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Luminous Beings

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He woke flinching from something, turning his face reflexively aside. Someone was touching him. There was a yielding surface beneath him, cool air on his uncovered face. He couldn’t make himself move, not in any way that was useful, and someone was touching him

“Keep him still, don’t—”

His armor was gone, he realized, with slow horror. Something shattered, an abbreviated little pop as loud as blasterfire, and someone screamed. The sound echoed in his skull, leaving him weak and clumsy as he thrashed, vainly struggling to throw off the hands that seemed everywhere at once.

Father, it’s just me, Luke said in his mind, cutting through the growing panic that had seized him. It’s just me.

Vader squinted against the light, still straining to get away from the figure looming over him. He blinked rapidly, and his son’s face was before him, smiling, haloed in light.

“Luke,” he said, voice a bare rasp of breath. “What—”

“It’s just me and the doctor, it’s alright. I’m sorry we startled you. Try to relax.” He realized that the hands against his shoulders were only Luke’s, and stilled beneath them. His body was slow and heavy, aching fiercely, as though his bones were molten lead.

“There you go. Here,” Luke said, producing a plasticlear oxygen mask from somewhere and affixing it over Vader’s mouth and nose. “This should help. Just rest for a minute.”

He did, lying exhausted and and open-eyed as full awareness filtered back to him in pieces. He was stretched out on a medicot, stripped of his armor and most of the components of the suit. He was wearing only a flimsy infirmary garment and bandages, shivering in intermittent fits against the exposure. His left prosthesis had been removed, and the sensory feedback from his artificial legs was strangely muted, as though his spinal cybernetics were damaged. The light pressure of Luke’s hands on his shoulders was almost more than he could bear, a strange pain that was not precisely pain at all but something adjacent to it, something he could no longer name.

“Do you remember where you are?”

For a long moment he couldn’t answer, the overhead lights so bright he could feel them glaring into him, as though his body was entirely transparent. “I was…” the thought dissolved, and he fell silent, staring into his son’s face. He had never been so exhausted.

“You’ve been here six days, but you haven’t been awake much,” Luke explained. “You had to have a couple of surgeries and you got pretty sick from them. How do you feel?”

He swallowed, studying Luke best he could. The boy looked… tired, maybe. And so, so young. Vader could scarcely imagine that he had once been so young. “Strange.”

A cool hand settled on his forehead— Vader flinched despite himself, and Luke drew away immediately, some emotion flashing across his face too fast for Vader to parse. “You’ve still got a fever. Dr. Preque went to get another hypo. I’m not sure how you did it, but you shattered the one she had.”

He was filled with an inexplicable shame, and for a moment could think of no way to respond. “Have you been treated for your injuries?” he asked, finally. Even so brief a question left his voice nearly inaudible. There was a constricted pain low in his throat which he recognized as an indication of recent re-intubation.

Luke nodded. “I’ll be fine. They don’t think there’s any permanent damage, but they’re keeping me around for observation just in case. Well, and for…” He hesitated, and didn’t finish the thought. To watch over the captive, then. The thought elicited no emotion. If Luke saw his understanding, he didn’t acknowledge it, and after a moment asked “Jedi can’t do that, can they? The lightning?”

“No,” Vader answered. “It is a powerful Dark technique.” A torture technique, he thought, seeing Luke writhing before him, hateful lashes of agony crackling over his body as he spasmed and pled. How long had he stood, watching? How long would his master have toyed with the boy, reveling in his suffering, before granting him death?

For a long moment he couldn’t speak or think, the memory consuming, nightmarish in its perfect, unexaggerated clarity. Luke, curling around himself vainly and blue-white forks of malevolent energy chewed his flesh, reaching out with his hand trembling, Father, please—

Gentle pressure on his aching chest roused him from the vision. He closed his eyes, overwhelmed by the warmth of Luke’s living presence, the weight of his palm against his breast. “It’s alright,” Luke said, and Vader could see his smile even through closed eyes. “You’re safe. I’m here.”

The strange almost-pain, the unnameable sensation squeezing his throat and pricking at his closed eyes, pressed down over his broken body. He must have made some sign of it, because Luke began to draw away again, and without conscious volition his own prosthetic hand came up to rest over his son’s, over his struggling heart. His son was alive, a supernova blazing perfect and unshadowed in the Force, and all that he was could have been stolen from the universe in the space of a breath.

Another presence, calm and unremarkable, entered the room, but Luke didn’t stir from him and his exhaustion kept him pinned, unable to care that he was stripped and disassembled. Luke and the stranger exchanged soft words, sounds with meanings just beyond his grasp, a conversation that dissipated like smoke on wind and was gone. A sudden flush of cold beneath his right clavicle indicated the introduction of some drug through the central line, not comforting precisely but familiar.

He opened his eyes again when the foreign presence retreated, albeit with effort. Already, he could feel the drag of whatever he had been dosed with, pulling him back down into unconsciousness.

“That should help the pain some,” Luke said, leaning close enough that his breath brushed against Vader’s temple. “Do you think you can sleep again, now?”

“I will do whatever you ask of me,” he said, or tried to say, already adrift again. The feeling of Luke’s hand beneath his own was the last sensation to wash away beneath the tide of morpha.