never dropped. Skywalker had courage, all right.
And he also had the Skywalker looks. Vader could see much of himself in the stubborn set of the jaw, the unworldly blue of the eyes, the thick shock of blond hair; some of the faithless mother in the stature. Too, he sensed another aspect of himself--the immeasurably deep Skywalker anger. Anger that Palpatine would savor, then consume, then repay a hundredfold.
The lightsaber ignited, glowing a blinding white-green. He recognized it immediately as his own. Obi-Wan had somehow saved the saber, while letting the man fall into a flaming hell. His lips twitched with ancient anger, but he remained silent.
The boy was sensitive; his gaze faltered for a fraction of a second in the face of the wrath. Vader knew the child wouldn't be able to stand the quiet tension much longer. The lightsaber was raised defensively. Still Vader remained unmoving.
"Draw your weapon, Lord Vader."
Such a voice! Full of solemnity and righteousness. He let another moment go by before he replied. "No, Luke. I will not draw on you."
The weapon lowered fractionally. "You must. We...I must confront you."
That this particular question had not been expected was evident in the glint of surprise. Luke searched for an explanation. "Because... you are evil. I must confront evil. I must defeat you if I am to become a--"
Jedi like your father? Indeed! He chuckled. "I am not evil, Luke."
"Stop calling me that!" the boy snapped. He backed away a few steps, lightsaber still held at the ready.
"It is your name, Luke Skywalker. It is a name I know well."
The child backed away further, finally lowering his blade and extinguishing it. "What manner of trickery is this?"
He nearly laughed aloud at the archaic language. Obi-Wan had taught this one the old ways too well. "No trickery, Luke. I am not evil. I am a Jedi--just as you will be someday."
"I'll never be like you!" Naive horror filled the youthful voice. "You're no Jedi!"
Vader walked a few paces closer. Observed with satisfaction that Skywalker did not back down. "Do you want to know what happened to your father?"
Surprise, then deep sadness flitted across the mobile features. "I know what happened!" Ripe anger filled the words. "You killed him! You betrayed and murdered him like the rest of the Jedi! Was he your friend? Did you betray his friendship too?"
The boy had knowingly walked into danger to save the princess and the smuggler. Obviously friendship was a feeling deeply held by the child, worthy of the ultimate personal sacrifice. Perhaps it filled the void that had been left by absent parents. Why did she abandon my son? "No, Luke. It was Obi-Wan who betrayed and nearly murdered your father."
"Liar." The single word was scathing and bitter. "You're evil, you'll lie about anything. Ben warned me. He said--" The diatribe came to an abrupt halt. "What do you mean, nearly? Did he--what happened to my father?" A stunning flame of impossible hope blazed through the question, illuminating the dark corners of the Force with its intensity.
Ben? So Obi-Wan used his former name, his gentle and unassuming name. Used a meek name while he played god with the life of Vader's son. As he had done with Vader himself. Ah, child, you do not know the fate from which you have escaped--the fate Kenobi had planned for you.
"I will not lie to you about what happened, Luke." He paused, letting the apprehension build in the boy. "I am Anakin Skywalker. I am your father."
Fleetingly, he saw a brief, radiant joy; it vanished immediately and was replaced first by disbelief, then by angry horror. "No, you aren't. You killed him, you took him away from me, and now--now you think you can--now you're trying to hurt me more." The lightsaber was reignited, and the boy stepped closer, within striking distance, his fury sending impassioned shockwaves through both of them. "I'm going to kill you."
The impulsive words were telling, both for what Luke had said and what he had tried not to say. And now you think you can walk back into my life? The child's wounds were deep, but could be so easily healed. "I will not fight you, my son. If you strike me down, it will be you who murders your father." I am already here, boy. Luke's confusion was ambrosia to his heightened senses. The lightsaber was lowered and switched off again. The dark blond head shook in despairing denial. "You aren't my father. You can't be my father. My father was a hero in the Clone Wars! He was a Jedi. I'm a Jedi like he was. But you--you're evil."
"I am not evil," he reiterated, knowing that somehow he hadn't found the right bond that would engage his son's loyalty. Far better--for Lord Vader--to bring the Emperor a willing supplicant than a prisoner frozen in carbonite. Perhaps a call for help was required, the same call that had enticed Luke to Bespin. "Yes, I was a hero. Yes, I was a Jedi--l still am. I was betrayed by someone for whom I cared deeply. I was grievously wounded by him. And then I was saved."
"Saved ... by what?"
The Skywalker curiosity was overcoming Luke's skepticism. In that instant, Vader saw that if the story he told touched his son's heart, the boy would belong to him. He reached out and grasped the small shoulder, mildly surprised by the muscle play he felt under his fingers. Luke looked down at the hand, then back at him, mistrust and cautious longing both plainly displayed on his face. Such innocence. Such foolish, wasteful innocence.
"Saved by Palpatine. In return for my life, I gave him my loyalty." A modified version of the truth, perhaps, but surely an effective one for this tale of friendship betrayed.
"You can't be my father--you turned to the Dark Side!" Barely perceptible resignation mixed with all the other sensations that reverberated in the young voice. "My father would have never...."
Vader rejoiced inside. Whether he realized it yet or not, the boy had accepted that they were father and son. "The Force is comprised of Dark and Light balancing. In my anger over Obi-Wan's treachery, I slipped too far into the Dark Side. I did not have the strength to lift myself free, my son. Nor did I have anyone to help me. The assistance Palpatine offered was of a different nature."
That was the lure. Would Luke accept it and yearn to be his father's savior? A myriad of emotions passed through the blue eyes that were fixed on him, judging him. Taking the measure of the father. For a moment Vader felt a pang of conscience. The child would trust him; he'd already taken the first tentative step down that path. "Luke...."
His word broke the straining silence. Golden brown lashes blinked rapidly. "You are my father," the boy said softly, never breaking his gaze. There was wonder and elation and sorrow and rage in the statement.
"Yes, I am your father." He allowed his hand to stray upward to brush the cheek that had become bloodless. Felt the beginnings of enslavement--in the boy, only in the boy. Put a smile in his voice. "You have my eyes, young one." Eyes that could hide nothing, eyes that betrayed every one of their owner's seething passions. "And there is much of your mother in you." Not too much, I hope, for both our sakes.
Hurt--no attempt to conceal it--flashed across the white face. "I wouldn't know," Luke said stiffly. "I can't see your eyes. And I never knew my mother."
The feelings of grief and abandonment ran deeper than he'd suspected. Vader couldn't help feeling a trace of compassion; this was, after all, the flesh of his flesh, the child of his body. He'd created this boy who had grown up in his image even without his influence and guidance. Raised by Obi-Wan's brother, a man he'd always despised--the irony of it! Another in the endless parade of brutal betrayals by his former friend and mentor.
He sensed the unasked question. "I never knew of your existence,"he said quietly. "Had I known I had a son, I would have come for you. I would have raised you. I would not have allowed us to be parted." The truth, pure in its simplicity. This needy young Skywalker could not reject its appeal.
The steady gaze focused on him, still not fully trusting. Waiting to be convinced, longing to be persuaded. It would require only a few well-chosen words to draw the boy to his side--and now that he understood his child's desires, the appeal that would ensure success waited only to be uttered by him.
With a sigh, Vader turned away from his son, walked to the thick steel rails that overlooked the carbon freezing chamber. He leaned against them heavily and stared into nothingness.
"How different...." His voice trailed off, an edge of pathos in the lost declaration.
As he expected, Luke approached immediately. The boy paused very close behind his shoulder. "How different, what?"
He bowed his head in bleak contemplation, then slowly turned it to the side. "How different my life could have been had I known I had a son."
The silence that followed his statement was electric. Over the hiss of equipment in the chamber, he heard his respirator, its even pulses unmatched to the thrill of his anticipation, the exhilaration of winning this provocative game--oh, yes, it is won, dear one! It seemed like eternity before he saw the small hand come to rest on his glove. "It's not too late to change your life, Father, if you really want to. You have a son now. I can help you."
He nearly laughed in triumph as he turned to face the youngster. He held out one arm, and Luke embraced him with all the hunger of a homeless orphan. So easy--
And Palpatine had warned him it would be difficult!