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Necessary Lies
 

by MJ Mink





The wordless greeting had come long before the ship entered the atmosphere of Deneb. Perhaps he should have told the others, but he feared they would cancel the mission, and he hadn't wanted to jeopardize this chance encounter. Though aware that they would be negotiating with high-ranking Imperials, no one but Luke knew that Darth Vader would be present.

Now they approached the landing dock in the proud new flagship that carried the Alliance representatives, Mon Mothma and Leia. Was he allowing them to walk into a trap? But he sensed no subterfuge. He moved to the cockpit as they glided toward the dock, watching Han handle the controls with skill. Then he slipped on his cloak and pulled the hood over his head. He'd found that its cover gave him a sense of security and power, an aura that others responded to, deferring to him as a Jedi, not as the careless boy who had rushed to Bespin a year earlier.

That boy existed only as a memory now, and only in the hearts of others. In Luke Skywalker's heart, both the boy and the memory died long ago.

He returned to the lounge, waiting as Mon Mothma and Leia prepared to disembark. Waited until they sensed his desire and turned to him. Quieted. A feeling of power swept through him at their respect--different from earned respect, it radiated something deeper, something instinctive and irresistible. As if they knew they had no choice.

"Lord Vader is with the Imperial delegation," Luke said softly.

Alarm rippled through them. He stretched his mind to encompass the sensations. "Are you certain?" Leia demanded.

He nodded. Mon Mothma stared at him. "How do you know?" she asked in her usual muted voice.

Its sound made him uneasy. "I can feel his presence."

"What do you mean?"

He sensed that she disliked him as much as he was instinctively repulsed by her. "He is a Jedi. I can feel him through the Force."

Neither answered, but he felt their fear of him. He represented the unknown, the mystical, that which they could not control. There might come a time, he knew, when he would have reason to fear them. A time when they would try to destroy him, or stand by and watch him destroyed as they had watched all the Jedi slaughtered two decades earlier.

The boy of a year ago would have never thought such things; the shock of his father's existence had changed much inside him. His naivete had vanished, along with his simple faith in the goodness of other beings. Those he trusted had betrayed him, and he would never trust again. Ben and Yoda had lied about his father and had never returned to defend their lies with impossible truths. Leia had deserted him in Cloud City--returned, but too late to save his soul. Her first priority had been Han; once Han was rescued from the bounty hunter, they had deigned to answer his desperate, waning cries for help. And the Alliance Council now feared him, though he had committed nothing but acts of goodness on their behalf.

And what of his father/enemy? On Bespin, Vader had sliced off his hand, but it had proven to be replaceable. Vader had cornered him cruelly, impossibly, leaving suicide his only option--then slowed his fall through the core of Cloud City and saved his life. Vader had told him the truth. Vader had proven to be the only honest person he had met since he left his home early that fateful morning when he and Threepio set out to find Artoo. Vader, his father--the one who abandoned him, the one who returned to him, the one who called to him. His father existed as a symbol of Darkness; now he lived as his father's son, and Darkness nibbled at the edges of his soul.

He brought up the rear of the processional--no, not quite. Han paced confidently behind him, not part of the Council yet somehow accepted as a delegate just the same. Luke retreated within his cloak, safe from prying eyes that might see his shadows, safe from the murmurs of the Imperials who knew him as the Jedi whose powers strengthened the Alliance and made it a more formidable enemy.

The backdrop was formal but the delegates wished no unnecessary pomp. The huge greatroom in the official statehouse had seen the making of many treaties and conciliations over the last couple centuries. Deneb was the single stronghold of neutrality left in the galaxy, and the galaxy allowed it peace. There did, finally, have to be one place where all could come, where wars could end, where alliances could be forged in safety, where dreams could live and die. The current meetings, striving for the establishment of safe zones and nonpartisan territories, would go a long way toward soothing those planetary governments that were finally objecting to being fodder for both Empire and Alliance weaponry. What would happen here? His growing sense of the future gave him no answers; several possibilities swirled in dream-like rivalry for his attention.

A small Imperial delegation marched through the doors at one end of the greatroom as the Rebels entered the other. Luke's eyes saw no one but Vader, the Dark Lord. His heart beat faster, and sweat began to form on his palms. He curled his fingers into them, struggling for control. Outside, he knew, no one saw the turmoil; he had long since perfected the serene veil he wore as camouflage. But inside...inside his father could touch him, reach him, calm him with a wordless mental gesture. Luke closed his eyes momentarily; when he reopened them, blank and unfocused, they looked at his father and did not see the black shell. Instead they peered into the dark soul, into a heart that opened for him and nestled him in warmth the way a soft blanket did a babe. He blinked until he could see again. Two short lines of people faced each other; Vader stood opposite him, as silently unmoving as a rocky pinnacle that waited to be scaled. Luke stared, unable to tear his gaze away from the mask that had once seemed so unreadable--as unreadable as his own facade could be. Grand Moff Ternine spoke in solemn tones to Mon Mothma, addressing all of them he supposed, but he filtered out the words. If something important was said, he would hear it; until then, he focused all his energy on hearing his father.

Vader inclined his head. "Luke," he said so softly that Luke wasn't sure if his name had been spoken aloud or just reverberated in his mind. No one else seemed to hear it. He responded with a similar call, then deliberately turned away to attend Mon Mothma's short speech--though he couldn't have repeated a word of it.

It ripped into his heart when the group departed the greatroom. He hungered for more stolen moments of time with his father. There were so many questions, so much he wanted to know. And more, much more than perfunctory information, he wanted to know his father's heart. Love flourished there, he had felt it often over the last year, but he wanted to hear the words and feel the touch of a devoted father. The last one through the door, he paused to cast a look over his shoulder. Vader remained at the far end of the room, alone, poised to go through that doorway. Watching him. Luke froze for a long moment, but he could sense nothing. They both turned away.

Soon he would have all his answers.

***



Han felt restless, and generally when he felt restless there was a very good reason. At first he'd thought it was a repercussion of being trapped in carbonite. Leia and Luke told him he'd only been enclosed for hours, but he had not been aware of the passage of time; he only knew the sensation of being lost forever, of his sanity divorced from his soul. The trap could have lasted for a minute or a lifetime, for the sensation was infinite. Now he worried that he was not the same man he had been before Bespin. Were his famous instincts intact, did he still reason based on years of hard-won experience? Did his friends see the same Han Solo, did he behave the same, did he look the same? Sometimes, when he looked in the mirror, he wondered.

Other times, like now, he was disgusted with his weakness. Encased in carbonite for a few hours--so what? Others had suffered more, and worse. His concern should be for them, not himself. Objectively, he knew that his self-centeredness was an old habit that had proven difficult to break--but broken it he had, and he would never go back to his old ways.

So he examined this restless feeling. His famous instincts had rarely failed him in the past, and right now they shouted that something was very wrong with Luke. Admittedly, his instincts had been saying the same thing for months, but he hadn't been able to pinpoint the reason; now, today, the feeling had grown much stronger. Something terrible had happened to Luke in Cloud City, something other than losing his hand to that bastard Vader. Why had Vader wanted Luke so badly? Why had he used them to bait the trap for the kid? Sometimes Luke acted barely older than a child--except that he'd aged a lot in the last year, too quickly for his own good. Often Han had sensed despair and confusion radiating from the younger man, but Luke had gently rejected all his attempts to help. Resolutely, he turned his mind from that frustration back to discovering the source of the problem. What could Luke possibly have that Vader wanted? True, he really appeared to have some kind of power, the Force if Han had to give it a name. He felt almost willing to accept the Force and Luke's use of it, because the only other explanation was that the kid had totally lost his mind, was having delusions, was...insane. And that he couldn't, wouldn't, accept.

But earlier, at the formal introduction, he'd been almost frightened by the way Luke had stared at Vader. Han had stayed by his side and saw the pale lips move several times but couldn't read the words. It appeared as though Luke was in a trance. Maybe the Force was a form of sorcery--he'd heard that said often enough. Maybe Luke was afraid, or maybe Vader had trapped Luke in some kind of spell. Sith-hell, it was too damn confusing. All he knew was that Luke needed someone to keep an eye on him, and Han Solo had appointed himself because no one else seemed to notice, or care about, the strange undercurrents.

The dinner began well enough; he was starving. So hungry that he could ignore the fact that Ternine's young aide sat opposite Leia and had the gall to flirt with her. With Luke at the end of the table on his immediate right he should have been able to relax. Except that, once again, Vader had positioned himself opposite Luke. It couldn't be a coincidence; Vader undoubtedly arranged it. But for what purpose? Intimidation? Yet he sensed no hostility issuing from the Dark Lord. Then there was the matter of food. It bothered him not at all that Vader didn't eat; how could he eat with that obscene mask covering his face? But Luke's food lay untouched on his plate too. The kid's hands were folded in his lap, and he made no attempt to taste even one bite. He just stared at Vader, almost unblinkingly. "Pass me the berre," Han muttered.

It served as no distraction. He might as well have spoken to Luke's hands, because they alone answered him. He accepted the small plate of berre and set it aside. His appetite fled. He leaned back in his chair, glancing at Leia. She didn't return his gaze, and after a few minutes he gave up.

The meal dragged on interminably. It wasn't until the plates were cleared by the silent, unnervingly efficient droid staff and a mouth-watering dessert arrived on silvered trays, that something happened to break the tension that had been building. Lord Vader's chair pushed back, scraping harshly on the polished marble of the floor. Everyone looked in his direction.

The Dark Lord made a half-bow. "If you will excuse me," he said, but didn't wait to be excused. Then, Han noted with alarm, before he had even reached the door, Luke stood to follow him.

"Luke." He tugged at his friend's sleeve, but received no acknowledgement.

"Commander Skywalker?" Mon Mothma's cool inquiry coincided with Leia's worried "Luke?" Neither of them reached the young man. Luke was already at Vader's side. Then he slowly turned back.

"Pardon me," he murmured, and he must have thought that should be excuse enough to leave a diplomatic dinner.

Perhaps for a Jedi it was.

Han sent a reassuring smile toward Leia and Mon Mothma, not daring to check the expressions on the faces of the remaining Imp representatives. Luke was inexperienced in diplomacy; they'd forgive him, certainly. He'd have a talk with his young friend.

Leia made a soft inquiry under her breath. "I dunno, princess," Han answered quietly. "But it's not good."
 

***



Luke knew his action bordered on recklessness, but it didn't matter. He couldn't ignore the siren call of his father any longer, the call rich with promises, full of unknown memories that courted his senses. He had grown weary of drifting and searching when all the while the answers he sought waited here in this man. They walked side by side across the darkened, empty greatroom. Paused by the windows that overlooked an intricate garden maze that he had barely noticed earlier.

Now that he stood here, beside his coveted father, his questions evaporated. All his words fled from him. He reached out hesitantly, touched his fingers to his father's arm, finally releasing a lifetime of fear and anguish and need. Without a moment's reluctance, his father responded by engulfing him in an embrace, the great arms tightening around him until he thought he might smother. Smother, die--it didn't matter. A tremendous tide of relief surged through him, and his knees sagged. No dream-image, this was his father--his father--and he could scarcely comprehend his good fortune. So many years of dreaming and longing, so many disappointments, and this last year, despite the constant whispers of reassurance, the nightmarish fear of rejection. All banished. At least for this moment, in this reality.

His head rested against the massive chest, careless of the hardness of the chestplate, the sharpness of the buttons and switches. Physical pain didn't matter, it dissipated to nothing when compared with the joy in his heart. He was finally loved--loved by this father whom he loved. Nothing in his life had prepared him for this awareness. Thoroughly overwhelmed, he shivered helpless in its hold, not knowing what to do or say. A hand rested on his head, stroked through his hair, and he pressed against the sensation. No one had ever touched him or held him like this. His grip around his father's back tightened as if someone had tried to part them. The Rebellion didn't matter, what everyone else wanted didn't matter, he wouldn't let their wishes separate them; all he had to do was hold on and he would be safe. Safe from the galaxy, safe from his destiny, safe from his enemies and his friends.

"Luke."

His head lifted at the sound of his name, and his lips smiled. He looked at his father--not Vader, his father--knowing his eyes didn't hide the jubilation in his heart. His vision blurred with tears of joy, but he knew no shame for his weakness. How could he feel shame for finding what he'd searched for all his life? "Father," he whispered, glorying in the sound of the simple syllables.

"Son." Could it be just the resonance and the richness of the voice that made the word sound so extraordinary? But it was special--just as he had never named anyone else his father, neither had the Dark Lord ever addressed anyone as his son. Luke felt the longing in his father. It was not as sharp as his own had been; Vader hadn't spent his life yearning for a missing son. But the pain still grew and thrived there. Pain and outrage.

"Why are you angry?" he asked, knowing that the fury wouldn't scorch him. "Who has angered you?"

"The Jedi." The second word shot forth, filled with loathing. "They took you from me. They denied both of us the chance for a full life. They kept you and used you. They would have let you die for their own reasons. I cannot forgive them."

He felt the honesty of those reactions, and it raised a single question. "Why?" he asked simply, knowing his father would understand.

"Power. The continuation of the Jedi creed." His father gave a harsh bark of unamused laughter. "It mattered not that the last Jedi would die to save that useless creed. The fools!"

He reached up one hand and touched his father's mask. Traced the outline of the breathing apparatus, followed upward to the oversized vision monitors, wondering what the mask hid. It didn't matter that the skin was torn or the face hideously scarred; he wanted to see it, longed to know what remained of his father's flesh. "I love you," he finally admitted, and it gave him a curious feeling. More words he'd never spoken, and certainly he had never heard them said. He knew a sense of satisfied embarrassment, then a thrill that he couldn't name. It left a smile on his face and expectation in his heart.

Under the black shield, his father smiled, and the smile beamed as clearly as if the mask had been dislodged. "I love you, too, child of my heart," the Dark Lord answered. "No one will ever part us again."

"No," he agreed happily and rested his head against the strength of the chest. From a practical viewpoint, that would be a difficult promise to keep. But when they both wanted it-- He closed his eyes. One of them would have to leave his life; there were no other options. Lord Vader would never be accepted by the Alliance; could young Skywalker go to the Empire? The same Skywalker who had fired the torpedoes that had destroyed the Death Star with its hundreds of thousands of lives on board? They wouldn't want him anymore than he wished to join them. "No one will want both of us," he whispered, though he was not afraid. His father would find a way for them.

"We will find a solution."

He nodded, unwilling to speak further, satisfied to hold and be held. He felt the same wave of contentment sweep through his father. The great, frightening Darth Vader, plague of the galaxy--could he be tamed by the love of his child? His father chuckled, reading his thought. Luke lifted his head. "How can you sense so much from me?"

Leather-clad fingers brushed his cheek. "In time I will teach you that craft, my son. Ah, there is so much I will show you!"

Luke smiled, accepting the touch of the hand that had once wielded a saber against him. His father would finish his Jedi training, and they could flee this nightmare, find a piece of paradise and claim it for their own. Start a new world. All this he could perceive in his father's wordless promise.
 

***



Han escaped the after-dinner drinks session as quickly as he could. After Luke's decidedly undiplomatic exit, he didn't want to duplicate the indiscretion so he waited for a chance to disappear and go in search of his young friend. Something told him that Luke was not in danger--at least not physically--but still he was filled with unease. He searched the remainder of the second floor and found nothing, then traveled downstairs. At the entrance to the greatroom, he hesitated and slowed his steps. Luke was there, he could feel it. Didn't know how or why, but his great instincts had come through for him again. He slid aside the silent door and peered in, taking a moment to adjust his vision to the darkness.

He'd expected anything but this. Anything--anything else would have been preferable! But there stood Luke in Vader's embrace, a big black hand caressing his face, and they were holding each other like they would never let go. Shocked, Han backed out quickly and noiselessly. Leaned against the wall outside the room, trying to comprehend what he'd seen.

It was too much to assimilate. Luke...and Vader? His stomach churned. He wanted to deny the evidence his eyes had offered, deny what his thoughts screamed at him--but no logical denial could be found. Luke and Vader...lovers. Han closed his eyes in pain. How had it happened--when had it happened? When did they have a chance to meet each other? Luke had known Vader would be at this conference. Knew and didn't tell anyone until it was too late to turn back. So this was what happened at Bespin, this travesty of a romance? And yet...he remembered helping Luke when he fell from the antenna below Cloud City. The boy had been gravely wounded, battered and bleeding, hurt more than physically. So when...?

Maybe he'd misunderstood what he'd just seen. Han shook his head, dismissing that wish as soon as it formed. There was no denying what that brief peek into their privacy revealed. There had been an intensity to that embrace, a deep intimacy that said neither was a stranger to the other's touch. And there had been something else too--something he recoiled from acknowledging. Anger and pain mixed in his heart, along with a frightening message that warned him Luke was lost. Luke had been seduced--in more ways than the obvious--by the terrible Dark Lord of the Sith. Han's fingers twitched, longing for the blaster that he had left behind in the ship. Curse these diplomatic missions that forced him to disarm! If he had his blaster, he'd burst in there and kill that bastard, save his friend--his stupid, innocent friend. Sith-hell! Only the monster Vader would take advantage of such innocence! Somehow, someway, he'd corrupted Luke. Maybe it had happened in Cloud City, maybe that's why Luke's pain had been cut so deep into his soul that he'd never recovered. Or maybe it hadn't been a seduction, maybe Vader had committed the unthinkable and--

"What's wrong?"

He started. No one ever sneaked up on him--but Leia just had. He stared at her, fumbling for words. His head shook automatically. "Uh...nothing."

"Did you find Luke?"

Involuntarily, his eyes shifted to the closed door. He forced them away quickly, but knew she had seen. "He's in there? What are you waiting--"

"Don't!" He stopped her hand before it could reach for the door controls, drew her a few meters down the hall. "Don't," he repeated.

Her brown eyes filled with concern. "What's wrong? What is it?" Suddenly dread filled their smoky depths. "Luke's not--"

And he knew what she feared. "No, he's fine," he answered hastily. Then bitterness filled him. "More than fine."

The hostility in his answer puzzled her. She touched his shoulder. "Han, please tell me. What's wrong?"

He drew a breath, long but shaky. This was not a burden he could bear alone. No matter that it wasn't their business--yet it was their business. They were Luke's friends, their lives were intertwined. "He's with Vader."

She quivered, frightened by his reticence. "And?"

Han turned away from her gentle touch. "I think...." He squeezed his eyes shut from the vision, but the image he'd seen plastered itself across his eyelids. "They're lovers."

"WHAT?"

He shushed her quickly, trying to draw her further away, but she resisted his direction. "Have you lost your mind? What--why? Han!"

Her fear and anger and confusion reached out to him. He grasped her hands. "I saw them."

"Doing what?" Horror filled her voice.

"Just...holding each other."

"Holding each other?" she repeated, as if the words were spoken in a language she didn't understand. "What do you mean?"

"Just that. They were holding each other like--" He released her hands and slumped against the wall. "If you'd seen them.... Vader was touching Luke's face like...ah, Sith-hell, princess! I know what I saw. I can't explain it any better. But it wasn't just seeing...there was more. A...feeling."

She hugged herself as if the surrounding air had suddenly turned very cold. "What kind of feeling?"

"You know." He looked away. "Tension and...." He finally put a name to what he'd felt: "Love."

She looked at him with such dismay that he was embarrassed. "Vader?" she repeated, and he understood that she could not relate Vader with love. He felt the same way. But it was what he had felt, so he could only nod. "No," she said. "That can't be. You're mistaken. Maybe Luke's been wounded--I'm going to see."

"Ah, don't do that!" He tried half-heartedly to stop her. Then he followed. Maybe another explanation would miraculously appear. Maybe he was crazy--that would be preferable. Better that he'd flipped from space-fever than that Luke had--

When Leia walked through the door, he trailed close behind her. And saw, to his infinite regret, that his sanity was not in doubt. Vader and Luke still held the same position, as if the intervening minutes had never passed. The ominous mask looked up at them at once, but it seemed endless seconds before Luke turned his head in their direction--a head that still rested against Vader's black heart. Then the pale face lifted. Luke stared at them, his lips parting.

"What are you doing?" Leia blurted, saying the words Han had been averse to uttering. "Have you gone mad? What are you doing with this...filth?"

Wrong thing to say. He could see the kid's face harden and tightness twist the full lips. Criticize Luke and he got defiant, it was always the way. "Back off, princess," Han muttered. "Let me handle this." It almost sounded as though he knew what he was doing. "Hey, Luke...kid...are you okay?"

Luke trembled as the full import of Han and Leia's thoughts hit him. Lovers. They thought-- His father soothed his shock. Perhaps it is better this way, my son. For now.

He returned his gaze to his father. How can you say that? We can't let them--

If they think we are lovers, they will be too embarrassed to say anything. If we tell them the truth, they will feel free to repeat it. We need time to consider our future. Too many people remember the combined power of Jedi family members. If our secret is not safe, my child, we will not be safe. Do you know what the galaxy would do to us, a Dark Jedi and his fledgling Jedi son?

Instinctively he knew. His resistance melted in the face of his father's logic, but the pain of his friends' disillusionment persisted. They didn't believe in him--yet why should they? He could offer them no explanations. He hid his face against his father's shoulder. "Go away," he told them harshly, his voice muffled by the thickness of the heavy cloak. "Just...go away. Leave us alone."

Their disapproval filled the greatroom like a living thing--or was it the Force that overflowed with their affronted feelings? Luke understood none of it. He closed his eyes and put aside his confusion and misgivings, accepting only the reality of his father's arms around him, the hand that again lingered with love in his hair. He knew exactly when the Dark Lord's gaze fixed on Han and Leia, and allowed them--encouraged them to believe a lie. Deep in his throat, he made a small sound of protest. But he didn't call out to them. Not even when he heard the door slide open and close again.

With infinite trust, he acknowledged his father's superior wisdom. Their true relationship would have to remain a secret for awhile longer. Until they could find sanctuary. Somewhere in the galaxy they would find a place to be safe and happy as father and son. Until then....

Luke allowed his father's touch to brush away his misery.
 

***



The days passed slowly. Keenly, he felt the strain between himself and his friends. Leia virtually ignored him--it was rude, true, but he found it easier to abide than Han's awkward affability. He feared that Leia had spoken with Mon Mothma because the older woman avoided his gaze, and her eyes became vacant when he spoke to her. Surely Leia wouldn't have told her what she suspected? Leia had been raised a diplomat; did not discretion rule her words?

But Leia had also been nurtured as a patriot, and in her judgment he was undoubtedly guilty of fraternizing with the enemy.

In reality, that was what he was doing.

My enemy, my father. So much to learn from you...so much, so dangerous. But if I cannot trust my soul to you, then I can trust it to no one.

On the fourth day of the diplomatic proceedings, he sensed something directed at him. At first intangible, it evaded definition as he labored to put a name to it. Frustrated and worried, he ventured beyond the barriers of decency and into Mon Mothma's mind. Though not an act he committed readily, his apprehension warned him that a mind-rape was, this time, imperative.

What he found first was a fear of him so great that it bore a close kinship to unreasoning terror. Luke was shocked; no obvious indications of the origin of her fear revealed themselves, so he probed deeper. Beneath the violent emotions, her thoughts became icy and unyielding, a leader's irreversible decision tempered by her still-unexplained dread of an enigma: At Mon Mothma's behest, the Alliance Council planned to execute that perceived danger to the Alliance, Jedi Luke Skywalker.

He'd barely touched the thought when he backed quickly away, stumbling the pathway out of her mind like a child running through a rocky canyon. He blinked once in panic and dismay, unable to control that minute reaction. His heart raced frantically. Across the wide expanse of polished wood, he sensed his father's concern, his unasked question. Luke placed his hands on the cool top of the table, fingers spreading slowly apart, searching for stability.

They're going to kill me. He blurted the only thought he could manage.

Mothma?

He nodded once and sensed his father journeying along the path he'd just fled. Felt the sudden rush of outrage as his father repeated his discovery.

A clever plan.

I didn't get that far, he admitted ruefully, and felt a faint tremor in the Force as his fear traveled through it.

A Denebian assassin, to be named as an agent of the Empire. Your Alliance hopes to bring Deneb into the fray on their side, to atone for your death. Mothma has made them fear your powers. We must make plans in haste, my son.

Luke turned his head, sending an impassive gaze down the table toward Mon Mothma. She felt his stare and met it. With considerable pride for his poise, he smiled at her and knew she was satisfied that he remained ignorant of her sinister plot. His own resentment began to rise, and he reveled in the building heat of it. The demon in him wanted to kill her with his own hands, kill them all, the faithless, the disbelievers--those who refused to honor the Jedi. Yet his gentler nature understood her fright and mourned that it had bred such intrigue. And more than rage and remorse, regret filled his heart. His bright future crippled, he was rejected because of who and what he was, because of that over which he had no control. Lost because of this man they didn't understand, this father he had just begun to know.

The time for regrets is not now, my son. This is the time for action. After dinner we will discuss our options.

It appeared inevitable, and he accepted it. But first he wanted to speak with Leia to discover the true nature of her betrayal.
 

***



His famous instincts told him the identity of the intruder who interrupted their romantic interlude before it could even begin. Han sighed and stepped back, wishing things with Leia would move a little faster. "That's Luke," he muttered to her. "Don't start on him, all right? Give him a chance."

She frowned but didn't argue. He always considered himself fortunate when she didn't argue. He pressed the door acknowledgement, and it slid open. A slim, black-clad figure waited, poised in the doorway. Luke spoke not a word.

"Come in," Han said finally, gesturing toward the low sofa.

Luke entered, but none of them sat. Omitting the normal exchange of pleasantries, the young Jedi turned toward Leia. "What did you tell Mon Mothma?"

Han looked at her in surprised disappointment. "You said something to Mothma?"

Leia met Luke's unfathomable stare, her lips set in a stubborn line. "I merely agreed when she observed that you were spending a considerable amount of time alone with Vader. I did not indicate my knowledge of the reason."

"How generous of you." The words were bitten off, short and clipped as if severed from Luke's tongue by a sharp blade.

"I could have told her," Leia retorted, stung by the sarcasm.

"You could have entered it in comlink, too--are you expecting praise for your silence?"

Leia's frustration began to peak; he could tell by the way her fingers clenched in tight little balls at her sides. "Let's calm down here," Han interjected uneasily. "We're all friends, remember?"

Luke ignored him, his eyes still focused on Leia, brows drawn together as if his temper boiled very close to the surface, ready to spill over and scald them. "You don't know how much damage you've done."

"I've done?" she blurted. "Everything that has happened has been your doing. You're the one conspicuously spending time with Vader. Damn you, Luke, you haven't been subtle about it. If you want to--to sleep with the enemy, it's your business. Until you throw it in our faces--until it makes a traitor of you!"

"Leia!" Han exclaimed. That was going too far--too far beyond what one friend could say to another. He almost feared to look at Luke, but when he did, he was unnerved by the combination of fury and grief that appeared and fell across the pale features.

"So, you and Mothma have discussed me further, at least to the point of proclaiming me a traitor and making your evil plans. Thank you, Princess Leia," Luke said acidly, in a tone that made a mockery of respect for the title, "for confirming my instincts about the depths to which you will descend." Pale eyes, blazing with angry passion, turned toward Han. "And you--you know, too, don't you? You bastard--I trusted you!"

Without further explanation of those extraordinary words, Luke spun his heel and left the room. Han turned to Leia, nearly wordless with shock, his heart beating fast in dismay and apprehension. He stared into her confused eyes.

"What the hell is going on here?" he asked finally.
 

***



"I don't want anyone to die," Luke stated firmly.

"Sometimes that cannot be readily controlled."

"Nevertheless, that is my restriction."

A smile lightened his father's voice. "Your only one?"

He briefly reconsidered the plan. "Yes." The decision had not been a simple one; rather, it appeared to be the single solution to an insurmountable problem. "There's nothing else we can do." He echoed the observation he'd made several times, as if reiterating it would rouse another idea from his subconscious mind. "Are you certain that you want to leave the Empire?"

"I do not want to leave the Empire," his father corrected, "as you well know. I hope to salvage my career. However, as you succinctly state, there appears to be no other solution to this current dilemma, and my career must place second to your life. We have a unique opportunity here with leaders from both factions present. A hostage from each side--"

"I told you I hate that idea," he groaned. "I refuse to take Mon Mothma."

"She would be the most influential hostage--"

"No one can stand her. They'd probably blast us into oblivion and her along with us. Why can't we take Han?" he asked wistfully, though he already knew the answer. Han was of no importance to Alliance politicians...except to Leia.

Vader ignored his suggestion and replied with one of his own. "Your princess, then?"

"No." Luke folded his arms on the desk and rested his forehead on them, weary beyond description. "Can't we do this without hostages?" he mumbled. "Or why not take them all? Then they can annoy each other instead of us."

Vader chuckled. "A capital idea, child. Two shiploads of bickering bureaucrats--"

"No hostages, then." Straightening, he felt the beginnings of a new idea stir to life. "Couldn't we...hold them here, put some kind of a Forcelock on the building? Prevent them from communicating? I don't know how to do it, but--"

"I do," Vader said slowly. "You are suggesting Forcelocking them until we have reached a safe destination."

"Take both the ships--"

"Leave them dependent on the Denebians when we release the Lock. Because the Denebians, in their obsession to remain neutral--"

"Will help neither side, rather than helping both. They will all be stranded here until both sides can send ships to pick them up--which will cause another diplomatic crisis all of its own. Once again, neither side will trust the other not to attack when they return for their diplomats."

The black-clad man maintained his silence for a long moment. "It would serve as a distraction, but would accomplish little other than annoying both factions, and it is not as efficient as hostage-taking, but if you would find this plan more tolerable--"

"Infinitely. Besides...." Luke hesitated uncertainly. "What would we do with a hostage after we'd escaped? If we brought her along to our destination...."

The faceless mask simply stared at him. Luke lowered his eyes. "I won't let anyone die," he repeated. It wasn't only a single death that concerned him; in his mind, this provision had become his symbol of the Light. Under his father's influence, he would have to cling tightly to retain his fragile hold on all that was good.

"Perhaps," his father said slowly, as if to himself, "there is an alternative to both these plans."

"What?" he asked eagerly.

"I haven't thoroughly considered it as yet." The Dark Lord leaned forward. "Do not worry, my son. We will find a solution to this problem of ours."

Luke relaxed in the face of his father's confidence. He had no reason to be afraid. Of anything.
 

***



Somehow Han refrained from drumming his fingers on the table. Only a couple hours into the session and Grand Moff Ternine was already hung up on wording. To give the guy credit, though, he supposed he wouldn't want to be the one to bring the wrong agreement to the Emperor. Still, it wasn't like there was a surrender involved or even a guaranteed truce.

Stifling a yawn, he glanced at Leia. She didn't look bored; yet he supposed she had been to dozens of sessions like this, heard the same concerns repeated scores of times. On his other side, Luke sat very still, his expression vacant, tired blue eyes appearing like great bruises against the pallor of his face.

"What's wrong with you?" he muttered under his breath.

Luke's head turned slightly. For a moment he seemed on the verge of speaking, then he shook his head barely perceptibly. Han glared across the table at Vader, wishing he could see that face. If he'd done something to upset Luke--

"Don't," Luke murmured.

The simple command sent a shudder through him. He'd forgotten how good the kid had gotten at reading minds. He wondered if all his thoughts were so transparent. For a moment he longed to have such a power, but then reason took over and he knew it would be as much a curse as a blessing. To know what everyone thought about you-- He looked sharply at Luke.

"Perhaps," Mon Mothma said quietly, "we can table this discussion for a time when we are feeling more productive. I suggest that we adjourn for lunch."

The black beast called Vader stood. "I have a new item," he said, leaving his place and striding arrogantly toward the head of the table. "It would seem that we have some Jedi business to discuss."

"It can wait until after--" the Grand Moff began quickly.

"It will wait for nothing." The deep voice seemed to roll out like the thunder of a wrathful storm. Vader stopped, legs planted like great columns, and hooked his thumbs into his heavy belt. "You will attend my words."

Mothma remained in her chair, fully composed, but Ternine rose. His green eyes focused on the larger man. "I have no time for your interference, Lord Vader. You may be His Majesty's representative, but I am in charge of this delegation. Whatever the problem is, it need not be discussed before these Rebels. We will adjourn now."

"For the moment, you cannot leave this room," Vader said mildly. Then his voice hardened. "Point of fact, you cannot exit this building nor can you communicate with the world outside. I have put a Forcelock on this entire area. You may all consider yourselves my hostages."

"Luke!" Han whispered. Luke glanced at him and hesitated, but then ignored his appeal and stood, walking around the table. With desperate dread in his heart, Han watched his friend halt at Vader's side--to join him, not to defy him. Who the hell was this? This couldn't be the same boy he'd met in Mos Eisley, the wide-eyed teenager who'd swallowed every new experience with an eager hunger that he'd envied. No, this was a bitter and disillusioned child who'd surrendered his growing maturity for something harsh and exacting. A scene flashed through his mind: A baby-faced Luke in his flightsuit, glaring up at him with the scorn he reserved for fallen idols. You know what they're up against...you're turning your back on them....

He'd seen the same look on Luke's face yesterday when he'd confronted them. But why?

"Are you part of this, Commander Skywalker?" Mon Mothma asked, a fine hint of anger skimming her words. But her face paled, as if something more than irritation fought to control her.

"Jedi Skywalker is at the center of it," Vader answered. His impenetrable gaze swept over each of them in turn. "It seems that the Alliance Council has decided that Jedi Skywalker is too dangerous to live. They have arranged for an assassination attempt to take place before this conference ends."

"What?" Leia exclaimed, rising to her feet. "Mothma...is that true?"

Han moved close behind her, as anxious as she to hear the reply. It couldn't be true. But Mothma spoke not a word of denial. No wonder Luke had been fueled by such anger. But how could he believe that they would be part of such a plot? Didn't he trust them at all? Who do you trust, Luke? he asked silently. Vader? He saw a flash of blue as the young Jedi's glance briefly flicked over him, and it seemed to Han as if he'd received a hundred messages in that moment. He sensed anger, regret, betrayal, uncertainty, and a terrible dark need that made him want nothing more than to strike down Vader and snatch Luke to safety.

Vader spoke again, his voice swelling with satisfied vengeance. "Your esteemed leader has set a clever trap. She has induced a Denebian to perform the murder in the guise of an Empire agent. Thus, she brings Deneb into the war and eliminates the source of her fear in one blow."

"How could you do this? Why are you afraid of Luke?" Leia demanded of the older woman. Still there was no reply.

"She fears his powers," Vader explained coldly, "yet she understands barely the beginnings of them. If you knew the true nature of his abilities, Mothma, you would know your foolish plan was doomed even as the first thought of it formed in your head."

"Thank you, Lord Vader," the Grand Moff said solemnly, "for revealing this heinous plot to discredit the Empire. I declare this conference to be at a close. The Empire was ready to deal in good faith; I can see that the Rebels are not. If you will remove the Forcelock...."

"You do not seem to grasp the entire problem, Ternine," Vader said harshly. "Your vision is as limited as ever. Jedi Skywalker is not safe within the Alliance. Nor would he be safe within the Empire. I am--"

"This Rebel Jedi doesn't concern you," Ternine interrupted. "If he dies, so be it. One less worry for us."

The Grand Moff was slammed into his chair and held there, pinned by an invisible energy field. "I will tolerate no more interruptions from you," Vader pronounced. His gaze focused on Mon Mothma. "All your research into Skywalker's background, all your forays to find a weakness in him, were unsuccessful until very recently. Until you made the final connection that may be fatal to you and to everyone in this room."

Luke touched Vader's arm, looking up at the mask. "You promised me that no one would die."

"And you believed him?" Han asked sarcastically. His mind raced. There had to be a way out of this trap. Vader would make a mistake; he was too damn cocky. Luke could yet be saved. At least, saved from Vader. But what of the Alliance?

"We shall see." The voice lowered. "If you die here today, your blood will be on the hands of Mothma. She invaded where she had not the right to trespass. She persisted past the point where she should have ceased. And, regrettably, she discovered the secret Luke and I had kept hidden. Would you care to tell them, Mothma, about the relationship that exists between young Skywalker and myself?"

Han winced. He wished he had never come on this mission--or, better, that Luke had never come, then none of this would have happened. He slouched back into his chair, giving in to a surge of discouragement. Beside him, Leia caught her breath.

Mothma maintained a stubborn silence, her entire body motionless except for the pulse that beat wildly against her throat. Eventually her courage faltered under Vader's oppressive, faceless stare, and she shook her head.

"Very well. I shall spread the glad tidings myself." Vader's arm went around Luke's shoulders, pulled him against his side until the youngster was dwarfed by his hulking form. "Luke is my son."

Shock rippled through the room. For a moment, Han could neither think nor feel; both his mind and his heart were empty. Then the truth hit him, and it changed everything. Son? That meant...Vader was Luke's father? Leia turned to stare at him with an expression that bespoke both relief and horror.

Mon Mothma stared at her interlaced fingers. "Vader is Anakin Skywalker," she said heavily.

Vader inclined his head in a proud nod. Leia uttered a short, blasphemous prayer. Han remembered what she had told him once, long ago, about Anakin Skywalker. Then, uncertain if he was Luke's father and unwilling to ask Luke about that painful point, she had talked about the scope of Skywalker's powers, about his being the most powerful Jedi before being slain by Vader.

Not murdered, obviously. But how, in the name of all that Han Solo had ever believed, had Skywalker become Vader? Could a Jedi descend so far? And why had Luke never told them? Had shame stifled his confession...or had he not known? If the latter was the case, when and how had Luke discovered this terrible truth?--if it was true. As soon as he asked himself the last question, he had the answer. Bespin. Cloud City. The changes in Luke were wrought when the son discovered the father.

But why did Luke deserve such a burden? Of all people to end up with Vader for a father, why Luke? Luke with his obsessive desire to imitate his Jedi father. Luke with his propensity to idolize older men and his total disillusionment when they turned out not to be his concept of Anakin Skywalker. He'd seen it happen twice, with Dodonna and Rieekan. Was it Han Solo's head on the block now? He felt the first stirring of fear begin in his mind, and he reached for Leia's hand.

"The Council could not allow Skywalker to live once we realized that Vader and the Emperor were searching for him." Mothma commented, striving unsuccessfully to keep her voice even. "A Jedi parent-child bond doubles their powers."

"Even more than that." Vader's voice seemed to purr. "Together we cannot be conquered. My son and I will rule the galaxy."

"The Emperor will not allow--" Ternine gasped.

"The Emperor will have no choice." Vader squeezed Luke's shoulder. "United, we will be his destruction. He has foreseen it."

Why didn't Luke speak? Han focused his eyes on his friend, willing him to respond, to wake up. To see that he allied himself with Vader the Dark Lord, not Skywalker the perfect father. Luke looked at him and smiled, gave a modest, deprecating little shrug that said nothing, but implied happy complicity. The look that he turned on his father overflowed with faith and adoration.

Han closed his eyes, unable to face that expression. The Alliance Council wanted to kill a boy who had done them no harm. Luke found the father whose image he'd worshiped--and that father, though malevolent in soul, had just saved his son's life. Who could compete with that? And how much of this had Vader manipulated? He'd certainly encouraged the misconception that he and Luke were lovers, not father and son. He'd allowed this terrible rift to separate the friends until Luke had nowhere to turn but to his father. And now Vader intended to use him as the instrument of the Emperor's destruction. Han couldn't regret the goal, but what of the cost to Luke? Gifted with that much power, would he become another Palpatine, or another Vader to his Emperor-father? Han shook his head, torn between fear for his friend and fear of him.

"What are you going to do now?" he eventually asked Luke. "If you go through with this, everything will change."

"Everything is already changed," the younger man said softly. "I have no choice, Han. The Council is behind her plot. Either I die according to their plan, or I make another choice. I choose to live." Luke's gaze shifted to Leia, and his voice rose. "Are these the kind of people you choose to ally yourself with? Is this who you are? Do you still believe in this honorable cause of yours--even when it calls for my murder?"

"No!" Pain echoed through her tone, but Leia held the embittered gaze. "I didn't know about this plot, Luke, and I certainly don't condone it. The Alliance Council is wrong--very wrong--and I intend to tell them so!" She paused, fingers clenching into tiny fists as she struggled to retain control. "But, yes, I still believe in our cause. The Council may not be perfect, but it's all we have in our battle against the Empire. It's what binds the Alliance together. I don't have the luxury of rejecting the Council, Luke, no matter how much I disagree with their intentions regarding you. I'll fight them all the way, but this can't affect my support of their governing status. Can you understand that?"

"No." Nothing was revealed on Luke's face. Han flinched inwardly when the icy stare focused on him. "And you, Han? Do you agree with Leia?"

He searched for a way to soften his words. "I agree that the Council is wrong. I'm disappointed and disgusted with them. But, Luke, Leia's right. They're all we've got. Without organization, the Empire will regain everything we've won over the last few years. We can change the Council--"

"You don't need them," Luke interrupted, a faint quiver in his voice. "Come with me. With us. We'll get away from all this--Alliance, Empire, all of it."

Han closed his eyes briefly and made a slight gesture with his hands. He'd never seen in himself whatever quality Luke saw and admired, and now he would have to destroy the kid's vision. "I might be able to walk away from the Alliance, but Leia won't. I want her," he said bluntly, "and she needs me. I'm the last one she can trust." Too late, he realized that Luke would take that declaration as a personal reproach. "We can straighten out this mess," he added awkwardly. "But don't go with Vader, kid. You'll regret it."

The expression appeared so briefly that he didn't have time to interpret it before Luke's face was again wiped clean of any emotions. The dark blond head gave a curt nod of acknowledgement, and Luke's gaze refastened on his father.

The youngster would offer them no assistance. He knew that if Luke had to choose at this point, he would elect to save his father rather than his friends. Han felt a wave of frustration sweep through him. How could they fight Vader when it meant fighting Luke?
 

***



His fingers still trembled, reflecting the strain of facing his friends, his enemies, his father's final words. Luke laced them together until the fingertips turned first ghostly white, then brilliant red. But still they shook. He looked up as Vader unclasped the black cloak and tossed it across a sidechair where it clung like a living creature. "I won't let you kill them," he insisted fiercely.

"Their future rests with you, my son. If you join me, they will live. It is a very simple exchange."

"Me for them." Both anger and disillusionment boiled in his heart. Vader's manipulations weren't necessary; Luke would have remained at his side without coercion. Didn't his father know that? Or wasn't that knowledge enough for the Dark Lord? Perhaps nothing could be given to Vader; perhaps he only treasured that which he conquered. "And you want us to rule the galaxy."

"Eminently sensible, don't you agree? The Emperors Skywalker." Vader towered above him, staring down where he sat rigidly in a metal chair. "If you agree to join me, then I shall resume my life as Anakin Skywalker, and your friends will be freed. If you do not agree, then I will be forced to remain Vader and Palpatine's servant. In that case, of course, I could not allow your companions free to spread the information about my true identity."

"You shouldn't have told them." Luke felt more tired than he ever had, more weary of soul than he'd felt after their confrontation in the clouds. How much had his father done? Had he allowed Mothma to discover their relationship? Had he, totally and without mercy, exploited Luke's childish longings? Was there no love here, only more lies? He blinked, feeling that he teetered on the edge of an unwanted discovery. "Han and Leia would have never known," he said slowly. "Why did you tell them?"

His question was ignored. "Do you agree?"

If his father could read his thoughts, what difference did a few confirming words make? "I agree," he whispered slowly, pretending that he had a choice. At least this way Han and Leia would live, though without him. They'd made their choices. He hadn't expected anything different from Leia; she was Alliance through and through. But Han-- Luke hung his head and succumbed to the self-pity that had filled his mind from the moment Han had decided: Han loved Leia more than him. Han, his brother, his best friend. Han had taught him so much...and Han had brushed him off like dirt on his clothes.

Hadn't he? Luke's brow furrowed in concentration as he struggled with his suspicions. Han and Leia hadn't known of Mothma's plot--they'd become entangled in it as badly as he had. They'd both defended him to Mothma. Had he really expected that Leia would give up everything she'd worked for, or that Han would give up Leia? What a fool he'd been to think that for a moment. What a blind, stupid--

In a flash of clarity, he saw exactly what had happened. Vader had made Luke's parentage a trap to sever all remaining ties of friendship and loyalty. But of the three friends, Luke had been the only one caught in that snare.

"Excellent. Your decision bodes well for your future. I should not like you dying at the hands of your friends. Or," Vader added casually, "at mine."

Ice flowed into his veins, freezing the warmth that should have filled them. He raised his face and looked at Vader. He didn't doubt that this man would kill him if he deemed it necessary.

With sudden violence, he shoved the realization aside. He was wrong, had to be wrong about all of it, it was impossible-- He stared at his father.

The heavy black gloves were being stripped from strong hands. Vader began to deactivate the switches on his life support unit.

Luke leaped to his feet, unreasoning alarm coursing through his limbs. "What are you doing?"

Vader laughed at his dismay. "Did you honestly believe that I would display life support controls where they would be readily accessible to anyone?"

"Oh." He leaned back against the table. His father didn't deserve his unreserved concern, but now that he'd opened his heart to the older man, there seemed to be no way to close it again. And who else was left to love? His relief lasted but a moment. Then he watched in appalled fascination as Vader removed his helmet and began to release the mask. What manner of scars would mar his father's face? Was there even a face left? He gnawed his lower lip, biting it bloody as the mask came away. Luke gaped in shock at what was revealed.

The man who stood before him appeared as a giant image of himself, as if Luke Skywalker had been enlarged and projected onto a holo screen. The hair color and length were frightening reproductions, the eyes gleamed as clear and pale as his own. The cleft chin, the narrow face, the sudden surprise of a smile--Anakin Skywalker mirrored him in every aspect but age and stature.

So like him, so unlike him. Ready to love him, ready to use him, ready to kill him. Which father was real? One, the other--

Both?

The stunning truth was too much for him to absorb. Luke's body sagged, and unwelcome tears clouded his vision. He blinked them away, knowing it was unwise to show weakness. Peripherally, he became aware of the body armor being tossed aside until Vader/Anakin stood in a simple black uniform very like his own. "You-- There's nothing wrong with you!" he finally accused in a voice that trembled with all his confused emotions.

"Did you prefer me crippled?"

Now he could both see the face and read the eyes; he was no longer dependent on mere vocal tones for deeper perception. And the voice--the voice sounded different! Softer, quieter, more like his own. Luke shook his head, responding both to the question and to what he was seeing. "I don't understand. Why didn't you tell me?"

"I am telling you now." Anakin moved in front of him again, his body blocking out the afternoon light that filtered through the single narrow window of his room.

He struggled against the oppressive impact of that motion. "You shouldn't have let me think-- Why didn't you tell me?" His life had been overrun by that question; how many times, to how many people, had he repeated it? His father was proving to be just another who would never be honest with him, another who only wanted to use him and his abilities. A spark of anger flamed in his mind as he considered what treasures he had traded to possess this man.

"I had to be sure of your loyalty." Anakin moved to his right and sat alongside him on the edge of the table. It vibrated under his weight. "I told you that you did not know the power of the Dark Side. It would be a poor power, indeed, if it could not repair the body of a damaged Jedi. I was grievously wounded by Kenobi, true; but I restored myself with Palpatine's assistance."

"Then why the mask, why the disguise?" He tasted the metallic bite of blood on his tongue and swallowed it.

Anakin shrugged. "Palpatine insisted for many reasons. The mask inspired fear. It concealed my true identity. I became his creation, and no one knew my history. Without a background, I became all the more terrifying. And he feared this day. In destroying Anakin Skywalker, he hoped that you would never come searching. That we would never join forces."

"You knew you had a son?" Luke whispered incredulously. "Both of you knew about me? Damn you--"

"No!" The denial was quick and sharp, and the pale eyes glittered with an angry defensiveness. "Palpatine knew. I had no knowledge of your existence until you became a Force Presence. Then he could no longer hide you from me."

"He hid me?" Luke echoed without comprehension. "Why didn't he have me killed?"

"Your destiny is interlinked with the Dark, my son. As long as you lived, there existed the possibility that you would become his servant as I did."

"I won't," he said vehemently. He turned his head and studied his father's face. Already he'd memorized their differences and similarities. Anakin must have been no older than him when his son had been born; his appearance was unexpectedly youthful and vigorous. What had he found so compelling in the Darkness?

"Nor will I, any longer." The smile, disconcertingly familiar, shone on him with all the brightness of the Tatooine suns. "We will destroy him and absorb his power, then we will rule and bring an end to this chaos. Your friends will be freed. It is your destiny, Luke, to rule at my side."

"The Emperors Skywalker. Dark and Light?" Discerning the difference between the two had become increasingly difficult; perhaps it was all a matter of perception. From the moment he'd begun his Jedi training, his world had strayed from its crystalline and pure pattern. The entire galaxy now seemed to exist in varying shades of one prosaic color. As he was not all Light, his father could not be all Dark. Was his father correct--combined, could they bring peace?

"And order," his father murmured, reading his thoughts. "Peace and order will rule the day, my son. Our military forces would be better used to explore other galaxies and--"

"Explore?" Luke spit out harshly. "Or invade? I can see that--"

"--we will have some difficulties in reaching mutual agreement," Anakin finished smoothly. "I find it reassuring that our life together will not be boring, don't you agree?"

He feared that he was trapped, his youthful dreams stolen; still, part of him coveted surrender to his father's will as the easiest path. Maybe the Dark Lord was right. Maybe the Jedi creed was false and full of empty promises. Hadn't he followed it, hadn't his father followed it--and hadn't it betrayed them both?

Or had they forsaken the Jedi, each in his own way? Silently, he acknowledged that truth and raised his mental barriers fractionally higher.

These last few days had been the happiest of his life, full of love and the promise of a future with his father. He refused to believe that the answering feelings emanating from the Dark Lord had been totally feigned or that his love was a lie. His father was only numbed by the Darkness, his feelings not dead, just forgotten. Given time, his son could revive them. Perhaps that was Luke Skywalker's true destiny.

And if his father couldn't find his way to the Light, then Luke would join him in the Darkness and try to lift the shadows that fell over them. He'd deserted his friends and betrayed their trust, but he would not abandon his father now, no matter what the cost to either of them.

"I will stay with you," Luke said softly, "because I love you, Father, as much as you love me."

The older man smiled very slightly.

Luke's answering smile was wary as faced the enigma that was Anakin Skywalker.
 

End



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