Title: The Bitter Glass
Disclaimer: I do not own Vader, Luke, Leia, Padme or any other Star Wars charecters. I only play in Lucas' world.
Summary: Padme wakes up after 20 years to find a very
different galaxy than the one she remembers. Her husband
is dead. Her children are in danger. And Padme must
confront the man that killed everyone she ever
The Bitter Glass
Advancing and retreating, shimmering just out of reach.
She tried to ignore it, wanting to slip back into the easy comfort of the darkness. Sometimes bare snatches of memory would reach her, words without sense or meaning.
Ani- No! She could not think of that. She twisted away.
"They live on the moons of Iego, I think. They're the most beautiful creatures in the universe."
She smiled down at the boy. There was something familiar about him, a strange feeling that tugged at the edges of her conciousness. It made her uneasy.
She ignored it.
The scene changed and the boy was older.
"You've grown.", she observed.
"So have you. Grown more beautiful, I mean." He colored in embarassment, tried to cover the compliment. "For a Senator, I mean."
She frowned. Senator? What was that?
The uneasy feeling was back.
The scene changed again.
"I'm in agony! The closer I get to you, the worse it gets. The thought of not being with you-I can't breath."
"I love you.", she said. "I truly..deeply...love you. An-" The name stuck in her throat; she could not say it. She could not remember how. He smiled at her, seeming to understand.
And then he changed again. His hair grew darker, longer. The smile slid from his face, replaced by a look she did not like; a mad, frantic look.
"I am more powerful than the Chancellor. I can overthrow him, and together you and I can rule the galaxy. Make things the way we want them to be!"
The words tore from her throat. "Anakin, you're breaking my heart!"
No. She did not remember.
"I don't know you anymore."
No, she would not think that.
But other names came unbidden, searing across her conciousness.
And then her world erupted into pain.
She felt the strange sensation of flesh, of limbs heavy and awkward, of skin that was tingling from contact. She became aware of voices, sometimes near and sometimes far away. Sometimes the voices would talk to her and she was entranced by the nonsense syllibants.
Eyelids fluttered. Light blinded her. She fought it but the light would not let her go. It urged her. She did not have the strength to resist it.
"Doctor, I think she's regaining conciousness."
She squinted into the brightness. A head leaned over her. Hands touched her wrist, then withdrew. She blinked, opened her mouth to speak. No sound came out. She swallowed, tried again.
"Where?" she managed.
"Shhh, don't try to speak," a voice said. "We removed your breathe tube yesterday but your throat is still swollen." The figure leaned closer, coalesced into a face.
"You're at the Tonoya Medical Centre on Naboo."
She nodded to indicate that she understood.
"You were transferred to our facility twelve years ago. You have been in a coma for the past twenty years."
Coma? She searched her memory. She remembered pain- so much pain! A ripping, tearing sensation, and then something slipped free and she heard a baby's cry.
"Do you remember your name?"
Her name? Did she have a name?
"Padme," she mouthed.
The voiced asked her some more questions but she could not answer, not now.
Padme's eyelids slid shut and she drifted away.
The doctors branded her a medical miracle, a sleeper who had awakened after two decades to a new world. She was expected to make a full recovery. She almost laughed at that. How could she recover? She could not even bear to remember her life. The doctors asked her questions about who she was and she refused to answer. She fiened amnesia and after a few weeks they stopped asking.
The nurses called her a mystery.
"You were brought here one night without even a name. No record, nothing. We know you came from Alderaan and that the royal family itself paid for your care." The nurse who told her all this spoke with the guilty air of someone imparting a great secret. "There was an emergency contact, in case you ever woke up, but it was Bail Organa, and he..." Her voice trailed off.
He was dead, she'd learned. Killed, along with the entire planet in one terrific burst from a space station called the Death Star. So much had changed since the Republic had become an Empire. The Jedi Order was gone. The Senate had been dissolved. The Emperor ruled by fear, crushing all those who opposed him. Those who spoke out against such tyranny were imprisoned or killed, annihilated like the citizens of Alderaan by the Emperor's second, Darth Vader.
This much Padme had gathered from the snippets of conversation that she overheard and the news stories she read on the broadcasts. It only left her hungry to know more. Where was Anakin? Where were her children?
At night, after the nurses had made their rounds, she would sneak on trembling legs across the hall and sit at the computer console, imputing name after name.
Obi-Wan Kenobi: Member of the treasonous Jedi Order, killed by Darth Vader.
Yoda: Jedi Master and member of the Jedi Council. Thought to have been integral in the plot to overthrow the Senate and kill then-Chancellor Palpatine. Missing; presumed killed by Darth Vader.
Name after name, loved ones, friends, family...all dead and destroyed by the Empire, by Darth Vader.
Vader himself was an enigma. He was Sith Lord- a Darksider who had single-handedly slaughtered most of the Jedi. He was second to the Emperor, commander of the entire Fleet, and a master tactician. He was the scourge of the Rebel Alliance and a veteran of the Clone Wars.
And he had killed Anakin.
She had imput the name on the srcond night, unable to keep from seeing the truth any longer.
Anakin Skywalker: member of the treasonous Jedi Council. Died during the Clone Wars, presumed killed by Darth Vader.
Her Anakin was dead.
She remembered the last time she had seen him, felt his words like a knife in her gut.
The Jedi turned against me; Don't you turn against me!
He'd been so lost then, so sunk in Darkness that she could not reach him. He had been manipulated by Palpatine, just as they had all been. And when he had outlived his usefulness, Palpatine had had him killed.
Oh Ani! Padme mourned. My poor, lost love!
Darth Vader had killed him, just as he's killed her friend, Obi-Wan. Padme felt a fierce rush of fury, followed by a sense of loss so great it took her breath away. She stumbled to her room, laid on the bed, and let the tears come.
She did not return to the console for three nights.
The entry for Luke Skywalker was not as long as Vader's but it much more enlightening.
Luke Skywalker: Home planet Tatooine, parentage unknown. Member of the Rebel Alliance. Pilor responsible for the destruction of the Death Star and the loss of 2155 Imperial personnel. Wanted on charges of treason, conspiracy, murder and galactic terrorism.
There was a holo and she enlarged it. The image was jumpy, fuzzy and unfocused. It showed a boy walking
down the corridor of what looked like a space station; a boy in dune-colored trousers and a loose fitting tunic. A boy with blong hair and an open, expressive face. Padme felt her heart catch as she watched him, frozen in time. He looked so like another little boy that she'd met long ago on Tatooine.
Did he know who his father was? Was he a Jedi like Anakin? Is that why he'd joined the Rebels?
Padme felt her eyes cloud with tears but she caught them, replaced the grief with anger.
Anger at the man who had murdered her husband.
Anger at the man who pursued her son.
Anger at the man who poisoned the galaxy.
As Padme's body grew stronger, so too did her resolve to find her children. Luke had been easy. Leia however...
There was no entry for a 'Leia Skywalker' in the database. Nor was there a 'Leia Amidala' or a 'Leia Nabarrie'.
Perhaps they had changed her name. It stood to reason. If her twins were as Force-strong as their father, it made sense to seperate them.
'Leia Kenobi'- no record found.
'Leia Windu'- no record found.
'Leia Jinn'- no record found.
In frustration Padme began to imput names at random, refusing to even entertain the notion that her daughter's given name might have been changed as well.
'Leia Sonola'- no record found.
'Leia Riddici'- no record found.
'Leia Mothma'- no record found.
When she finally hit on it Padme cursed herself for every kind of fool. Bail Organa had been her friend and her supporter in the Senate. And hadn't he told her often enough how much he and his wife longed for a little girl of their own?
Princess Leia Organa, the screen read, Home planet, Alderaan. Adopted daughter of Bail and Brehe Organa. Former Senator for Alderaan, member of the Rebel Alliance. Assumed mastermind behind numerous plots against the Empire, including the infamous attack on the Death Star. Wanted for treason, conspiracy and crimes against the galaxy.
So...Leia was a Rebel too? Did she know her brother? Were they friends?
Padme considered her optioned.
It had now been three months since she'd come out of the coma. She was now fully recovered, except for occasional bouts of weakness. The doctors had cleared her to leave. She had a bit of money left over from her care and nothing to hold her here.
She had to find her children. She had to know them.
But where to start?
The answer was not hard. The image of a blond boy in desert clothes was burned on her brain. Tatooine. She would go to Tatooine.
Tatooine was hotter than she remembered.
The sand was blinding white. The wind chafed her face and sent her short hair flying. The speeders and foot traffic churned up a dust that coated her throat and made her choke. Her emotions were a confusing mixture of grief and elation. Grief for Anakin, who had been a slave here, who had lost his mother here. Elation because she was going to find out about his son.
Padme took a transport to Anchorhead and rented a speeder from there. She was travelling from memory. She had only visited the Lars homestead once but she had come here many times in her dreams. She slowed the speeder, taking in the group of buildings huddled in the shelter of a large outcropping of rock. Some of the outbuildings looked ramshackled, unused and half-buried in sand. That didn't seem right.
She slowed more, approaching the place where Shmi was buried. The grave was there, and beside it, two others. Padme frowned. She stopped the bike and slid to the ground. There were so many memories here. It was here that Anakin had started his decent into darkness. She remembered his flat eyes and toneless voice,
I killed them all. They're like animals and I slaughtered them like animals. I hate them!
How had she been so blind?
She turned away but a voice from behind her made her whirl.
"Stand where you are!"
She froze. A large man stood, half-hidden by a scree of rocks a few feet from the grave markers, and he was holding a blaster on her. Padme's hand twitched for the weapon she'd bought in Mos Eisley but it was in her pack, hanging from it's straps of the speeder bike.
"This is my land," he continued. "You're trespassing here."
Padme held up her hands. "I didn't mean to. I was a-a friend of Owen Lars."
"Owen's dead," the man said, indicating the graves. He stepped out further from the rocks. He was tall, near twice her height, and with the compact frame of a man used to hardship. He wore the loose dune-colored clothing of a farmer but his eyes were hard and the hand that held the blaster on her didn't waver.
"I am Padme. Padme...Skywalker." She had never called herself by her husband's name in life and she felt a thrill of satisfaction in using it now that he was dead. "I'm looking for a boy who used to live her," she continued.
"Skywalker, eh?" The gun lowered fractionally. "You related to Shmi?"
"I was her son's wife."
"You must be Luke's mother then," he said, dropping his arm and holstering his blaster. "We thought you were dead."
Padme winced but ignored the question implicit in that comment. "You know Luke?"
"Yeah. Him and my son Bigg's were friends. I'm Wiggin Darklighter." He stepped forward, his large hand engulfing her own.
"Do you know where Luke is now?"
Darklighter's face hardened. "He ran off a year after Biggs did on some fool mission to save the galaxy. Haven't heard from either of them since."
Padme sighed, disappointed. "What about Obi-Wan Kenobi?"
"Old Ben Kenobi?" The man's eyes narrowed. "That old crackpot lived up in the hills not far from here."
"Can you show me?" Padme asked eagerly.
Darklighter shook his head. "I got better things to do then galavant around the desert." Padme began to protest but he cut her off. "I'll draw you a map. But not tonight. Too close to dark, raiders will be out. You'll stay here tonight."
And with that he turned and walked toward the house.
Padme followed, walking the bike to the nearest outbuilding and securing it inside. She shouldered her pack and went into the house.
The house was as small as she remembered it; clean, but with the air of a space that had not been used in some time. There were two bedrooms, and Wiggin directed her to the smaller of the two. She went inside and shut the door, setting down her pack and surveying the room.
Like the house, it was small. Cramped, like a child's bedroom. A child...had this been her son's room?
Padme crossed to the dresser and opened the drawers, eager for any sign of her child. But there was nothing- nothing in the dresser, or the closet, or the bedside table. Everyhting had been emptied out. Padme sighed and sank down onto the bed, and rolled onto her back, staring at the ceiling overhead.
How many times had her son done this, gazed at the ceiling and wished it was the sky? Had he dreamed of being a pilot like his father? Had he longed to travel to the stars?
So many questions, and all without answers.
Padme sighed again and rolled toward the wall. A glint of metal caught her eye and she reached out, curious. Tucked between the mattress and the wall was a small metal object. She pulled it out and exaimined the minute curves and angles of the tiny toy ship.
She smiled and clutched the toy to her breast, closing her eyes and imagining a little blond boy playing pilot. She felt suddenly filled with hope.
Some questions had answers after all.
Wiggen Darklighter was a man of his word. When Padme woke the next morning she found a sheet of plasticeen etched with the markings of a map. Padme ate from the dry rations she'd bought in town and set out for Obi-Wan's house on her speeder.
The "house" was really a cave in the cliffside and Padme landed her bike in the ravine, climbing to an entrance choked with rocks and debris.
Inside was dark and spare. No man had disturbed it, nor had any animal made the cave its den. It was as though some of Obi-Wan's power still lingered here, protecting this place.
Padme looked around, noting the bare pallet on one wall and the trunk opposite. She moved to open the trunk. There was not a lot inside; a spare robe, a blanket, a bag with some coins inside.
That was all that was left of a Jedi's life.
Padme took the rough brown robe out of the trunk and sat with it in her lap, remembering Anakin's wry-humored teacher. He had died three years ago- around the same time that the Death Star had been destroyed. She wondered if he had helped Luke do it, if he had trained her son the same way he'd trained Anakin.
It's all Obi-Wan's fault. He's jealous! He's holding me back!
That memory, in this place...it was too much. Padme buried her face into the brown cloth and cried.
Padme had no contacts on Tatooine. It might be the closest inhabited world to Naboo but it was light years away as far as diplomatic connection was concerned. Still, she was a politician born and bred, and that meant knowing the right people to talk to. And those people directed her to the Blockhouse, a seedy cantina full of space pirates and hotshots.
A week later she was meeting with a freighter captain named Raben.
Raben and his ship, the Ebon Wing, had been contracted to ferry supplied from the the planet of Rix to the Imperial base on Marantha. But strangly, the supplies always turned up mysteriously short. It wasn't by a lot, but a careful eye could see that somewhere between Rix and Marantha a little bit was skimmed off the top. Captain Raben was a smuggler.
And Padme had a good idea just where the smuggled goods were going.
She'd approached his navigator, a taciturn Mon Calimari, and asked for a meeting to discuss "mutual interests". They had agreed and she sat now, back to the bar, determines to get off this barren world and find her children.
After some dancing around the topic Padme came to the point. "I want you to take me to the base."
"What base?" Raben asked innocently.
"You know what I'm talking about," Padme answered. "I can pay."
"You assume I'm for sale."
Padme leaned back. Not just a smuggler then. A true believer.
"Look, I need to get to the base. I have...information."
Raben's eyes took on a spark of interest. "What kind of information?"
"The kind that can't be shared."
Now that got his attention. "Who sent you?"
Padme took a wild guess. "Bail Organa."
She saw his eyes narrow and thought for one breathless moment that she'd made a mistake. A lot of human races looked the same, but Captain Raben had the dark looks and the slightly tilted eyes of and Alderaani.
"How do you know Lord Organa?" he asked fianlly. Padme breathed out a sigh of relief and answered with the truth.
"We served together in the Senate."
Raben's face relaxed. He gave her a nod. "All right. Tomorrow, noon, hanger three. Don't be late."
The Ebon Wing was a large freighter, but Raben and Jaxson, the Mon Calimari, were the only sentients on board. A half dozen droids rounded out the crew.
Padme was ordered to stay in her quarters until after they had taken aboard their freight on Rix. Jaxson did not trust her, and his open hostility was a little hard to take. Raben himself was riding the fence. He wouldn't tell her the location of the base. She wouldn't tell him why she wanted to find it so badly. They had reached an uneasy understanding.
Padme knew their understanding would fall to peices if she was found here. But curiousity had got the better of her and she'd had to come down and see first-hand what it was Raben and Jaxson risked their lives for.
She stood in the cargo hold, amongst hundereds of boxes. Lashed together, stacked against the walls, row after row of small white boxes. They were too small to be weapons. Food perhaps, and maybe gear as well. She went to the nearest box and pried it open. It wasn't food. It was a blanket. Padme frowned. So, the captain and the navigator risked Imperial justice for blankets?
Battles are won on trifles. Obi-Wan's words came back to her.
Padme smiled at the memory of Obi-Wan's chagrined face as they stood in the Palace on Naboo and discussed Jar-Jar's role in the battle with the Trade Federation.
Her eyes travelled down the hanger, taking in a battered Y-Wing secured by docking clamps in the corner. An even more ancient astromech sat beside it, apparently in sleep mode.
The astromech made her think of Artoo. She wondered if he was still functioning. Were he and Threepio-
"What are you doing here?"
She jumped, spinning guiltily. Jaxson stood behind her, huge eyes narrowed and arms crossed in front of him.
"I-" she began. She felt the ship shift beneath her feet. "We're dropping out of hyperspace."
The Mon Calimari opened his mouth to answer but his comm cracked on. "Hey Jax, get your fishy ass up here and help me navigate this thing."
Jaxson glared at her as though daring her to say anything. He made his way to the bridge and Padme followed.
"Something's wrong," Raben was saying when she entered. "There's a system-wide communications blackout." Padme looked out the viewport. The ship had come to a stop outside a system she did not recognize.
"Why would the Rebels be jamming the comms?" Padme asked.
Jaxson gave her a sour look. "They aren't," he answered. "The Imps are. It means they've found the base."
He glared at her accusingly and Padme felt her heart turning over. Her children could be on that base!
"Can we get closer?"
"Not without being spotted. It's no good, Skywalker. We've got to leave."
"No!" She'd spent too much time getting here. She couldn't leave, not now that she was so close!
"Jaxson, come about," Raben said, ignoring her outburst. "Prepare to jump."
"Wait!" Padme pleaded. "I have to get down there." An idea came to her. "The Y-Wing, the one in your hold- I'll buy it!"
"That piece of trash?"
"I'll give you five thousand for the ship and the astromech."
Jaxson harrumphed. "It's worth twice that."
She turned to Captain Raben, the desperation clear on her face. "Please."
He shrugged. "It's your funeral."
Padme fished out the last of her credit chits and threw them into the captain's lap; then she whirled and ran toward the cargo bay.
Within minutes she had retrieved her bag and loaded the astromech, an old R-8, into the navigator position. She slid into the pilot's seat and the droid released the docking clamps. Captain Raben's voice crackled through the comm in her helmet.
"I'm transmitting the coordinates of the base to you, as well as the passwords and all Areight's access codes. Good luck."
The hanger door slid open and they glided into space. Behind them the frieghter wheeled, and then it blurred into hyperspace.
The base was under attack.
Star Destroyers blockaded the sixth planet of the Hoth system, and Padme could only stare at the gargantuan ships hanging against the white expanse of the ice world.
"Areight, can you hide us in the moon's shadow?" The droid hooted and carried out her order.
The Rebels had turned their ion cannons on the nearest ships, trying to punch a hole through the blockade. As she watched a transport lifted from the surface and broke through the atmosphere. Two X-wing fighters flew before it, laying down cover fire and engaging the fighters that broke from the Star Destroyers to attack. The transport broke free. It shot past her hiding place and jumped into hyperspace.
A second transport followed. Then a third. Padme watched them fight through the Imperial blockade, her heart lifting with each ship that burst past her.
The Star Destroyers did not pursue. What were they waiting for?
As though in answer one last ship broke orbit. It wasn't a freighter; its configuration was flatter, shaped more like a racer than a cargo ship. Imperial fighters formed up, firing on the ship as it raced past the Star Destroyers. The Rebel ship danced away, twisting to avoid the laser blasts streaking past. The Destroyers wheeled, following.
"Follow that last ship, Areight. And don't get us too close to those fighters."
They followed behind the last Destroyer, lagging just out of sensor range. An asteroid field loomed ahead. The Rebel ship darted into it, followed by a dozen Imperial fighters. There was a flash of light as one of them collided with an asteroid and exploded into peices.
"Is that Rebel pilot crazy?" Padme exclaimed. Areight apparently thought so, because he sheered up, coming off the Star Destroyer's tail.
Unfortuately, a new formation of Imperial fighters had just scrambled out and one of them spotted her, breaking formation and turning on her ship.
"Evasive maunuvers!" Padme shouted as the fighter fired on them. Too late. The laser ripped into the starboard engine and sent them spinning out of control.
"Areight!" Padme screamed. The droid beeped at her, trying to wrestle the craft under control. They rolled end over end until finally Areight managed to even them out. The ship slowed, then stopped. Padme looked around, dizzy and disoriented. They had flown clear of the Star Destroyers and the asteroid field. The fighter was no where to be found; apparently he had thought he'd done enough damage to destroy them. Had he?
The droid brought the systems up onto the screen. The starboard engine was gone and the port engine was down to twenty percent. Worse, they were leaking coolant.
"That's not good," Padme muttered. "Is there anywhere we can go for repairs."
A planet appreared on the screen,a gas giant orbited by a station.
"Take us there."
The pink-tinged clouds of Bespin billowed past the Duraplex windows of the quarters Padme had been assigned to, smudging into smoky purple along the horizon. It was pretty- like living inside a cloud.
She and Areight had managed to limp their ship here to Cloud City. She had left the droid in the hanger bay to help with the repairs while she rested and ate. With any luck they could be under way before morning.
How long would it take the Imperials to get through the asteroid field? Would there be time enough for her to get there before the Rebel ship disappeared?
She would not think of what she would do if the ship had been captured and her only link to her children was gone.
She forced her body to sleep and a few hours later she rose and left her quarters. She felt a twinge of guilt that she planned to leave without paying. She'd given the last of her money to Captain Raben in exchanged for the ship and the droid. There was nothing left to pay for the repairs here. She would just have to pay the station back as soon as she was able.
Padme made her way to the hanger bay. The first set of doors swished open and she entered the near-empty hanger. Her Y-wing sat on docking clamps on the left side of the door and she walked over.
"Areight, are you done yet?" The little astromech hooted at her and she laughed, thinking about how much he sounded like Artoo.
"Well, hurry up, will you?" she told him playfully.
Behind her the outer doors hissed open. Padme turned. Two troopers clad in white walked through. Her eyes widened.
Imperial troops, here?
She tried to duck behind her ship but it was too late; they had already seen her.
"You there! What are you doing? This is a resticted area!"
Restricted? Since when was a public hanger bay restricted?
"I'm...checking on my droid," she said lamely.
"Come with me." The trooper took her roughly by the arm. Her first instinct was to fight but she fought it down. She might get past one but she'd never get past both of them without her blaster, and that was on her ship.
"Lord Vader, we have successfully infiltrated the station," she heard another trooper report from behind her.
Vader? Padme craned her neck to look but the outer door was already swishing closed. The Stormtrooper pulled on her arm.
"Where are you taking me?"
There was no answer. He simply marched her down a corridor to a lift. Three levels down, then the doors opened and she was herded into a detention cell. The trooper thrust her inside and locked the door.
Padme shouted, pounded on the door, but no one came.
She sat on the bed with a sigh, running her fingers through her short hair. She could not get use to it. The nurses had assured her that it would grow back and she couldn't tell them why it made such a difference to her. All her life she'd had long hair. Her earliest memories were of her mother brushing it; long strokes that soothed her and made her fall asleep. Now that, like so much else in her life, was gone.
Padme sighed, wrenching her thoughts from the past.
She paced the cell. Six steps across, six steps back. Six to the bed and six to the 'fresher. Symmetry. She sighed again. This was a waste of time. While she was being held here-without trial, she mentally added- her children were slipping through her fingers. It wasn't fair and she wanted cry in frustration. She wanted to scream until her throat was raw. She wanted to beat the door with her fists until she punched a hole through.
But she did none of those things.
After a few hours a droid brought her a tray of food. She tried to talk to it but it had been programmed not to answer. Later a different driod came to collect the tray and her eating utensils. This one wouldn't talk either.
A few hours later the lights dimmed and a voice announced station's "night". Padme reluctently laid down to sleep but when she finally drifted off she was plagued by half-form images that sent her bolting up from the bed in panic.
The pattern repeated the next night. And the next.
Padme was sure she would go mad if they didn't let her out of here soon.
Dreams haunted her; dreams of Anakin, dreams of her children.She dreamed of suffering and of death. The dreams were so real, and Padme felt frantic with worry. She rubbed tired hands over her face. She had to get out of here!
And, as if by magic, the door to her cell sprang open and she heard a voice over the intercom announce,"Attention, this is Lando Calrissian. Attention. The Empire has taken over the city. I advise everyone to leave before more Imperial troops arrive."
Padme stumbled from her cell. The lift was still operational and she took it back up to the hanger level and followed the corridor towards the bay and her ship. The station had erupted with activity. The citizens of Cloud City had taken Calrissian's warning to heart; they pushed past her, trying to get to the hanger bays. But the bay doors were locked down. Padme pushed past the crowd to get to the door.
"Areight. Areight!" She heard the hoot of an astromech. She turned. But it wasn't Areight...
"Artoo?" The droid rolled out of sight, pursued by a contingent of Stormtroopers. Padme ducked into a doorway as they past. The doors slid shut behind her and she looked around.
She was in a control room. And it was empty.
Padme rushed forward. There were banks of monitors and control panels on each wall and she began scanning them, trying to find the door release and the docking clamp controls. The monitor to her right flashed and she looked up. A Wookie was in a fire-fight with a group of Stormtroopers. She took in the strangeness of the scene for a moment before going back to her task.
There! She pressed the button to release the lock on the door. Now for the docking clamps...
She crossed the room, scanning the controls until a monitor to her right caught her eye. She looked up and froze. A black-clad figure stood with a lightsaber flickering before him. And in front of him...
She saw her son dart forward and engage the dark figure of Darth Vader. For a moment they looked evenly matched. But then Vader parried, a crashing blow that nearly sent Luke to the ground. Vader was stronger. He was driving Luke back, back towards a gantry.
Padme felt her heart drop through the floor. Darth Vader was about to kill her son!
No! Not if she could help it.
She found the docking clamp control and punched it, pausing only to note the location of the dueling figures before she dashed out of the control room and into the docking bay.
"Areight!" she shouted. The droid squawked an answer from his place behind the pilot's seat. Padme vaulted into the Y-wing and closed the hatch. Her blaster was where she'd left it and she strapped it on quickly.
"Take us under the city. I want to get up into the core shaft."
The Y-wing lifted off and decended quickly through the cloud cover, coming up underneath the station. The shaft was small, a larger craft would have never made it. As it was they could only drift up, inches from the bulkheads on either side.
"Easy Areight. That's right," she urged the ship on.
The shaft opened up. Padme looked up and saw the gantry high above them.
"Get us under that gantry."
She could see Luke now. He was on the deck, Vader's saber at his throat. Then Luke parried, jumped to his feet, brought his lightsaber around in a wide arc.
Vader met it and in one easy movement cut off her son's hand and sent his weapon flying.
Padme screamed. "Luke!" But even now he was moving, crawling back, edging towards the very end of the gantry.
"You've got to get us closer!" Padme shouted at Areight. The ship drifted up and Padme opened the top hatch.
"Luke!" she cried but the wind tore the word from her mouth and sent it away. She could hear Vader talking, the deep drone of his vocoder unnaturally loud in the tunnel. She could not hear the words but she heard Luke scream, "NO! NO! NO!"
Padme slid from her seat. "Areight, take me as close as you can get." She stood up, balancing precariously on the wing, straining to reach her son.
"Luke!" she called again. And this time he heard her. He looked down at the ship hovering just below him. "Jump!" Padme cried.
He looked back at Vader and Padme turned too. She raised her blaster and pointed it straight at the black-clad Sith.
"Jump, Luke!" she urged. She did not have time to register Darth Vader's shocked reaction as the wind pushed the hair from her face and he caught sight of her. Luke fell gracelessly into the cockpit and Padme holstered the blaster and jumped in behind.
"Areight, get us out of here!" she shouted, closing the hatch. The droid fired thrusters and they rocketed forward, down the shaft and through the narrow opening, into the cloud cover of Bespin.
Padme turned to Luke. The boy was half-unconcious and in-shock. "Father?" he muttered.
"Shh, it's all right, son. I'll get us out of this."
A concussion rocked the ship and she turned. Two Imperial fighters were pursuing them, a shuttle flanking them.
"Areight, break atmosphere. See if we can lose them in space."
The droid brought the ship up and they burst through the clouds into the blackness of space. And right into a waiting Star Destroyer.
"Areight, back up!" she shouted. But the shuttle and the Imperial fighters had already closed the gap behind. There was nowhere to go.
They were trapped.
The Destroyer locked onto them with a tractor beam and Padme watched in horror as they were reeled in. A bay door opened and clamps locked around them. The shuttle and the fighters landed and then the doors slid shut, repressurizing the bay.
Padme drew her blaster, determined to fight for her son's life.
The cockpit hatch was opened. She fired. The trooper fell back. She sprang up and slid down the side of the ship, taking refuge behind the port engine as another trooper leaped forward. She fired her blaster. He ducked away, rolled and came up, firing back. The blast hit her in the shoulder and sent her weapon skittering from suddenly nerveless fingers.
"I ordered that they be taken unharmed!" Vader roared. He stepped forward, dark power lashing out. The offending trooper sunk down, obviously dead. Padme reeled.
She pressed her left hand to the would on her shoulder, fighting to stay concious. She levered herself up, the hull of her ship at her back, standing between her son and the Sith.
Vader stepped forward.
Anakin, help me! Padme thought. She cried out helplessly as she slowly sank to the deck. Vader stepped over her and lifted her son easily from the cockpit.
"Luke," she whispered. And then darkness claimed her.
She drifted on a sea of calm, letting that voice pass over her.
You are so beautiful.
Love has blinded you.
The scene changed and they were back on Mustafar. The red glow of molten rock lit his eyes, glowed in his hair like a million burning embers.
The Jedi betrayed me. Don't you betray me too!
She tried to speak, tried to tell him that she had not, that she loved him and could never betray him. But the words wouldn't come. It felt like an invisible hand was around her throat, sqeezing the life out of her.
Her world burst into flames. She was burning, her hair charred away, the clothing stripped from her body as the fire consumed her.
You were my brother Anakin!
Skin peeled from bone, consumed by the fire. She was burning alive. So much pain, so much...
I HATE YOU!
No, it was not her that was burning. It was Anakin. He was screaming, burning, bellowing in pain and rage...
No! she cried. NO! ANAKIN!
"Anakin!" The scream tore from her mouth and woke her. Someone was leaning over her and she pushed him away, sliding from the table, eyes wild and that cry still echoing in her ears. Anakin screaming, Anakin in pain...
She forced the dream back. She was not on Mustafar.
She was standing across a table from Darth Vader.
"Luke!" She looked around the room. "What have you done with my son?"
The Sith did not answer. Padme brought her arms up and hugged them to her body. She felt something pulling and looked down at the bacta bandage on her shoulder. Memory returned.
She had been shot.
And Luke had lost his hand.
"Isn't it enough that you murdered his father? Must you take him from me as well?" Padme did not try to keep the bitterness from her voice. Again, the Sith did not answer. He just turned and walked out.
A few moments later a man came to fetch her from the medical bay.
"Please follow me, my lady."
To her surprise, she was not taken to a holding cell, but to a suite of rooms. Padme looked around, confused. She'd stayed in quarters like these sometimes when she travelled as a Senator, but never as a prisoner. She turned to ask her escort why she was being treated like this but he was already gone.
She tried the door. It was locked.
She sank down slowly onto a chair. Where was Luke? Was he safe?
The door hissed open again and Luke entered, flanked by two troopers. He looked shaken and pale but he was alive, alive!
Padme could barely keep herself from throwing her arms around him. She controlled herself with difficulty, remembering that this boy did not know her at all.
"Hello." she said, as the troopers left, locking the door again.
Luke's blue eyes flickered to her and then away, taking in the room at a quick glance. There were shadows in those eyes, she was saddened to see. What could have put them there?
"I am Padme."
" Luke Skywalker." he said.
"Yes, I know."
The Imperial doctors that had tended her had also seen to him. There was a new hand already fastened to his wrist.
"Does it hurt?" she indicated the artificial hand. She knew it was a stupid question but she couldn't help it. Now that he was here she found herself at a loss and yet she was desperate to get him talking.
"Not really." he said.
He had turned to her, was looking at her with a frown on his face.
"You were on Bespin, weren't you? You tried to help me escape."
"I feel...I feel as though I should know you..." he trailed off, his face twisted in concentration.
"Luke," Padme said gently. "What did your Uncle Owen tell you about your mother?"
He looked up at her, shocked understanding on his face. Padme smiled at him, reached out-
Her son twisted from her hands, shaking his head. "No...no. Father?" he whispered. Padme furrowed her brow. She had expected him to be surprised, shocked even, but the terror in his face she had not expected. "Father?"
"Luke, your father is-" She could not finish that sentance because the door slid open.
Darth Vader stepped inside. Luke turned to him, face uncertain, fear and pain clear on his features. "Father, why are you doing this?"
Padme felt all the air go out of the room. Father? My son calls this man father...
"No," she whispered. And then, more strongly, "No!" She stepped in between them, turning to Luke. "I don't know what this...this thing has told you but he is not your father. He murdered your father!" She whirled, trembling with fury, to face Vader. "How dare you! How dare you mock Anakin's life by claiming his son! I will not-"
Vader interrupted her tirade with one word. "Padme."
The voice she did not recognise. It was deep and harsh, pulled down to a basso rumble by the vocoder. But the feeling, the light caress of the Force down her body as he said her name...
She took a step back, shaking her head in disbelief. No. It could not be...
Anakin killed the younglings in the Jedi Temple.
Anakin turned to the Dark Side.
Anakin fought Obi-Wan on Mustafar.
And she saw Anakin in her dreams, in flames...
"Oh..." The air left her lungs. She bowed her head, clutched a hand to her chest as through her beating heart might break free. Her Anakin, reduced to this? It was unthinkable. It could not be. It could not...
She thought for a moment that she would crumple to the floor and weep.
But then rage exploded through her, pure in its simplicity.
"No! NO! I won't believe it! My Anakin would not do the the things you've done! HE COULDN'T!"
She shot forward, screaming at him, pounding on his armored chest in horror. "NO! I DON'T BELIEVE THIS! ANAKIN CAN'T HAVE DONE THESE THINGS! NO!"
She felt Luke pull her back, turn her into his body. "Mother, stop, please. It's no use." She clung to him, fighting for control of herself, fighting the darkness that threatened to overwhelm her. How easy it would be to retreat into that darkness and never come out. How easy it would be to slip into it and let it take her away forever.
Then her son's arms came around her and she realized why she was still alive.
She buried her face in his chest and wept.
"Just go." she heard Luke say. And she felt Vader leave the room.
The stars were black and cold. Black as his father, cold as his heart.
His emotions were complex and far too tangled to sort out, and so Luke skittered away from them, focusing instead on his mother.
Mother... He had so longed for a father, a heroic warrior, a Jedi, a navigator... it hadn't mattered. He'd have taken anything or nothing just to have a father to be proud of, to be proud of him. The desire had been building within him since birth, spilling out until nothing seemed to fill the aching sense of not having the connection that everyone else had.
But mother... that was a deeper longing, and one that he hadn't know existed until he'd seen her face. He'd thought at first it was a trick, some ploy of the Dark Side, but her shock and horror at finding that Darth Vader had been Anakin Skywalker had been real, and painful in its familiarity.
She'd been as shattered as he was.
And so he'd held her in his arms, fierce protectiveness welling up inside him, and he'd looked at his father and ordered him out. And to Luke's surprise, the Dark Lord had obeyed.
Padme had cried herself to sleep and Luke had carried her into the bedroom beyond and laid her down, covering her with a blanket and watching her sleep for a moment. She was beautiful, dark hair curling around her face and her chest moving with her breaths. Holding her had been like holding Leia, pure and sweet and simple. He could feel the same brush against his senses, the same feeling of safety and homecoming that was as elemental as breathing, and as joyful as the voice whispering in his heart... mother, mother, mother.
Luke held that joy to him, cradling it to his soul. But with the joy came a rush of fear. He pushed it down, seeking to control it lest it control him. He recalled Vader, as black as a shadow, as black as death, looming over him, his lightsaber humming so close to his face, his low voice growling, "Don't make me destroy you."
Luke shut his eyes at the memory. I am your father. I am your father. I am your father.
The words tumbled over and over in his head, mocking him. A mother, a father.
It seemed when the Universe gave it gave in abundance.
And now Vader had him. He was trapped.
Ben, he Sent out desperately into the dark night, Ben, help me!
But there was no answer.
Luke felt his fear spiral in his soul. Vader-his father!-had him now.
Once you start down the Dark path forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you, it will...
Would the Dark Side consume him as it had his father? Would it take him, as it had once taken the good man that was Anakin Skywalker, and twist him into something evil?
It was hard for Luke to reconcile what he knew of the man his father had been to the Dark Lord he had become. How could he have ever been a Jedi, a husband, a father? He was desperate to know how it had happened-how could any man fall so far?- but his mother had not spoken and Luke had not asked.
She has been through enough, Luke thought. He heard her stir in the room beyond and extended his Force sense, brushing across her sleeping mind soothingly.
She was dreaming and Luke tried to withdraw but the dream caught him up, dragging him inside.
Luke saw his mother sitting in an opulent room, a fire in the grate painting garish colors across the face of the man in front of her.
"I am haunted by that kiss we should never have shared," the man said. "I am hoping that that kiss won't become a scar... If you are suffering as much as I please tell me!"
She reached forward, took his hands and the scene dissolved. They were standing now and his mother was wearing white, looking curiously like Leia as she spoke. "I've been dying a little each day since I met you. I love you, Anakin."
Anakin? Luke stared at the tall man before her in wonder. Anakin? His father! This was his father... and Luke felt embarrassed that he was witnessing so intimate a moment between his parents. He tried to break free from the dream but the scene was dissolving again, reforming...
"I won't lose you Padme. The Jedi can't save you. Only my new powers can do that!"
...The landscape was shifting, lurid red glaring across Luke's vision.
"I am more powerful than any Jedi!" Luke heard his father declare.
His mother shook her head. "I don't know you anymore," Padme's voice hitched with emotion. "Anakin, you're breaking my heart! You're going down a path I can't follow."
"Because of Obi-Wan?" his father demanded, the words laden with darkness and suspicion.
"Because of what you've done!"
"The Jedi betrayed me! Don't you betray me too!"
Luke felt the sharp backlash of Anakin's anger striking out, pinning his mother in place, choking the breath from her.
"No!" Luke started forward, even as he could feel his mother struggling for air. The scene darkened, lights began to burst across his vision and, horribly, Luke felt the mirror of his mother as she twitched and jerked in the bed across the hall. She was suffocating, the life draining from her.
Luke wrenched himself from the dream, ignoring the sick sense of dizziness that nearly knocked him off his feet, struggling across the hall to her room.
"Mother!" Luke shouted, taking her by the shoulders and shaking her. "Mother!"
But she would not respond. She was locking in the dream, frozen in the moment when the man she loved had used his power against her.
Luke entered her mind again, fighting his way against a black miasma towards her. "Stop! Let her go! Mother!" He could feel her slipping, flickering, dying... "FATHER!"
And a dark presence like a riptide crashed into him. He got a vague sense of awesome power and barely controlled fury before he tumbled end over end out of his mother's mind. Luke snapped back to himself with a sickening jolt. He fell to his knees beside the bed and wretched.
His mother had stopped struggling and laid quiet and still. Luke laid a trembling hand to her forehead, remembering that crashing, awesome power. If Vader was hurting her... He extended again, bumped against that dark presence. It turned him back, expelling him gently. Luke opened his eyes, withdrew his hand. That brief touch had revealed a bewildering conflict of emotions... Hurt, anger, self-loathing, but above it all a love so powerful and demanding that it Forced that awesome power towards gentleness, calmed the darkness into something soothing and quiet...
He loved her. Vader loved her. No, Luke corrected himself, Anakin loves her. His father was still there. He still lived.
There is still good in him, Luke realized. The Emperor hasn't driven it from him fully.
An idea was niggling at the back of Luke's head but he was too exhausted and sick to consider it. He cast one more glance at his mother's sleeping form before stumbling to the room next door and collapsing across the bed and into sleep.
Darth Sidious sat in his shadowed throne room and meditated on the words that had ripped themselves across the Force- Father? That's not true! It's impossible! NO!- and shook him from sleep. The boy's pain was sweet and so very potent. It intoxicated him, leaving him wanting more. The Force swirled around the boy, catching in eddies and currents of destiny.
An apex was approaching.
The Sith toggled a switch on the arm of his throne and a holo of his kneeling apprentice snapped into view.
"Lord Vader," he acknowledged. He did not bid him to rise, not just yet. Vader had had the boy for almost a full day and not reported to him. Such disobedience would not be tolerated. Still, he would be given a chance to atone. "I sense a disturbance in the Force."
"Yes, my Master," came the noncommittal reply. The Emperor felt his annoyance mount. Did his apprentice think to deceive him?
"The Skywalker boy has been found."
"My son is in my custody." Palpatine did not miss the slight emphasis on the possessive pronoun and he narrowed his eyes, reaching out to search Vader's thoughts. He felt only the smooth walls of a closed mind. It had been many years since his young apprentice had trusted him enough to allow him free access to his mind but the exclusion had never bothered him until now.
"Why I was not told of this immediately?"
"My apologies, my master. I thought to turn him myself and present him to you as a Sith." The words were true, but there was deception behind them. Vader was hiding something from him.
"I wonder, Lord Vader, if your feeling on this matter are clear?"
"They are clear, my Master."
"Good," Sidious responded smoothly. "Then you are to bring the boy to me, here."
For a moment Palpatine felt his apprentice's resistance, and something else... a fleeting image, quickly hidden behind Vader's shields... what was is?
"As you wish, my Master." Vader genuflected again and the holo connection was severed.
The Emperor sank back, considering. The boy would be brought to him. Vader's resistance was a trifle. He would obey like the slave he was. But there was something else, something besides the son that troubled his recalcitrant apprentice.
Sidious reached out, pulling the Dark threads to him, watching the tapestry of the present weave itself into all the possible futures. What was it? What?
And suddenly he saw it, blossoming across his consciousness like a dark flower. Yes, of course.
The Emperor let out a triumphant laugh. He'd found the lever to ensure both Skywalkers' loyalties.
Now, to employ it.
Darth Vader stood in the wreckage of his quarters. His rage had finally abated enough for coherent thought but Vader was far from calm.
He promised me that I would train the boy myself. He promised!
Vader stilled the petulant voice in his head. He had known that his master might decide to break Skywalker himself and he had taken pains to prevent Sidious from knowing that he had the boy, or at least to delay that knowledge. But despite Vader's best efforts, his master knew.
But he did not know know the true reason for his apprentice's livid emotions, not yet. And if Vader moved swiftly, perhaps not ever.
The Dark Lord touched a comm panel on the wall.
"Admiral Piett, report to my quarters at once."
He did not wait for a response, merely flipped the comm off and began to pace the floor, Forcing the debris of broken glass and twisted metal from his path. He had hoped to have more time, but his master's summons left him little room to manouver.
A chime sounded and Vader used the Force to open the door. Piett stepped inside, his eyes flickering over the mess and Vader noted with satisfaction the flush of fear that stained the officer's palid cheeks. Nevertheless, Piett kept his voice admirably steady as he said, "You sent for me, my lord?"
"I have a mission of a sensitive nature that I would like you to see to, personally."
Piett's eyes brightened a little and Vader could almost hear his ambitious mind at work. "I will assist you in any way that I can, my lord."
"Good." Vader began to pace again, cutting a wide swath through the room before doubling back again to face the admiral. "The female prisoner- the one that is currently residing with Skywalker- I want you to take her to my personal estate on Bain. She is to be moved secretly and no one is to know where she is going, or indeed that she even exists, do you understand?"
Vader fixed Peitt with a stare that made the man gulp. "Yes, my lord."
"The prisoner is a queen and she will be treated with the honor due her station. She is to be carefully guarded and closely watched at all times. You will stay with her until I send for you. See to it immediately."
If Peitt was chagrined at being relegated from commander of the Fleet's flagship to baby sitting Alliance prisoners, he gave no sign of it. He simply gave a precise military bow and a murmurred, "Yes, my lord."
Vader waited until he'd left the room before pressing the comm again.
"Have prisoner Skywalker brought to my personal training room."
A few moment later Vader stood in the training room, waiting for the troopers to bring him his son. The room was adjecent to his quarters, and the one concession he had made to his condition outside of them. The chamber was equipt with an air purifier capable of filling the wide space with the heavily oxygenated air that he needed to survive outside his mask. Vader spent many hours here, testing his skills against the inept attacks of battle droids.
Vader had not had a real challenge in decades. Even his duel with Obi-Wan aboard the Death Star had been disappointing; too short and clumsy to be truly gratifying. He had not had a truly satisfying encounter until Bespin, and only then because of the heady whisper of potential that he could see in the boy. There was anger there. Yes, and raw talent that was undeniable. The boy would make a powerful ally if he could be turned...
Vader's mind spun with possiblities; dark destinies unwound in his inner eye. Finally, a companion to rule the galaxy at his side, a dark son to stand beside him.
When he had first learned of the boy, Vader had been furious. His son had been kept from him! Obi-Wan had known. He'd brought the boy to the Death Star, and then sacrificed himself to ensure the boy's escape. He'd lied to his son, told him his father was dead and that Darth Vader had killed him. His outrage burned bright at the mere thought of Obi-Wan tainting his child with his Jedi lies.
And his anger spilled over to another. For Sidious had known too, Vader was sure of it.
How long had his master suspected? How long had he been lied to?
Vader had found out by accident. He had been reviewing the security transmissions recieved from the Death Star in the days before its destruction, in the hope of divining the identity of the culprit. The external monitors had revealed nothing and so he'd gone back further, sifting through images until the sight of himself dueling his former master made him stop.
He'd watched, a sick sense of cheated disappointment twisting in his gut, as Kenobi deliberately lowered his guard and then simply vanished. He watched it over and over, his resentment growing each time he watched his former master look away with a slight smile, lower his saber, and disappear. He watched it half a dozen times before he realized that that smile had not been meant to taunt him. Kenobi had been turned away, looking at another.
He had panned through the monitors until he found it, the image of a slight, blond youth rushing forward, shouting a denial as Darth Vader's saber whistled through the place the Jedi had just been.
Who was that boy?
Back further, to a desperate fire fight. Back to a near escape from a trash compactor. Back to a young man dressed as a Stormtrooper, entering the cell of a Princess and declaring, "I am Luke Skywalker. I'm here to rescue you."
The words had rung through Vader's soul. Skywalker. It couldn't be.
But it was. And just like that his whole world changed.
He'd been obsessed, driven to find out everything he could about his long-lost son. The boy had grown up on Tatooine, in the care of Owen Lars, the son of his mother's husband. His guardians had been killed by Imperial troops, searching from the droid in which Leia Organa had secreted the plans for the Death Star. The boy had not been there when the interogation had taken place and for that Vader was profoundly grateful. The boy had escaped the fate of his aunt and uncle and had left Tatooine soon after. He'd come to the Death Star in search of the Princess and had helped to pull off one of the most daring escapes Vader had ever seen.
Later, he had become a pilot for the Rebellion. It had been his Force presence Vader had felt in the moments before the final destruction of the Death Star.
And in the moment he knew that he had a son, the future opened up before Lord Vader. He could have it all; freedom from the bonds that enslaved him to his master, and power-the power to shape the galaxy as he saw fit. They would rule together; the Emperors Vader.
And now that he knew his wife was alive, they could all be together.
The swish of the door brought Vader out of his dark musings. He motioned the troopers to leave and Force-locked the door behind them. Only then did he look at his son.
Luke was afraid. Vader could sense his fear; but he could also sense his son's mastery over it. He felt a swell of pride at Luke's control. The boy had come far since their dogfight over Yavin IV. Then his hold on the Force had been clumsy, tenuous. Now he was confident, his signature blazing across the Force with a presence that could not be denied. He'd recieved training since then, Vader realized. But from who?
"You master has taught you how to hide your fear."
Luke jumped at the boom of the vocoder in the silent room. He recovered himself quickly, holding himself with dignity, his emotions revealing nothing.
"But you must learn to release your anger, young Skywalker," he went on. "Only your rage will make you powerful."
"As powerful as you?" Luke challenged and Vader felt a spark of amusement at the boy's presumption.
"You could not hope to compete with me, boy." Vader growled. Not yet, he added silently.
Luke did not answer. He half-turned from him to study the arrangement of lightsabers that hung on the wall beside him. Vader watched his son's eyes caress over each one and wondered what the boy was thinking. Did he believe the collection was some sort of macabre assortment of trophies? Or just the creative outlet of a bored Force user? He felt grim amusement as his son's eyes lit onto the bottom saber, the one that he had dueled with on Bespin.
Vader had retreived it and brought it here. He used the Force to call it to his hand. The hilt fit his prothetic hand perfectly, and he held it for a moment, remembering.
"I builtthis lightsaber when I was your age," he said, then immdeiately regretted it. It was a roundabout admission to a life he'd left behind. But hadn't he already laid claim to that life when he's named Luke his son?
"Yes, I know." Luke tilted his head to the side, studying his father. "Ben told me."
Vader hissed at the name. "Yes. I'm sure Ben told you many things." The vocoder could not convey sarcasm but Vader was sure that Luke could not miss the anger and betrayal that trembled around his words. The boy looked away and Vader knew he had touched on a sore spot.
Yes, my son. How does it feel to be lied to by a Jedi?
As though sensing his thoughts, Luke's chin came up. "I only knew him for a few days. He didn't have time to teach me much." The defense of his old master, combined with the unspoken accusation behind it, only served to fuel Vader's fury.
"How fortunate that he was not given the time to lie to you any more that he already did."
"Lie to me? By what, teaching me the Force? By being my protector and my friend? Or for trying to keep me from becoming like you?"
"Obi-Wan was my enemy," Vader said flatly. "He could not reach me directly and so he used my son to pursue his own petty revenge."
Luke shook his head. "That's not true. Ben wasn't your enemy. And he didn't hate you. He felt sorry for you." The boy paused before delievering the cutting blow. "And so do I."
The lightsaber that Vader was clutching suddenly flew across the room.
"Defend yourself!" he snarled. Luke barely had time to call the saber to him and thumb it on before the Sith attacked. His first blow sent Luke stumbling back. The boy pushed against him, disengaging and attempting to regroup but Vader allowed him no time. He struck, a crashing blow with the full weight of his body behind it, and Luke was driven to his knees. A vicious twist and a kick disarmed Luke and sent him sprawling to the floor. Vader held his blood-red saber to his son's throat and this time the boy could not contain his fear. It spilled out into the Force, dampening his father's anger.
"Your skills are insufficent to match me. Do not insult me again." Vader said harshly. He stepped back, deactivating his lightsaber. Luke got slowly to his feet, humiliation stiffening his movements. The blue eyes he tuned on Vader were bright with anger.
Good, Vader thought. Now, to make him use it.
With a wave of his hand he activated two battle droids. They skittered forward, blasters humming as they powered up and prepared to fire. Luke called his saber to him once more and stood ready. The first blaster bolt sizzled across his saber, and he deflected it easily. Then the next and the next but still, he did not attack. He held his anger in check and merely deflected the bolts. Vader frowned behind his mask, mentally adjusting the droid's speed. The droids responded and the bolts increased. Vader watched with interest as his son tried to deflect the fire the droids were sending. Luke was moving as fast as his Jedi reflexes would allow, but even then he could not block them all.
A blaster bolt caught him in the shoulder and Vader heard his hiss of pain and a felt the momentary flagging in his concentration. But then he drew himself up again and deflected the next dozen. Sweat was pouring down his forehead, into his eyes, but he stood his ground and refused to reach for the anger that hung around him like a cloak.
The second blaster bolt caught him below the right knee and he almost lost his footing before he shifted his weight back. The rhythm of his lightsaber did not falter. It wove in a stacatto before him, sending blaster fire into the walls. But his parries were wider now, more frantic. He was tiring, and Vader could see by the way Luke drew the saber closer to his body that he knew it too.
"Give in to your anger. It will make you powerful," Vader said. Luke's focus rippled and a bolt hit his prosthetic hand, sending his lightsaber flying. For a moment Luke seemed to crumble, his fear and anger blossoming bright, but he fought them back. He called the saber back to his hand and stepped forward, moving impossibly fast now. Blaster bolts flew in all directions as he took first one step, then another, towards the droids. A calm seemed to decend over him and Vader could feel the Force flowing through him, deflecting the laser fire before it even hit his blade. One more step took him within range of the first droid and he swung, decapitating it neatly. The other droid followed its companion, crumpling to the ground in a heap of metal and wire.
Luke stood for a moment, trembling with exertion and breathing deeply. And then the younger man faced his father, looking him steadily in the eye.
"You will not turn me so easily," he said. Vader nodded, impressed and oddly pleased.
"Very well, Jedi Skywalker. We shall see what the Emperor makes of you."
Luke had barely returned to his room before he realized something was wrong. His mother was gone.
He extended his Force-sense, searching the ship for her, but she was not there.
Father? No answer was forthcoming. Father? he tried again. Mother is gone.
Yes, I know, came the brusque reply.
You know? But- And then Luke understood. The test in the training room had been a distraction, an excuse to get him out of the way. Rage filled Luke and he struggled to contain it. Where is she? he demanded. WHERE?
She is safe. That is all you need know.
Luke felt his father break their connection, leaving him to stand in the middle of his mother's empty bedchamber, shaking in futile fury.
Calm, he told himself. Only in peace can the Force flow freely. Yoda's words brought him no comfort. To find his mother and then to have her plucked away so cruelly, it was too much! Luke turned and blindly walked into the fresher, stripping off the grey military jumpsuit he'd been provided and stepping into the sonic shower. And what had his father meant about the Emperor? Was he being taken to Coruscant? Was that why his mother had been removed from the ship?
Luke reflected on their prior meetings, both on Bespin and on the Executor. Vader didn't feel any different. His presence was just as dark and suffocating as the first time they had met. But Luke could not forget the Vader he had encountered in his mother's mind, the way he had held her, the way his mere presence had soothed her. He could not believe that his father meant her any harm.
Luke considered this as he rested his head against the smooth walls of the shower and tried to relax his tired body. Did the Emperor know that Padme was still alive? Was his father deliberately hiding her from his master? And if so, what did it mean?
Luke stepped out of the shower and towelled off quickly, donning a fresh set of clothes. His mind spun with possibilities. He wanted to ask his father what he was up to but Vader had closed his mind to him. Luke sank down to the floor and looked out the viewport at the starfield beyond.
I have to trust that Anakin wouldn't hurt her, Luke thought. There was nothing else he could do.
Padme rested her head in her hands and, for what seemed like the millionth time, refused to cry. Luke had been summoned by An-No, Vader. He is not Anakin, she told herself- and soon after a contingent of guards arrived at her door.
"My lady, I am Admiral Piett, commander of the Executor. I have been entrusted by Lord Vader with your care. Please come with me."
Padme has assumed that the man was taking her to different quarters, but to her surprise she was led to a shuttle bay. The guards marched her up the ramp but Padme balked at the entrance.
"What is this? Where are you taking me?"
"Lord Vader has instructed that you be removed from the Executor and brought to his personal estate on Bain."
Padme's eyes widened. "What? Why?"
"I have not been priviledged with that honor, my lady."
"What about my son?"
Peitt's head cocked to the side. "Your son?" he repeated. "Ah, Skywalker is your son? Of course. I do not know what is to be done with him, my lady."
Padme stared at him, her mind whirling. Why was she being seperated from Luke? Why?
"I won't go without my son," she said stubbornly.
"Well, that presents a problem for me, my lady. You see, it is my duty to fulfill Lord Vader's commands regarding you. Lord Vader judges failure rather harshly, and permanantly."
If he had tried anything else she would not have given in, but Peitt had unwittingly hit upon Padme's deeply ingrained sense of duty. She could not knowingly shirk her duty, nor cause others to shirk theirs. She sighed and entered the shuttle.
Within minutes they were cleared for take-off. The shuttle lifted off the landing pad and moved into the darkness of space. And Padme sat across from Admiral Piett and tried not to cry.
She had finally found her child, her son, and now she was being taken from him. Would she see him again? Would Luke try to find her? Or would she be kept against her will as a prisoner of Darth Vader forever?
She could not accept him as Anakin, could not accept that the man she had feared and hated could be her husband. It was too cruel. Fate could not be that unkind.
Padme knew that it did her no good to refuse to accept the truth but she couldn't. It was too much...the universe asked to much of her. And so she refused to consider it. And instead she focused on her son, her bright, shining Jedi boy, her Luke.
She had so little tim to talk to him the night before. He had held her, calming her as she cried herself out, laying her gently on her bed and watching over her as she slept. Padme had a vague memory of her sleep being interrupted by dreams but then Luke's arms had been there to comfort her, holding her against the Darkness that threatened to overwhelm them both.
But even as she thought it, Padme felt that her memory wasn't quite right. It has not felt like Luke...it had felt like-
No. She refused to even consider it. Her husband was dead and Darth Vader had taken his place.
But even as she thought it she knew that it wasn't true.
"Admiral? Sir, we have a problem."
The stormtrooper's voice interrupted Padme's circling thoughts. She lifted her head to see Peitt slide from his seat and go to the forward part of the ship. After a moment curiousity got the better of her and she followed. The other troopers did not attempt to stop her as she made her way to the cockpit of the shuttle.
Peitt was leaning over one of the consoles, speaking into the comm.
"My orders come from Lord Vader himself. I cannot allow-"
"The Emperor himself commanded your prisoner be brought to him, and I believe that superceeds your authority. You will turn the shuttle and follow me to Coruscant."
She could not see Peitt's face but she could hear the tightness in his voice when he answered, "Very well."
He toggled to switch, cutting off communication with the other ship. "Open a channel to the Executor. Inform Lord Vader of this immediately."
"Sir, I can't. We are being jammed."
"Jammed?" Piett frowned. He turned, his eyes narrowing as he regarded her.
"Sir, the Succundius is transfering jump coordinates."
"Jump on the pilot's mark," Piett ordered. His eyes did not leave Padme's face. "Well, my lady," he said. "It looks as though you are going to meet the Emperor."
The room that Padme had been brought to was opulent. Rich fabrics hung from the walls and around the wide bed. Deep carpets muffled her footsteps. A perma-fire glowed in the hearth, reflecting on the rare woods and tasteful tapestry that graced the furniture. A bank of wide windows provided a panoramic view of the Imperial City. Padme stood and looked out, reflecting that in less than a week she had been imprisoned three times and each time her cell had been more inviting than the last. But no matter how beautiful the prison, she was still a captive.
Their shuttle had set down a few hours ago and Piett, white-faced, had been led away. Padme felt sorry for him. He had only been doing his duty and now he would be interrogated and demoted, perhaps worse. Padme had been led to this room. A sumptuous meal awaited her, and a hot bath with real water. Her grey flight suit had been replaced with a long, white gown. Padme had dressed, eying herself in the mirror. She was painfully thin, and her hair had been cut short by the nursing staff at the hospital, but other than that she looked like an aristocrat on vacation. Or perhaps an honored guest, she mused. Anything but the prisoner she was.
What was going on? What was Palpatine playing at?
As though in answer to her question the door swished open and the same red-robed guards that had led her from the landing platform trooped in. They parted to reveal a heavily robed man. Padme could see little of his pallid face beneath the shadow of his cowl but she did not need to. She knew very well who he was.
"Chancellor Palpatine," she said, giving him no more that a regal nod of her head.
If her disrespect bothered him, he gave no sign of it. Indeed she could see the corners of his mouth twist into a smile. "Madam Skywalker," he returned.
Padme could not hide the tremor that ran through her. Of course he knew. Why else would she be here? She lifted her chin, meeting the eyes that seemed to glow beneath that hood defiantly.
"Why am I being held here?"
The Emperor's smile widened into a leer. He crossed the space that separated them, coming close enough that Padme had to take a step back to maintain her composure. "Come now, Padme. Surely someone as politically astute as yourself can guess the reason."
Palpatine's voice had used to be sonorous. She remembered the eloquent speeches he had given in defense of Naboo's interests before the Senate. But now his voice was a sibilant echo of the one she remembered. Nevertheless his words cut her, making her feel exposed and weak.
Padme shook her head. "I don't know what you mean," she lied.
Palpatine turned from her and began to wander around the room, his seemingly aimless steps taking him to the bank of windows. He stood looking out, and Padme could see his horrible, sunken face reflected by the duraplex. It repelled her. There was something in Palpatine's very essence that felt foul and diseased. His reedy voice spoke from the window but seemed to permeate the room like the stench of death.
"Your son and your husband are on their way to me now."
"I have no husband!" Padme said quickly, forcefully. Anakin is dead, she thought.
Palpatine suddenly turned back to her, those eyes looking into her very soul.
"Yes," he said, his voice glowing with depraved triumph. "The man know as Anakin Skywalker is dead. And soon, Luke Skywalker will become my new apprentice."
"No," Padme gasped. The room went suddenly dark. There was not enough air, and Padme felt the darkness overtaking her, coming to claim her very soul. She fell to her knees, overcome by crushing despair. She felt Palpatine standing over her. She could not fight him, could not do anything but gaze into his horrible face.
"Oh yes," he cooed with mocking gentleness. He lifted one gnarled hand to touch her cheek. Padme flinched away, unable to bear that vile touch. "Your son, like his father, is now mine." Palpatine leaned closer and Padme felt his words, like black claws, sinking into her brain, tearing her apart. Her son... her bright, beautiful Jedi son...
"No!" Padme chocked out. "No. My son will never be yours. He won't fall, he won't turn." She grabbed onto that light and held it. "He won't." She said the words over and over like a mantra. "He won't. He won't."
Palpatine stepped back, the smile sliding from his face. "He will," he hissed. "And you will be there to watch it."
Leia Organa kicked the speeder into neutral and slowed, churning a spray of dust and sand in her wake. She shouldn't have gone off alone; Chewie and Lando would be furious at her. How could she explain that she had to do this? How could she explain that she'd run off, risking her life and their rescue of Han, to come out to a deserted farm in the middle of the desert? How could she explain the nearly elemental need she had to be here?
The need was a mystery, even to herself.
She loved Han. The confession that had ripped from her soul on Bespin had been in her heart all along; she had just refused, until that moment, to acknowledge it. But her terror at losing him had torn away all pretense and she had rushed forward, clinging to him desperately, flinging out the words she should have said a thousand times before.
"I love you!"
And he had grinned at her, that cocky scoundrel's grin that she loved to hate, and said, "I know."
The memory pierced her heart, nearly took her breath away.
But it was nothing compared to the feeling that Luke was now a captive of Darth Vader.
Luke, her friend. Luke whom she loved in a way she could not explain, not even to herself. Luke, who felt like some lost part of herself. She could not understand how it was possible and yet she had felt it, when he had walked into her cell on the Death Star and said, "I'm Luke Skywalker. I'm here to rescue you." Leia had felt a thrill of recognition so powerful that she had been rendered speechless. It made no sense and yet it was there, a connection between the two of them that she could not interpret or ignore.
That was why she'd had to come here. She had needed to see the place where Luke had grown up and to gather some remnant of the man who was lost to her now, and maybe forever.
Leia swung off the speeder bike and crunched towards the huddle of buildings, wondering for the millionth time, What does Vader want with Luke? It was true that Luke was wanted on various charges after the attack over Yavin. The price on his head was larger than her own, but something told her it wasn't just that. Was it because Luke was a Jedi?
Was he even a Jedi?
Leia had not seen him since they had evacuated Hoth. Perhaps he was. Perhaps that's why Vader wanted him so badly. Everyone knew that it was Vader who had betrayed and killed most of the Jedi knights. But if it was only that, if Vader only wanted Luke because he was the last of the Jedi, why take him alive?
It made no sense, and as Leia neared the spot she was looking for, she considered that there was something, some vitally important piece of information, that she was missing. Her brow furrowed as she came at last to her destination. Three mounds of earth rose up from the sand. Two were marked with metal stakes and Leia knew that this was the place where Luke had buried his aunt and uncle. He'd told her how he'd come back after meeting Ben Kenobi for the first time and found them, executed for harboring the droids that she had sent. Leia had felt a stab of sorrow for that and taken his hand, her mouth open to apologize.
"Don't," his quiet voice had silenced her. "It wasn't your fault."
Leia wished she could believe that. She laid her hands on the two graves and said a silent prayer for the spirits of the dead, before turning to the last grave.
It was Luke's grandmother, his father's mother.
Luke had never know his father, like her he was an orphan. But unlike her he had no links to his past, nothing but a cold grave to remind him of who his parents were. He did not remember his mother, not like she did. He had nothing; no past, no memories, and now, no future.
Leia felt the weight of grief bear her down and she bent her head, letting the tears come. We'll find him, she thought. We'll free Han and then we'll rescue Luke. But even as she thought it, Leia wondered if it was too late.
"Oh Luke," she murmured. She buried her hands in the sandy earth that was Shmi Skywalker's last resting place and cried. "Where are you? What has he done to you? Oh Luke, Luke!"
"Leia?" Luke raised his head, searching through the Force. For a moment, just a moment, he was sure he'd felt her, but then she was gone.
He had gone to bed the night before still disquieted by the absence of his mother. He had immediately begun to dream, dark dreams of Bespin. He was hanging from a parapet as his father's insidious voice spoke into his mind.
Join me. It is the only way.
"No!" Luke shouted above the wind, trying to push that voice away.
Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
He was standing in front of Vader, his lightsaber at the ready, but Vader was strong, impossibly strong, and his blow sent Luke reeling. And then that blood-red blade bit down and pain swamped Luke's mind as he fell...
I am your father.
"No! My Anakin couldn't do this! NO!" Padme was screaming and that scarlet saber was coming down again, severing her hand and she fell.. fell...
"Your son, like his father, is now mine!" an evil voice hissed.
"No!" Luke had shot up from the bed, the sheets twisted around him. His breath had come in gasps, cold sweat raising on his body, and he had forced his mind to calm.
Something was wrong. Even after Luke had shaken off the last remnants of sleep he could not shake off the unease that gripped him. Something was wrong.
His mother was in danger. And Luke knew that it was because of him. She would never have been captured, Vader would have never known she existed, if he hadn't gone to Bespin. If only he had listened to Yoda and Ben. If only he hadn't been so intent on his own anger and his need for revenge.
Because of him Padme had suffered.
Because of him Han was frozen in carbonite.
Because of him Leia had been tortured by the only man she had ever feared. But at least she was still alive, still free. Beautiful, strong Leia...
And suddenly, he had heard her voice, her keening cry cutting across his Force sense.
He reached out, trying to grab the thread of her trailing thoughts. Leia?
But it was no good. She could not answer him. She did not know how.
Luke sighed. The vague sense of unease was back and Luke felt worry gnawing at his soul. He sank onto the end of the bed and tried to relax, releasing his distress and disquiet into the Force as he had been taught. He cleared his mind, calmed his thoughts, and reached out, trying to pinpoint what it was that disturbed him so.
He could feel something... something dark and twisted in the Force.
Luke felt his father close by. He brushed his mind tentatively. Before, on Bespin, his father's mind had been definite, hard-edged with anger or hatred, but never conflicted, as is was now. The Sith's mind was swirling with emotion and Luke could sense his disquiet. Vader had felt the same sense of wrongness that Luke had felt and he was afraid of what it meant.
Father? Luke asked, but Vader's walls immediately came up, shutting Luke out. Luke pulled back, respecting his father's privacy. The dark presence in the Force was coming closer, tendrils of power trailing like twisted vines towards him. Luke instinctively pulled back, raising his own shields. A high-pitched cackle of laughter came to him before Luke broke the connection. He slumped back onto the bed, fighting the urge to be sick.
It had been Palpatine. Only a Sith master was capable of that sort of malevolence, that blight that he had felt across the Force. The Emperor had felt cold and truly, deeply evil. Luke shuddered at the memory of that dark laughter in his head. He had never felt anything so depraved.
And his father was taking Luke to him.
Luke felt fear twist in him and he struggled to contain it.
Father, he Sent again and was surprised when the door to his quarters slid open and Darth Vader stepped inside.
"Something's wrong. I think the Emperor has mother," Luke said without preamble.
"Yes, I know." Luke felt a momentary flash of something from his father-Rage? Pain? Fear?- but it was gone too quickly for him to identify it.
"What will he do to her?"
Vader turned away from him and for a moment Luke was afraid he wouldn't answer. Finally, he said, "He will use her to ensure your cooperation."
"And yours," Luke realized. His father had once offered him Palpatine's life. He wondered if the Emperor suspected that treachery. He wondered if his father could ever be free now.
"I can if you help me. Let me teach you to embrace your power. Only through Darkness can we defeat the Emperor and save Padme's life."
Luke could hear the desperation in his father's voice. He shook his head. "Darkness does not save life, Father. It destroys it."
"Abandon the weakness of the Jedi. Embrace the Darkness and together we can rule the galaxy."
It was the second time his father had offered him that, only this time Luke understood what it meant. To stand in Darkness forever, to be a slave to evil as his father was... it was unthinkable. "Is it weakness to love?" he asked seriously. "Is that why you turned?"
He could feel his father's presence in the Force reel at the question but he gave no outward sign of his emotions.
"I will not give in to Darkness, father. I cannot join you there." A sudden thought came to Luke, a thought that had been growing since he had felt his father comforting his mother after her nightmare. "But you could join me. You don't have to do this. I can feel the struggle within you. Let go of your hate."
For a moment Luke felt his father's emotions blaze bright across the Force- desperate desire, wild longing- and then it was gone and the moment passed.
"It is too late for me, my son. The Emperor will show you the true meaning of the Force. He is your master now."
Luke shook his head, wounded to the core. "Then my father is truly dead," he said sadly.
Vader did not answer. He turned and, with a flare of his cape, strode from the room.
Sidious knew the moment the boy set foot on Coruscant. He could feel the bright Light of the boy searing across the Force. That light was heady and powerful, and Sidious trembled with the need to bind that power and make it his. He had the key now. But inside him, a disquieting thought stirred.
Had he pushed Vader too far? It was true that concern for his wife had been instrumental in his turning, just as concern for the mother would twist the boy. Loyalty was the weakness of the Skywalkers. And that weakness was still present in Vader, he knew. His love was a failing, a refusal to turn completely to the Dark. But no- Vader was bound by threads stronger than he could ever break; Sidious was confident in that. His weakness was an annoyance, nothing more.
Besides, Vader only need last until the boy was turned.
Sidious turned his attention to the doors. Vader stood outside, and the boy blazed like a supernova beside him. Oh yes, the boy would make a fine apprentice. He had barely finished the thought when the door slid open and Vader preceded his son inside. He moved to the dais, bowing, and Sidious waved him up with a negligent flick of his wrist.
"His weapon." Vader handed him a lightsaber and Sidious took it, recognizing it at once. How ironic that the boy bore the blade that had cut down so many Jedi. His gaze fell sharply on Vader, wondering if he saw the irony as well, but his apprentice's mind was as closed as ever.
With a wry twist of his lips, the Emperor turned to the boy. "Welcome, young Skywalker. I have been expecting you."
The boy raised his blue eyes to the Emperor's face and stared contemptuously. Sidious felt his smile widen. Yes, a fine apprentice indeed!
"You no longer need those." With a slight movement of his fingers, Sidious sent a tendril of Dark energy towards the boy. The binders on his wrists fell away, clattering noisily to the floor. He saw the boy look down, then up at him again, and he caught a momentary flash- Skywalker's hands around his throat, squeezing the life out of him- before the boy looked away. Sidious could barely hold back a delighted laugh. Turning the son might be even easier than turning the father!
"Tell me, young Skywalker, who has been completing your training?"
The boy looked at him, his mobile face expressing surprise, before he smoothed it into unruffled calm again. "Oh, I know it was Obi-Wan in the beginning. I know well the talent Obi-Wan had for producing Jedi." Palpatine let his eyes linger on Vader for a long moment. "But Obi-Wan is dead, my apprentice saw to that. So who could it be?"
He pierced the boy with his gaze and the boy glared back, proud and silent. He could tell the words had hurt the young Jedi, as he knew they must. His father's fall was hard for the boy to take. Sidious remembered the pain that had cut across the Force when the boy had first learned that Vader was his father. It had been glorious, an orgy of agony and betrayal. Time now for the boy to see that betrayal cut both ways.
"There was another Jedi who escaped the Purges, a Master called Yoda." Sidious smiled when Luke flinched at the name. "Yes, I can see from your expression that I am right. Yoda, then. Tell me, young one, is the Master still living? We left something unfinished, he and I."
The boy's temper was unraveling, his thoughts unfurling like a flag. "Yes, he is still living... on..." Sidious pressed, "Dagobah! You almost hid that from me, Skywalker. But you will soon learn that you can keep nothing from me. Let that be your first lesson as my new apprentice."
"You are mistaken. I am not your apprentice, nor are you my master. You will not subvert me, as you did my father."
Fool! I already am. "It is you who are mistaken... about a great many things." He delved into the boy's mind, slipping easily past the hastily erected defenses. He tossed aside the boy's memories, his fears, his desires... looking for the bit of hope that he clung to so stubbornly. He finally found it and could not suppress
a triumphant cry. "So, you believe your father will join you? Young fool, by now you must see that your father will never be turned from the Dark Side. So will it be for you."
"I would rather die," Skywalker said flatly.
Sidious' mouth curled once more into a disarming smile. "That is not your destiny, young Skywalker."
He could feel the anger coming off the boy in waves, his Light dimming as the fury raised within him. Sidious' smile widened further. "You want this, don't you?" He patted the lightsaber beside him. "I can feel the hatred swelling in you now. Take you weapon. Strike me down with it. I am unarmed. Give in to your anger. With each passing moment you make yourself more my servant!"
The boy struggled to control his anger and for one thrilling moment, Palpatine thought the young Jedi would call the saber to him. But then he turned away, breathing hard. Sidious laughed, a high, ugly sound.
"Give yourself to the Dark Side, my young apprentice. It is the only way you can save your mother."
The boy turned back, his face pale and his body taut with tension. "Yes, your thoughts betray you. Your concern for her is your weakness." The boy's hands clenched into fists of rage. The saber beside Sidious clattered as the boy's control shredded. Only one push would send him over the edge.
The Emperor bent and touched the comm on the arm of his throne. "Captain, bring the Lady Padme to me."
"NO!" The lightsaber soared into Skywalker's hand and with all his strength, he brought it down towards the Emperor. But Vader was there, his red blade crackling as it crossed his son's.
And below the crossed blades, Darth Sidious laughed.
Vader's parry knocked Luke back and he barely had time to bring his saber up before the red blade flickered out to meet him. Luke knocked it aside with difficulty, disengaging and falling back. He had drawn his lightsaber in anger and he struggled now to control his emotions.
A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge, never for attack. Vader moved toward him, saber raised, and Luke intercepted his father's blade, sending it to the left and dancing back. He needed time. He needed breathing room.
Vader allowed him neither. His father's riposte was swift and vicious, slashing down with the full strength of his arm behind it. Luke felt the Force of it all the way down to his bones. He struggled to turn the attack aside.
Father, please, he Sent. I don't want this! But his father was coldly silent.
Luke allowed himself to be pushed back, blocking each bone-crushing blow. He was weakening fast and he pulled the Light to him, clearing his mind and exorcising his anger. He feinted to one side, before thrusting under his father's guard. But Vader saw it and brought his saber down at the last moment, twisting Luke's wrist and sending him stumbling back.
Luke was hopelessly outmatched and he knew it. Despair clawed at his heart.
Father, please don't let him hurt my mother. Not for me. Please!
But no amount of silent pleading could block the crimson blade that lashed out at him. Luke blocked, felt the wall behind him, and used the Force to push off, lunging forward with a powerful swing. Vader stepped back quickly, neatly avoiding it.
Luke could feel the abyss of the Dark Side yawning, ready to swallow him whole. Fighting back was only bringing it closer. Defense was hopeless.
Despair washed over him. Please, father, he pled, terrified. Please!
It was dark by the time they came for her.
She did not turn her head to look at them as they came in. Padme sat in the place where Palpatine had left her, her legs curled to her chest and her heart in her throat. She could not still the trembling that racked her body. Her arms wound round her knees and she rocked slowly back and forth as the sky outside darkened to night, locking in horror at the thought of what Palpatine would do to her son.
Your son, like his father, is now mine. Padme shuddered. She could not bear it. She had lost Anakin to that... that monster! She could not lose Luke too.
The red-robed guards approached her, pulling her up and snapping a pair of binders on her wrists. They turned and she followed, unresisting, as they ushered her into a lift. Padme knew well why they were taking her. Palpatine hoped to break her son by breaking her.
Let him try, she vowed silently. If he thinks I'll let him use me against Luke as he did against Anakin, then he's gravely mistaken! She lifted her chin, that rebellious thought giving her strength.
The guards ushered her out of the lift and down a long, echoing corridor. A set of double doors stood at the end, guarded by two more red-robes. The throne room. The doors swung outward and Padme stepped inside.
The dim light at first revealed nothing.
"Come inside, my Lady," a voice she recognized spoke from the gloom.
She saw the shadowed outline of Palpatine, standing beside his throne, on a dais in the very center of the room. "You are just in time to watch your son's fall."
He made a gesture with his hand and Padme turned.
At first all she could see was a blur of movement, and then two black-clad figures resolved themselves. It was Luke. He and Vader circled each other, lightsabers humming, as they searched for a weakness. And then she the glow of a blood-red blade bearing down. A blue blade came up to block the attack and Padme felt a gasp escape her as Luke stumbled. The guard behind her set a discouraging hand on her shoulder as she stepped forward, but she ignored it, her whole attention focused on the fight unfolding before her.
Luke raised his saber, nearly managing to knock Vader's away, but Vader was stronger and more experienced. He saw the feint for what it was and easily parried, knocking Luke back. The wall was behind him and Padme felt her throat constrict. But Luke pushed against Vader's blade, managing to send him back and dance sideways, away from the trap. He pressed the advantage, lunging forward with a wide, overhand blow. Vader stepped aside, letting the swipe pass him. Luke stumbled again and Padme cried out.
Vader advanced, his blade flicking forward in a series of blows that sent Luke reeling. He was losing ground, being backed into the wall again and Padme felt her heart sink as she realized that her son could not hope to win this fight. Still, he brought his saber up, straining to block the savage assault.
It seemed to be happening in slow motion. Vader knocked Luke's blade aside, and then the scarlet saber drove forward.
"Noooo!" Padme screamed. She broke from the guard's restraining hand and crossed the distance, throwing herself between her son and that bloody blade. She could feel the blade complete its advance, white-hot, vivid pain blossoming. She looking down at the lightsaber lodged in her chest, and then up to the black, unmoving mask above it.
"Anakin?" she said. From far away she heard someone screaming.
And then she fell.
No. No. No. No.
It was a drumbeat, a mantra of denial that spread from Luke's beleaguered heart into his brain and finally tore from his mouth in a savage cry, "NO!"
Luke shook his head, disbelief and horror ringing across the fabric of the Force- his own, and his father's. Padme slumped slowly forward, her fingers futily catching on Vader's arm as she fell. Vader caught her before she hit the floor and her awkward weight bore him down. He crouched over her, his helmet tilted over Padme's still form like a cruel benediction.
No. No. No. No.
Luke's lightsaber dropped from his nerveless fingers and rolled away, unnoticed. Blood rushed in his ears and he whispered again, "No."
And then shock gave way into hot, burgeoning rage.
Luke let it fill him, welcoming its warmth. Power flickered through him, running down his spine, crackling through his limbs. His mind filled with an expanding awareness and an even darker purpose. With barely a thought he called his saber back to his hand. His foot came up, connecting with Vader's chest and sending him sprawling. Padme's body rolled away as the Sith looked up at him, clearly startled.
"Defend yourself!" Luke snarled in a voice that wasn't his own. The red lightsaber came up, reflexively blocking Luke's downward slash. Vader rolled, regaining his feet just as Luke's saber buried itself in the floor, sending sparks flying. Luke wrenched it out, and with an animalistic cry of rage, launched himself at Vader.
No. No. No. No.
Vader stumbled back, his balance and grace lost in shock. Luke pressed the advantage, raining blows down, each thrust more powerful than the last. His face was frozen in a rictus of pure fury and Vader was driven back, helpless to resist the power of Luke's rage.
A ringing overhanded blow sent Vader into the wall and Luke stepped into his body. Their swords lock and with an almost negligent twist of his wrist, Luke disarmed his opponent. His foot lashed out again, sending Vader to the ground.
Luke stood over him, his lightsaber at Vader's throat, his body trembling with Dark power.
"Good!" Sidious' voice sounded far away. "Kill him. Fulfill your destiny and take your father's place at my side."
At my side...Join me. It is the only way...
Once you walk down the Dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny...
And then a soft voice broke across the redness of his rage."Luke, no! He's your father."
Luke's brow furrowed as he looked down at the prone man in front of him. Father was dead. Vader had killed him. Father was...a black figure reaching out over the endless expanse of bufetting wind. Father was a red saber arching down. Father was...
Luke realized that he had let his saber fall and raised it once more for the killing blow. And once more that voice spoke into his mind.
He stepped back, looking in confusion to the place where Padme laid, still and unmoving, like a doll with its strings cut. She was dead. Dead...and yet, her words echoed over and over in his mind.
He is your father, your father, yours...
He looked at the immense dark figure at his feet.
Father was Anakin Skywalker. Father was a Jedi. My father...
"Strike him down, my young apprentice!"
And the words seared into his brain, burning his rage to ash.
What have I done? Luke's eyes widened in horror. He lowered his arms, thumbing the lightsaber off. Oh Force! He had nearly given in. He had nearly killed in anger. He had almost murdered his own father.
But with his horror came new resolve. He reached out to the Force, and let the Light fill him, expunging the Darkness from his soul, soothing his regret and loss. Its strength filled him and he turned to face the Emperor.
"Never!" he said. He tossed the saber away. "I will never join you! You've failed, your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me."
Vader was driven backward, buffetted on the wind of his son's rage. He could feel the Dark energy swirling off Luke like a demonic fire and it gave him no pleasure. He'd wanted Luke to turn, but not like this. Not at the cost of Padme's life.
Padme's life. His son's soul.
He parried Luke's blows only half-heartedly, his heart beating out a bleeding tattoo.
No. No. No. No.
He had lost his angel once. He could not do so again, not so soon after finding her. But was it too late-too late for her? For Luke? For himself?
Luke's shoulder drove into his chest and with a quick twist of his wrist, his son had disarmed him. A vicious kick to his knee sent him sprawling to the floor and he laid prone, Luke's glowing blade at his throat.
Luke's face twisted into a sneer of truimph, his eyes as dead as space and twice as cold.
What have I done? Vader thought helplessly. I've turned my son into a monster. I've killed Padme all over again!
Regret and sadness washed over him, threatening to crush his very soul. Vader raised his arm and reached out, though whether it was to defend himself or to wipe that look off Luke's face he didn't know.
His master's voice sounded loud and obscene in the silence. "Good!" he crowed. "Now finish it! Kill him and take your father's place at my side!"
Vader knew a moment of hurt betrayal, quickly squelched. Had he not made the same offer to his son? Only now, at the end, could he admit the truth. He had not wanted to hurt Luke. Nor Padme. He'd only wanted them with him- to fill the void that existed in his soul, to satisify the emptiness that Darkness created. But now Luke had been given over to the Dark, his soul offered up as sacrifice. Not his son felt that same bottomless casym, the black hole of the Dark Side that consumed all it touched.
Luke raised his saber over his head for the killing stroke and Vader felt the terrible weight of guilt settle over him.
I didn't want this, he thought. I never wanted this!
And then another voice spoke. "Luke, no. He's your father!"
Padme? Vader turned his head quickly to look at the place where she laid. She had not moved but her voice...He sent a tendril of Force energy towards her and his heart sang with hope at what he found. He looked up at his son. He was looking towards her too, confusion evident on his features. But then he lifted his lightsaber once more, his anger unquenched.
"Luke, please!" Luke stepped back, shaking his head. Vader could feel him, teetering on the edge, and he knew a memont of breathless uncertainty.
"Strike him down, my young apprentice!" Sidious hissed.
It was too late. Vader could feel his son let go of his rage, the Light burning his pain to ash. Luke lowered his arms, his empty eyes now full of sorrow. Vader could feel him reach out, pulling the Light into him, calming even as his Master's anger grew. He thumbed off the saber and threw it from him.
"Never. I will never join you!" He turned away from Vader, his back straight, every word he said ringing with power. "You've failed, your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me."
He jerked his head towards Vader and Vader felt a rush of warmth at the pride in his son's voice.
How could it be, that after everything that he had done, his son was still proud of him?
"So be it." Sidious said almost softly. "Jedi," he finished malevolently. He held up one gnarled hand and Force-lightning burst from his fingertips, aching across the room toward the young Jedi.
For a moment, Luke mananged to repel the vicious attack. But then the terrible Darkness overcame him and he fell, twisting and writhing on the floor as the energy coursed through him.
No! Vader could not tell if he had spoken aloud. He could not allow this to happen. He could not allow Palpatine to kill his son, his Jedi son. Vader struggled to his feet.
"Poor fool," Palpatine crooned. "Only now do you understand the power of the Dark Side." The sparks subsided. Luke did not answer. The despot's features twisted and he raised both hands, lashing Luke once more.
Fear rising in his heart, Vader limped to his Master's side. Not Luke. He could not take Luke.
The Force lightning hit the young Jedi and he screamed in agony as the energy swirled around him in a merciless dance.
Vader could feel his son's presence in the Force-once so blindingly Light-begin to dim.
Something inside him shattered as Palpatine stopped the lightning a second time. "You have paid the price for your lack of vision," he gloated. "And now, young Skywalker, you will die!"
Vader moved without volition. His saber flew into his hand and he ignited it and drove it into Palpatine's back with all his strength.
There was a loud clap of thunder. And then the room exploded into Darkness.
Vader felt Sidious grab hold of his mind. Help me! Don't let me die! Once, when he was younger, the plea had moved him to pity and an action that had had far-reaching consequences.
Now he only felt sickened by his Master's desperation and fear.
"Go," he said aloud. "You are not wanted here!" He gave a mental tug and Sidious' hold was loosened and he tumbled into the black void of the Dark Side. Vader stood, regarding that void for a long moment and then he deliberately turned and walked away from it.
"Father?" Luke's voice called shakily.
Anakin came to himself. "Here," he answered back. His feet had taken him to the place where Padme laid, and he knelt beside her, holding her in his arms. Luke appeared at his side.
"She still lives. Help me, my son. I cannot save her alone."
Luke sank down beside him, looking pale. "I don't know what to do," he said. He reached out and placed his hand over his father's. "Show me."
It was an act of unparalleled trust. The shields in Luke's mind dropped and he sat ready and completely exposed. Anakin hesitated. And then he slipped easily into his son's mind. He ignored the memories and emotions that he longed to see-his son's mind so full of love and Light that he felt like a starving man suddenly given a feast-and instead focused on, and found, the core of his son's power.
Like this, he Sent, showing his son images and emotions, healing methods of the Jedi that he had thought long-forgotten. The Light. He felt Luke respond, opening up and pushing his Force-energy towards his father.
Anakin drew Luke's power into his own body- the Light searing away the shadows that remained in his soul- and directed it into Padme's still form. Under his direction, burnt flesh unravelled and knit itself together. Blood rushed to the affected areas, restoring life to the dead tissue. Nerves spread out, rejuvinated by the pure energy of the Force.
Padme, Anakin whispered into his wife's mind. Padme, come back to us.
Yes. He felt the warm rush of her love and was amazed by it. Sleep now, he told her. We will be here when you wake.
Anakin withdrew from her mind. He could feel Luke beside him, his power still rushing through him like a still-flowing river. He reached out, ready to give that power back but Luke stopped him.
Luke? Anakin spoke with confusion and Luke seemed to open himself up even more, offering more of himself to his father. What are you doing?
Luke ignored him, concentrated on imitating his father's actions of moments before. Anakin could feel himself frowning.
Luke, it's useless. Don't you think I've tried?
It was true. The wounds were too old, his body too scarred and useless to heal itself. Nonetheless Luke poured the power into him, Forcing the Light into his wrecked lungs.
Luke, it's too much. You- But it was too late. Luke was passed the point of no return now. He had extended himself far beyond his ability to control. Help me, father, Luke demanded. Anakin reached out once more, knowing it was futile but wanting to save his son from his own mistake. If he did not draw back, and soon, he would expend himself completely and he would die.
Anakin let the Force flow through him, guiding it into healing, into restoration. And to his astonishment, it responded. He felt his scarred lungs begin to expand, to perform the function for which they were created. He gulped in a rush of air and choked, the suit's filter trying to even out the overload. He clawed at the black helmet that had encased him for so long and succeeded in wrenching it off. He threw it aside and took a deep breath of pure, sweet air.
He could feel Luke's delight as he slowly withdrew from his father's mind.
"Are you alright?" It was the first time in a long time that he had heard his voice without the aid or amplification of a vocoder. It sounded strange to his own ears but Luke was grinning at him.
"I'm fine. Just..." A huge yawn threatened to crack his jaw and Anakin laughed. A real, full-throated laugh.
"Oh, my son," he said, reaching out and clasping the boy's shoulder affectionately. A sudden sound of blaster fire interrupted them. They both turned to the door. Anakin could feel Stormtroopers on the other side, attempting to force the Force-locked door. He stood up, retrieving the helmet and faceplace from the place he'd dropped it. He contemplated it for a moment, then set the hated thing back onto his head. He quickly went through the complicated process of switching the breathing aparatus off. The vocoder he lef activatedt, knowing that he would not be recognised without it.
Anakin turned to Luke. "I am going to open the door and let them in. Say nothing!"
With a wave of his hand the door opened. Stormtroopers poured in, followed by the red-robed Imperial Guard.
"My Lord, we heard an explosion and we feared-"
"That explosion was the Force. I am afraid that the Emperor has succumbed to his own power. He is dead."
A Stormtrooper had found the spot where Palpatine had died, now just a smoking ring on the floor.
"And these two?" Anakin turned his attention to Padme and Luke.
"My family was wounded in the blast. See that they recieve medical treatment immediately."
"Yes-" The voice of the Imperial Guardsman hesitated for an instant, unsure what to call him. Anakin waited, knowing how important this moment was. "Yes, your Highness," the guard finally managed. He turned to Luke, who looked weak and peaked now that the crisis was over. "If you will follow me, my lord."
Anakin nodded at his son. Go with them. And after you've slept a bit there is something I will need you to do for me...
Leia rubbed her tired eyes and let her head fall into her hands. It seemed she had barely slept the entire time they were on Tatooine and now that Han was finally safe, her worry had only been transmuted to thoughts of Luke. She sighed, rolling her shoulders. Would this war ever end? Would those she loved ever be safe?
"Mistress Leia." The hesitant sound of Threepio's voice interrupted her musings.
"What is it?"
"Artoo had just recieved a rather strange message, my lady. He says-" the droid hesitated, as though he was afraid to speak the words. "He says it is from Master Luke."
"What!" Leia burst out. She turned to the astromech, who had followed the protocol droid into her quarters. With a whistle, Artoo rolled forward. He beamed a thread of light onto the table next to her and Luke's image coalesced. Leia's heart leapt as she saw him, pale and tired-looking, but otherwise healthy. And then he began to speak and Leia's mouth dropped open in shock.
Leia listened to the message, and then restarted it and listened again. Finally, she sat back, incredulity and relief waring in her heart. Could she trust the message? Could it really be true? Could it be-just like that- that the war was over and they had won?
She was still staring off into space, trying to decide what to feel when Han found her. "Hey Princess, you all right?"
She turned and a smile- her first real smile in weeks- lit her face. "You are not going to believe this!"
She should not have come. Leia felt it as soon as the shuttle touched down on the landing pad. A vague sense of unease had been tingling just on the edge of her perception ever since she'd recieved Luke's message, nearly four days ago. And now that premonition was blossoming into full-fledged worry.
"Tell me again why I'm doing this?" she muttered to herself.
Artoo hooted in answer.
Leia stood and went forward to the cockpit. She caught the eye of the pilot. He was a veteran of the Clone Wars, tough and unflappable, but he looked tense and pale now. She nodded to him, trying to give him an assurance that she did not feel. He went to the hatch and unsealed the door, lowering the ramp. Outside, a squadron of stormtroopers had queued up in neat lines. Leia felt a frission of fear shoot down her spine. Memories of Bespin rose to torment her and she pushed them down and squared her shoulders, stepping regally off the shuttle and onto Imperial Centre.
Luke's message had been short, almost terse.
The Emperor is dead. My father killed him. Yes, Leia, my father. He's alive. He's here. Darth Vader has declared a truce. He wishes to discuss terms with you. Please come. I give you my word that you will not be in any danger. Please come, Leia. This is a chance at peace.
Han had been sure it was a trap, as had Mon Mothma and most of the High Command. It had taken her three days to convince them that, if it was an honest offer, it might be the only shot they got at ending the conflict. She begged, fought, pulled rank, and raged until they had all agreed to send her.
Han had been furious.
"Are you crazy?"
Leia sighed. They'd been having the same fight for three days. "You saw Luke's message."
"Yeah, I did see Luke's message, Princess. And in case you've forgotten, he's been a captive of Darth Vader's for days. Who knows what Vader's done to the kid?"
"I haven't forgotten!" Leia shot back. "Not for one second. But-" she hesitated, torn between her desire to explain and her fear that Han would think she was crazy. She almost thought she was herself. How could she tell him that it just felt right?
"I won't let you go!"
"Won't let?" she repeated incredulously. "Won't LET?"
"Yeah, that's right. I. Won't. Let. You. Go."
Leia laughed in his face. "You can't stop me. The High Command has okayed the mission, remember?"
"Then I'm coming with you."
Leia sighed again. "You can't. You and Chewie are wanted. In several systems. I don't want to risk-"
"What about the risk you're taking?"
"Me? I'm not...Luke promised."
"What's his promise really worth? How can he protect you when he can't even protect himself?"
Leia felt her shoulders sag. "Han, I can't just leave him there. I can't. I have to go."
A look flashed across Han's face, but he turned away before she could identify it. "Fine. If you want to go, then go." Han's voice slid into the lazy, smuggler's drawl he knew she loathed. "Tell the kid hi for me."
"Han..." But he refused to turn. Leia stood at the doorway, torn. What had suddenly come over him? It was almost like..like he was jealous of Luke. No, Leia thought, that can't be it. He couldn't possibly think...
"Shut the door on your way out, Your Worship." Han drawled and Leia felt annoyance fill her.
Like this isn't hard enough, she thought. "Fine." Leia said. She turned and walked out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
In retrospect, it seemed incredibly childish. And as the storm troopers parted and revealed Luke's slight figure, Leia felt a stab of regret that she'd left Han without saying goodbye.
Luke strode forward, looking taller. His grin was wide and his arms were strong as he embraced her. Energy seemed to crackle around him like electricity, so much so that his touch sent a little jolt through her. Leia pulled back, looking into Luke's startlingly blue eyes.
"Luke, what's happened? What did Vader do to you? Are you all right?" The words were tumbling out of her mouth, and she could make no effort to stop them.
Luke grinned at her. "I'm fine, Leia. Better than fine. My father's alive!" Wonder tinged his voice as he said this and Leia felt herself drawn into his delight.
"How is that possible? I thought all the Jedi were killed during the Purges? General Kenobi was the only one that I knew that survived..."
"I will explain, but not here. Come on." Luke took her arm and led her into a lift. She followed him through a warren of passages and into the Imperial Palace. Leia recognised some of the corridors they past from her days as senator of Alderaan. It was strange to be in this place, now, and at Darth Vader's request.
At last Luke came to a stop outside a pair of double doors. They swung open to reveal, not the palatial suite that Leia had been expecting, but a modest room, brightly lit, that opened onto a garden pad behind. Luke took off his cloak and flung it casually over a chair, then took her hand and led her outside.
Space was limited on Coruscant, and so the engineers that had designed the Imperial Palace had come up with a way to bring the outdoors into the sky. The garden pad was really a small hydroponics bay, an ingeniously designed plot that gave the illusion of profuse wildlife in a very small space.
Luke led her to a space beside two trees where a bench had been placed, and beside it, a low table the housed a pitcher of water. They sat down and Luke took Leia's hands in both of his.
"Leia, what do you know about your mother? Your real mother?"
Leia hesistated at the strangeness of the question. "Well, not a lot. Just images really, feelings. She died when I was very young."
"Tell me," Luke urged.
"She was...beautiful. But sad. My father, my adopted father, told me she died soon after I was born. But..." she furrowed her brow, trying to put into words things she'd never told anyone before. "...I don't know how, but I remember her." Leia looked up into Luke's face suddenly. "How is that possible?"
"The Force is very stong in you, Leia."
"Oh Luke...that can't be. You have a power I don't understand, and could never have."
"Your wrong. You have that power too. In time you will learn to use it as I have. The Force is very strong in my family, Leia. My father has it, I have it, my sister has it." He met her eyes and held them. "It's you, Leia."
Leia pulled her hand from his. "Luke-"
"There is more. My father-our father-" Leia felt her body tense, knowing what was coming but refusing to believe it. "Leia, it's Vader. He told me. Vader is Anakin Skywalker."
Leia shot up from bench. "No," she said. "That's not possible. He lied to you!"
"Search your feelings, Leia."
"NO!" The glasses on the sideboard began to rattle violently.
"Leia, Leia, calm down." Luke grabbed her by both arms, but her eyes were tight closed and he could feel the Force, coiled inside her, threatening to break free.
Is this what Vader had been trying to do to him at Bespin? Was this oppressive feeling what it felt like to fall to the Dard Side?
I've told Leia.
Yes, I can feel. Anakin's mind voice was wry.
I don't know how to help her.
Let me try.
Father, that might not be- But it was too late. Luke felt his father withdraw from his mind, and then the Force gathered around Leia like a storm about to break. With a crash the glasses on the sideboard shattered.
"Leia!" Luke reached for her but his father's voice in his head stopped him.
No, Luke. She can't control herself. She might hurt you without realizing it.
Luke could feel his father speaking to Leia, low and soothing, though he couldn't make out the words. But it seemed to be working. After a moment the oppressive feeling began to disappate. Luke stepped closer, taking Leia's hands in his.
"Leia." Luke watched her as her body began to tremble. The Force continued to retreat, taking their father's presence with it. "Leia, its all right."
Leia opened her eyes. "No, it's not." she said. She stared into his face, dry-eyed. Her voice sounded hollow. "It will never be all right again."
Anakin withdrew from his daughter's mind. Daughter! He had barely gotten used to the idea of having a son, and now he had a wife and a daughter too. It seemed surreal...laughable. The Dark Lord becomes a family man, he thought wryly. But not that. Not a Dark Lord. Not a Jedi. Hardly even a man.
He sighed, looking down at the black helmet in his hands.
His son's power had healed him. But nothing could take away the scars, or regrow lost limbs. Still, thanks to his son he could breath without the hated mask over his face. He held it in his hands now, contemplating the dark visage that he has presented to the world for so many years.
Anakin could feel another presence at his door. She had been there a handful of times before, pausing at the threshold and he had stood on the other side, afraid that she would request entry, afraid that she wouldn't. Always before she had stood for a moment and then turned away. But this time he could feel her gathering her courage around her. Her hand darted forward.
The door chime was almost deafening in the tomb-like silence of his rooms.
Anakin sighed again. No use prolonging the inevitable. He sent a tendril of the Force out and the door opened with a hiss of pneumatics. He kept his back to the door as he felt Padme enter and pause, eyes adjusting to the dim light.
"Anakin?" she said softly.
One word only and his heart was trembling. He sighed for a final time. Would it always be this hard?
"Here." Without the vocoder his voice came out a thready baritone. Still, she seemed to draw strength from its familiarity. She moved further into the room. Anakin resisted the urge to draw deeper into the shadows, to use the Force to weave a cloak of darkness that would hide his form from her. That was the coward's way. She deserved this. She deserved answers from him. She deserved some amount of closure, so that she could go on with her life.
He waited until she was a dozen paces away before turning. To her credit her step did not falter. But a breath sucked in past her lips and he saw the dark shadow of pain enter her eyes.
"Oh," she sighed softly, taking in his ruined face. He had become so used to it over the past twenty years that it hardly gave him pause anymore, but now Anakin considered what she must see; pale skin seamed with scars, ropes of tissue connected to seared bits of flesh, eyes sunken and weak under the dome of a hairless head. Anakin closed his eyes, suddenly ashamed. It was his own foolishness that had caused this. His arrogance and pride had urged him to challenge Obi-Wan. His fury had caused him to press on, even when he knew he was beaten. And his rage had bade him live, even when he had no right to do so.
He drew in a long breath, felt his lungs expand with it. He did not deserve that. He did not deserve the blessing of a healing, even an interrupted one. But he would use the breath it gave him to make right some of what had gone wrong so long ago.
"I am sorry Padme. I'm sorry that I suspected you. I'm sorry that I didn't trust you enough to tell you of my fears. I let Palpatine twist my worry for you, and for our child, our childen, into something so Dark." Anakin shook his head. "I didn't want it. Not at first. But I will not lie and say that by the end I was innocent. I killed the younglings in the Temple. I murdered Dooku. It was I that raised a hand against you and nearly killed you. I thought I had killed you...and I-" he struggled to find words, for her, for himself. "I didn't want to go on. But I had no choice. I had my duty. I had made my decisions and I had to go on. And everything was so full of Darkness." Anakin felt her take a step closer. He held himself rigid, breathing deeply, trying to hold his emotions in check. "I didn't think-I didn't dare hope- that there could be any redemption for me. And then Luke..." Another step and Anakin sucked in a breath, letting the words spill out. "Luke, our bright beautiful son...he believed. He believed! And because he did, I did too. Not that I could make it right. I know that I can't. But that I could have some hope of saving you again." He could smell her now, the mixture of loam and lilies that had always intoxicated him. He breathed it in now and felt the scent catch at the back of his throat. "I never wanted to hurt you. If you believe nothing else of me, please believe that. Padme, I-"
She laid a hand on his arm, high on his right where she knew true flesh laid, and stopped the flow of words.
"Hush Anakin. It's over now," she said and with a strength borne of grace she pulled him into her arms. The dark helmet fell from his fingers with a thunk. Anakin sank to his knees and buried his face in her chest and sobbed.
It was probably one of the weirder moments of his life, Han reflected, standing in the middle of the Imperial Throne room, watching Princess Leia and Darth Vader- Darth Vader- declare the death of the Emperor and the reestablishment of the old Republic.
Leia looked pale and wan in her formal robes, regal as a queen and stiffly polite. Vader looked like Vader always looked, black and grim and scary as all hell.
After the ceremony, Han wended his way to Luke's side.
"Hey there, kid." Luke turned with a grin and pulled Han into a bone-crushing hug. Han felt a smile light his face as he slapped the kid's back. "Easy there, easy, kid. No need to go all soft on me," Han said as he backed off but the grin on his face belied his words. "Some party, huh?"
"I'll say. Want a tour?"
He and Chewie had arrived with the bulk of the Rebel command staff two days ago, but he had been assigned to guard duty and hadn't had much of a chance to see any of the Imperial-make that the Republican- palace. Luke made his way through the crowd, responding to the hales of his buddies in Rogue Squadron and shaking hands with General Madine before ducking through a side door and out into the hall.
"You've become a popular person," Han observed without rancor.
"Yeah, well, get kidnapped by the enemy at the same time said enemy decides to switch sides..." Luke made a dismissive gesture at the two guards who stepped out of the shadows of a doorway to follow them. The lead trooper nodded and both retreated back to their doorway, leaving Luke and Han to wander the corridor alone.
"Is it true what they're saying?" Han asked as they passed a magnificent painting of a seascape on some unknown world.
"What?" Luke asked, though the tone in his voice said he knew very well what. He turned down another corridor and seemed to be counting doors.
"That you were the one that convinced Vader to join our side." Luke paused at the fifth door and pressed a hand to the identipad. The door slip open. He stepped aside and motioned Han past him. Han entered the darkened room. Luke paused by the door and the lights sprang up to reveal a huge chamber. The walls were high and the room wide enough across to house the Falcon without difficulty. That was, if they could clear enough space.
The room was jammed full of floatbubbles, delicate blown-glass spheres suspended on a beam of light, each holding a priceless treasure. The bubbles crowded to room, hovering overhead as far as the ceiling, providing only enough space for a person to walk through.
"This was the Emperor's personal collection. That one-" Luke motioned to the nearest bubble, the one that Han had been eyeing with interest, "-is a sliver of heartwood from the primal forest on Kashyyyk. There's enough bounty here to make a man rich a millions times over."
Han stared at the bubbles, imagining the possiblities. Then the kid's words kicked into his brain and he realized that he was being teased. He turned to Luke, only now noticing the laugh that danced in his blue eyes.
"Very funny," Han said sourly. "What happens if I touch one? My hand gets burned off?"
"Something like that," Luke said and the laugh was definately there now. "But there's no law that says you can't drool on them."
"Ha ha, everyone's a comedian. And you didn't answer my question. Did you convince Vader to join our side?"
Luke looked at him, suddenly serious. "It didn't take much convincing," he said neutrally.
Han sighed. Luke had never been good at hiding his feelings but whatever training he'd recieved on Dagobah must have changed that because his face was flat and as expressionless as Vader's mask. "Okay, fine. And what about Leia?"
"What about her?"
Oh, that was just too much. Han rounded on the boy. "You know very well what I mean!" Leia might be able to hide behind her mask of polite pride to everyone else but he had seen the shadows under her eyes. He knew something had happened, something bad. "What did you do? Break her heart? Because of you did, so help me I'll-"
"Han," Luke held up a hand, his lips twisted into a grimace. "It's not, I mean, I never...Han, Leia is my sister."
Well, that certainly changed things.
Han backed up a few steps, almost lurching into one of the bubbles before he stopped. "What? Your sister? How?"
Luke shook his head. "I shouldn't be the one to tell you this."
"Luke please, you know her. She can't..." Han struggled to find words. "If there's something that I can do...I know I'm not good enough for her. But kreth kid, how could I not..." He scrubbed a hand across his face. "If I can help I want to."
Luke stood watching him for long moments and then nodded. "All right," he said.
Leia's eyes scanned the room. Luke had disapeared somewhere with Han and Vader-Anakin? Father? No,never that! Anakin, her mind settled on a designation- had sequestered himself away with various generals and heads of the old Imperial regime. Their capitulation had come as a shock for many of them. Some had gone into hiding, some had openly rebelled, others had been held by their loyalty to Vader and to Palpatine and had come willingly. Vader-Anakin, she corrected-had already told her which of the old regime could be trusted. The others would have to be dealt with, and soon.
Leia supressed the urge to sigh as she felt a headache coming on. Instead she smiled and greeted the long line of dignitaries and heads of state that had witnessed the historic changeover of power, all the while her eyes were searching, searching.
Fianlly, she lighted on a figure at the back of the room, standing unobstrusively to the side of a large party of Mydaks. Though the figure was swathed head to foot in a dress of ornate creme silk she knew exactly who it was.
"Excuse me," Leia murmurred and made her way across the room and to her mother's side.
They had not really had a chance to talk. Most of the past two days had been spend in endless negotiations with both sides. The moments Leia managed to snatch to herself she spent in her quarters, ignoring Luke's pleas for admittance and her own aching heart. She had steeled herself to meet the man who was her father without fliching and to do her duty. But now, it was over. After today, she could go back to just being Leia.
But who was she now?
Leia Organa, princess to a dead world?
Leia Skywalker, sister to a Jedi knight?
Leia Vader, daughter to a monster?
Could she ever be free of all this horror and just be the girl she was before the Death Star, before Alderaan was blown to peices in front of her?
Leia felt herself begin to tremble. She brushed through the crowd, struggling to get to the woman on the other side of the room.
Leia had always known her mother. Even in childhood, before her father had told her, she'd know. Her dreams had told her the truth, dreams of a beautiful woman with sad eyes that looked upon her face and smiled sadly, pronouncing her name in a soft, clear voice. And when her father had told her that her real mother was dead she'd known it to be a lie, a necessary lie, but a lie nonetheless. Her mother could not be dead. She felt it. She knew. And yet, as she grew older, she forgot...or maybe she just didn't want to remember.
But those warm eyes were on her now and Leia felt something loosen inside of her. "Mother."
There was a deep, sparkling of joy behind those words and Leia felt a laugh escape her, her first real laugh in what felt like a lifetime. She reached out her hand and grasped her mother's fingers in her own.
"It's almost over." Leia's gesture took in the gathering but the words seemed to mean more. "What will we do?"
Padme's face was radient as she smiled. "We live, daughter," she said softly. "We live."
Epilogue--Five Years Later
Anakin woke to something poking him in the back.
He turned over, careful not to disturb the dark-haired woman beside him. With reflexes born of a lifetime at war he scanned the room, searching for signs of intrusion. When none were forthcoming he allowed his body to relax, only to feel the sharp jab again. He hissed in a mouthful of air and slid out of bed, annoyance in his movements. He felt, rather then heard, the cause of his annoyance in the antechamber outside his bedroom.
Anakin stalked into the room, not bothering with the lights. A figure sat on the couch and he moved towards it, only to be stopped by the snap-hiss of a lightsaber at his throat. The green glow illuminated a familiar face.
"You're getting careless in your old age, Father."
"Look down, my son."
Luke looked to the unlit saber held a handspan over his belly and laughed, disengaging his own. "Lights," he called, and the lights sprang up, showing the pillow Luke had set on the sofa as a decoy. Anakin turned, making sure that the door to the bedroom was shut. He did not want the light to disturb Padme's sleep. He turned back to see Luke sitting comfortably in a chair, observing him with the same smile still on his face. Anakin returned it and sat opposite him.
"How's the leg?" Luke motioned to the prosthetic, the last of his mechanical limbs to be replaced with newer, cloned ones.
"Not bad. I should be up to full speed in a few weeks. How's Leia?" Luke heard the wistfulness in his father's voice. Leia had blamed Vader for the destruction of Alderaan. It was hard for her to forget that. Their relationship had always been strained. Luke drew in a breath and fixed a smile to his face.
"Huge. Medi-droid said it was twins."
"Han must be proud."
"I've never seen a man so devoted." Luke's smile became more real at the memory of Han doting on his sister, and Leia's annoyed voice telling him to stop coddling her, even as her eyes softened with affection and love.
"Luke, I am pleased to hear about your sister. But I am sure you did not come light years, and wake me in the middle of the night, to discuss Leia's marital bliss."
Luke heard the note of humor in his father's voice. "No, I didn't." The young Jedi took a deep breath, knowing what was coming. "I have an idea. And I want you to hear it through before you say anything."
He waited for his father's nod before he went on. "I've been spending the last two years searching the galaxy for other Jedi-rogues, younglings, survivors from the Purges." Anakin nodded, aware of this.
"Well, I've found some. Not many. Mainly some half-trained kids who think they have some kind of super-power. And a few that may be using the Dark side."
Anakin's eyes widened at the news. This he had not known. "You have found Darksiders?"
"Children, father. Untrained children who reached for what they could find. The thing is, they need to be taught. And by someone who knows the Dark side, and can teach them what to stay away from."
"Father, I can't do it alone. I don't have the training." Vader remembered with sorrow his son's return to Dagobah, only to find Master Yoda fading fast. He had blessed the boy, announcing that his training was complete, but both father and son knew that it was far from it. He had the power of a Jedi, but so much had been lost when Master Yoda had died. "You know more about the Jedi than anyone alive. About the history and the traditions. You could teach these younglings what I cannot."
"I cannot. I am not worthy, my son."
"I don't believe that. But even it were true, Father, there is no one else."
And with that admirable bit of emotional manipulation, Anakin took on the mantle of Jedi Knight once again.
In due time his grandchildren were born. Padme wept as she looked into their perfect faces, a boy and a girl.
Anakin beamed down at them, holding the boy in his hands. He had never been able to hold his own children when they were babies. That, like so much, had been torn from him by his own grief and rage. But now... He felt tears well in the back of his throat.
"What are their names?" Luke asked.
"The girl is Jaina. And the boy..." Leia met her father's eyes, soft brown shining into his, "...he is Anakin."
And Anakin felt the tears spill over his cheeks. He laid the baby down in its cradle and hugged his daughter to him. He felt Padme standing behind him, her hand on his back, and Luke, to his left.