Vader looked up from his work to find his son standing in the doorway, looking vague. His hair was tousled, his pyjamas half wraped around his body again, as if he’d been tossing and turning. Still, as he stood in the door, he seemed calm. Peaceful.
“Child,” Vader greeted flatly.
Luke gave him a small smile, rubbing one sleeve over his face as he stepped further into the room. He looked out of place in the cold, mechanical space, his starry flannel pyjamas at odds with the sharp angles and flat tones of the suite. He looked like the one thing alive in a world of machines, warm and organic and real, contrasted with manufactured functionality.
As he neared, Vader pushed himself away from his desk, uncertain about the boy’s chosen destination. He had waited… had waited a lifetime, to see his son again, but found himself so unable to understand him.
Perhaps, years ago, he would have been able to see eye to eye with his child and understand his erratic whims. Now, with his son practically on loan from the Alliance, a guest more than an ally, he was lost. The boy had volunteered to come, to be collateral on an effort to take the Emperor down together, to figure out ruling the galaxy after the fact.
Vader was secretly hoping Luke would take control. Perhaps it was stupid, to hope that the idealistic boy who slept barefoot and wandered out of his quarters in the middle of the night, looking for his father, could be a galactic leader. Perhaps it was foolish to want Luke to lead at all, perhaps that held the same threat as his father leading. Of war and fury and lust for power -
At the moment, that didn’t seem very likely.
Luke made it across the room before boosting himself up onto his father’s desk, drawing his feet up in front of himself and wrapping his arms around his knees.
“I can’t sleep,” he said.
Vader reached out and pushed one of Luke’s feet more firmly onto the desk. “So I see.”
Luke gave him a slight, sleepy smile, and Vader couldn’t help returning it.
In the day, Luke was all business, acting as both as a student and a correspondent. It was a great deal of work, and Vader might have been concerned, if Luke couldn’t throw his professionalism away with the setting of the sun and return a scruffy child.
“No nightmares,” Luke said casually, resting his head against his shoulder, and gazing at his father. “Just not that tired, I guess. I thought I’d come sit with you.”
“On my work,” Vader said, carefully manoeuvring his datapad out from under his son.
Luke watched him impassively, making no effort to make himself less of a nuisance. “Looks like.”
“Not all of us get to take time out to rest,” Vader scolded. But he hardly minded his son’s intrusion. He had done all the research he really thought would be helpful, was now overpreparing, driving himself to anxiety. He had tried to think of every possible outcome of their attempted coup, but all feasible outcomes had been considered, and now each moment of thought given seemed to take him back to the thought of his master coming into possession of his child.
“Maybe I was sent by the Force to tell you to get some sleep,” Luke suggested, poking at Vader with one toe.
His head was still cushioned on his shoulder, his shoulders sloping and eyes only mostly open. He was visibly tired, and Vader almost wanted to scold him for keeping himself awake, but he could remember a time when sleeping had sometimes not come easily, and he had felt that that time was better spent with his loved ones.
“Perhaps the Force should find a more authoritative figure to tell me that,” he teased gently, grasping Luke’s ankle as the boy went for another nudge, enjoying the sensation of holding onto another person, even if the contact had been carefully selected to be explainable as ensuring Luke didn’t slip off the smooth desk.
“Sorry I don’t have the gravitas for that, Father. I think you managed to steal it somehow.” He had a little smile on his face and was watching Vader’s hand with a shine of knowing in his eyes.
Vader couldn’t be bothered to deny his motives as he set his foot back on the desk.
His son was back. His son. Padmé’s little boy, dear and sweet and kind and innocent, in spite of all the terrible things his father had done. The juxtaposition of the cold, calculated military agreement made with the Alliance, and the leap of his heart as his son’s ship had descended into view, and he had had to make excuses for waiting at the window. The sight of the boy hauling what amounted to an overnight bag into the hallway of his castle, where it had been abandoned by the wall while they had properly made their acquaintance.
Of Luke running to him, stumbling to an uncertain halt before him, as Vader’s heart pounded so hard it threatened to overwhelm its supports, and tear itself from his chest. The two of them, standing in the hallway, circling each other uncertainly, the motion almost throwing Vader back to when they had fought at Bespin, before Luke had uncertainly stepped forwards, and offered his new hand.
He would never forget leading the child to his room, one built half on fever dreams and desperate hope, half on the sudden, shocking realization that there was a child to fill it after all, and seeing Luke throw himself onto the bed, smiling up at the ceiling.
He was suddenly in a position to see his son bleary eyed in the morning, half asleep over his breakfast, or find him playing video games in his spare time between training and planning. He was able to watch the boy training and ensure to a degree the Jedi would have frowned upon that he not be injured. He was allowed to watch Luke stick his tongue between his teeth when typing correspondence to the Alliance and struggling to find the right words.
He was even slowly learning how to touch the boy.
It was awkward and strange and not at all like holding Padmé had been, all those years ago. His son was still frightened of him, frightened of his touch, and Vader didn’t blame him for that. But, ever so slowly, he was learning. A gentle brush of his fingers across Luke’s shoulder, or a steadying hand during training, or their fingers brushing when they passed things.
Or now, Luke sitting on a desk, and letting his father grip his ankle in comfort.
It was reassuring.
More than he deserved or would have thought himself capable of asking for.
And yet, again and again, he would wish to reach out and just feel his son’s physical presence, to assure himself of his boy’s existence. And again and again, Luke would not deny him, might even lean into the touch.
“What good would it do you if I did go to bed,” he asked. “You wish to have company.”
Luke smiled, “I could cope.”
“And yet, I do not wish to leave you,” Vader said, before finally giving in to his desire to hold Luke better, and reaching uncertainly for his hand. “It has been…” he hesitated, unsure if he wanted to continue, to let Luke in on his pain and loneliness. “It has been a long time, since I had company.”
Luke’s smile shifted somewhat, and he slipped his feet off the desk, leaning towards Vader. “It’s over now, Father. You don’t have to be alone anymore.”
“I don’t deserve-,” Vader began, and he found his throat suddenly closed, the closeness of his child, the open honesty of the boy’s eyes, too much to process. He was only a child, just a baby, automatically moving towards a gentle touch, he had no ideawhat he was accepting!
“It’s not aboutdeserving,” Luke said, accepting his hand, and squeezing it so tightly that a leather glove, and enormously sub-par prosthetics, couldn’t fully dull the sensation. “You’re my father. You’re the one person I always wanted to know.”
Vader wanted to argue with that, to express to Luke the absurdityof wishing to know Darth Vader, but no words would come. He couldn’t bear to lose Luke, to be reminded that the boy was a tie to Anakin, not what ruined husk remained of him. He wanted Luke to be his, but everything from the boy’s easy smiles to his very namewas a reminder that he was just the last remains of a different life.
A better life.
He didn’t have words. He couldn’t express the importance of his child, the awe he still felt that the boy could even exist, his insistent fear of being separated from the boy. The worth of a child who could somehow encapsulate all that had been good about the Republic, despite never having lived it.
It hurt. It hurt terribly to realize – to finally understandhow important his son was.
To him alone. To him personally, selfishly needing the boy so good that no onecould deserve him, much less a butcher and slave like his father, undeserving of even the barest comforts.
The rest of the galaxy be damned. Just to one broken man, Luke was the galaxy. The worth he held for others must have been incredible, all consuming, catastrophic – but Vader couldn’t bring himself to consider it.
Luke was his. No matter how little he deserved his child, Luke was his son.
The boy’s forehead was creasing, a look of terrible worry in his face, and Vader couldn’t bear to meet his gaze anymore.
“Luke,” he croaked, and he couldn’t bring himself to carethat it was almost exclusively the vocoder carrying his words, “You are the galaxy.”
Immediately, the concern vanished from Luke’s face, replaced with absolute confusion, “No! No, I’m not!”
“You are!” Vader argued, reaching out and grabbing his son’s shoulders, pulling him closer in a sudden deranged need to have his son even closer. “There is nothing and no one in the galaxy who can compare to your goodness!”
“That’s ridiculous!” Luke denied, pushing his father’s hands off. “Father, I don’t want to be important, I just want to be your son!”
“And yet, you are more than that. I am nothing, child. Nothing but battered mechanisms and ruined flesh. You are what remains of the Republic. What little value it retained.”
He realized suddenly that he could express it, that he could show his son that he was meant to follow in his mother’s footsteps, not his father’s.
“You could rebuild it. You could make it what it should have been.”
“I…” Luke looked uncertain now, his voice a chilling reminder of his mother’s, begging Vader all those years ago. “I’m not, I can’t…”
“You could,” Vader insisted, gripping his son’s shoulders tightly. He remembered trying to give Padmé the galaxy, and her horrified refusal, but she had never seen the worst the galaxy had to offer, she hadn’t understoodwhy dictatorship would be preferable to a weak democracy.
“I don’t know anything about politics!” Luke denied. His eyes were wild, pleading with him to understand. “I only know that the Empire is terrible, that there has to be a better way! I only have the most basic understanding, I couldn’t lead the galaxy!”
“It’s in your blood,” Vader argued, distantly aware that what he was saying sounded absurd. “Your mother was a brilliant politician, you could be too. With strong leadership, the galaxy won’t needJedi”
“You can save the galaxy, Luke!”
“Father!”Luke pulled away, standing up, and backing out of arms reach. “I am not a politician! I never will be, I don’t wantto be! One person could neverattend to all the needs of the galaxy.” His eyes softened, and he took a small step back towards Vader, holding his hands out. “It’s okay, Father. We don’t have to take care of the galaxy. We just have to dismantle the Empire; we both want to.”
He stepped closer again, and took both of Vader’s hands, curling his fingers (so small, so human) around Vader’s. Slowly, he knelt, and Vader’s heart ached to see the boy bend a knee to anyone, but Luke was drawing his hands to his chest, and he couldn’t fight back.
“We have to let the galaxy get back to taking care of itself. We’re not armies, Father. We’re not omnipotent.”
His eyes were so wide, so certain of what he was saying.
“We can solve problems as people. Not as a full, functioning government.” He smiled slightly, at last, “Let’s leave governing to the people who likeit, okay?”
“Luke…” Vader hesitated, before reaching out, desperate for contact, and cradled his son’s jaw, “You’ve seen Tatooine. The galaxy needsa ruler.”
“Did it get so much better after Palpatine took control?” Luke asked, tilting his head, or perhaps just pressing into Vader’s hands. “Did all the planets in the Outer Rim improve? Was anyone saved?”
“It has to work,” Vader begged. “Democracy didn’t.”
Luke shook his head, carefully pulling back, and coming to his feet. “Neither has your empire.”
“It has to work.” Vader repeated, desperate for reassurance that this hadn’t all been for nothing.
“We’ll go back to Tatooine together,” Luke promised, taking Vader’s desperately reaching hands again. “We’ll help them. As Jedi.”
Vader made a horrible noise, and for a second, Luke recoiled, looking worried, before Vader snared him in his arms, pulling him close.
“I am hardly a Jedi,” he said.
In his arms, he felt Luke shake his head slightly, felt the rise and fall of his chest.
“As something else then,” Luke shrugged. “What matters is that we’ll do it together.”
“Together,” Vader whispered, tightening his arms around his child. Together was a foreign concept, it had been so long since there had been a ‘together’. He was still confused by Luke’s ability to cling to him, and tell him that things would be alright, as either Luke was terribly wrong about everything, or he was a monster, had killed meaninglessly, had destroyed the whole galaxy.
But Luke still came back. He came back for the Alliance’s plan, yes, but he came to Vader of his own volition, daily. He sat with him while working, he ate his meals with Vader, he had even come stumbling in here because he couldn’t sleep.
“Force, I love you,” Vader croaked at last. He had instinctively cupped his son’s head in his hand, mirroring half-remembered parenting manuals from another life. His boy was not a baby anymore, certainly, but perhaps… perhaps there was still some good to be done…
“You must rest.”
“I’m alright, I-,” Luke began, the words turning into a squawk of surprise as Vader lifted him. “Hey!”
Vader half wanted to chuckle, but he couldn’t make a sound, too determined to hold his son. The boy quickly accepted his fate, seeming to shrug as he slumped into Vader’s arms, becoming loose, his arms looped around Vader’s neck.
“You have to sleep too.”
Vader wanted to refute it and stand over his son’s bedside to protect him from any harm. With every day his child went peacefully to sleep in his home, he found himself more afraid of someone breaking in, late at night, and killing or kidnapping the boy. The thought of losing him now was unbearable, and yet, it was the one thought he could consistently have.
“Promise me,” Luke said reproachfully, and Vader recognized an implicit threat in the words. ‘Promise me you’ll sleep, or I won’t be so easy to carry’.
“Very well, little one.”
It was accepting defeat, but Vader was ready for defeat now. His son could guide him, he would do as he was told, if the return was getting to hold his boy, and finally have human contact again.
He pulled back the blankets on Luke’s bed, which had been kicked aside when Luke had come out to him, and used the Force to pry Luke from himself, and lower him to his bed.
He would have liked to bodily lower the boy to the bed, but his ruined body said loud and clear that that was not an option. Still, he leaned over as best he could, pulling the heavy blankets over Luke, caressing his hair, and carefully lowering himself to the bed beside him.
“In your own bed, ideally,” Luke joked, awkwardly shifting over to make room.
“Soon,” Vader promised.
His son must have identified how pathetic he was, that he was too weak to even step away from him and leave him unguarded. That he was unfit to care for him, unsure that even a castle could protect him against the danger his presence posed.
But Luke only rolled his eyes good naturedly, and Vader laid a hand on his shoulder as the boy curled, pressing his cheek to his father’s knee, and closing his eyes.
It seemed optimistic to hope to sleep that easily, but in response, Vader reached out with the Force, gently caressing his son’s mind. For a moment, there was a flicker of comprehension, a heartbeat’s indignance, before the boy accepted it, a tiny smile playing across his lips as he sank into his father’s caress, and peacefully drifted off to sleep.