Disclaimer Not my characters, well most of
them, and not my universe. I'd love to think I was doing
this for money, but it's purely for fun. But maybe one
Summary: Sequel to Shooting Stars.
Yavin 4, Rebel Base, Exterior Landing Pad.
"Wait! Wait Biggs! Wait!"
I can't stop now, he thought, desperately, quickening his steps, forging through the tropical storm, pushing against the lash of raindrops and the gusting winds, hearing her words, caught by the gale, as they blew away from him.
Through the gloom, the muddy sky and the rain, he saw the Imperial shuttle, sitting on the landing pad, running lights a string of winking red around its belly. He breathed through his nose, pushed the muscles in his thighs to keep on walking, though the wind wanted to push him back to the base.
"Wait!" she said again, and she sounded closer this time, so he turned just in time for her to catch up to him, grab his sleeve.
"We've got to go, Leia," he said. "Vader could be here any minute." He yanked his sleeve free from her grip. With her hair wet and wild from the rain, she shouldn't have looked much like a Princess, right then but she did: regal and determined. Biggs swallowed, thickly.
"You don't know that," she said, pointedly.
"I do," he said. "I spent long enough with him to know what he'll do next." And, damn, why did his voice crack when he said that? He spotted, from the corner of his eye, Luke, standing in the hatchway to the shuttle, watching them.
"He can't track you we checked the shuttle," she insisted. "There's no tracker."
And that was true it was the first thing they'd done, after making contact with the Alliance, after finally getting Luke off the floor of the shuttle, after setting course for Yavin. No tracers no way, logically, Vader could find them. But, still Biggs wasn't taking any chances. He shrugged.
"We've gotta go," he said again, and turned.
He could feel her eyes on his back as he walked away, shouldering the bag that held the last of the supplies Leia had persuaded the base to give them.
"Where will you go?" she shouted.
He paused, looking up at Luke, a dark, slender figure silhouetted by the interior lights of the shuttle.
"Anywhere," he said. "Somewhere he can't find him."
She laughed, though Biggs couldn't hear any humour there. "And where's that?" she demanded.
Nowhere, he thought. There's nowhere. But I have to try.
A soft touch on his arm turned him around. He hadn't heard her approach, but suddenly she was beside him, looking up at him with bristling determination. "You can't protect him," she said.
"I can try."
"He'll find you."
"Not if we keep moving."
"What kind of life is that?"
He sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. "It's a life, that's all." And even though she was right, he really didn't want to think about it, right then and there. Running, always running, and with Luke utterly shattered by the revelation that Vader was his father. Suddenly, he could feel the weight of the past few weeks pressing down on his shoulders, a ridiculously heavy burden.
"Stay with the Alliance we can help you," Leia said, earnestly.
He frowned. "He's Vader's son not exactly a model recruit."
Her eyes hardened. "I'll vouch for him for both of you." And for a minute, the comedy of the situation made him want to laugh. Vader's daughter, vouching for Vader's son, with the Alliance. Not that they knew she was Vader's daughter not that any of them knew, except Biggs. And that was just another burden, weighing him down.
He shook his head, wiped at the rain that ran down his forehead, curved under his jaw. Any other time, he'd have relished the feeling of standing in a rainstorm, letting the water drench him, soak through to his bones, but he didn't have time, not now.
"Please, Biggs," she said, suddenly, voice softer than it had been. "I just... please stay? We can help him. You helped me you rescued me. We owe you a debt." She didn't say it, but he heard it just the same - I owe you a debt.
And he paused, just for a moment, considering. He looked at her, again at Luke's sister, and then up at Luke, and suddenly the unfairness of the situation hit him. They'd only just met, though they didn't know what they were to each other and now he was dragging Luke away on a mad dash to... to nowhere.
And that was just wrong.
He sighed. Damn it, why did he have to be the one to make these decisions? "You've got to promise me, Princess promise me we'll be safe with the Alliance. That you'll persuade them."
Her eyes dimmed, for a moment. "I promise you I will try my best."
And he couldn't really ask for more than that, could he? He turned, again, to look up at the hatchway, but Luke was gone, disappeared inside. Biggs swallowed, convulsively.
"Alright," he said.
And how was he supposed to know, right there and then, with all the uncertainty and confusion running through his mind, that he'd just made the wrong decision?
One standard tenday later.
Somewhere in space, Rebel Command Ship 'Revolution', Command Deck.
It felt like there was no air in the room - as if the blast-doors' seals had been ripped open and Luke and he were holding their breath against the vacuum. Biggs could feel the force of his own heartbeat, careening against his ribs, again and again. And he could hear the sound of his pulse against his temples, counting down the moments before the Alliance Council re-entered the room.
He looked at the door again ramming his hands in his pockets to stop his fingers from tapping out a nervous tune against the tabletop. Luke caught his eye, sat beside him, looking small and lost, like Biggs had rarely seen him before.
He smiled at his friend, the tense muscles in his face stretching painfully with the false expression. It felt unreal, sitting there, waiting for judgement, the heat of the lights burning the top of his head, the low ceiling pressing him into his seat. And Luke looked equally as cowed. Biggs expected to see wanted to see a brilliant smile in return, even if it was just as fake as his own had been. But Luke just looked at him blankly. His eyes, drained of their usual summer blue, seemed to fill his face.
Biggs opened his mouth to say something reassuring Don't worry, Luke Leia'll talk `em into it but nothing came out. No words, no sound just a feeling like he'd been kicked, punctured, and his hopes were slowly leaking out of him, bleeding onto the sterile floor of the meeting room.
Maybe Luke saw something in his expression then, `cause he smiled just briefly, shrugged his shoulders, and raked his hands through his straggling blond hair.
Biggs frowned. He didn't like that didn't like that expression. He knew the kid's expressions like he knew the back of his hand but he'd never seen that one before.
"Luke-" he started to say, the sound making him jump, `cause he hadn't planned on speaking, and honestly he didn't know what he was going to say, anyway.
Then, the door opened, and he snapped his mouth shut, slammed down the door to his own emotions.
The Council came in, unannounced, and took seats at the tables. The Princess was with them, in the middle of the group, but she sidestepped her own space at the table and seated herself next to Luke, face expressionless.
Biggs frowned at her, then, glad to have someone else to direct his unease onto. She smiled, just a little, sadly, and tucked a stray strand of hair back behind a pearl hairclip.
"Greetings, gentlemen. The Council welcomes you aboard the Revolution," a woman said, with a voice he instinctively didn't trust - soft, but with a strength Biggs was immediately wary of. He straightened his back, tightened his muscles like a new recruit, and sat up straight. She didn't acknowledge him, though, didn't even catch his eye her gaze was riveted on Luke, who looked like he was praying for a hole to open up in the durasteel floor. "Princess Leia has informed us of your rather unusual situation. The Council has been in discussion about the course of our actions from this point onwards." She smiled, a grim expression that emphasised the spider-cracks around her mouth.
There was an annoying tapping sound in the room, distracting him, and Biggs scowled and then realised it was him, rapping his fingers impatiently against the table, and he grabbed his right hand with his left, shoved it under the table. No one paid him any heed. They were all looking at Luke, intently, with a keen interest that immediately raised Biggs' hackles.
"Great," he said. "So what's the decision?"
The woman looked at him, then, and Biggs got the image in his mind of a rodent caught in the flair of speeder-lights. Suddenly, he had a lot of sympathy for those womprats he and Luke had hunted back on Tatooine, a lifetime ago now.
Thinking of that made nausea tighten his gut, and he almost felt like standing up, dragging Luke from the room by the scruff of his neck, boarding their stolen shuttle and ripping across space, going back in time, so they could kick the dirt on the dunes again, take pot-shots at the local wildlife, talk about the future like it was going to be incredible
"The `decision', as you put it, was not reached lightly. We were at pains to examine every conceivable alternative before reaching this conclusion pains that cause me to feel reticent about merely stating our `decision' and closing this rather unusual chapter in the history of the Alliance."
He didn't like the sound of that not one bit and he didn't like the way she was looking at him as if she would gladly scrape him from the sole of her shoe, should she ever be unfortunate enough to step on him. He hardened his eyes, lifted an eyebrow, ready to defend.
"Be fair, Mon " A soft voice interrupted his plans for how he was going to put this lady in her place. "We're all tired and exhausted Biggs and Luke just need to hear whether we're willing to help them hide from Vader."
Leia. Biggs wanted to smile at her in thanks, but stubborn pride wouldn't let him. Instead, he just nodded, as if the words had been exactly what he would have said. His fingers were itching to tap the tabletop again, so he folded his hands across his chest and nodded again.
The woman `Mon' smiled grimly. "We've all had a long day," she acknowledged. "But this is no simple matter, Princess, as you well know."
Something fierce crossed the Princess' expression, then, and Biggs smiled, secretly, to himself. "I understand that, but there really is no way of softening the decision."
And he really didn't like the sound of that. He gripped the fabric of his tunic and resisted the urge to scream. "Look," he said, searching for diplomacy and finding not a grain of it in his head. Too damn annoyed, and too damn tired. "I appreciate we've put you in a difficult situation here, but if it's just the same with you, if you're going to kick us out of here, can we get on with it?"
Mon lifted an eyebrow at that, and chuckled chuckled and Biggs fought back a flush of embarrassment. Hell no one had ever bothered teaching him diplomacy.
"I don't think-" Mon started, but was interrupted by Leia.
"We're not kicking you out," she said, grimly.
"Frankly, you're too dangerous," Mon said, looking peeved that Leia had interrupted her. And though she was looking at him, Biggs knew that he wasn't the one they thought dangerous. From the corner of his eye, he could see Luke staring off at a corner of the room, looking oddly distant, as if his body was present, but his mind was off somewhere and, frankly, Biggs didn't think he wanted to know where.
There was a pause. Biggs felt a pressure in his chest, like the breath he was holding was exploding outwards. Leia refused to look at him, though he could see the tightness in her expression the pain. This is going to be bad, he thought, and gripped either elbow in either hand.
Mon spoke, then, but it didn't shatter the tension just screwed it up tighter. "We are aware that Darth Vader has gone to extreme lengths to try and recapture his son and he has correctly assumed that you came to Alliance: we have lost a number of convoys to Vader's wrath in the past week. However, although your presence here has cost us dearly, it also presents us with a number of possibilities."
Pressure; in his head, in his chest, in his muscles he wanted to slam his hands on the table, get up, stalk the room. But he just sat there, staring at the Council. "What possibilities?" he demanded. His voice sounded odd, like it wasn't him talking.
"The lengths to which Vader will go to regain and protect Skywalker remain unproven, but it is possible for us to make an educated guess, given your statements."
I don't like this, Biggs thought, and as if the kid had plucked the words from his mind, Luke turned to look at him, as he bit his bottom lip. "That's true. Go on," Biggs said, eyes never leaving the kid's. I'm with you, he thought. Whatever happens I'm going nowhere, understood? He hoped, even if the kid wasn't a mind-reader like his father, that he'd understand.
Luke smiled, faintly, though it didn't reach his eyes.
"This situation makes your presence here potentially very dangerous and potentially very lucrative," Mon continued. Biggs tried to look at her dispassionately, but all he could see was the harsh lighting of the room igniting her auburn hair and making her skin look old and tired. I don't trust you, he sent, with his eyes. She tilted her head in acknowledgement and sent back a look that said, The feeling's mutual. "Thus," she continued, "it is the Council's decision to make the most of a rather difficult situation."
"Mon " Leia interrupted. "Just tell them."
Biggs glanced at her, briefly, and didn't like what he saw pain, maybe, or disillusionment. Uneasy, he looked back at Mon.
"Very well. Our proposal is that we allow yourself and Skywalker to remain with the Alliance, and advise Lord Vader that you are with us." She smiled, sternly. "We will make it clear to him that should he attack any member of the Council, or the Council's convoys, he will be placing Skywalker at risk. Similarly, should he attempt to regain Skywalker, we will not allow this to happen indeed, the Council is of the opinion that this should not occur under any circumstances, whatever the consequences of preventing it."
Biggs tried to swallow, but the lump of ice that was clogging up his throat wouldn't let him. If he pinched himself, would he wake up? He flashed a look at Leia. "Traitor," he hissed, before he could stop himself. "You promised me he'd be safe here. You promised me."
And the words must have struck her hard, like the lash of a whip, because she flinched when he would have expected stubborn defensiveness. "I tried," she said. "I'm sorry." Her lips thinned into a pale line, an expression on her face that didn't suit her at all anger, and betrayal. "I thought he would be."
Mon interrupted them with a delicate cough, utterly civil, given the circumstances given the blood-lust that was ripping through Biggs' self-control. What had he been thinking, accepting Leia's offer of sanctuary with the Alliance? Had he really thought they'd accept them with open arms? The girl had been delusional and he'd been fool enough to believe her delusion.
"To that end," Mon said, still irritatingly calm, "you will both stay here. And you, Luke Skywalker, will be fitted with a device that will allow us to keep abreast of his position, and offer us a quick solution should Vader reclaim him."
For a moment, the room felt like it was warping around him, twisting the nausea that had been turning his stomach since they had arrived here. A quick solution. The words echoed through his mind, comically understated. A quick solution the way you'd describe sorting out a minor rodent infestation with crude poison, or patching together a broken coolant pipe with duct-tape. A quick, if messy, solution. He didn't doubt for a minute that they meant they would kill Luke a very quick, very messy solution.
Luke was halfway out of his seat. "What? You you "
And then Mon pressed a button on the table console, one that opened the door, and showed them the contingent of heavily-armed guards standing outside, lethally alert.
"A tracking device," Biggs hissed, finally finding the words, breathless with disbelief. "You're going to put a slave tracker in him! A detonator!"
"It is for his own safety," Mon replied, calmly. "And for ours."
"We can we must. For your protection as much as ours."
He opened and closed his mouth uselessly, looked at Luke, who was gripping the edge of the chair, looking ready to bolt, despite the guards. Biggs was with him on that idea. But they'd taken their weapons off them when they'd arrived, and the hanger was a good two klicks running-battle from here.
He turned on Leia, instead. "You agreed to this?" he demanded, disbelieving.
"No," she hissed, "I didn't. I couldn't stop them."
Mon tilted her head to one side. The other Council members watched impassively, like drones. "Your objections have already been noted. But the Alliance believes in democracy and it is the Council's democratic decision that this is the best course of action both for the Alliance and for yourselves." She paused. "Of course, should you feel that our decision makes your position on the Council untenable, we would understand if you followed through on your proposal to resign from the Council." False-distress in her voice. "But it would be regrettable."
Too much too damn much. Biggs shot to his feet, scraping the chair back from the table, pleased with the screeching sound it made. "You hypocritical bunch of-"
"What else could we do? We cannot risk Vader regaining Skywalker and there is clearly an opportunity here to protect our own assets."
"Yeah, you definitely got that last bit right," he snapped.
Luke looked at him, something like desperation on his face. "Biggs " he said, swallowing convulsively. "What do we do?"
And what could he say to that? What could they do? He'd trusted these people, thought it was the best course of action, and again again he'd let Luke down. If he didn't stop doing that soon, he wouldn't be able to count the number of times he'd done it on the fingers of just one hand. First, when he'd mouthed off about him in the hanger of Devastator, so long ago now. Second, when he'd failed to resist Vader's interrogation. And the third time, when he hadn't told Luke about his parentage. This was number four, and it hurt just like all the other times had - guilt, racing through him, slamming into his gut like he'd taken a kick to his stomach.
"Biggs!" Luke half-shouted. "What do we do?!"
"Skywalker," Mon was saying, the words registering only dully in Biggs' mind. "The device can be inserted immediately. The guards outside the door will escort you to our medical facilities, and-"
"No!" Luke shouted.
Biggs thought he could feel the fear coming off Luke, in waves, and then he realised he probably could, `cause the table started to shake, to rattle, just as Luke was shaking.
The Council members all stood, then, and backed away rapidly finally, someone other Mon spoke. "Guards!" an old man shouted, his bristling grey eyebrows raised in shock. A heartbeat later, the guards ran into the room, weapons raised. "Restrain the boy! Stun them!" the old man ordered.
Biggs was shouting, trying to grab Luke, trying to think of a way out of this mess.
He yelled as the first guard took aim. "No Stop, you don't have to-" and then blue lightning leapt towards him, flashed from the blaster, tangling around him and slicing through him, and he hit the deck hard.
The Yavin system, the Death Star, Bridge.
Emptiness. Cold, frigid emptiness, where there should have been warmth. And though Vader knew he had lived with that emptiness for over 18 years, suddenly it felt colder than usual, more suffocating.
And that was easily explained you cannot mourn for that which you have never known. But now that he had known his son, if only briefly, he felt the emptiness more keenly than ever, and mourned the loss. There was only isolation, now, where there should have been warmth, and company. Because `though he had known his son for only a few fraught hours, a bond had formed between them a bond strong enough that with Luke gone, Vader felt as if a part of him was missing, bleeding.
But not completely empty not any more. And, in a way, that was worse the memory of that connection lingered still, taunting him. Though Luke was far away, Vader could feel the boy's presence, nudging against his soul, touching it, igniting it, like a part of his mind was burning. He could feel the rise and fall of Luke's emotions; he knew when the boy was sleeping, when he was awake. Such intimate knowledge and yet the boy was light-years away, beyond contact, his location unknown.
Location unknown. Vader grimaced at his own description of the boy's whereabouts. It barely touched upon the anger he felt; the indignation. It was burning through his muscles, demanding that he act that he find the boy, reclaim him, retrieve him, return him to his rightful place which was by his father's side.
But that instinct to hunt Luke down was impotent in the face of Vader's utter inability to locate him. It had been days since the boy had escaped the Death Star. Days that were rapidly stretching into a full tenday - and each successive day seemed to stretch Vader's patience a little thinner: to test his self-control a little further. And he felt cold. Cold, and cut right through to the bone by his loss.
Cold and empty.
The sound of snapping plastic drew Vader out of his reverie, and he looked down, unsurprised to see that the datapad he was holding had developed a split screen where his hand was crushing it, the words `location unknown' blurred and broken.
Silently, Vader passed the datapad back to his aide, and turned away from the man, ignoring the incredulous eyes and frightened pallor. Vader clasped his hands behind his back, lest he consider breaking something more animate than a datapad to relieve his anger.
In front of him, the Death Star bridge stretched as far as the forward viewscreen, which reflected the darkness space beyond, cold and empty apart from the planet they were approaching, and beyond that the tight pinpricks of distant stars.
What had he told Jinn, in a moment of youthful idealism? - I want to be the first one to see them all! And maybe he had been but it hadn't been nearly as fulfilling as he had thought it would be. Not when he'd seen most of them alone.
Where are you? he thought, allowing the thought to leak out into the Force, down the newly-born parental bond that still stung like a fresh cut. Luke where are you?
Not here, that much was clear, although Vader felt certain the boy had visited the Yavin system recently, perhaps even mere hours ago the colour of his presence lingered here, igniting the stars. If only Vader had discovered the location of this base sooner; pushed the captured rebels harder, broken them faster
But there were too many `if only's to linger on, should he wish to do so. It would not change the simple fact that his son had been here and then moved on.
Luke answer me.
But there was still no answer. Either the boy did not hear him, or he chose not to answer. Vader hoped it was the former, though he feared it was the latter. His last image of the boy had been of Darklighter dragging him away, Luke's face twisted with betrayal and fury. Neither emotion had been pleasant to witness.
But Vader had been so certain that telling Luke he was his father had been the correct decision. When had he ever been that wrong had he ever been that wrong before? He had felt Luke's longing and need for a father, a reflection of his own desires, and had thought the boy's need would eclipse whatever else he felt towards Vader.
Apparently, it had not.
What do you want from me? Luke had asked.
And the answer had been instinctive - Nothing more than just you. But when Luke had looked at him, frowned at him, as if not quite believing it, Vader had added, almost defensively, We can rule the galaxy together.
And what response had he expected, really? The boy was just that a boy. He could not possibly conceive of his own importance in the scheme of things. Vader would have been better leaving it at, Nothing more than just you.
But he hadn't, and now, reaching for the echo of his son's feelings across their bond, he felt the confusion Luke was suffering. Longing and need clashed with his fear and anger at being manipulated. His heart was torn, his mind chasing itself in circles. No wonder the boy barely slept.
Where are you? Let me find you I will explain, clearly this time, what it is I desire from you, he thought, sweeping the words ahead of him, out into open space. But what I desire is not complicated it is simply you.
A brief second after he had thought it, there was something a flicker, an acknowledgement sailing back to him. Shocked, Vader latched onto it, and chased it back towards its source, feeling almost drunk on the sudden, unexpected contact.
But instead of the mental response he had hoped for, a sudden storm of fear burst back at him, rapidly escalating, building to a whirlwind of emotion.
Maybe Luke had finally let him in, or maybe something was happening to the boy that caused him so much fear that he was doing the only natural thing to do reaching for protection because Vader suddenly reached the end of the bond, and touched that intoxicating presence
- and then that presence was suddenly, violently, gone.
Simultaneously, somewhere in space, Rebel Command Ship `Revolution', Command Deck.
"No!" Leia shouted, even as Biggs collapsed to the deck like a puppet with his strings cut. She was rising out of her seat, her head feeling light as she stood, as she started towards Luke, not quite sure what she was going to do before she was doing it putting herself between the guards and her friend.
"Leia!" Mon Mothma cried, almost sounding distressed. Leia spared her a second of acid glare. "Leia get out of the way."
"No!" she said, glancing down at Biggs, who was slumped on the floor, out cold. Luke looked at her with achingly wide eyes, and Leia had the urge to beg for his forgiveness.
I didn't know I didn't know I thought they'd help
"It's okay," he said, as if he'd heard her thinking. Which, given his parentage, wasn't unlikely. Funny how it didn't make her the least bit uncomfortable around him, even though the rest of the Council had scolded her for bringing a devil into their midst.
"It's not," she said, shaking her head.
"Princess step away."
That was Dodonna glaring at her from under his wrinkled brow. "Or what?" she snapped, "Or you'll shoot me, too?"
No answer. Her heartbeat accelerated to a wild hammering in her chest. One of the guards lifted his rifled towards her, and she braced herself
"No don't!" Luke said suddenly, sidestepping away from her protection before she could stop him, though she grabbed for him even as the stun shot hit him, knocking him to the floor. And at least she stopped him from hitting the deck too hard, just before a guard grabbed her under the armpits and hauled her away.
"Let go!" she snapped, pulling free of the man, who just looked at her sheepishly, almost apologetically. She whirled on the rest of the Council, still huddled against the far wall, as if they'd thought Luke had been about to strike them down where they stood. "That was totally unnecessary," she hissed, biting back the swear words her father would have frowned at. "He's just a boy."
"Princess " Mon started to say, and she was the first one to step around the edge of the table. She crouched down next to Luke, her fingers searching for a pulse in one limp wrist. Her expression was troubled and that just irked Leia more, because if she could have believed that the Council had been acting maliciously she would have found it easier to accept her violent feelings towards them.
But they weren't. They really thought they were doing the right thing the noble thing by not executing Luke.
And she was supposed to be grateful?!
These were her friends she'd brought them here, told them they'd be safe! It was either guilt or anger tightening her throat she didn't know which, because both were heavy in her heart.
"Leia I know you count these two as friends, but you must see what a dangerous position they put us in," Mon said, repeating almost verbatim what she had said to Leia when she, Biggs and Luke had first docked with the Revolution. "I see no Vader in the boy but we cannot take the risk."
Leia swallowed, thickly. "It is a betrayal of our morals," she said. Something in her wanted Mon to step away from Luke, but she knew she didn't have the authority to make her.
Mon fixed her with a cool stare. "It is protecting our morals from those who would corrupt them," she stated, icily. She stood, regal and overbearing, though she was barely taller than Leia. "I suggest, Princess, that you need to think about where your loyalties truly lie."
She narrowed her eyes. "You know full well where they lie."
Mon put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "You've been through a lot Leia we thought we'd lost you. And at Vader's hand, too." She looked over her shoulder at Luke, and frowned. "Perhaps you should take a few days to collect yourself. A lot has happened in the last few days."
"Is that an order?"
"You know it isn't."
Leia sighed, fighting the urge to shrug Mon's hand from her shoulder. She dug her fingernails into her palms. "I want to go with them to the Med Bay." It was not a request.
Mon faltered momentarily, and looked to the other members of the Council.
"I see no problem with that," Dodonna spoke up. "They will be well guarded."
Did he think she was about to break them free? Leia opened her mouth to demand an apology for such a suggestion and then she had to shut it again, because she honestly couldn't say that it wouldn't have crossed her mind. She'd known these two just a few days, but there was a connection there friendship, and more than friendship
"Fine," she said. "But I don't condone what you're doing."
Mon actually looked troubled by that. "We know, Leia but it is for the good of the Alliance, and if a few have to suffer for the many then we can mourn for them later."
The Yavin system, the Death Star, Bridge.
Vader stumbled as the contact snapped, throwing him unceremoniously back into his own mind, and locking him there.
Air rattled through his respirator as he struggled for breath.
No response, nothing. Not even the hazy static of a mind that couldn't be or didn't want to be contacted. Just nothing. Which could only signify unconsciousness, or worse. A vicious blood lust darkened his vision.
"Tarkin!" he growled.
The Moff started at the sudden shout of his name, his hawk-eyes widening as he turned. "Lord Vader? You-"
Vader interrupted him with an irritated snarl, barely able to contain the fury that suddenly lashed through him. Vader's anger bounced around his mind, heightening the isolation he suddenly felt, the walls that had suddenly fallen between him and his son, blocking him in. So close... so close just another second and he would have been in contact with the boy. And now nothing. Silence. Deathly silence.
"Have the fleet surround the moon, and prepare the Death Star for another strike, Tarkin. Contact the Rebels on Yavin 4 inform them that if they do not contact their Council and have them make contact with me within a half-day, they will pay for it with their lives."
Tarkin raised one eyebrow, arching it disapprovingly whether disapproving Vader's assumption of authority, or the nature of his order, Vader did not know and did not care. "All indications suggest that their base here has been considerably downsized, Lord Vader. Its destruction is of little tactical value to us now. I suggest-"
"Do it!" Vader snarled, and turned, unable to deal with Tarkin's delusions of self-importance, any more than he could deal with his own disgustingly real impotence. "I will be in my quarters awaiting their call."
And as he stalked off, Tarkin's eyes burning a hole in his back, all he could think was if my son is dead, they will all pay....
Several Hours Later.
Somewhere in space, Rebel Command Ship `Revolution', High Security Medical Bay.
He was waking up pleasantly slowly, coming `round to muddy senses and a dull ache in the back of his neck. It was cold here, wherever `here' was, and he searched around until he found the edge of the coverlet, tugged it up to his chin, hiding his face in the fabric.
He yawned, which killed off any thoughts he had about feigning sleep. "Leia?"
"Hey I thought you were going to sleep all day."
The bed dipped, and Luke guessed that Leia had sat on the edge of it, but he didn't open his eyes to find out if he was right. It was too warm and comfortable and... safe in this bed. Couldn't he stay here a bit longer?
"How are you feeling?" Leia asked, and her voice sounded strained.
Frowning, he opened his eyes, and Leia swam blearily into view, looking pale and tired. "What?" Luke asked, struggling to get control of his arm muscles and pull himself upright. They were too weak, though, and he fell back to the bed with an embarrassed sigh.
The Princess smiled at him. He couldn't help but smile back it reminded him of the first time he'd seen her, when she'd woken him in the med bay on the Death Star. But that seemed a lifetime ago now, after escaping Vader, and then finding out he could never really escape Vader, and then the Council
he shot upright suddenly, a burst of memories and adrenaline lending urgent strength to his sleepy muscles. His heart began pounding furiously.
"Did they do it?" he demanded.
He didn't wait for an answer - he yanked the coverlet down, looking for scars, as if he should be able to see the evidence of being implanted with a tracker. "Leia did they?!"
She pursed her lips, but she didn't say anything. And that was all the confirmation he really needed. He ran his fingers over his skin, but couldn't see any new scars other than the still-healing wounds he'd gained on Tatooine, but he didn't need to see evidence of the tracker to know it was in there, somewhere. He could feel it, inside of him, though that shouldn't be possible.
"Where is it?" he asked, less demanding this time, but no less intense.
"Please, Leia...." He looked at her, pleading with his eyes, because words were too difficult right now.
She looked aside, away from his gaze. "I don't know. Only the surgeon knows, and he's been reassigned."
Luke just stared at her, at her bowed head, and felt lost. Betrayed, again again, and again, and again. The far door slid open then, and a guard appeared in the doorway, his blaster held by his side. "Your Highness, the Council are reconvening."
Leia frowned, lifting her head to the guard. "Already? I was told we would wait at least several more hours."
The guard hesitated and Leia levelled him with a hard gaze, until he wilted before her. "I believe they received a communiqué a few moments ago, Your Highness."
He shifted uncomfortably. "A communiqué regarding Lord Vader, Your Highness."
Something kicked in Luke's chest, hard his heart, lurching painfully. Vader. Even the man's name set Luke's head spinning. His mouth felt dry. "What?" he demanded, drawing the guard's attention. He didn't look happy. If anything, the man looked sorry for him, and Luke had the uncharacteristic urge to yell at him that he didn't want his sympathy.
"That's all I know," the guard said.
Luke opened his mouth to demand more information, but nothing came out. He looked to Leia, but she was equally as troubled, and he realised, queasily, that she had no more control over this situation than he had. He curled his hands around the fabric of the coverlet, and forced breath in and out of his lungs.
Leia nodded tartly at the guard. "Thank you," she said. "We'll be out shortly." The guard hesitated, apparently not happy with being made to wait, but he nodded reluctantly and left.
Luke turned on her. "We?" he repeated.
"You and me."
He shook his head furiously, ripping away the coverlet and throwing himself out of the bed. His legs started to give out from under him, under the weight of his groggy body and his numbing horror. He grasped the bed to keep him upright.
"Luke, you have to be there you don't have a choice-"
He pushed away from the bed as she rounded it and tried to grab at him. He was shaking, rattling himself apart. "I can't! I can't talk to him!" The words sounded strangled. "Don't make me you can't make me."
She gripped his forearms, but he still shook, like he might just shake himself free of her grasp. "You don't have a choice," she repeated. "We don't have a choice!"
And wasn't that the understatement of the year? Angered, he ripped his arms free of her hands and back-pedalled, until his backside hit the wall and he couldn't go any further. "I can't do it," he hissed, but his voice sounded odd, angry and cold, and he didn't like it so he shut his mouth.
And he noticed then, when he couldn't get any further away from her, that there were tears in her eyes, slowly worming down her cheeks. She trembled, just slightly. "I'm sorry," she said. "I never thought they'd-"
And something in him couldn't stand to see her cry. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to hide in the dark of his closed eyelids. He wanted to cry, too, but he couldn't seem to find the tears. He felt dry, barren, parched of any emotion he might have had. Too much it was all too much. To lose his family, to lose his home, to find himself a father in Vader, and then to be betrayed by him and, finally, to be betrayed by the Alliance.
Too much it was too much. He just wanted to sink quietly into insignificance. Go back to the farm and never, ever moan about repairing vaporators or endless harvesting again. But that life was gone, tattered and broken, and he had only this life now trapped with the Alliance, leashed to them, with less freedom than he'd ever had.
Suddenly, there was warmth surrounding him, pressing in against the cold and the desperation that threatened to swallow him. Warmth, and a familiar presence, calling his name in the back of his mind, heavy with what he could almost believe was relief. Scared by his instinctive urge to respond, Luke opened his eyes, and saw Leia was really crying now, her hand over her mouth, as if trying to hold her dignity in.
It's not her fault, he thought, ashamed that he'd snapped at her. And it would only have taken two paces to step up and hold her, hug her, but he couldn't do it.
"Where's Biggs?" he asked, instead.
She looked up at him, her makeup smudged around her eyes. She sighed. "He's still unconscious. He hit his head when they stunned him."
Anger and concern pressed back his fear for himself. "Is he okay?"
She nodded, slowly getting control of her tears, though her voice was taut with the effort of controlling them. "He'll be fine."
"I've got to see him. I-"
The door opened again, interrupting him. The guard reappeared, looking uncomfortable. When Leia looked up at him, he said, awkwardly, "Your Highness, the Council have requested you and Citizen Skywalker attend to them - immediately."
Leia glanced at Luke. "I'm sorry," she said, very quietly. "We have to go to them."
He wished there was something he could say to her something about it being okay. That he understood. But nothing came out, and he just nodded, feeling numb.
Orbiting Yavin 4, the Death Star, Darth Vader's personal quarters.
He lives... Vader thought, his relief blinding for a moment, eclipsing every other thought he might have had. He lives... The thought flashed through his mind, even as he stretched out to touch the boy's mind again only to find it blocked. But this time it was closed to Vader by choice and choice he could deal with. Choices could be changed.
When, eventually, the holoprojector image warped and started coalescing, Vader had already worn out what little patience he had. As the blue haze shifted and formed an image of a shipboard meeting room, he gripped the edge of the receiving console and leant forwards.
"I do not appreciate being kept waiting, Mothma," he growled, gripping the edge of the console so hard his prosthetic hands started to go numb. "My patience is-" and then he stopped, mid- sentence, and just stared. All the familiar Council figures were around the table, looking vaguely uncomfortable, but there was one extra figure there looking more than just vaguely uncomfortable. Luke.
Vader straightened his spine and stepped backwards, a flick of the Force bringing the image to full size. The boy was looking slightly to the side of the pick-up, to where the projector in the room would be showing him an image of Vader. In the grainy image, it was impossible to assess his health though Vader thought he saw dark circles cupping his eyes, and he caught the nervous way Luke chewed his bottom lip.
The relief he felt was utterly understandable, and yet overwhelming in its own way. Yes, he had already known the boy lived after that tentative contact with Luke just moments earlier but he had wondered... he had wondered...
Like breathing or walking, it came naturally to Vader to send a wave of thought to the boy along their bond a welcome, perhaps even a reassurance, but in the pick-up Luke flinched and looked hurriedly down to the floor. Vader frowned and realised, distantly, that Mothma was talking to him.
"-as you can see, he is safely in our keeping, Lord Vader." Her voice was honey-sweet, and Vader instinctively distrusted that tone. "He is-"
"Safe keeping?" He snorted. "I find that doubtful."
There was a nervous movement at that from one of the Councillors the Princess, who glanced at Luke briefly. Curious.
"We have only his best interests at heart, Lord Vader."
He snorted again, contempt and anger warring for dominance in his emotions. "If you value your interests, then you will return him to me immediately." Another flinch from Luke, but he finally looked up from the floor and slightly to the side, to the projection of Vader. Luke's brow was furrowed in thought. What are you thinking, my son? Vader wondered, silently. Are you wondering what will become of you? Of me? But he knew that, even should he ask, he would get no answer, and he shook the questions from his heart.
"I would have thought the Empire would have learned by now that threatening the Alliance will not force us to comply," Mothma replied. Then she smiled, coolly. "Although the atrocity of Alderaan's destruction will not be forgotten you have merely created a billion new martyrs to our cause, and ten times that number of sympathisers. We-"
"Enough!" Vader snapped. "I have neither the time nor the patience for your prattle. I want the boy returned to me immediately."
Mothma arched an eyebrow at that. "I'm afraid, Lord Vader, that that is simply not possible."
"Do not play games with me, Mothma. You would be foolish to deny me this." His eyes were on Luke, though he was facing Mothma. "The Death Star is currently stationed above Yavin 4 I believe you know the system?"
The woman flinched, but just barely, and not nearly as much as he had expected her to. "I do."
"I want the boy returned to me, or your base here will be destroyed." Bluntly put, because any delay now might just snap his temper.
Mothma, though, just arched that eyebrow again. "Lord Vader... before you lay down your ultimatums, perhaps you might allow the Council to outline theirs."
There was just a hint of smugness in the woman's voice, and that stayed his immediate retort, particularly when he saw Luke share a pained glance with the Princess. And the Princess she just looked away. There was more going on here than he realised, Vader thought darkly, and snapped, "Explain."
Instead of Mothma, it was Dodonna that answered him. "We cannot allow you to reclaim your son, Vader. It is too dangerous and... and, frankly, he is too valuable." The man paused, which only gave Vader's anger time to climb rapidly towards boiling point.
Mothma wasn't quite smiling, but it was a close thing. "To that end, we intend to keep the boy with the Alliance, unless your actions cause us to consider even that compromise untenable. If his continued existence becomes too dangerous and-"
Horror ripped through his veins, swamping him with adrenaline until he felt like his heart might just explode. "Enough!" Vader snapped, unable and unwilling to listen to the threats. Disgusted, horrified, angered beyond control, he shouted it again, "Enough!" Horrified and seething with indignant anger. There was a low growl in his throat, one that wanted to explode into righteous fury to demands, and threats, and death. If he could have, he would have ripped the life from each and every one of the Council members. And revelled in it.
He clenched his fists together, but it did nothing to abate the anger. "You will all pay for this."
Dodonna shook his head. "If any of us do, you forfeit your son, Vader."
"I see that your Rebel morals have less substance than I had credited them with, if you would hold a boy to ransom."
"We will do whatever is necessary," Dodonna said, and then paused, as if bracing himself. "Your son has been fitted with a tracker, and a detonation device. Should he leave the proximity of this ship, the detonator will fire. Additionally, the three senior-most members of this Council have access to the detonation device, should the need arise."
For a few hushed seconds, the memories Dodonna's words had unearthed robbed Vader of his ability to respond.
He could taste his dreams, turned to ash, in his mouth. Dry and bitter. His anger was turning cold in his stomach, turning into something deadly. A tracker they had fitted Luke with a slave tracker; the very device Vader himself had been enslaved with as a child. And now that same tool of control bound Luke's freedom and Vader's hopes and dreams were once again damned by a small detonation device no bigger than a credit chip. How brutally ironic.
The Council were awaiting his response, but Vader had to swallow the words he wanted to say, lest he do something that would push them too far.
He wanted to spill blood, to tear their imprudent minds apart. But their was an image lodged in his mind, eclipsing every other thought: the image of what would happen to Luke should the detonator be triggered.
Vader used brutal determination to try and push that macabre image aside, but still it persisted, refusing to dissipate. Because he had seen it, as a child had seen the blood, and the screaming. Slaves begging for mercy; for a quicker, cleaner death. Especially if the detonator had been placed in the hands, or the feet, or the gut. It could take a long time to die, if the owner chose so.
"I see," was all he could say, for the moment. His eyes were locked onto Luke's, and the boy turned his head slightly, whether accidentally or not, until he was looking directly into the pick-up. He looked lost. A ghost of a memory sickened Vader's thoughts further: him, holding down the bandage against his son's side, trying to stem the flow of sickly-warm blood through his fingertips.
"Stand down your preparations for an assault on Yavin 4, Lord Vader," Mothma demanded bluntly, interrupting the memory. "This Council will not stand for such an attack."
Something like a sneer found its way into his voice, although it was more out of blind anger than any pretence at control. "And if I do not?"
Mothma tilted her head slightly. "There would be consequences."
Luke, for his part, was resolutely staring into space. But his hands were on the table, clenched together in a tight knot of anger? hatred? helplessness? Vader couldn't tell; the boy's mind remained blocked to him.
There was a long silence. Vader seethed inwardly, clawing for a calm that would prevent him from doing something rash and potentially deadly for his son. "Do you think me a fool, Mothma?" he demanded suddenly into the silence. Luke jumped, his eyes again unerringly finding Vader's, even though he was not facing the pick-up directly.
"I think many things of you, Lord Vader, but that you are a fool is not one of them," Mothma replied, carefully. Good she had heard the murder in his voice.
"Then perhaps your wisdom will allow you to contemplate the consequences of your actions, should you kill the boy," he said, in a voice that would have flayed the skin from a lesser woman's bones. "If you do that, then you would have no means to restrain me and I guarantee you, I would not restrain myself."
She smiled coolly at him, but still, even though it was imperative that he show the woman he would not be brow-beaten by her, Vader could not take his eyes from Luke's. He reached, tentatively, along their bond. Luke?
The boy stiffened. There was a flicker of response, whether intentional or not, a flicker of desperation snuffed out by the knowledge that there was nothing Luke could do about his situation. Vader frowned. Had the boy been so cowed when he had first met him or had Vader done that to him, or the Alliance?
Mothma was speaking again, in her sugarcoated voice. "Then it is perhaps in all our interests that we strive to avoid any such situation, my Lord, wouldn't you agree?"
"Indeed." Coolly. Luke ran a hand through his hair, blowing out a nervous breath. "I assume you have already decided your terms?"
It was Dodonna that answered Vader. "You will desist in your attempts to find the boy he will remain on the Council's ship indefinitely. You will make no attempts to locate this ship. You will stop your violent pursuit of our bases and our ships. We understand that the Emperor is unaware of the boy's presence, and we have no desire for him to learn of his existence. Therefore, we do not expect you to completely cease your attempts to locate our bases you must at least keep up a pretence of attempting to quash us, even whilst you keep us pre-warned of any impending attacks."
Vader was severely tempted to rage against them, but would never risk it. "You expect me to aid you in your ridiculous Rebellion!?" he demanded, incredulously.
Dodonna didn't blink. "Any breach of these rules will result in the reconvening of this Council, to assess whether the continued existence of your son remains viable."
Viable. The word burned like acid in his mind. For a moment he couldn't reply. And then "Very well, I will comply." A murmur of surprise rippled across the assembled members of the Council, stopping abruptly at the Princess, who looked as if the mask of indifference she wore was proving difficult to keep in place. "However I have some rules of my own."
Only Mothma didn't look surprised by this. "Go on," she said.
"I require contact with my son-"
"Impossible," Dodonna interrupted, shaking his head.
"- this is non-negotiable. I require contact daily, via holoprojector, and live not pre-recorded."
Dodonna was shaking his head. "And if we refuse, Lord Vader, what then-"
"That is acceptable," Mothma interrupted, with a negligent wave of her hand. "After all, as you say, we are at an impasse here we both require some reassurances. Although it will be supervised contact, of course. Is there anything else?"
He smiled, grimly, though they wouldn't see it. "Yes. I wish to speak to the Darklighter boy."
And that caused a ripple of surprise to bounce between the Council members. Luke's gaze shot upwards, his expression instantly protective, and Vader couldn't stop the admiration that pressed against his chest. "What why?" Luke demanded, impulsively it seemed, because the boy immediately flushed and looked away.
"That," Vader replied, flatly, "is between myself and Darklighter." Then, not quite sure why he felt the need to add it, he said, "He will not be harmed."
Luke's brow furrowed, as did the Princess', who also looked disapproving. She opened her mouth to speak, but Mothma beat her to it. "Very well. You have your agreement, Lord Vader. I am... pleased... that we were able to resolve this dispute more amicably than we have others."
Vader snorted. "Do not fool yourself, Mothma this `situation' is neither resolved nor amicable. You will pay for this. If my son is harmed-"
She narrowed her eyes. "This Council does not take kindly to threats-
"Nor do I," he snapped, voice rising enough that it seemed to bounce back at him. "You would do well to remember that. "
Instead of arguing the point, she just inclined her head in Vader's direction, a genteel gesture that merely made Vader's urge to reach across space and strangle the breath from her lungs rise to the point where it became barely irresistible. And, given the anger raging through him, he probably could have done it Luke was a beacon that would have guided him to her. All he had to do was focus and... squeeze ...
But the consequences were too great for Luke, and for himself. He took a steadying breath, hearing it rattle through his respirator, and mentally stepped back from the edge.
When he refocused on his surroundings, Luke was looking right at him, expression unreadable.
Soon, Vader sent, I promise you we will meet again soon.
Luke nervously worried his bottom lip between his teeth, and looked away.
Several Hours Later
Exiting the Yavin System, the Death Star, Darth Vader's personal quarters.
Vader faced down the head of Intelligence with all the anger and desperation he felt tearing through him. Despite the Rebels' demand that he resist the urge to track Luke down, he had made contact with Imperial Intelligence to discover what information they already had on the whereabouts of the Alliance Council's personal cruiser. And what they knew was... not a lot.
"You dare tell me that your Intelligence operation is so incompetent that not one of your operatives has any connection with the Rebel command structure? Perhaps Intelligence requires a new command structure itself..." he said, and started pacing with deliberate, prowling steps in front of the view screen.
Although the other man looked a little unnerved, he was holding up surprisingly well against Vader's ire. And that just served to irritate Vader further.
"The Rebel Alliance executive structure is extremely opaque, my Lord. We have men in many of the higher cells, but none of them have access to the ship that accommodates the Alliance's Council, sir."
"None? And you find that acceptable?" Vader demanded, incredulously. He glowered at the screen as he paced in front of it.
"Well... ah... we continue to endeavour to infiltrate them, sir, but only the most trusted men are posted to the executive ships - those with a long history of allegiance to the Rebel cause. And the turnover of crewmembers is extremely slow - because the Revolution rarely goes into battle, she rarely loses men."
"This is unacceptable," Vader snarled. For want of anything disposable to direct his anger towards, Vader slammed one hand down into his fist. "I must find that ship." Vader had abruptly stopped pacing, and the general's words had trailed off, perhaps out of fear, because his skin was a few shades paler than it had been at the start of this conversation.
"... I wish I could be of more service, Lord Vader..." the general said, nervously. "But, like us, the Rebels realise that their Council and the figureheads serving upon it are far more valuable to them than many of the military ships. And because of that, the executive arm of the navy is almost impossible to penetrate."
Vader glowered at the head of Intelligence, but he wasn't really looking at him. Instead, he was wondering, savagely, what perverse whim of destiny had manoeuvred Luke onto the one ship in that accursed Rebellion that was almost impossible to infiltrate?
He refocused on the head of Intelligence, refusing to be swamped by the desperation he felt. If he could not find the Council's ship... if he could not find his son...
"I understand that the Revolution rarely stays in one place for any length of time, however I am also aware that it does, on occasion, rendezvous with the main group of the fleet for tactical discussions."
The general nodded, warily. "We do indeed have men imbedded with the military section of the fleet, even serving aboard their flagship, but for them to inform us of any impending arrival by the executive fleet... it would severely compromise their position..." he said, trailing off. Vader merely stared at him, waiting. The general coughed uncomfortably. "Of course, if you wish them to break that cover, however...."
The general looked uncomfortable, but after a moment's pause he nodded. "Then I will instruct them to do so, my Lord."
Vader felt nothing at that small victory. It was not enough, and he knew it - even should an agent be able to get that information to them, it would probably come too late for him to act upon it. And even asking Intelligence to do this was breaching the terms of Luke's hostage - should the Council discover he was using Intell to track them...
But the idea of meekly sitting and waiting for the Alliance's next move was totally unacceptable to Vader - to have no way of retrieving his son was unthinkable. He ached, physically, at the thought of it. It burned, deep inside. If he could have at least had an agent aboard the ship, then that agent might be able to protect the boy, to work at disengaging the tracker...
"...my Lord, I'm sorry we cannot be of further assistance. I-"
Irritated, Vader flicked off the comm. with a negligent push of the Force. He had no time for hearing his inferiors repeat to him what he already knew - that tracking down Revolution might very well be impossible. The ship's very purpose was to stay invisible to the Empire; to keep moving, to avoid placing the Council on a planetside base that took time to evacuate. On the few occasions it had been engaged in battle, the military fleet had made it their priority to clear it a path away from the battle - even at the cost of losing the battle itself.
Vader curled his hand into a fist, picturing his son in his mind. The image he got wasn't from a memory of the brief time he had had with him, but one of a dusty, sand-dishevelled Luke from a grainy datapad movie which had been confiscated from Darklighter's quarters, back when he had found the boy aboard Devastator. He could not simply sit back and allow Luke to remain in enemy hands.
Luke... it would soon be time to contact the Rebels again, for his first conversation with his son since the boy had fled the Death Star. But even that contact was dictated by Rebel rules. The complicated relay system they were using to enable his communication with them to remain untraceable meant that they dictated the times in which he could contact his son.
Before that, though, Vader had been promised a conversation with the Darklighter boy, and he allowed himself a moment of anticipation for that conversation. He intended to allow his anger to finally burst through, to take out his rage, perhaps even fatally, against the boy who had stolen his son and-
Vader stopped his pacing, quite suddenly, stiffening as a sudden idea flashed through his mind, illuminating a faint hope. Darklighter. Of course. How can I have been so blind to the obvious?
He whirled back to the comm. console, determination renewed by that sudden glimpse at hope. He waited impatiently for the Death Star's communications officer to answer. When he finally did, opening his mouth to address Vader appropriately, Vader interrupted him.
"Lieutenant, is the Devastator still in orbit around Tatooine?"
The man paused only briefly as his eyes flicked downwards, to his console. "Ah... yes, my Lord," he said, when he looked up. "They are completing the clean-up operation, as you ordered."
"Good. Get me a line to the commander. I have a new set of instructions for them."
And as the man hurried to obey, Vader smiled, though it stretched the scar tissue on his face painfully. At last - a brief glimpse of hope.
Somewhere in space, Alliance Council's Executive Ship 'Revolution', Officer's Quarters assigned to Skywalker/Darklighter.
There was no response to his whisper, and Biggs rolled onto his side, wincing at the ache of muscles that had been immobile for too long. He felt half-dazed, groggy - his skin felt dry and tight, uncomfortable. He must have been unconscious for hours, but exactly how long he couldn't say - he remembered nothing past the sharp smack of his head hitting the ground, a blow that had slashed away his consciousness.
Still no response. Luke was sat on the edge of a bed nestled against the far wall. He had his head down, kicking his heels against the floor. He glanced up and sighed, frowning. "I thought you were never going to wake," he said, sounding lost somehow.
Biggs straightened, pushing himself upright. He glanced around the small room and out of the open doorway into the main living area, taking in the utilitarian furnishings: the twin beds, hard and unforgiving but bigger than a pilot's bunk; the shelves and tables, standing empty and bare; a couple of low couches, made from pristine white pleather that looked fresh from the ship's stores. He swallowed thickly, instantly disliking the stilted atmosphere of the quarters.
"Where are we?" he finally asked, turning back to Luke, who was still kicking his heels on the floor.
"Still on the Revolution, I think." Luke shook his head, as if to clear the melancholy that was in his voice. It didn't work - he looked achingly uncertain of himself.
Something depthless and horrified flashed in Luke's eyes, and Biggs opened his mouth to ask why - but he already knew why, really... didn't need to ask, when Luke's expression said so much. The Alliance had done it, whilst Biggs was sleeping - and, almost like an afterthought to the anger that instinctively surged up with that realisation, a wave of guilt swallowed Biggs' words.
Luke must have seen his expression change, because he swallowed thickly and clumsily changed the subject. "How are you feeling? You've been out for hours."
Biggs caught the tremor in his voice, and decided that going with the diversion might not be such a bad idea. Luke looked like he was holding himself together with nothing more substantial than sheer desperation and the tattered remains of his pride.
"I'm... fine, I think," he said. Gingerly, he touched his hand to his head, wincing at the spark of pain that sizzled down his nerves. "Sore, maybe. But that's all. How long was I out?"
"Hours," Luke repeated, the word stretching between them, not quite accusing just... lonely. Luke hopped off the bed then and began pacing, a tight knot of restless energy trapped in the small bedroom. "A couple of days, even. I don't know - I was out a while myself." And he said that with a sheepish smile.
Again, the guilt flared in Biggs at that, and he stood awkwardly, throwing the coverlet back to the bed. His muscles felt tight and lifeless as he forced his legs to walk to the bedroom door. "Is there a kitchen in this place? It looks big enough - like a junior officer's quarters, maybe?" he said, as he wandered into the main living area.
"There's a dispenser in the corner," Luke said, wandering into the open space and dropping onto one of the couches. A moment later, he was bouncing to his feet and stalking to the small viewport and back, full of impatience. Or maybe it wasn't impatience - a couple of months ago, Biggs could have been sure that was all it was. But now he wasn't so certain his friend was so easily read any more. So much had changed... Luke had changed.
Biggs shook his head as he fiddled with the drinks dispenser, trying to decipher the instructions - trying to get it to serve him nothing more complicated than a cold glass of water. He glanced over his shoulder at Luke, who was still pacing, raking a hand through his hair. It was a gesture that was so familiar that Biggs felt of a flash of self-contempt for thinking that his friend had changed - Luke hadn't changed much at all, really. It was absurd circumstance that was throwing their lives into chaos, not Luke or any of Luke's choices.
Biggs turned back to the dispenser as it chimed and produced two cold glasses of water. He went to join Luke by the viewport, staring out at a sparse starscape. Hell only knew where they were. The silence stretched between them, thin and uncomfortable.
"Not much to see," Biggs said, handing Luke the second glass.
Luke didn't answer. He accepted the glass, held it loosely in his hand, like he might just drop it any second and not even notice. Then, almost out of nowhere, he said, "Vader's demanding to talk to you."
Biggs' sudden indrawn gasp of breath made him choke on his drink and he spluttered, sucking water in with air and coughing convulsively. "He what?!"
"He wants to talk to you," Luke replied, that tremor back in his voice.
To talk to me? Biggs thought, his mind stumbling over the possibilities. A memory blew through his mind, chilling him down to his soul -
Vader standing over him, talking, demanding, though he couldn't comprehend the words. And there was pain, burning - too hot, too cold, I'm dying, I can't think, can't tell you, can't betray him -
He felt the glass of water slipping from his fingers and tightened his hand with a shudder.
"I'm sorry," Luke said. The words snapped Biggs out of the painful memories. He turned to him.
"You're sorry? Luke - this isn't your fault. None of this is your fault."
Luke just shrugged, sitting down on the couch again, looking uncomfortable. Biggs fought the twin instincts to comfort his friend and to run and hide from the prospect of facing Vader again. In the end, he settled for just sitting down and trying to draw in a calming breath.
"When does he-" he started to say, but the sound of the main door sliding open made him stop and turn.
A man entered unceremoniously, flanked by two armed guards, both of whom already had their blasters held aloft, the safeties cocked. Biggs came to his feet at that, but the blasters didn't track him - they remained pointed square at Luke. Protective anger flared in Biggs then, and he deliberately stepped around the couch, putting himself between the guards and his friend.
"What do you want?" he asked, though he'd already guessed.
"You have to come with us, sir, by the Council's order," the man said, his tone and posture broking no argument.
"Now? I've only been conscious five minutes!"
"Now, sir. By the Council's order. Lord Vader has again made contact."
Something flipped over inside of Biggs then - his courage, maybe, turning tail. Very carefully, he placed his drink on the low table and faced the guards. "Can I have five minutes to get changed, at least?" he asked, gesturing down at the sleep clothes he was still wearing.
The man hesitated, looking uncertain. "Come on," Biggs said. "It's not asking that much." He glanced over his shoulder at Luke, not really sure what he expected to see - a supportive smile, maybe, or a roll of his eyes at Biggs' self-conscious pride. Luke, though, wasn't looking at him - he was lost in thought, a million miles away, and an uncomfortable feeling crept up Biggs' spine, a weird inkling that, right then, his friend really was a million miles away, talking to the stars.
Swallowing nervously, Biggs turned back to the guards. "Alright then, you win - let's just get this over with."
Luke watched Biggs disappear through the doorway, a last, wary smile thrown over his shoulder before he was gone. Luke forced himself to swallow a mouthful of water before putting the glass down.
His eyes were drawn back to the stars again, and he stared at them wistfully. If he concentrated... really concentrated... he could almost feel the pull of Vader's will across the distance, drawing him towards it. He could even hear the man talking to him, the words bouncing around his head, if he just concentrated a bit more. It was strangely comforting, oddly enticing...
After a few moments, the thought wormed its way through Luke's distant thoughts that he hadn't heard the door sliding shut behind Biggs, and he turned around with a frown.
"Hello, Luke," the Rebel leader - Mothma? - said as she stepped forward. The door slid shut behind her; the two armed guards remained in position, blasters pointed at him. "I didn't mean to startle you.... Can we talk?
Somewhere in space, Alliance Council's Executive Ship 'Revolution', private communication room.
Biggs seated himself gingerly in the pick-up field, forcing muscles that wanted to leap up and run away to sit quietly - or at least make it look like he was sitting quietly.
He glanced around himself, self-conscious under the electronic eye of the comm. pickup, but the room was empty. Small, claustrophobic and empty. He tugged nervously at the edge of his moustache and waited.
Eventually, the low hum of the comm. screen changed pitch and the image began to coalesce. Biggs denied his initial instinct to lean away from the pickup as the image of Darth Vader's head and shoulders formed before him, life-sized.
For a moment, Vader said nothing, merely staring at him from behind that inscrutable mask. Biggs stared right back, a thousand memories drawing nervous energy through his body.
"Finally," Vader said, breaking the uncomfortable silence. He leant forward, until only his mask was visible in the pickup.
Biggs frowned, not sure what to make of that word. It wasn't so much a greeting as a growl, impatient and angered. How best to respond to that? Shrinking back into his chair seemed like a good idea. He curled his hands around the arms of the uncomfortable seat and stayed firmly in place.
"Have you nothing to say for yourself?" Vader asked, apparently irritated by Biggs' lack of a response. "This may be your last chance to tender your excuses."
A flash of anger made him feel rash and brave - he sat up straighter in the seat. "I don't owe you any apologies, Vader. My loyalty is to Luke, not you." He took a breath, feeling like he could burst with every turbulent emotion he wanted - needed - to express: anger at Vader, anger at himself, even anger at Luke, for being so forgiving. "You-"
"Save me your petty anger - it will not help you, nor my son, now," Vader interrupted, his tone murderous. "Your foolish actions have led him towards death and imprisonment. Do you think I care for your feeble emotions?"
Biggs swallowed, feeling the weight of the accusations resting far too readily on his shoulders. "Then what do you want?"
Vader tilted his head slightly at that. "How is he?"
Thrown slightly off-guard, Biggs stumbled over his answer. "Uh... about as well as you'd expect," he said. Which was the truth, at least. And from what he remembered of Vader, the truth was often the safest option when the only lies he could think of could make the situation appear worse than it already was.
Vader pulled back a little at that, and Biggs let out a silent sigh of relief. The man was overwhelming in his intensity. "The Rebels have given me their word that they will treat him well," he said. Biggs did not reply, and Vader snorted. "I do not believe them, either."
"I didn't say I didn't believe them."
"You did not have to. They are traitorous by nature. My son should never have come into their grasp - they will use him, as they have used you - to harm me. And I will not allow it."
"You can't stop them. They've already done it." As soon as it was out of his mouth, he didn't know why he'd said it - Vader must surely know how impotent he was. He didn't a reminder from Biggs of that uncomfortable fact.
But instead of exploding into anger, as Biggs had expected him to, Vader was strangely subdued by that. "They have barely begun. You have given them a weapon against me that I cannot parry. And they will ask more and more of me each time - and each time it will be my son who pays," he said, and Biggs paled. Vader's deep bass voice seemed to rumble through his body, full of foreboding and dread. Anger from Vader he could anticipate, could understand - but Vader sounded more horrified than angry; more desperate, clawing for hope.
"I didn't know-"
"Naive fool," Vader said, hissing the words. "What did you imagine they would do with the son of their enemy?"
Biggs swallowed, the action painful. What had he expected? Sanctuary, if nothing else. Distrustfulness, perhaps - maybe even refusal to help them. But this hostage-taking... this had never entered his mind.
"I thought that after we rescued Leia they would be grateful, that they would-"
"This is a war!" Vader interrupted, each word full of unrestrained violence. "Neither side has time for such idiotic notions."
Biggs squeezed his eyes shut against that, feeling the words lashing like a whip. "I know - I know." Then he opened his eyes. "But what choice was there - bring him back to you?"
Vader was ominously silent at that, his displeasure stretching between them. His irritation, and desperation, and -
"What did you suppose I planned to do with the boy, Darklighter? To implant him with a detonator? To imprison him? To use him as a pawn against my enemies?"
Biggs could feel his fingers digging into the plastisteel of the chair arms. He unclenched one hand and tugged nervously at his moustache, but he couldn't stop the words from being said - "Or train him to be you like you, maybe? Twist him. Kenobi told me-"
"Or train him so that he would never be manipulated by the misguided remnants of a dead creed," Vader replied, making a slashing movement through the air with his hand, as if physically pushing aside the accusations. Vader's emotions felt like they were leaping across space towards him, choking him with his fury. "My son will not pay for your mistakes, boy," Vader said, pointing a gauntleted finger at him.
Something seemed to tighten the breath in his lungs at that. "What do you mean?"
"You have cost me my own flesh and blood, and you will pay me back in kind."
Panic flared in him. Biggs again clenched his hands around the chair arms, holding on desperately. Vader's anger, the inflamed rage that seemed to bleed across the comm. channel... it felt like Biggs was watching a star explode in slow motion - the destruction spreading slowly outwards, rage and horror consuming everything in its path, Darth Vader's ire a physical thing, unstoppable.
"What have you done?" Biggs whispered.
The Dark Lord said nothing, leaning further back, looking almost relaxed, at ease - which was in direct contrast with the fear and dread ripping through Biggs' mind right then. He came to his feet, stumbling away from the chair, closer to the pickup. "My father - you can't, you... you.... he hasn't done anything to you!"
"And nor has Luke done anything to you, but still you brought him to his father's enemies."
A dry sob was closing Biggs' throat - he looked away, pain clenching his gut. Hell, why hadn't he thought of this - why hadn't he contacted his father? He looked up at Vader, steeling himself. "Is he dead?"
Vader drew out the seconds before he answered. "No," he finally said. "But he is in my safe-keeping - along with your uncle's family."
And Biggs didn't know whether to feel relieved or unsettled by that. He closed his eyes, shutting out Vader's intense image. He tried to imagine his father struggling against the troopers when they came for him, throwing himself against the intruders, fighting to resist arrest. And failing.
"Why haven't you killed them?" Biggs finally asked, though he struggled to say the words.
"I am waiting to see if you agree to assist me in liberating my son. If you do, I will free them. If not... they will die."
So clear, so simple, so obvious - Biggs wanted to leap up and swear he would help Vader. But Luke... he couldn't help him regain Luke, could he? Biggs felt like he was tearing himself apart, the dissonance between the compulsions to help Luke and help his family a physical pain, ripping down his spine.
"I can't help you," he said, the words leaden. His throat hurt. "I'm just as much a prisoner as Luke. I can't-"
Vader didn't appear surprised. "Then your family will die, just as you have killed mine."
"Luke isn't dead!"
"He might as well be!" Vader hissed. "A life spent trapped aboard a Rebel cruiser, brought out every time I err to force me to back away - that is no life."
Biggs looked aside at that. "I need time to think about-"
"You have no time," Vader snapped.
"I don't even know what you want me to do," Biggs pointed out, half-hysterically, his mind racing for a solution that it couldn't hope to find in the few moments he had. There were too many angles to this - there was Luke, and what was best for him. And there was Biggs' family, their lives hanging in the balance. And there was Biggs' friendship with Luke, which would be ripped apart at the seams if he helped Vader recapture him.
"You will succour the Rebels, show them willing. The Princess is your most viable option - she distrusts the Council's decisions. When you have their trust, find me the location of that ship. And when I come for Luke - protect him and aid me."
Biggs stared at the blank mask, feeling a wild sense of disbelief run through him. "Just like that - persuade them I'm on their side, then betray them. That's not possible - they already know I hate what they've done. They'll never believe me," he said, and then as an afterthought, "even if I did agree to this."
Vader again pointed his finger at him, emphasising his words with the murder in his voice. "You will find a way."
Biggs swallowed back the bile that had risen from his stomach. "I want proof my family are unharmed," he said, pushing through his collapsing resistance to the idea. "If not-"
"You have no proof. No more than I have proof that you are aiding me, until you find me the location and transponder code of the Revolution."
Biggs stared at the mask, feeling hollow. Was it just weeks ago that he was being dragged around after Vader as the man hunted Luke down? Just weeks ago that he been an unwilling aide in Luke's capture? How was that happening again - how? Would there ever be any escape, for either of them?
"Well?" Vader asked, drawing the word out, the expectation.
Biggs curled his dread into a tight knot of fear, stowed it to the back of his mind. Vader had him backed into a corner, and the only ways out would cost him either his friend or his family. But what choice did he have, really?
"Okay... okay, I'll do it."
Somewhere in space, Alliance Council's Executive Ship `Revolution', Officer's Quarters assigned to Skywalker/Darklighter.
Mothma walked into the room, graceful and elegant. She moved slowly to one of the room's ridiculously white couches and gave Luke a gentle, forgiving smile. "Can we?"
"Huh?" Luke asked, resisting the urge to take a step backwards. His gaze flashed to the guards, who stiffened as he looked at them. He looked away quickly, unease rattling through his body.
"Can we sit and talk?" Mothma asked.
Luke shook his head, trying to clear it of the disquiet he felt about this woman. Honestly, the last thing he wanted right now was to talk to her - she symbolised everything the Rebels had done so far, to him and to Biggs, and all he really wanted to do was yell at her to leave him alone. But he couldn't - glancing at the guards, he knew he couldn't.
"Okay," he said, eventually, the swelling silence forcing him to go along with whatever she was up to. He sat down heavily on the couch, and Mothma lowered herself to the opposite one, gracefully.
He studied her for a few seconds. There was nothing especially striking about her, other than that imposing regal air. He wondered uneasily what she saw when she looked at him - an uncouth boy, probably. And a runt, too, given the almost comical difference between his size and that of his father.
"Luke," she said, interrupting his own surprise at how easily he had just thought of Vader as his father. "I came here to tell you how very sorry I am for the position we have placed you and your friend in."
Luke started at that. "You did? You are?"
She smiled, the lines around her mouth creasing. Strangely, it made him think of his aunt's smile - she'd had lines like that, too. She'd insisted they came from smiling too much: said it was good to have lines - it meant you were human. And that made Luke think of Vader's mask, all those clean planes and angles - no lines there, either laughter lines or frown lines. Just inscrutable perfection.
"Yes. I know this must be terribly hard for you, Luke. I cannot begin to imagine the thoughts going through your mind - you must hate us." She smiled again, softly, and Luke just stared at her. What the hell was he supposed to say to that? Yelling, again, seemed like a good idea, but he wasn't sure that the guards wouldn't stun him.
"Madame... ah...." he started to say.
"Please - just call me Mon."
He narrowed his eyes at that. Really, he'd have liked to call her 'Mothma', particularly if it would make her stop calling him 'Luke'. The sound of her voice saying his name felt odd.
"Right... Mon. I... uh... don't know what to say." He raked a hand through his hair.
Mothma sighed, quietly. "Luke... I know this has been a shock for you, Luke. To find out that Vader is your father... I cannot begin to imagine what that felt like."
Luke's gaze snapped up at that. "I don't even know that he is my father," he shot back, but the words were so ridiculously untrue that he had to fight back a blush. Vader was his father - Luke did know that. It was just... so hard...
Mothma reached out and took his hand in her own. Luke resisted the urge to pull it back, because it would've been rude and because there wasn't any point - she was in control here, and didn't really matter whether he accepted it or not.
"You know... I used to know your father. Before... when he called himself Anakin Skywalker. It was quite a shock for me, too, to realise that such a promising young man had fallen so far...." She trailed off, staring distantly at the viewport.
Luke tried to swallow, but his throat felt too dry. "You knew him? You... but how could you...?"
She refocused on him, squeezed his hand. "Oh, I only really knew of him through reputation and what I saw of him in the Senate. He was one of the more visible Jedi, at the time, fighting for the Republic in the Clone Wars." She shook her head. "That he fell to Darkness... such a tragedy... the galaxy was falling apart at the time - that he fell, too...." She smiled at him, sadly, and for a moment Luke almost wanted to look away from the genuine sorrow there. Whether it was for her lost Republic or for his father's own personal destruction, Luke didn't know. Didn't really want to know, either.
But he did want to know - "So he wasn't always Vader? But I thought... what was he like, before?"
The words were out before he could stop himself. He shouldn't ask - what difference did it make, anyway? His father was Vader now, and that was that.
Mothma arched her eyebrows at that. "Oh, much like you in looks, though a good deal taller. And so intense - I recall how his unshakable intent used to unnerve even those of us who were on his side." She frowned briefly. "Given that description, I suppose I shouldn't be quite so surprised that Vader is Skywalker. We always thought he was a Jedi who was injured during the Clone Wars but we never contemplated your father. We'd always assumed he was dead." A brief flicker of something, then - self-reproach, maybe? Luke couldn't tell. "And we certainly never knew of your existence."
"Do you know why he became Vader? Why he's injured?" Luke asked, feeling a strange mix of excitement and trepidation turning his stomach. He inched closer to the edge of the couch, leaning towards her. "Was it after I was born, or before? My mother, did she... did you know her, too...." He trailed off as Mothma shook her head, sadly.
"I'm sorry, Luke - I don't know. None of us even knew any of the Jedi had children. It was strictly forbidden. I can only assume you were at least conceived before his change... otherwise, General Kenobi would not have been able to conceal you safely away from him, as he thankfully did."
Something flared in Luke then, a sudden anger. "Safely?" he repeated, incredulous. "Thankfully? Ben kept me from my father! My father! Do you know what that means to me?!" He yanked his hand out of hers.
"No, I probably don't. But he thought that-"
"Stop! Don't try and justify it. He-"
"I'm not - I'm not, Luke," she interrupted, her voice annoyingly calm. And... sincere. She sounded sincere. "General Kenobi acted upon his own counsel. The Alliance had no part in that. But you must understand - he probably saved your life."
Luke's anger was still flaring, but his confusion overwhelmed it. "What? Vader... Vader didn't kill me when he found me - why would he have killed me as a baby?"
"No - I can see that he would not have done that. But the Emperor would not have taken kindly to your presence. I doubt very much that you would have been allowed to live. No other Jedi - be they an adult or child - has been."
"But if he's my father, he wouldn't...." He trailed off, doubtful. The fact was, he just didn't know enough about Vader, or the Emperor, or the Jedi, to know what would have happened. But he did know one thing - never, not once, had he felt threatened by Vader. Which was more than he could say for the Alliance. Resentment shot through him at that, as he remembered that they'd done to him. "Well, at least it would've been clean," he said. "Not like what you've done." And he shot her an accusing glare.
She looked, just for a moment, disturbed by that. Her brow furrowed and she sighed. "Would that there had been another option, Luke. But I must think of the well-being of the Alliance, over and above any individual - including you, or Leia, or even myself. The sacrifice of your liberty will save thousands of lives, Luke. Thousands! I know, from what Leia tells me, that you once considered joining the Alliance. Just think - what you are doing now is far more than you could ever have done as a mere tech or a pilot. You're keeping the very Imperial Navy at bay."
Luke felt sick. "Yeah, that's just great," he said, sullenly.
Mothma paused, looking at him intently. "You must hate us," she said, sadly. His eyes went to the guards again, and this time she followed his line of sight. "Don't worry about them, Luke - they won't shoot you for telling me you hate me."
Luke wasn't so sure. He wet his lips as he looked back at her. He probably shouldn't... but she really was asking for it... "Yeah - alright, I hate you, and I hate your Alliance. You're a bunch of hypocrites, all of you. How could you! I wanted to help you! And you've... you've... stuck this thing in me and locked me in here and I... I hate you!"
The words just seemed to explode out of him once he got started, the anger building, roiling around in his mind. He could feel the Force behind it, bullying through him.
Mothma was quiet for a moment, maybe even looked a bit wary of his anger. "I know you hate this, Luke, but you're much safer here."
"What? What do you mean?"
Mothma sighed, but her eyes had a sudden intense look about them. "Vader may not have wanted to kill you, Luke, but he never had your best intentions at heart. He-"
"You don't know that," Luke interrupted, though he wasn't really sure why he was trying to defend Vader, or why he felt so agitated.
She leant towards him. "Luke... Vader does not feel any paternal instinct for you - I'm sorry, but he isn't capable. After all the things he's done... he cannot be capable of those feelings. He merely wanted you, to train you probably - to use you."
"Use me, right. So that's not what you're doing?" he asked, surprised by the bitterness in his voice.
"Not for long, Luke. You have my word on that."
Luke's automatic reply - yeah, but for long enough! - died on his lips as a feeling of nausea settled in his stomach. Not for long? But how could they know how long... it'd have to be forever...unless....
He inhaled sharply. "You... you're going to use me to get him, aren't you?"
She looked briefly surprised. But not surprised at the suggestion - more surprised that he'd figured it out. "We-"
"You are!" He stood up, agitated energy coiling in him. "He's my father - you can't use me to kill him!"
"Oh, child..." Mothma started to say.
"I'm not a child!" Luke yelled, the words shrill. They just seemed to wash over the woman - she barely even flinched - and Luke's anger exploded. How could they? That was just... wrong! He couldn't let them!
On the small table, his glass of water began to rattle. They both looked at it in surprise. It wobbled, left then right, and Luke concentrated on it, trying to shove his anger aside. Mothma reached out a hand again, put it on his arm, radiating reassurance.
Luke looked down at her hand, and something inside of him slipped, his control broke, and the glass suddenly exploded, disintegrated into a shower of wickedly sharp glass shards and water.
Mothma cried out in shock, snatching her hand back. Luke instinctively moved in front of her and turned his face away from the sudden explosion of glass, the shards slashing through the air towards them, digging into his side.
At about the same time the pain along his side registered, the guards jumped into action, a flash of blue shooting over his head as he bent over in pain. He sat down on the ground, heavily.
"Hold your fire!" Mothma shouted, dropping down beside him. Luke gasped as she touched his arm and the jagged glass shifted in his skin, digging deeper. "Call for a medic."
"I'm okay!" Luke said, instinctively. The last thing he wanted right now was to be carted off to yet another med bay. "It just... stings."
Mothma leaned back, resting on her heels - still looking annoyingly dignified. She shook her head, as if denying the thoughts that were going through her mind. "Did Vader teach you to do that?" she asked, almost demanding.
Luke glared at her. "No," he snapped. "He didn't."
"Then how did you-"
"Luke!" someone shouted, interrupting Mothma. Luke lifted his head just as Leia pushed past the guards into the room; the expression on her face was angered, and she stormed forward with determined fury.
"I didn't mean to do it," Luke said immediately, holding up his hands. The movement pulled at the skin on his side, and he winced as the glass moved again.
Shock overtook the anger on Leia's face as she stopped suddenly. Her shock was quickly replaced by a depthless sorrow. "I know you didn't," she said, softly, walking forwards until she was crouched down beside him. "Of course I know you didn't. I'm not angry with you." And she sounded distraught as she glanced up at Mothma, sharply.
Luke blinked up at her, unsure what to say. Should he be apologising? Leia met his gaze with a curtailed smile, and turned back to Mothma. "Mon - what are you doing here?"
The woman looked at her, an expression of incorruptibility on her face. "I came to talk to Luke."
"To 'Luke'? So, you're on first-name terms with him now, even though you're treating him as a prisoner."
The older woman straightened tersely and gathered her dignity about her like a cloak. "He is not a prisoner, Leia. He is-"
"Fine - a 'hostage', then, if you want to argue terminology."
Luke frowned up at them as Leia straightened to face the Rebel leader. Now Luke was the only one crouching; he felt like a child caught between them, and he tried to regain his feet, only to catch a whimper of pain by biting his lip. Leia was still talking, arguing, but she stopped abruptly when he moved and caught him by his uninjured arm, as if she thought he would fall.
"I'm okay, I'm okay," he insisted, sitting down on the couch whilst trying not to look as pained as he felt. Another med bay... that was the last thing he wanted.
Leia stared at him intently, until he felt like her gaze was tearing him up. Times like this... looking into her eyes... he'd swear he could see her soul.
"Let me help you," Leia said, imploringly.
He swallowed and nodded. "No medics," he said, quietly, though he knew Mothma would hear it, close as she was, standing over them, breathing down their necks.
Leia turned back to the guards. "Get a med pack up here," she ordered.
Mon frowned - Luke could feel the heat of her disapproval. "Leia... have a medic treat him."
Leia pursed her lips in irritation. "Thank you, Mon, but Luke doesn't want that, and I hope that you can recall our earlier Council discussion, where we agreed that we should be as obliging to Luke's needs as we can be? After all, you wouldn't want to make him angry, would you?" she said, and then pointedly looked down at the remains of the broken glass.
Luke almost choked at that, the urge to bury his head in his hands and just pretend this wasn't happening almost overwhelming. He stared at the broken glass on the floor, barely seeing it - that sudden surge of power, that feeling of intoxicating force racing through him, in him, around him... the Force had never felt so close. What Vader had shown him aboard the Death Star paled in comparison. This was power... and he wondered, almost idly, what he could do with that power... what were its limits? Could it get him out of here, if he was angry enough? Could it destroy the tracker, get him to a shuttle, get him out of here... if he only knew how to use it properly? Could he kill with it, with just a thought?
He felt disconnected suddenly, as if he was floating above everyone else in room, staring down, seeing Leia arguing with Mothma, the guards looking at each other nervously, all oddly muted as the Force seemed to swell around him, lifting him above it, beyond it...
"Luke... Luke...? Hey - they've gone." A hand gently stroking his hair brought his senses back to reality, grounding him again.
He looked up, lifted his head - and just when had he dropped it into his hands? He couldn't remember. For that matter- when had Mothma left?
Leia smiled at him. "Where were you just then, hey?"
"I'm not sure..." he replied, frowning. The door to the quarters opened and a guard came in, eyeing Luke warily, and dropped a med pack on the table.
"Shall I wait in here, Your Highness?"
Leia shook her head. "No, I'm fine. You can return to your regular duty."
The guard looked doubtful at that, but Leia stared at him until he left. Then she turned to Luke and he could almost feel the compassion radiating off Leia - the guilt, the disillusionment, and above all the urge to comfort him, though she wasn't sure how.
He smiled at that, unable to hold onto the anger he'd felt towards her earlier. It was still there, in the background, but subdued.
"Leia-" he started to say, then stopped abruptly when his voice began to break with emotion.
Pain flashed over her face and suddenly she put her arms around his neck and was holding him, very gently, as if she thought he might break, shatter. "I'm so sorry," she said, pressing her face against his shoulder. He could feel the emotion sweeping over him, tears or worse threatening, and he buried his face in the soft pillow of her chestnut hair.
Her hair... it smelt vaguely familiar, like an old memory, a home he'd never known, and he clutched her to him suddenly, mindless of the pain that sparked in the cuts in his side. They were a minor thing, easily cured, treated and healed. But the rift in his soul, the tearing loss and the burning betrayal.... that was not so easily repaired.
Biggs took a deep breath as the guard entered a code onto the door and it slid aside.
He took a step inside and then halted abruptly. "Leia," he said, dumbly, and the Princess lifted her head.
"Oh, hello, Biggs," she said, straightening and rubbing her eyes.
Biggs stared, feeling suddenly numb at what he was seeing. Luke... Leia... hugging close - really close. Clinging to each other, Leia almost in his lap.
Alarms were screaming through his mind. Hell! Could this day get any worse? Why was he the only one who knew these two were brother and sister!?
Luke looked up then, flushed. He, too, rubbed at his eyes. "You missed all the excitement," he said, and Biggs nearly choked.
"What happened?" he asked, stepping forward again.
Could he just pull them apart? No - Leia, at least, would not take kindly to that. Instead, he hovered at the edge of the couch, willing them to sit further apart. A shard of glass caught his eye, and he frowned, for the first time noticing that the floor was strewn with broken glass.
Leia sighed. "Mon Mothma visited," she said, as if that should be answer enough. Biggs swallowed, remembering the way the table in the conference room had started shaking when the Council had told Luke their intentions. He fingered a wickedly sharp piece on glass gingerly.
Luke must have seen in uncertainty on his face, because he suddenly stood. "I didn't do it on purpose," he said. "I tried to protect her when I realised it was happening."
Biggs looked at him again - really looked at him this time, and started in concern. "You're hurt."
Leia rolled her eyes at that, a surprisingly light-hearted action for such a regal girl. "Keep up, hotshot. Have you just woken up? He stepped in front of the glass so it didn't hit her," she said, and Biggs glared at her mocking tone.
"No, I haven't just woken up - I've been having a conversation with Vader."
Silence descended instantly. Luke abruptly dropped back to the couch and Leia was still for a moment. "I... I see," Leia eventually said, looking uncomfortable. Then, "What did he want?"
Oh, hell. How was he supposed to explain this away? A thousand different options flew through his mind, but none of them seemed to have any merit. Finally, he just said, "He wanted to flay me for bringing Luke here," and then he glared at Leia, trying to transfer some of the lingering guilt he felt onto her. She looked down, paling with emotion, and he immediately regretted doing that to her.
Hell, but this was a confusing situation. He brushed at the glass on the tabletop and sat down gingerly on the edge, reaching for the med pack. He rummaged for a while, pulling out bacta gel and something that looked vaguely like it could be used for tweezers. He set them aside, and when he looked up, Luke was staring at him with the kind of expression that always made Biggs feel shameful.
"I don't blame you, you know," Luke said, and Biggs felt like a lump of ice had just got lodged in his throat. He couldn't speak, couldn't swallow. "We couldn't have stayed with... with my father... and we wouldn't have got far alone." And then he smiled, slightly, a spark back in his eyes.
Whether that spark came from finally calling Vader his father, or from absolving Biggs from blame, Biggs didn't know. But it warmed him and chilled him all at once - because hadn't Biggs just conspired with Vader to get Luke back to him? He dumped the med bag on the floor when it started to slip from his numb fingers.
"Come on, we better get that glass out," Biggs said, when he couldn't bring himself to thank Luke for absolving him. That would have been too deceitful, even though his conscience desperately wanted that absolution.
Luke, oddly, looked like he understood, and began stripping his shirt off, carefully.
"Here, let me help," Leia said, standing and immediately trying to help him ease his tunic over the cuts.
Biggs wanted to leap up and pull her away - she really didn't need to be that close to help him undress, did she? Or was he seeing things? He shouldn't, though - it would look suspicious... but when Luke got stuck getting the tunic over his head... and Leia stepped closer, so she was pressed against him...
Biggs stood abruptly. "I'll do it," he said, hastily pushing between them and manoeuvring the shirt over his friend's head, tossing it to the ground. Then, he deliberately sat back down next to Luke, cutting Leia out of her place on the couch. "Pass me those tweezers, can you, Princess?"
No response. He turned around at the silence, to find her staring at him and - damn - he flushed under that questing glare. Slowly, deliberately slowly, she reached out, picked up the tweezers, and handed them to him.
He smiled weakly at her. She stared right back at him, expression unreadable. Luke coughed, awkwardly, and Leia suddenly straightened. "I'll go comm. for some food, shall I?" she said, somewhat primly, and turned on her heel, heading towards the comm.
Biggs grimaced and looked back at Luke, who was staring at him with a confused expression.
Oh, hell, ...
Somewhere in space, the Death Star, Bridge.
"My Lord? Devastator reports she is docked in geostationary orbit above the Death Star and awaiting your arrival."
Vader glanced aside from his contemplation of the star field, to the aide that hovered at his side. "Good. Tell them I will be with them momentarily. And transfer the Rebel instructions for contacting their Council - I will be going directly to my private suite and I expect the communications room to be ready for transmission."
The man nodded willingly, eager to squirm out from under Vader's intimidating gaze. "Yes, my Lord."
Vader dismissed him with a hand gesture. He heard the sound of soft footsteps behind him and turned as Tarkin approached from across the Bridge. The man sniffed disapprovingly - Vader had told him little about why he was suddenly trying so hard to track down the Revolution, and that clearly irritated the pompous man.
"Well.... I wish you the best of luck in tracking down the Rebel executive ship, Vader," Tarkin said. "I don't expect you to have much luck, though - it has proved tricky to find, thus far. I fail to see how this redeployment of the navy's resources can be of assistance to you in -- Lord Vader!"
Vader held up his hand as he turned his back and walked towards the bridge doors. "We have had this discussion, Tarkin - Navy matters are my responsibility. I suggest you concentrate on your precious space station. I have an urgent transmission to make aboard Devastator before her transition to hyperspace." He paused briefly in the doorway, turning and facing the clearly annoyed grand moff. "Incidentally, should any information regarding the three Rebels who escaped this facility recently reach you... I trust you will forward it to me, immediately?"
Tarkin looked at him sourly, peering over his hooked nose at him. "Of course, Lord Vader. We are all on the same side, after all, are we not?"
Vader scowled at that. "We are indeed," he replied, not bothering to cover his distaste at that before he turned and strode from the room. Politics... he really had no time for it.
Somewhere in space, Alliance Council's Executive Ship 'Revolution', private communication room.
Luke fidgeted nervously, though he tried not to. The Rebel guards had come for him just minutes ago, not long after Mothma had left and before the food Leia had ordered had arrived. They'd marched him up here, into a cramped little comm. room, and left him inside. And though they hadn't said as much, Luke was pretty sure whom they were expecting him to talk to.
He paused in the entranceway as the door slid shut behind him and clicked locked. If he just stood here, out of the range of the pickup, maybe when Vader called he'd think no one was there and he'd go away again...
... and that was a really cowardly thing to consider, Luke thought, scowling at himself. But, truthfully, he was tempted; he didn't know what to think about Vader being his father, never mind knowing what to say to the man. Stars, but it was ridiculous he'd only spoken to his father once before really spoken, that was; their confrontation in the Death Star docking bay didn't count and he hadn't known Vader was his father, then.
His memories of that time together were still clear in his mind, as if they had only been moments ago the strange waking in an oddly luxurious environment, Vader's quiet dominance, the unexpected interest he'd shown in Luke... Mostly, though, Luke remembered that it hadn't felt that uncomfortable, actually. In fact, in a really odd way it'd been quite... well, easy. Natural. Which made no sense none at all.
"Were you planning on moving into the pickup, young one?" a voice asked, suddenly breaking into his thoughts Vader's deep, rich voice, sounding darkly amused. Luke swallowed, irritated with himself for not even noticing the Dark Lord's image had coalesced in the space in front of the single chair in the room.
For a moment Luke was tempted to stay where he was, just to see what Vader would do. What could the Dark Lord do if he refused, anyway? Yell at him? Demand he move into the pickup? And if Luke still didn't move? What then? Maybe Vader would insist that the Rebels put him in the pickup drag him over, fighting to get away and
"Luke? Son... there is nothing to fear...."
That did it. Luke stepped up to the pickup defiantly and dropped into the seat, glaring. "I'm not afraid," he said. "I was just... thinking."
Vader only nodded at that, as if in understanding, and Luke narrowed his eyes at the black mask. Only Vader's head and shoulders were being projected, but somehow Luke felt small and insignificant beneath the blank gaze. He refused to look away, though.
"You are hurt," Vader said suddenly, leaning forward. The pick-up interpreted that movement by enlarging the image of Vader, and Luke looked up in surprise and then down at himself, and his torn and bloodied tunic.
"Oh... yeah, it's nothing. An accident."
"An... 'accident'..." Vader repeated slowly, dangerously. "And who caused this 'accident'?"
There was a long silence a really uncomfortable silence. Luke fidgeted with the hem of his tunic.
"Luke," Vader said. "If the Rebels have harmed you in any way-"
"Then what?" Luke interrupted, forcing his hands back down to his sides. "There's nothing you could do even if they had. You can't stop them."
"Do not be so sure," Vader retorted, pointing a finger at him. As Luke watched, Vader seemed to grow even larger in the pickup Luke almost imagined he could feel the heat of Vader's rising temper. He stared, fascinated that a threat against him could cause Vader to react that way.
Knowing he shouldn't goad Vader, but mesmerised by the reaction had anyone ever cared enough about what happened to Luke to become so angry on his behalf? Luke said, "So what if they did do something to me? What if they decide I'm not worth the risk, and just... you know...."
"They would not dare," Vader replied, and there was a murderous tone in his voice. Luke swallowed nervously. "They would all be dead within a day."
Luke frowned. "You couldn't-"
He shook his head. "Then why haven't you done it before? Why not wipe out the Rebellion if it's that simple? I don't understand."
Vader inclined his head slightly. "I would explain it all to you, Luke, had I the time. But I do not. Now, tell me did the Rebels cause your injuries?"
Luke sighed. "No one tells me anything...."
"Alright! Okay... no, it wasn't the Rebels, though you don't have to do anything to them. It was... well, it was me," Luke said, and looked aside. Stars, but how did Vader make him feel so small and callow with so few words?!
"You?" Vader said. There was something compelling about the man's intensity, Luke realised. He'd noticed that before, but somehow in the rush to escape the Death Star and in coming to the Alliance, he'd forgotten just how compelling that was, and "Luke!"
Luke shook himself back to the here and now. He focused on Vader. "I got angry, and... well, I guess this sounds stupid, but... this glass exploded. It's not as bad as it looks, really." He paused. "Was that the Force? The glass, I mean did the Force do that?"
Vader seemed to contemplate that for a moment, though it was hard to tell just what the Dark Lord was doing, with that mask in place. "No," Vader said eventually, mildly. "You did."
Luke frowned. "But... how? I don't understand how can I have done it when I don't even know how I did it?"
"Your presence in the Force is extremely strong, Luke. But you have no training your skills will be erratic until you receive training." He paused. "Have your injuries been treated?"
"Until you train me, you mean," Luke pointed out, ignoring Vader's last question, which had sounded a bit too like parental concern. Not that he disliked the idea of someone showing him parental concern, it was just... an alien concept, really. "That's what you said on the Death Star until you train me. So you can make me you."
Vader shook his head. "I have no desire to make you 'me', son." He paused, and Luke could almost feel Vader searching for the right words. But that made no sense you couldn't feel people thinking... yet, Luke could imagine he was able to hear Vader's thoughts or maybe not the thoughts themselves, but the texture of them. It was almost soothing, in a weird, unfamiliar kind of way. "I merely want to know you."
Could that be? Luke certainly had a hundred questions for Vader; a thousand questions, even. And though he'd initially been wary of this talk, suddenly he just wanted to ask and ask and ask... to trust Vader, even, though that was probably a bad idea.
But how could he trust him? Luke's memories disagreed with what Vader was telling him. He could still recall Vader's deep, resonating tone saying
"Come with me. You have so much potential. We can rule the galaxy, together."
- and -
"I can show you power."
And neither of those things had anything to do with wanting to know Luke.
"No," Luke said, sadly. "You're lying. You don't want me. You just want... well, I don't know what you want, but it can't just be me."
"I mean... you... you're... you're Darth Vader. I'm just... well... me... and..."
Vader held up a hand, suddenly, and Luke quieted, not quite sure what he was trying to say anyway. "Luke... son... we have precious little time. The Rebels have restricted us to ten minutes daily, and we are being monitored should we discuss any 'plans' to liberate you, they will cut the communication."
Luke frowned. "Then what do we talk about?"
Vader laughed, a weird grating sound through the vocoder. "About you... or about me... or perhaps you have another topic you would care to discuss?"
Luke swallowed, thickly, aware suddenly of all the possibilities this contact could present to him. Then, with a strangely dreamy feeling, Vader's voice started to speak in his mind. /And those topics we do not care to discuss out loud... we can talk about in here,/ Vader's voice said, echoing in his mind.
"Wh-what?" Luke asked, confused.
/Not out loud, Luke the Force, and the fact that you are my son, enables us to talk this way. And the Rebels will never know what we discuss./
Luke just stared. Uncomfortable and yet comfortable with the idea of talking to Vader like that he didn't reply, mostly because he wasn't entirely certain he'd be any good at it. There was a strange beeping noise from the comm. then, and Luke almost jumped in shock. "What...?"
Vader sighed. "That, I believe, is the Rebels' way of signalling that our ten minutes is almost over."
"What? Already?" Luke said, before he could stop himself and if he heard the lingering disappointment in there, then Vader definitely did too.
"Unfortunately.... Son, listen a moment whatever the Rebels ask of you, do it."
Luke started at that. "What why?"
Vader snorted. "For your safety and for my sanity."
Something inside of Luke hurt at that it was a pleasant hurt, though; it was warming, and not something he was used to feeling, not at all. The feeling that someone his father! might actually care....
"Father, I want-" he started to say, but in the middle of the sentence Vader's image collapsed in on itself suddenly, the pickup light dying.
Luke stared at the empty space, the words left unsaid and he wasn't even really sure what he'd been about to say. He swallowed, the expected relief at the end of his forced contact with Vader not materialising. Instead he felt... strangely bereft, and alone. He contemplated for a moment trying out that mental-speaking Vader had mentioned... but he still wasn't sure. And then the lights came up suddenly and door slid open. The guards entered.
"Time's up," one of them said, without ceremony. "Come on let's go."
Somewhere in space, Star Destroyer 'Devastator', Darth Vader's personal wing.
There was a strange satisfaction in how smoothly Vader's talk with Luke had gone. He had feared, initially, that the boy would refuse to speak with him. But that had not been the case. And he couldn't help feeling lifted by that. With the Darklighter boy in place, and with Luke more receptive than he could have hoped for well, there was reason to be optimistic.
Or maybe it wasn't just that maybe it was the fact that Luke was just as Vader remembered him, and that there remained something about the boy that made Vader feel alive somehow.
Luke was proof of Vader's life: proof that perhaps the grief and loss had been worth it, after all, in the long run.
But most of all, he was Vader's son his flesh, his child - his.
"Lord Vader? Lord Vader, sir, I am sorry for interrupting, but the Emperor made contact with us moments ago and requested that you speak with him urgently."
The nervous voice broke Vader out of his reverie and he sighed inaudibly, opening his eyes. Without turning, he replied, "Very well, route the communication through this chamber."
"... to your hyperbaric chamber, sir?" the man asked, clearly trying not to sound like he was questioning Vader, even though he was.
But the aide had a point normally Vader would contact the Emperor in the main communications room aboard Devastator, where there was a dais upon which to kneel before the Sith Lord.
Yet, somehow, Vader had no inclination to go there today.
"You said it was urgent," Vader pointed out. "Route it through immediately."
"... yes, my Lord."
Vader heard his aide's harried footsteps scuttling off. He frowned. He supposed this contact had been inevitable for a while now. The Emperor would want to know why Vader had left the Death Star Palpatine's pet project to search for the Revolution. He'd want to know what had taken Vader's attention so suddenly and completely. And Vader had already prepared the answers he needed to give the same answers he had given Tarkin.
They even had some basis in truth: the need to find the Revolution, given their inability to locate any significant bases to destroy; and the need to track down the Rebels who had escaped the Death Star with the spacestation's plans, and who would undoubtedly have taken them directly to the Revolution and the Council. Vader could only hope that Palpatine still believed in him enough to trust his judgement on this.
"Lord Vader... I have been expecting your report for some time," the Emperor said, almost before his image had finished forming on the viewscreen. There was a flash of irritation in his eyes.
"Yes, my Master," Vader said. And smiled, to himself
Somewhere in space, Alliance Council's Executive Ship 'Revolution', Officer's Quarters assigned to Skywalker/Darklighter.
Luke was feeling strangely buoyed by the time he and his guards had made the walk back to his and Biggs' quarters. He had an odd feeling of hope inside of him, where he would have expected fear or dread or -
"You're back," Biggs said as Luke walked through to the door. His friend was obviously pacing he had stopped mid-stride, halfway between the fresher and the lounge area. "How was it?"
He paused, not sure how to reply. How had it been, talking to Vader? Okay, he supposed surprisingly okay. But he wasn't sure he could say that to them they wouldn't understand. "Short," he finally said.
Biggs frowned at that. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Luke shot back, feeling a bit defensive. And then, turning to Leia, "Vader said we were being monitored do you know who's doing that?"
She looked troubled for a moment. "The Council have someone watching it," she said. "It was going to be supervised, but... well, no one wanted to actually be in there." She paused. "So they... I mean we... settled for monitoring it."
He snorted and shook his head. "That's great," he said sarcastically. Then, finally, he spotted the plates of food that were sat on the low table in the lounge area. He walked forward and dropped onto the couch nearest the table and frowned. "Plastic plates?" he said, picking one of the meals up and eyeing the child-sized cutlery. "That's just... ridiculous."
Leia smiled. "Yes, I'm afraid so. Mon must have already been in touch with the galley," she said, and passed him a small knife and fork. Then she took a plate off the table and balanced it on her lap, trying to look regal as she did so.
Despite himself, despite the humiliation and the annoyance, the ludicrous situation made a bubble of humour press against Luke's chest and he laughed suddenly, putting his plate down so he didn't drop the food.
Leia's eyes widened at that. "What?" she said.
Luke shook his head as Biggs sat down opposite, giving Luke a worried glance. "Nothing. I mean... I don't know," Luke answered. "It's just funny. Vader's my father... getting spied on by the Council kids' cutlery I don't know...." He wiped his eyes, pushing back the hysteria. "Sorry... just, you know... I guess it's relief got it over with, you know? Talking to Vader, I mean."
Biggs nodded, picking up the last plate. "I bet," he said.
Leia raised an eyebrow at them both. "Are you two planning on eating? Because I feel a bit foolish being the only one sitting here eating with this tiny cutlery."
Luke laughed and picked up his plate again.
Somewhere in space, Alliance Council's Executive Ship 'Revolution', Officer's Quarters assigned to Skywalker/Darklighter.
Biggs leaned back against the couch and propped his feet on the low table. "Maybe I should check on him," he said. "Make sure he's sleeping."
The princess laughed lightly at that. "How? By waking him?" She smiled wryly, the low glow of the sidelights catching on the metal necklace she wore. "He'll be fine, Biggs."
"Oh, yeah?" he retorted, narrowing his eyes at her. "What makes you so sure? I know Luke he's not okay."
She frowned at that, and Biggs realised uneasily that she didn't have an answer. He leant his head back and stared at the blank ceiling.
Today had been quite possibly the longest day of his life. First there had been his contact with Vader, and finding out Vader had his family held to ransom. Then there had been the uncomfortable moment of walking in to find Leia and Luke closer than he cared to think about. And almost immediately after that, Luke had been taken away to talk to Vader. And Biggs had fretted the whole time his friend was gone, worried how Luke would cope with it. But Luke had come back surprisingly cheerful after that contact and the implications of that were keeping Biggs awake, even after Luke had turned in for the night.
But it wasn't just his concerns about Luke that was bothering Biggs there was also something Leia had said earlier about the communications being monitored.
Biggs shifted uncomfortably, folding his arms over his stomach. Surely if the conversation between himself and Vader had been recorded, the Rebels would have done something about it by now wouldn't they? Unless they wanted to keep quiet that they knew Vader was planning on rescuing Luke, preferring to know what Vader was up to rather than forcing him to think again and draw up another plan that they didn't know anything about and-
He shook his head, annoyed by his own confusing thoughts. He looked at Leia, at her profile, as she stared thoughtfully out of the viewport. What was she thinking, anyway? Was she wondering what Vader had said to Luke? Or what he'd said to Biggs? She didn't seem the type of girl to just wonder those things without coming right out and asking... maybe she'd go and watch the recordings later. If there even was a recording of Biggs' conversation.
Hell, it was all too confusing. He stood up, stretching his arms. "I'm off to bed," he said. "You okay?"
Leia blinked and refocused on him. "Yes, I should go, too the Council are reconvening early in the morning." She stood, smoothing down the wrinkles of her dress and tucking a few stray strands of hair behind her ear.
"Right," Biggs said. Leia made no move towards the door, though, and Biggs hovered awkwardly. "So..." he said.
"He'll be alright, you know," she said, quietly, taking a step forward and putting her hand on his arm.
Biggs looked down at her hand, wishing he hadn't tensed so suddenly when she'd touched him. "I hope so," he replied. He looked towards the shared bedroom. "I'll... uh... see you tomorrow, I guess," he said, and turned away abruptly, walking towards the door.
* * *
Luke turned over in bed, clutching the coverlet tighter. He couldn't sleep. It didn't matter what he tried trying to remember pleasant memories, or trying to force the thoughts out of his mind, or trying to make his muscles relax he couldn't get to sleep.
He couldn't stop thinking; that was the problem. Talking with Vader had seemed to douse his brain in energy, and he couldn't stop thinking about it - about how odd it had been, and about how easy it had been, too. About what Luke wanted to ask him tomorrow and about ways of getting out of having to talk to him tomorrow. There were too many dissonant thoughts in his head, and it was uncomfortable. Physically uncomfortable, and he couldn't relax.
Annoyed with himself, he tugged the pillow out from under his head and put it over his face. The really annoying thing was that he was exhausted. Stars, if he could just get some sleep, then maybe he'd be able to sort through these thoughts in the morning. But right now he was too tired to know what to do with them.
He wondered idly if Vader was having this problem. Probably not, he decided the Dark Lord probably had some Force-way of turning his mind off. And wouldn't that be useful, right now?
Luke tried not to think about that, but the more he tried not to, the more insistent that thought was did Vader have some way of switching his mind off? Maybe Luke could ask him tomorrow along with all the other things he could ask him, if he decided not to feign illness or give the guards the slip or hide in the entranceway of the comm. room and pretend he wasn't there.
But the problem was, he needed it now.
What had Vader said earlier? That they could talk, without talking out loud? Luke bit his lip, tempted. And it wasn't just temptation to ask if there was some way of using the Force to bring on sleep. It was just... temptation, generally.
But how were you supposed to talk using the Force, anyway? Did you just... think a question and it happened? Maybe if he just concentrated and thought
Luke waited a heartbeat, tempted to pull the pillow further over his face. He waited another heartbeat, and another and was disappointed when there was no reply. He sighed. Well, hell, he obviously wasn't doing it right and
/I am here, son. I wondered when you would contact me./
Son. The word slid through Luke's mind like a balm. He closed his eyes, revelling in the title. How long had he longed for someone to call him that? He didn't want Vader to be the one who used the name, but, stars, he wanted someone to. It filled a hunger in him; a hunger that had always been there, never satisfied with what his aunt and uncle could offer, hard as they had tried. And he was still hungry for it, despite everything he knew about Vader.
Luke concentrated again, furrowing his forehead. /I can't sleep,/ he said.
/You do not need to Send so loud, Luke. You are shouting,/ Vader replied, calmly. But although it was mildly said, Luke felt himself flush he'd had a feeling that he would be bad at this. /That was not a rebuke, son. That we can talk like this so easily is testament to your skill and strength, and not a failing./ Luke 'felt' the man pause, and change the subject. /Why can you not sleep?/
He was still flushed, this time from the realisation that he had contacted Vader over something so... so... childish.
/It's nothing,/ he said, quieter this time. /I was just wondering if you could use the Force to... uh... make yourself sleep. And I...well, I thought I'd ask you./ He shrugged, tugging the pillow down over his face again.
He felt satisfaction then, coming from Vader. And that was weird, because he knew the emotion came from Vader, but he could feel it in himself, too, like an echo.
/What is it?/ he asked.
/I am merely pleased that you turn so readily to the Force, Luke. And you are wise to do so the Force can indeed help you sleep. Or rather, meditation can, if it is the need to clear your thoughts that prevents you from sleeping./ Vader replied. Then, Luke felt something warm capture him, sliding through his veins. And it wasn't one of Vader's emotions that Luke was feeling; no, it felt more like a sensation Vader had sent directly to him, filling him.
/Oh.../ he said. /So how do you do that?/ Again, that warmth filled Luke. That in itself was making him sleepy.
/You have done it before, son. On the Death Star, when I taught you to feel the Force that was a light form of meditation./ Vader paused, and Luke imagined his presence drew closer, as if he was standing behind him, just out of sight. /Do you remember how to do that?/
Luke thought back on that, curling his hand around the edge of the pillow. /I... I think so. I'm-/
/Watch me, Luke, and copy what I do./
Luke really wasn't sure he should do that wasn't that the same as Vader teaching him? But then... Luke had asked for this. It wasn't like Vader was forcing it on him, was it? And meditating couldn't be of the Dark Side, could it? It was just... well, meditating.
/Alright,/ he finally sent. /And... Father? Thanks./
Somewhere in space, Alliance Council's Executive Ship Revolution', Council Room.
"There are very few weaknesses in the design of the station," the man said, pinching the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger, as if he had a splitting headache. And maybe he did - he looked exhausted. As the head of the tactical division of the Alliance military, it had been his job to study the Death Star plans day and night until he knew them inside out.
Leia smiled at him encouragingly, but the man didn't appear to notice. "The armaments would be impressive even without the main laser," he continued. "Some of those guns could fell a small cruiser with just a short barrage. No vessel in our fleet would want to go up against that. Even if you could manage to hit back, they've designed the suprastructure so that it can lose up to thirty percent of its integrity and still fly. Even if we could get all our ships close enough to attack it, it would take an assault lasting hours - perhaps even days - to cause enough damage to disable it."
There the man paused, and Leia waited quietly, watching the troubled faces of her fellow Council-members. They were all silent, as if they were all expecting something more from the tactician - some 'but' that would give them a glimpse of hope. The tactician saw them waiting - must surely have felt the anticipation directed at him - but all he did was smile grimly and give a slight shrug of his shoulders.
"So you're telling us this thing is utterly indestructible?" Rieekan finally said, breaking the climbing tension.
"No," the tactician said. He plucked the projection controller from where it rested on the tabletop and began twirling it between his fingers. "Not completely indestructible. It does have a single flaw, but in order to exploit that you'd need a miracle."
Again, that breathless expectation filled the room. Leia wet her lips, pressing back the quiet hope that had suddenly leapt into her heart. "What kind of miracle?" she asked.
The man snorted. "The truly miraculous type, Your Highness. The one-in-a-million type." He pointed the controller at the projection well, stabbing at the button on it like something about the whole situation irritated him. Or maybe he was just tired.
A schematic of the Death Star appeared before them, a spinning net of green lines. It was only a diagram, a computer image, but Leia felt a kick of fear against her chest. She closed her eyes against the memories, but she could still see it burnt into her mind's eye - the image of Alderaan exploding, shattering into clouds of boiling water and pulverised rock.
She opened them again, and the projection had changed into a skeleton of angular towers and valleys - the surface of the Death Star. The tactician was speaking, his voice slow and measured, and Leia suspected he held a strange, reluctant reverence for the battle station he was describing. "... only one point on its surface where the exhaust tube runs directly back to the reactor. All the other exhausts are smaller and interspersed with filters that block off anything but the narrowest of access shafts to the innards of the station."
Rieekan was tugging thoughtfully at his short, white beard. "And this one isn't?"
The tactician stabbed another button on his controller, and the image pulled back, showing the full schematic again - but now with the addition of a red line that pierced the Death Star's outer skin and sank straight down to the heart of the battle station. "No. This one follows a nice, straight path back to the reactor. It's not clear from the plans why they made it like that - maybe they tested the station and found they weren't venting the exhaust fumes fast enough. It certainly looks like someone decided, right at the last moment, to add it and cut a line right through the station. There are corridors that were clearly designed to connect, but they've been split in half by this shaft." He shook his head, frowning in the silence.
Leia continued to stare at the schematic, the red blade stabbing into the green skeleton of the Death Star. There was something oddly symbolic about it, but she couldn't put her finger on exactly why the image struck her that way.
"Could it be a trap?" Mon Mothma asked, her voice tight.
The tactician considered that for a moment, tilting his head slightly. "No," he said at last. "You'd need better bait than that for a trap. After all, that shaft might lead straight down to the reactor, but you're never going to get a ship close enough to access the port. No one could hit that target, not at the speed you'd have to fly to avoid the defences."
"So it is merely an oversight?" Mothma said, still sounding wary.
The tactician pursed his lips. "Probably," he said, at length.
Leia leant forward and placed her elbows on the table. "There must be a way we can exploit that," she said. "No matter how small the chance is - if that is our only hope, then we must find a way of using it."
"Agreed," Rieekan said, still tugging thoughtfully on his beard. "But how? Were we in a situation where we had no other choice, I would advocate attempting a snub fighter attack - some of our pilots have considerable skill. But that does not seem necessary, yet. There must be another way..."
Mothma was staring at the image, her hands folded in her lap. "Could we train them?"
"Our pilots? Yes yes, we could do that. I'm sure if the simulator techs had these plans, they could create a reasonable simulation of that trench. Yes..."
"Good. Then that is a start." Mothma turned back to the tactician. "Assuming that enough training would make our pilots capable of hitting that target?"
The man shook his head. "Honestly, Ma'am - I doubt it. You'd need a hell of a pilot to hit that. And, no disrespect to our pilots, but I can't see it happening."
"I see," Mothma replied, somewhat disheartened. She smiled faintly at Leia. "Well, perhaps we'll find someone yet, with the skill to hit it?"
Leia didn't turn to reply to Mon - mostly because the other woman's comment could have been taken as a rhetorical question, but also because she wasn't thinking about whether they'd find someone amongst the ranks who could hit that target. She was thinking about Biggs Darklighter, the decorated Imperial snub pilot, and Luke Skywalker, the son of the Empire's best pilot. And she was keeping very, very quiet.
"Do we know where the Death Star is at present?" Mon asked.
"No," the tactical head replied. "After it left the Yavin system, it rendezvoused with the Star Destroyer Devastator and then jumped into hyperspace. We won't know where it's gone until it re-enters realspace and our agents can report back."
"Wait a minute," Rieekan said, leaning forward in his seat. "It rendezvoused with Devastator?"
Rieekan raked a glance across the assembled council members. "Vader," he said.
Leia felt her shoulders bunch with tension. "He's left the Death Star? Why? I thought Intelligence had discovered that Emperor Palpatine had assigned him there indefinitely."
Mothma frowned thoughtfully. "Not anymore, apparently."
"Because of Skywalker?" someone whispered, as if the name itself might just conjure up an angered Sith Lord in their midst.
"Why else?" Mothma asked.
And for some reason, they all turned to stare at Leia, as if waiting for her to comment. She shook her head, turning aside and staring at the image hanging over the table. The Death Star, stabbed through to its heart by a red blade.
Somewhere in space, Alliance Council's Executive Ship Revolution', Officer's Quarters assigned to Skywalker/Darklighter.
... the Princess is your most viable option - she distrusts the Council's decisions...
In the silence of the empty quarters, Vader's words reverberated in Biggs' mind. Leia was in a Council meeting, Luke was in his daily conversation with Vader, and Biggs was left alone with his thoughts. Not that there was much to think about, really. He had no choice - he had to do what Vader asked of him. He knew that, and he knew he would hate doing it - but he'd just have to harden his heart and get on with it.
...I am waiting to see if you agree to assist me in liberating my son. If you do, I will free them...
Biggs took a sip of the caffe in his hands, and grimaced - it was stone cold. How long had he stood here, agonizing over his choices? And he knew standing around worrying wasn't doing him any good; the longer he delayed, the longer his family spent in detention. And who knew how long Vader planned on waiting before giving up on Biggs and executing them?
His family. Where were they now? Had Vader dumped them somewhere, some rotten cell on Tatooine, or had he taken them with him - all the easier to kill them should Biggs defy Vader's demands? It was impossible to know. If he wanted to get them out of wherever they were, he needed to stop thinking about it and just get on with it.
'It'. Somehow it was easier to refer to what he needed to do as an abstract idea, rather than remind himself that the 'it' in question required him to dupe Leia and put Luke back within Vader's grasp. Easier - but not by much.
The door opened behind him, the sudden noise startling him. He turned as Leia walked in and paused in the entranceway. She glanced around the quarters before settling her gaze on the empty living area. She looked... distracted. Worried. "Hi," Biggs said.
She looked up at him, startled. "Hi, Biggs. Sorry, I... Luke not back yet?"
He shook his head, walking towards her and dumping his cold cup of caffe on the table. "Not yet. You okay?"
She smiled, thinly. "Yeah, just thinking." She glanced at the drink dispenser. "May I make myself a drink? It was a long meeting."
"Oh - yeah, go ahead," he said, automatically, and then kicked himself mentally - she was tired and worn out and this was probably a great opportunity to get some information out of her - he was just standing here, staring at her. "No, wait," he said. "Sit down - I'll get it."
"Thanks," she said, with a genuine smile - and then flopped down onto the plush sofa in a very un-princess-like manner. Something about the way she did it, and the way she grinned at him when she saw him staring at her, reminded Biggs of Luke. Just briefly, only a flicker of familiarity, but the inside his gut clenched with pain when he saw it.
He only realised he was still staring when her expression began to change from a sheepish grin to a slightly confused, wary smile.
"Caffe okay?" he said, quickly turning back to the machine.
"Just fine - thank you."
He nodded, silently dragging in a long breath. When he turned back around he felt more composed, though he still didn't have a clue what he was going to say, or how he was going to say it.
Leia accepted the cup with a grateful smile. "You look tired, Biggs," she said.
He forced back the warmth on his cheeks. Was it that obvious that he was distracted? "I shouldn't be," he said, sinking down into deep cushions of the other sofa. "It's not as if there's a lot to do in here."
"No, I suppose not," she said, a thoughtful expression in her eyes as she drank from the cup cradled in her hands. "I wonder if we could get you out of here for a while."
He perked up at that, sitting straighter. "Out?" he asked. His pulse had accelerated suddenly. Leia nodded. There was something guarded in her expression, but Biggs pressed on. "How?"
Leia looked at him carefully for a few seconds before smiling faintly. "I was talking to someone from our tactical division earlier today. They're upgrading a flight simulator with some new scenarios and... well, I think they could use some feedback from a couple of experienced pilots. And we're a little short on pilots on the Revolution."
Biggs snorted at that. That was true enough - from what he'd seen, the Revolution was crewed exclusively by civilian guards, diplomats and clerks. But... "I wouldn't exactly call either me or Luke experienced. I've got a couple-hundred flight hours - and Luke's never been out of the atmosphere."
Leia cocked an eyebrow at him. "So that's a no?"
"No! I mean... no, it's a yes. Kreth, you know I'm not going to say no to getting out of here, even if it's to sweep the floors."
That arched eyebrow rose higher. "I'll make sure Maintenance get your offer."
He laughed and shook his head. "It's so... boring being trapped in here. I feel like I'm going crazy."
"Do you?" He paused, and sighed. "Look, I didn't mean that to sound so bitter. I'm just tired."
She reached out and put her hand on top of his, a gesture that sent a strange thrill of electricity though him. He was tempted to jerk his hand back, but at the same time he couldn't have moved it for anything. "It's my first time aboard the Revolution, too. Most of my work for the Rebellion has been through the Senate. Now that it's gone and Vader has proof that I'm a Rebel... and my home and my family is gone... I guess I'm trapped here, too."
He didn't particularly want to feel any sympathy for her - at least she had the run of the ship - but something in him ached at the flicker of pain he could see there. Hell, they were all the same - him, Luke and Leia. All fighting against the pain of losing their homes, their families. What a bitter, twisted irony.
"You ever tempted to leave the diplomatic stuff behind and go join the fight?" he asked.
"Yes," she said. "All the time." She smiled. "I still am. I don't know how my father ever persuaded me to stay in politics... sometimes I get irritated with it. I believe in democracy, but sometimes... I just want to make them do the right thing, make them see things clearer. I... what?"
Biggs shook his head. "Nothing," he said, hastily. But he knew his face must have been betraying what he was thinking - or some of it, anyway. Because for a moment there, he could have almost imagined Vader speaking those words. "So... do you think you can arrange that, then? The flight simulator?"
She stared at him a minute more. "Yes, I think so," she said, eventually. Then she grinned. "Who knows - I might even give it a try myself."
Biggs just smiled tightly.
Somewhere in space, Alliance Council's Executive Ship Revolution', private communication room.
"... and that's about it," Luke said, sinking back into the chair and feeling slightly foolish.
"I see," Vader replied. This time around, the projected image showed more than just Vader's face - it showed his upper body, and Luke watched as his father steepled his hands in front of him. His father - had he really just allowed that recognition to go through his mind without a twinge of doubt? "Surely life on Tatooine cannot have been so... uneventful."
Luke snorted. "Oh, believe me - it can. If it weren't for Biggs and Beggar's Canyon, I'd have gone out of my mind with boredom. There was nothing - and no one - around for miles and miles..."
"I was surprised to find that Owen Lars and his wife had no children of their own," Vader said, almost to himself. Luke shifted uncomfortably. "If you were anything like I was as a child, then perhaps one of you was enough for them."
Darth Vader as a child? Luke tried to imagine that - a smaller, chubbier version of Darth Vader ordering his mother around, hanging off her skirt-tails, gripping her apron with one tiny black-gloved fist...
Luke buried the bubble of laughter deep down inside - he didn't think Vader would appreciate that particular image. Instead he said, "Maybe. But I don't think Aunt Beru could have children. We never talked about it, but... I don't know. I think something happened in one of the Sand People raids. But she was always... very kind to me."
Force, his eyes were tearing up. He blinked and looked aside, half ashamed with himself and half burning with the same righteous anger he'd felt as he stood on the ridge of the Jundland Wastes and watched smoke rising from his homestead.
"Why did you do it?" he asked.
"Why did I do what?"
"Why did you have to kill them?" The last word warbled slightly on the final syllable, and Luke shut his mouth firmly, staring Vader straight in the eye. After a deep, deliberate breath, he said, "They didn't do anything to you - you didn't have to kill them."
After he'd spoke, hearing the accusation in his voice, the silence seemed to close in around him, suffocating. Suddenly the small comm. room felt even more cramped than it had before, even darker.
"You are wrong, Luke. They did do something to me - a grievous injustice. They took my only child from me, and hid him. That I had them executed swiftly and cleanly was more mercy than I am usually wont to give."
Luke opened his mouth to reply, but all that came out was a choked denial. He sucked in a deep breath, concentrating on regaining control of his vocal cords. Finally, he gripped the seat arms and looked back up at Vader.
"They were protecting me," he said, and it didn't sound nearly as fragile as he'd feared it would. "From you. They were protecting me from you."
He wasn't sure what reaction he'd expected - anger, maybe, or derision. But Vader nodded. "Indeed. But they were misguided; misled by Kenobi. My old master did have something of an expertise in coercion and persuasion."
Luke winced - that cut just a little too close to the bone. He'd believed in old Ben for a while there. And look where that had got him. But that wasn't the point. The point was... well... "I miss them."
"Your aunt and uncle?"
"Yes." He bit his lip, looked aside. Because now he almost certainly in for some derision. This was Darth Vader, after all.
There was a long pause, a long silence. For a minute Luke wondered if the Rebels had skipped the one-minute warning beep and the transmission had ended. He didn't know whether he should hope for that or not. Part of him wanted to run away - but a greater part of him wanted to stay and fight.
Then Vader spoke again. "I too lost a parent when I was just a little older than you are now. It was... not my intention that you should also experience that. But you were in danger and I acted swiftly and decisively. And, perhaps, rashly." He snorted. "But although I emphasise with your loss, I cannot mourn the passing of Owen Lars and his wife."
"They were good people," Luke whispered.
"'Good people' do not steal children."
Luke sighed. They were going nowhere with this. The comm. beeped shrilly, and Luke swallowed thickly, looking up at Vader. "I miss them," he said again.
"Even though they weren't my parents. They couldn't be. And I guess I always knew that. I always wanted... more..."
He didn't really know why he'd said that last bit. He felt vulnerable, suddenly. Which was probably foolish... or maybe not. He could feel, through the Force, a sudden, lifting hope running through his mind. It made his fingers tingle and his skin feel raw, like sunburn. And the oddest thing was, it didn't feel like it was his emotion. It was his father's, stretching out to him, across the unknown distance between them.
The transmission ended, Vader's suddenly imaging shrinking to nothing and the room's lights flaring to life. Luke let out a long breath, feeling as if he'd been punched in the gut.
That was a close call, he thought. And then wondered why his relief felt forced, somehow. Because he hadn't wanted to carry on that conversation... had he?
Somewhere in space, Alliance Council's Executive Ship 'Revolution', Quarters assigned to Skywalker/Darklighter
After re-reading the same paragraph for the fifth time, Leia finally admitted defeat and dropped the datapad back to the desk with a sigh. So much for immersing herself in mindless, bureaucratic detail to distract her from the troubles circling her mind. Not a single word of the report on the latest struggles in trying to unite two bickering Rebel cells was making it any further than her eyes.
She leant back in the chair and massaged her forehead with her fingertips. She should probably go back to her own quarters to finish this work, but the quiet sound of Biggs talking on the comm. to the sim operator was oddly comforting. And besides she was waiting for Luke to return from his daily conversation with Vader. She wanted to see the grin on his face when she told him about the flight simulators.
There were times when, whilst working for the Alliance, she felt old beyond her years. Her father had even commented on it, had almost seemed saddened by it at times. But he had accepted that it was how Leia was able to work in politics: that she needed that hardened outer shell of maturity to protect herself from being drawn too deeply into the human suffering beneath the diplomatic manoeuvring.
Strange, then, that with her father gone, it was now that she felt terribly... young. And alone.
She stood from the chair, wandering to the bulkhead viewport and watching the stars slip slowly past. The Revolution had paused in its endless retreat from the Imperial forces to restock on supplies, and part of Leia was tempted to turn and sprint down the corridors, run for the docking bay, towards the shuttles carrying supplies to them. Running to them for a chance for... what? Freedom?
She felt like she was being suffocated on this ship. Confined, contained. Her identity taken from her, by a cruel twist of fate that had left her simultaneously without a family and without a role in the war - not beyond that of an Alliance figurehead, anyway.
She pursed her lips in frustration. She believed in the Alliance. She believed in their fight. But she couldn't be a politician who sat on the sidelines hiding from the action. She wanted to be out there, among the pilots and troops. Fighting, dying even. Just doing something.
But that wasn't her 'place'. She'd been told since she was a child, from when she'd wanted to play with toy blasters and ships rather than dolls and make-up. It wasn't her place to be a fighter. She was royalty she could do so much more with words and a smile than with a blaster.
She smiled slightly, remembering how hard her aunts had worked at making her more of a princess. And they'd succeeded, at least whilst Leia had felt there was a fight to be had even as a princess. But now... now there was so little she could do from aboard this ship. And she itched for a fight.
Maybe that was why she'd found a way for Luke and Biggs to try their hand on the flight simulator. Maybe she hadn't been joking when she'd told Biggs she might try it out herself. Maybe she wanted them to have the skill to take on the Death Star so they could take the fight back to the Imperials.
What help were 'maybe's?
Maybe she didn't even know herself, anymore.
The door opened behind her and she turned. Luke walked in, his guard escorts just visible as the door shut behind him.
"Hi," she said, and smiled at him.
Biggs forced himself to breathe steadily as his hands flew over the comm. He kept wanting to glance over his shoulder, fearful that Leia had crept up behind him and was watching as he took her trust in him and walked all over it. But with a stubborn force of will, he kept his eyes on the controls and worked quickly.
Guilt churned in his gut, but this opportunity was too good to miss. Leia had given him access to the comm. system, allowing him to talk to those in charge of the simulators on his own. She'd moved to sit on the other side of the quarters, leaving him behind the privacy shield of the comm. Leaving him with open access to the communications system.
His gaze flicked to the side at the sound of movement from across the room. He watched Leia stand and walk to the viewport, her arms folded. He heard her sigh. She seemed tired and distracted distracted enough to give him this. Although how was she to know he was going to betray her?
His hands trembled as he turned back to the comm. Whilst he worked, he continued to talk to the guy in charge of the tactical division on this ship about getting on their sims. But he wasn't really listening to the conversation.
He couldn't just send out a message to Vader he couldn't risk that there was a monitor on communications. But if he could persuade the system to send out an innocuous spike, something that looked like a glitch rather than a message... he could bounce it through the planet's local relay system and back to him... which should give him the message's co-ordinates of origin and the ship's transponder signal attached.
He hoped so, anyway. He had no technical expertise. But he had to try something.
He heard the door to the quarters open, and then Luke's voice. Then Leia talking, answering him.
Gritting his teeth, Biggs tuned out the siblings' conversation and concentrated on his task.
"You're kidding! Right? You've got to be kidding!" Luke gasped.
Leia grinned at his response, his delight instantly infectious. He was staring at her with eyes that had gone huge with disbelief He'd had a melancholy look on his face when he'd returned to his quarters from his daily interrogation by Vader. She hadn't been able to resist wiping that melancholy away with her news.
"I'm not joking, Luke," she said. "We've only got a couple of old simulators aboard but we're going to update them when we-" She never finished the sentence - instead she shrieked in shock as Luke abruptly yanked her into a hug and began spinning her madly. "Luke!" She laughed. "Put me down!"
He stopped spinning but he didn't let her go. "Oh, stars - thank you, Leia."
"You don't have to-"
"Kriff, do you know how long I've wanted to get in a sim?" He hugged her again and she returned it warmly. "Wait 'til Biggs hears this!"
"He already knows," she said. "He's on the comm. to the simulator room now."
"Thank you," Luke whispered, the words stirring the hair on the top of her head. "I was going mad, locked up here."
She smiled against his shoulder. "Well, we can't have that, can we?"
Something about Luke something about the way he hugged her, the way he felt, sparked something inside her. Not quite desire, or at least not the kind of physical desire she'd occasionally felt for other men. More like a familiarity - like going home. And she felt so homesick at the moment, her planet and her family gone, her belief in the Alliance rocked... She clung to him, pressing her face against his shoulder.
He smelt familiar, too. Like a half-remembered dream from long ago. Comforting, though that made no sense. She sighed, feeling muscles she hadn't even realised were tense relaxing in his hug. She felt safe .
His hold tightened fractionally and then he let her go, taking a step backwards. He stared at her, his eyes alight with that same intensity that had first fascinated her aboard the Death Star. It felt so familiar .
"I mean it, Leia. Just the chance to get out of these quarters is fantastic - but to try out the flight sims? Krith, I spent a whole season saving for a session on the ones they have at Mos Espa. They're really old ones, Headhunters I think. But I never well, there was a sandstorm in the south field and Uncle Owen needed the money for the parts to fix the 'vaporators and well, it doesnt matter. I'm just, well, I-"
He stopped abruptly, because on impulse she had leant up and kissed him on the cheek.
He stared at her. His mouth moved, but no words came out.
She grinned. She tightened her grip on his tunic, her fingers clutching at the fabric she was holding, wondering if what she wanted to do was going too far, if he'd think she'd gone crazy, or if he wanted it, too. Only one way to find out she leant up, moved forward as if to kiss him.
He didn't make any move to stop her. He didn't make any move at all. She felt dizzy, lightheaded with expectation, her lips close enough to Luke's that she was breathing his breath.
- there was a loud crashing sound behind them, throwing her awareness back to the room. She turned to look in the direction of the sound, and she felt Luke turning with her.
"Whoops," Biggs said, staring down at a pile of datapads he'd knocked off the small table. Leia stared at him - he bent down to pick them up. "Hi " he said. "So I'm finished on the comm., by the way."
One hour later
Somewhere in space, Alliance Council's Executive Ship 'Revolution', Training Deck
A thrill of expectation ran through him, setting his nerves alight. Luke gripped the control stick in his hands, feeling slightly dizzy with anticipation. In front of him, the cockpit controls flickered from red to green, one by one. The cockpit trembled with the sound of a sublight engine rumbling into life. The sound went right through him, shaking him, rattling more adrenaline through him. He grinned.
"I hear you," his friend responded through the earphones in Luke's helmet. "Boy, this is nothing like a TIE."
"Reminds me of my T-16," Luke said. On the screens that simulated the canopy, stars appeared suddenly. The words 'STAND BY .' flashed in front of them, in big white letters. This is it, Luke thought, flexing his fingers in the tight flight gloves. Hells, yes, it was only a simulator - but Luke could feel his body responding to the simulation, buzzing with excitement. "Here we go," he whispered.
Then the words dissolved and the ship jumped as if
breaking free of the frozen image, leaping forwards. He
was pressed back in his seat, and the stars seemed to
fling themselves towards him. He sucked in a breath, the
small, abstract part of his brain that wasn't too busy
cheering deliriously, marvelling at the feeling - at how real
"Guess that means you're taking point, then?" Biggs' voice said, sounding mildly amused.
Luke grinned, pushed the flight stick further forwards, accelerating more. "You mind?"
Biggs laughed. "No. Just watch yourself."
Imperial Fifth Fleet staging post, Star Destroyer 'Devastator', Darth Vader's personal wing
Standing at the exit to his quarters, Vader listened with only half an ear to the updates from one of his personal aides. The man related his news with a clipped, dignified efficiency, taking Vader's silence as his cue to continue to the end of his report.
The Darklighters remained in detention aboard the ship. An escape attempt had been made, but had been unsuccessful. One of them had minor injuries. Food had been rationed as punishment.
Intel had no news of the Revolution. No sightings, no hint of where it might have been or where it might be going. Whilst many of the dissenting voices in the Empire had suddenly grown quieter since the destruction of Alderaan, a handful of worlds had been pushed in the opposite direction - towards rebellion. The Revolution had not been sighted near them, however.
And finally, the Emperor had departed Coruscant, on an official inspection tour of the Death Star.
"What?" Vader interrupted sharply.
The aide hesitated only briefly. "Emperor Palpatine is en route to rendezvous with the Death Star, Lord Vader, in the Seswenna Sector. His ETA is twenty-five hours."
Vader frowned at that. Palpatine had said nothing about any such plans to Vader, and that lack of communication alone unsettled him. That Palpatine was going at all was... interesting. There were many possible, plausible reasons for his tour. To officially unveil the station, perhaps although surely there were more auspicious places to hold such a ceremony than Tarkin's own Outer Rim territory.
Palpatine might also be seeking to ensure that the Death Star was being appropriately commanded, now that Vader had left and was no longer there to oversee Tarkin's actions. Or to visibly remind any further dissenters of the weapon's destructive power and Palpatine's willingness to embrace it.
Possible, plausible, and entirely non-threatening reasons.
But something told Vader that Palpatine's motives were far from neutral. Instinct told him that Tarkin had a hand in this impromptu visit.
He sucked in an irritated breath, ignoring the aide silently standing to attention at his side.
So. Time had turned against him, yet again. Vader had anticipated that Palpatine would eventually want to visit and gloat over his new weapon, but he had not thought it would be so soon after the destruction of Alderaan. He had been keeping the certainty of a visit by Palpatine aside as a contingency plan: the ideal opportunity to get rid of both the Emperor and his ludicrous toy in one fell swoop, should the need arrive.
A clean, swift coup but one that required Vader to be there for the fatal blow. Because only a Force-sensitive would be able to target the exhaust shaft that lead to the station's one vulnerability. Only Vader could target it, and only Vader knew it was there.
He'd thought he would have the luxury of choosing his moment... but if Palpatine and Tarkin were meeting without his knowledge... they could well be plotting Vader's downfall, whilst he was chasing the Rebels who held his son.
His son. Vader forcibly cooled his anger at the memory of what was at stake here. He needed to find Luke before he could deal with whatever treachery his master was planning. Both for his own sanity and because, were Vader to lose against his master and Luke's existence was revealed... then the boy would never be safe.
It had been over a month since he had spoken to Darklighter, and his patience was running dangerously thin. But in a few hours it would be time for his daily conversation with Luke. Perhaps through his son, Vader could get a message to the Darklighter boy. He would have to be circumspect about it... but time was running away from them. And if that was true... then Darklighter should know that his family's fate would mirror Vader's own.
Somewhere in space, Alliance Council's Executive Ship Revolution', Training Deck
The last TIE was on its way out, one engine venting gas into the vacuum as it tried to twist around for a last-chance shot. It never got that chance. Biggs' fire skittered across the ship's side, the last two quick-fire blasts overwhelming spearing through to the other engine. The ship wobbled for a moment before bursting into a brief, violent explosion.
"Hey!" Luke called over the comm. "No fair he was my shot."
Biggs grinned. "Too slow, Luke. You daydreaming in there?"
There was no answer. Biggs glanced to his scopes, looking for Luke's ship, expecting it to be a couple of klicks in front from him. They were flying parallel to the surface of the mocked-up Imperial base, the city-like structure sprawling across the shadow side of a small moon, difficult to make out in the darkness. Luke should have been just ahead of him...
He shut up quickly as a blast of fire from the moon's surface arced towards him. He stepped down hard on the right stabiliser, angling away from the fire, but the barrage tracked him, spitting green laser bolts closer and closer, closing the distance as the laser turret turned towards him.
He dropped the ship suddenly, hoping the turret's fire would overshoot him. It didn't. It didn't fire at all. A flare of orange light lit up his starboard and he turned to see the turret's explosion dwindling into the vacuum. An X-wing raced through the dying flames.
"Luke!" he called, half relieved and half exasperated. "Why didn't you tell me you were going for the ground cover?"
Luke's laughter bubbled over the comm. "Sorry must have been too busy daydreaming," he chuckled.
Biggs rolled his eyes. "First rule of combat, Luke you tell your wingman what you're going to whoa!" he yelled in warning as they crested the terminator of the moon, the sudden wash of sunlight from the nearby star revealing a deep, straight trench stretching into the distance and a hundred turbolaser stations protecting it. "Pull up!"
Apparently Luke didn't need telling twice he was already pulling away even as the first foray of fire spat towards him.
"The brief said it'd be heavily guarded, but that's ridiculous!" Luke called back.
Biggs silently agreed. This was one hell of a training mission none of the Imperial training sessions he'd been on had been this intense.
"There's no way we can fly down that gauntlet," Biggs said. "If this was for real, I'd be high-tailing it out of here for backup."
"I'm not giving up," Luke shot back, stubborn determination etched into his voice. And despite the impossible odds, Biggs smiled. What the hell, it was a training mission. They were probably supposed to be learning not to bite off more than they could chew. Maybe that wouldn't be such a bad lesson for either of them. "If we go in fast, those turbolasers won't be able to catch us," Luke added.
"We'll be going too fast to hit the bunker," Biggs replied automatically, although silently he was game for trying. "And look on your scopes that trench ends about a half-klick from the target. You're more likely to make an ugly smudge on that back wall than you are to hit the mark."
"Better that than turning and running," Luke shot back. There was something playful in his voice that Biggs hadn't heard in a very long time.
"All right," he said. " Just keep it full-throttle. I'll cover you."
Somewhere in space, Alliance Council's Executive Ship 'Revolution', Military Deck, Office assigned to Alliance Tactical Division.
The office that belonged to the head of the tactical division of the Alliance military was dark and airless, and Leia hesitated at the entranceway, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the change in light levels.
"Come in," a voice said, from off to her left.
She blinked rapidly, concentrated on making out the shapes in the relative darkness, and stepped inside. With the light of the corridor shut out, it became easier to see, and her gaze moved to the flickering blue light of a tactical monitor, and the man illuminated by the ghostly light from it.
She moved towards him.
"Have a seat," he said, not looking up from the screen. She looked around, found a pull-out chair, wondering if the darkness of the room had a purpose other than to disorientate her.
Seconds passed, the man still staring at his screen, gaunt cheeks deepened by the shifting light patterns reflected off the screen. Leia waited, but he didn't seem inclined to bother with any pleasantries. Which was fine with her. "How are they doing?" she asked.
His eyes moved to glance at her briefly. "Hmmm," was all he said for several minutes. Then, "They're not Alliance pilots."
It wasn't a question she didn't deny it. "No, but are they any good?"
A flicker of a cynical smiled turned up the corners of his mouth. "Good? Depends on your definition of 'good'," he said.
Leia sighed inwardly. She really wasn't in the mood for cryptic word-play. "Go on," she said, drawing on a thin reserve of patience.
"This one," the tactician said, point at the screen although Leia couldn't see the picture and data scrawling across it," is Imperial trained. He's very good, very sharp. Some of the tactics he's using are beyond your average TIE pilot. He'd make an excellent addition to the navy." He looked up at her. "Not that you've moved into navy recruitment."
She smiled wanly. "And the other?"
For the first time, a true expression crossed his face. His eyes glanced at her mischievously, as if silently sharing a joke with her. "Him? No training, no trademark tactics, nothing."
"But," the tactician continued, "with raw skill like that who needs training?"
She suppressed the smile that wanted to meet his. "I see," she said. "How did he-"
"And," the tactician interrupted her, as if she hadn't spoken, "he hit the target. It took three runs, but he got it."
She nodded, a breath of excitement bubbling in her chest. "How does that compare to the others who've tried the Death Star simulator?"
He smirked at her. "Compare? It doesn't. No one else has hit it."
"No one?" she whispered.
The man shook his head, a flicker of animation finally appearing in his body as he leant towards her. "No one," he confirmed. "After hours of training, no one has managed the right targeting angle."
"Not even by chance?"
He smiled grimly. "Only your man here. If that was chance."
Leia let out that breath of excitement, her head feeling light. If that was chance. She felt a terrible rush of hope running through her, coming on the heels of the acknowledgement that the only hope they had lay in the lap of the boy they'd fitted with a slave tracker and locked in a room for over a month.
The tactician was staring her. Suddenly, that last sentence of his sounded more threatening when she re-ran it through her mind.
If that was chance.
She schooled her expression into pleasant neutrality. "Thank you," she said. "It's good to know someone can hit it."
He didn't respond, just continued to stare at her, the sickly blue light playing over his face.
To be continued...