Summary: A masked celebration brings about an unexpected confrontation.
"So how did I get dragged into this again?"
Luke hid a smile as he turned to face the speaker. "Talk to Leia, Han. I had nothing to do with it."
The smuggler scowled, an expression made less effective by the mask covering most of his face. "You got off easy, kid."
The smile returned in full force. "Sure."
"Let's go. Wouldn't want her Highness to have to come looking for us."
Han swiftly disappeared out the door and Luke let loose the chuckle he had been holding back since he had first seen his friend's costume.
After the successful rescue of one Captain Solo and an equally successful supply raid, the higher-ups within the Alliance had decided to throw a celebratory party. As it was near the traditional date for Harvest Day, it was decided that the party would be a masquerade. Many of the Rogues had scrounged up passable costumes in the intervening time, using the ingenuity that those in the Alliance had become famous for. Luke had no idea what most of them would be, as secrecy and paranoia were running rampant.
Han, however, had been 'persuaded' by Leia to wear a formal Corellian outfit. During what became a rather heated argument, she had remarked that it would be a sufficient change from his usual scoundrel appearance to pass as a costume. Stung, he declared that he would wear the formal garments, but complained loudly to anyone who would listen.
Luke's costume, in comparison, had been far easier. Alliance techs had recently recovered a picture of Anakin Skywalker from a database on Naboo and he had carefully copied his father's Jedi robes, going so far as to replicate the thin scar down the side of his face. Leia had said it was fitting for him to impersonate the "Hero With No Fear": Luke wasn't so sure, especially in light of Bespin.
A loud knocking startled him from his train of thought. "Luke?"
"Coming, Leia," he replied. With one final look in the small mirror, he took a deep breath and opened the door. "What do you think?" he started to say, but the words died when he saw her costume for the evening. She was dressed in a beautiful gown of a design that faintly tugged at his memory.
"You look beautiful," he managed after a moment.
"Thank you," she said with a smile. "You look nice. The Jedi look suits you well."
He grinned wryly. "I sure hope so."
She laughed and motioned down the hallway. "Shall we?"
Curiosity niggled at him as they walked to the main area where the party was to take place. "Who are you dressed as?" he finally asked.
"Senator Padme Amidala. She was one of the heroes of the Old Republic and my idol while I was studying to become a Senator."
"Interesting choice," a voice remarked from behind. The look on Leia's face was priceless as she turned to see Han in full Corellian regalia. Laughing softly to himself, Luke slipped away from the pair and entered the mess hall, which had been temporarily turned into a dancing floor. Several of the Rogues waved to him as he entered. He grinned as he saw several famous HoloNet characters and a handful of stormtroopers among the revelers.
After a time he rejoined Han and Leia, who had stopped arguing for the time being. He was surprised that Chewie had not yet arrived and said as much to Han.
"He'll be here. Said something about finishing his costume earlier, that he might be a little late."
A hushed quiet suddenly fell over the hall. The trio quickly turned to see what everyone was looking at. At the main entrance of the hall stood at tall figure all in black. The moment stretched as many gaped and stared. Luke froze for a moment, wondering if his eyes were deceiving him. The helmeted gaze seemed to lock on to him from across the room and he was seized by the frantic need to run.
Unexpectedly, the tense atmosphere was broken by the sound of clapping. He started before seeing that several of the Rogues had started applauding.
"Awesome Vader costume! How did you ever pull that off?" Hobbie shouted.
The masked man merely sketched a slight bow and did not answer, but the mood was broken. Costumed Alliance members returned to their conversations assured that Darth Vader was not actually standing before them, but merely one of the Rogues in a realistic costume. Luke felt uneasy, however.
"So that is what Chewie was planning?" Leia remarked, one eyebrow arched. "He certainly has the height to pull it off."
A questioning roar came from behind them. Luke's uneasy feeling escalated in intensity as he saw the Wookiee in question standing off to one side, dressed as something he did not recognize, but was definitely not Vader. Scanning the crowd, he saw the disturbing figure head for one of the exits. Without another word, he slipped away from Han and Leia, heading out of the base. No one stopped him as he fled out into the cool evening.
Breathing heavily, he sat with his back to a tree a short distance from the entrance and tried to calm his thoughts enough to focus on the Force in order to track the costumed man. The sight of his 'father,' even if it was only a clever costume, had shaken him deeply, more deeply than he cared to admit. Obi-Wan's words on Dagobah were still too fresh in his mind.
Slowly, carefully, he reached out to the Force, sending cautious tendrils of thought towards the gathering he had so swiftly abandoned. Something didn't feel right, but he was unable to locate the source...
"Looking for me, Skywalker?"
He nearly jumped out of his skin at the deep voice that issued from his side without the slightest warning. His newly-made lightsaber flew into his hand and ignited.
"Show yourself," he demanded as the Force confirmed the identity of the being before him. He felt cold at the realization.
"As you wish." The dark form of Darth Vader materialized from the forest. Luke's heart nearly skipped a beat. Vader was here, now, at a secret base that he should have had no knowledge of. His mind raced as he tried to figure out a way to warn his companions while putting off this confrontation. He wasn't ready to face his father yet, to either destroy him or save him.
"Why are you here?"
His father said nothing, merely stepped closer. Without meaning to, Luke took a half step back, the Dark Lord's scrutiny almost a physical force. Despite the fact that his mind was screaming at him to attack or else to flee, the Force bid him remain.
"How is it that you are dressed in such a strange fashion?" Dark amusement colored the Dark Lord’s voice.
He frowned. "I asked why you are here."
"I am not deaf, child. My reasons for being here are my own. Answer the question."
"That's not an answer," he said shortly.
"I am not here to harm your friends. I came to deliver a warning."
"Sure," Luke said skeptically. "Seeing as how you tried to kill me the last time we met, I don't believe you."
"Believe what you wish." He felt his father's sense change, shifting to something more melancholy.
"How did you find this base?"
"You are a beacon in the Force, Son."
"Great," he muttered, surprised at his own calm. The Force whispered softly to him, assuring him that Vader's intentions were not to harm him, at least not immediately. Strangely, it felt like he was telling the truth, much as it had at Cloud City. He was somewhat curious, now, his fear and panic subsiding. His father was not here to fight, but what would bring him here? It was a grave risk to both of them, as their relationship was, as far as Luke knew, a secret to Empire and Alliance alike.
As if reading his mind, Vader answered the unspoken question. "The Emperor has ordered that you be brought before him, assigning many of his best agents to the task. I would...prefer that you were not."
"You are a very great threat to him."
"Not that," he pressed.
Was it his imagination, or did Vader hesitate? He had a sense of his adversary carefully weighing his words.
"I would see the Emperor deposed. Alone, I am not capable of accomplishing that task."
"So you want me to help you."
"Yes. Your place is at my side."
"No. My place is here, in the light," he said quietly, lowering his arm and extinguishing his saber.
"Come with me," his father urged, much as he had at Bespin and Luke recoiled.
"I can't," he said with a sudden weariness. "I am a Jedi. Even though you are my father, I can't go with you.”
"You have accepted it, then?"
Luke gestured at his clothing. "Does this look familiar to you?"
Several heartbeats passed without response or movement.
"This is what I accept," he continued softly. "I accept that Anakin Skywalker is my father."
"He is dead."
"Is he?" The words had left his mouth without thinking, but he felt their impact on the figure. Vader whirled about and disappeared into the forest without a further word. As soon as he had disappeared, Luke sat down hard, his legs no longer able to hold him. Han and Leia found him sitting there sometime later, when his absence had grown long enough to be noticed.
He said nothing to them about why he had so suddenly departed, nor why the Vader 'imposter' had disappeared, mind still spinning. Had Vader truly been here or was it only a dream?
It was real, an amused voice whispered to his mind.
I will give your Rebellion two days to evacuate as a token of good will, the voice replied. I cannot be held responsible if they remain here after that time.
Why are you doing this? Luke asked.
There was no response.
As he returned to his rooms and removed the robes of Anakin Skywalker, he couldn't help but wonder who had truly been wearing the disguise that night: himself or the real Anakin Skywalker.
He supposed he would never know for sure.