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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

"You've 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 changing."

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."

"Captain Solo-"

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 what 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-"

"-he jumped-"

"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 at Vader.

"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."

"He 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? 

"So, why?"

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?"

"No."

He sat back with a slightly smug grin, "Go on."

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.

"Solo-"

"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. "You've changed."

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, "You what?"

"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?"

"Absolutely."

"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 right now."

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 you're ready."

"Captain Solo-"

"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. 

"Han?" 

They both turned at Leia's shaking voice and saw her enter the cockpit, a hand on her forehead.

"What's wrong?"

"What's wrong?"

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 fashion. "Luke?"

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, "Hello Mon."

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 that Mon."

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 her face.

"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." 

"Princess-"

"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?" Mon asked. 

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 temper.

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 the shuttle..."

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, words quiet.

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 trouble sleeping?"

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 through her. 

Mon closed her eyes and shook her head. 

"Mon..."

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 dominating.

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 woman.

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. 

"She's dead.”

* * * *

"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 attack.

"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 himself.

"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 off her. 

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 e n

The 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. "Nightmares?"

"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 mattered. 

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.

"Undercut?"

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 from.

"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.

"What?"

"I don't think you should call him that anymore," Han whispered. 

"Call him what?" Her breath came in little ice clouds.

"Vader."

She couldn’t look at him, "Well what do you expect me to call him? Father?" She trembled and he held her tight.

"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?"

"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..."

"What?"

"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."

She nodded.

"He's hurt us all. Badly. And I'm not saying forgive... just..."

"Put it aside?"

"Right." 

She studied her own hands in his, "I'll try."

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, flyboy.”
 
 

C h a p t e r   F o u r t e e n

The 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 that, 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. 

No more.

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 greed. 

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 open.

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 in, Captain.”

”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 door.

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 he deserved.

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 of pride.

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, Anakin.” 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.

”Yes, Master.” 

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 out.//

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 plain stubborn.”

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.

"Fool."

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, Palpatine cackled.
 

C h a p t e r   F i f t e e n

His 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 turmoil. 

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 son.

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 hindering him.

Luke came on again, balance regained. Physically, they were equally matched. He wouldn’t win this one with brute force.

”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?!”

”No, Luke-”

”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 your feelings'

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 were you?!"

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?" 

//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, 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. 

//Luke?//

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. That 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 them both.

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 by armour. 

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, perhaps.

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.

"Leia!" 

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 his son.

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. Hope. Pride.

Love. 

The boy staggered but his face lit despite the shivering, despite the snow buffeting them. 

//Father?//

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.

Luke smiled. 

"Skywalker!"

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? 

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 smiled.

"Skywalker!"

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.

//Calm.//

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?

No. 

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. 

Perhaps. 

--... 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 deception.

Another.

//Luke?//

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 he 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. 

"Luke?" 

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 snow, unlit. 

Leia was staring in horror; he could feel it rolling off her as she jumped to her feet and tugged at his arm. "Luke! No!"

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 Light. 

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.

//Father! Now!//

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

The 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 water. 

The Emperor’s guards. Took them long enough.

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.

”Han?” 

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 quiet. 

”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 ‘round.” 

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 have to-“

”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 fire. 

”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.

”Where?”

”My castle…”

”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. 

”Good morning.” 

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? “Yeah.”

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 bacta treatments.” 

”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?”

”Nothing.”

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, too.” 

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. 

”Luke…”

”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, bear 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. 

”Leia…?”

”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 like this?//

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 castle.”… --

”’Father’s’ castle. As in our father’s?” 

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 the frigate.

”Yes.”

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 on it. 

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 quashed quickly.

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 was I?”

”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.

”Leia…?”

”Yes?”

”Thank you.”

There was more silence. He’d thought she was just thinking, but he caught the choked sobs, muffled by his skin. “Leia?” 

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 that 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 ending.” 

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.”

”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.”

”Huh?”

She grinned wickedly and snatched his hand - his left hand - and held it at the wrist.

”Leia…”

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?”

”Yes!” 

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-

”There.” 

”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.” And 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.”

”No?”

”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 his mouth. 

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 see that?”

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 physically.”

He closed his eyes, “I get it.”

”You do?”

”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 biting distance. 

“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, maybe?”

He shook his head; that wasn’t right. “No.”

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 medic?”

”I’m fine, just… get father, Leia.”

”Luke…”

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. 

”No.” 

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 of command. 

”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 other time.” 

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 here.”

”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... hope? 

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 defined. 

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. 

”Luke?”

”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…

Luke 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 now…” 

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 sky. 
 

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 repeated concussion. 

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 think…”

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 member.”

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 be honoured.” 

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... contented. 

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 nodding approvingly.

* * * *

Fin.




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.

Brigantia  Always supportive, always full of colourful ways of stroking my ego. Cheers babe.

Cathy/Rabbit Better than sugar. 

Redone for the fab beta and support

and Starr  For writing better than I do.

 


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