The fact was that Luke was peaceful.
There was nothing more to it, the boy was asleep and comfortable in his father’s presence.
It still made Vader skittish.
It was all he’d ever wanted, sure. But he wasn’t accustomed to getting what he wanted. He expected to have to earn his son’s love and trust, as he had squandered them before, but Luke had come to his cell with his hair damp and clothes clearly freshly unfolded and curled up against him.
It was a small wonder that he’d managed to apologize for having been gone so long before he’d fallen asleep.
When Luke had failed to return upstairs, the princess had come down, ready to kill, and Vader had been more than relieved, eager to get the sleeping Jedi to somewhere, anywhere, safer than his cell.
He wasn’t sure if his daughter had been trying to punish him by leaving Luke here. She had certainly given him a hell of a smirk before assuring him dryly that Luke seemed to be managing alright, and turning to head back upstairs.
Not that he didn’t appreciate his son’s presence.
Quite the contrary, he had missed Luke desperately while he had been absent. At Luke’s request, some members of his squad had come down to keep Vader company, but Luke’s friends or not, they could do nothing to compare to his actual child. They had been oddly at ease, comfortably interrogating him about matters that did not matter. He’d done his best to answer their questions, had tried to frame the oddness of describing his day to day life as answering the questions of children. He had not harmed them, and they had not upset him, but it would have been a longshot to say he had appreciated their visits as anything more than a kind gesture from his son.
Neither was the issue that his son had fallen asleep.
Luke certainly needed to be asleep, his exhaustion radiating off of him as soon as he’d entered the cell with a mug of hot chocolate, which had been immediately placed aside and was now slowly growing cold.
In all honesty, he dared to admit to himself, it was not even that Luke had fallen asleep here.
His concern was that the boy was curled up against him.
Head pillowed on Vader’s leg, one arm over his own face, the boy was perfectly still and relaxed and Vader could not imagine what he was supposed to do.
Obi-Wan would have woken him, had he done this, he knew that much. But Obi-Wan was hardly the standard of nurturing he aspired to, he’d been a Jedi, not much of a source of affection at all.
He couldn’t be sure, he did not remember a time when she had been still enough to fall asleep on, and not thoroughly invested in some work or another.
His own work, some droids he was repairing for the Alliance, may as well have been a thousand miles away, across his small cell. And Luke had effectively stopped him from using the Force.
He would have given a great deal, in that moment, for Luke to be Force blind, so that he could have summoned them, but even Luke’s presence was behaving strangely. It butted up against his, nudging and searching without purpose, and Vader had realized some time ago that it was just what his relaxed mind was telling his powers, as his shifting was his sleeping brain informing his body.
So using the Force was not an option.
He hesitated a moment longer, desperate for something to entertain his mind while Luke slept, before deciding that Luke would more likely be able to forget a physical movement than a psychic one.
“Luke,” he murmured, carefully slipping his hands under Luke’s shoulders and arm, preparing to shift him for just a moment, until he could return.
To his surprise and dismay, Luke’s voice was almost perfectly clear. “No.”
He struggled to bend to see the boy’s face, unsure if this indicated that Luke was awake.
He couldn’t even senseit, couldn’t trust himself to move gently enough in the Force that Luke would not be further roused.
‘No’ really hadn’t been the answer he was looking for.
He hadn’t really been looking for an answer at all, only putting his voice in the air to assure Luke of who was moving him, should he be roused by the shifting.
But ‘no’ was a very clear message. And besides, he thought, leaning back against the wall, and trying not to think about the diversion just across the room, if Luke could be roused so easily, then moving him would certainly not be worth it.
At a loss, he slowly began to stroke his son’s hair. Luke was home, at least he was home… He had been gone for nearly a month, fighting on a distant planet, the name of which Vader had not even known, and he could clearly see the slight imperfections in his skin where the bacta was just finishing its work.
As Vader’s fingertips ghosted over Luke’s temple again, the boy murmured something unintelligible, shifting to rest more comfortably against his father. Still, he did not seem distressed by it, and after waiting a moment to allow him to settle again, Vader resumed petting his head.
He felt very little of it, given his gloves and low-quality prosthetics, but he watched his son’s thick hair flatten under his fingers, and silently appreciated being able to affect his son, even that much.
Without sensation of his own, it was somewhat difficult to remember how it had felt to be touched. His son’s weight on his leg brought with it a sensation, but it was the weight, not the touch, that he perceived.
A lifetime ago, he remembered that his wife had liked to stroke his hair, and he tried to put himself back to that time, when he had been as young, though not as innocent, as Luke.
He felt something. There was something that lay at the back of his mind, in hidden, longing memories… He remembered Tatooine, in its arid heat, and the comfort of shade, and someone stroking his hair, and he realized suddenly that it was not a memory of his own.
“Fathr?” Luke asked groggily, and Vader hastily removed himself from the memory he was beginning to fall into.
He had no right to see Luke’s life with the aunt and uncle that Vader had not protected, despite knowing who they had been to his own mother.
“Sawry fr sleeping,” Luke mumbled, and Vader found the boy’s arms snaking around him, pulling his face close to Vader’s stomach. “I meant t’…” He gave an enormous yawn. “Talk…”
“It is no trouble,” Vader assured, and he found that he felt it entirely. There had been the brief annoyance of desiring something to do, but now he couldn’t imagine asking Luke to let him fetch his work. Instead, he stroked Luke’s head again, and smiled as he saw the corners of his mouth draw up.
“Fathr?” Luke asked again.
“Son?” Vader asked, humouring his tired child.
Luke shrugged slightly, apparently unprepared for his father’s response, and Vader sighed affectionately.
“I love you,” Luke murmured, and Vader felt Luke’s fingers trace a small circle on his back as the boy stared through him.
“And I you, Luke,” he promised, daring to reach for the useless pillow they had left him. He couldn’t sleep, not naturally laid out on the bed as he should have done, but no one had taken it, and he was silently glad of that. It almost felt as if they were allowing him that humanity, the idea and trappings, at least, of still being human enough to sleep. Carefully, he lifted Luke’s head, tucking it under, and the boy mumbled again.
“I want you to…” Luke’s words drifted off, and Vader looked down at him once more. He wasn’t alert by any stretch of the imagination, still snuggled against his father and drowsy, but Vader knew that he intended to talk, now that he was marginally awake. “Come on a mission, someday.”
“You believe your friends would allow that?” Vader asked in good humour. He had accepted that this cell was likely to be his life, he had the droids to work on, even if they were inherently powered down, or willful enough to be distrustful of him.
“Maybe,” Luke said simply. “I love you.”
He spoke the words with such a clarity of absurdness that Vader couldn’t help smiling and shaking his head. Luke knew that when he said it as simply as that, his one argument for allowing Vader freedom sounded even more absurd than the very ideaof allowing Vader freedom already was, but it was so sincere, and its foolishness was irrelevant now. He was only speaking to Vader, only the two of them heard the gentle, stupid words.
“Love is not rational,” he reminded gently. “And any decision to grant me freedom requires a great deal of rationalizing.”
“Then it’s the Force,” Luke said, his voice tinted with sleepy pride. “The Force tells me to love you.”
“The Force is hardly a solid piece of logic,” Vader said.
For years, he had not dared to dream that his son could lie in his arms and sleepily, comfortably, mumble about loving him. He had accepted that he had forfeited the right to see another in this stage of vulnerability, that for the rest of his days, he would only see others alert or broken.
“’s how I destroyed the Death Star,” Luke mumbled, curling closer to his father.
It was strange to hear his son drop that thought in regular conversation. He of course knew, better than anyone, that his son was a war hero. He had seen firsthand the boy’s bravery and skill, and his own return to the Alliance was due entirely to Luke’s heroism. Still, at the moment, he looked incapable of destroying anything more than a house of cards, and Vader could not imagine arming this boy for anything more than protection.
He was not a warrior, dressed in civilian clothes with his hair still damp and his presence radiating a feeling of such utter peace and comfort. He was just a boy, resting in his father’s arms, unbothered by the war around him.
“Be that as it may,” he answered, carefully working the blanket out from under them, and tucking it around his son, careful to press it under his legs and side, fully cocooning him. “I would have severe worries about your leaders’ judgement if they accepted it at face value.”
He was not angry. He was not even concerned at Luke’s foolishness. Luke was only speaking through a haze of tired comfort, none of what he said meant anything more than affection.
Luke yawned again, pressing his cheek into Vader’s side.
Grown man or not, he looked very young with his hair spread messily over the pillow and his eyes finally closed once again.
“Yes, rest,” Vader intoned.
“You don’t need to order me,” Luke murmured in indignation.
“If you did not need direction, you would already be asleep,” Vader countered firmly, and Luke chuckled.
Slowly, the boy dozed off again, and this time, Vader would not dream of moving.
Instead, he just sat, contemplating his child.
He could see the desert in his face. He was a child of Tatooine as Vader himself had been, as Shmi had been before him. His sister’s face had a softer quality that belied their opposing personalities but spoke to the balance in each of them. The roughness was tempered by something of Padmé’s, a quality he could not quite place, but that was there in every line.
He had claimed to be a Jedi, and he undoubtedly was, but ‘Jedi’ seemed like an abstract claim, compared with the ones Luke never made. He was his mother’s son, and Kenobi’s protégé, loved and protected by the Jedi even while he claimed not to feel such emotions.
He was everything that Anakin could have been, if he were stronger.
And that boy, that perfect, brave, powerful boy, loved him. He knew all of Vader’s crimes, and he still found it in his incredible heart to care for him. Not even just to offer him dignity, which alone would have set Luke above nearly everyone Vader had ever known. No. Luke loved him. He had claimed him as his father when Vader had finally realized he had no right to call himself his parent.
Sometimes, when Luke told him that he loved him, Vader wanted to reply that he loved Luke more, but it had become clear to him that that was not true.
He loved Luke as much as he could possibly love anyone, but it was not as much as Luke loved him. He was not strong enough to love him that much, to love anyone that much.
Luke had been willing to forfeit his freedom, to forfeit his life for his father, who did not deserve it, and while Vader would have returned the gesture without a moment’s thought, it would not be as valuable from him.
He was not Luke. He was ruined and broken, he had little left to give. He would be offering only his own life, Force, he would be a weight off the minds of his keepers.
Luke, meanwhile, had gambled not only his own full and promising fate, but the galaxy’s as well. He had bet it all on Vader, as Padmé had bet her own future on him years ago on Tatooine. But unlike Padmé, Luke had had a choice. It could not have been harder to destroy him, too. The Alliance had destroyed the Death Star almost without Luke’s help, moments after the Emperor had been killed.
Hells, Luke could have taken a vacation, and let him die in servitude, let the galaxy clean itself up, for once.
He gently brushed his fingertips over Luke’s ear, tracing it and trying to comprehend that he held such absolute goodness in his arms.
“Go t’sleep,” Luke mumbled distantly. His face was still slack, and Vader wanted to laugh at his repetition of his own commands. Sleep. As though it had been valuable for him in decades.
Suddenly, though, he felt exhausted. The weight of the galaxy rested on his son’s shoulders, and now that Luke was asleep in his lap, he felt as if the exhaustion was seeping into him, too.
It had been years since he’d slept, the way another would. As Supreme Commander, he’d meditated, saturating himself with the Dark Side of the Force, and even now, he was meditating, though he tried to avoid the darkness.
Still, there was no reason to. Not really. It wasn’t as if any of the Alliance’s cleaning droids needed repairing so badly that they couldn’t wait.
Besides, Luke was asleep.
His son was asleep, and his work out of reach, and Vader finally let out a sigh, getting as comfortable as he could, adjusting his grip on Luke to be more stable, and finally sleeping for the first time.