The Road Home - Part One
by MJ Mink
When the attack came, it struck without warning. That he had no prescience of it made him wonder if Palpatine was directing the assault. Was that why the Emperor had allowed him this time to travel Home, allowed him to depart without an escort? But he had given his Master no reason to fear him, which eliminated the need for his destruction. As if captive in a hologram, Vader could only watch as his personal TIE disintegrated around him. Augmenting his enormous control of the Force with his sheer will, he sustained both the crumbling metal and his life support unit until he reached the relatively safe port of Plaet. As both his fighter and his body collapsed, a terrible thought ran through his mind: If the Force had blocked his foreknowledge and if Palpatine was not its instigator, could it be his son who directed this attack against him? As his consciousness slipped away, he felt lost in a curious fog of betrayal.Luke came wide awake with a start. Heart pounding with nightfright, he lay very still, eyes scanning the darkness. There was no danger here; he knew it both logically and instinctively. But somewhere, someone had called out to him in fear and grief. It happened rarely; the last time had been when Han was tortured in Cloud City. Han had thought of him, and he had responded. In time, thank the stars, to rescue Han from Boba Fett and retrieve Leia from the stormtroopers' grasps. If only he'd left with them instead of confronting Vader. He'd been so certain that it was the right thing to do, despite the warnings from Yoda and Ben. His action had been ill-considered, and now he was paying for his rashness with nightmares and melancholy.
But how could he have known that he would discover such an astonishing truth? Why hadn't Ben or Yoda told him Darth Vader was his father? Ben, especially. Ben had lied to him outright, told him that Vader had murdered his father. If only he had known the truth.... Luke closed his eyes. If he'd known the truth, what would he have done differently? Would he have gone to Bespin? Of course, to rescue his friends. Would he have stayed to confront his father? Probably. The promise of a father would have drawn him, no matter that the man was now mired in Darkness. Because if there was a path to the Dark, there also must be a path from it.
He rolled onto his side and drew the covers over his shoulder. At least he finally knew why Uncle Owen had labeled him bad for even the smallest infractions. He'd always wondered about his punishments, why the beatings had seemed too harsh for the small crimes of a child. Wondered why he'd been whipped for a word, an ill-timed smile, a moment of inappropriate laughter. Now he knew. It was because of his father. Somehow Owen had known the identity of his father and had feared he would become Vader.
There was a certain comfort in the knowledge. At last he had an answer to the humiliations of his childhood--indignities that had eased but not ceased when Aunt Beru came to live with them when he was fourteen. The scars remained, both the physical reminders that crisscrossed his back and the deep gouges in his spirit. But now he had a reason, and in his heart he knew that Uncle Owen had been right to fear his heritage.
The room seemed overly warm. He tossed the thin blankets aside and rose. The alarm would go off in a couple hours anyway; he might as well shower and breakfast and get it over with. There was a lot of work he wanted to do on his new x-wing--well, not so new. Its engines were built almost entirely of salvaged pieces from other fighters, but he was lucky to get anything after leaving his own fighter behind in Cloud City. After confronting his father, he'd been damn lucky to escape with his--
He stopped cold. His father. That's where the cry had come from, the desperate call that had woken him. What did it mean? It had been filled with emotions. He'd sensed rage, frustration--but it had been weak, as if it had come from a very long distance. Tentatively he opened his mind to the link that he knew connected him with Vader. Cautiously, ready to retreat at the slightest response, he tread the route. Found nothing but the barest hint of sentience. All it told him was that his father was alive. There was no indication that his inquiry was sensed. Quickly, he severed communications and fled behind the safety of his own closed doors. Something was wrong with Vader, but it didn't affect him. Vader might be his father, but more than that, he was his enemy. Whatever happened, Vader was his enemy, and he had to remember it. No more thoughts of saving his father, no more questions, no more longings. The Alliance was his family now.
Luke headed for the shower.
"What's this meeting about?" Luke asked Leia. He glanced around the conference table. It was a small group--the highest-ranking officers of the Alliance, three strangers in the uniforms of the elite Alpha White squadron, Han, Leia, himself.
"You'll see," she murmured.
Mon Mothma entered the room. Luke's eyes widened. It wasn't often that he was in the same room with the commander of the Alliance troops. He would have stood to show respect, but no one else did, and Mothma took her place at the head of the table. She placed a disk in the projector and immediately a moving holo of a planet appeared.
"This is Stenness, part of the star system of the same name. Two days ago a special droid attack force was able to shoot down Darth Vader's Interceptor as it entered the atmosphere of this planet. While they initially reported success and the enemy destroyed, subsequent reports hint that Vader eluded death and is recuperating in a small medical facility in the main metropolis, Plaet."
Luke slid lower in his seat. His father had been attacked, that was the call he'd heard. But why had Vader called to him? Had he expected assistance?
Or did he think he was dying and wanted to say farewell to the son he'd never known?
He refocused his concentration on Mothma. Her soft, hypnotic voice was making him sleepy. Why didn't he feel this way at night instead of writhing through nightmares? "--comprised of several of you in this room. Captain Solo, we'd like you to fly the crew on this mission. Of course, if you accept, we would not expect you to risk your ship--"
"I accept, and I'm taking the Falcon," Han said flatly. He folded his arms and looked satisfied, for no reason that Luke could discern.
"Thank you, Captain. The group will also be composed of Rav Bender, Holist Wintz, and Trilla Anartes." The three troopers rose, two men and one woman. "They are specially trained for such assignments. Commander Skywalker, Princess Leia suggested you may wish to accompany this mission, given your confrontation with Vader several months ago." She paused and looked at him expectantly.
Luke's lips parted. Obviously, he'd missed something important. What the hell was the mission? The only thing that made sense-- "Is this...an assassination squad?"
Mothma blinked once. "To be blunt, yes. Given that Vader is a former Jedi, we feel that your Jedi skills would be helpful to the group. However, if you prefer not to be associated with an endeavor such as this--"
"I'll go," he interrupted, without further reflection. The Rebels might think they had some Force-given right to assassinate an injured Jedi, but he felt differently. If Vader could be captured....
He clenched his fists. What had happened to his resolution to disassociate himself from Vader? It had been tossed aside the first time his father was in peril. Maybe he should be stronger, harder-- But he couldn't continue to deny that this man was his father, nor could he deny all the implications that relationship had to his own life.
"Good. I wish I could allow you the opportunity to train together, but it is not possible. At any time, Vader might be rescued by Imperial forces and removed from Stenness. You must depart immediately. Commander Bender is directing the mission. May the Force be with you."
He must be becoming proprietary about the Force, because he resented her casual use of the benediction. The Force was with every living entity, Empire, Alliance, neutrals, as well as the nonsentient. Who was she to bless this mission using words she didn't fully understand?
Sith, he was getting righteous! If this was what being a Jedi did to him--
"Luke!" Han was standing beside him, impatiently shaking his shoulder. "Wake up, junior. Time to get this show on the road."
Luke looked up. Four people clustered around his chair. He blushed. "Sorry, I was... meditating." The perfect Jedi excuse. If he meditated as frequently as he intimated he did, he would be a Master by now.
They all reintroduced themselves. He studied Trilla with interest. She was his own age and had dark eyes that were filled with intensity. He probed her aura and those of the two men with his new skills. Her thoughts lessened her attractiveness--they were nearly religious in their fervor for the Cause--the Alliance or Death! The men were older, probably in their thirties, and he wondered if they were career mercenaries because their feelings were calmly anticipatory. Allowing no expressions to cross his face, Luke watched and listened as Bender briefly described the strategy. If these were professional killers, he would have to be careful to arouse no suspicions. He doubted that they would be receptive to capturing Vader rather than murdering him.
There was only time to throw his gear into his duffel and share brief farewells with Leia and Wedge. For his squadron, he had but a moment to wave as he entered the Falcon. It was a relief that Han was along; the other three made him uncomfortable, and he could see that Han was wary of them, too. Luke busied himself in the cockpit, pretending that his assistance was necessary, and Han maintained the falsehood. But finally Han sent him away for a meal break, and he ended up sitting at the lone table with Trilla. She flashed him an intense smile that brimmed with something he couldn't quite fathom.
"It's an honor for me to serve alongside a true hero of the Revolution."
Luke stared into his steaming cup of soup. "Uh...." He took a sip. If he pretended to be famished, perhaps he could avoid conversation.
"How did it feel to destroy the Death Star, to stamp out thousands of racist Imperial slugs?" Trilla leaned across the table. "What was it like facing the monster Vader? You should have killed him. This time you will. He's a foul scar across the face of the galaxy!"
He swallowed half the soup in one gulp and stood. "Right. Well, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back."
She grabbed his hand. "We'll talk again. After the mission. After we've exterminated the monster."
It was nearly a struggle to free his fingers. With a short nod he fled. Now he saw that it was more than hero worship in her aura; her intentions were openly sexual. He cringed away from the revelation and immediately felt very young and unsophisticated. He had been named a hero; it was natural that people would want to use him in any way they could.
A few hours in hyperspace and the ship emerged within viewing distance of Stenness. Luke lifted himself out of the copilot's seat and checked his gear for the last time. Then he strapped in as they made an unexciting landing in Plaet's open port.
"That was easy," he commented.
"Yeah." Han frowned. "Either they don't think we know Vader is here, or they don't think we're stupid enough to try anything. Or they don't know who we are."
"Or it's a trap," Luke offered.
"They're not that smart. Think positive, kid."
"I'll try." He paused in the doorway as Han's voice stopped him.
"And, Luke-- Watch your back."
They exchanged looks, and he nodded curtly. Han would stay by the ship and protect their escape route. It was the most efficient and logical plan; still, Luke couldn't help wishing that Han was with him as he accompanied the three fast-moving assassins through the narrow, steeply curving streets of the densely-inhabited metropolis. How would he get Vader back to the ship unmolested?
Use the Force, Luke. The memory of Ben's words echoed in his
head. Accessing the Force meant that he had a way to do anything. All he
needed was faith.
Darth Vader forced his way to consciousness. He had not been so disabled since his alleged "accident" twenty years earlier. This medical center was far from being the most advanced in the galaxy; if he'd had a choice, he wouldn't have chosen this facility.
If he'd had a choice, he wouldn't be in this predicament.
His mechanical limbs appeared to be shattered. His head ached. The implants in his chest were hooked into an external life support system that made very annoying sounds which served only to remind him of his predicament. Some idiot engineer was supposed to be attempting repairs on his personal system, if the damn thing's electrical connections hadn't been totally fused by the attack on his person. Until it was repaired, he was helplessly dependent on this antiquated machinery to sustain his life. He had finally acknowledged the seriousness of his condition and contacted the nearest Empire base only an hour earlier. Soon a medvac ship would arrive and, though he despised appearing helpless before Imperial troops, he would be rescued. Until then, there was nothing to do but relax and bear the indignities.
The period of relaxation was brief. He sensed the newly-familiar presence before any alarm was given. Luke? he questioned, wondering at his son's presence and intentions. Had the boy heard his grieving thoughts as his shuttle had hurtled toward Stenness? Father! The response was as he'd known it several times before, an involuntary betrayal of emotions, followed by immediate and distrustful withdrawal. Despite their opposing philosophies, Luke instinctively wanted to accept him--that was interesting in itself. The only logical reason would be that the youngster had been deprived of a father's nurturing. He wondered what the boy's life had been like with Owen Lars. He'd never cared for the Obi-Wan's brother; even at a young age, the man had been harsh and cold, with an underlying cruelty. He regretted that his son had been given to the tutelage of such a man, that his childhood had been spent at Lars's feet. What had Luke learned, both of life and of his father? What kind of man was he? Too many years had passed since he'd given up hope for a male offspring. Now he was presented with a nearly grown son. Ironic. It was pleasing, yet disappointing. He had missed the opportunity to raise and teach a child. Was the boy anything like him? Or was he a facsimile of Lars?
Vader shook his head. His son had been occupying a disproportionately large segment of his thoughts since their ill-fated meeting above Bespin--a meeting he had woefully mishandled. Perhaps he would have the chance to correct his errors.
What are you doing here? The question sounded like a demand; he wished he'd made it softer. Still, the boy didn't expect any more from him.
I'm part of a...a Rebel assassination squad.
And he, helpless as a babe! Vader glared at the monitors at his bedside. His lightsaber had been lost or destroyed in the disintegration of his ship, and he had no armor, not even his mask, to protect him! Perhaps the lack of disguise could be used to his advantage. Is it your intention to kill me?
No! There was no hesitation in that reply. I want to prevent it. I want to take you prisoner.
Arrogant whelp! The irritating thing was, in his debilitated condition, the great Dark Lord could easily be taken prisoner by a small band. It is not my wish to become a prisoner.
There was no answer, but he knew vague feelings of wistfulness, of sadness, of questions unanswered. So, the child wanted--no, needed him. It was a strange sensation. Vader hesitated. Perhaps there is another way?
I don't know--I'm winging it--we're almost there! The other three with me--they're professional killers!
The boy was panicking. Vader sent soothing feelings into the young mind. We shall improvise. Do not fear.
I'm not afraid! One of them's going for the rear exit of the medcenter. Can you protect yourself?
Not very well. My life is in your hands, my son.
The apprehension and confusion radiating from his boy's mind nearly overwhelmed him. It was the panic of a child about to lose a parent--a hated parent, a beloved parent. Vader brushed aside the feeble barriers that protected Luke's thoughts and probed deeper. This might be, after all, the only chance they would have to know one another.
He found a great hunger, a buried need laced with denial, for him--or rather for the unknown, yet not unloved, Anakin Skywalker. Years of desolation struck at him, a deep anger, a deeper grief, bewilderment, privation--not surprisingly, a lack of self-worth that had been fostered by that abominable Lars. He touched the mind, let his own feelings sweep into it, linking them forever, even if forever was about to end. He felt the burst of the Force-spark answer him, bond with him, felt a blossoming joy. Despite the circumstances, Vader smiled. His son was so pure, so strong in the Force. Any Sith would be proud to have produced such a boy.
The door to the medcenter crashed open. Three armed soldiers confronted him, hesitating for a precious moment, uncertain of his identity, stripped as he was of his trademark disguise. A male--definitely a professional--a young female, inexperienced but fervent, and his son. His beautiful, Force-full son. With one raised hand, he deflected the fire from the two assassins. The action drained him to an alarming depth. I shall require your assistance. Behind him, he sensed another presence. He couldn't hold off all three, not in his deteriorated condition. Luke, help me!
Their gazes met, and he noticed, through all his overloaded senses, the familiar pale blue of the boy's eyes. Felt the anguish of his indecision, but it was only momentary. Luke raised a blaster and pointed it at him. Then the aim raised, and the weapon discharged. There was an ebbing whimper in the Force, and he knew the third assassin was dead.
The man and woman both turned on Luke, their emotions filled with outrage. Both weapons were raised against young Skywalker. Vader struggled to marshal his strength, to protect this boy who had just saved--
With Force speed, Luke fired on both his comrades. The hidden galaxy echoed with the dying screams of their minds, and he saw Luke flinch. My son. Thank you.
"I didn't know what else to do," Luke said with less regret than Vader had anticipated.
He'd only heard that voice on one other occasion; then it had been hot with rage and betrayal. He wondered which of his women had been Luke's mother; he was reminded of no one in particular. Dark blond hair, aristocratic facial structure, damnably short stature--the mother could have been any of several. The azure eyes were his father's though--and the strength of the Force. That was what mattered. He held out one hand.
Luke approached the bed, disbelief twisting his expression. "Is it really you?"
He smiled. Of course the boy had no knowledge of his father's face; he'd never seen it. Very little he could see even now, partially hidden as it was by tubes and respiration mask. But he knew Luke would recognize the eyes; their brilliance was a Skywalker trait, famous for thousands of years. Some said that was why the clan had been named for the clear skies of Sith. "Yes. Come closer, my boy. Let me have a good look at you."
The smile was fleeting and shy, then Luke's face closed and became grim. Still, just the faintest hint of approval had made the child happy. Vader felt a small spark of anger kindle in him. Lars had dared to raise a Skywalker without the proper handling? It was criminal. On Sith, he would have been executed for his lack of respect. Though now that he considered it, Lars had been executed. A fitting punishment.
"A fine boy," he declared. "Truly a Skywalker."
Luke looked down at his hands. For the first time, Vader realized that the right one had been replaced. "But I've killed my companions."
Was it conscience or fear of punishment that distressed his son? Hopefully the boy would grow out of both feelings. "Were they your friends?" The head shook. "Then they were merely victims of war. They were, after all, my son, assassins, not stalwart soldiers. And is this your Alliance? It would murder a man in his bed? You should reconsider to whom you swear your allegiance."
Luke's eyes reflected his disillusionment, Vader noted with satisfaction. The process of bringing his son toward the Sith path was well underway. Any more words were prevented by the clatter of boots and arms in the hallway. Police guards burst through the door. Luke raised the blaster he'd never holstered. "Lord Vader is my prisoner," he declared in a potent Force voice. "Stay back or I will execute him."
If he couldn't read the boy's thoughts, he would have believed it himself, as strong as the command was. Good, child, he praised automatically, then cursed himself for approving his own captivity.
"This is an outrage," said a uniformed official whom Vader knew to be the head of the local police--a police force that was woefully inadequate in such a situation. Their main duty consisted of subduing spice-crazed lunatics. "Stenness is neutral. For the Alliance to invade our world and kidnap a guest--"
Guest? Vader snorted. Now he was a guest? Strange, he hadn't been treated as a welcome visitor. In his mind, his son was nearly amused as he read the thought.
"--is unheard of. We will protest this offense to both Imperial and Alliance leaders. In the meantime, we will not permit you to leave with Lord Vader."
Luke stared at them with the same intense gaze that had served Vader well so many years ago. "I am Jedi Skywalker. And I will leave with Lord Vader. This is not political business, therefore it does not concern you. This is a Jedi matter."
His son was very impressive, Vader admitted silently, for a student. His voice control was remarkable. And with so little training! Imagine what the boy could attain at his father's side! He transmitted that thought and was satisfied to see Luke pale.
The boy gestured with his weapon. "I will remove Lord Vader now."
Vader cringed. The boy was going to levitate him and the life support equipment and was not feeling very confident about it. I will assist you. Please endeavor not to drop me. He aided the boy's efforts, wondering at himself. If he remained here, he would be rescued shortly by Imperials. Why then did he consent to go with his son? He was heading into enemy territory, to be held prisoner, no doubt to be tried as a war criminal. But what did that matter? When he was fully recovered--if they allowed him to live--it would be a simple matter to escape. In the meanwhile, he might succeed in his quest to bring his son Home. It was a risk worth taking. The yield of power could be enormous, and the safety of Sith would be assured for another generation.
My mask, my armor--don't forget them.
Oh, for-- Luke sighed. The clothing items wobbled upward and floated along behind them. Their passage was watched by astonished police and terrified medtechs. Leaving the medical facility, escorted from a wary distance by the police guards, he saw and enjoyed the stunned gazes of the populace.
I love a parade, Vader commented, feeling in rare good humor despite his pain.
If you make me laugh, I'll drop you!
It was a threat he took seriously. He quieted his mind and closed his eyes. Perhaps if there were no distractions, he wouldn't find the situation so amusing. He sensed when they finally passed into a landing bay.
"What the hell--? Luke, are you-- Hey--the rest of you get back!"
He opened his eyes at the sound of the familiar voice. So. Han Solo, a rebel captain now, as he recalled. Extraordinary people, these rebels. He found it amazing that they allowed such a reprobate to enlist in their forces, but then to promote him to an officer--unbelievable! Either they were truly desperate or truly stupid. Still, stupidity was not the sole property of the Rebel Alliance; there were many fools within the Empire's high command.
"The others are dead. I've taken Lord Vader prisoner. Let's get out of here."
"I knew you'd pull something like this."
Interesting. He wondered at the implications. His son and this Solo were friends, he knew, but evidently Solo had some deep understanding of Luke. A hint of envy burned brightly in his soul, then he quashed it. His son settled him in a bunk, his clothing and equipment stowed safely in the carrier below. Luke kneeled to check the life support connections and was tossed to the floor when the ship blasted out of the dock.
They both stopped. Vader smiled. "I am undamaged. Thank you for your assistance."
"You're welcome." But a shadow hid behind the words, darkening the bright gaze. Luke's shoulders slumped.
Vader considered the problem. "Your actions were correct. Your cohorts died in the line of duty."
"I sacrificed three to save one," Luke said heavily.
"You have done it before," Vader pointed out. "How many did you sacrifice to rescue the Princess Leia Organa from the Death Star? Indeed, how many did you sacrifice on the Death Star to save the Rebel fleet?"
Luke nodded slowly. His thoughts were painfully transparent. While he deplored the loss of lives, he had killed and would continue to kill. It was the nature of the Outside. Vader loosed his left hand from its restrictive cover and placed it on his son's arm. It was their first physical contact, and he felt Force ripples travel between them. Luke lifted his eyes.
Their communication was wordless and thoughtless. Then Luke removed his father's hand and replaced it under the warmth of the thick blanket. He rose. "I'm going up to the cockpit. Just in case we're pursued." He hesitated as if he was about to smile, but then rejected the idea. Vader watched his child stride quickly from the small room.
Damn. It wasn't really important--but who the hell had been the mother?
"You want to tell me what went on back there?" Han Solo swiveled his chair around, relaxing now that they'd eluded their pursuers and jumped into hyperspace.
Luke looked at him evenly. "The assassination attempt was unsuccessful. Vader was able to resist."
"And he let you capture him? Luke...." Han leaned forward and lowered his voice. "The Council isn't going to believe that Vader killed three professionals, then meekly allowed you to levitate him and transport him to the Falcon. Why don't you tell me what really happened? Maybe I can help."
He couldn't meet his friend's eyes and lie. Luke picked at the padded corner of the chair arm. The child in him wanted to avoid punishment, but the adult knew that any penalty would be merited. "I killed them," he whispered. "I couldn't let them...murder him like that."
"Ah, damn!" Han punched his knee. "I knew I shouldn't have let you go alone! I knew you'd pull something like this!"
A reluctant smile came to his lips. "How could you know? Even I didn't know what I was going to do."
"You knew you were going to stop it. You didn't like the idea the minute it became an assassination squad." One finger pointed at him and shook. "Damnit, Luke, I knew this Jedi crap would get you in trouble someday. Well, you can't tell the Council the truth."
"I have to."
Han threw up his arms. "I knew you'd say that, too! Sith-hell, kid-- All right, tell me exactly what happened."
It had been so fast, yet every action was engraved in his memory. "Vader held off two of them, but Wintz came from behind and--I shot him. Then Bender and Anartes turned on me, so...." A flush of shame heated his face. "I killed them." But with the shame came a disturbing sense of pride.
"Guess I should've told them to watch their backs, not you," Han grunted. "So why did Vader let you, uh, float him back here?"
Luke faltered. If he couldn't lie and dared not tell the truth, what was left? "He is badly injured. His life support unit is damaged. Deflecting blaster fire used all his energy. I am...in his current condition, I am stronger than he." The truth, not in its entirety, but true nonetheless. He raised his eyes to Han's gaze.
"Uh-huh." Han knew he was holding back, but didn't pursue any further. "Is that what you're going to tell the Council?"
He pressed his lips together tightly. "Yes."
"You don't have to be that honest, you know."
He offered a brief, unhappy smile. "We both know that I'm not being totally honest."
Han watched him expressionlessly. "If you want to save your hide, you won't tell the Council what you told me. They'll courtmartial you. If you keep your damn mouth shut, they'll be so glad you've captured Vader that they'll make you a hero."
"I'm no hero." He was tired of that label. Luke leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, head bowed. "I don't know what to do, Han. I don't like lying. I've been lied to--" He raised his face and stared out at the stars that blurred past. "But I want to protect him. I don't want him murdered while he's sick and helpless."
Han still watched at him. "Don't look to me to make up your mind for you, kid. You need to decide this for yourself. It's part of growing up."
It was true, but it made him feel very alone. He nodded and rose. "Thanks for listening. I'm going back to keep an eye on Vader."
"You do that." Han swiveled back to the controls, then paused and looked over his shoulder. "Just tell me one thing. Are you protecting us from him--or him from me?"
Luke narrowed his eyes. "Figure it out," he said curtly and returned to the side of his sleeping father.
Without the inhuman black mask, the face was pale and the man defenseless. Two spots of color stained the cheeks. Luke laid the back of his hand on Vader's forehead; it was warm, but not alarmingly so. Pulling a stool beside the cot, he sat down and studied his father's face. He saw little resemblance to himself, except for the eyes of course. And maybe the mouth. Luke parted the opening of the thin tunic, and pity welled inside him. Whatever had originally happened to Vader, it must have left him more dead than alive. The life support unit seemed to hook directly into his lungs. And now, these new wounds-- His artificial legs were full of exposed and mashed circuitry. They could be replaced, of course, but would the Alliance wish to bear the cost? Would the Alliance even care? No, the Alliance, damn them, would keep him crippled.
The eyelids lifted slowly. "Then crippled I shall be. At least until the Emperor tracks me from Stenness."
Alarm fluttered in his throat. "What do you mean? The Emperor knew--"
"A medvac ship was coming for me. Should be there any time, in fact."
His brow creased. "If you knew you were going to be rescued, then why did you come with me? I wouldn't have forced you--you must know that."
One hand reached up weakly, searching for his grasp, but he averted his eyes from it. Vader's earlier touch had frightened him with the sensations it had transmitted. "I wish to know you, my son. I will recover quickly but will stay with you, feigning frailty if I must, until I am removed by Imperial troops. Or until your charming Mothma decides to execute me. Now, child, I am experiencing considerable discomfort. Could you assist me in controlling the pain?"
"Of course." Vader wanted to stay, wanted to be with him. Wanted to be his father? Luke's heart seemed to skip a beat, then he concentrated on the task at hand. After a moment's hesitation, he linked his mind with the other's and bolstered the impaired control. Once contact was secured, he used a soft cloth to wipe the small beads of sweat from his father's forehead. He sensed Han's presence and turned his head. His friend leaned in the doorway.
"I'm helping him control the pain," Luke explained quietly, returning to his task. He felt his father's pleased response to the soothing touch. Han had not replied. Luke looked over his shoulder again.
There was an odd expression on the Corellian's face, a look of incomprehension coupled with a reluctant respect. He nodded once and left the room.
His father fell back into sleep and was still dozing hours later when they approached the Rebel base. Luke's worry increased. Vader would be taken from him and imprisoned. Would he receive the treatment he required? The only way to ensure that he did was if Luke stayed with him and supervised it--an easy objective to attain if he lied about what had transpired on Stenness. This decision was coming down to protecting his father or telling the whole truth. When he looked at it that way, he knew he should feel no hesitation. And yet...this was the man who sliced off his hand, the enemy who tempted him with promises of power and glory. But Vader didn't seem like the enemy now. He was just a man, wounded and helpless. A father. Father, he whispered to himself.
He woke his father when he felt the hardness of the landing jolt the ship. Vader was quiet, and Luke knew his strength was waning. For the first time, he worried that his father might die; that served to strengthen his conviction that lying was the best route for both of them. Lying would keep them together.
"I will recover," Vader whispered, his voice hoarse, "but this temporary respiration device is inadequate."
"I'll have yours repaired immediately." Luke stood. "I have to go. But I'll...be with you as soon as I can."
"I know you will, my son. Go now. And--Luke?"
He stopped and waited for a father's blessing.
"The Force will be with you, child."
This time he couldn't suppress his smile. His father's presence infused this heart of his that was no longer empty. "And with you."
Now, after all those holy words, he would go to the Council and lie to his friends. What an odd life was the Jedi way, so full of deceit.
The chaos and novelty of receiving their famous prisoner distracted the Alliance Council for only a short while. Before an hour had passed, Luke found himself standing before the curved table, Han at his side. He gave Leia and Rieekan a small smile before he faced Mon Mothma. The woman folded her hands on the table.
"Congratulations, Commander Skywalker, on your capture of Darth Vader. Please tell us how that occurred and how the other squad members lost their lives."
He didn't dare look at Han. Molding his voice with Force persuasion, Luke answered, "We broke into the room where Vader was being held. Vader deflected Bender's fire back at the three of them. I survived by crippling his already-weakened Force energy. When I knew he was defeated, I felt it would be more appropriate to hold him as a political prisoner than to assassinate him. I took him to the Falcon, and we returned to base."
"Your report, Captain Solo?"
Han's voice was steady, offering no indications of the lies he'd just heard. "I waited at the Falcon for the return of the squad. Commander Skywalker arrived with his prisoner, and we departed under pursuit."
"I see. Is there anything you care to add, Commander?"
Luke clasped his hands behind his back, resisting the urge to blurt out the truth. Why had he lied? He should have told the truth and accepted the consequences. "I--"
"Shut up," Han muttered under his breath.
Luke closed his mouth. Heat burned his face. He couldn't go through with this, couldn't live with the lies, he'd be as bad as Ben Kenobi, as bad as Uncle Owen--
General Rieekan stood, his face wreathed with smiles. "Very well. Again, congratulations on the capture. The Council wishes to recognize you with--"
"No," Luke interrupted.
He glanced at Han. "I can't do it." He faced the Council members again, his gaze fixed on Mothma's throat. He didn't want to see her expression--or worse, Leia's--while he spoke. "I killed them. Wintz, Bender, and Anartes. I killed them to prevent Vader's assassination."
A muted groan issued from Han's lips, meant for Luke's ears only. Mothma exchanged an unfathomable look with Rieekan, then she turned back to him. "You killed your fellow officers to prevent the death of the Empire's most feared and hated agent. Do you have an explanation for your actions?"
There was only one truth that would be an unassailable explanation, and that was the one he would have to avoid. But there were other ways. "I believe assassination of a Jedi to be morally wrong. There are only three Jedi left in the galaxy. Each of us carries the Force within him. To kill Vader, to kill a Jedi, would be to destroy part of the Force. I can't do that. It is...a crime against nature."
He hadn't used his Force voice, hoping they would hear, without false persuasion, that he was sincere. It was not his main reason for saving Vader, but it was the best reason for not killing a Jedi. "You don't know," he whispered with new understanding, "how empty the hearts of the galaxy will be when we are all gone. There will be no one to touch the Force, no one to bring it life. So much will be lost. And once lost, it can never be recovered."
There was no sound in the room. From somewhere outside he could hear footsteps and voices; inside, everything was still. Rieekan had returned to his chair and was gazing over his head, but Mothma watched him with sadness in her eyes. Luke accepted her scrutiny, waiting for his punishment. She sighed and turned to Leia and Rieekan in turn, conferring quietly with them. Then she refocused on Luke.
"There is very little we can say to that, Commander. The General and I remember the time when Jedi were plentiful. In those days we thought of them as peacekeepers; now we know they were something more. The hope that was returned to the Alliance arrived with your emergence as a Jedi student. I had not realized that Vader fit into this galactic equation in a positive way. But surely as a proponent of Darkness--"
Luke shook his head. Did this knowledge come from his father or from a formerly unknown source deep inside him? "Dark and Light are both part of the Force. True, it is a matter of balance. But if we eliminate the Darkness, we make the Light less bright. And if--" A rush of excitement filled him, and he found himself approaching the table, whispering the thoughts he hadn't dared to examine earlier. "--oh, if Vader could be turned back to the Light! Together we would be strong enough to conquer Palpatine. The Emperor is the shadow over the galaxy, he is the evil that upsets the balance."
"You think you could turn Vader back? Luke, that's impossible!" Leia leaned toward him.
"It's not impossible!" He was filling with joy, with pure power. "I can do it. I can feel it!" This was the Force. He was truly a Jedi. He could do anything. His father would feel it, and join him. They would be together, as they always should have been.
Luke's blind optimism reminded Darth Vader of himself many years ago. Confident that this galaxy was his, certain that he could do anything, be anyone, have everything. His son had many years of disillusionment ahead for him unless his feet could be anchored to firmer ground.
"First," Vader said, "you must temper your enthusiasm. Never approach someone with a new idea and overwhelm him with your eagerness. Be reasonable. Present your ideas in an orderly fashion. Withhold some of them for a later argument. Make your approach from a more sociable angle. You must learn patience."
His son dropped into the chair that had been placed by his bedside. "Everyone tells me that. I'm trying."
"All right." Luke sighed and clasped his hands together. "How are you feeling today? Is the new respirator satisfactory?"
"Better," Vader praised. "I am improved, thank you. While I would have preferred my personal respirator be repaired, this is a satisfactory substitute. Though I am not pleased with the color."
"White was all we had. Except for orange. I didn't think you'd like that."
His lips twitched. "In that event, I thank you for your choice. What about my legs?"
Luke flushed and shifted uncomfortably. "Mon Mothma has decreed that they won't be repaired."
"They fear my mobility?"
"Of course." More color rushed into the pale face. "They wish to keep you as helpless as possible...until I can convert you from the Dark."
"A small improvement over your original assault. You should wait until later in the conversation to introduce the topic. Preferably, you should never raise it. Instead, you should introduce subtle changes in our conversations. Temptation should be a seduction, never a rape."
The blush became deeper. "Oh."
Vader chuckled. It was difficult to believe this boy was twenty--he acted much younger at times. "Tell me about yourself."
Withdrawal darkened the eyes, making them bleak with pain. "What do you want to know?" Luke asked stiffly.
"Everything I have missed sharing with you. Your life. Your dreams." This was temptation, but the child would never see it. "Were you happy growing up on Tatooine?"
Did Luke know how plainly his face displayed his conflicting thoughts? Yearning for love, yet reluctant to embrace it. Hungry, but afraid to feast. Which side would win? Vader wondered at the depths of his son's duality. Was his indecision symbolic of the schism between his Sith heritage and his Jedi training, or was it based on something more fundamental?
A decision was made; the tension in the youthful face relaxed. "No." Luke shook his head. "It wasn't...bad. Just...." A second decision made, one that seemed to burst a dam of incensed words. "I needed you. I needed my father. You should have been there. You should have taken care of me, you should have taught me things. Everyone else had fathers. I needed you!"
Curious. He hadn't thought a father would be of such importance to one raised Outside. Vader reached out with his senses and bathed in his son's venting emotions. Their intensity revived his spirits. Luke rose and walked away, stood looking out the window. "Come back here," Vader ordered.
There was enough of a stubborn pause to underline Luke's independence; then he returned to the bedside chair. The face was glum, the lower lip pouting. The entire body slouched in an attitude of obstinate defiance.
"I was unaware of your existence."
"How could you not know about me?" Luke glared at him. "How could you not know your wife was pregnant?"
Wife? How very petty and conventional life on Tatooine must have been. "I have never married or bonded. And I have no idea as to the identity of your mother."
Shock and a hint of distaste looked out from his son's eyes. "So I'm a bastard?"
If it had been anyone else, he would have laughed. "You must set aside the prosaic teachings of your youth. Marriage and legitimacy are of importance only in the most provincial of civilizations or in the highest realms of nobility. How you came to be raised on Tatooine is a complete mystery to me. I had no woman from that miserable desert planet."
"How many women did you have?" Luke asked with obvious fascination.
Were the moral questions resolved or only put aside? "Several," Vader said dryly. "Shall we return to the subject of you on Tatooine? How did you come into Lars's custody?"
"I'm not sure." Luke shrugged. "I don't remember ever living anywhere else."
"Did he treat you well?" he asked, already suspecting the answer.
"Sure. Fine." The boy leaned back. "Tell me about the Darkside--I mean, tell me how you came to...to fall."
"I was unaware that I had fallen." Amusement warmed his voice. "I made a decision--one that you will make someday."
"I've already decided."
Have you indeed? You don't even understand the question. "You will find," he continued as if the boy hadn't spoken, "that there are few differences between Dark and Light. War, peace, hatred, love--they exist in both."
"But--" So engrossed was he in his father's words, Luke didn't notice that his hand had come to rest on the Dark Lord's arm. Vader smiled to himself. "A Jedi is supposed to be calm, at peace with himself. That's the Light. How can hatred and war exist in peace?"
"That must be very confusing for you. You are striving to achieve the perceived serenity of a Jedi, yet you must fight and kill, and you regret it."
"Partly." A muscle twitched in Luke's cheek, and he averted his eyes. "But I enjoy it, too."
The admission surprised him only a little, the sentiment not at all. Vader nodded with understanding. "All emotions are part of the Force. Dark and Light were words used to delineate political factions which--"
"Political?" Luke shook his head. "That can't be."
"Yes," Vader chose his words carefully. "A hundred generations ago Force-users became divided by internal disagreements over the politics and religions of the time. The words Dark and Light held different connotations than they do today. At that time, they referred to the garb worn by the followers of the main sect and another group--"
"No!" The youngster jumped to his feet and walked back to the window. "That's not right! Light and Dark mean Good and Evil."
"Define good. Define evil." He used the power of his voice to still his son's pacing.
Luke licked his lips. "Good is...that which is right."
"In whose opinion?"
Uncertainty reflected back at him. "In...in each person's opinion. Everyone must decide for themselves what is good."
"That would surely eliminate evil, wouldn't it?"
Luke stared at him stubbornly. "Good is that which is right for the betterment of all living beings."
"The Emperor brings prosperity to underdeveloped planets. Is the Emperor good?"
"Good doesn't hurt anyone!" the boy blurted.
"You commit murder. Do you consider yourself good?"
"I...I guess not yet."
"Then are you evil?"
"So there exists more than pure good and pure evil."
The chair creaked as the child reseated himself. "You're trying to confuse me. You want me to lose my faith."
"On the contrary, I am trying to clear your confusion. You said you needed your father to teach you. That is what I am doing. If you cannot define good, perhaps you will be more successful with evil."
Luke's shoulders slumped. "Evil is...harmful. Evil hurts people deliberately."
Vader shook his head. "My son, my son, how very young you sound. Surely you see that there is no clear division between good and evil. They exist within one another, not separately. This dichotomy was what splintered Force-users. Each faction searched for its own truths, never acknowledging that there was no difference. Today the Emperor purports to represent the one remaining sect, the Sith. The Jedi are all but extinct. Their truths proved false." In a burst of compassion, Vader smiled at his offspring. "I will teach you the truth, my son. I will teach you everything you missed for so many years."
The boy folded his arms. "This can't be right. You...could you be wrong? There has to be good and evil, there--"
"Good and evil exist in each person's perception. You almost said that yourself," he pointed out. Having validated one of Luke's statements, he would now retreat. "However, our original subject was you, my son. Will you tell me of your life?"
"Will you tell me about yours?"
Luke pushed the chair back and rose. "I...it will have to be later. I have to...check on something."
"And I must rest and complete my healing. I hope you will continue attempting to convince Mothma to repair my limbs. I dislike feeling helpless. And, I am uncomfortable."
The cool hand touched his forehead. Compassion shone on the innocent face. "Do you need more help with pain control?"
He closed his eyes briefly to indicate a negative. "Will you return later?" It was a compelling lure for the boy, to believe his father needed him. And, in truth, Vader felt a strong pull toward the child.
"Yes." Luke smiled, the first unguarded smile he'd shared. "This evening or--better yet, for dinner. I'll bring my meal here, and we can eat together."
A gesture rich with the symbolism of home and hearth. Vader returned the smile. "I would like that." He watched the boy leave.
At some point, it might grow difficult to remember that he needed to
convert the boy only for his abilities and usefulness, for his future promise,
and that he did not need to feel a sentimental attachment to this, his
son. Vader closed his eyes and instructed his body to rest. But his lids
flew open almost immediately when he realized something he should have
seen earlier. His son had changed the subject each and every time Vader
had tried to discuss his life on Tatooine. And the little bastard did
it without my noticing! The Dark Lord burst into laughter. The mother's
identity was irrelevant; the boy was truly his son!
He knew he'd find Chewie and Han aboard the Falcon. No matter what the base accommodations--and this time they were certainly short on luxury--the pair spent most of their free hours on their ship.
"Anybody home?" Luke called from the bottom of the ramp, knowing this neighborly gesture was appreciated.
"C'mon up, kid."
Kid. Like he was an infant. It was no good complaining about it, though; Han would just say it more often. "Hi."
*Hello, pup. I am glad you are safe.*
"Thanks, Chewie." He leaned against a table and watched them. The Wookiee was sitting on the floor while Han, above him, picked through his long fur. Luke knew this was a social as well as a practical ritual, and it was one he'd been invited to join several times before. "Want some help?" he offered.
Luke settled on the floor and began picking at Chewie's arm, pulling off little pieces of vegetation and an occasional living nit and dropping them into the jar provided for that purpose.
"What's up, junior?"
He sighed and released a sticky thorn into the jar. "What do you know about good and evil?"
Han leaned over Chewie's shoulder. "Good's great and evil's better," he said with a leer. "At least in women."
That was something he'd like to hear about one day. "I mean good and evil with capital letters."
"Oh. Been talking to Vader, have you?"
"Mm-hmm." A long golden hair was wound through Chewie's fur. Luke frowned as he released it and dangled it in the air. "What's this?"
Chewie snatched it from him. *Mind your manners, pup!*
Luke grinned. "Sorry, didn't know you were so sensitive. Anyway, good and evil--he says that they're just people's perceptions, that true good and evil don't exist."
"I haven't given it much thought. He could be right."
His lips parted. He believed in Good and the Light. Didn't anyone else? "You really think so?"
*The Old One teases you.*
"Old One? Old One?" Han tugged at Chewie none too gently. "Who're you calling old, you ancient, moth-ridden excuse for a first mate?"
"I'm serious!" Luke interrupted their bantering. "I need to know. He's telling me about Sith and Jedi and how there's no difference, that good and evil are part of the balance."
"Isn't that what you told the Council the other day?" Han asked quietly. "Something about the Dark making the Light brighter?"
"Yes." His shoulders slumped. "But when he's talking, it sounds different. I can't think of any answers. Everything he says seems so reasonable, so right. I'm trying to convert him, and he's--"
"And he's pulling the same number on you, right?" Han waited until he nodded. "He's had a helluva lot more experience than you. You're courting trouble, Luke. I don't know why you're bothering with him. I understand you didn't want to kill a sick man...but is he really a man? Or a devil? You think you can save him, like this is some kind of holy crusade, but he's going to do his damnedest to take you Darkside. Rieekan and Mothma are worried about that, you know. And Leia. Plus, you're not off the hook yet for the Stenness fiasco."
They were all valid points, and he considered that his comrades were correct to be worried. Not because his father's importunings were so persuasive, but because he was Anakin Skywalker. That alone made treading the Dark path at his side a seductive proposition. "Even if what he says about Dark and Light are true--and I think they are--there is still a difference between good and evil. Even if they exist only in people's minds, that doesn't make good and evil actions less valid."
"Kid, everything exists only in our minds. It's what we do with our feelings that counts. What Vader did with his was to murder, torture, destroy, and enslave. If that's not evil, then what is?"
*But if Vader disagrees that this is evil, then for him it is not.*
"Don't confuse the kid."
"He says that Light and Dark were just words used to describe the clothing worn by two opposing sects of Force-users a long time ago." Luke found a thin piece of jade silk in the fur and dropped it discreetly into the jar. "Do you think he was lying?"
"Wouldn't you be in a better position than me to know if he's lying or not?" Han lifted a long piece of soft black twine from Chewie's back. "What the hell is this?"
*Twine,* Chewie snarled. *Too many question, not enough answers.*
"Okay, okay, don't get your fur in an uproar." Han looked over at Luke. "Are you sure you want to go through with this Vader business? Nobody wants to risk losing you, you know."
"Thanks." He smiled at both of them. "I'll be fine. He wants to convert me, but I don't think he's lied to me. He'll stretch the truth, maybe. Slant everything in his direction, maybe. I just don't think he's a liar."
"An honorable man? Wonderful. Don't make him into something he's not, Luke. He's the Emperor's henchman. He's a sorcerer, a murderer, and worse."
"Is he?" Part of him agreed; part of him cried out to defend his father. "Then I guess I'm a sorcerer and murderer, too. And I haven't seen much difference between the actions of the Alliance and those of the Empire."
"Yeah, well, you haven't been around much, have you?"
Luke remained silent as he finished Chewie's left arm.
"Is he sulking?"
*If he is, I don't blame him. Talk nice to the pup.*
"Woof, woof," Han said with a smile. "Want a bone?"
He couldn't help laughing. "You two are nuts. Look, I have to go. I'm dining with the Dark Lord tonight, and I think I'll change into something more formal."
"Be careful you're not the main course."
"Thanks, Old One." He leaned over and dropped a tiny golden curl into Chewie's hand. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
*You've opened up endless realms of possibilities for me.* Chewie cuffed his shoulder. *Run along, pup. Make yourself into a Jedi Knight for your dinner.*
"Just stay out of the way of the cutlery. Chewie, what is this and what the hell have you been doing?"
Luke didn't hear the answer as he hurried down the ramp. Make himself into a Jedi. But what did a Jedi look like? He'd only seen Ben and Yoda, and their outfits were not particularly impressive. He hoped he wasn't expected to walk around in sagging homespun robes all his life.
He ended up wearing a modified version of his Rebel uniform, with high boots and a short vest like Han wore. He left both his blaster and his lightsaber in his room, deciding they were neither necessary nor appropriate for dinner with his father. Stopping at the canteen, he loaded his tray with more food than he usually took, in case his father wasn't being properly fed. As an afterthought, he added two cream-filled pastries, the once-a-week indulgence that Rieekan had insisted upon for his troops. And himself, Luke thought with a secret smile. Sweet-Tooth Rieekan the soldiers called him. Or, when they were certain he was out of earshot, Sweet-T.
By the time he arrived at his father's room he was feeling quite cheerful. He nodded to the guards and lifted the tray lid for their inspection. Then he slipped inside and closed the door behind him. "Hi!"
Vader had put aside the heavy respirator mask and was using a small nosepiece that was hooked to a machine at his bedside. "Good evening, Luke. If I could rise, I would offer you assistance with your tray. It appears to be very heavy."
"Indeed?" One dark brow raised roguishly. "I would not have guessed from your slim build that you possessed such a prodigious appetite."
"I brought some for you." Luke grinned. "On one condition--no political discussions. No attempted conversions."
"Does that mean this time you will share personal information with your father?"
So, Vader had noticed his evasions. "Maybe." He put the tray on the overbed table and lifted the cover. "Have you eaten already?"
Vader gestured to the bedstand. "See for yourself."
He studied the other tray. A mouthful of each item was gone. What remained were orange, wiggly squares of a transparent gelatin, a yellow gruel-like substance, and some limp green sticks he recognized as reconstituted vegetables. "Hospital food," he commented with a shrug. He turned around. Vader was eating. "Hey, leave some for me!"
"Don't whine." One hand waved dismissively. "You are free to obtain more. I am trapped here."
"Lucky for you they feed pilots better than patients. I'll bring your meals from now on." With a smile he sat on the edge of the bed and reached for the dessert.
"Such a good boy," Vader mocked. "Caring for your father in his dotage."
Luke laughed, then sobered abruptly. He lowered his voice. "No one knows," he said warningly.
"No one will know from me." The icy blue eyes studied him. "I did not expect that you would have revealed your parentage. Nor should you. You would lose the trust of your comrades. They might even consider you a danger."
His eyes narrowed. "Wouldn't you like that? Then you could convert--" He shut his mouth when Vader waggled a finger at him.
"No politics, no conversions. You are breaking your own rules."
"So I am." Luke stood abruptly and spread his arms. "What do you think of my clothes?"
Vader looked at him in obvious puzzlement. "I think they are adequate coverings. Are they your best?"
"No." He blushed and looked down at himself. "I was trying to figure out what Jedi wore. I thought maybe.... Well, Ben and Yoda wore those horrible robes and I didn't--"
His father groaned. "The Emperor wears them, too. Force-users are stricken with a predilection for unseemly clothing."
"You don't dress like that."
"I made a new sartorial rule for Skywalkers: black."
Skywalkers. Luke reseated himself on the bed. "Do you think I could wear black? I mean, is it traditional?"
"How do you think traditions are begun, boy? They are passed down through the generations. I wear black. Therefore--" Vader waved his fork and slid a piece of rare meat into his mouth.
"Therefore I should wear it? Black," he repeated thoughtfully. He pictured himself dressed like Vader with a dramatic, flowing cloak over a trim uniform. "I like that."
"Unless you feel you should wear white. As a symbolic gesture."
"Oh." He dismissed the idea immediately. "Too impractical. And I always wore white on Tatooine. I've had enough of it to last a lifetime."
"Tell me about Tatooine."
He felt the eyes pierce him. What was there to say? "It was a hard life. We were moisture farmers--what a joke! We made barely enough to keep ourselves alive. There was never a profit."
"And your...aunt and uncle?"
"Uncle Owen and I were alone until I was fourteen. Then he married Aunt Beru. One more mouth to water, he always said--I think it was supposed to be a joke."
"Not very amusing. Did you receive adequate schooling?"
"I guess." Luke shrugged. "I studied a lot on my own. But all I ever wanted to do was fly like my...like you."
"So, they told you about me."
"Not really. They said you died in space, aboard a spice freighter."
"How unglamorous," Vader said dryly.
"Yeah." He smiled briefly. "I think it was supposed to discourage me from imitating you. Or wondering about you." But it hadn't. Somehow he'd known his father was different, special. Just as he was himself.
"What did they say of your mother?"
"Just that she died when I was born. I don't even know if she was related to Uncle Owen. I just always called him that."
"Did they treat you well?"
"Well enough. But...." His appetite fled, and he pushed aside the pastry with sudden distaste. Should he say something or nothing? His pride decried revealing his wounds, yet wasn't his father the root cause of his punishment? More than that--to share this would be to give Vader his trust, and a voice deep inside entreated him to trust his father. He might not get another chance. Luke stood and shrugged off his vest, sensing his father's surprise. He turned his back and unbuttoned the shirt, letting it drop off his shoulders. Heard the harsh intake of breath. He pulled it up and refastened it, retrieved his vest from the floor. Sat on the bed and met his father's eyes. They were blazing with the hot fire of outrage. The fierce reaction pleased him.
"If he were alive, I would kill him," Vader said in a voice so low Luke could barely make out the words. "The lowest slime in the galaxy has not the right to molest a child."
...he's a sorcerer, a murderer, and worse. And something less than all that. "Perhaps he didn't think what he was doing was evil," Luke said with a small smile.
Vader's lips compressed, and his eyes narrowed. "You have the potential to be very dangerous," he said finally. Then the cloud over his face lifted. He held out one arm.
Luke leaned over and accepted the half-embrace, resting his head on Vader's shoulder. "I used to think he hated me. But now I know he was afraid I would become like you."
"How could he have known you were my son?"
"I don't know." One hand rubbed his back with a gentleness that made him forget it was the touch of Darth Vader. He closed his eyes. He could hear the beating of a strong heart. Whatever internal injuries Vader had, they didn't include his heart. Unless it was mechanical.
He lifted his head and drew away. "You can read my mind. I noticed it before."
"Only sometimes. When your thoughts are strong. You can do it, too."
Luke shook his head. "I don't think so."
"Yes, young one." Vader smiled at him. "You have done it with me. You don't realize you're hearing my thoughts--you think they are your own."
He pulled back in dismay. "What are you saying?"
The left hand lifted in a gesture of peace. "Don't be alarmed. I will point it out the next time you do it, then you will understand. It is nothing to frighten you."
"My thoughts aren't my own?"
"No, no. I told you not to be alarmed."
"How can I not--"
"Great Sith of all Siths--save me from a loquacious child!" Vader glared at him. "Have something to eat."
"Yes, Father," Luke said with sweet obedience. He unwrapped a breadstick and munched on it. He saw Vader looking at it with longing. "There were two."
"I am aware of that. I found the other one to be exceptionally delicious."
"It is good, isn't it?" He studied the rest of the stick, then popped it in his mouth.
"You also have the potential to be a sadist."
"Thank you. Try the dessert." He leaned his elbow on the overbed table and grinned at his father. "I think I like you."
The skin around Vader's eyes crinkled when he smiled. "I think I like you, too."
"Yeah." Luke nodded, embarrassed. "Do you play crinnache?"
"Dark Lords don't play card games."
"Oh. What do they do for fun?"
Vader raised one eyebrow at him. "Never mind," Luke intervened hastily. "Are there more Dark Lords?"
"Yes?" He frowned in mock severity. "That's all you're going to say--yes? You promised that you'd tell me about your life."
"You promised to tell me about yours."
"I did!" He looked away, sighing. "There's really nothing else to tell."
"How did Lars come to have you?"
"I don't know. I never asked."
"I find that difficult to believe, inquisitive child of mine."
Luke shrugged. "He got mad when I asked questions," he answered and knew that would be enough.
Vader was silent for several heartbeats. "There are other Dark Lords. I am the only one to use the title Outside. The others remain secret. Too many Siths make people nervous."
He had to laugh at the understatement. "I can understand that. So Siths are Jedi who broke away from the sect?"
"No. A Sith is a Force-user and follower of the sect or simply a native of the planet."
His eyes widened. "I thought the planet Sith was a myth."
"It is very real. However, you did not wish to discuss politics."
Damn. "You're right. But I want to hear about you. How did you come to...well, not fall, but become a...are you from Sith?"
"Yes. Though you were not born there, you are Sith."
"No!" He was at once appalled and fascinated. "But my mother--?"
Vader shrugged. "Who knows? Perhaps she was a Sith too."
"Can't you find out?"
"I will study whatever records are left regarding how you came to be in Lars's possession."
"I wasn't in his possession," Luke snapped crossly. "I'm not an animal."
"I beg your pardon. I assumed that, as a child, you had no free will in the matter."
He busied himself with the tray, carrying it over to the door, then sliding the overbed table away. He pulled the chair back to the bedside. Vader must know he didn't like talking about Uncle Owen or his old life.
He lifted his head. "There, what?"
"I was just thinking that you don't enjoy talking about Lars or your former life. You read my thought."
"In time, you will be more aware when that occurs."
"Good." Because it could be awkward if he didn't know whose thoughts he was thinking. They sat for awhile in silence. "So you were never a Jedi?" Luke asked finally.
"Oh, I was a Jedi. Being a native of Sith doesn't preclude becoming a Jedi. However, I found the entire Jedi business to be stultifyingly boring. In my youth, I saw little difference between Sith and Jedi--they were both interested in politics more than anything else. The Jedi said they wanted peace, but they wanted to achieve it by fighting. The Sith said they didn't want war, yet they wished to rule the entire galaxy. The Jedi would get involved in philosophical arguments regarding the religious meaning of killing by lightsaber rather than by blaster. While they were philosophizing among themselves, we eliminated them. In short, my son, the Jedi were losers. The sooner you disassociate yourself with that dead breed, the better off you'll be."
Luke looked speculatively at his father. "Are there other Jedi beside me and Yoda--and you?"
"No. And I am not a Jedi."
"You could be."
"I just finished telling you--"
"I know. But you and I could start the Jedi over. Make Jedi better. They couldn't have always been bickering among themselves--I've heard great stories of Jedi in the past."
"Why would you want to do such a ridiculous thing? You're a Sith, boy! The Sith are living free and strong, they are thriving. They are everywhere. You can be their leader, you have the power just as I do." Vader grabbed his arm and squeezed it. "Join me. No one will be mighty enough to conquer us. We can defeat Palpatine. We can lead the galaxy in whatever direction we choose."
"Toward peace and freedom instead of war?"
"How could we do that if Siths want to rule the galaxy?"
"Bah!" Vader released him and leaned back against the pillows. "There is nothing as wasteful as an intelligent fool. Leave me, boy. I'll not argue with you any further."
"You aren't supposed to be arguing. You're supposed to be telling me about your life." When he received no response, Luke stood slowly. "Do you want me to bring your breakfast tomorrow?"
There was a stubborn pause. "Very well," Vader said, frowning. His expression gradually softened. "I would appreciate that," he added. "Thank you for dinner. And your company."
"It was my pleasure," he said sincerely. Inexplicable as it was, he had enjoyed the evening. "Sleep well. May the Force be with you."
"Don't you know any other bedtime invocations?" Vader grumbled.
Luke considered it briefly. "Now I lie me down and squeak, mouse runs out and bites me beak, if I eat cheese--"
"--before I rise--"
"--mouse comes back and eats me eyes."
He barely made it through the door before something came crashing against
it. He gave the guards a little smile and a shrug before he strolled back
down the hall. First chance he got, he was going to the tailor.
"Mon Mothma will see you now," the aide said politely.
Luke wiped his palms on his thighs. A Jedi should not be nervous. But so much depended on his report. She'd requested an update on his progress; would he be articulate enough to convince her that Vader should not go to trial and that his legs should be repaired? He remembered his father's advice: not to overwhelm with his ideas, try the sociable approach. Somehow he couldn't see himself being sociable with the great Mothma.
He marched into her office and stood very straight in front of her desk. He knew he looked good; the black Jedi "uniform" was simple and impressive. She would approve--unless she was like Rieekan and asked what happened to his Alliance uniform. Or unless she remembered that Jedi wore ugly robes. Well, he'd just tell her that Luke Skywalker was a Jedi of the future, that this was the uniform of Today.
She looked up at him. "Please be seated, Commander."
He sat and folded his hands together, waiting for her to continue.
"How is your work with Lord Vader progressing?"
No opportunity to be sociable. Luke drew a deep breath. "Very well, ma'am. I believe I have attained his trust. He listens to what I say, though of course it's too soon to expect any kind of positive outcome."
She made a notation on the electronic notepad. "I am under pressure to try him for war crimes. What are your feelings about that?"
"I have misgivings about it," he replied carefully, suppressing his horror. "Putting him on trial would open the door for the Empire to treat our captured officers in the same manner. A war crime is difficult to define. I also feel that Vader's view of me and what I am trying to do would be negatively impacted. Right now, his only opinion of the Alliance is what he forms from my words and our actions." Sith be damned, he couldn't wait any longer to ask! "I also feel that our refusal to repair his legs is having a negative impact on my task."
"I do not like the idea of Vader mobile. Once he is able to move, he will not be content to remain in his room."
"We could allow him escorted access to certain areas." Luke hesitated, then decided to appeal to her emotions. "Ma'am, we wouldn't treat a wounded animal this way. We can't keep him crippled like this. It's both painful and humiliating--for him and for me. I can't convince him to rejoin the Light when we, as its representatives, are treating him so shamefully."
She sighed and raised her eyes to study the ceiling. "Do you realize how much of a risk the Alliance is taking by allowing you this kind of access to Vader?"
"You mean the risk that I might fall Darkside?" A spark of annoyance flashed through him; he extinguished it quickly. She had so little faith in him--and just when had his soul become the Alliance's business? "That is not what's in my heart, ma'am. I wish you could believe that."
"Your...killing of the other members of your squad concerns me."
Luke spread his hands. "That's the galaxy we're living in. Until this conflict ends, the killings will continue. That's just another reason why I want to keep working with Vader. If he will join me, we can defeat the Emperor."
Mothma stood and paced to the window where she gazed over the bleak landscape. "I cannot imagine Vader joining the Alliance."
"Neither can I," Luke said gently. "I said that he might join me."
A sharp glance turned on him. "Why would he do that?"
"Because despite everything that has happened since, I believe he remains a Jedi. I am the only other Jedi. I have sensed that Yoda is dying," he said slowly, accepting the knowledge though not knowing from whence it had come. "It is very difficult to be a Jedi alone. That's something I'm learning. Now that Vader has been in the company of another Jedi, I think he'll find it unpleasant to be separate again."
"And what about you?" she asked softly. "When and if the Emperor discovers Vader's whereabouts and demands his return, will you not also be alone without him?"
"Yes." But loneliness was something he understood and could live with. He'd proven that to himself over the years. "It can't be helped. Please, ma'am, let me tell him he'll have his legs repaired. Let me give him some hope. How can we expect him to sympathize with the Alliance when we deny him what the Empire would have already provided?"
For the first time, she smiled at him. "You are very articulate, Commander. Very well. You may inform him that we will have his limbs restored and that we expect their cost to be reimbursed by the Empire. I wish you success. And I will expect progress reports every other day."
"Yes, ma'am." He rose and bowed. "Thank you, ma'am."
He left the chambers quickly. His father would be so pleased!
But when he arrived in his father's room after hasty stop in the lab and the canteen, Vader was in a foul mood.
"You're late!" the older man snapped.
"Sorry. Here's your lunch."
"I am no longer hungry."
"Don't pout." Luke glared at his father. "You know you're hungry--or you will be when you see what I've brought. I'm sorry I'm late, but I have other duties beside pampering you, you know."
"Pampering?" The word was snarled. "Evidently your schooling was inadequate because 'pampering' is hardly the definition of the--"
"Oh, shut up!"
Something pushed at him, and he stumbled back. The Force? His father used the Force on him? "Does being a bully please you?"
"Does being a naive infant please you?" Vader folded his arms and closed his eyes. "Go away. I wish to sleep."
Luke restrained his rising temper. This was wrong, they shouldn't be fighting. Stress had put his father in this mood, and now his son had the ability to relieve it. He lifted the tray lid and picked at the salad.
"I asked you to leave."
"I have something important to tell you."
Vader's eyes remained closed. Luke smiled. "Father."
"I convinced Mothma to have your legs repaired."
After a moment, the lids lifted, and he looked into eyes that were identical to his own. "You did?"
"She said I was very articulate," he boasted.
"Indeed you are. Mothma. Of course. So, she is still susceptible to Jedi." A slow smile spread across Vader's face, and he reached out his hand. Luke clasped it briefly. "Thank you. When?"
"Tomorrow or the next day, as soon as they have the circuitry ready. I've been down to the lab, and they're getting started." He paused. "I worry, though--when you have your legs back, will you want to leave?"
"I hardly think that will be allowed."
Luke shrugged. "The Emperor will find you sometime. And then you'll go, won't you?"
"Of course." It was Vader's turn to hesitate. "You could accompany me. I promise you would not become the Empire's prisoner."
He shook his head. Their parting was inevitable, but maybe it didn't have to be permanent. "This war won't last forever."
"It can last long past our lifetimes. Luke, the Empire is the government of the galaxy. If you would convince the Alliance to surrender, then peace would be restored."
"But at what cost? The Emperor is a tyrant. He's destroyed civilizations--an entire planet. You're a Jedi, how can you allow this to continue?"
"I've told you I'm not a Jedi."
"I don't think it's something you can resign from," Luke retorted. "Like me, you can sense that Yoda is dying, can't you?"
Vader nodded. "He is part of the Force. The Force is controlled by Siths."
"But the Sith and the Jedi were the same once. Why can't it be that way again?" Luke sat on the edge of the bed. "Why can't we reunite them? Sith and Jedi can be one, we can combine our skills."
"You have more ideas than a philosopher, son of mine," Vader said with a chuckle. "You almost make me believe anything is possible."
"Isn't it?" he asked with a touch of mischief. "For a Jedi--and a Sith?"
Vader eyed him speculatively, and Luke felt a thrill of excitement. Maybe....
"I will give your ideas the consideration they deserve."
What did that mean? He decided to think positively. "Thank you. Now--shall we eat?"
Vader's smile lit the room. "I'm starving," he confessed.
"I know. Your whining and moaning didn't fool me."
"I did not intend that it would. I felt you should know from whom you inherited your personality."
Luke beamed at his father. "I think I've already figured it out."
Vader grunted and gestured with one hand. "Stand up and let me have a look at your clothes."
He stood very straight, unable to hide his pride. "Isn't it great? I went to the best tailor the Fleet has--he's Alderaani and he used to clothe all the nobles."
His father nodded approvingly. "Quality shows. Where's the cloak?"
"No cloak." Disappointment colored his voice. "I only had enough for this one uniform--actually, I talked him into giving it to me on partial credit. They don't pay us much, you know."
The older man grunted again and leaned over to fumble in the bedside drawer. He withdrew a standard medcenter personal effects bag and reached into it. "Here. Take this."
Luke held out his hand and a wad of credits was stuffed into his palm. He stared at them, mesmerized. He'd never seen so much money. "I...I can't--"
Vader waved away his weak protest. "Don't bother with the standard disclaimer. You can and you will. You saved me twenty years' worth of clothing and feeding you--get yourself the cloak and a few more sets of uniforms. New boots, those are a disgrace. That should be enough no matter how much that thief is charging you."
For the first time it occurred to him that his father must be rich--and
so, by extension, was he. Luke uttered a nervous laugh and clenched his
fingers around the credits. "Thank you." He laughed again. This was enough
to buy a dozen uniforms if he wanted. And this would quell that snooty
tailor's patronizing attitude. "Thanks!"
Weeks passed too swiftly. Once his legs were replaced and he was able to move around, Vader's attitude improved immensely. He gave up pretending to himself that he could remain emotionally unattached to his son. Indeed, Luke's appearance brightened his existence to an unprecedented degree, and he eagerly looked forward to their daily visits. In his adult life, he did not recall ever experiencing all the feelings that were now open to him. Caring, hope, optimism--even his feelings of enforced obedience to Palpatine were changing. He found himself growing ever more resentful of his servitude, anxious to end it, ambitious for himself and his son. The Jedi were dead; it was time that the old arguments were put aside. He knew there were Sith who felt that way, and surely the rest would not be frightened by a single, self-proclaimed Jedi who was coming Home. The Skywalker.
For that was the way it would have to be, the solitary Jedi rejoining his Sith brotherhood, incorporating his fledgling Jedi talents with Sith's immense power. Only a Skywalker would have the arrogance to assume that all Sith would join him. Vader's amusement faded as he glanced at the chron. Luke was late for their breakfast together. Though his mobility was now unhindered, Lord Vader was not allowed to visit the officers canteen for meals, and he preferred it that way. He enjoyed these quiet times alone with his son as they continued their explorations of one another. Luke had depths he hadn't suspected upon their first few meetings, and he wondered how much of the naivete was feigned. Perhaps his upbringing by Lars--despicable as his treatment had been--had served a useful purpose by giving the boy a serious outlook on life, unlike some of his peers in both the Alliance and the Empire. Vader firmly believed that positive results could be achieved even through the most difficult and adverse routes; now here was his son to prove it.
He admitted to a feeling of relief when the door buzzer sounded and Luke entered. The usual breakfast tray was set aside, and he sensed turbulent feelings coming from the youngster.
"What is it?"
Luke didn't meet his eyes. He sank heavily into the chair by the window and stared outside like a prisoner yearning for freedom. "An Imperial fleet is coming. They've sent a message demanding your return."
His freedom, which he should have welcomed, was not welcomed at all. It was too soon; he needed more time with his son. "Hold me hostage against their attack."
"The base is too spread out. It wouldn't work." Luke watched him warily. "You could stay here, join me. You could send word that you aren't a prisoner."
He released a laugh that overflowed with bitter disappointment. "Firstly, I am not staying with the Alliance; it is impossible. Secondly, the Emperor would be all the more determined to destroy you, me, and the Alliance were I to defect. No, Luke, the only practical solution is for me to return. I will take command of the fleet and not allow an attack. You must, of course, immediately move your base elsewhere."
The boy stood and faced him. "How can you talk about this so easily? I don't want you to go." It was not the mature plea of an almost-grown man; it was a forlorn cry of abandonment.
Vader didn't turn away, though it was almost instinctive for him to do so. Emotional confrontations were rare for him, and the experience was disconcerting. "It is not my preference," he admitted slowly. "However, it is unavoidable." It was too soon to explain; Luke would neither accept nor comprehend the significance of the truth.
"Why?" Luke blinked, sparks burning in eyes that were as cold and crystalline as meteors. "Why do you want to stay with the establishment? You're a rebel at heart, I can sense it. You're not happy with the way the Emperor rules the galaxy--you want reform. I've heard what you've said, I know what you want. Your beliefs are different from his."
"The most effective way of making a change is from within. Your Rebellion would have stood more of a chance had your leaders remained with the Empire and affected reform that way." It was what he'd told himself for years; he held onto that belief even when doubts made insidious inroads into his heart.
"How long have you been trying to do that? Father, it's not working. If you would join us--"
"Do you really believe your Alliance would allow Darth Vader into its ranks? Even given your age and inexperience, you are not that naive. The Alliance Council is comprised of small-minded, suspicious people."
"Then what's the answer? I don't want us to be apart again."
He felt a reluctant admiration that his son found such words so simple to say. "Then join me. Learn from me. Work at my side. When you are ready, we will depose Palpatine."
"But he's a sorcerer. He would sense my thoughts--just as he must sense yours."
"You don't yet understand your powers. You can block his access to your thoughts. I will teach you. He will sense only loyalty from you. He is not Sith."
"No." Luke shook his head. "I...I'm scheduled to take my x-wing out. To be sure it's ready in case there's a battle. I have to leave."
He knew a profound sadness that Luke would not come with him, but he allowed his son refuge in the change of subject. "Were all your mechanical conversions successful?"
"I guess I'll find out today." The boy hesitated, then reached over and gave him an awkward hug. Vader stiffened. "Just in case we don't have a chance later...." His voice trailed off as his arms dropped to his sides.
He heard the unspoken words and answered them. "I feel the same," he said formally. "Be careful. And may a--a mouse not bite your...."
"Beak," Luke supplied with a tight smile. The clear eyes focused on him a moment longer, then his son turned toward the door.
His emotions were in a tumult of confusion. It was an unusual, yet somehow not unpleasant, experience. "Luke!" The name was blurted before a reason for its utterance found its way into his mind. He approached the boy, stared at the stiff back. Proud, like his father. He touched one shoulder, and Luke turned.
So much like him. Looking into those eyes was like looking into his own soul. Astonishing, the memories they brought forth, memories that had been necessarily submerged for years. He opened his arms and embraced his son, feeling the birth of an alien passion, a fierce sense of possession, a longing to give himself to another. And knew answering feelings from his child's raging thoughts.
They stood quietly, holding onto each other with love and anger.
His mind was infused with thoughts of his father, with plotting and planning, with ideas rejected and set aside. But mostly he felt joyous realization that the love he'd longed for was finally his. And he would not give it up. Luke blinked and refocused his eyes on the instrument panel, trying to concentrate on the performance of this fighter. It was not like his last one; its responses were sluggish. He didn't like it, but realized that he had no other options. After this mission, he's insist that the Alliance bring more fighters on line. If necessary, he'd remind them that they were risking their only Jedi in an x-wing that was in less than acceptable condition. He didn't often use his status for personal advantage, but this was important. He was not willing to die anymore, not now that he had his father.
His thoughts drifted. What if he did go with his father and become Palpatine's thrall? What if he could touch Darkside and still survive as a Jedi? He trusted his father not to hurt him, but did Vader know the Emperor well enough to predict his knowledge and his vulnerabilities? Was it certain that Palpatine would not sense their secret plans and destroy them both? Or what if he became a Sith? Was there really so little difference between Sith and Jedi? How much truth did his father know? Would his Vader-father understand the difference between their souls--was there a difference or was Luke Skywalker the foolish one, the one who didn't understand? Maybe there was just the Force, and the titles of its Users made no difference.
A warning chime interrupted his thoughts. He muttered a curse. The life support system was malfunctioning again. He fumbled for the portable unit and hooked the mouthpiece to his helmet, ready to switch it on should life support go into total failure. A different buzzer sounded, and an orange light flared in front of him. Fission chamber deterioration, the single complication pilots dreaded the most. Luke flicked the auxiliary fire control to standby and swung the x-wing back toward the base.
"This is Rogue Leader. I've got problems with the fission chamber and life support. Heading back to base."
"Roger, Rogue Leader. We'll have fire equipment standing by."
Fire equipment. The words gave him a queasy feeling in his stomach. More alarm chimes sounded, and his fingers raced frantically, trying to divert the flow of catalysts, trying to rechannel, trying to get it before it got him. With a final audible warning, the last of the life support air shut down, and he triggered his portable unit. There was enough to get him back to base--assuming it didn't malfunction as everything else seemed to be doing. What the hell had gone wrong?
His mind reached out instinctively to his father, and he felt Vader join him. He drew on the other's superior knowledge--your father was the best starpilot in the galaxy--and used every bit of it to sustain his crippled fighter. He had the base in sight, knew he was almost home free, when the first wisps of smoke appeared in the cockpit. He couldn't see a fire, but initiated auxiliary fire control anyway. If he couldn't cool this problem, the surge vent would shut down the engine and he'd crash. If he could control it for a few seconds more, he'd be safe. But his breathing was becoming labored--not the life support, no!--and he began to choke. He couldn't pass out--couldn't or he'd lose control and crash--but his vision was blurring and his head spinning and--
Give me your mind. I will land your craft. Luke--release your mind to me.
If there were consequences, he didn't care. He had no choice--and didn't
want one. Just before his consciousness vanished, he surrendered himself
totally to his father.
He'd disabled the guards--had he been staying, Mothma would have had his few privileges revoked for that act!--and made his way to the Command Center, disabling all those who attempted to bar his path. He went directly for the small group that hovered anxiously around a tense com operator--General Rieekan, the princess, Solo, another general he didn't recognize. Vader pulled the headset off the com operator and held it to his own auditory device.
"What the devil--guards!"
He didn't have to utter a word to silence Rieekan--Solo did it by grabbing the General's arm. "Wait." Solo watched him.
He listened to his son's transmissions, words that were becoming weak and incoherent. "He is dying." Armed troopers approached warily. "Stay back. I can save him."
"Back off," Solo gestured to the guards, still eyeing him with suspicion.
General Rieekan also watched closely. "How?"
Vader ignored the question, concentrating on his son. He had to convince Luke to lower all his mental shields. It was asking a tremendous amount from a Jedi--or a Sith. To surrender all one's barriers, all one's protection, to be sucked into the mind of another--it was a frightening prospect. Fortunately, Luke's talent was so raw that he didn't fully understand what he was being asked. No matter. If his son lived through this, Vader would teach him to protect his mind properly. For now, he knew a moment's triumph as his son submitted to him. An influx of tender thoughts filled him, a youth's turmoil and uncertainties, a child's wounds yet unhealed, the longing for happiness, the bright hopes for their future, the too-familiar hunger for power--he put them aside to investigate later and took control of the x-wing. There was no fire, but the mix of chemical fumes would be lethal if the portable life support failed--and its breakdown had already begun.
He shuddered. The only way to save his son was to take his spirit and hold it within himself. And hope that the body could be revived. It was not something he'd ever tried--who in his life had been worth saving?--but he would have to overcome his natural revulsion now. He turned toward Solo.
"I am piloting the ship, but he is dying. His body will be dead when the ship lands. I can hold his spirit, but I cannot revive his body at the same time. You must do that immediately--immediately--upon landing. I can only hold onto him for a few minutes."
Solo nodded, and he wondered at the man's trust in him. Or was it faith in Luke's judgment? If Luke trusted Vader, then the Dark Lord must be worthy. He smiled briefly to himself, then returned to his task. When the life support failed, he was ready. He let the body die, let the essence founder for a few precious seconds. Caught it at the last possible moment and brought it within himself. He shut off all outside contact and concentrated on maintaining his son's spirit. Everything depended on Solo and the med crew.
He'd nearly lost himself in the strain and confusion of holding onto his son when he felt the first glimmer of consciousness return to the boy's body. Respiration returned, the heart began to beat again, the mind tumbled, lost. He caught it and began to siphon the spirit back, slowly because he wasn't sure what he was doing, slowly because he didn't want to overload the fragile senses. Gradually his mind became his own again, and he was separate. It felt curiously lonely, then became familiar once more. He opened his eyes, his body slumping. Looking around, he saw he was on the floor of the landing bay, his hand clinging to his son's limp one, medtechs surrounding the boy, removing their equipment. The little princess was on her knees at Luke's head, stroking it. Solo was there, too, crouched beside her. Vader felt a moment of pride for the affection Luke could call from these people. So immature, so untrained in the Force, yet able to touch people in a way his father never had.
The Force. Vader frowned. It would not do to allow his son to roam the galaxy untrained. Luke's potential was great. He would have to shepherd this boy, guide him away from the potential pitfalls that the Force offered, for the sake of both Luke and Sith.
Luke's eyes fluttered open slowly. He blinked and looked around. His eyes focused on Vader's face, and he whispered something unintelligible. Vader leaned closer. "You can't...leave me now," he heard his son hiss. There was a gleam of victory in the bright eyes.
Vader inhaled sharply. The power was growing. The child read his thoughts without his awareness of the act. It was true; he could not leave Luke, but neither could he stay with the Alliance. "I must obey the Emperor or we will all suffer the consequences." The alarmed thoughts of the others were annoying pests; he brushed them away from his consciousness.
"You said...." Luke coughed, his voice beginning to return. "You said we could destroy Palpatine."
"I believe we can. But not from a distance. You will have to return with me to the Empire."
"No!" Princess Leia exclaimed. "Luke, you need to rest. We'll take you to the medical center."
Vader ignored her and held his son's gaze. "You know it to be true," he said, using all his power to convince the boy.
"This isn't a good idea, kid." Han Solo touched Luke's arm. "You shouldn't be talking to him now, when you're not feeling well."
"He just saved my life," Luke rasped.
"Yeah, well, that doesn't mean he owns you."
Solo's influence worried him. "He must come with me," Vader insisted.
Luke smiled at his friends and tried to sit up. Vader assisted him with a strong arm behind his shoulders. "I can't. You must stay here, Lord Vader."
Damned Skywalker stubbornness. "Your friends are correct about one thing," Vader acknowledged. "Now is not the time to talk. You must rest and recuperate. We will talk later."
"But the Imperial fleet will be here--"
"Later," he said sternly, with a father's voice.
Luke smiled drowsily and lay back on the stretcher. His eyelids closed in assent. Vader stood and watched the techs remove his son. He turned to General Rieekan. "I will return to my quarters to make preparations for my departure."
Rieekan gestured to the guards, but Solo stepped in front of them. "I'll escort him back, General." He turned to the Dark Lord. "I've got a few things I want to say."
He groaned mentally. A lecture from his son's friend. Indeed, this must
truly be parenthood.
Hours and hours wasted in bed. Luke fumed silently, hurrying through the busy corridors toward his father's room. Everyone was preparing to abandon the base, the Imperial Fleet was on its way, and he'd been stuck in bed! At first he'd slept and slept; after that, he'd chafed to get on his feet, had waited in vain for a visit from his father. This evening he'd finally insisted on leaving. He was a little wobbly, true, but they couldn't keep him in sickbay forever. At his father's door, he drew a deep breath to steady himself, then pressed the entry lock. The door swung open for him.
It took only the most cursory inspection to see that the room had been abandoned. There was nothing--nothing!--of his father left in it. Luke didn't pause to consider the implications; he took off on a run toward the hanger bay. If his father had left--
No! Vader wouldn't leave without telling him! He sent his mind racing ahead of his feet, searching out his father, asking--
He skidded to a halt in the bay in front of the small Imperial shuttle. His father waited for him at the bottom of its narrow ramp, flanked on one side by two stormtroopers, on the other by Mothma, Rieekan, and Leia. Luke approached slowly, his heart fluttering against his throat, strangling any words he might have said. He stopped in front of his father.
"I regretted my inability to talk with you before I departed. Your Alliance comrades deemed any conversation between us to be a poor idea."
He ignored Rieekan and Mothma; he knew their feelings. They didn't want to risk losing a Jedi. But Leia? He studied her eyes. In them, he saw the identical belief. There was more in their brown depths, friendship for him, but his value to the Alliance far outweighed any personal considerations. He turned his gaze back to his father.
"You must stay," he said, hoping his words would make a difference this time.
"I will not stay, and you will not come with me." Vader's voice was harsh, not the way he'd spoken before. "That is destiny. I am glad to have...made your acquaintance. May the Force be with you always."
He knew the words were spoken for the benefit of their audience, was certain of it because he'd felt his father's love. He couldn't feel it now, couldn't sense past the impenetrable barriers that protected Vader's mind. He shook his head. There had to be a way--
Vader held out his hand. Luke stared at it. Shake hands? You can't leave me! He refused to take the hand, couldn't bear the touch; after a pause, it dropped. He sent the same mental message over and over, angrily pleading for a response. Panic pounded at his brain--was this what it meant to lose one's mind? He wanted to force Vader to stay or to go with him to his Empire, anything, he would do anything not to lose his father.
But in the end he said nothing. Vader was murmuring a few words to Mothma and turning to leave. Walking up the shuttle's ramp. Don't leave me again! A perceptible falter in the steady pace was the only indication that Vader heard him. The huge body disappeared bit by bit into the shuttle. Black head, shoulders, long cloak, boot heels. The door slid closed, the ramp raised. The others stepped back, Leia pulling him with them. In his mind, he screamed an agonized protest. But outside, he was calm. No one but his father would know how much pain and fury filled him.
He watched the shuttle make its departure, watched as the wings folded down elegantly. Watched until it became a pinpoint of light that faded and disappeared.
The word died in his mind before he could call.
He had no father. Again.
Jaw clenched, Luke turned and left the hanger bay. There was much work
to be done before the base could be evacuated. It was time he stopped his
foolish dreaming and began acting like what he was--a soldier. Nothing
more, not even a Jedi.
Vader stared at the pilot's back. That last wild cry had almost undone him, almost made him throw away his goal. He had never heard anything like it, and no one had ever called to him or needed him that way. He'd thought that nothing could further affect him--until the killing frost that descended when the cry had gone unanswered. Bone-chilling cold, an icy severing of their mental connection, more final than death would have been. He regretted--
But, no. Darth Vader could not afford regrets. He could not stay, Luke would not come. Their separation was inevitable. The boy would understand that. One day Luke would surrender to his destiny and come to him. Or another alternative would arise. There were always opportunities; one needed only to be patient. Until then he wanted to stay in touch with his son, but there was no way around that frozen barrier until Luke lowered it.
He closed his eyes. His life had been full with both conquests and defeats, but he'd never felt a loss such as this. Except once, long ago, with her. But she was just a vague memory now, and his son was very real and alive. So he would keep his end of the channel open, and one day Luke would capitulate. Until then, he would harbor no regrets.
Lord Vader opened his eyes and focused them on the Executor, his proud flagship. There was much to do. He would honor his promise to the Rebels and allow them time to move their base and escape. They were safe. For now.
Then, for Palpatine's pleasure, and his own sanity, he would track them down and destroy them all--
Chewie soldered the last piece of metal onto the Falcon's stabilizer. He tossed his bag of equipment down to Luke and climbed the ladder to the deck. *That should hold it in place,* he commented quietly to the Young One, *no matter what Han tries to fly through*.
The pup nodded, acknowledging his words but not really caring about them. Chewie felt the regret that had become too familiar recently--that he could no longer make the pup smile. No one could. There was too much sadness in the child and an anger that simmered like tea on the boil. He wished he understood what had happened between the pup and the Dark One. He and Han had discussed it often, but neither of them had come up with any solid answers. That the pup cared for the Dark One was obvious--but why? And why did he now live with a terrible grief since the Dark One's departure? It was Love, he'd pointed out to Han, but Han didn't like that idea. Han had trouble with Love. He wanted it, but shied away if it was identified as such. Friendship he could handle; Love was a problem. And it was growing more of a problem as the Spunky One became more important to Han. Chewie smiled to himself. She was good for Han; she took no sass from him without giving it back--and usually better than he gave it. Ah, that made Han so mad, it was fun to watch!
But that watching, too, made the pup sad. Chewie had tried to warn Han that he and Leia were hurting the Young One by using him as an unwilling intermediary, but Han had denied it furiously. Still, it would give Han-o food for thought.
"Need help with anything else?"
Chewie refocused his attention on the Young One. Luke was always running off, helping everyone, looking for more chores, keeping busier than any ten people. *Yes. Come inside.*
When he had Luke safely cornered in the rec area, he pointed him to sit. The Young One obeyed, looking up at him. "What do you need?"
*To speak with you.* Chewie hesitated. *You need to talk, pup, about what troubles you.*
"Nothing troubles me." Luke stood. "If you don't have something I can do--"
*Sit!* he snarled fiercely.
A tiny smile lifted the corners of the serious mouth. "Don't growl at me, Chewie. I know you're a kitten at heart."
*Hrmph.* It was all right that the Young One believed it; there was a small measure of truth in the assertion. *Do not tell me that nothing troubles you. I know that something does. And I know what it is.*
The alien blue eyes drifted, stared everywhere but at him. "Do you?" the boy asked finally.
*It is the Dark One. You were troubled after your confrontation with him in Cloud City. Your troubles increased when you saved his life from the assassins. And when you spent all your waking moments with him.*
Color washed into a face that was made pale, he knew, by too long spent in space. Humans required fresh air and sunlight to coat their skins, just as he needed it to maintain the gloss on his fur. He'd noticed recently that he was becoming dull and faded; perhaps soon the fleet would find another refuge and establish a base. Or Han would follow through with the threat he made to the Spunky One to return to Jabba and pay off his debt. At least on Tatooine they would get the sun they both needed. Maybe the Young One could be persuaded to accompany them.
Luke shrugged and wandered around the small room, studying equipment with which he was already totally familiar. The boy wanted to talk, Chewie recognized suddenly, but needed to be persuaded. The boy would not confide in Han or Leia--but was that so surprising? They both tended to be harsh and probing, and this pup's problems could stand neither treatment. Besides, the pup shied away from their company.
*You love him,* Chewie said abruptly, hoping to startle a response from the Young One.
Luke's gaze turned on him, the eyes widening in astonishment. Then the long lashes swept down and covered the reaction, but Chewie had seen enough. Was the Jedi connection strong enough to create such a bond between two sworn enemies? If so, it would only mean more heartbreak for the boy. And what of the Dark One, did he have feelings for this child?
The straying figure hesitated, then came to sit at his side. Luke picked a piece of lint from the fur on his arm, and Chewie growled appreciatively. After a hesitation, Luke nodded.
The dark head shook. Chewie looked down at it and remembered when it had been golden, the color of honey, as had the boy's skin. When they'd first met him on Tatooine, he'd looked like a luminous being, white and gold and shining. Now he dressed in black, his hair darkened, his flesh deathly pale, his eyes bleak and empty. So many changes, too quickly. Chewie stroked the limp hair.
The pup couldn't tell him. Whatever the reason-- *Is it Jedi? Because he is Jedi too?*
"Partly. I...it's hard to be alone now after...we had a connection, a mental connection."
*Cannot you still 'connect' with him?*
"I won't!" Angry, stubborn words. Luke leaped to his feet again. "He left. He lied to me--he said he wouldn't leave. I won't talk to him again!" These words were arrows, shooting fast like Wookiee hunters in pursuit of fleeing food-beasts.
*You punish him that way.*
Luke faltered. "I guess so."
*And you punish yourself. For what? For believing his words?*
"I don't know." Like a child's toy, Luke bounced back to his side and reseated himself. "I've tried not to think about it these last months, but...maybe. I really thought he would stay."
*Did he truly promise you that?*
The Young One chewed at his lower lip. "Not really. He kept saying he wouldn't stay with the Alliance. I just...thought he would change his mind."
*He wanted you to come with him.*
*And you would not leave your life anymore than he would. Perhaps if you forgave him for acting as you did, then you could also forgive yourself.*
"You don't understand," the boy accused. "It's different!"
*No, I do not understand,* he agreed. *How can I when you do not tell the entire truth? Han-o said you held a secret when you rescued the Dark One--I think you still hold that secret. How can your friends help you when you do not trust us?*
"I don't need any help." The resolve was back, that coldness that Chewie had grown to dread. "I do my job. Nothing more is expected of me. And I don't expect anything else from anybody. Now, if you have no more work I can assist with, I'll be leaving. Other people need my help."
Chewie bowed his head and growled an acquiescence. Grown up too fast and grown hard. It happened, not only with humans but with every species he'd encountered. He hated to see this change in young Skywalker, though. The Young One had such special potential, unlike anyone else he'd ever known. If Luke was truly a Jedi, then this hardness was doubly regrettable. And, perhaps, it was a bad foreshadowing of the future.
He hoped not.
Luke's attitude was driving him crazy, though why it mattered so much Han couldn't say. If the damned brat wanted to behave like--like a brat, then it wasn't his business. He'd done more than his share. He'd tried talking with Vader, the son of a bitch, to find out the hold he had on Luke. Didn't get any kind of response. And Luke wouldn't answer him any more than that black bastard would. Maybe the kid was going Darkside. Hell, maybe he was already gone.
Han ran his fingers through his hair, then pushed the buzzer and pounded on the door. "Luke, it's me. Let me in. I got to talk to you."
The door swung open. "Will you leave me alone? I have nothing to say to you. It's late and I'm tired--"
"Yeah, right, like you're going to sleep?" He pushed the kid aside and entered the room. "Near as I can tell, you don't get enough sleep to keep one of your precious womprats alive."
"Thanks." Luke swung around and dropped onto the stiff metal chair. "You want to talk? So talk and then get out."
"I'm pretty damn tired of your smart mouth, kid. Where do you get off treating me like this? We go back a ways. I've saved your worthless hide more than once."
"And I've said thanks. What else do you want--another medal?"
"Aw--" He slammed the side of his fist against the wall. None of this was what he really wanted to say. Was he so much of a coward that he couldn't speak his mind? "Look. You've changed, and I don't like it." He held up his hand to prevent the protest Luke started to utter. "Yeah, I know, you don't care what I like. Well, I think you do. I think you care too damn much about what everybody else thinks and needs, and not enough about what you do."
"Trying to put the base counselor out of a job?"
"For once, just shut up and listen." He glared at the kid, surprised when the defiant frown faded and the eyes lowered. He'd struck a nerve. Luke was unhappy--hell, he was miserable.
Maybe Chewie was wrong about Luke. Maybe the problem wasn't Vader. Maybe it was something simpler.
Han crossed to the single chair and straddled it. He watched while Luke settled himself cross-legged on the bunk. "So why don't you pick out a nice girl for yourself? There're a few around here. Like that redhead who was making eyes at you tonight."
"I don't want a nice girl."
Hell. "So, you want Vader?" He made his voice as casual as possible; still, he heard the tremor in it.
Luke's face hardened. "You have a sick mind."
Han shrugged. "Just asking," he said, struggling to remain non-judgmental like Chewie had told him to be. Love, Chewie had said. Was that what it was? "Do you?"
He felt an enormous relief. One complication out of the way. "Look, I'm not blind. You haven't been the same since your run-in with Vader. Whatever's bothering you has to do with him. Is it because he's another Jedi?"
"You and Chewie been sharing ideas? I've already been through this cross-examination with him."
"We care about you." Han sighed. "Do you miss Vader? Does he offer you something your friends can't? Help me, Luke. Lay it out for me. You killed for him, and I supported you even though you weren't honest with me. I think you owe me the truth."
"No, I don't." Luke looked at him evenly. "Any 'truth' that exists is mine. I don't 'owe' it to anyone, friend or foe."
"Why not? What's so horrible that you can't tell me?"
"I didn't say it was horrible. Just that it's not your business." Luke reached for one tall black boot that rested on the floor and picked up the buffing cloth. He set to work on it, even though the boot already shone like a mirror.
"Okay. It's not my business." Chewie would be proud of him tonight. He was hanging onto his temper and making an above-the-call-of-duty effort to be understanding. "I think it's safe for me to assume that you think Vader is your friend, and you miss him. Can't you talk to him--in your head, like you said? That Jedi stuff."
The rhythmic strokes faltered. "I don't want to talk to him. He's gone. Leave it at that."
Just what Luke had told Chewie. But there was more here. He understood Luke's denial--he'd felt it himself. He'd start to care about somebody, and they'd betray him. Chewie was the only one who never had. And maybe Leia and this kid--he'd wait and see. "You know he had to leave. He couldn't stay once the Imperials came after him. If he'd stayed, they'd have fought us. He saved a lot of lives--including yours--by leaving when he did." Han Solo defending Darth Vader--unbelievable.
"I know." The boot was replaced on the floor, the cloth twisting in Luke's hands. "I know."
"But you're still angry at him for leaving."
"Of course I'm still--" Luke bit back his words and tossed the cloth toward the small chest of drawers. He stood. "I need to get some sleep. If you'd--"
"You don't need sleep, you need to talk."
"I don't need more talking."
"Not to me. You need to talk to Vader. Whatever's wrong, you have to work it out with him. Damnit, Luke, this is the last thing I thought I'd ever say to you." Han laughed at himself and shook his head. "But--talk to Vader. Straighten out this problem. You're making your own life hell, and you're not doing much for your friends either." He rose and put both hands on Luke's shoulders, staring the kid down. "I know you haven't got a dad around to give you advice, so think of me as your big brother. And big brother's telling you again that you have to face your problems. You have to face Vader. I promise you'll come out of this a stronger person."
Luke stared at him, not moving. Han squeezed the thin shoulders once, then left the room. He didn't know if his words had done a damn bit of good, but he felt better for having said them.
Chewie was right. Facing your problems was the best way.
Luke sank down on his bunk and fell back against the pillow. He had done nothing to deserve such friendship, particularly after the way he treated Han. Big brother. He smiled to himself. He hadn't thought of it that way, but it was appropriate. He looked up to Han and Chewie both. Once he'd told himself that the Alliance was his only family--unconsciously this was what he'd meant. But he had a father now, a father he'd abandoned deliberately, an act of such willful cruelty that he was ashamed.
He rose and dimmed the lights, stripped out of his Jedi uniform, and hung it up with care. He snuggled hastily under the rough covers. In the darkness, he felt sheltered from all that could harm him--a pleasant change, since usually sleeptime brought nightfrights and unexplored fears. He closed his eyes and relaxed, opening the pathway in his mind. The barriers he'd built surprised him; he hadn't realized that they would seem like actual physical barricades. It was difficult to remove them for he was still inexperienced and clumsy, and they seemed very heavy. But they were made of blocks of ice, so if he thought of warmth--
The ice began to melt. He thought of sun, and it absorbed the moisture, cleared a passage through the flood. These hidden secrets of his mind delighted him; why had he never found them before? Was this being a Jedi, was this the Force, or could anyone do it if they concentrated? More to ask his father.
He refocused on the path, drifting as if through space, but following a distinct light. It grew brighter and warmer, and he basked in its ambience. Finally, when he could almost touch it, he uttered a soft call: Father?
The responding sensations were immediate: a rush of heat, dazzling light, even sounds that were almost musical in nature. Luke shuddered and reached into the intensity, felt the essence that was Vader.
There was no need to answer. He lost himself in their connection, the linking with another being, the primeval connection of blood and history. Their reunion was a potpourri of emotions, and he couldn't have guessed how long it lasted before Vader spoke again.
I have missed you, my son.
I missed you, too. I'm sorry I was so stupid.
Never stupid. You are confused.
Yes. He hesitated, struggling to release the thoughts that had plagued him for the last few months. I feel lost. Everything I think is...negative. I'm depressed and unhappy. But I have no reason to be. I don't understand.
I wonder...perhaps your spirit was damaged when I held it for that short time.
Could that happen?
I don't know, Luke. I had never done such a thing before. Perhaps not. Perhaps it is natural confusion you feel about your heritage and your life.
Yeah. But what to do about it? I wish....
You need to be healed.
How do I get healed?
You need to go Home.
Tatooine? He rebelled against the idea with all the resentment in his soul. He would never go back there, never see the farm again, never see the smoldering carcasses of the two who raised him, the two who raised him and died because of him. No!
Not Tatooine. Home. Sith.
Sith? It's not my home.
It matters not where you were born or where you grew. You are Sith. Sith is Home. You will find yourself there, you will understand who you are.
I won't become a Sith! I told you, I'm a Jedi!
He sensed amusement from the Dark Lord. You are Sith. Jedi is a philosophy, a religion, a way of life. Sith can be the same--but it is primarily your birthright. It is your history, Luke, your culture, your people. You will see yourself in them. They are good people, my son. And Sith is very beautiful. It is perfection in the galaxy.
Then why doesn't anyone else know about it?
That is the reason. If we share perfection, it becomes less perfect. The hatred and superstitions people of the galaxy feel about Sith and its inhabitants are because of the long-ago legend of a paradise. People who do not live in paradise wish to destroy it. Centuries ago Sith learned to protect itself from such attacks.
You make it sound as though the planet is a living creature.
Perhaps it is. Luke...I wish to take you there. I will teach you those things you have missed. I have missed them too. Let me do this.
He wanted it, craved it. But on one hand was his allegiance to the Alliance; on the other was his need to understand himself and his ancestry. His upbringing urged him to remain loyal to his vow to the Rebels, while his very nature whispered that he could never serve the galaxy if he didn't first serve himself. There was much he needed to learn about the Force, and no one was left to teach him, save Vader. And there was so much he needed to understand about Luke Skywalker.
How can you go? Will the Emperor allow it?
He never denies me when I wish to travel to Sith.
Intimidates the Emperor??
He is not Sith. Despite his Force powers, he feels inferior to Sith. If I were stronger-- But I am the strongest Sith and yet I cannot defeat him. You and I combined could.
You're the strongest Sith? Are you their leader?
Yes. And Sith are everywhere, my son. Once you have been Home, if you return to this Alliance of yours, you will recognize a few among your comrades.
You're kidding! His mind raced through everyone he knew. No one seemed different. Do they know I'm a Sith?
No. You are not recognizable as such. You will be after you've been Home.
The entire concept was too strange to understand. You've lost me.
Again came the laughter that filled his heart. You will find yourself on Sith. In one standard week meet me on Tarat in the Sullust system. I will take you Home.
Home. The word warmed him, and he acceded to the arrangement. He would go home with his father. He would resign his commission, of course, but he could always come back as a Jedi rather than a warrior. He loved his friends, he supported the Alliance, but he needed to do this for himself. As Han said, he should think about what Luke Skywalker needed.
Still clinging lightly to the bond with his father, trembling on the
threshold of dreams, he let himself drift into sleep.
To Part Two