Anakin took a moment to gather his
breath around the respirator. When he looked up, Luke stood
over him, the blade at his father's
throat, hand shaking, sweat glistening.
C h a p t e r T w e l v e
changed," Solo pointed out bluntly what was becoming obvious to him, from
the moment he had formed this truce and perhaps even before then. "Don't
ask me how, and don't expect me to start congratulating you, but you're
Vader didn't speak, instead he fixed
Solo with a stare that yesterday would have frozen the smuggler's blood.
Today, Solo batted it away with a wave of his hand. "And don't ask me what
you're changing into either. But if you’re going to get Luke out of there,
you better start accepting it or you're going to fall flat on your face."
Solo turned and pointed a warning finger
at him – he wasn't finished. Vader's gaze narrowed but his daughter's chosen
mate never saw it through the black mask. "Don't 'Captain Solo' me – I'm
not finished." He had an amazing capacity for stating what was blindingly
obvious. Vader said nothing. "Now, Her Highness has told me about this
'truce' you two have formed, and I don't like it."
He scowled, the little nick of a scare
stretching over his skin. Vader was sorely tempted to bat the smuggler
down, but he sat impassively in the copilot's seat.
"Actually, no scratch that. I'd have
thought she'd gone space-crazy if she'd done it a few weeks ago." After
Bespin. "But now I don't think it was such a bad idea, and that's
I don't like." His lips hardened into a straight, unwavering line before
he spoke again. "I've heard the story. Luke is your son, and you want him
back. I can understand that. But what I don't understand – and what you
and Leia don't seem to want to talk about – is why."
"I'm afraid I don't understand, Captain."
He shifted uneasily.
"Sure you don't. On Bespin, you snatch
your son's best friends, torture them -"
"It was necessary, Captain. There was
no other way to get his attention."
"A quick hyper-comm wouldn't have done
the job?" He shook his head. "Besides, that's not what I'm getting at."
The words were contradicted by the hard glare in his eyes, but Vader let
it pass. From Solo’s stance, his manners, and the hard set of the jaw,
he knew that beneath the bluster of a well-formed attitude, this was hard
enough for the smuggler talk about without Vader pointing it out.
"Then what are you getting at, Solo?
We have precious little time," Vader rumbled. Again though, Solo seemed
unaffected. This could get annoying if Solo refused to be intimidated.
"You torture his friends, then when
he turns up you... what? Beat him up a bit, throw him out a window, cut
his hand off, toss him down a reactor shaft-"
"And you didn't stop him, did you?
Couldn't you do that, with all your Force hocus-pocus?"
If ever eyes truly glared blaster-bolts,
Solo's did, the sparks of hyperspace thrown like little jagged daggers
"I could have," he said slowly, feeling
Solo's point begin worm it's way in. "But he needed to learn-"
"Even if it killed him?" Solo glared,
fists clenching and unclenching. The desire to leap on the Dark Lord and
beat him to a mushy pile of pulp was clear to them both, but Solo refrained.
"He did not die."
should have. That fall should have broken his neck." Again, the finger
was pointed at him accusingly. Solo seemed to have only one accusing look,
and it involved that finger and several hard lines forming around his eyes.
"The Force was with him," Vader rumbled,
disliking this conversation intently. "Make your point, Captain. I have
little time for your rebukes."
"I'm getting there, keep your cape
on." There was no smile turning the corners of his mouth up, despite Solo
trying to lighten the mood. "So you beat your kid up, to… what? Try and
get him to join you?" Vader gave a reluctant nod, "But now, suddenly, when
he's being 'turned', or whatever you want to call it, you’re jumping around
like a wampa on the wrong end of an ion cannon."
The room was silent for a few beats,
where Vader steadfastly refused to think. "Your point?"
"The question no one here seems to
dare ask – why?"
Vader let the sigh slip from his lips.
Solo might be an arrogant ego-tripper, but he was astute. Solo pushed on
when there was no answer. "One minute you're beating him up, and the next
minute you're coming over all fatherly. I've seen you pacing, I've seen
you stand and just stare into nothing, and that's not something I'm used
from the great, infallible Darth Vader."
No, it wasn't was it?
Vader was silent for long seconds and
Solo just sat staring, demanding, his eyes belying the quick intelligence
working there. This was a question Vader had hoped never to have to address.
Leia seemed inclined not to mention Bespin, the politician in her knowing
it could shatter their uneasy truce. She had avoided it, despite the obvious
pain and anger she felt. Vader was more than happy with that decision.
Solo, though, was no politician. And,
what's more, he was right.
That was a hard thing to admit. He
had respect for the smuggler, but only for his amazing lucky streak and
his ability to win over both his children. He had never really given too
much thought to his intellectual abilities.
"When Luke was reported dead and I
couldn't find him in the Force..." He trailed off, Solo's intense gaze
choking the words in his throat.
"Go on, like you said, we haven't got
much time." His eyes flicked to the hyperdrive counter, but there was a
deeper meaning there. If Vader didn't face the truth soon then there would
be no time to do so. And that might just be disastrous.
"I was angry," he said at last. Solo
leaned back in the black couch like he wanted to be some Imperial Centre
shrink earning thirty thousand an hour. He almost begged to have little
spectacles balancing on his nose and to have his finger steepled together
thoughtfully. Vader banished the image and continued. "I was angry at the
Alliance. But I was angrier with myself. It was my fault the Alliance tried
to rid themselves of Luke, because of who I am." He turned his head to
the stars, "I am not used to guilt. It is a new emotion to me."
Solo gave a quick smile, "That wasn't
the only new emotion, huh?"
He sat back with a slightly smug grin,
He couldn't say it. He didn't remember
how. "You've made your point, Solo."
The smuggler shook his head, "Not quite.
Come on, it wasn't the anger that mellowed you."
Mellowed. Mellowed. That was
hardly the word to use for the Lord Darth Vader.
"Allright, I'll say it. You realised
you loved that kid. Am I right?"
"Solo, we're approaching reversion..."
Han didn't have to say anything; the look on his face said it all. If
you can't say it now, then we've already failed. And the worst thing
was he was probably right. If Vader didn't sort through this mess of emotions,
how could he possibly hope to act on them and win? His eyes closed, his
breath came slower, and he barely felt the reversion to realspace.
"Very well, yes I realised I felt love
for my child. It was... more destructive than I could have possibly imagined.
I left the fleet and sought out Leia."
"You told her you wanted to know if
she still felt Luke. But that was only an afterthought, wasn't it?"
His teeth ground at the insight. Never,
never would Darth Vader have imagined having a heart-to-heart with Han
Solo. It was... ludicrous. But then, so was forming an alliance with the
Princess of Alderaan, so why not?
"Yes, it occurred to me during meditations
on the way to Tatooine."
"Why did you go there originally?"
He had the unnerving feeling Solo had
already knew the answer. "I... wanted to know Luke. I couldn't think of
anyone else who would know him as well."
Solo refrained from a smirk and nodded.
"Like I thought." He turned back to the controls and guided the Falcon
in towards the distant speck of a ship against the starred background.
It was Solo's turn not to meet the
other's stare, until finally Vader was forced to ask, "You’ve all noticed?"
Yes, it was a little less than blindingly
obvious to all of them, but Vader wasn't quite sure... how he had
changed, what he was changing into. The 'why' they both acknowledged, but
what did it mean?
Solo nodded, brown hair throwing faceted
highlights around the cockpit, fresh from the shower. "I think even Threepio
noticed, and that's quite an achievement," he smirked,
"I built Threepio." Vader said, almost
quietly, almost embarrassed. He chided himself for that tone of voice,
but there was no taking it back now.
Solo turned to him, eyes growing wide,
"When I was nine. I built him." Vader
tried not to squirm beneath the smuggler's gaze. Darth Vader was not
intimidated by Han Solo.
"Why?" Solo asked, then laughed
at the double meaning. Why torture the galaxy like that? Vader chuckled,
actually chuckled, and shrugged.
"Idle pastime, I suppose."
Solo grinned and shook his head, "You
see, this is exactly my point." He pointed that finger again and Vader
was sorely tempted to relinquish Solo of it if he didn't damn well stop
taunting him with it.
"You have another point to make?"
"Do you think you could get around
to it a little quicker this time?"
Solo smirked again, "And her Highness
says I'm too blunt. Sure, Anakin."
He jumped in his seat despite himself
and whirled on Solo, seeing the man back up just a little at the obvious
vehemence, "That name no longer has any meaning for me."
"Sure it doesn't." Solo leaned in conspiratorially.
"That's why you claim his kids, his droid, and his childhood I suppose?"
Vader stilled, no rebuke for the smuggler.
He did think of Luke and Leia as his... and yet they must have been conceived
before Darth Vader was... born. Solo was not only astute, he was merciless
as he carried on making his 'point'.
"And I suppose that's why you didn't
answer to the name 'Vader' back during that weird séance? You want to guess
what name you answered to?"
Vader was still, watching the Mon Calamari
cruiser grow in the forward viewport. "No." It wasn't so much an answer
as a denial.
Solo grinned smugly, but thankfully
dropped 'the finger'. "'Fraid so, Anakin."
"That name no longer..."
"You need to try and sound more convincing
when you say that, you know. I don't think even Threepio would buy that
Vader's hands clenched on the edge
of the copilot's seat, "They are my children. I am-"
There was a crunching sound as the
upholstery ripped free of the metal support on the wookiee's seat and he
looked down at it, broken.
Solo leaned back in his seat and gave
him a little privacy by focusing on the stars again, "Like I said, you
need to start accepting it, or Luke doesn't stand a chance." Vader was
surprised when Solo leaned in closer, conspiratorially, "This is your call,
you know. You think you can rescue Luke, and I believe you. But only if
"I know, I know. I'm the last person
you expected to hear this from, but everyone else, Leia included, didn't
seem prepared to touch the subject with a force-pike." He smirked, "Don't
get any ideas about me forgiving you about Bespin," his eyes had hardened
and there was a little shiver of remembered pain that he couldn't suppress,
"But I know when something has to be said and I'm not afraid to say it."
He turned away again, "Even if it's something I never could have imagined
myself believing before." He murmured and lapsed in to contemplative silence.
He was right – the situation was ridiculous.
Small-time smuggler lecturing the Dark Lord? He might have smirked, but
the words, all of them, stung a little too true and he sat pondering them
for long minutes as the Falcon approached Home1.
The Calamari cruiser that had been
bulbous and crude to Imperial eyes but strangely compelling and organic
to his own, hung in a stationary orbit over Sangrine on the other side
of the galaxy to Tatooine. Long hours in hyperspace had taken their toll
on the freighter's occupants, but not nearly as much as the brief contact
with his son had. He kept telling himself that at least Luke still lived
and held a little defiance, but the feelings he had touched during the
brief contact burned.
They both turned at Leia's shaking
voice and saw her enter the cockpit, a hand on her forehead.
Both men glared at each other before
turning back to the Princess of dead Alderaan.
She stumbled forwards and Solo leapt
upwards and caught her before she could fall, lowering her into the navigators
seat. "What is it?"
She shook her head, bit her lip. "I...
felt like I couldn't breathe, I was suffocating. And then... nothing."
She pressed the heel of her hand into her temple, "And now I think I have
the world's worst migraine."
Vader stood and approached her, his
fingertips resting on her temple before Solo could complain. She sighed
thankfully as he bled away the pain, then crouched in an un-Dark-Lord-like
She nodded, "I think so."
Vader sighed and looked out the cockpit
uncertainly. What was Palpatine doing now? If only they had a location....
but Luke hadn't known, and only one person might yet be able to tell them.
Mothma. He was going to have to be careful not to kill her out of rage
before they could get any information out of her.
Chewie muscled into the already-cramped
cockpit and Vader turned to Solo, "Get her to the med bunk and give her
a pain suppressant."
"What about Luke?" Leia asked, brown
eyes wide. So much like Padmé...
"Leia... there is nothing we can do
from here. I'm sorry. The sooner we get that location, the sooner we can
actually take action. Until then..." He trailed off sadly, feeling the
words tear at him as surely as they did at his daughter. She nodded glumly
and allowed Han to guide her from the cockpit. Chewbacca wedged himself
into the copilot's seat as Calrissian appeared stony-faced and grim in
the doorway. Vader stepped aside and the Baron-Administrator took the helm.
Hold on, my son. Just a while longer...
He had the wrenching feeling that it
was already too late.
* * * *
Leia had some serious misgivings, but
she hid them away. Home1 had allowed the Falcon to dock reluctantly,
Ackbar almost believing Leia's story that she was sorry she had overreacted
and had come back to the fight. Ackbar had pushed her for details, but
swallowed Leia's concerns about comm security.
Those weren't her concerns however,
and she had no qualms about lying to Ackbar. She didn't even have any problem
with Vader coming along, cloaked by the Force. That only gave her an unnerving
reminder at his power. What had her stomach performing tight barrel-rolls
was the upcoming meeting with Mon Mothma.
Her eyes were set as hard as duracrete
as Vader opened the door by sliding the saber into the locking mechanism.
She took a breath and steeled herself. Han leaned in close to her, smelling
of soap and aftershave and she breathed it in, a familiar, welcome scent
in what had become enemy territory.
"Relax, Leia. You'll do fine."
She nodded, her short hair bobbing
up and down. She gave a grateful little smile and brushed nervously at
her ship-suit, smoothing out nonexistent creases.
Vader walked in front of them, a black
avenging cloud of anger, frustration, and barely checked fury. Strangely
though that didn't concern her either and she could only wonder at the
ease with which the thought of killing Mon came to her. She shucked it
from her shoulders and followed her 'father' into the darkened room.
This was not the scene she expected.
Mon was laid on a far couch, not touched by the starlight, and she didn't
stir even at the sound of Vader's respirator. Han shot her an unnerved
glance and Leia shook her head fractionally, confused. The door shut behind
them, blocking off all light in the room and still Mon didn't stir. In
the starlight, Vader stepped towards the sleeping figure, shrouded in a
white senatorial dress and clutching a brushed-silk cushion over her head.
Leia was by his side in a few steps
and she reached down tentatively for Mothma's pale neck. There was still
a pulse and she closed her eyes in relief. If Mon had been dead...
She seated herself on the sofa opposite
to Mon and laid her blaster in her lap. Han stood behind her, arms resting
on the back of the sofa and she accepted the strength his presence offered.
"Wake her up," she said.
Vader's black-gloved fingertips rested
momentarily on Mothma's forehead and she was sure she saw him snatch his
hand away in disgust. That was a feeling she truly understood.
The room was quiet as Mon's eyes flickered
open and she sat up abruptly, white fabric whispering against her skin
as her eyes grew as wide as twin Tatooine suns. The short auburn hair was
dishevelled as she began to rush to her feet with a cry of alarm, seeing
Leia seated opposite her, fingers playing with the trigger on her blaster.
Vader's hand pushed her down none-too
gently and she finally seemed to register the wheezing sound of his respirator.
She sat stock still like a womp rat caught in the glare of speeder lights.
Her breath stopped, them came out in a rush.
Leia smiled and it was small and bitter,
Mon seemed far frailer than Leia remembered
and she clasped her shaking hands in her lap as she tried to find a focus.
"Princess," she said, voice caustic but quiet. Leia frowned mentally but
didn't let it show on her face. "To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?"
Vader seemed to tense but Leia knew
Mon better than he, and he was quiet. For now. "Oh, I think you can guess
Her eyes narrowed, sparking. She pulled
the fabric of her dress closer around herself as she spoke, "I thought
you were above murder, Your Highness."
"Unlike yourself." Leia nodded, trying
to suppress the bile rising in her throat.
Mon said nothing and Han leaned over
the sofa and plucked a small bottle from the table, examining it in silence.
Mon followed his actions but said nothing, despite the panic that crossed
"We need some answers Mon." Leia said.
She was careful to let Vader's presence do the intimidating, and for herself
to act as the lesser of two evils. "I think you might have them."
"There's no need to be so formal, Mon.
Please, call me Leia." She smiled weakly and Mothma shifted uneasily. Take
it, Mon. Take the easier option and just tell us.
They had discussed this at length,
Vader wanting to opt for a simple mind probe to get the answers. Leia had
no qualms about that, but Vader didn't appear to know how well it would
work, and they would only have one shot at the probe. So persuasion was
plan A; the mind probe Plan B.
"Leia, I didn't expect you to fall
in with such bad company when you left. Won't you consider coming back?"
Han was tossing the small bottle of
pills from hand to hand, a frown on his face.
"I would, if the Alliance wasn't as
corrupt as the Empire. That's not why I'm here, Mon," Leia said. She glanced
at Han – what? – but he just shook his head.
"Then why don't you get to the point,
Princess?" Mon bit through clenched teeth.
Leia was going to answer but Vader
interrupted, heavy bass tones rumbling and more reminiscent of the Vader
she had known from before this whole mess had started, "Where is my son,
Mothma?" The concern appeared well masked, but not to Leia. It still tainted
his words, the need, the desperation; all bitten short by his fuse-less
His hand was on her shoulder, squeezing,
and she gritted her teeth against the obvious pain. "I'm afraid he's dead,
Lord Vader. I-"
"Mon, we know he's alive," Leia said.
She was going to say more but Mon looked up sharply, lips parting in surprise.
Leia really did frown now.
"What?" Mon almost shouted, only Vader's
hand keeping her down. Misgivings started to grow tenfold in the pit of
her stomach. She didn't know. She really does think he's dead. "But
Leia shook her head, and when she looked
back up, there was that same cold, hard hate in Mon's eyes, little specks
of yellow scooting outwards into the dark. "He's alive. Where is he?"
"I... I don't know what you mean,"
she stuttered, eyes glaring, but the rest of her was shocked still. "I
don't know." And the worst thing was, Leia believed her. She looked to
her father in askance but he seemed to have slumped.
"She's telling the truth," he said,
At that new tone of voice Mon turned
suddenly on the Dark Lord, eyes growing even wider. The room was quiet
for a while before Han spoke. "These are some serious chemicals, Mon. Having
Leia heard the accusations in Han’s
voice and bit down on her tongue to stop from screaming in outrage at the
woman in front of her. She forced herself to concentrate on her as she
slumped against the seat. Vader actually let her shoulder go. "That's none
of your business," she snapped.
She actually trembled then and Leia
gave her father a shocked look. "Answer him," Vader said, the words trembling
Mon closed her eyes and shook her head.
She gritted her teeth as Vader moved
closer, almost menacingly. "I've been having headaches. Migraines. Not
that it's any of your business."
Vader inhaled sharply and moved around
the sofa back to stand in front of Mothma. To her credit, she barely flinched
when his hand shot out to her temple. Leia, memories of the Death Star
churning in her gut, stood and walked to her side.
"What is it?" she hissed. Han was on
the other side, the same expression of confusion on his face.
Vader said nothing and Mon hissed and
closed her eyes.
Something stained the air, a tingling
of anticipation and her hands tensed around her blaster, seeing Han do
the same as he tossed the small packet of depressants to the floor. Her
fingers were trembling when Mon's eyes flew open and she launched herself
at Vader's throat.
Both Han and Leia reacted instantly
and hauled her back to the seat. Leia sucked in a shocked gasp as Mon's
eyes settled on her, burning yellow.
"Father?" She turned to Vader, but
he was still.
Mon didn't blanch at the designation
and a cruel smile spread over her lips. Vader didn't speak, his hand clenched
around Mothma's temple.
Mon cackled then, a cruel, cold laugh
that wasn't quite in sync with her lips. Leia felt her own eyes grow wide
at the sound, memories rampaging through her mind. Memories... that laugh.
”Mothma…” Han started, but suddenly
quieted, words dying as he stared off into an imaginary distance.
"No..." she hissed. "Palpatine."
The thin lips smiled wider as she threw
back her head and laughed, a sick sound that came straight from the crypt.
"Father!!" she called in alarm. The
woman underneath her arms bucked as she fought Leia’s grip. It was only
then that she noticed the deathly pallor of Mon’s face, the yellow eyes
Vader's hand was squeezing deep into
the flesh of Mothma's temples as the woman shook with an alien laughter.
He didn’t appear to react.
"What the hell is going on?" Han snapped
out of his daze and shouted over the sound and Leia daren't answer him.
The muscles in Han's arms bunched as he held the slight woman down. “Leia,
what’s-“ He was suddenly quiet but Leia couldn’t move her head to see if
he was allright; she was held tight, her gaze locked on the frail, pale
Mon turned her head to Leia, skin bunching
around Vader's unmoving grip. Those yellow eyes bore into her, ripping
straight through her and she cried out in alarm.
"Who would have thought it? Twins,"
Mon hissed, but the voice was older and more cracked than it had once been.
Leia's breath went out of her in a gasp and she turned to her father, unmoving,
locked in some battle of his own.
"Father..." Leia whispered despairingly,
unable to move or away.
Vader stirred and looked over at her,
achingly slow as her feet went out from under her and she began to fall.
Then his hand shot from Mon's temple as if burned and the woman slumped
back suddenly from his grip.
” What happened?" Her lips were numb,
but the words were still understandable as he leant over her urgently,
concern etched in every movement.
His fingers rested on her temple and
when her senses began to clear she saw him shaking his head.
"Mon-" Her head flicked over to Han,
trance broken again, his hand trying to find a pulse and failing. Her eyes
were still open, but were a dull grey in the starlight.
* * * *
"It was Palpatine. He had some sort
of link to Mothma," Vader explained. "I tried to find out where he was."
Leia, walking a little shakily at his
side, nodded, "You didn't manage it?"
He turned to her, "No. I was about
to but he would have attacked you." She looked up, eyes wide and tired
and he could feel the exhaustion she was trying to hide from the sudden
"I... I don't understand," she said.
She glanced at a Rebel trooper as he gave the group an overly long stare.
Vader frowned and waved his hand, and the man shrugged and walked on. That
was sloppy; he must be more tired than he cared to admit. They had better
get back to the Falcon soon or the crew might begin to break through
the vision he was projecting over them.
He sighed, "I think he did it through
me, rather than Mothma. She has no Force talent so..." He trailed off.
"But you don't know." Solo walked up
beside Leia and hugged her waist to him when her steps began to falter
as they approached the docking bay. Vader almost thanked him, but stopped
"There is much Palpatine can do which
I do not understand," he admitted.
She nodded, lost it thought. If Vader
hadn’t reacted to that plea – Father! – if he hadn’t believed he
was Leia Organa’s father, what then? But he had. He had answered that name,
and Anakin Skywalker was her father, not Darth Vader. So what did that
make him? Anakin or Vader? Was Vader just a shell he was hiding inside?
And if so, why? Why didn’t Anakin just step forward as Anakin?
So many questions… Solo was right;
he was going to have to resolve this. He had to accept it… he had changed.
As they entered the bay a group of
tech officers were approaching. Most gave them a wide berth but a few walked
towards the group, apparently oblivious to them. One walked into Leia,
knocking her over. He saw his daughter bite back a comment about watching
where they were going; knowing it might break the illusion.
The crewer continued, despite having
bumped into an invisible obstacle, turning her back on them. He frowned
at her as she hurried from the docking bay. She never looked back, her
head of red hair pointed firmly towards the nearest turbolift.
"Hey!" Leia called, surprise rolling
Vader whirled towards his daughter
and Solo helping her off the deck. In her hands, trembling with excitement,
she held a datapad.
"Stop her!" Leia called. Vader turned
back for the young tech, but she had disappeared.
"What is it – oh, Sith!" Solo
almost swore, then he was whooping in delight.
Excitement took his feet and compelled
him to snatch the datapad from Leia's hands. He looked at it; looked again,
reread it a third time to be sure he wasn't seeing things.
He's at the Manari Mountain Palace
Retreat, Coruscant. You've got maybe another two days before it's too late.
It was followed by a string of co-ordinates,
and a floor plan of the Palace. The tech had slipped Leia Luke’s location.
He glanced behind him again but there was no sign of the redhead. It didn’t
matter: the Force was screaming at him that this was right, that this
was where he would find his son.
"It's over a day to Coruscant from
here," Leia said, voice shaking. Her excitement sparked through the air.
"Let's get moving."
Vader closed his eyes and laughed.
C h a p t e r T h i r t e
night was cold and dark; the deck of the cabin floor colder still.
"Leia?" She looked over at Han as he
lifted a sleep-creased face from the sheets and struggled to focus leaden
eyes on her. She felt the lop-sided grin touch her lips, comforted simply
by his presence as his words came muffled through the sheets. "What's wrong?"
The tension in her hands receded a
little when she forced them out of the tight little balls of fear and anger.
She used her spread palms to brush the tears from her cheeks, knowing he
wouldn't miss the gesture. He didn't. He sat up and made an attempt at
wrapping the sheet around the lower half of his body, bare torso tawny
coloured in the faint light.
"I couldn't sleep."
He quirked his head to one side and
sighed, the sound brushing over her, calming despite her turbulent emotions.
"Yeah..." She was hugging her legs
to her chest to stop the shaking, not caring about either the show of emotion
or the sheen of sweat on her skin making the nightshift more see-through.
In her hands she clasped the cold hilt of Luke’s lightsaber… or rather,
the saber that had been passed on to him, from his father. From their
father. She rolled it in her hands. “For your protection.” Vader
had said. Initially, she’d refused. “For your heritage.” He’d walked
away then, and it had been several minutes before she’d hooked it to her
belt, yet to ask how and why he’d retrieved it from Bespin. Not that it
Han stood and shuffled towards her,
the serious look on his face confounded by the vaguely comical movements,
and she accepted the warm embrace eagerly. He wrapped the sheet around
them both where she sat on the floor, not even grumbling at the frigid
cold of the deck plates. The heat from his skin was more potent than a
cold shower could have been, reminding her that she was alive, that she
was not the one living those nightmares.
The selfishness of the thought hit
her and she shivered, burying herself against the warm skin of his shoulder,
inhaling the smell of soap and night-sweat. Guilt was useless, and would
help no one, least of all Luke. Only resolve would help now, and she was
more than determined to get the saber in her hands back to its rightful
owner, Luke Skywalker.
"We made a mistake," she mumbled against
him, feeling him shiver as her breath skittered against his skin.
"Who us?" he said, infamous Solo humour
not managing to break her tension.
She nodded, her hair clinging to his
skin as tightly as her arms clung around his waist. He held her tighter.
"We shouldn't have tried to contact Luke."
His fingers brushed the soft skin on
her arm, "Why not?" His words were muffled from speaking into her hair.
"Palpatine knows now." She shivered,
despite the tight embrace. The cold on the deck was creeping up her skin.
She lowered her lashes when he tried to find her gaze.
He was silent, his breath coming in
waves through her hair as he considered the statement. "Maybe it was inevitable."
Leia tightened her grip on the one
stable element of her life. Inevitable that Luke would turn...?
"No." She said fiercely. "This wasn't meant to happen." It was a strange
tension running through her, an absolute conviction that this was not the
way things were supposed to happen.
Han ran a hand down her back, fingers
tracing her spine, "That's not what I meant. I meant it was inevitable
that Palpatine would find out. ‘Darth Vader’ has been silent a while. I
don't think you did too much harm."
Too much. Too much; too much, too
fast. What if too much was far more than enough?
"Han, I think he's dying."
She expected denial, punctuated by
his soothing caress, but she got silence. Silently, he lifted the saber
from her hands and placed it on the shelf above his head. He only spoke
when she lifted her head to his stormy eyes. "You don't know that," he
said. He didn't sound convinced.
"I do... I wake up and I can't breathe.
It feels like fire but there's nothing there, and there’s no smoke, no
flames." Her breath stilled in the air. "There's no light at all, and all
I can feel is his despair." She shook and didn't even try to stop it. "What
if we're too late, Han?"
"We still have time."
Time. It was time that was working
against them. They could pour their hearts into the search, they could
use the monies of a Dark Lord and a Princess, they could use their formidable
desperation to try and make the Falcon to go just a little faster.But
it was the time she had taken to travel to Tatooine, the time she
had needed to rescue Han that worked against them. Did she resent that?
Of course not.
The reaction was immediate; and immediately
distrusted. She wasn't quite sure she believed that thought, even when
the source of any guilt pushed little strands of hair from her eyes.
"I'm not sure," she said. Morning bristle
rubbed against her cheek. "I don't know what the dream means. It's..."
She shifted against the sheet wrapped around them, "It's confusing."
He anchored her with his arms, circling
her waist, "Have you asked your father? He might understand it better."
She sighed at the immediate revulsion
at that thought. Still, it was lessening. "Yes."
Han's fingers stroked little trails
over her back but the muscles refused to relax, "What did he say?" He was
insistent, but calm. His voice was as soft as the sheet he wrapped her
in, but far warmer. It was incredibly tempting to be lulled into an embraced
sleep. A sleep that would be chased by dreams that were far from imagined.
"He wasn't very clear." She shrugged.
The Darth Vader they had known would make his point known with the bluntness
of Imperial authority. This new Darth Vader was strangely elusive with
his answers. "He doesn’t know if it’s more feelings than something physical
happening to Luke.” The hands tensed, as she knew they would. Han was the
stable point in her world that every disparate thought and action spun
around. She let her eyes close, to drop into that stability, offered by
the one she had once thought as fickle and wayward as a Veekan whore. He
had changed; she had changed him and Luke had changed him.
"What kind of ‘physical’ somethings?"
His voice growled and trembled warm against her skin. She didn't open her
eyes, but she knew his glare was blazing.
"I don't know, and I think maybe he
doesn’t want to, but when I feel it, I can't breath, and my skin is burning.
Vader said that might be just ‘the physical symbolism of mental changes’,
supposed to weaken you for the real changes. Whatever that means. He talked,
briefly, about some old Sith rites of passage ceremonies that Palpatine
might be using, but he wouldn’t go into details." She shivered.
Han was silent a moment, breath steady,
stable, solid, reliable…
"Like an Undercut," he said, strangely
appreciative. She opened tired eyes and looked at him curiously, drinking
in those stable features.
He nodded, that grin returning although
solemn, "Old tactic someone taught me on the Spice runs. It's basically
a distraction, but the difference is it's blatant."
"Go on." She rested her head against
his shoulder, watching her breath play with the tawny hairs there.
"This guy, he taught me it when we
were relieving a customer of his stockpile." He paused to smile,
memories playing out, totally unembarrassed by his past. "He knew we were
coming, and there was no way we could have gotten it out of there if he
wanted to stop us."
"What did you do?"
Han grinned again, relieving some more
of her tension, then he continued, a little smugness colouring his voice.
Hard to believe they were less than five hours out from Coruscant. "We
went in, made a play for it. He was so busy worrying about how we were
going to do, spent all that sweat and frustration trying to figure out
the plan, that he didn't notice when we sneaked it out the back."
"You got it out right under his nose?"
"Sure, we paid a guy from the local
cantina to dress up in the local garrison costume and had him come in whilst
we were making a fuss out the front. He made it look like he was trying
to arrest us. The owner – we did it in his shop – the owner nearly had
a fit at having the police breathing down his neck. You could almost see
his mind ticking over, deciding whether it was some elaborate ploy or just
fate. Screwed himself into a ball over it. Worked a charm. Chewie got clean
away with the stuff."
Leia took in a breath of stale cabin
air, "So you’re saying that you used an elaborate front to con him?" His
nod bobbed his stubbled chin on top of her head. Her fingers found his
as she shivered, "Then, you’re saying the ceremonial part of... whatever
Palpatine is doing doesn’t matter."
He shrugged, and she knew he was giving
that lop-sided grin that would light the room if only she could see it
from this position, "Well, I don't claim to know how the Emperor thinks
Princess, but since when did ceremony have any meaning?"
Her brow wrinkled, "Lots of times,"
she protested, turning in his grip and frowning, "Royal ceremonies on Alderaan
always had a purpose. Funerals, marriages-"
She broke off and blushed suddenly
at that last word, coughed to cover her discomfort. Now why did that give
her such a strong reaction?
"Sure, they have a purpose, but do
they have any meaning? Going to a funeral doesn’t make anyone any
less dead, getting married doesn’t make you love the other person any more,"
he argued. There was a strange warmth spreading across her chest as he
struggled with the word ‘marriage’, but she couldn’t say where it came
"That's just the cynical smuggler talking.
Of course they have meaning, they solidify, unify; they're a physical manifestation
of feelings, traditions..."
"And that's her Highnessness talking."
He raised those expressive eyebrows. "They only serve to manipulate peoples
feelings. And that's my point – if Palpatine is performing some
sort of sick ceremony on Luke -" His cheek twitched, his fingers tightened,
before the anger flashing in his eyes bled away by force of will, "Then
it might be nothing more than a way to make him more... prone to the Darkside.
You know; let his barriers down when he gets afraid."
She looked at him curiously, then buried
her head against his shoulder. "You've been talking to Vader," she said,
"About the Force."
He shifted uncomfortably, "Always good
to be prepared," he murmured, only slightly tinged by embarrassment.
"I thought you didn’t believe in that
stuff, Solo." She hid the grin in the skin of his shoulder.
He groaned and she knew his eyes were
rolling, "I might be cynical, Leia, but I'm not stupid enough to deny what's
right in front of my eyes."
"I know that," she whispered, "I was
just surprised. Vader said-"
"Leia," he interrupted her. The room
dropped a couple of degrees as her heart started a rapid descent towards
the floor. Leia shivered.
"I don't think you should call him
that anymore," Han whispered.
"Call him what?" Her breath came in
little ice clouds.
She couldn’t look at him, "Well what
do you expect me to call him? Father?" She trembled and he held
"No... no." He sighed and it brushed
her skin soothingly again, "Look, he's changed. He's accepted it… well,
nearly. You need to too."
She heard the suck of a breath being
held and wasn’t entirely sure if it was his or hers. She shook her head,
"I... I can't."
Han was strangely silent. "Leia, you
have to do this. For him."
With a shock, she realised she was
not the only one trembling. "For him?"
"Oh, Sithhell. I can't believe I'm
asking you to trust Darth Vader, but I think you've got to. If you’re going
to get Luke back, you need Anakin Skywalker with you, not Darth Vader."
No one spoke for several long seconds.
Leia’s mind was numb. It was the blissful feeling she had longed for over
the restless nights. Now it was here, it made her want to scream.
"Anakin Skywalker became Darth
Vader." Han was being gentle, but insistent. She felt like a moth dragged
towards the flame when she should have gone willingly. But the truth was
not something easy to embrace.
"Don't you think I know that?" She
shifted uncomfortably against him, anger boiling. She pushed it aside.
"Hell yes. I'm just not sure you see
that Darth Vader has become..."
"Well he's acting pretty spaced, Leia.
That's not Darth Vader, so who is it?"
When she stiffened it was only the
tension deep within her bursting to the surface. "Han I can't do this.
I can't accept this... can't accept that... thing as my father!"
Her hands found the sheets and she
was wringing them between bleached white hands. Han took them in his own
and stopped her frantic action. "Then at least accept him as something
other than Darth Vader."
Her lips pursed in concentration as
she leaned into him again. "I'm... not ready."
"It doesn’t condone his actions, Leia,
to admit he'd changed. Damn it, I still feel the urge to throw out an airlock
every time I see him, but we need him, and he's not the same guy that...
well, you know."
"He's hurt us all. Badly. And I'm not
saying forgive... just..."
"Put it aside?"
She studied her own hands in his, "I'll
Her head rested on his chest for long
minutes before he spoke again, Leia furiously not allowing her mind to
work. “Less than five hours now,” he whispered into her hair, “You should
get some sleep.”
”I… I don’t know if I can.”
The arms around her tightened, comforting.
How had she ever thought the smuggler was cold-hearted? “Okay, but there’s
one other thing, Leia.”
She tensed. “What?” She clung to the
sheet and to him.
”You think we could get off this deck?
It’s colder than a camping trip to Hoth.”
She chuckled. “And I guess you’d know,
C h a p t e r F o
u r t e e n
door was open.
That felt like a strange mockery, a
twisted déj? vu that clung to the ebony trim of his cloak. The memory was
not his own, and Anakin didn’t need to question whose it was.
The door was open. That was
snow-blinded trust, and a despair that hit you in the base of your stomach
like a dewback jumping from the canyon edge.
Anakin’s lips curled into a smile that
was a strange mixture of melancholy and acceptance, acknowledging the simile
based on his old homeworld for what it was – a burgeoning familiarity with
his old life. Deep meditation since leaving Mon Mothma behind as a revenge-swollen
corpse had forced a decision upon him not unlike the decision a nine year
old Tatooine slave had once had to make, between two lives; one achingly
secure but unfulfilling, and one with a promise of strength and… Light.
As it had been then, the decision had never really been decisive at all;
it couldn’t possibly be, when it had been made seconds, minutes, hours
before Anakin had realised he had to choose a direction at all.
He could not be Darth Vader, no more
than he could ever be a lowly slave boy.
To say he had eradicated Darth Vader
by a bare two days mediation whilst wanting to tear his small bunk apart
in rabid frustration and panic for his son was, well…. an over exaggeration.
But Obi Wan had been right when he had told Anakin, then a willing Padawan,
that the decision is half the journey. The path was chosen, and attending
to it over all others was worth more than the first step.
He could hope, anyway. Because the
last thing he needed now was a war between disparate personalities.
But that reduction of Dark//Light to
some split personality psychosis, Anakin knew by painful personal experience,
was a gross oversimplification.
You didn’t turn Dark simply by donning
a black cape and mask. It was a state of mind, it was submission and it
was control, and those two were never in harmony except when you let your
feelings rule your head and didn’t think too much on your actions. And
at least for Vader, was the essence of the Darkside; it gave you enormous
powers to do what you wished, to control what you wished, and then took
away any responsibility for using them appropriately. He’d had the power
to save Padmé, but not the will when it mattered most. He’d had the security
of being controlled, only to find himself hung by his own leash.
When he reflected on it, as he had
during those snatched hours of meditation, he realised now why the discovery
of children had hauled him back from that path to stand at the intersection
yet again. It was love, yes. It was need, certainly. But, even more than
that, it was a desperation to have those children by his side, as his children
and not as his subordinates. And that could never happen in the Dark. He
would have had to control them, and control holds no love. Only fear; only
Leia watched him with Padmé’s eyes.
The stone corridors were empty and quiet except for their determined footsteps.
The sconces were lit, the drapes fluttering mournfully in a cold wind,
but no voices carried along the carved corridors.
And the door to the throne room was
If Anakin had had any doubts that this
was a trap, they evaporated into the air more easily than the shaky breaths
of his daughter did where they crystallised in the frigid cold.
The flight in had been hard, but not
near impossible, as it should have been. Solo had brought the Falcon
into planetfall in the shadow of a cargo caravan. The irony of using the
same trick employed to elude him after Bespin was not lost on him. The
cargo holder was hideously slow, the flight to the Manari mountains excruciating,
waiting for interception by the Imperial navy. Anakin had been counting
on being able to intimidate the navy into backing off. It had not been
necessary; they had not been intercepted.
Solo had taken a less-than-direct route
to the mountains, taking them well past Jade’s deadline. He didn't have
enough mental-fingers to count off the clues to this being a trap, not
least the easily identifiable agent that had passed on this location.
And yet... that seemed so obvious.
Almost like Palpatine didn't particularly care whether or not they thought
this a trap, only that they came at all. And here they were. What else
could they have done?
The worry in his gut curled painfully
at that, leaving Anakin with the wrenching feeling of indescribable loss.
That, perhaps more than the ease of their entry to Palpatine’s mountain
retreat, was as ominous as the storm brushed skies.
”He’s expecting us.”
Anakin nodded. “Captain Solo, you and
Chewbacca must stay here-“
The headstrong smuggler shook his head
fiercely, the wookiee keening a negative, “No way. I go where she goes.”
Solo gestured towards Leia with a determined look of over-protectiveness
that Anakin was easily beginning to share.
”This is not a matter you can be involved
”Hutt spit it isn’t!” Again, Solo brought
out that accusing finger. “I’m coming in there.”
Anakin looked between wookiee and human,
then gave a mock sigh of grudging agreement. “Very well. When Luke or Leia
dies because I have to split my attention between an injured son and his
wayward friends, I hope you’ll be understanding if I can’t quite manage
to quash the urge to cut that finger off.”
Solo nodded in self-congratulations.
”Good, let’s get-” Then he stopped. The words seemed to suddenly register
in Solo’s mind and brown eyes stared suddenly at his accusing hand. He
grimaced, lowered it and tucked his blaster into it, glaring. The vehemence
there was begrudging of the logic, though. Anakin found himself nodding
in relief that Solo understood.
”Stay and guard the door." Solo had
that look of imminent protest on his lips, a look that came so naturally,
but he narrowed his eyes and nodded. "If anyone approaches, kill them.”
He would cover their backs here, whilst Calrissian guarded the ship in
the snowbound hangar.
There was a burning in his chest when
he turned to Leia, a pain at taking his more-than-capable daughter into
danger. But she needed to be there, as much as he did.
He just nodded and strode for the open
For the first time since they had arrived
here, Anakin reached out into the Force for the familiar balm of his son’s
presence. What he found nearly stilled his steps forward, the lights of
sconces flickering in a cold wind.
Luke was here, in this room beyond
the swathes of shadows at its entrance. He was here, but the bond they
should share was tattered, bloodied. In Anakin’s mind, it stung under his
touch like the frothing pain of a fresh burn on tender skin. And Anakin
knew how that felt. His son’s presence was there, and it was... not there.
It was clouded, distracted, in a pain that set Anakin’s heart doing panicked
loops and hammering at his chest for freedom.
Leia walked to his left side, Luke’s
lightsaber clutched in her pale hand. She halted in the doorway, clearly
feeling the waves of past agonies seething up from between the flagstones
to greet them. Anakin stilled beside her, tempted to tell her to start
running and not look back. A crackled voice, marked by mockery, pulled
his awareness from his pale daughter to the depths of the room beyond.
”Won’t you come in, my friend?”
Palpatine. He lounged by a burning
hearth Anakin recognised intimately from Leia’s nightmares.
Anakin was compelled by the voice,
his footsteps loosing the soothing ring of his heel against stone floor
as he crossed over the rug towards the man he had called Master.
Man? How could he think of this thing
as a man? It was barely alive, the skin held to crumbling bones only by
sheer Force of will. Age had treated Palpatine poorly, but no worse than
Anakin said nothing as he halted before
the seated Emperor. Leia had hung back in the doorway.
”Lord Vader, a pleasure to see you.
What brings you here?”
Now Anakin spoke, an ironic smile twisting
scarred lips into a smile. “That name no longer has any meaning for me.”
The words were the cool draught of
water after years in a lifeless, loveless desert. He basked in it, could
feel Leia’s appreciation from across the room, and allowed himself a measure
Palpatine steepled his fingers in mock
thought. “Indeed? Then you have no use for it?”
Anakin resisted the urge to shift from
foot to foot, wrapping the tendrils of Force around himself in a measure
of security. What did the old man want?
”None. I serve you no longer.”
One brittle eyebrow rose for the ceiling.
“Ah, then you will have no argument to me reclaiming it and passing it
on to another?” He smiled wickedly, firelight adding to that putrid yellow
of his eyes. He flicked a long, chalk-nailed finger and a figure stepped
forwards from the shadows and into the light.
Anakin’s heart must have stopped. It
had to have, because there was no pain comparable to the burning ache that
clenched it as his son stepped forward to stand at Palpatine’s right side.
His mouth wouldn’t work, as still as
his heart and his breath. The brash boy was gone, the young man he had
fought in the winds of Cloud City buried. Had this been what Padmé had
seen when she looked at him twenty years ago? Had she died in the first
raids of a Rebellion, or from the throes of a broken heart, malignant with
the change the Darkness brought to someone you couldn’t deny love for?
No. This was worse.
Anakin’s hands balled into fists. Padmé
had at least seen a drastic physical change, and not a despairing mockery
of what she’d once known. The fine, aristocratic features of the boy were
achingly pale despite the firelight, the blue eyes wide and swimming with
restrained power. The dark fabric of rich robes made him both taller, more
powerful, and smaller, more desperate. Emotions raged in a war across his
features as Anakin looked at him, threatening to tear those bleached features
apart. There was pain, radiating outwards with a heat akin to the flames
of the fire. Old pain from old wounds, and fresh pain from indecision,
confusion. There was hope, and there was horror. The need to get out of
the room, the uncertainty of what Darth Vader was doing standing in front
of him. Perhaps even memories of Bespin.
There was a strangled sob from behind
him that might have formed the word ‘Luke’ if it hadn’t been obscured
by tears. Leia dropped the lightsaber with a clang, frozen in shock, and
Anakin couldn’t turn to her. He heard her scramble to retrieve it.
Luke flicked his gaze to her, an anguished
expression quickly wiped away. It was almost impossible for Anakin to restrain
himself from jumping forward and spiriting the boy away.
Palpatine was still smiling. “After
all, it is an auspicious name. It should be passed on.” He turned then
to Luke, talking almost conversationally. “What do you think, Little Jedi?
Do you like it?”
There was a moment of absolute revulsion
as Palpatine stroked the back of his hand across Luke’s cheek. Darkness
flooded him, following quickly on the heels of his burning anger. Get
off him, you bastard! Anakin shook with the need to act on that hatred.
Palpatine only crackled. “Careful,
The name was dust in his mouth. “Hate leads to the Darkside. But then I
suppose you know that, no?”
Anakin trembled in rage, trying to
calm his emotions. The power tempted him to strike out and reclaim Luke,
who didn’t even flinch at the contact. Words absolutely failed him.
”Little Jedi?” The word was mockery.
Luke’s gaze, glazed and confused, flicked between Anakin and his Emperor.
The words were like a blow to Anakin’s
gut. We waited too long. We waited far too long.
”Let him go,” Anakin growled, the words
menacing through the vocoder. He was peripherally aware of Leia standing
still rooted to the spot, staring at the three dark cloaked figures.
Palpatine chuckled, “No, no. I don’t
think so.” He turned back to Anakin, his hand falling from Luke’s cheek.
Anakin heart went for a full-fledged cheer when the boy inched further
from his Master, his eyes looking pleadingly at his father.
//Stay calm, Luke. I’ll get you
The thought hammered against the barrier
erected between father and son, and Palpatine shook his head. “You never
did learn, did you Anakin?”
”I thought I learned far too much,”
Anakin spat. The cold fury was still there in his veins, potent and threatening.
Palpatine sighed almost wistfully.
“You were such a recalcitrant student. Not at all like your son. He’s just
Snow squalls beat at the glass windows,
and Anakin took a step closer. “What do you want? Why do you want me here?”
That crooked smile came again, but
Anakin’s eyes were on his son, edging slowly away from Palpatine. He didn’t
even look like he knew he was doing it.
”What do I want?” His hand snaked out
and clutched the black sleeve of Luke’s robe. The boy didn’t flinch as
fingernails dug into his skin and he was hauled back to his former position.
“I want your son.”
He couldn’t help it; the anger boiled
hot in his cheeks and he took another step forward, prodded on by the low
growl in his daughter’s throat.
”Oh, originally I wanted whichever
proved the stronger between father and son.” Yellow teeth shone as bright
as his eyes when he smiled. “But now I just want your son. He’s very strong,
you know?” His hands began to stroke Luke’s sleeve. Luke looked down fiercely,
but the resistance died almost immediately.
”Yes, I know. Stronger than you realise,
I think.” It took a supreme effort not to launch himself forward and wrest
his son from that bony grip. The silent warning against doing just that
hung on the blue tinged fingertips of Palpatine’s free hand.
Again, that chuckle that shivered up
his spine. “Perhaps, perhaps… he certainly took a lot longer to turn than
you did. Tell me, what took you so long to get here?”
Anakin growled low in his throat. Leia
walked up behind him to stand just behind him, to his right. The fury was
coming off her in hot waves as the fire crackled in a strange harmony to
the tension in the air. Anakin’s eyes remained fixed on Luke, not bothering
to answer Palpatine’s question. There was a strange worming of pride in
his gut at the statement, and another feeling he recognised as guilt at
the accusation. The high black collar framed mournful blue eyes as Luke
watched the confrontation with a strange detached sadness hiding behind
those blonde lashes. Even screaming his denial on the gantry on Bespin,
he had never looked so lost. It ignited feelings in Anakin that were murdering
the rage that rose with Palpatine’s words, letting him push the Darkness
away savagely every time it beckoned.
When it was clear he wasn’t going to
rise to Palpatine’s taunts, the Emperor frowned, forehead crumpling. “Still…”
his voice was again wistful, “It might be interesting to see who is the
stronger.” His hand waved through the air, fire patterning it.
Leia cried out as the saber in her
hands was ripped from her grip and flew to Palpatine’s. She cursed under
her breath. Calm, Leia. Don’t give in.
Anakin kept his eyes on his son. His
jaw was set in a fierce determination, but his eyes were still glazed.
This had gone on far enough.
Palpatine turned the saber in his grip,
fingers crawling over the weapon Anakin had made as a padawan, years past
now. The Emperor looked over at Luke, a tendril of Force energy forcing
the boy’s gaze down to his own. Luke struggled with words of defiance as
the saber was placed into his hands.
That fierce possessiveness was back,
Anakin struggling with disparate feelings of disgust and despair. And,
yes, there was fear too, as Luke rolled the saber in his hands and fluttered
his eyelids closed.
Palpatine looked between them, considering.
Anakin tensed. “I’m not about to fight my own son, Palpatine.”
”So certain of yourself… You didn’t
seem so disinclined on Bespin, my apprentice,” Palpatine chuckled. “But
I'm afraid I'm not about to offer you a choice, Anakin. Do you remember
your last sacrifice to the Darkness? Ah... yes, I see you do. They screamed
beautifully, didn't they? " Anakin flinched. Palpatine continued, eyes
on Luke, "He needs only that last step now. Needs only to take his place
at my side. And you, Anakin, are standing in his way."
"I'm not going to fight him." He tensed.
Luke had yet to reopen his eyes.
Anakin’s body tensed in anticipation,
hearing nothing but the squall of snow outside.
And then the crackle of lightning.
And Leia’s scream.
The bolts hit her in the stomach, throwing
her to a rough collision with the wall behind them. Furious, Darkness flowing
with the hatred, the saber came from his belt and snapped to life. Before
he had any conscious knowledge of what he was doing, he leapt across the
remaining distance, blade sweeping up and down towards the decrepit old
man, ready to slice him through -
- only to be intercepted by the blue
blade of his old saber, held in the unwavering hands of his son.
Over the sparks of clashing lightsabers,
C h a p t e r F i f
t e e n
son looked at him across locked saber blades, his blue eyes glazed but
mournful, his jaw set determinately.
Anakin jumped backwards, disengaging
his blade, heart running in circles. His son scissor-stepped around the
throne, the air crackling with determination. He took another step backwards,
and the lightning flew from Palpatine's fingers again, towards his daughter
lying in a choked heap by the wall.
He had to move forward and intercept
it, letting it tangle around the ruby blade. Luke came on at him, blade
slashing for an intercept. The strength of the deflection rocked Anakin's
hands, almost as much as the shock of the power behind the blow rocked
his emotions. Luke didn't even blink as he stepped forward again, lashing
out with the blue blade. Anakin intercepted it but stepped back, retreating.
Luke came on, the Force tumbling between them as son attacked father.
The slightly stiff movements were the
only betrayal of Luke's imprisonment, the slight wince of pain that made
it no further than his eyes as he moved the protesting muscles in an elegant
attack. The small part of his mind not involved in an intricate dance of
saber blades let Anakin acknowledge his son's skill, and not with a little
trepidation. The blade was brought high and dipped towards Anakin's head.
Again, the intercept. Again, the retreat.
Luke didn't let him have time to breathe;
he came on, lashing out, fury uncontrolled, only his eyes speaking an inner
His eyes, and his screaming through
the Force; a cry of anger, frustration and confusion that scolded the tight
web of energy reaching through the room, shaking it. Luke didn't want to
do this, but with every fear that rose up swam a new tide of power that
pushed past thought and left only action.
Even as Anakin forced himself to fight
past the anguish clear there, the import of hearing that cry hit him harder
than the sharp jab from Luke's saber.
The natural Force bond between father
and son was back.
Anakin's head whipped upwards and he
grasped the lingering tendrils of that presence, teeth gritted. Luke blanched
visibly, his hands shaking.
//Luke. Hear me.//
Palpatine chuckled, slamming the barrier
up again and for a long moment, filled with suppressed anger, Anakin wondered
if his old Master had dipped it for a moment just to taunt him, to give
him a glance at the lost child.
Luke had faltered, but with the wall
back up the false certainty offered by the Darkside energy swam to him
in dark waves. He clamped down fiercely on his raging emotions and swung
the saber in a vicious infinity loop, forcing Anakin to stumble away again,
backing dangerously towards a far wall.
He couldn't bring himself to attack
though. He wouldn't. Not after Bespin.
The connection was as easily lost as
it was found, and the bond between father and son was silent, Anakin screaming
into the Force to try and find it.
"Not like that, Anakin." Palpatine
was smiling, blue lightning twirling around his fingers. His gaze went
to Leia, heaving herself off the floor with little half-sobs of pain. Palpatine
raised his eyebrows.
Two choices then; let Palpatine hammer
a defenceless daughter with the lightning, or attack a more-than-capable
Gritting his teeth, he blocked Luke's
next attack, trying not to register the lingering hate there, and slashed
the blade for Luke's midsection. He could have prayed to every deity he
had ever heard of and not believed in when Luke intercepted the attack,
a frown of dismay across his face.
"Luke, fight this. Don't let him control
you." His gut performed it's own gymnastic miracles as Obi-Wan's words
to him two decades ago were spoken through his mouth. He repeated the words
again, not disengaging this time, but forcing a retreat from his son. It
was not easy; the boy was incredibly strong, grown since Bespin in ways
even Vader would never have wanted. The anger sparked in his eyes, lashing
out as surely as his blade did.
"Control me? What about you?"
His voice was broken with raging emotions
as the blade swept in again, lightning fast. They skidded across the rug
and stone floors, too fast to follow, parrying and striking on instinct
until sweat shone on Luke's face, the first sign of true life in the boy
Anakin had seen since stepping into this haunted room.
A ripple of a Force-tug behind him
and one of the ancient tapestries draping the walls dropped towards him,
trying to smother him. He sidestepped easily. Straight into Luke’s blade,
the boy slashing it down towards his hand.
Anakin dodged quickly, throwing himself
out of the contact as heat teased at the fabric of his armour. The dodge
turned quickly into a roll as Luke snapped a leg out and dug it into his
side, kicking the older man over. He hit the stone floor hard, a disturbing
crunching sound in his ears that he hoped was only bent armour and not
bones. He came back to his feet cleanly, crouching low, without thinking
swiping the blade low for Luke’s feet.
It was moving before he knew what was
happening, and for a moment it didn’t look like Luke would step back in
time. He didn’t. Instead, he leapt above the arc, landing back hard on
the ground, on top of Anakin’s right hand, grinding it against the stone.
He was effectively immobilised for the precious few seconds that would
be all his son needed to finish the fight. Anakin grunted at the pain,
but held onto the lit blade. Had this been what it had felt like for all
the Jedi he had ‘purged’ from the galaxy? To be attacked by one of your
own, to try not to hurt them because you still cared, only to find yourself
on the wrong end of a saber blade?
He tensed, waiting for the final sting
of a saber opening him from hip to hip. It never came, the blue light bathing
the stones beneath him but never falling down to slice him open. It was
a seconds worth of hesitation and Anakin used it. A push of the Force and
a wrenching of his hand and Luke lurched backwards with a startled curse,
the blade slashing a deep gash into the flagstones.
He pushed off the floor with his left
hand, hurriedly coming to his feet and skidding backwards. He got the blade
back up as Luke came on again, throwing himself into the attack as much
as Anakin threw himself into the defence. The only sounds in the room were
Leia’s muffled moans of pain, the crash of sabers, and the snow outside
beating the walls. And, of course, Palpatine laughing coldly to himself.
They moved from the flagstones to the
rug in front of the fire, the open space of the hall where there were no
drapes to throw or walls to back opponents into. Only the sabers and themselves.
Anakin whipped the blade around and down, stepping into a feint. Luke took
it, and he twisted his wrist before his son got there, thrusting one hand
out and into the side of Luke’s head. He’d hoped to knock him out; instead
Luke managed to move backwards and go with the blow, breathing heavily
and momentarily dazed.
If he could have, Anakin would have
taken that respite to wipe away the sweat from his forehead. With the mask
covering his head, there was no point even trying. For not the first time
in recent weeks, he felt like the armour that supported him was no longer
a part of him, like it was permanently attaching him to Darth Vader. And
Luke came on again, balance regained.
Physically, they were equally matched. He wouldn’t win this one with brute
”I broke his control on me, Luke. He
cannot offer you anything but misery, if you search your feelings you can
feel that. He cannot control you unless you want him to.” The minute the
words were out, he heard the mistake, wincing at it.
”Want him to? Want him?” Luke
brought the saber down in a vicious arc aimed to neatly slice his neck
from his torso. Anakin intercepted, pushing backwards on the blade and
making Luke take a step back. “You think I wanted this?!”
”All I ever wanted was a father
to look up to, to be proud of, to be proud of me.” The voice sounded
strained, but the fight continued, Luke punctuating with saber blows. One
of the sconces fell to the ground with a wicked smack from the backwards
swing of an attack, molten wax splashing and hissing.
Luke attacked mindlessly in his fury.
There was barely time for thought now, but as his son kept attacking, bleeding
more and more offensive action from his father, Anakin saw with sudden
clarity a way to bring the boy back. That brief contact onboard the Falcon,
so long ago now, had shown it to him. Now Luke showed it to him again.
Palpatine had succeeded in taking from Luke everything left worth clinging
to the Light for, as he had with Anakin, years ago.
And what brought me back? Something
to fight for. A family.
To drag him back Anakin needed only
to offer Luke something to fight for. Such as a father.
He frowned. "Look at me, Luke." The
boy set his jaw. "Look at me!" Anakin shouted, wincing when it was
the bass tones of Darth Vader echoing through the room and not the gentle
but determinate voice he had intended. Luke's eyes were widening in a heart-rending
echo of his mother's expression of alarm. Anakin disengaged his blade and
Luke made no attempt to use the opening. He just looked at him, hands clenching
around the hilt of the saber.
"Reach out to me," Anakin insisted.
The boy's lips set in strangled determination,
and even through their broken bond Anakin sensed his thoughts skittering
as uncontrolled as dust motes in a Tatooine sandstorm. Fear kindled from
a reminder that he faced Darth Vader was lit in his mind, fear that he
might lose, and a deeper fear that he might win.
"Reach out," Anakin insisted, trying
to get the sound of his voice to be less reminiscent of the Sith Lord.
"I've changed, you have to sense that, Luke."
The frown crumpled his pale features
as the uncertain tendril of Force energy reached for Anakin. He let it
come, didn't hurry him, his heart thumping blood through his temples. The
touch was at once achingly familiar, and tragically different to that he'd
experienced a bare few months ago when he'd implored that Luke 'search
Luke flinched, blanched, looked ready
to bolt the room. His eyes went wide. "I..."
Anakin nodded, "Darth Vader was never
your father. I am."
The reaction he got was not the one
he expected. The boy stood stock still, the saber hissing warningly in
his hands. Palpatine was talking, but Anakin blocked it out, watching his
son. He shook his head fiercely, bangs on blonde hair whipping around.
"Where were you!?" Luke cried,
his voice accusing and full of a pain Anakin couldn't douse, not yet, "Where
Palpatine laughed. Luke attacked again,
and Anakin felt everything begin to tear itself apart.
Where was he? When – in those twenty
years of playing the Dark Lord, abandoning a child to an orphaned upbringing
on Tatooine? Or where was he, when he severed his hand on Bespin, where
was the father then to protect him from the monster he had become? Or...
where was he these past months? Where was he?
His blade faltered and in that moment
Luke struck forward. He was good. He was far too good, calling the Force
to him in his anger. Anakin stumbled, nearly fell, felt himself pushed
backwards. He collided with the wall behind him with a solid thud as Luke's
palm came out and a ripple of the Force knocked him off his feet.
It took a moment to gather his breath
around the respirator. When he looked up, Luke stood over him, the blade
at his father's throat, hand shaking, sweat glistening.
"I... I can't..." Luke was imploring,
his eyes shutting down to deny what was in front of him.
"Let go, Luke. You don't need the darkness,"
Anakin implored. Obi-Wan's words again. They hadn't worked the first time,
why would they work now? The arm holding the saber shook, the blue blade
wavering in front of his throat. "You can’t do this Luke, I can feel your
confusion. You've been manipulated. Let it go. Just let it go, and come
back with us."
The eyes remained closed, the trail
of a tear worming out from under the lowered lashes and rolling down his
cheek, liquid fire in the hearth light.
Anakin proffered a hand, "Luke?"
The boy opened his eyes to answer,
but the expression that crossed his face had Anakin's heart captured. Luke
looked around in shocked pain and anguish, staggering backwards, murmuring
no, no, no...
Confusion was replaced by clarity as
a furious Palpatine stepped beyond the firelight. He felt the energy pouring
into his son and came to his feet incensed as the Emperor crossed to them,
his face a mask of fury. His decayed gaze was on Anakin's son, and Luke
was tossing his head in denial. "Get out of my mind!" he screamed.
Anakin re-ignited his saber and went
for Palpatine once more. He had the pleasure of seeing the Emperor's eyes
grow wide as he back-pedalled, before the spark of Force energy leapt for
his son and Luke jumped forwards to intercept the blade.
Anakin barely had time to switch it
off in his shock, Luke coming within a death's whisper or being skewered
by the hard light.
Such trapped devotion, such unthinking
loyalty... such slavery. Anakin saw the desperation written all over Luke's
features. The boy attacked again. Reaching for the bond did nothing; Palpatine
blocking it yet again.
No reaction, the words bouncing back
at his like snow skittering off a glass pane.
Glass pane? His eyes flicked to the
window and the squalls of snow.
The plan was still-born as Luke attacked
again. If Anakin had thought his son was good before, he was sorely mistaken.
had been nothing compared to the savage beauty of his skill now, blows
raining down with absolute accuracy despite his eyes being half-lidded,
trying to shake Palpatine's influence.
As Luke's sweeping attack came in for
his midsection there was a cry from across the room. "Luke, no!"
Leia was on her feet again, her emotions
and her voice betraying her anguish. Anakin didn't look, but Luke did,
and the distraction was enough. The seat beside the fire wobbled, then
flew towards Luke. He sensed the incoming missile, lifted an arm to block
it and, but not fast enough. It barrelled into him, lifting him off the
floor with a cry of surprise and throwing him against the window -
- but not before he grabbed Anakin's
hand, yanking him off the floor with him. Anakin bit down a cry of surprise
as his feet left the ground, thumbing off the saber before it sliced through
Luke's body hammered the glass, and
hairline cracks spidered outwards with a loud crack. For a moment that
grew too long, it seemed like the glass wouldn't give under their weight.
Then it splintered into jagged fragments reflecting firelight and snowstorms.
Leia was shouting, Anakin was cursing
and the wind was suddenly loud in his ears as the death grip on his hand
hauled him through the broken glass after his son. The wind howled in expectation,
sconces blown out, drapes whipping hard-edged tails at them as they tumbled
to the snowfields beyond. For a minute they hung in the air before impact,
but the window was a bare few metres above the snow and they tumbled under
the direction of gravity.
Luke landed first with a suppressed
cry of pain. Anakin rolled as he hit, but the snow gave under his weight
and billowed over him in drifts of powdery cold. He gasped against the
frigid feeling of fingers teasing cold knives through his skin. The pain
from his son increased with the same sensation, but on skin unprotected
Any instinctive action of protection
or attack was bitten back by the still-lit blue saber in Luke's hands.
No physical influence then. But mental,
The shock of the cold riding through
Luke's mind left him reeling and Anakin pushed forwards with the Force,
searching for the elusive bond between father and son. The wind shrieked
like a banshee in his ears and Palpatine was reaching out at the same time,
scratching mental fingers for Anakin's son. For minute Luke was suspended
in a mental tug-of-war, eyes fluttering closed.
Palpatine had the power, the experience.
But Anakin had the unleashed desperation, and a forgotten ally.
She got the hint. He couldn't see her,
but Palpatine's cry of surprise told him she had attacked him and there
was a muffled thump of bodies against snow, both of them toppling to the
ground. Leia was cursing as she attacked, venting anger and disgust at
what the Emperor had done to her brother. She was a firebrand, that one.
Fortunate that she didn't have too much Force training, otherwise the anger
pouring off her would have been enough to level a small city, never mind
a distracted and shocked Emperor.
It didn't last long, Palpatine presumably
throwing the girl off, lightning cracking the air open again. But it lasted
long enough for Anakin. In that momentary distraction he reached back for
Luke flinched visibly when he found
the natural connection between them and smothered it with his own sense,
feeling Palpatine's rage trying to tear it open. Anakin took the buffering,
his gaze fixed on Luke.
//Help me. Preserve this.//
He heard him. Luke stumbled backwards
from his advance, blade lowering uncertainly. Anakin’s saber remained stubbornly
unlit, the message clear. He sent a wash of feelings over Luke then. Comfort.
boy staggered but his face lit despite the shivering, despite the snow
Oh, stars. It was like rainfall after
a drought and he drank it up greedily.
//Luke, hold on to it.//
Luke blinked. Blinked again, and the
wash of understanding touched his eyes. He shook his head barely perceptibly,
shaking off the confusion and fear. Luke nodded. The wave of energy that
poured between them was almost staggering, brighter than the white snow
trying to drown them.
They both turned; they both stopped
suddenly, Luke's hand tensing around the hilt of the saber. Palpatine advanced
through the deep swathes of snow, black robes sinking. Leia followed him
unwillingly, his hand digging into her arm whilst she was clutching her
stomach, her face pale.
* * * *
He blinked, snow-dashed lashes hitting
his cheeks. The snow bit into his skin but it was wonderful in its pain.
He relished it, wrapped it around himself. Pain meant you were alive, meant
Luke Skywalker was alive. He took a shaky breath, the bitter air hitting
the back of his throat, sore from screaming. It didn't matter, he felt
alive, energy sparking along the connection between him and... Vader? Anakin?
The cold was digging into his skin,
numbing him, and it didn't matter. None of it mattered. The impossible
was true. His father was here, back to reclaim a son he loved without conditions.
The black material of the robes couldn't smother him then, the sting of
wounds old and new couldn't touch him, even the clawing of Palpatine through
his mind didn't register.
He turned at his name, the only name
he would ever acknowledge, and his breath froze in the air. Leia looked
at him with a half-conscious expression of pain and the anger boiled hot
in his stomach. It didn't warm him.
Luke's gaze flicked to his father,
then to his right hand, rolling the saber between his fingers tensely.
He let the dark feelings bleed into the snowfields along with blood from
countless glass wounds.
He took a step forwards, feet sinking
into the snow up to his thighs. "Let her go."
Palpatine's gaze fell on him, and despite
himself he shivered violently, memories battering down his resolve. "Come
here, Little Jedi." The shivering got worse at those hated words, and the
strength flowed away from him faster, the light dimming -
- and then flowed back to him from
his father, a warmth that heated frost-kissed skin and soothed screaming
muscles. Luke stood taller, awash with the offered help. He had to be strong.
He was strong.
-- ... stronger than you realise,
I think... --
He sent gratitude back to his father,
took another step towards Palpatine. The Emperor narrowed his eyes, clenched
his arm harder around Leia's arm. She winced, some of the awareness coming
back to her eyes and forcing her to struggle harder.
The anger drained from him, fear and
desperation dropped like a dirty cloak. He looked at the Emperor and suppressed
his rage, his disgust, his fear. And that left him with... pity. Where
did that come from? All he saw was the empty, decaying shell of a man corrupted
by too much power. Had he ever laughed or cried, shown pain or shown happiness
beyond his manipulations of Luke? Ever shown a glimpse of the man's form
he rested in?
He looked down at the fingers of his
left hand, at the little rivulets of freezing sweat and blood lying there,
trying to remember if the Emperor had ever bled, even in those incensed
moments when Luke had lashed out physically.
--... Luminous beings are we, not
this crude matter... --
Luminous beings, perhaps, but caged
all the same. The Darkside had stolen Palpatine's humanity, if he'd ever
had any, but left him in a frail, vulnerable human body. Vulnerable.
Another step forwards, and this time
not as a slave being reeled back in but as the first eddies of a plan began
to unfurl. His father stood very still, watching, even the wind was silent
for a moment.
Luke adopted the face of a stricken
slave, lowering his lashes to the disturbed snow. Palpatine’s leering triumph
leapt across the Force, fully believing in his overconfidence that he had
won his slave back again. The agitated movements of his father could only
reinforce the image Palpatine greedily accepted, but Luke could not look
back and reassure Anakin.
The possessive trust Palpatine had
in him allowed another step forwards without suspicion, the overconfidence
admitting the next step. Each step let him begin to shape a plan, dismissing
a purely physical attack against the man who had purged the Jedi. A lick
of the saber's sting would not work. He would probably not even get close
enough to light it.
Luke resisted a smile as the plan became
as clear as if it had been written in blood in the snow. He would never
be able to both keep the Emperor’s attention and attack him at the same
time. Fortunately, at last, he was no longer alone. He might not be able
to attack himself, but he would provide the distraction that would break
Palpatine’s concentration long enough for a physical attack to reach that
vulnerable, human body.
Another step, Palpatine sensing no
He didn't look back at his father.
He could never look back.
Palpatine looked at him with eager
eyes, desiring the power he knew was within Luke. Palpatine knew him. And
knew Palpatine, including his weaknesses; including his overconfidence.
He would never believe his slave would turn against him now.
Palpatine smiled as Luke took the final
step, desperately trying not to look into Leia's eyes.
He didn't answer her.
Palpatine lifted bloodless fingers
to his cheek and scraped a nail along the skin there. His lips were curling
for a smile but Luke got there first, never letting it near his eyes. Palpatine's
breath crystallised in front of them, his other hand letting go of Leia.
She shook her head fiercely, awareness back fully.
Luke's hand snaked upwards for Palpatine's
palm on his cheek and pressed it there. The Emperor betrayed his surprise
in his eyes, but said nothing. The air seemed to still, the snow settling
out of the blizzard.
Destiny was cheering him on as he raised
his other hand to that bony palm on his cheek, the saber dropping to the
Leia was staring in horror; he could
feel it rolling off her as she jumped to her feet and tugged at his arm.
Shssh Leia... I have to do this.
His father was calling in his mind
now too - Luke, let go... Luke, don't!... Not like this! - but he
was stilled, enraptured by the scene swirling in front of him in broken
glass and snow.
Luke kept his eyes locked on Palpatine's
as the other attempted to free his hand. Luke kept it clamped against his
cheek. He lifted one hand and pressed it against Palpatine’s own cheek,
completing a circle between them. Oh, it should have been sweet revenge,
to use the Emperor's own tactic of distraction against him, but the disgust
rolled through him, whether from himself or his audience he couldn't say,
blunting his emotions. That was good, because revenge was never of the
And he needed the Light.
Leia gave a startled curse and stumbled
backwards from him, letting his arm go as the energy poured into him. He
drew on the Force, on the Lightside he hadn't touched in so long, and it
was a balm to deep burns.
"I’m not your slave." He whispered
into the wind. Palpatine was focused fully on him now. Just a little more,
a bit more distraction from the other figures in the snow, and an attack
might make it through. "You thought to control me." He whispered against
the parchment skin. "You never imagined it could be the other way around."
There was a momentary pang of worry that he had let his plan slip, but
Palpatine only frowned.
His father was calling in his mind,
telling him this was not the way, telling him not to make the sacrifice.
//I have to do this. Be ready.//
His father redoubled his efforts to
dissuade him, but Luke refocused on Palpatine. "You were wrong, your Highness.
I’ll never turn. You’ll never have me." He breathed deep. "You want this
power? Here, have it."
Luke didn't see the look of confusion
on Palpatine's face. He closed his eyes. He felt more than heard Leia and
his father start in shock, and smiled. The Light danced around him so easily,
blindingly bright, lighting up the stormy afternoon.
--...and you, Luke Skywalker, are
nothing but Darkness…--
Never had the wretched old man been
so wrong. The Light came to him in a breath of fresh, cleansing air, gusting
through him to the aging Darksider under his grasp. The old man was completely
distracted by the attack.
He heard him. There was the snap-hiss
behind him and the snow was bathed in blood red.
"This is far from what you deserve,"
Luke whispered, although over the singing of the Force it was doubtful
anyone heard him. Certainly they wouldn't hear him over Palpatine's enraged
shriek. His hand trembled, and the snowfields trembled with him.
The air sang with the hiss of a lightsaber
before it sliced cleanly through Palpatine. A tremulous minute of outrage
and then, finally, thankfully, in a fit frozen sunshine, the Emperor collapsed.
He choked, screamed again. And died.
Or, more exactly, burst.
C h a p t e r S i x
t e en
explosion knocked her off her feet and into long minutes of unconsciousness.
When she woke, she was cold and she was bleeding and she couldn’t remember
why. Action came before thought, Leia crawling away from the dark heat,
hands and feet sinking into snow. Wondering what she was crawling from
was her first conscious thought, the sting of blood and ozone hitting the
back of her throat and worrying at her memories. Then came wondering why
her hands and fingers felt dead, and why the rest of her body was screaming
in abject torment. When she coughed, there was the taste of ice mixing
with the warmth of her own blood. She blinked, trying to force the scene
around her to make some sense.
Her arms trembled and she remembered…
lightning screaming through the air, pain exploding behind her eyes, writhing,
screaming; dying maybe.
She forced her head up from the snow,
biting down on the lip that was already split from the blast of… an explosion?
She shook her head fiercely and memories finally came flooding back, the
image of Luke and the Emperor standing entranced burnt onto her retina.
She heaved her weight up on dead arms, shoving aside handfuls of powder-fine
snow. Breathing came to her easily enough now she wasn’t kissing the ground,
and she took gasping lungfuls of the cold air.
Everything was quiet, even the snow
made no sound as she dragged herself to her feet. Her voice hitched in
her throat and she coughed again around the syrupy metal of her senses.
It was too quiet, far too quiet after what had just happened. A cold wind
stirred over the snow and she shivered.
She managed to shout “Luke!”
before the scene erupted into chaos.
The deathly quiet of the scene was
broken by the sound of blaster fire ripping open the air above her, bolts
hitting the disturbed snow and erupting in miniature geezers. The ground
lurched underneath her, snow tumbling and she lost her balance, shouting
in surprise as snow evaporated around her and rose in curtains of superheated
The Emperor’s guards. Took them
She looked around desperately, angry
shouts and the thud of return fire hitting stone split the air. One voice
she recognized above all the angry shouting,
”Han!” She turned, footing shifting
on the suddenly unstable snow. As she turned, she took in the destruction
that in her half-conscious desperation she’d been attempting to escape.
Again, her breath caught against her
throat, terrified sobs hitching against her chest. The clean swath of snow
Luke and the Emperor had stood upon only (seconds, minutes, hours) before
was gone, replaced by the heaving side of a crater that dipped beyond her
eye level, water hissing upwards as it evaporated from the heat, snow still
falling down the sides from the blast that had knocked her senseless.
”Luke!” Was she reduced to single names
for speech today? “Where… where are you?” She struggled to run forward
but every muscle in her body chose the moment to spasm and her question
turned into a sob of pain, anguish and frustration as she tried to wade
through melting snow towards the crater. Luke? Where are you! There
was no answer. You can’t be dead! You can’t! Not now!
More angry shouts from behind, one
that sounded like her name, and she half turned to see a dark figure running
across the snow. Her vision split, went binary, and started a lazy spin
as every muscle in her body made a good attempt at contracting at once.
Her fingers found little to haul herself forwards with and she was sinking
into the snow, almost not feeling it begin to bury her as more blaster
fire opened up hissing water around her and she was still crawling, still
trying to go forward, still looking, calling, screaming for her brother,
tears slipping past her resolve and -
”Leia? Leia! Calm down.” Hands, rough
but familiar, were shaking her and she realized she was sobbing, reaching
forward blindly, and going nowhere. That voice though, it was warm like
an embrace, comforting like a caress, soft and stern and concerned.
Blaster fire hit close by, comets streaking
across her closed eyelids. The scene had descended into a war zone.
”It’s all right, I’m here. Calm down.”
Someone stroked her frozen hair. “Calm down. Everything’s okay.”
”What happened?” Even the muscles in
her jaw were spasming. More blaster fire, brilliant against the snow, like
and unlike the lightning that Palpatine had-
The muscles in her legs cramped and
she bit back a shout of pain. Don’t think about that. Don’t think… forget
it. It’s not burning anymore. It’s not tearing you apart anymore. It’s
just a memory now…
”S’alright Leia.” Someone hugged her
and tried to banish the cold with comfort. “You’re all right.”
She nodded, almost believing. The air
continued to hiss with shots from the Palace, the whine of speeders added
a new current to an already chaotic scene, but the crater was still deathly
”Princess, now would be a very
good time to leave this party.” He tightened his grip. She looked up, saw
the approaching black specks of the speeder bikes arrowing in on them.
“The throne room's locked up but it looks like they’re going to long way
Throne room? Locked up? What was he-
Of course… In all the confusion, she’d
forgotten that they had left him to guard against interruptions.
In the chaos of saber duels and Force Lightning - don’t think
about that - she’d not given any thought to what was happening beyond
that one room. Some Rebel Leader.
”What happened?” she asked again.
”You know Leia, I have absolutely no
idea.” There were arms around her, tight now, bringing her to her feet.
“We kept the guards away, until the explosion. Chewie’s gone back for the
Falcon; they’re jamming the commlinks. I got to the window, well what’s
left of it, as they started firing on you. Your father was running for
Luke. At least, I think it was Luke, in that crater.” He nudged a shoulder
in its general direction. ”What the hell caused this - no, wait, maybe
I don’t want to know.”
”I’ve got to get to Luke.” Her fingers
were managing to work back to life past the frostbite, telling her they
still existed through the burning ache of muscles and bone. She struggled
forward a step.
“No, come on.” He hauled her backwards,
“We have to get better cover.” He started pulling her towards the stone
walls of Palpatine’s palace.
She wrenched her hand free, “No! I
”Leia! There’s no time for this!” A
hand around her shoulder, pulling her back. Her heart was hitting the back
of the throat. There was still no movement from the crater's edge. “They’ll
be protected by the crater sides. We- “
”Then so will we.” Stubborn refusal
to give in kicked in like an afterburner and gave her strength enough to
drag him forwards with her. Despite protests, he supported her as she struggled
towards the ominously quiet crater trying to ignore the kick of blaster
”Luke? Father!” Had she just called
out that name? Han was firing back at the palace walls, cursing loudly
at life in general and Skywalkers in particular.
Over the hunched shoulders of the crater,
the destruction was shown in ridges of snow pin-wheeling outwards from
the centre. And at the centre, the figure of Anakin Skywalker was hunched
over the inert form of his son, both perfectly still, Anakin’s hand resting
on Luke’s temple as the water continued to rise in hazy waves above them.
”Father!” His concentration snapped
at her call, punctuated by green blaster bolts impacting in the snow beside
them. Anakin’s head came up, Darth Vader’s gaze locked onto hers. Leia
took a step forward and Han’s curses got louder and more elaborate.
”Leia, those speeders are nearly here.”
She nodded, “Father, we have to leave.”
He was already lifting the inert form
into his arms. As he climbed the steep slope of the crater, Luke’s head
lolling against the breastplate, he let his gaze sweep over destruction.
More blaster fire illuminated the glint of metal buried in the snow and
he called both lightsabers to his hand, snapping them to his belt.
”We have to call-“
The ground heaved under her again,
Han holding her up with a hand around her waist whilst his blaster hand
continued to exact retribution on the Imperials hidden by the palace walls.
Snow again curtained them, adding to the confusion. She looked to the figure
of the ex-Dark Lord holding her brother and had the bizarre urge to throw
herself into an embrace with them
”Leia, get to the ship!” her father
called, the deep boom of the vocoder breaking through the turbulent air.
Ship? What ship?
Before she could shout the question,
a shadow fell over them, blocking out Corusca still screaming for the horizon.
The Falcon hovered, not quite touching the melting snow.
Han’s hand left her waist, wrapped
itself around her wrist and hauled her towards the lowering ramp. Imperial
blaster fire hit the hull of the ship, rebounding with a more metallic
thud as they heaved out of the snow and into the safety of the corridor,
her body protesting all the way.
Sudden acceleration and the screaming
of her calf muscles made her lurch into Han, who had suddenly gone binary
in her vision, plastering them against the acceleration padding.
”How… how is he?” she managed around
gritted teeth. Her own injuries were nothing compared to the waxen face
of her brother.
The wind and the blizzard howled beyond
the closing landing ramp. “I put him in a healing trance.” Anakin was pushing
forward against the swaying of the ship in atmosphere. The blaster fire
had died away with altitude. “He took the full force of the blast. We have
to get to the medical centre.” Short, blunt, to the point. Very Darth Vader,
even if he did have the more kindly tones of Anakin Skywalker honeying
his voice. Leia was beyond wrestling with her own perceptions.
”Are you kidding!” Han shouted, banging
backwards into the padding as the ship lurched again. “This is a wanted
ship, we can’t go near there!”
”You’d be surprised what Darth Vader
can manage to permit on Imperial Centre.” The tone was not quite humorous.
Han quietly glared.
Leia ignored the argument and turned
to Luke, who had also spawned a clone that revolved in her vision. She
hissed at a sudden ache beneath her skull.
”Fine. Chewie!” Han let her wrist go
and turned to stalk towards the cockpit, probably to throw Lando out of
the pilot's seat. As he let her go, there was a strange falling sensation
as her feet buckled and she started a slow slide for the deck. Han was
still railing on, her father giving succinct rebuttals.
Both men turned to her as she hissed
in pain. “Um… can I-” Whatever she was going to ask for was lost as she
surprised even herself and slipped into blissful unconsciousness.
* * * *
He awoke to the feeling of soft silks
on his skin and wide, brown eyes smiling.
That voice… he knew that voice. It
was almost too much to believe and the smile cracked across his face before
he had time to really think. “Leia?”
She grinned, eyes sparkling. Were they
tears or was that joy shining there? “Well, actually it’s afternoon. But
like Han says, anytime you wake up is technically morning.”
His eyes felt groggy and his skin dry
and stretched like he’d spent too many days on the Dunes. He followed the
pale of her hand as she reached out and wiped a damp cloth over his eyes,
washing the sleep away. She put it on a nightstand somewhere beyond his
view. All sensations of cool water on his skin and fresh air in his lungs
were periphery to staring at her in absolute wonder. “Better? You’ve been
in the healing trance for days.”
He just gaped for a moment, trying
to put the memories together and failing miserably. His mouth shut with
a click that had to be audible as he quashed the farmboyish reaction, chiding
himself. Leia’s own grin became impossibly wide as she saw the gesture.
His hair was given a friendly ruffle and suddenly he was enfolded in petite
but fragile arms, the perfumed fragrance of her hair another familiar presence
that soothed his bruised heart.
But why is it bruised?
He frowned. She must have felt it;
she brushed a hand over his damp forehead, little straggles of hair following
her fingers like she would brush away the worry lines. She was still smiling
but her gaze was more serious now. He frowned deeper, noticing for the
first time the blunt cut of her hair framing her jaw. “Leia?”
Memories swarmed like rabid insects
and he couldn’t catch them all at once and force them to form a coherent
whole. He brought his fingers up the shards of her hair and brushed the
tip of his thumb over them. There was no avoiding the questioning look
on his face.
”You don’t remember?” She looked so
pale and fragile, like but unlike the strong, resilient Princess he had
left behind on…
Hadn’t seen after Mothma had…
After the interrogation and…
And the snow and the fire and…
A gasp that was half sob, half horror
hitched its way past his throat. His hands trembled as the memories stopped
swirling and started mocking. He dropped the lock of hair. Before he could
say anything, Leia embraced him again, engulfing him in her arms and comfort
and the sweet, familiar presence of his best friend. His eyes squeezed
against the need to cry and she rocked him gently, murmuring… something.
Holding on to him, even tighter than he held on to her.
He’d done it. He’d gone over to the
Darkside… he could barely even remember where the line had been or when
he had crossed it. He remembered resisting. He remembered fighting. Somewhere
that had switched from fighting Palpatine to fighting his father who was…
was Lightside now? Could Anakin Skywalker have returned whilst Luke Skywalker
was sinking? He couldn’t qualify or quantify the feelings that went with
the memories. Misery, loathing, self disgust; they were all present. But
so was hope, longing, confusion… enough disparate feelings to fight a small
war with. Which, in essence, was exactly what had happened.
Finally, long after he had stopped
choking down his tears, she let him go, pressing him back down to the soft,
silky touch of sheets on a wide bed. He blinked.
”Where are we?”
”Father’s castle.” It took a moment
for that to register. She smiled weakly, coughed a little. “Seems like
he had this all planned out. These were the quarters he had made for you
when he found out about you and… well, you know the rest of that story.”
”Oh.” What was he supposed to say?
She coughed into the growing silence.
“What… what do you remember?”
He tensed but resisted the urge to
shiver. “Everything up to the explosion.” He sucked in a deep breath, the
images flowing freely now. Fighting, hurting, dying. “Leia, I’m so sorry.
I couldn’t stop it, I couldn’t help it. It was like I was a spectator in
my own body I- “ he faltered. His eyes went wide with one particular memory.
“Leia, that lightning. Are you…”
She smiled weakly. “I’m as confined
to quarters as you are. But we’re both going to be fine.”
He narrowed his eyes, “Are you supposed
to be resting somewhere?”
She rolled her eyes. “Did you always
read me so easily?” she chuckled, and it was the most wonderful sound he’d
heard in too many days. “Yes, but I’m fine. Really. And I wanted to be
here when you woke up.”
”It would have been confusing,” he
admitted. He had pulled himself up onto his elbows, but the muscles there
were already trembling with exhaustion and he sank back into twilight-coloured
sheets. “You should get back if you’re supposed-”
”Don’t you want me to fill in the details?”
She smiled, “And besides, I’m here under the pretence of changing your
”I don’t think they’ll buy that. A
droid could manage that.” He smiled, but felt it slip from his lips at
the look on her face. “What is it?”
She’d never been that good at lying
to him. Her face was averted, hands working to peel bacta patches free
from the sterile packaging. He grabbed one pale hand. “Leia?”
She let a slightly strangled sigh loose.
“Luke… I’m sorry I couldn’t do more for you onboard the medical frigate.
I… I know I was aloof.”
”You were worried about Han.”
”That’s not an excuse.” Her hands trembled
as she tightened her grip on him. “I… I was scared. When I found out who
your father was…” She blew out a breath that stirred the ends of her new
haircut. “It scared me. I’m sorry.”
He swallowed. Hard. “It scared me,
To his surprise she nodded as if she
truly understood. “If you don’t want anything to do with me now, I’ll understand.”
He felt like he’d torn the words from the mouth of a krayt dragon. He swallowed
again around his misgivings as she looked at him with sad brown eyes, not
knowing whether he could take rejection after… everything.
”After all,” he added, almost bitter
but managing to work around that tone in is voice, “I’ve already shown
quite a family resemblance to him. Well, not in appearance, but in character
I’m doing pretty well. Maybe it’s in the blood, or the genetics or… I don’t
know. Maybe all Skywalkers are supposed to fall badly like we did.” How
could she be with him now? How could she treat him, help him, comfort him,
to touch him?
Her reaction was nothing he could have
expected. She leaned forward and kissed him on his forehead. “Shut up before
you damn us all, Luke.”
His eyes flew up to her, the question
on his lips. She shook her head, closed her eyes, a look of abject concentration
furrowing he brow.
”Shssh… I can do this.”
”Do what? You-”
//Luke, can you hear me?//
He nearly fell from the lush sheets
Darth Vader had been considerate enough to provide for his wayward son.
Stunned, he croaked, “How did you…?”
//In my mind, Luke. Can you talk
He blinked several times before answering,
almost fearful of touching the Force and finding it… tainted. //Yes,
but I’m the trained Jedi. I’m supposed to be able to do it; you’re
not. How can you…?//
She cracked a smile, despite the fact
her eyes remained scrunched closed in concentration. //Not true. Close
family members are supposed to be able to do this too.//
There was a heartbeat of complete silence
whilst his shock rebounded off the walls of the large, luxurious bedroom.
“Family?” he finally asked.
-- ...”Where are we?”…”Father’s
”’Father’s’ castle. As in our
She bit her lip as she opened her eyes,
nodding. “Right on target as always, brother.”
His mouth gaped open and smiled wide,
absolute joy bouncing between them. Her eyes really were shining now, and
it was both delight and tears of joy that made her smile glow. And then
a disturbing memory decided to surface. One of another recuperation in
a rather colder environment.
”… Leia. About the med bay on Hoth
and our... ermm…” He realized suddenly he was blushing furiously, Leia’s
own cheeks going ruddy. She squirmed, just a little, and looked at him
through lashes lowered to her red cheeks.
She coughed to try and cover the embarrassment.
“I… well, I guess that was a bit of a mistake.” She looked curiously whimsical
then, “Although I don’t regret it, not really.”
”I know; you only kissed me to take
a stab at Han.”
She shook her head. “Well, yes… but
also because you meant, mean, a lot to me.” She shrugged, then covered
the awkward silence. “Just don’t tell Han you’re the better kisser or I’ll
never hear the end of it.”
He laughed, but it tore into sore ribs
and he winced halfway through. Leia forcefully pushed him back to the sheets
again. “Always nice to know,” he murmured.
In the silence that followed, Leia
pulled the sheets down to his waist and stripped the bacta bandages from
his ribs. The bacta left a sticky film on his skin that she washed away
with the damp cloth. Her fingers were cold against sleep-warmed skin. She
was infinitely gentle and Luke just watched her for a moment, until someone
had to break the silence before it became bloated.
”Han’s here?” He frowned. The last
he remembered was… Leia, looking despondent, broken and lost onboard
It was strangely curbed and he sighed.
“Leia, you asked me if I wanted you to fill in the details. I do.” The
earnestness broke her away from tending his ribs.
”All right.” She wiped her hands, then
laid down on the wide bed next to him, pillowing her head on his chest.
It was an oddly trusting posture for someone who had witnessed him trying
to hack their father to pieces and -
No. Don’t think about that.
“Palpatine was influencing Mon Mothma
from the start. Your… execution was a ruse to get you to Palpatine.” When
he shivered at violently bright images in his head she put her arm around
his shoulders, over his chest, and hugged. “Vader… Anakin…” She stopped,
frowned, then shrugged. “Father found me on Tatooine.”
”Tatooine? What were you doing on Tatooine?
What was he doing there?”
”I was… well, never mind. Vader came
looking for me.” He tensed, “It was fairly obvious something was wrong.
He’d already… changed. Or, was already changing. We made a truce-“
”The Rebellion made a truce with Darth
Vader?” His tone was openly incredulous.
”No…” She said after a long pause,
“Just between us. I left the Rebellion.”
He didn’t know what to say. Finally,
all he could ask was, “Why?”
”Why do you think?” Her voice still
grieving, “I thought they’d murdered you. I couldn’t stay with them!”
Princess Leia… leaving the Rebellion?
For him? “Oh, Leia...” He still didn’t know what to say.
Apparently, he didn’t have to say anything.
She gave him a squeeze and continued. ”We got Han back from Jabba before
coming after you.” There was an apology in her eyes but he didn’t comment
The scent of soap and perfume was delicious
and lulled him towards a sleep he fought, just to get the answers. “Mothma?”
”Dead.” He tried to hear regret there
but couldn’t. “Along with most of the Rebellion.”
”Why?” Did he really have to ask?
Leia seemed to take a breath that took
all the air out the room. “Imperial vengeance.” Nothing more had to be
said. Luke tucked away that fact as a reminder that even if his father
was back, he was far from the benevolent, benign man Luke might want to
imagine. Except, it seemed, towards his children. Maybe they could work
on that. He wasn’t shocked but he was strangely grateful, an emotion he
He closed his eyes as she relayed the
rest of the story in strangely dispassionate tones. They were closed, but
not so much out of a need for sleep as for giving a silent prayer to every
deity he’d ever heard of that they had managed to make it to him on… “Where
”Coruscant. We’re still on Coruscant.”
He laughed into her hair. “Well, that’s
ironic. Three of the Empire’s Most Wanted in its rotting heart.” He shivered.
“Although I suppose having your father as the second in command helps.”
”First in Command, now,” Leia whispered.
“And Lando and Chewie are here too.” Lando had stuck around? His estimation
of the man was raised another notch. Not that his memory of the Administrator
was very clear … it was fringed with memories of a painful fever.
There was more silence. He’d thought
she was just thinking, but he caught the choked sobs, muffled by his skin.
She clutched him harder, then managed
to speak around tears. “I’m sorry, it’s all just hitting to me now that
I can stop and think for a while. I thought you were dead.” She sobbed.
“I thought I’d lost you all, and everything I’d believed in went with it.”
Was she more upset by losing that, or from realizing she could be that
close to someone? Princess Leia didn’t like to be reliant on, or vulnerable
to, many things or people.
But then, seeing her hair cut short
around her shoulders, he realized maybe this wasn’t Princess Leia anymore.
Leia, you should have tried living
nightmare if you thought knowing about it was bad. He caught the thought
before it became telepathic. “It’s okay,” he murmured. “We got our happy
Happy? Happy? … Pain, blinding
pain, tears running down your cheeks from desolation and isolation. The
Emperor’s hands roaming over you, leering, smiling, teasing you towards
a Dark precipice and -
He severed the thoughts violently,
but shivered involuntarily.
”Happy?” Leia echoed his thoughts.
“Luke, the Rebellion is gone. We’ve found out we’re the children of our
worst enemy and-”
”All right, it’s a fairytale then.
They always have something nasty to go with the happy ending. You know,
the selfish Bantha herder gets eaten by the krayt dragon, or the Princess
has to cut her hair to make a - oh, sorry,” he mumbled.
”It’s okay. But it has to have a moral.”
She chuckled, “Every story has to have
a moral, otherwise there’s no point telling it.” She shrugged, pursed her
lips. “Hmm… can’t think of one for this particular fairytale.”
He kissed the top of her head. “How
about, ‘Never kiss your brother. It only leads to trouble.’?”
”Sith, Luke, you’re evil.” She must
have felt his muscles tighten painfully. “Oh, Luke… I’m sorry.” She bit
her lip. When he didn’t answer her due to his heart going through explosive
decompression, she hitched up onto her elbows. “Stars, I’m bad at this.
Look, Luke, You’ve got to listen to me now because this is important.”
”It’s okay Leia. I know what I did.”
He sighed sadly. I’m tainted. I’ve started down the Dark path. It’s
not just dragging at my heels anymore, I’ve embraced it. He looked
at her sadly, And I’m taking you down with me.
”I said listen, Luke.” She had her
sternest Rebel Leader look on, the one that instantly made him obey. “Give
me your hand.”
She grinned wickedly and snatched his
hand - his left hand - and held it at the wrist.
She batted eyelids. “You trust me,
don’t you, brother?” He sighed wearily. “Now close your eyes.”
He raised his eyebrows at that but
obeyed hesitantly. She turned his hand over so the sensitive skin of the
inside was under her fingers. He nearly snatched it back when he felt her
begin to tickle the skin at his wrist. “Hey! What are you…”
”Does that tickle?”
She laughed, “Good.” He was going to
complain, but clamped his mouth into a line. Trust her, right. “Now, I
want you to tell me when I reach the joint at your elbow.” He nodded and
she started to trail her fingers lightly up his arm, a meandering path.
Air conditioning hummed softly in the background and there was the smell
of caff brewing that made his mouth water and-
”Perfect.” Her voice was smiling. He
opened his eyes.
”What was the point of that? I… hey,
is that where I stopped you?” She nodded. Her fingers were resting a good
two inches from the joint. “I thought you said I got it right.”
”Who says you didn’t?” she asked.
”What do you mean?” He frowned openly
now. “That’s not the right place.”
”No? I only asked you to tell me where
you thought the joint was. This,” she tapped her fingers against painfully
pale skin, “this is where your mind thinks the joint is. Are you going
to disagree with your own mind?”
Was she being deliberately cryptic?
The frown looked like it might become a permanent fixture. “You’re telling
me not to argue with my own mind. You want me to trust my instincts?”
”Right again, brother.”
”But my instincts were wrong this time.”
so many other times…
”No, they answered my request perfectly.
They weren’t right physically, but they gave a good indication of what
your subconscious is thinking. It’s not always easy to separate what you
perceive physically,” she ran her thumb along a bacta bandage on his arm,
“from what’s really going on in your head.”
”I sense a lesson coming, sister…”
She shrugged. “Naturally. So, on instinct,
what do you think? Are you still tainted by your time with Palpatine?”
”Leia…” He didn’t know how to explain
this. The air conditioning continued to humm away to an uneasy silence.
“Leia, moving between the Darkside and the Lightside isn’t that… simple.
It’s not a switch you flick, otherwise I think our father would have come
back sooner. It’s not even a conscious decision….oh.” Wasn’t this what
she was trying to tell him? Not to trust conscious reasoning because it
couldn’t always tell you what was going on in your mind? He was lecturing
her with her own lessons.
”Exactly,” she smiled, “So what do
your instincts tell you?”
He made the effort of breathing steadily,
removing himself from conscious thought and -
”No, I’m not on the Darkside.” He heard
the relief, the surprise in his own voice.
She let out a heavy breath, “I know.
Father did a… probe whilst you were sleeping. He’s certain, I just wanted
to be sure you are too.” She smiled, and he felt emotions wash over him
and between them. He lay back for a moment, just revelling in the clean
feeling of the Force flowing easily through him.
”Is there something else about my arm
or have you become attached to it?” The smile tugged at the corners of
She raised both eyebrows. “You’ve been
around Han too much, little brother.” She lifted his hand into the
light, bent it slightly back towards him, and removed her fingers. “You
He squinted, and there was a line where
her fingers had been, a natural crease in his skin. “What is it?”
”That,” she said, “is where the joint
of your arm used to be, when you were a baby.” She continued before
he could question, “You see, your mind remembers even when you’ve changed
He closed his eyes, “I get it.”
”My mind remembers how I used to be,
before… Palpatine. So there’s no reason not to be that same person, if
my mind knows how.”
She smiled, kissed him on the forehead.
“Nearly, but not quite, little brother. There’s a few things worth taking
with you from all this, I think.”
”Like the moral of the fairytale?”
”You’re going to make a great Jedi,
Luke.” She winked and smiled, warm and bright and lighting up the room.
“Father was… proud of you. Or maybe stunned. What you did was stupid but
brave.” She wagged a finger at him, “You have a great power Luke. It made
you prey to Palpatine and it’ll make you prey again, but you have this
gift and you’re going to use it.”
He mock saluted her, “Yes, Ma’am.”
Then he sobered, “So, father is… he’s…”
”He’s not Darth Vader anymore. I still
can’t believe I’m saying this, but arguing with myself was beginning to
give me chronic migraines so I gave in and accepted it. Anakin Skywalker
is back. It’s not over yet but… it’s not a journey you’re going to have
to take alone.”
He let himself slump back to the pillows,
almost content as long as he didn’t let the memories swim back up within
“I better finish these,” she said.
He looked up and saw her running her thumb along the edge of a bacta patch
on the side of his left hand. She undid the bandage, put it aside and -
”When did I get that?” he murmured.
The wound was ugly and open, it looked almost fresh but that felt… wrong.
Something was tingling in the back of his mind; something was itching its
way through his brain.
”Huh? I don’t know, from the glass,
He shook his head; that wasn’t right.
The memory was knocking for entry and
he let it in. Palpatine watching as Luke tried to stop the flow of blood
from his arm, and then the skin repairing when he touched it…
Luke looked wide-eyed. "He didn't heal
it. He just repaired it." Somehow, the words seemed to echo around
his skull. He looked owlishly at his sister, blue eyes clear and comprehending.
"The Darkside doesn't heal. It can't." It was equivalent to respraying
over a dent in hull plates; it didn’t fix the problem, just masked it.
Which meant… which meant that maybe ‘Darth Vader’ had never been
able to heal himself because he was using the Darkside. Maybe it wasn’t
that it couldn’t be fixed, but that he was doing it the wrong way…
”Luke, you’re not making any sense.”
Leia was shaking him lightly, looking concerned.
”I know, I’m sorry.” How could he explain
it to her? “Get father.”
”Are you all right? Do you need the
”I’m fine, just… get father, Leia.”
His gaze bore into her as she turned
with a pinched expression of confusion and left the room. Luke pushed backed
the silken sheets, sighing at the cool air brushing his skin under sleep
trousers. Wincing only a little, he managed to persuade and bend his body
into a kneeling meditative pose before the door opened and his father entered.
His father, only dressed like Darth Vader. Luke could shed the dark clothing
Palpatine had had him wear. His father could not.
Not yet, anyway.
He had crossed the room in three quick
steps, Leia hanging back nervously before pacing forward restlessly. Snatches
of memories came back to him from the past few days in his healing trance.
That dark mask by his side, fingertips on his temple, gloved hands wiping
a cloth over his forehead; strangely homely memories that were testament
to the change from Darth Vader to Anakin Skywalker.
”Luke?” The word held greeting, relief,
trepidation and annoyance in unequal amounts. He smiled as warmly as he
could manage. “What are you doing?” Bass tones rumbled in admonishment,
the order to get back in bed clear from the inclination of his mask and
firm hands on his hips. He stomach performed churning loop-de-loops when
he recognised it as Leia’s expression of annoyance.
Luke started to open his mouth to explain
what was going on, but realised that he couldn’t form adequate words to
explain it. Instead, he opened himself freely to the Force bond they had
used infrequently. He let explanation flow between them, the indrawn gasp
around respirator all he needed to hear to know his father understood.
Suddenly, the import of what he wanted to try hit him, of what it would
mean for Anakin Skywalker to shed the armour…. and what it would mean to
him to have his long-dreamed-of father here.
He was broken from his dreaming by
the sharp word. He frowned, “No?”
His father stalked forward, the black
of his suit merging with the dark decoration of the huge room. Luke wanted
to shiver, thinking of the circumstances under which Lord Vader had expected
to see his son in this room.
”It’s too much. You’re not well and
there’s no reason to think it would work.” His father stated, the voice
”It will work. I know it will,”
he insisted. “I can heal you.”
He hesitated, just a little. Leia was
frowning in the background. “Later, perhaps. Not now.” He took a step forward,
purposeful. Luke knew the intent was to get him back down and in bed and,
he had to admit, his ribs were beginning to ache fiercely.
”It has to be now," he struggled to
explain, “It has to be. I think… maybe with all the healing energy you’ve
used on me, it’s enhanced my own. I don’t know if it would work at any
He could almost sense the frown. There
wasn’t any logical reasoning for what he was saying, it was just a gut
feeling, but Luke had survived three years on the run by trusting gut feelings.
Maybe his father acknowledged that, because he gave a frustrated sigh.
The Force was swelling around them,
between them, bouncing back from father to son and growing. “I’m fine and
I think we should do this now. It seems… right,” he said to the
unanswered question. “You should sit.”
Anakin delayed a few seconds before
nodding and sitting. This close… this close to Darth Vader it still made
him want to shiver or bolt from the room. Old memories, old fears; not
easily banished after three years running from the man who used to wear
that armour. He quashed those feelings viciously, and reached out his hand.
”Do you trust me?” He saw a muscle
in Leia’s cheek twitch at that.
Anakin did not hesitate. “Trust you
to look after yourself after you nearly threw your life away to kill Palpatine?
Absolutely not.” His voice softened, “Trust you to stubbornly follow your
own feelings regardless? Yes.” It was almost... affectionate.
”I’m usually right.”
”That’s the only reason I’m sitting
”Then let me do this…” Luke closed
his eyes with a smile on his lips. The Force energy tangled around his
fingers again, potent. It reached out gingerly under Luke's guidance, seeking
the bond between them that had been proven to exist and opening it fully.
He heard his father hold his breath, helpless against apprehension and...
He reached beyond the link, healing
energy engulfing the man in his mind’s eye. It hit his father in a wall
of blinding light, a sheet of energy. Then it coalesced to become more
Heart. Throat. Head. Lungs.
They both gasped as the sheer Force
of it ripped through him, Luke's hands trembling where they lay. Scar tissue,
the hasty repair job of a broken body, became the fresh, healed tissue
as alveoli smoothed and spread, weaving back together. Tattered heart muscle
reformed, fibres spreading and connecting again. Then he directed it to
his head, unused and withered neural tissue remembering how to work the
lungs, the heart again. Connections sprang back, soothed and renewed.
Through that natural bond he felt what
his father felt. His throat felt balmed, feelings of returning health bobbing
in the Force like a cork in a river of the finest, richest wine.
Minutes, maybe hours, passed and when
it dissipated, his head was sagging against his chest. He breathed unsteadily
and toppled forwards dizzily. Strong, black clad arms caught him and lowered
him to the bed. Everything swam, everything sang, suddenly the air conditioning
was humming contentedly in time to his breathing.
”Hmmm…?” He struggled around a stuffy,
too-large tongue, exhausted. “Did it work…?”
”Luke, you healed me.”
Weary beyond consciousness, he dropped
like a dead weight towards sleep. “You’re welcome.” Sleep beckoned, and
it was cool and welcome and there was no room for Darkness.
E p i l o g u e
12 months later…
let out a loud whoop as the speeder gunned past his opponents, the tang
of fuel and sweat hitting the back of his throat and lifting his cry higher,
louder. “ ‘Greatest starpilot in the galaxy’?” he yelled into the comlink
attacked to his collar. Sand and grit came up from under the engines, drying
his lips, “You having an off day or just getting old?”
The look of indignant rage on Anakin
Skywalker’s face when Luke whipped his head around to see him was enough
to make him start laughing again. Anakin, a shock of blonde regrowth on
his head and a scowl worthy of a hutt, yelled right back at his son, “I
thought I’d go easy on you, take pity on those less gifted than I, but
Luke felt the tug in the Force before
the accelerator cut off and Anakin’s speeder shot past his, followed by
Luke's shout of cheat! as he tore up the Tatooine wastes.
Up there, somewhere on the ridge, Acting
Chancellor Leia Organa Solo was watching with a wide smile on her face.
She was thinking, remembering, lapping up the last minutes of a sorely
needed vacation from holding together the remnants of Alliance and Empire
under the name of The Republic. Not the Old Republic, or even the New Republic.
Just the Republic; hoping the Empire would one day just be a momentary
blight in the Republic’s long history. The merge hadn’t proven easy, but
she’d never thought it would.
She was thinking whilst she watched
the race ripping up the sands below her, admitting that sometimes, just
sometimes, she wished her father had stayed in a place of command after
Palpatine’s death. Maybe even holding the Empire together under the guise
of Darth Vader. That wish, she knew, was just a manifestation of how weary
she sometimes felt. But Anakin Skywalker was always there, always offering
help, advice and support after the mysterious ‘death’ of Darth Vader and
his ‘rescue’ from an ‘Imperial prison’ by his Jedi son. She smiled at the
story they had given. Not quite the truth, not quite a lie. Most eagerly
took up that particular ‘fairytale’ when they heard it and few knew the
extra details that were required to get the full picture.
She lifted her head to the sky and
Tatoo 1 and 2 screaming over the horizon, to the sound of repulsors hammering
the ground as a group of ten x-wings and a very familiar, very sorely missed
Corellian freighter eclipsed the light. For a minute she mulled over mixed
feelings of happiness at seeing Han return from a ‘special’ mission for
her, and resignation at having to leave Tatooine behind to go back to Coruscant.
The shadows of the ships waved and
rippled as they shot over her head, drawing strands of hair towards the
Another loud cry drifted upwards with
the heat waves, Luke's laughter at drawing level with his father again.
He was the slighter of the two, but he lost no control over the heavy speeder
for it. Especially, she noted, now he had completed his Jedi training with
his father. Their father had insisted Luke take the title of Jedi Knight
after his defeat of Palpatine, but Luke had been unsure and, they both
agreed, his training had neglected some of the less combat-orientated aspects
of being a Jedi. And… when they had travelled to Dagobah to consult Master
Yoda they had found only the ghost of the Jedi Master, who had given his
blessing to their father continuing the training.
Nobody had been surprised when they
had both chosen Tatooine for recuperation and, eventually, that training.
Leia had been here when Anakin had
declared unilaterally that Luke was fully trained, adding with a proud
grin that he didn’t think his ego could take training the boy anymore,
as it frequently left him nursing a bruised backside from being knocked
to the ground whilst duelling. Luke had give a sunny smile and shrugged,
backed by a dusky sunset.
A fairytale ending indeed…
Well, not yet, but soon…
They crossed the finish line – an outcropping
of rock that had eroded in the middle to make twin pinnacles – together
in a dead heat and Leia started down the crumbling path after them even
as Luke's shout of surprise reached her as the x-wings made another pass
and settled to the ground.
”Father?” Luke narrowed his eyes but
the taller Skywalker shrugged.
”Nothing to do with me.”
The ships settled with a final cough
of hot dust into the atmosphere and Luke peeled the goggles off his face
and scrubbed at the grime collected on his face from the ride with an equally
dirty sleeve. He jumped from the speeder saddle and ran for the ships as
the nearest cockpit cracked open and a figure jumped to the ground and
tore the helmet off.
”Wedge!” Luke threw himself into the
welcome like a bug hitting the screen of a podracer going through Beggars
Canyon. Both men nearly barrelled to the floor with the enthusiastic greeting
before a second figure joined them, Luke greeting Han with a smile as wide
as the Dune Sea.
”Luke, it’s been… ages…” Wedge
grinned and shook a mop of brown hair free of desert dust.
”Longer than that,” Luke agreed. Anakin
walked up behind them, arms folded over his chest, a quiet grin on his
face. He watched on whilst they greeted the others, some his son appeared
to know, others he didn’t but greeted with enthusiasm. Leia appeared at
his side and winked. He raised a querying eyebrow.
”Just watch,” she whispered.
”What are you guys doing out here in
the backend of nowhere anyway?” Luke finally asked.
Wedge slapped him on the back, Han
laughed. “Well we didn’t come out here for the nightlife, kid,” Han grinned.
Luke managed to both laugh and look
confused. “What then?”
”Wait here.” Wedge winked and leapt
up to the cockpit of his x-wing, he rooted around inside whilst Luke raked
sandy fingers through his hair. He dropped back down and threw a dusty,
long unused helmet into his hands. He recognised it immediately, of course.
After all, a pilot’s helmet is the only thing standing between them and
Luke looked up, wide-eyed. ”Wedge…?”
Han stepped forward and slapped him
on the back as Leia spoke from behind them all, trying to speak with an
official voice around her own smile, “Commander Skywalker? On behalf of
the Republic Navy, I’d like to reinstate your rank. The Republic is in
need of good pilots.”
That was certainly true, Anakin thought.
Despite their best efforts and the use of Darth Vader’s connections and
Imperial secrets, many corrupt members of the old Empire had decided war
was preferable to peace. Especially those who had been near the top of
the command ladder.
”And if you’ve stopped convalescing
in the desert, Rogue Squadron wouldn’t mind having its commander back.”
Wedge grinned. Luke just looked down abashed at the helmet in his hands.
”I… Wedge, are you sure? I know you
were given command when…”
”I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t, Luke.
We’ve lost a lot of pilots, but we’ve gained some new aces too. And...
I try, but there’s no one like Luke Skywalker for getting his squadron
into unhealthy raucous good fun.”
Luke grinned, then tried to school
his face into something more Jedi-like. Anakin almost felt his emotions
cool palpably. “I’m supposed to be a Jedi now.” Luke coughed. “I don’t
A heavy hand settled on his shoulder,
warmth and encouragement spreading between Luke and Anakin. “The old Order
might have objected, Luke, but the old Order is gone. If we’re going to
rebuild the Jedi, maybe following their rules to the letter isn’t such
a good idea. I don’t see how it would do any harm and I for one am not
ready to start training any new students yet. Finishing off your training
was one thing… starting with a whole bunch of new students, that’s something
else. In time, yes definitely, but for now…” He didn’t say it, but Anakin
knew Luke would always be happiest in the cockpit. He was a Jedi in his
head and a pilot in his heart. Just like his father.
Luke nodded, closed his eyes and smiled.
“All right, I accept but…”
Wedge narrowed his eyes, the same expression
he got whenever Luke was about to give out a really stupidly brave mission
plan. It brought back good memories. “But?”
”You’ve only got ten ships here. With
me that makes eleven…” He looked questionably at his friend.
Wedge nodded. “Right, we need another
Luke grinned, again, and waved his
hand theatrically. “Well, I think I’ve found him. Father?”
It managed to take Anakin by surprise,
and it also managed to get him mimicking his son’s wide smile. “Luke, they
might not want me…”
Wedge slapped him on the arm, a friendly
gesture he hadn’t known in… years. It shook him more than he expected.
“Want you? If you’ve even half the skill Luke used to boast about,
you're welcome in this squadron.”
How to tell them… How to tell Wedge
Antilles he just offered to fly on the same side as Darth Vader? And then…
looking into the other man’s eyes, he realised he didn’t have to. Wedge
knew, and had accepted, whether from cajoling from Solo or respect for
his son, Anakin didn’t know but suddenly, the future was bright.
”Thank you,” he almost whispered. “I’d
Solo was embracing his wife with a
fierce, possessive hug, his chin resting on the top of her head, “Well,
now that’s sorted, anybody fancy trying Mos Eisley for a celebratory drink?”
”I thought you weren’t here for the
nightlife, Han.” Luke’s eyes were laughing.
Han snorted, “Got me there, kid. But
the liquor stalls are okay, and I need a stiff drink before we go ferret
out Isard.” Leia was rolling her eyes, the hot sunshine making her sleepy.
Or maybe it was just being this close to Han that made everything seem...
Anakin listened to the idle conversation,
the good-natured banter of old friends. He followed when the suns began
to set and everyone, Rogue Squadron, General Solo and Chancellor Organa
Solo, headed for the Falcon. His lips pursed in curiosity, and then
his eyes widened in recognition as he spotted one member of the Rogues
lingering back and watching the suns sink. Red-gold wisps of hair stuck
out from a tight plait.
He nearly approached her, nearly demanded
what Mara Jade thought she was doing in Rogue Squadron. And then… sitting
with Luke under the green glow of a nightlight, his eyes half-glazed as
he recounts those months with Palpatine. Talking about his first conscious
moment, when Mara Jade was in the room, saying, “It’s strange. She brought
me there, but Palpatine got rid of her quickly. Too quickly, maybe. I don’t
know why, but she was the only one that ever seemed like she might give
a damn about what was happening…and I can’t seem to hate her for it.”
Mara turned to him. She might have
seen the recognition there, but she just winked and turned to follow the
rapidly disappearing group into the freighter.
Well, he supposed, everyone deserves
a change to turn their life about.
He picked up pace, crossing a short
distance of desert cooling in the welcome arms of a Tatooine night to stand
next to his son. And he would have sworn that standing up on the ridge
above them, backed by the sunken twin suns of his home world, the eerily
blue-washed figures of Masters Jinn, Kenobi and Yoda were smiling. And
* * * *
Acknowledgements and Thanks.
I can’t believe I managed to finish
this, but now I have there’s some people I need to wholeheartedly thank.
Achika Thanks for
being supportive, ever-enthusiastic and greeting every chapter with a grin.
She’s the one that wanted all that darkness, folks.
supportive, always full of colourful ways of stroking my ego. Cheers babe.
Cathy/Rabbit Better than
Redone for the fab beta
For writing better than I do.